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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1078005 times)
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« Reply #9975 on: Nov 14, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Over 90% of new UK jobs taken by British nationals

Figures demolish claims that majority of new jobs have gone to foreigners despite rise in number of Romanians and Bulgarians

Alan Travis, home affairs editor, Wednesday 13 November 2013 12.25 GMT   
The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain rose by 19% to 121,438 in the last year, according to the latest official labour market statistics.

The 19,000 increase in the number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in Britain is, however, overshadowed by figures showing that more than 90% of the 378,000 extra people in jobs in the UK in the past year are British nationals.

The figures in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) quarterly survey demolish claims that the vast majority of new jobs have gone to foreigners.

The ONS statistics show that 348,000 of the extra people in work in the 12 months to September are British citizens and only 26,000 are foreign nationals.

The 19% rise in the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain comes ahead of the lifting of the final restrictions on their access to the UK labour market in the new year.

UK and non-UK estimates do not equal the total number of people in employment because some people do not state their nationality in their interviews.

Many of the Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain are employed through temporary work schemes, such as the seasonal agricultural workers' scheme for fruit and vegetable pickers, which have been running since the two countries joined the European Union in 2007. The schemes require them to return home at the end of their temporary contracts.

The figures were released as the Daily Mail highlighted a claim by the former Labour home secretary Jack Straw that opening up the British labour market to Poles and other new European Union members in 2004 was a "spectacular mistake".

The Mail's front-page story was based on a column by Straw published six days ago in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph that substantially repeated the acknowledgement of the "mistake" made by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in a party political broadcast earlier this year. David Blunkett, not Straw, was the home secretary at the time the decision was taken to allow Poles and others immediate access to the British labour market. He argued it was better they came legally than illegally. Illegal migration was a major concern at the time.

Straw focused on the "worthless" forecast that Polish migration would be "relatively small". The Oxford-University-based Migration Observatory has pointed out the forecast was partly based on what had happened when Spain and Portugal joined the EU and assumed that all other EU states, including Germany, would open their borders to working Poles. As it happened only Britain, Ireland and Sweden gave them an immediate right to work.

Romanians and Poles have faced restrictions on their access to the British labour market as part of a seven-year transition period since they joined the EU in 2007. More than 3 million Romanians left their country to work abroad in 2007, with the vast majority going to Spain or Italy.

The latest ONS figures show there are 2.64 million foreign nationals working in Britain out of a total labour force of 30 million. More than half – 1.45 million – are EU nationals working in Britain, 666,000 of whom are eastern Europeans.

The number of migrant workers from outside Europe in Britain has fallen by 40,000 to 1.19 million in the past year. The largest falls have been in the number of workers from Africa – excluding South Africa – India and the US.

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« Reply #9976 on: Nov 14, 2013, 06:50 AM »

11/13/2013 01:23 PM

EU Passports for 650,000 Euros: Citizenship for Sale in Malta

For 650,000 euros, foreigners from outside the European Union can now buy Maltese citizenship. The controversial new law passed on Tuesday also gives buyers the right of free movement within Europe.

Non-European Union citizens with €650,000 ($873,000) to spare can now buy Maltese citizenship thanks to a new plan approved by the Mediterranean island's parliament on Tuesday.

According to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the program's goal is to raise revenue for the country and attract "high-value" people who will invest there.

The government said applicants would be carefully screened to avoid entry by criminals. Muscat estimated that about 45 new citizens would bring in some €30 million a year. Henley and Partners, the company that will process newcomers' paperwork, said it expects to receive between 200 and 300 applications per year.

As a member of the European Union, Malta is also part of the Schengen Area, where EU citizens can travel freely without visa controls. The decision to sell this right has been roundly criticized by the Maltese opposition, particularly because applicants do not have to be residents, and are also not required to invest on the island.

The country's conservative Nationalist Party fears that the law could lead to comparisons with Caribbean tax havens, and did not rule out trying to hold a referendum on the controversial matter, according to the Malta Today. In a poll conducted by the paper, a majority of respondents said they did not support selling EU citizenship.

The government defended the plan, which also gives recipients of Maltese citizenship work and residency rights in the rest of the 28-member bloc, saying similar programs were in the works in other EU countries.

In fact, several EU member countries offer residence permits that include the right of movement within the Schengen Area in exchange for steep fees. Using these offers, which circumvent the EU's strict aslyum and immigration rules, the governments of Greece, Spain and Hungary all seek to lure investors from around the world. With the offer of citizenship, the Maltese government is going a step further.

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« Reply #9977 on: Nov 14, 2013, 06:52 AM »

11/13/2013 06:35 PM

Surplus Debate: Berlin's Export Whining Shows Double Standard

A Commentary by Gregor Peter Schmitz

The European Commission is taking a closer look at Germany's export surplus and might punish the country. Economic leaders and politicians in Berlin are incensed, but Germany cannot dictate rules to the rest of Europe and then fail to stick to them itself.

If you listen to German politicians or economic leaders these days, Germany is being unjustly savaged in Europe for its export surplus. These German leaders largely argue the same thing: Germany is being punished for its success! Germany's performance must be rewarded!

But now -- in a move that was foreseen for some time-- the European Commission announced on Wednesday that it will put Germany's export surplus under the microscope.

While the politicians have griped, Germany's export surplus has skyrocketed to around 6 percent of gross domestic product. In September alone, German exports exceeded imports by more than €20 billion. If the commission's investigation should decide the surplus is "excessive," then, in theory at least, Germany could be facing a fine of up to 0.1 percent of its economic output, more than €2.5 billion. According to experts in Brussels, it's unlikely things will come to that.

In their anger, the German whiners are forgetting one small thing: They themselves were responsible for the rules designed to keep high export surpluses under control. This provision -- along with targets for deficits, national debts or inflation -- are part of the colorful bouquet of criteria which are supposed to finally make the euro zone macro-economically stable.

Economic Distortions

Of course, German officials only agreed to this condition to prevent even more stringent regulations on export control. And yet in doing so, Berlin clearly recognized the principle that high budget surpluses, just like massive deficits, can lead to economic distortions. This principle has gained new relevance in the euro crisis, because many economists consider higher domestic demand and less exports in Germany an urgent necessity for the stimulation of growth in crisis states.

The real issue here is about rules and their application. The German government has emphasized at every opportunity that the euro zone must be a community of laws. It has admonished crisis states that have complained about overly rigid limits for budget deficits because, after all, they had agreed to the rules.

But when it comes to Germany, apparently different standards apply. It's similar to how the Schröder government saw the country become one of the first EU member states to violate the Maastricht criteria -- the fiscal criteria which establish whether a country is allowed to enter the euro -- in 2003, when it implemented its Agenda 2010 social reforms.

If Germany once again displays a double standard, it will lose the credibility which is a nation's most important currency in these times of crisis. It should also not be surprised that the ambassador of a southern EU state angrily declared on Tuesday that German supremacy within the EU can only exist if "the same rules apply for all."

Europe can afford such discord among partners even less than overly high deficits or surpluses. All which means: It's time the Germans quit their moaning.

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« Reply #9978 on: Nov 14, 2013, 06:54 AM »

11/13/2013 05:43 PM

Punishing the Young: German Pension Reforms a Gift for the Elderly

By Markus Dettmer, Kristiana Ludwig, Michael Sauga and Cornelia Schmergal

Berlin's incoming government is expected to institute a wave of pension reform that could exacerbate inequality, burden workers and create huge budget headaches. So why are the parties so intent on pushing it through?

When it comes to pensions, there are two different Angela Merkels. One version of the German chancellor was on display this past spring, when she embarked on a so-called "demography tour," dedicated to discussing Germany's demographic trends. She patted children on the head at a family center and nodded sympathetically as entrepreneurs in the eastern German state of Thuringia described the problems associated with aging workforces. "Europe now has roughly 7 percent of the global population," she often told people on such occasions, "but nearly 50 percent of the world's social spending."

The other version of the chancellor was on display last Wednesday at a meeting of the conservatives' parliamentary group in Berlin. With an obvious expression of approval on her face, Merkel listened to the parliamentary floor leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Volker Kauder, defend their collective plan to significantly increase social expenditures, including the new so-called mothers' pension. Kauder sang the praises of this new policy and claimed the improved social benefits would -- in addition to guaranteeing a greater degree of fairness -- put more money in the pockets of over 9 million German mothers. He said the plan has proven to be a "booming accomplishment" in the party's mission to lead the nation on social and political issues.

But the pension reforms planned by Merkel, the CDU and their conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) -- along with their planned new coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD) -- threaten to unravel not only the current pension system but the federal budget and Germany's economic future.

Reward from the Grand Coalition

By reforming the pension system, Germany's expected new "grand coalition" between the conservatives and the center-left SPD is giving thanks to its supporters. During last September's elections, 78 percent of voters aged 60 and over voted for the CDU, the CSU or the SPD. No other age group gave these parties this much support. And now, in return, the coalition is planning a wave of pension giveaways the likes of which Germany has not seen since the 1970s.

The CDU wants to give more money to all retirement-age women who have raised children. The SPD is demanding long-term employees be allowed to retire at the age of 63 without any reductions to their pension payments. And both parties intend to increase benefits for low-income earners, disabled individuals and older employees who are no longer able to work full-time. The coalition is making it clear that it sees itself first and foremost as the grand coalition of senior citizens.

These initiatives are purportedly aimed at preventing old-age poverty, but, conveniently, this money will mostly go to the more well-to-do parts of each party's base. In the case of the conservatives, this means, for example, wives in households where at least one member has a university degree and, in the case of the SPD, skilled industrial workers. If these promises were instituted in their current form, they would amount to an annual expenditure increase of well over €20 billion ($27 billion), which is more than the annual budget of the German Ministry of Education and Research.

Reversing Previous Reforms

This not only contradicts the coalition partners' pledge to plan for Germany's future, it also jeopardizes the political accomplishments of the past. The tough labor-market and pension reforms pushed through under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), who ran the country from 1998 to 2005, created millions of jobs and helped create a financial buffer of nearly €30 billion in Germany's old-age pension funds. By contrast, the plans of Germany's new political alliance are designed to distribute the accumulated reserves as quickly as possible among the population -- a spending-spree approach to the country's finances.

Economists and social policy advisers claim the mainstream parties are using the state retirement funds to buy votes, creating more injustices than they resolve and are endangering the financial stability of the social system. According to an internal paper by the German Finance Ministry, these plans would mean Germany would no longer be able to achieve its long-term pension-contribution targets.

They also, first and foremost, threaten to upset the economic balance between young and old that constitutes the core of the German pension system. Germans between the ages of 20 and 40 already have to accept the sad fact they will receive much lower old-age allowances than their parents and grandparents. The situation will worsen in the future.

Tale of Two Pensions

Many working households are already noticing the disparity, including Helga Lengies and her daughter. When the elder Lengies retired 24 years ago, she traveled to Alaska, China, Pakistan. Before that, she had spent much of her life in the surgery ward of the women's clinic in the Berlin district of Neukölln, where she worked half-time as a nurse, and in her 96-square-meter (1,000-square-foot) home.

Now she's 84 years old and, as far as her private finances go, can't complain. She receives €1,900 in her bank account every month, including her widow's annuity and an extra private pension. She stayed home for eight years to look after her two children, so the introduction of the mothers' pension could soon make her income grow.

