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« Reply #3150 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:12 am »

November 23, 2012

Pussy Riot Musician Moved to Solitary Cell

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

One of the jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot has been moved into a solitary cell after tensions with other inmates, Russian prison officials said Friday. A spokesman for the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Perm region in the Ural Mountains where Maria Alyokhina, left, is serving her sentence, said that she was moved on Wednesday at her own request. Other prison officials said, according to Russian news wires, that Ms. Alyokhina made the request because of her perception that prisoners had a negative attitude toward her.


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« Reply #3151 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:20 am »

Muslim Brotherhood offices torched as Egyptian president claims dictatorship

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 8:48 EST

Protesters torched Muslim Brotherhood offices on Friday, state media said, as supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi staged rival rallies across Egypt a day after he assumed sweeping powers.

The offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, were set ablaze in the canal cities of Ismailiya and Port Said, state television said.

An FJP official told AFP the party’s office was also stormed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where clashes broke out between rival demonstrators.

In Cairo, an array of liberal and secular groups, including activists at the forefront of the protest movement that forced veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak from power early last year, planned to march on Tahrir Square, Cairo’s iconic protest hub, to demonstrate against the “new pharaoh”.

Morsi’s backers led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood gathered outside the presidential palace in north Cairo in a show of support for his decision to temporarily place his decisions above judicial oversight.

“The people support the president’s decisions,” the crowd chanted.

Morsi was mulling an address to the nation defending his decision later in the day, aides said.

On Thursday, the president undercut a hostile judiciary that had been considering whether to scrap an Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution, stripping judges of the right to rule on the case or to challenge his decrees.

The decision effectively places the president above judicial oversight until a new constitution is ratified.

Morsi’s opponents poured into Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers.

They were expected to be joined by leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.

“This is a coup against legitimacy… We are calling on all Egyptians to protest in all of Egypt’s squares on Friday,” said Sameh Ashour, head of the lawyers’ syndicate, in a joint news conference with ElBaradei and Mussa.

ElBaradei denounced Morsi as a “new pharaoh,” the same term of derision used against Mubarak when he was in power.

“Morsi is a ‘temporary’ dictator,” read the banner headline in Friday’s edition of independent daily Al-Masry Youm.

The Islamist president assumed his sweeping new powers in a decree read out by his spokesman Yasser Ali on state television on Thursday.

“The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution,” it said.

“The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”

Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, whom he failed to oust last month, amid strong misgivings among the president’s supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime.

Morsi appointed Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah to replace Mahmud and, within minutes of the announcement, the new prosecutor was shown on television being sworn in.

Abdallah later issued a brief statement, pledging to “work day and night to achieve the goals of the revolution.”

In his pronouncement, the president also ordered “new investigations and retrials” in cases involving the deaths of protesters, a decision that could net military top brass and other former Mubarak regime officials.

The declaration is aimed at “cleansing state institutions” and “destroying the infrastructure of the old regime,” the president’s spokesman said.

A senior official of the Justice and Freedom Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm, said Morsi’s decision was necessary to guarantee the revolution was on course.

“We could not find any legal avenue to pinpoint and prosecute those in the interior ministry who were responsible for killings,” Gehad Haddad told AFP.

He said there had been a string of acquittals of interior ministry officials, evidence was withheld in cases, investigations had been weak and many had not been brought to trial over the killings of hundreds of protesters during and since the uprising — a view that secular protesters would agree with.

“The avenues we are taking are born of necessity, not choice,” he said.

Some 850 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces or Mubarak loyalists during last year’s uprising.

***************

IHT Rendezvous -
November 24, 2012, 1:00 am

Morsi’s High-Stakes Gamble

By DAVID ROHDE

After helping end the fighting in Gaza, impressing President Barack Obama and negotiating a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt seems to have fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls "brass."

President Morsi's post-Gaza actions on Thursday, which most commentators are calling a power grab, appear to many as politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic overreach. He said his assumption of wider powers was meant to get Egypt past its post-Mubarak political sclerosis, but he may well deepen Egypt's political polarization, scare off desperately needed foreign investment and waste Egypt's rising credibility in the region and the world.

Television images of renewed clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez will play into stereotypes that the Middle East is not ready for democracy. They will bolster suspicions inside and outside Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted.

I disagree with the skeptics and believe democracy can still be established in Egypt. But Mr. Morsi's moves won't help Egypt make that difficult transition.

"There was a disease but this is not the remedy," Hassan Nafaa, a liberal political science professor and activist at Cairo University, told Reuters Friday. "We are going towards more polarization between the Islamist front on one hand and all the others on the other. This is a dangerous situation."

Indeed, an alarming dynamic seems to be taking hold in Egypt. Power grabs, brinksmanship and walk-outs are becoming the norm, as a bitter struggle plays out among newly empowered Islamists, vestiges of the Mubarak regime and the country's deeply divided liberals. Political paralysis is the result - with rule by presidential decree, overreach by the judiciary and a deadlocked constitutional assembly. As polarization deepens, desperately needed economic, political and judicial reforms stall.

Friday's street protests were relatively small compared to the massive Arab spring demonstrations. But the trend is in the wrong direction.

"President Morsi has used the nearly absolute authority he assumed last August," Nathan Brown warned in an excellent analysis for The Arabist, "to try to put that absolute authority beyond reach, at least on a temporary basis. He may very well succeed."

In a surprising triumph in August, Mr. Morsi abruptly ended the Egyptian military's post-Mubarak rule of the country. After apparently gaining the support of younger military officers, Mr. Morsi forced older, pro-Mubarak officers, led by Field Marshall Muhamad Hussein Tantawi, into retirement. Mr. Morsi then seized sweeping powers.

In one positive sign, he has used his new authority sparingly. Critics who feared an Islamist crackdown were proven wrong. His boldest move was a failed October attempt to remove the country's unpopular prosecutor general, a Mubarak holdover widely criticized for mounting lenient prosecutions of Mr. Mubarak and other former officials. When the prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, refused to obey Mr. Morsi's order to resign, the new president quickly backed down.

That restraint vanished on Thursday. Mr. Morsi removed the unpopular prosecutor, opened the doors for a re-trial of Mubarak and other officials and granted himself and the country's constitutional assembly immunity from rulings by the country's pro-Mubarak judiciary.

Critics feared pro-Mubarak judges would dissolve the constitutional assembly, just as they had dissolved the country's first democratically elected parliament before Morsi was elected president in June.

In a speech outside the presidential palace on Friday, Mr. Morsi argued that he had seized sweeping powers to preserve the transition to democracy. He promised that once full constitutional democracy was established, he would relinquish these powers.

"I am for all Egyptians," Mr. Morsi said, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and the rotation of power. "I will not be biased against any son of Egypt."

Unfortunately, the world has seen this script before. It almost always turns out badly. A destructive dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. The poisonous distrust and conspiracy theories that have handicapped the country's transition to democracy are deepening.

On Friday, a senior Brotherhood official scoffed at liberal opposition leader Muhammed El Baradei's calls for protests.

"We're not scared of El Baradei," the official told journalist Lauren E. Bohn, "he has no real support on street, he's Western."

El Baradei and members of the country's liberal opposition have their flaws. They are deeply divided, failed to build strong political organizations and too quickly engaged in boycotts and walk-outs.

Only Egyptians can change Egypt's political culture. The international community, though, can signal its support for constitutional democracy and the rule of law in Egypt. The State Department issued a statement on Friday calling on all sides to peacefully resolve their differences. But the quicker way to create pressure is through the IMF.

On Tuesday, officials from Egypt and the IMF announced a tentative agreement to issue a $4.8 billion IMF loan to the country's strapped government. Egyptian officials agreed to enact spending and tax reforms designed to reduce the country's deficit, attract foreign investment and restore the economic growth that vanished after Mubarak's fall.

IMF officials said the loan was part of a huge $14.5 billion funding package planned for Egypt. They did not name the donors but they are believed to include the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Final approval of the $4.8 billion IMF agreement lies with the group's board, due to meet on Dec. 19.

Washington, Brussels and the IMF could set benchmarks for the disbursement of the aid, pegged to democratic reform being implemented in Egypt. But fears of instability in Egypt or Gaza could prompt the international community to turn a blind eye to Mr. Morsi's actions. All of Egypt's key stakeholders - whether Islamists or secular liberals - could be shown that they will pay a price for anti-democratic excess.