But her daughter Christiane's retirement will probably be much less rosy. The 54-year-old is also a nurse and works at the Immanuel Hospital in the Berlin district of Wannsee. After the birth of her child, she took 10 months off before returning to her ward and now works three-quarters time instead of full time. Her salary, therefore, is low and, even if you take the new mothers' pension into account, she probably won't be entitled to retirement benefits of more than €1,000 per month. Her mother already gives her €200 a month to help her make ends meet.

High Cost for Low Earners

It's an example of the real problem within the German pension system. The recent cutbacks in pensions have been particularly brutal for low earners, as well as for people who take on temporary part-time work or are unemployed for long periods. Over the last 10 years, the number of pensioners who rely on help from welfare offices has doubled to some 900,000. The number of so-called old-age poor still remains relatively small, but it will increase with the rising number of low-income earners.

But the conservatives' and SPD's pension plan is hardly the best solution to the problem. Take the mothers' pension, for example. It was designed to close a presumed gap in equality in Germany's pension system: Parents whose children were born before January 1992 only receive a single pension credit for the time spent raising a family, whereas mothers whose children were born later receive three credits. This arbitrarily established regulation is an austerity measure: It's been widely believed for the past 20 years that raising pensions for all mothers would simply be too expensive.

Even today, there isn't enough money to grant three full credits to all senior citizens with children. Consequently, the CDU and the CSU have been negotiating to grant one extra credit for each son and daughter, which would diminish this injustice, but not eliminate it. All mothers in the former West Germany would receive €28 a month per child, regardless of financial need, while mothers in the former East Germany would receive €26.

Retirement Age About-Face

The plan also runs contrary to the most significant social reform of the last grand coalition -- the raising of the retirement to age 67 -- which was a response to the disastrous impact of changing demographics on the state pension fund. Since the duration of the average pension has nearly doubled, to over 18 years, since 1960, the retirement age was to be gradually raised until the end of the next decade. According to this concept, anyone who wanted to retire earlier would have to accept reductions to their pension payments.

Now the SPD wants to change this again for those employees who can show they paid pension contributions for more than 45 years. The new proposal would allow them to retire at age 63 without any penalties.

Many experts are appalled. Economist Axel Börsch-Supan of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy says that the SPD concept undermines a sensible system and introduces new inequalities: If early retirees were to receive full payments they "would enjoy preferential treatment over their colleagues who are the same age, yet remain in the workforce longer," he argues.

And where would this money come from? Business managers and trade unions have joined forces in a rare show of unanimity to argue that any additional money for parenting and rearing children should come from society as a whole -- in other words, not just from the average-income workers who already pay the lion's share of Germany's social security contributions. This would mean also extracting contributions from civil servants, self-employed professionals and high-income employees who are subject to different social security contribution regulations.

Ballooning Bill

It is clear, however, that those who make social security contributions -- mostly middle-income workers -- will foot most of the bill. The mothers' pension and retirement at age 63 alone will empty government pension funds faster than social experts can say "intergenerational equity." The new coalition is already considering postponing the reduction in pension contributions -- from 18.9 percent to 18.3 percent -- which is prescribed by law to take effect next year. It's a move that would cost employees and companies some €6 billion. Kerstin Andreae, the economic spokeswoman for the Green Party's parliamentary group, calls this a "flagrant pillaging of pension funds" and a "socially unjust" burden on lower- and middle-income individuals.

But that's not all. The government's experts long ago calculated that pension contributions will have to rise over the medium term if the coalition goes ahead with its reform plans. The mothers' pension alone would "make it necessary to raise contributions after the reserves have been exhausted," according to an internal paper written by the Finance Ministry. Social security contributions would have to rise by 0.4 to 0.5 percentage points, the authors note. And since the state will also have to pump more money into the pension fund, the concept will tear new holes in Germany's federal budget. The officials in the Finance Ministry anticipate a "permanent additional burden" on the budget to the tune of €1.2 billion per year.

Opposition Ignored

Not surprisingly, it is primarily the younger lawmakers in the expected coalition who are feeling increasingly uneasy about the proposals. Carsten Linnemann, 36, chairman of the CDU/CSU small- and medium-sized business association, calls it "a big step backwards in pension policy." He warns it is dangerous to simply abandon the consensus that German politicians achieved over 10 years ago.

Marco Wanderwitz, who is still chairman of the conservatives' parliamentary youth group, says he thinks some of the coalition's projects are "highly problematic." He contends that the SPD's plan to reduce the retirement age to 63 makes "all of the pension reforms of the past 20 years absurd."

Still, the rumblings of these young lawmakers are barely perceptible in Berlin political circles, even among the conservatives' parliamentary group, where similar proposals have been fiercely contested in recent years. These days, politicians like the CDU's Volker Kauder set the agenda -- spurred by a desire to score points on pension policy against the SPD. The parliamentary floor leader says he is convinced the mothers' pension made a key contribution to the conservatives' recent outstanding election result. The project has been a sweeping success, Kauder says with enthusiasm, whereas the SPD's pension plans are "only a minor achievement."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #9979 on: Nov 14, 2013, 06:57 AM »

November 14, 2013

Euro Zone Economy Stagnates as Growth Slows in Germany


FRANKFURT — The euro zone economy marked time in the third quarter of the year, growing just 0.1 percent from the second quarter, disappointing hopes that a full-fledged recovery was finally taking hold after five years of recession and stagnation.

The economy of the 17-country currency bloc stagnated as output slowed in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and declined in France, the second largest, Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union, reported from Luxembourg.

The report was in line with economists’ expectations, and financial markets took the news in stride. European stocks rose about 0.7 percent, and the euro fell about 0.4 percent against the dollar early in the afternoon on the Continent.

Jonathan Loynes, chief economist with Capital Economics in London, said the gross domestic product report was “a clear blow to hopes that the period of market stability seen over the last year or so would translate into a solid and sustained economic recovery.”

He predicted the euro zone economy would expand by around 0.5 percent next year, “well short of the rates needed to head off the growing dangers of deflation and address the region’s ongoing debt crisis.”

On an annualized basis, Europe’s 0.4 percent growth compares poorly with the United States’ annualized 2.8 percent third-quarter growth and the 1.9 percent Japan reported Thursday. China, the world’s fastest growing major economy, expanded at a robust 7.8 percent rate in the third quarter.

The overall European Union, made up of 28 countries, grew 0.2 percent from the second quarter, and 1 percent on an annualized basis, Eurostat said.

There was some positive news, as Spain and the Netherlands broke out of recession with 0.1 percent quarterly gains, and Britain led major E.U. economies with 0.8 percent growth. But Italy continued to limp along with a 0.1 percent quarterly contraction.

In Germany, growth slowed to 0.3 percent, as domestic consumption picked up and helped compensate for flat growth of exports. Growth in the three months that ended in September amounted to an annualized rate of 1.2 percent. That was slower than in the second quarter, when the German economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.8 percent, according to the Federal Statistical Office.

The French economy contracted 0.1 percent in the July to September period from the April to June period, when it grew 0.5 percent, as business investment fell further, disappointing hopes for sustained recovery just months after the country broke out of a shallow recession.

The decline, at an annualized rate of about 0.4 percent, came as investment by nonfinancial companies fell by a quarterly 0.6 percent, after falling 0.4 percent in the second quarter, according to Insee, the national statistics institute. Spending by households decelerated, rising just 0.2 percent on a quarterly basis, from a 0.4 percent rise in the second quarter.

While the French figure was disappointing, it was only slightly worse than the consensus forecast of a 0.1 percent expansion. The country’s unemployment rate stands at more than 11 percent, and a report Wednesday showed industrial production turning down sharply in September. Last week, Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s credit rating to AA from AA+, saying it doubted that the government’s current policy course would be able to restore growth.

The growth in Germany was in line with expectations. It came primarily from increased consumer spending as well as domestic investment by German companies, the statistical office said. The pickup in domestic spending should help placate criticism that Germany has not been using its enormous trade surplus to help stimulate its own economy, and by extension the euro zone.

On Wednesday, the European Commission said it would begin an in-depth review of the German economy, and look into whether the country’s trade surplus — 45.9 billion euro, or $61.7 billion, in the second quarter of this year — was so large as to pose a threat to the rest of the bloc.

The German growth figures were preliminary and the Federal Statistical Office, in Wiesbaden, did not give a detailed breakdown of where the increased output was coming from. But it said domestic spending by households grew. In addition, companies spent more on new machinery and equipment as well as on construction projects.

Imports also grew, the statistical office said, without giving exact figures, while exports declined.

“The German economy is already in a longer process of rebalancing,” Carsten Brzeski, an analyst at ING Bank, said in a note to clients. “Looking ahead, there is little reason to doubt the stability of the German economy.”
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« Reply #9980 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Bob Dylan awarded French Legion of Honour

Despite claims by Legion's grand chancellor that the singer was unworthy, Dylan was presented with country's highest award

Harriet Gibsone, Thursday 14 November 2013 06.48 EST   
Bob Dylan has been awarded France's highest award, the Legion of Honour.

In a short ceremony in Paris on Wednesday, France's culture minister Aurélie Filippetti presented the US singer with the award, which is given to individuals who have served the country. While there were no cameras allowed during the presentation, Filippetti is said to have spoken about Dylan's cultural importance and how he had become a role model for young people who strive for justice and independence. The singer had little to comment following the speech, but said he was "proud and grateful" before leaving.

The award was temporarily put on hold in May this year, after the grand chancellor of the Legion, Jean-Louis Georgelin, declared the singer was unworthy of it, citing Dylan's anti-war politics and use of cannabis as key reasons to block his nomination. The 72-year-old is said to have been inspired by French symbolists Verlaine and Rimbaud, and is already a chevalier of the lesser French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Last year, Paul McCartney became the first British musician to receive the Legion of Honour at a gala ceremony. Previous recipients include JK Rowling, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ravi Shankar and Pig Putin.

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« Reply #9981 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:06 AM »

11/13/2013 06:42 PM

Tehran Diary: Four Iranians on Life in the Time of Sanctions

By Nasrin Bassiri and Dieter Bednarz

For the third time, SPIEGEL asked residents of Tehran to compile a diary about everyday life in Iran. In this installment, some 100 days after President Hassan Rohani took office, four Iranians share their hopes, fears and daily woes.

In 2010, a year after the obviously rigged reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resulted in bloody unrest, SPIEGEL editor Dieter Bednarz and German-Iranian journalist Nasrin Bassiri asked five Tehran residents to describe their everyday lives. Additional diary excerpts were published a year later.

A few of the authors were subsequently persecuted, partly for criticism of the regime voiced in their diaries. Political activist Kouhyar Goudarzi was arrested and accused of having had contact with SPIEGEL, but he then managed to flee to Turkey. Mohammad Mostafaei, an attorney known for his battle against stoning, evaded arrest by fleeing to Norway. Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was held in the notorious Evin Prison until recently.

Nevertheless, three of the diary authors decided to share their thoughts once more with SPIEGEL. Graphic designer Reza Chandan is part of the group for the first time, though as the husband of attorney Sotoudeh, he is already familiar with the diaries.

Thursday, Oct. 31

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

I leave the house in a hurry. I've overslept and I'm two hours late. I wave for a car, but not the usual communal taxi. If I take a taxi for myself, I can apply makeup during the trip. The driver looks pleased. I'm getting into his cab in Niavaran, a neighborhood in the far north of Tehran, where the palaces of the former Shah are located and where the air is still relatively clean. Those who live in this neighborhood are considered rich. I already know that I will argue with him over the price at the end of the trip. I'm not rich. I work for a large advertising agency and earn the equivalent of €200 ($268) every two weeks.

The driver watches me in the rear-view mirror. I have allowed my headscarf to slide down to my shoulders so I can adjust my hair and do my makeup. I don't expect that we'll encounter the morality police until we reach busy Tajrish Square. But I was in such a hurry that I forgot my makeup bag. I have the driver stop at a pharmacy, where I witness an argument. A salesman is snapping at an old woman, telling her he doesn't have the medication she wants. He tells her to go to Naser Khosrow Avenue, where there is a black market for pharmaceutical products. The scene makes me furious, because the woman, a sad-looking figure in a black chador, will hardly be able to afford the prices there. There are tears in her eyes as she silently leaves the shop.

What angers me the most is that everyone in Tehran knows that the pharmacists have plenty of drugs in storage. But they don't sell them at regular prices, preferring to sell them on the black market. Everyone tries to survive in his or her own way. The salesman wants to charge me more than €35 for some lipstick, mascara and skin cream, but I don't want to pay it. I'll have to go to work ugly today.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

My weekend begins today, because there are no special projects waiting for me at work. I take my 14-year-old daughter Mehrawe to the weekly market, which is organized by the city administration. Fruit and vegetables are still affordable there, but not everything is of good quality. In the middle of the bustling market, I receive a call from a customer. I have to go to the office immediately if I want the job. It annoys me that I'll have to do my shopping later in stores that are a lot more expensive.

A female friend visits us in the afternoon. She is a member of the Bahá'i faith, a religious minority persecuted by the government. Many members of the Bahá'i faith are executed. Our visitor shared a cell with my wife for a long time. Over the years, we got to know her family very well during our visits to the prison. The children played together and are friends today.

We drive to the grave of blogger Sattar Beheshti, far outside the city. We want to commemorate his death. Sattar was a laborer who fed his family, which was very poor, and blogged on the side. He didn't have a lot of readers when he died in detention last year from the effects of torture. Sattar is a national hero today. We encounter about 100 people at his grave, including many members of the security forces. They had confiscated the loudspeakers before our arrival to prevent people from making speeches.

That evening, we attend a reception for my wife, where there are about 30 Bahá'i families. They are grateful to Nasrin for taking on their cases. In the past, no one advocated on behalf of the Bahá'i. Now there are at least a few lawyers willing to defend them. On this evening, Nasrin is greeted by a wave of love.

Ghazaleh Zarea, IT expert

I haven't had a weekend off in a long time. As an IT expert, I earn the equivalent of €200 a month, as long as my bosses don't run out of money. They often have difficulties because of the sanctions. But sometimes they just use the boycott against Iran as an excuse to exploit us. Whenever I have the opportunity, I write examination papers for students. Their parents often scrape together their meager funds to give them a good education. I can charge up to 1.5 million toman, or about €440, for an extensive study. I also teach people how to use computers. I'm paid €50 for 10 lesson units.

When I recently attended my grandmother's funeral in Khorramabad, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Tehran, I saw how impoverished the people are there. Some of the guests came primarily to get a decent meal.

We always hear that in the course of a people's history, entire generations must sometimes make sacrifices so that the country can achieve its goals. I wouldn't complain if the sanctions affected everyone equally. But corrupt politicians prefer to line their pockets. If we protest against it, they have us arrested. Perhaps they'll hold me accountable for my openness, and perhaps I'm even putting my life in danger, but I've suppressed too many screams. It's time to let them out.

Friday, Nov. 1

Mohsen Sahabifar, construction supervisor

When I wake up in the morning, I'm almost always thinking about our debts. We owe about €290 a month for rent, which doesn't include the costs of water, electricity and the telephone. But my salary at the construction company is only €230. We would be ruined without my wife's salary at a bank. When my daughter asks for an ice cream, I have to think long and hard about whether we can afford it. A serving of ice cream is five times as expensive as it was a year and a half ago.

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

On holidays, I go out and enjoy myself or I stay home at my parents' house, as I'm doing today. The documents for the university in New York have to be filled out. Why do I want to go back to America? I don't even know.

I have to think about our future here in Tehran. The United States used to be the "Great Satan" for Iran. But now President Rohani spoke with Barack Obama when they were both in New York, attending the United Nations General Assembly. My friends here are full of hope. They believe that everything will get better now, and that our cultural life will also develop more freely under Rohani. I'm skeptical.

I can hear the loud voice of a BBC announcer in the living room. My father keeps up with the news. He wants to know what's happening in the world. He turns up the volume so that everyone else in the household can also hear the news. The BBC is reporting on attempts in Washington to tighten the sanctions.

I hear my mother's voice. The supermarket has delivered her groceries for the coming week, and she is upset about the prices, which she says have "gone up astronomically." I look at my bank statement. There is nothing in my account. My boyfriend has a birthday soon, but I can only buy him a small present. The gifts get smaller every year.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

This evening, we had an interesting discussion with friends on the question of revenge versus forgiveness. The conversation was prompted by Abbas Amir-Entezam, who paid a visit to the judge who had sentenced him to life in prison. Amir-Entezam was the deputy prime minister in the interim cabinet of Mehdi Bazargan, the first head of the government after the revolution. He received a life sentence for allegedly spying for the United States. He probably sat in jail longer than any other political prisoner in the history of the Islamic Republic. In light of his poor health, he was given a furlough. And what does he do? He goes to the hospital to visit the judge who gave him such a harsh punishment and is now on his deathbed. Many admire him for that, while some are critical.

We Are the Victims of Our Nuclear Policy'
Saturday, Nov. 2

Ghazaleh Zarea, IT expert

There is a story on the news about the singer Esfandiar Gharabaghi. He became famous for a song in which he sings: "America, America, be ashamed of your fraud. The blood of our martyrs drips from your claws." Everyone here knows the song. It is simply part of Iran's annual commemoration of the US Embassy occupation on Nov. 4. Now Gharabaghi is asking state television to stop broadcasting the song -- out of consideration for the efforts of President Rohani. I agree with Gharabaghi. We should not burden the nuclear talks with old propaganda.

I don't expect anything from President Rohani. I don't think much of his constant talk of "hope." And I didn't vote for him, either. I've become too pessimistic.

Mohsen Sahabifar, construction supervisor

There was another argument today at work. We've become thin-skinned. But we've also gotten used to the shouting, and we don't even look up anymore when one of our coworkers flies off the handle. At home, we constantly have to apologize for not being able to give our families a better life. I'm ashamed of it.

We are the victims of our nuclear policy, which has cost our economy many billions of dollars. We ordinary people have hit rock bottom, but those at the top don't care. They turn a profit from the embargo and get even richer. Some of my colleagues hoped that things would improve after a few weeks under Rohani. I didn't vote. I've never voted for anyone. And I'm proud of it.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

I'm driving the children to school, as I always do. Nasrin is sitting next to me. She was detained for so long, and the children missed her so much, that she comes along with us every day now. She hopes she can make up for the deprivation. The children avoid the word "prison." Later, at lunch, our seven-year-old son Nima asks: "Mama, why did you go away?" Nasrin replies: "Because otherwise they would have arrested me." Nima doesn't understand what she means, but he does realize that his mother loves him.

I go on the Internet and read, on a political website, about Nasrin's friend and fellow attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, who has begun a hunger strike in prison. He represented Nasrin in her trial. He was later convicted of anti-regime propaganda and other offenses and sentenced to 13 years in prison. I speak with Soltani's wife on the phone. She was given one year of probation for having spoken publicly about her husband's case. Nasrin is deeply moved and considers going on a hunger strike herself, in a show of solidarity. But we decide to think about this step first.

Nasrin isn't working at her law firm at the moment. There are still a few problems. She was disbarred for 10 years, but as it turns out, the court at the time was not even qualified to impose the sentence. Nasrin was readmitted to the bar last week, and soon she will be able to attend to her clients again.

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

After work, I go to my favorite café, on Valiasr Street. It passes all the way through Tehran, from the central train station in the south to the foothills of the Alborz Mountains in the far north. I love this café, because the hours I spend there feel like a journey to another world. My soul brightens up there. The lighting is warm, there are copies of paintings by famous painters from around the world on the white walls, and the white tables are surrounded by comfortable armchairs with comic-book figures on the cushions. There is modern Iranian music coming from the loudspeakers. All of this makes me feel as if I were far way from my everyday life, from the traffic jams and the problems. Intellectuals and students frequent the café, as well as a few foreigners. The patrons laugh, smoke, and talk about art and love.

On my way home, reality catches up with me after I've taken only a few steps across Tajrish Square. I'm surrounded by crowds, but I feel alone and lost. Nouveau-riche women drive by in big German sedans. I see a beggar. Pilgrims are on their way to the tomb of a Shiite saint. A few members of the morality police are standing on the other side of the square, waiting for me to walk past them. I loop around them.

Sunday, Nov. 3

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

We're worried about Nima. Our son suffers from a type of asthma. It got worse when his mother was sent to prison. Nasrin stays with him, but I have to go to the office. First I have to attend to my car. Because of a broken sensor, the car consumes about 40 percent more fuel. But the market for spare parts in Iran is disastrous. We've become a garbage can for Chinese industry. I have to go to a mechanic. It'll be expensive.

I can't concentrate at work. Today is visiting day at Evin. For the last three years, I always drove to the prison on Sundays to visit Nasrin. Now she's home again, and yet I still have an urge to go to that place of suffering. I miss the other families with whom we used to wait there.

At home, my daughter Mehrawe is worked up. She had "defense class" today. Now even girls in middle school are supposed to memorize all this stuff usually drummed into the Revolutionary Guards and the Bassij militias about waging war -- from erect posture to weapons types to the "sacred resistance" against our enemies. I tell her not take it all too seriously.

Mohsen Sahabifar, construction supervisor

I splurge and take the bus to work. I'm lucky, first because the bus is on time and second because I actually get a seat. At work, a man has asked for a week of vacation. The boss says that if he goes, he doesn't have to come back. The worker packs his things and leaves. Afterward, he says his sister-in-law committed suicide. She was 21. You keep hearing about young people, in particular, who are taking their lives because they feel they have no future. I'm worried about Roja. What sort of a future does my daughter have? Why can't I help her leave the country? She is growing up in a joyless land. She is now 11, which makes her too old to be able to show me that she has learned how to swim. Our swimming pools are segregated by gender.

'Our Clean, Innocent Country'
Monday, Nov. 4

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

The streets are even more chaotic than usual. Today is the anniversary of the 1979 occupation of the American Embassy by revolutionary students. "The people at the top" are having government employees, militia members and pupils bussed in. Many demonstrators are wearing headbands with the words "Death to the USA" printed on them. Young demonstrators, in particular, see the event as a happening of sorts. "Long live America," a boy with a headband, who is on his way home, shouts at me. He and his friends laugh. But the organizers of the protest rally are dead serious.

When I pick up Nima from school, my son is also wearing a headband. He is feeling better today. In contrast to the past, there are no anti-American slogans on the headband. Nima is agitated and repeated the slogan they were told in the schoolyard: "Death to the USA!" He has no classes today. Officially, he and the others were there to celebrate the "Day of the Pupil."

At 14, my daughter is old enough to see through the propaganda. She was outraged about the address that was broadcast over loudspeakers in the schoolyard. "It's good that we are negotiating with the United States," one person said, "but until there is a peace treaty, the slogan 'Death to the USA!' still applies. Mehrawe says it's a bit ridiculous.