The United States funneled billions to Egyptian dictators in the past. The results were grim: poverty, economic stagnation and deep resentment of the United States. If Mr. Morsi - or any Egyptian leader - flouts democracy, Washington has some leverage over them given the billions Egypt still receives in American and international aid.

**************

Egypt judges slam Morsi over ‘unprecedented attack’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 10:18 EST

Egyptian judges on Saturday slammed a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting him sweeping powers as “an unprecedented attack” on the judiciary, and courts across two provinces announced a strike.

The constitutional declaration is “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings,” the Supreme Judicial Council said after an emergency meeting.

The council, which handles administrative affairs and judicial appointments, called on the president to remove “anything that touches the judiciary” from the declaration.

Meanwhile, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira.”

The Alexandria judges “will accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Morsi’s decree),” which violates the principle of separation of power, club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

In Cairo, a general assembly of judges was holding emergency talks to mull a response to the presidential decree.

Morsi’s declaration — which acts as a temporary charter — allows him to issue any law or decree “to protect the revolution” that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, with no decision or law subject to challenge in court.

He also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, which had been a key demand of protesters.

In Cairo, a statement by some 20 “independent judges” said that while some of the decisions taken by the president were a response to popular demands, they were issued “at the expense of freedom and democracy.”

Morsi also ordered the reopening of investigations into the deaths of some 850 protesters during the 2011 uprising, and hundreds more since.

In a statement, new prosecutor general Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah said that new “revolutionary courts” would be set up and could see Mubarak, his sons and his top security chiefs retried “should there be new evidence.”

Mubarak and his interior minister were sentenced to life over the killing of the protesters, but six security chiefs were acquitted in the same case sparking nationwide outrage.

The ousted president’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were acquitted on corruption charges but are facing new fraud charges.

Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers is seen as a blow to the pro-democracy movement that ousted Mubarak, but his backers say his move will cut back a turbulent and seeminly endless transition to democracy.

*****************

Egypt protesters tear-gassed as world concern mounts

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 9:24 EST

Anti-riot police fired tear gas on Saturday to disperse protesters camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as Western governments voiced growing concern over Islamist President Mohamed Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers.

A hard core of opposition activists had spent the night in the iconic protest hub — epicentre of the popular uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak last year — erecting some 30 tents, an AFP correspondent reported.

But when more demonstrators attempted to join them in the morning, police responded with volleys of tear gas forcing them to retreat into surrounding streets.

By midday, small groups of protesters continued to occupy the square, where traffic in the normally busy thoroughfare was almost brought to a halt.

Opposition-led protests were held in most of Egypt’s major cities on Friday sparking violent clashes in the canal city of Suez and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where offices of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party, which backed Morsi for the presidency, were torched.

The mainly secular liberal activists voiced determination to keep up the momentum of their protests against Morsi’s decree on Thursday which placed his decisions beyond judicial scrutiny, vastly adding to his power.

They called a new mass protest in Tahrir for Tuesday.

“Egypt is at the start of a new revolution because it was never our intention to replace one dictator with another,” activist Mohammed al-Gamal told AFP, showing his broken spectacles and hand in a plaster cast than he said were the result of the police action.

Washington, which only Wednesday had voiced fulsome praise for Morsi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, led international criticism of the Islamist president’s move.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups were also out in strength on Friday in a show of support for the president in his move to prevent the courts dissolving the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly and upper house of parliament as they have already the lower house.

Clashes broke out between the rival supporters in several cities, AFP correspondents and state television reported.

In an address to supporters outside the presidential palace, Morsi insisted that Egypt remained on the path to “freedom and democracy”, despite his move to undercut the judiciary.

“Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for,” he said.

The president already held both and executive and legislative powers and Thursday’s decree puts him beyondjudicial oversight until a new constitution has been ratified in a referendum.

It also means that the Islamist-dominated panel drawing up the new charter can no longer be touched and gives it a two-month extension — until February next year — to complete its work.

Washington and European governments voiced concern about the concentration of power in Morsi’s hands and its implications for the democratic gains of last year’s uprising which toppled Mubarak.

“The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution.”

The European Union urged the Egyptian president to respect the democratic process.

“It is of utmost importance that democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

But a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, headed by Morsi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transition.