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

At the university, I have to go to a lecture on "Islamic Philosophy." But the professor talks about why the students stormed the US Embassy 34 years ago. He explains to us that the embassy was on Iranian soil, and that we had the right to tear "our clean, innocent country" out of the hands of the United States. Some of my fellow students share that view, but many voice their doubts. I walk out of the lecture hall.

Despite the rain, many students are standing in front of a poster for the "Independent Islamic Student Association." The organization is advertising an anti-American event. I'm not the only one who is surprised. Here we are, waiting for our country to open up and for us to renew relations with the United States, but this new association wants precisely the opposite to occur. I see how popular the event is, especially among people from the outside. Many of the women are wearing the black chador. They seem to be supporters of the radicals. But some are also wearing very tight coats that emphasize their figures. Their lips are painted bright red. They're apparently curious onlookers.

I run into a former professor at the office. He advises me only to write about what I believe in. I believe in an Iranian-American friendship. Our people are so similar. But could I write freely about that here?

Mohsen Sahabifar, construction supervisor

My coworkers and I are amused over all the fuss that's being made about the "nest of spies," as the radicals call the US Embassy. For days, we have been reminded of the day on television and on the radio. When they play the song by singer Esfandiar Gharabaghi on the radio, we all have to smile. We agree that we would really like to take a trip to those supposedly horrible United States, if only they would let us in. A coworker says that he hopes the radicals won't poison the mood with their theatrics and provoke new sanctions. None of us, and no one we know, goes to the former US Embassy. I also have to endure the song by Gharabaghi in the supermarket. A customer says bitterly: "These ultra-radicals won't stop peppering us with their slogans until they've made us completely immiserated."

Ghazaleh Zarea, IT expert

I've been trying to reach my doctor since 8 a.m. The number at the hospital is constantly busy. In the meantime, I go online and see what's happening on Facebook. The site is blocked here, like so many others. But everyone knows how to access websites that are important to them with an anti-filter program.

The new minister for Islamic leadership, who is in charge of culture and censorship, wants to make the Internet more accessible, but I'm skeptical. The radicals will do everything in their power to stop that from happening. I'm afraid they'll succeed. President Rohani and Ayatollah Khamenei have appealed to those forces to practice moderation on today's day of the embassy occupation. The extremists are nevertheless setting American flags on fire in the streets.

When I finally get an assistant on the line at the hospital, she tells me that there are no more appointments available for today. This has been going on for 10 days, and all I want is to ask about some laboratory test results. For what exactly do I pay an eighth of my regular income to the government health insurance every month? Going to see a doctor isn't free. Whenever you receive treatment, you're charged at least twice the amount of the insurance premium for most examinations.

Tuesday, Nov. 5

Ghazaleh Zarea, IT expert

Muharram, our month of mourning, begins today. It commemorates the fact that our Imam Hussein was killed in 680, at the battle of Kerbela, in a hopeless battle against a more powerful adversary. The high point is the Day of Ashura. But even before that, the zealots march through the streets and flagellate themselves. It's a bloody spectacle. I think it's a shame that we always focus on mourning. Imam Hussein died for freedom. We should celebrate that, instead of getting ourselves into victim mode.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

We receive a visit from several attorneys from Kermanshah, the provincial capital of a primarily Kurdish region on the border with Iraq. It's about providing support to colleagues who have been arrested. The conversation was brought about because of the hunger strike of our friend Soltani, who was so courageous in Nasrin's trial. My wife and her colleagues feel that the lawyers' association in Tehran, in particular, should do more for Soltani. The organization has a certain amount of authority in the capital. But the association cannot act freely, at the risk of being banned. Nevertheless, the former board did a great deal for Nasrin at the time. The current representatives, who were elected two years ago, are much more reserved. Nasrin and her colleagues want the association to support Soltani now.

Wednesday, Nov. 6

Mohsen Zahabifar, construction supervisor

There's no escape. Muharram, the month of mourning, has taken over the city. Scaffolding from which large banners with verses from the Koran, pictures of our imams and religious motifs are being erected along the streets. This is causing even more traffic jams. The sound of religious songs reverberating through the streets drowns out the noise of nervous drivers honking their horns. Zealots are crowding the streets, handing out tea or, in the evening hours, rice with yellow lentils and mutton.

I hear funeral music everywhere. It suits my mood. I almost always wear black clothing, like so many other people here. We are all in mourning, and we are collectively depressed. I haven't played my sitar, my lute, in a year. I curse these sanctions, which have ruined and suffocated us. In many small industrial cities, everything has been shut down. How are we supposed to find a way out of this crisis?

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

My sister picks me up after work. We talk about President Rohani. I don't think our economy will recover quickly. My sister tells me not to bother her with my critical views. Am I too pessimistic, or am I just realistic? In any case, I want to return to the United States to study design and technology in New York. But I love Tehran. Only those who have lived here can understand Iran, and the contradictions that are so typical of my country. Iran is a puzzle in which many pieces don't fit together, and yet they produce a picture that is both beautiful and alarming at the same time. Sometimes I think that we Iranians invented not only the game of chess, but also the paradox.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


November 13, 2013

Kerry and Biden Ask for Room to Reach a Nuclear Deal With Iran


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed senators on Wednesday to give the Obama administration some breathing room to reach an accord with Iran to freeze its nuclear programs, warning that a new round of sanctions could mean war instead of diplomacy.

But they faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

Mr. Kerry, briefing the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, made his case against the committee’s moving forward with a proposal for new sanctions even as Western diplomats were talking about easing existing sanctions in exchange for concessions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Moving too soon on a new round amounted to “getting in the way of diplomacy,” he said, suggesting that Congress could always act later.

“Let’s give them a few weeks, see if it works and we have all our options at our disposal,” he told reporters as he ducked into the closed-door meeting.

The briefing was part of an all-out effort by the administration both to tamp down congressional saber rattling and to move diplomacy forward to reach the agreement that proved elusive over the weekend in Geneva. President Obama has made a flurry of calls to the leaders of Britain and France ahead of a resumption of nuclear negotiations in Geneva on Nov. 21 and 22. On Tuesday night, he called Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to discuss Iran, among other issues.

Mr. Biden met with the Democratic Congressional leadership, and on Thursday, administration officials will hold briefings for House leaders and members of the Senate.

Administration officials say they are in striking distance of an agreement that would halt much of Iran’s nuclear program for six months. The aim would be to freeze the program, and even roll back some of it, so the United States and its partners would have time to pursue more comprehensive talks with the Iranians. Easing sanctions would be part of an interim deal and would be done by providing the Iranians with access to frozen funds. But the officials say they would not remove the core sanctions as part of an initial agreement.

Critics in Congress and in Israel, however, say that economic pressure led the Iranians back to the negotiating table and that it would be a mistake to ease the pressure now.

“The American people justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and this agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman. “So as this legislation is being considered, members of Congress need to ask themselves: Do they believe diplomacy should be the first resort, or should we open the door to confrontation? And what — why not wait and see if diplomacy can be successful in this case?”

But the skepticism is bipartisan. Mr. Reid, a Democrat, said, “I hope we can work something out with Iran, but I am a person who really believes in the state of Israel.”

“Our concern over here in dealing with the nuclear capability of Iran is one thing,” he continued. “Put your mind-set that you’re in Israel. There are not thousands of miles separating you. It’s scores of miles. What we do has to be done right.”

After meeting with top administration officials, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat, said: “I am dubious of the proportionality of the deal. While I am exploring further details, I am worried that we are reducing sanctions while Iran is not reducing its nuclear capabilities.”

Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a critic of the administration’s negotiating stance, said action on a new round of sanctions would actually help negotiations by allowing diplomats to say that absent major Iranian concessions, Mr. Obama’s hands will be tied by Congress.

Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that the administration might be shedding “crocodile tears” over the possibility of new sanctions. But Mr. Kerry made the case that moving forward with sanctions, either in the committee or as an amendment to a defense policy bill next week, could not only end negotiations with Iran but lead to a military confrontation.

Treasury officials also briefed senators on Wednesday, assuring them that any sanctions relief offered in an interim accord to freeze nuclear development would be dwarfed by the amount of revenue Iran would continue to lose under the sanctions still in place. They noted that Iran had turned down the initial offer, and they told lawmakers that “no one is suggesting an open-ended delay for new sanctions,” according to a Treasury official.

Administration officials also argue that the imposition of new sanctions by Congress might prompt the United States’ allies to conclude that Washington, not Tehran, is responsible for any strains in the talks. That could backfire, State Department officials insist, by undermining international support for new sanctions.

The imposition of new sanctions “would send the wrong message to the international community,” Ms. Psaki said.

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« Reply #9982 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:16 AM »

Sri Lankan president tells David Cameron: 'We have nothing to hide'

Diplomatic pressure on British PM after he announced intention to 'shine a light' on Tamil human rights at Commonwealth summit

Rowena Mason in Kolkata, Thursday 14 November 2013 11.30 GMT      

David Cameron is set for a diplomatic battle over Sri Lanka's human rights record at the Commonwealth summit after the country's president insisted he has "nothing to hide".

The prime minister has promised to bring up the host country's alleged complicity in torture, kidnappings and war crimes with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the gathering of world leaders in Colombo.

Ahead of Friday's meeting, Cameron also confirmed he will visit the northern city of Jaffna, a Tamil-dominated area that suffered heavily in the country's 25-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

However, Rajapaksa has hit back at international criticism, saying his country is open about its past.

"We have a legal system in Sri Lanka," Rajapaksa said in a Colombo news conference. "If anyone wants to complain about the human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether it is torture, whether it is rape … we have a system.

"If there [are] any violations, we will take action against anyone. So we are open. We have nothing to hide."

He also revealed he has agreed to meet Cameron, and suggested his response will be combative. "I will be meeting him and we will see, I will also have to ask some questions," he said.

Earlier, Sri Lanka's media minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, warned Cameron could not make demands of the county as if it were a colony.

He told the BBC: "We are a sovereign nation. You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka? It can be a cordial request. We are not a colony. We are an independent state."
Link to video: David Cameron defends trip to Sri Lanka for Commonwealth summit

Cameron is planning to push for an independent inquiry into the human rights accusations, with international oversight if Sri Lanka cannot commit to making progress during the summit.

However, Labour has called for the prime minister to boycott the meeting entirely in protest at Sri Lanka's record, as the Indian and Canadian leaders have.

Writing in the Tamil Guardian, Ed Miliband also urged Cameron to push for Rajapaksa to be stripped of his automatic two-year chairmanship of the Commonwealth after hosting the summit.

This ceremonial role means he will play a key part in next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, hosted by the queen.

It is understood Cameron has not ruled out pushing for this sanction but considers the international inquiry a greater priority. Whitehall sources also pointed out this would have to be agreed by a consensus of Commonwealth leaders.

Speaking from India, Cameron said he will be looking to highlight Sri Lanka's human rights record.

"There's no doubt that journalists in Sri Lanka are restricted in what they can do, that's one of the reasons for shining a light on human rights and journalistic freedoms," he said,

"For my own part, I am going to the north of the country, to Jaffna. I'll be the first not only prime minister of Britain but any prime minister anywhere in the world who's going to the north of that country since 1948.

"I think it's very important to go, to make exactly the points we were talking about, that there needs to be a proper inquiry, there needs to be proper human rights and democracy for the Tamils in their country and these things need to be properly looked at.

"My view is that of course there's always a case for not going somewhere but I think actually we'll get further by going and having conversations with Sri Lanka about what needs to happen and shining a light on some of the issues that are there.

"When I go to the north, I'll be taking journalists with me."

Ahead of the summit, some Tamil media have reported that campaigners have been prevented from travelling to Colombo to protest about relatives who have disappeared.

A Channel 4 crew has also said it was blocked from reaching a former war zone in the north for filming as pro-government protesters stood in the way of their train. Among the journalists on board was Callum Macrae, whose documentary No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka was released ahead of the summit.


Sri Lanka rebukes David Cameron on eve of Commonwealth summit

British PM, who plans to raise human rights with President Rajapaksa, is warned not to treat host country like a colony

Rowena Mason in Delhi, Thursday 14 November 2013 06.05 GMT   

David Cameron has been sharply rebuked by Sri Lanka as he travels to the Commonwealth summit being held in Colombo where he will seek to raise human rights with the country's president.

UK officials said they had made it clear Cameron expected a meeting with Mahinda Rajapaksa where the British prime minister would bring up allegations about the army's actions in the country's 25-year civil war, the treatment of journalists and the slow pace of an investigation into the murder of the British Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh.

A direct meeting with Rajapaksa has been scheduled but on Wednesday night Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lanka's media minister, warned Cameron could not make demands of Sri Lanka like a colony.

The minister told the BBC: "We are a sovereign nation. You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka. It can be a cordial request. We are not a colony. We are an independent state."

Speaking ahead of the summit, Cameron defended his decision to seek a meeting with Rajapaksa, saying there was no point boycotting international gatherings.

The prime minister said it would be a different matter to fly to Sri Lanka just to visit Rajapaksa, whose government is accused of complicity in alleged torture, kidnappings and war crimes.

Such a visit would "send the wrong message" about Britain's intentions. But going to Sri Lanka in the context of an international summit was acceptable, Cameron stated. He is due to meet business leaders on this visit, his third to the country as prime minister.

Speaking on his way to India ahead of the three-day summit in Colombo, the prime minister said he was expecting "huge attention" on Sri Lanka's human rights record after several leaders refused to attend in protest.

He said: "This is not a bilateral visit to Sri Lanka. This is a Commonwealth leaders' conference. I don't think you get anywhere by boycotting multilateral events like this. Bilateral visits are one thing because they send a signal about your intentions and your views, but in a multilateral organisation, unless you've got a very good reason, I think it's best to turn up and make your argument."

Despite his comments about bilateral visits, Cameron was pushing for a one-on-one meeting with Rajapaska, having made his attendance at the conference contingent on being allowed to visit the war-torn north of the country to meet people affected by the conflict. Rajapaksa is credited by some with winning the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

UK officials said they had made clear Cameron expected a meeting with Rajapaksa where he would raise the issues of allegations about the army's actions in the country's 25-year civil war, the treatment of journalists, and the slow pace of an investigation into the murder of the British former Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh.

The Sri Lankan president has not yet agreed to a bilateral meeting, but UK officials said they were confident it would be granted.

Cameron spoke about the summit as he flew to Delhi for a meeting with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who has chosen to boycott the event along with Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper.


Strip Sri Lanka of Commonwealth chairmanship, Ed Miliband urges

Call comes as David Cameron heads to Colombo for summit overshadowed by host country's alleged human rights abuses

Rowena Mason in Delhi, Thursday 14 November 2013 09.01 GMT      

Labour has called for Sri Lanka's president to be stripped of his chairmanship of the Commonwealth as David Cameron heads to Colombo for a summit overshadowed by the host country's alleged human rights abuses.

Before the gathering of 54 world leaders, Ed Miliband said the prime minister must not allow Sri Lanka to take up its two-year leadership role after it hosts the Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan leader, is due to inherit the chairmanship automatically, meaning he would hold a key role during next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, hosted by the Queen.

Cameron has not so far called for Rajapaksa to be stripped of the position but it is understood it is something he will consider with other world leaders during the summit, which starts on Friday.

Labour has already called for the prime minister to boycott the summit, like the Canadian and Indian leaders, amid allegations the country has failed to investigate war crimes, kidnappings and torture by state forces.

However, since Cameron is set on attending, the party has called for the prime minister to make the event a "flashpoint for protest" when he arrives on Friday along with the Prince of Wales.

In a new article published in the Tamil Guardian, Miliband said: "An estimated 40,000 civilians died in that brutal conflict and yet there has still been no investigation into allegations of war crimes because the Sri Lankan government has so far refused to carry one out. Instead of making progress, the situation in Sri Lanka seems to be getting worse."

The Labour leader said world leaders should think about whether Rajapaksa should be allowed automatically to inherit the Commonwealth chairmanship.

"There are many, myself included, who have serious reservations about President Rajapaksa's suitability for this important role," Miliband said.

"So at this summit this week, unless we see real and meaningful change on human rights in Sri Lanka, David Cameron should work with other Commonwealth leaders on securing an alternative candidate for chairperson-in-office."

British officials said they have made it clear Cameron expects a meeting with Rajapaksa, in which he would bring up allegations about the army's actions in the country's 25-year civil war, the treatment of journalists and the slow pace of an investigation into the murder of British former Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh.

A direct meeting with Rajapaksa has now been scheduled but on Wednesday night, Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lanka's media minister, warned that Cameron could not make demands of Sri Lanka as if it were a colony.

He told the BBC: "We are a sovereign nation. You think someone can just make a demand from Sri Lanka. It can be a cordial request. We are not a colony. We are an independent state."

Speaking ahead of the summit, Cameron defended his decision to seek a meeting with Rajapaksa, saying there is no point boycotting international gatherings.

The prime minister said it would be a different matter to fly to Sri Lanka just to visit the president, which would send the wrong message about Britain's intentions, but going to the country in the context of an international summit is acceptable.

"This is not a bilateral visit to Sri Lanka. This is a Commonwealth leaders' conference. I don't think you get anywhere by boycotting multilateral events like this," he said

During the visit, Cameron will travel to the war-torn north of the country to meet people affected by the conflict.

He spoke about the summit as he flew to Delhi for a meeting with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who has chosen to boycott the event, as has the Canadian leader, Stephen Harper. He met business leaders in his third visit to the country as prime minister.

On Thursday, Cameron confirmed for the first time he would be taking a group of journalists to Jaffna, which suffered some if the worst scenes in Sri Lanka's 25-year conflict, which ended in 2009.

"There's no doubt that journalists in Sri Lanka are restricted in what they can do, that's one of the reasons for shining a light on human rights and journalistic freedoms," he said in India.

"For my own part, I am going to the north of the country, to Jaffna. I'll be the first not only prime minister of Britain but any prime minister anywhere in the world who's going to the north of that country since 1948.

"I think it's very important to go, to make exactly the points we were talking about, that there needs to be a proper inquiry, there needs to be proper human rights and democracy for the Tamils in their country and these things need to be properly looked at.

"My view is that of course there's always a case for not going somewhere but I think actually we'll get further by going and having conversations with Sri Lanka about what needs to happen and shining a light on some of the issues that are there.

"When I go to the north, I'll be taking journalists with me."

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« Reply #9983 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:19 AM »

China granted seat on UN's human rights council

Campaigners express concern at China's human rights record as it gains seat along with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Wednesday 13 November 2013 15.49 GMT     

China has been granted a seat on the UN's human rights council despite its long record of refusing inspections by international human rights monitors.

On Tuesday, the UN general assembly filled 14 vacant seats on the 47-member council for a three-year period beginning on 1 January of next year. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba were elected as well, despite their controversial human rights records.

China's election is "troubling on two counts", said Julie de Rivero, a Human Rights Watch director in Geneva, where the council meets.

"One is because of their domestic human rights record – members of the council are supposed to hold the highest standards for protecting human rights. Two is that they're quite negative players within the council, in that they reject all initiatives that hold human rights violators accountable for what they do."

The council's membership is "based on equitable geographical distribution", according to the UN news centre; Asian states are allocated 13 seats. China, which has sat on the council in the past, ran uncontested.

Since the Chinese government proffered its bid for council membership this summer, it has detained scores of human rights campaigners, tightened internet censorship and orchestrated security crackdowns in Tibet. China has repeatedly denied UN human rights inspectors access to the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

Chinese authorities have not acknowledged the apparent contradiction. China "is committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people, and has worked unremittingly towards this goal", the Chinese government said in a statement when it announced its bid for a seat in August.

According to a Human Rights Watch report from 2011, China's "main concern at the council appears to be to protect state sovereignty from what it considers undue interference in domestic affairs through overly critical resolutions". In 2010 and 2011, it voted against resolutions to address human rights violations in Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and Syria.

Because none of its individual members have veto power, analysts say, the council can continue to operate despite these objections.

"When the human rights council was created, government had to decide what the basic rules would be – and NGOs advocated very strongly that there should be a higher threshold of at least co-operation with the UN," De Rivero said. "But this is what the UN decided, that it has to be a body that represents people from all regions and political structures."


November 13, 2013

New Chinese Panel Said to Oversee Domestic Security and Foreign Policy


BEIJING — China’s new national security committee is mainly based on the Washington model. It will put at the disposal of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, a highly empowered group of security experts who can work the levers of the country’s vast security apparatus — and presumably respond more nimbly than the country’s multilayered party, police and military bureaucracies have been known to do.

But the Chinese body, which was announced at the conclusion of a party meeting this week, will apparently differ from the American National Security Council in one crucial aspect: The Chinese version will have dual duties with responsibility over domestic security as well as foreign policy, Chinese experts say.

That means the new body will deal with cybersecurity as well as the unrest in China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions, where resistance against the Han majority population is continuing, according to Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing and an occasional adviser to the government.

“In China, the security question is largely domestic: cyber, Xinjiang and Tibet,” Mr. Shi said. The focus will be on foreign policy with a considerable domestic component that will call for the Public Security Bureau to participate on the committee when it discusses matters of internal security, he said.

The decision by Mr. Xi to push ahead with the national security committee drew special attention because although two of his predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had contemplated forming such a coordinating policy group, bureaucratic resistance, particularly from the military, had prevented its creation, the experts said.

Over the years, Chinese officials have asked their American counterparts about the workings of the National Security Council, established after World War II by President Harry S. Truman, to advise presidents on national security and foreign policy and to coordinate policies among government agencies.

In the United States, the president is chairman of the National Security Council, and the regular attendees include the vice president and the secretaries of state, defense and the Treasury. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the military adviser to the council, and the director of national intelligence is the intelligence adviser.

It seemed clear from the Chinese announcement that Mr. Xi would head the new Chinese agency and that his position at the helm would serve to increase his already firm grasp on power, said Zhao Kejin, an associate professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, who is an expert on China’s diplomacy.

The precise membership of the new committee was not specified in the statement. It may take some months and considerable political jockeying before the exact composition of the new body is defined, Mr. Shi said.

Another obvious difference between the American model and the new Chinese agency is the dominant role of the Communist Party in China. “The Standing Committee will still be king for all important things,” said Mr. Shi, referring to the seven men, including Mr. Xi, who are decision makers of the Politburo.

At Sunnylands, the California estate where President Obama and Mr. Xi met for a two-day summit meeting in June, an official in Mr. Xi’s entourage asked an American official about how the National Security Council was staffed, according to an American official who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“I know of specific inquiries key Chinese officials were making as recently as a month ago about how the U.S. N.S.C. has evolved,” said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton presidency. “My understanding was that this was on behalf of the highest levels of the leadership.”

The Chinese version of the National Security Council would most likely borrow elements from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency created after the September 2001 attacks to manage terrorism threats in the United States, said Xie Yue, a professor of political science at Tongji University in Shanghai who is an expert on Chinese domestic security policy.

“Now China and other countries are paying increasing attention to antiterrorism, and China doesn’t have an established body to coordinate or lead here,” said Mr. Xie, who has followed the debate in the Chinese government about establishing a security committee.

The twin concerns of the new committee show that making a distinction between domestic and foreign affairs is a thing of the past, said Mr. Zhao, the Tsinghua professor.

“We believe security is not only traditional security, not only territory and borders, but also means climate change, financial reform and terrorism,” Mr. Zhao said.

Mr. Zhao said Mr. Xi would dominate the new national security committee and would add the title to the three major responsibilities he already holds: general secretary of the Communist Party, head of the People’s Liberation Army and head of state.

Who will serve as China’s equivalent of the United States national security adviser is a tantalizing question, Chinese experts said.

The front-runner for the senior staff job at the Chinese agency is considered to be Wang Huning, 58, who is a member of the Politburo, the director of the policy research office of the Communist Party and a close adviser on domestic and foreign policy to three Chinese presidents: Mr. Hu, Mr. Jiang and now Mr. Xi.

Mr. Wang is unusual in the Chinese policy firmament because his expertise covers American politics and Chinese domestic concerns as well as foreign policy, a portfolio of interests that would seem to coincide with the mandate of the new national security committee.

“His skills span both foreign and domestic policy and his membership in the Politburo gives him more political clout than anyone in the formal foreign policy system has,” Mr. Lieberthal said.

In the late 1990s, he wrote an essay that called for greater separation of government and industry, a period when such ideas were less discussed than now. Before joining government, he served as a professor of international politics and as dean of the law school at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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« Reply #9984 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Anger erupts in New Zealand after defense lawyer told victim to ‘close your legs’ to avoid rape

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 14, 2013 6:31 EST

Victims’ rights advocates in New Zealand on Thursday condemned a defence lawyer who told a rape victim she should have “closed her legs” if she wanted to avoid having sex.

Defence lawyer Keith Jefferies made the remarks when summing up at the trial of his client, a nightclub bouncer who was convicted of rape in Wellington District Court on Wednesday, the Dominion Post reported.

The newspaper said the 20-year-old woman was drunk in the central business district when the bouncer, George Pule, approached her and told her that he could get her into a nightclub where her friends were socialising.

Instead he led her down an alley and raped her, although Jefferies said the victim did not struggle or cry out.

“All she would have had to do was to close her legs… it’s as simple as that,” the newspaper quoted him as saying in his closing arguments.

“Why didn’t she do that? The reason she didn’t do that was because the sex was consensual, as easy as that.”

Natalie Gousmett from the Wellington Rape Crisis Centre said the remarks were “horrific” and attempted to shift the blame for sexual assault onto the victim.

She said the case, and the so-called “Roastbusters” controversy — which involved a group of Auckland youths boasting online about having group sex with underage girls — had thrown a spotlight on attitudes to sexual assault in New Zealand.

“It is an example of victim-blaming comments and rape culture, which we’ve seen all too much in the last week and a half,” she said.

“It’s very offensive obviously, and harmful for the victim and her family.”

Jefferies conceded he had made the comments but said they came while defending his client and did not reflect his personal views.

He said he was quoted out of context and that for anyone to fully understand what he meant they would have had to have attended the entire trial, which involved complex issues of consent.

“If there had been anything unduly wrong with what I said I would’ve been reprimanded by the judge and also the crown lawyer would have complained,” he told commercial radio Thursday.

“It was relative to the facts of this particular case.”

The Dominion Post said prosecutor Geraldine Kelly told the court that the victim, who was not identified, did not fight back because she was petrified of her attacker.

“No, she didn’t fight back, she didn’t scream her head off, she didn’t go running into the street screaming ‘Rape!’ she said. “But this isn’t an American TV show, this is real life. She was scared, and she didn’t want to make the situation worse.”

Pule is awaiting sentencing on the rape conviction.

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« Reply #9985 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines aid effort hampered by lawlessness

Some relief agencies scaling back in worst-hit areas due to desperate actions of Haiyan survivors and raids by bandits

Kate Hodal in Cebu, Thursday 14 November 2013 07.47 GMT   

Major relief packages have continued to pour into the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban – from food aid to medicine and search-and-rescue teams – on the second day of a ramped-up effort by the Philippines government to reach those hardest hit by the super storm that many fear has killed more than 10,000 people.

The aid comes amid heightened insecurity and tension in the city, where reports of gunshots, stabbings and ambushes have caused many residents and aid workers to fear for their lives.

Local and American military C-130 planes were flying in with supplies on Thursday, while the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier that can accommodate the landing of helicopters, was expected to arrive off the coast.

An American medical ship has been ordered but would not arrive for another few weeks. British digger maker JCB announced it would send heavy machinery and generators to help clear up the debris that still lines the streets.

Despite the arrival of aid and a concerted effort by the military to restore order to the town, thousands of stricken residents still crammed the crumbling airport desperate for a way out of the city that has borne the brunt of the storm and its aftermath.

On Wednesday night the Tacloban mayor, Alfred Romualdez, led a mass burial in a graveyard just outside the city. Officials said every effort had been made to ensure those buried could be identified in the weeks to come.

The official death toll of 2,357 is a considerably lower figure than that estimated by aid workers, who say the lack of information coming from various areas – some 29 municipalities in all are affected – could mean that the devastation is far greater than yet realised. Most casualties seem to have been around the islands of Samar and Leyte, where the storm first made landfall at 195mph on Friday morning, with accompanying sea surges of up to 20ft.

The resulting damage in the region – a coastal flatland that has seen whole villages blown apart by the storm's heavy winds and rain – has created a state of pandemonium in Tacloban, where survivors have had to loot shops and malls for water, while others have resorted to scavenging for food among the bloated bodies of the dead.

On Wednesday stories of heightened violence and tension circulated around the city as eight were killed after stampeding a rice warehouse looking for food. A Philippine Red Cross convoy was allegedly hijacked by armed men who were later shot dead by police, and a 13-year-old boy was knifed in the neck and stomach by unknown men, AFP reported. There were unverified reports that prisoners from the local jail, who had successfully broken out of their cells after the storm, were ambushing people carrying supplies across San Juanico bridge, which connects Tacloban with Samar island.

A Facebook status warning of traffickers posing as relief workers and targeting women and children circulated on Thursday but the Guardian was not able to verify the report. Officials urged people to stay calm and not believe everything they heard. "There have been so many reports of looting and rape which have turned out not to be correct," Ricky Caradang, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III, told the local ABS-CBN TV channel.

A nighttime curfew has been in place since Monday and in a televised report on Wednesday the BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said Tacloban had turned into a "war zone". Footage showed tanks rolling through the centre of the devastated town and soldiers crouching behind walls with automatic rifles. Just what the threat was to the city had not been made clear, he said.

Some aid agencies, fearing for the safety of their employees, have ordered teams to evacuate. Plan International has withdrawn all 15 of its employees – normally permanently based in Tacloban – until security is restored in the city, according to spokesman Ian Wishart. The fact that many aid workers had arrived in Tacloban but little aid had yet been distributed was creating a security concern, one aid worker told the Guardian. A memo was circulating among relief workers advising them not to move around in Tacloban as some UN staff had already been pulled out for security reasons.

But officials have pointed to an increased presence of police and military, and the arrival of aid, as a turning point for the ravaged city.

Carandang said 26 of 138 barangays (neighbourhoods) in Tacloban had received aid, with many of the roads previously blocked by fallen trees and debris now cleared.

Oxfam has sent enough emergency water supplies for 20,000 families in Tacloban on a first-run delivery of effort, although the charity added that delivery was dependent on a stable security situation in the town itself.

Plans are to provide half a million people affected by the super storm with emergency shelter, water and construction materials to rebuild their homes and boats. The World Food Programme successfully delivered nearly 25 tonnes of high-energy biscuits on Wednesday and another 10 tonnes were on their way, the UN body said.

Much of the devastation wrought by Haiyan occurred in the Philippines' agricultural belt, with the majority of residents in Leyte and Samar working on farms or as fishermen.


Typhoon-ravaged Tacloban sees first signs of international aid effort

US military planes deliver 25 tonnes of food to starving survivors of Haiyan disaster in central Philippines

Kate Hodal in Cebu
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 November 2013 04.11 GMT   

The first signs of a concerted aid effort appeared in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban on Wednesday as US military planes delivered 25 tonnes of biscuits to starving survivors on the same day the city's mayor implored residents to leave town in order to survive.

The mayor's grim suggestion followed the death of eight people who were crushed after thousands of hungry residents stormed a government-owned rice warehouse in desperate search of food.

It has been five days since the strongest storm ever recorded pummelled its way across the central Philippines, leaving in its wake a mess of death and destruction. The lack of food and water in the region has triggered looting of shops and malls for supplies, with reports circulating of gunshots and stabbings and one Philippine Red Cross convoy allegedly hijacked by armed men who were shot dead by police.

In Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, decaying bodies still line the streets and looters have taken to pillaging the city's few remaining drops of fuel. Food and drug warehouses have also been stormed.

The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that nearly 50,000 people in and around Tacloban had received rice and canned food. Each three-kilogram pack was enough to feed a family for a few days. Nearly 25 tonnes of high-energy biscuits were either on their way by plane or already being distributed.

Only about 20% of Tacloban's 220,000 residents had so far received aid, city administrator Tecson John Lim pointed out to Reuters. Some had been forced to dig up water pipes in order to stay alive. "Looting is not criminality – it is self-preservation," said Lim.

Mayor Alfred Romualdez said his city was in desperate need not only of aid, but also of trucks and drivers to transport it where it is most needed.

Heavy machinery would also help remove the rubble and allow the city to start cleaning up the decaying corpses that line its streets, he said, but he was facing an acute lack of manpower. "I have to decide at every meeting which is more important – relief goods or picking up cadavers," he said.

The Philippine energy secretary, Jericho Petilla, estimated it could take six weeks for the first of the typhoon-hit communities to get their electricity back.

Petilla said many powerlines and power plants had been damaged, and in places like Tacloban the lack of law and order was making this task very difficult. One example involved troops exchanging fire with a one group of armed men to chase them away from an electricity substation in Leyte province.

The Philippine government has come under fire for failing to deliver aid quickly enough or in sufficient quantity, with frustration in the hardest-hit areas, such as Tacloban, reaching boiling point.

More than 10,000 people are feared to have died during or after Haiyan, which decimated large swaths of the Philippines before killing others in Vietnam and China. Although government figures put the death toll at 2,275, 29 municipalities had not yet been reached on Wednesday and aid workers believe the number of both dead and missing will rise.

"The numbers are just coming in," said Gwendolyn Pang of the Philippine Red Cross. "Many areas we cannot access."

While much of the focus may still be on Tacloban and its immediate surroundings, many of the outlying islands in the archipelago could be in similarly dire straits, relief agencies said.

The UN believes more than 670,000 people have been displaced and a total of 11.3 million people directly affected by the storm. Some $25m (£15.7m) in emergency funds have been set aside for shelter materials and household items, as well as assistance with emergency health services, safe water supplies and sanitation.

Medical teams from Belgium, Israel, Norway and Japan are expected to begin setting up much-needed field hospitals soon, while a team of British medical experts departed for the region.

Food aid includes another 10 tonnes of high-energy World Food Programme biscuits for immediate delivery, with six more military C-130 planes scheduled to deliver aid on Thursday, a military official told the Guardian.

Senior Obama administration officials said on Wednesday that the US government has provided $20m in humanitarian assistance to date. These funds were split between general relief efforts through the US Agency for International Development and food aid provided in partnership with the World Food Programme. Officials said that the US government was set to have more than 1,000 personnel providing assistance in the affected areas by the end of the week.

On Tuesday, the UN aid chief, Valerie Amos, launched an appeal for $300m. She spent Wednesday in Tacloban, meeting officials, talking to survivors and surveying the number of dead, said Orla Fagan of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

The fact that many aid workers have arrived in Tacloban but little aid has yet been disseminated has created a security concern, one aid worker said. A memo was circulating among relief workers advising aid workers not to move around in Tacloban, as some UN staff had already been pulled out for security reasons.

Although international aid has been ready for delivery since shortly after the typhoon hit, it has not yet reached those who need it, said Alwynn Javier of Christian Aid. "Only the government and Philippine Red Cross have been able to do distribution so far as I know," he said. "But it seems access may have improved a bit now, with boats leaving from Samar to Tacloban, and from the southern parts of the island, so we're hoping in the next few days the situation will get better.

"The security still needs to be taken care of because until it is, the aid will remain difficult to distribute."

While the World Food Programme was able to distribute rice to nearly 50,000 people in Tacloban on Wednesday, the agency said in its Twitter feed that the challenge was now "getting food from Manila to the people who need it most".

"The logistical challenges are still enormous given the scale of the disaster," said Alvaro Villanueva, of Action Against Hunger. "Access to the worst-affected areas is extremely difficult given the extent of the damage and the geography."

At a supermarket near Cebu airport, where much of the aid destined for Tacloban is loaded on to cargo planes, one citizen was taking matters into his own hands.

Mark Pinatola stood in front of boxes of noodles, sardines, crisps and toiletries for delivery to Guiuan, the city where Haiyan made landfall on Friday, giving orders to supermarket staff about how to pack supplies for air delivery. "I wanted to deliver it to Tacloban, but the situation there is too dangerous," said the Melbourne-based logistics officer, who has chartered a private helicopter and plans to deliver 800kg worth of aid out of his own pocket. "So I called the mayor of Guiuan and he assured me that it was safe for us to land."

Additional reporting by Amanda Holpuch in New York

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« Reply #9986 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:35 AM »

African Union head calls for end to child marriage

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma makes plea at family planning talks as she attempts to allay fears over African population surge

Claire Provost, Wednesday 13 November 2013 14.01 GMT   

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the African Union (AU), has thrown her weight behind calls to end child marriage, which is increasingly being identified by human rights activists and public health experts as a priority concern.

"We must do away with child marriage," Dlamini-Zuma said in a speech at the opening ceremony of the largest international summit on family planning. In too many African countries "girls who end up as brides at a tender age are coerced into having children while they are children themselves".

The third international conference on family planning, which opened on Tuesday at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, includes a special focus on reducing the rate of teenage pregnancies and ensuring that young people also have access to contraception.

Dlamini-Zuma said it was paramount to keep up the momentum around expanding access to family planning, but argued that the conversation must go beyond fears of a "population explosion". "Family planning is not just about fewer kids," she said. Enabling women to have more choices about whether and when they have children must be seen as part of the "quest for women's emancipation".

There is concern that the global family planning agenda is being driven, at least in part, by those keen to stem population growth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The world population, now at 7.2 billion, could exceed 9.5 billion by 2050, according to UN estimates. More than half of this growth is expected in Africa, where the number of people is expected to more than double, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion.

Earlier this year, the veteran BBC presenter David Attenborough called for more debate about population control and controversially argued that famine in Africa was nature's response to too many people and not enough land.

Dlamini-Zuma and others at the Addis Ababa talks are determined to reframe the conversation about family planning, emphasising human rights and drawing links with issues such as child marriage.

The executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Babatunde Osotimehin, said it was critical that young people benefited from the resurgence of interest in, and funding for, family planning.

Africa is often referred to as the youngest continent, with an estimated 65% of its population below the age of 35. More than 35% are 15-35.

"Africa needs to grow its young people, and build its human capacity," said Osotimehin. "For as long as we have teenage pregnancies, in the kind of epidemic we have on this continent … we're not going to get there"

Before the summit's opening ceremony, more than two dozen African ministers attended a high-level meeting focused on how increasing access to family planning can contribute to long-term economic growth on the continent.

Osotimehin said child marriage was holding back progress in some areas, and that, while critical, it was not enough for governments to enact legislation against it.

Despite international commitments to end the practice, one in three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18, and 50 million girls are at risk of being married before the age of 15 between now and 2020, according to a report published last month by the UNFPA.

Communities and traditional, local leaders must be brought into the conversation, said Osotimehin, which must tackle fundamental inequalities between boys and girls. "We must build gender-neutral societies … where girls [and boys] are treated the same," he said.

The conference aims to build on the momentum of last year's family planning summit in London, where donors pledged $2.6bn (£1.6bn) in new funding and committed to providing 120 million more women with access to modern contraceptives by 2020.

According to the first progress report on the London summit FP2020 commitments, published on Wednesday, a quarter of the countries that made commitments have since launched detailed, costed national family planning strategies and a third have increased their national budget allocations for family planning.

Some progress has also been made on developing new contraceptive technologies, according to the report, which highlights agreements to make two long-acting contraceptive implants – Jadelle and Implanon – available to some of the world's poorest countries at more than a 50% price reduction.

Valerie DeFillipo, director of the FP2020 taskforce, said there was a need for better indicators to measure informed choice, autonomy and the extent to which family planning programmes are being implemented in accordance with human rights principles. It is critical, she said, that women are not denied access to contraception and there is absolutely no coercion in rolling out family planning programmes.

Many countries and donors track progress using contraceptive prevalence rates, with data based primarily on surveys conducted every five years. These measures look simply at the percentage of women using contraceptives, regardless of what their experiences are.

As part of the FP2020 campaign, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing in new methods to collect more real-time data on family planning, using mobile technology, and gather information not only on contraceptive use but also the quality of health care, how choices are made, and how women access services.

"Our vision is, by 2020, to have a much more rigorous and robust approach to tracking rights-based programmes," DeFillipo said.


Teenage pregnancies and contraception access under spotlight at global summit

Family planning talks kick off in Addis Ababa, as data shows millions of women have inadequate contraception support

Claire Provost in Addis Ababa, Tuesday 12 November 2013 12.00 GMT   

Reducing the number of teenage pregnancies and ensuring young women have access to contraception will be a focus of the largest global summit on family planning, which opens in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.

The third international family planning conference aims to build on the momentum of last year's meeting in London, where donors pledged $2.6bn (£1.6bn) in new funding and committed to providing 120 million more women with access to modern contraceptives by 2020.

The Malawian president, Joyce Banda, Thai prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and Melinda Gates are among the thousands of political leaders, philanthropists, medical experts and women's rights activists expected to attend.

"These are exciting times," said Kechi Ogbuagu, senior expert on family planning at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), who wants governments to present clear action plans on how to fulfil their promises.

Ogbuagu praised the focus on young people and said there was an urgent need to ensure that they too have access to family planning information and services.

According to estimates from the UN agency, published in its Motherhood in Childhood report last month, the number of girls in sub-Saharan Africa giving birth before the age of 15 could increase by more than 1 million by 2030, if current trends continue.

Each day, approximately 20,000 girls in the global south give birth before the age of 18. Childbirth is a leading cause of death for girls aged 15-18, according to the report.

After decades of relative neglect, family planning has rapidly acquired greater prominence on the global funding agenda, with rich countries and large philanthropic foundations ploughing billions into the expansion of services and the development of contraceptives.

"The [London] summit last year really was a turning point for this issue," said Michael Holscher, director of international programmes at Marie Stopes International But it remains critical to ensure that broad commitments are translated into hard cash and concrete programmes on the ground, he said. "If we just walk away now, promises will not be kept."

Family planning is a political minefield, particularly around the question of abortion. Ensuring teenagers and unmarried women have access to contraception is also controversial in some places where sex before marriage remains taboo.

At the UN commission on the status of women this year, delegates faced strong but ultimately unsuccessful lobbying from some conservative governments and religious groups to remove references to reproductive rights, emergency contraception and sex education in its outcome document.

There is fear in some quarters that the global family planning agenda is being driven at least in part by those keen to stem population growth, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The world population, now at 7.2 billion, could exceed 9.5 billion by 2050 and climb to nearly 11 billion by the end of the century, according to UN estimates. More than half of the growth predicted between now and 2050 is expected in Africa, where the number of people is set to more than double, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion.

The UNFPA executive director, Babatunde Osotimehin, said it was critical that family planning be recognised as a human rights issue. "Family planning is not just a public health issue … women must be able to make choices about their lives," he said.

Estimates suggest that 222 million women who do not want to get pregnant are without access to contraceptives, information and services.

The Addis Ababa conference will take stock of how much progress has been made towards high-level pledges. A number of countries and donors are also expected to make new commitments.

Organised under the banner of "full access, full choice", the summit will highlight the importance of not only expanding access to contraceptives but also ensuring women have the choice of a full range of methods. How to fund these ambitions and ensure efforts are sustainable remain critical questions, however.

There is concern, for example, that moves by some aid donors – including the UK – to pull out of middle-income countries like India and South Africa could damage efforts to ramp up services. Holsher believes investments by national governments will be critical. "The big wins will be in these transition and middle-income countries, when national governments show a commitment to family planning and investing in women," he said.

The conference will highlight the importance of national leadership, and particularly the role of female leaders in championing family planning and gender equality. "Success ultimately depends on the sustained commitment of national leaders," Banda said.

More than 100 countries will be represented at the conference, according to organisers, and dozens of African ministers are expected to attend a high-level meeting on young people and family planning on Tuesday.

Delegates from large pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer will also be in attendance. Whether new investments in family planning should go through the public or private sector remains a subject of debate.

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« Reply #9987 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:38 AM »

November 13, 2013

Attack on Israeli Worsens Tensions With Palestinians


JERUSALEM — A Palestinian teenager fatally stabbed a 19-year-old Israeli soldier on a bus in northern Israel on Wednesday, according to the police, shocking Israelis who have grown unused to such killings in their cities and further clouding a peace process that was already severely strained by Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank.

Infuriated by news of long-term planning for more settlement housing, the Palestinian leadership is expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the future of the American-backed negotiations, which began this summer and were supposed to continue for nine months.

The latest crisis was set off by reports on Tuesday that Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, had started planning for about 20,000 new settlement homes. But some officials suggested that talk of a possible collapse of the negotiations amounted to posturing, especially after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Mr. Ariel to “reconsider” his new settlement plans, essentially putting them in suspension.

“If the Palestinians want to create an artificial crisis, that’s unfortunate,” a senior Israeli official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the peace talks in public. Dismissing Mr. Ariel’s plans as having no legal standing or practical significance, the Israeli official said the Palestinians were “going through the motions.”

Arik Ben-Shimon, an aide to Mr. Ariel, said on Wednesday that the new settlement planning was “frozen” but not canceled. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who offered his resignation two weeks ago, along with his fellow negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh, in frustration over a lack of progress in the talks and the continuing settlement activity, said Mr. Ariel “needs to revoke the orders,” indicating that the issue was far from resolved.

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, confirmed in an interview with Egyptian CBC television this week that the Palestinian negotiating team had resigned, though it was never clear if the resignations had been accepted. Mr. Abbas said he was trying to persuade the negotiators to continue, adding, “If they don’t accept, I will form another team.”

The interview was recorded two days before the Palestinians learned of the latest settlement plans, according to Mr. Erekat.

The stabbing of the soldier on Wednesday also prompted calls for a rethinking on the Israeli side. Right-wing Israeli politicians have demanded a re-examination of Israel’s agreement to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons in four batches as part of a deal to resume peace talks. Two of the four groups have already been released.

In a post on her Facebook page, Tzipi Livni, the minister leading the negotiations for the Israeli government, wrote: “I wrote here earlier and harshly criticized the damage in announcing settlement construction, but I took the post off because the profound political debate about the future of our life here will certainly continue, but not now. Now I would like to pay my respects to the memory of the soldier and express sorrow to the family and to clarify one more thing: violence will not bring political achievements. And we will fight terrorism and extremists decisively and without compromise.”

The stabbing took place when the bus, traveling from Upper Nazareth to Tel Aviv, pulled into a station in the northern town of Afula.

The Israeli military said that the recently conscripted soldier, Eden Atias, 19, was in uniform at the time of the attack and that he had been on his way to an army base. He was stabbed several times in the upper body, according to Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the police. Mr. Rosenfeld said that a 16-year-old Palestinian, who was from the Jenin area of the West Bank, was apprehended at the scene and that he told security personnel that he had acted to avenge relatives in an Israeli prison.

The Palestinian news media identified the suspect as Hussein Ghwadreh and said he had two cousins serving terms in Israeli prisons, one of them a life term, apparently for killing two Israelis.

The attack came after a string of violent episodes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in recent months that ended a period of relative calm. Since September, an Israeli soldier has been killed in Hebron, apparently by a Palestinian sniper; an off-duty soldier killed by a Palestinian acquaintance who had lured him to the West Bank; and a retired colonel bludgeoned to death outside his home in the Jordan Valley.

In the last week, an Israeli couple escaped from a burning car after it was hit by a firebomb on a West Bank road, and a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after he opened fire at a bus stop with a homemade handgun.

Israeli security officials have attributed the rise in attacks to unrelated individuals rather than an orchestrated campaign backed by militant groups. A number of Palestinians have also been killed recently in clashes with Israeli soldiers. Three were killed in one arrest raid that turned violent in August.

Mr. Netanyahu and several of his ministers have blamed incitement against Israelis and Jews in the Palestinian Authority-sponsored news media and schools for the violence. Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli minister of strategic affairs, said Wednesday that the main obstacle to peace was “a culture of hatred sponsored by the government, sponsored by the Palestinian Authority.”

A Palestinian official involved in the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss them publicly, accused the Israeli government of “playing games.” The attack on the soldier was “an isolated incident by an individual,” he said.

Jodi Rudoren and Said Ghazali contributed reporting.

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« Reply #9988 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:40 AM »

November 13, 2013

Memory of a Mass Killing Becomes Another Casualty of Egyptian Protests


CAIRO — The police arrested the girls, interrogated them for hours, and then strip-searched and detained them for 10 days. They were charged with serious crimes, including endangering national security, for what the authorities regarded as an act of subversion: passing out yellow balloons.

The yellow was intended to symbolize Rabaa al-Adawiya, a square in Cairo that became the scene of a mass killing after security forces fired on protesters in August while trying to break up an Islamist sit-in. The girls, among them one whose brother died in the square, were distributing the balloons in the city of Ismailia last month in a show of solidarity with the victims.

“They are afraid of anything that reminds them of Rabaa,” one of the girls, Roqaya Saeed, 17, said of the Egyptian authorities. “A black spot they can’t erase.”

Memory has become a frequent casualty of Egypt’s politics since the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Leaders have tried to wipe away histories of atrocities by foot-dragging on investigations until new bloodshed dulls memories of the old. But nothing so far has matched the effort by the military-backed government and its supporters to extinguish the memory of Rabaa al-Adawiya, the site of the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history, and a dangerous reminder of absent justice and Egypt’s festering political feuds.

The traumas multiply, clouding Egypt’s path forward. Other countries with similar legacies of authoritarianism or widespread police abuses “had transitional justice before they were able to turn the page,” said Ahmed Ezzat, a human rights activist, who said that such a process would involve trials for perpetrators, truth commissions, reparations for victims and the reform of corrupt institutions.

But none of Egypt’s leaders possessed “the political will” to confront the abuses, he said.

Instead, reminders of the past have become a threat. Athletes have drawn outrage and censure for displaying the four-finger Rabaa symbol — Rabaa means “fourth” in Arabic — at competitions. For its part, the military quickly transformed the square where as many as 900 people were killed, leaving no hint of the violence except the bullet holes in lampposts and homes.

The bloodied roads have been covered with fresh asphalt, and the charred Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque that gives the square its name has been repainted in eggshell white. Paving stones that were hurled in protest have been replaced. Young shrubs brighten the place.

In a statement about its extensive work in restoring the square, the military said it had constructed a fountain and memorial in a place that it acknowledged had “witnessed the most difficult periods in Egypt’s history.” But the memorial — a minimalist sculpture depicting two hands, representing the army and the police, cradling an orb that is supposed to represent the people — seemed to revise history rather than confront it.

“They did it so quickly,” said Rabaa Abo Salma, 27, who lives near the square. “To make it look like nothing happened.”

There has been talk about, but no movement on, a government investigation into the violence, which occurred at a sit-in by supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military in July. The work has been left to the semiofficial National Council for Human Rights, which has no power to compel officials to testify.

Ragia Omran, a council member, said they had started to interview witnesses and review videos of the violence. She said she had faith there would be justice, eventually. “It will happen later on,” she said.

In the meantime, the country has not even been able to agree on the final death toll, and the authorities have released conflicting figures. They have said that between 683 and 1,000 people, including 43 police officers, were killed across the country on Aug. 14, the day the authorities stormed Rabaa al-Adawiya, as well as another sit-in by Morsi supporters at Nahda Square. Mr. Morsi’s Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has released figures widely seen as inflated, claiming that thousands died. Other reports have put the number at between 800 and 900 people.

There is little clamor for any inquiry among the public, which harbors deep antipathy toward the Brotherhood and seems desperate to move on from the era of protest. Despite a crackdown on the movement, Mr. Morsi’s supporters have continued to march. They have adopted the name of the square as their slogan, and the four-finger symbol that has become its own provocation.

In recent weeks, two Egyptian athletes have ignited controversy after flashing the symbol at sporting events, a gesture, they said, to the people who died. One of them, Mohamed Youssef, who wore a Rabaa T-shirt as he was receiving a gold medal at a kung fu competition in Russia, received a yearlong suspension from competition by Egypt’s Kung Fu Association, according to local news media.

On Sunday, a soccer player, Ahmed Abd el-Zaher, flashed four fingers after scoring a goal for his club, Al Ahly, shortly before it won the African Champions League title. Egypt erupted in jubilation over the victory, but Mr. Abdel el-Zaher was suspended from playing with the club, which on Tuesday announced that it would transfer him.

Since the uprising almost three years ago, anniversaries of serious abuses come and go, without justice or recognition for the victims. Instead, they are memorialized with graffiti, which the authorities periodically try to erase. Next week, activists are expected to commemorate the anniversary of demonstrations two years ago that ended with the deaths of 45 protesters.

To date, only one police officer has been prosecuted in those deaths.

Mr. Morsi appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate protesters’ deaths after the uprising, but never publicized the panel’s report, which was said to implicate the military in abuses. “It contributed to hiding the truth,” Mr. Ezzat said. “A buried report is as good as thin air.”

Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch said Egypt’s “short memory” had gotten progressively worse throughout its stormy transition. “People have forgotten the rights of the martyrs,” she said. “The only people who keep fighting are the mothers, the families of the victims and the lawyers.”

After Rabaa al-Adawiya, the amnesia appeared forced by the government.

“The state is taking it to a whole new level of denial,” Ms. Morayef said, noting that Egypt’s interior minister said in a television interview soon after the violence that only 40 people had been killed, even as the Health Ministry was putting the early toll at close to 300 people.

The local news media has largely fallen in line with Egypt’s military-backed government, relieving pressure on officials to investigate, or at least acknowledge, the magnitude of the killings, Ms. Morayef said.

Memories are sharper among the people who live and work in the square. Mahmoud Rizk, who runs a nursery there, remembered spending Aug. 14 on the phone with his brother, who was trapped in a hut in the nursery during the fighting.

From the look of the place, it was a miracle that his brother survived. Bullets struck the hut from two sides, shredding metal on the bunk beds where the workers slept. After the fighting had died down, soldiers came with dogs to search for the bullet slugs and remove them.

“It will be a black spot forever,” Mr. Rizk said.

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« Reply #9989 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:43 AM »

Saudi Arabian immigrant crackdown leaves hundreds of Filipinos camping outdoors

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 17:25 EST

Some 300 Filipinos have been camping outside their consulate in Jeddah for weeks waiting for documents and help to leave Saudi Arabia, as a crackdown on illegal migrants intensifies.

“I’ve been staying here for more than three weeks,” said Renato, 42, on Wednesday, as he sat on the pavement, outside a tent made of worn bed sheets.

He said he was waiting for the help from his consulate in Jeddah to obtain a Saudi exit visa, but also needed money to buy a ticket home.

“We can’t buy travel tickets, so we are waiting for our deportation,” he told AFP, as nearly a million illegal migrants took advantage of a seven-month amnesty and quit the kingdom.

Since the amnesty expired on November 4, authorities have been rounding up foreigners who have stayed behind illegally and are holding them in special centres until their deportation papers are sorted.

Another roughly four million were able to find employers to sponsor them.

Among them were foreigners who overstayed their visas, pilgrims who had sought jobs, and migrants working under one sponsor trying to get jobs elsewhere.

Having an official sponsor is a legal requirement in Saudi Arabia and most other Gulf states.

Renato is one of those who had a sponsor and a valid residency permit, but worked for someone other that his sponsor.

“I couldn’t find another sponsor,” he said.

Among the rag tents sat Elie, his wife Mati and their four-year-old son, are waiting for exit documents.

“My son fell ill, and I still can’t find treatment for him,” he said.

Both had jobs, but they also had the wrong sponsor, so they had to leave after failing to legalise their status.

The Filipino consul general in Jeddah, Uriel Garibay, told AFP the mission is helping citizens get the documents they need “to facilitate their leave.”

Many of those migrants have expired passports and need consulate identification papers.

There are around one million Philippine workers in Saudi Arabia.

Expatriates account for a full nine million of the oil-rich kingdom’s population of 27 million.

The lure of work, even in low-paid jobs as domestics or construction workers, has made the country a magnet for migrants from Asia as well as from poorer Arab states.

Despite its huge oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has a jobless rate of more than 12.5 percent among its native population, a figure the government has long sought to cut.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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