“We need stability,” said Murad Ali. “That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”


****************
The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
November 23, 2012, 6:50 pm

Anger in Egypt Over Power Grab by President Morsi

By LIAM STACK

As my colleagues report from Cairo, protesters torched the offices of Egypt's ruling Islamist party in several cities on Friday during an outpouring of public anger one day after President Mohamed Morsi issued a sweeping decree granting himself broad new powers and putting his decisions above any challenges by the country's courts.

Protesters set fire to the offices of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party in the seaside city of Alexandria, long a stronghold of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mr. Morsi was a leader until he resigned to run for president. Party offices also burned in the Suez Canal cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia. Activists and bloggers uploaded witness accounts, photographs and video of the protests.

    "@marwanmowaffak1: اسكندرية ولعوهاا http://t.co/Hn160Tht" ahsaan !!

    - Sehsolisim (@hussein_morsi) 23 Nov 12

There were reports of running skirmishes between Morsi supporters and opponents in Alexandria, with more than a dozen injured. Those fights continued after nightfall.

    Hit and run fights with some skirmishes between anti-Morsi protesters and MB around the Muslim Brotherhood office in Alexandria. #Nov23

    - Mohamed Abdelfattah (@mfatta7) 23 Nov 12

Friday's unrest came at the end of a violent week in downtown Cairo, which has been shaken by several days of clashes between protesters and the police. The current round of fighting began on the one-year anniversary of an epic, dayslong street battle that killed 42 protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and was a turning point in Egypt's transition to democracy.

    An Amazing moving picture of #Tahrir carrying pictures of martyrs
    #Nov23 http://t.co/DxqFsI7h

    - Amina Ghali (@AminaGhali) 23 Nov 12

Those clashes continued into the night on Friday, even as thousands of protesters streamed into nearby Tahrir Square to demonstrate against Mr. Morsi's decree.

One video clip posted on YouTube by the blogger who writes as Kikhote shows thousands of protesters, including the hardcore soccer fans known as Ultras, marching into Tahrir Square from Qasr al-Nil Bridge chanting, "Leave!" They also chant, "You sold out the revolution, Badie," a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie.

Watch on Youtube.

    Ultras March is visible as a distinct mass moving itself through #tahrir towards the clashes. Kinda awesome.

    - sherief gaber (@cairocitylimits) 23 Nov 12

Summarizing the stakes of this latest political conflict, the blogger who writes as @KerlreMarks on Twitter cracked a joke.

    So Morsi and his team walk into a bar. But I must warn you that the punchline cannot be revoked or challenged by anyone. #Egypt

    - Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) 23 Nov 12

Large numbers of protesters also gathered outside the presidential palace to support Mr. Morsi, who emerged from the building, flanked by security guards, to address the crowd.

    Crowds at presidential palace now in support to #Morsi now
    @ikhwanweb @liamstack @LaurenBohn @gelhaddad @CFKlebergTT http://t.co/2SmWpA6I

    - Islam Abdel-Rahman (@IslamRahman) 23 Nov 12

In his speech, Mr. Morsi promised that his expanded powers were intended as a temporary measure. Far from aspiring to dictatorial powers, Mr. Morsi told his supporters that his political opponents had an important role to play in Egypt's political life.

Mr. Morsi is Egypt's first democratically elected president and the first civilian and the first Islamist to lead the nation. He has portrayed his power grab as an effort to protect the revolution and overcome political gridlock between Islamists and secularists that has jammed the constitution-writing process.

In Tahrir Square, journalists and activists involved in the clashes used social networks to document the chaotic scenes that unfolded throughout the day and into the night.

Protesters and the police pelted each other with rocks, and the police chased protesters on foot and in armored cars and flooded the streets with tear gas.

    As kida threw rox, police threw cansiters in front of us,1 fell in front of me, a guy picked it up out of my way. I almost stopped breathin

    - Reem Abdellatif ريم (@Reem_Abdellatif) 23 Nov 12

    Ive left Kasr Al Aini, can barely breath. Protesters fell behind me, dozens being carried out. Unbelievable how police hasnt changed

    - Reem Abdellatif ريم (@Reem_Abdellatif) 23 Nov 12

Men in civilian clothes climbed to the roof of a shuttered high school to throw rocks - and whatever else they could get their hands on - onto the heads of people standing below. Observers could not agree, though, on whether the men were plainclothes policemen attacking protesters or vice versa.

    Throwing rocks at the police. #Nov23 #Cairo http://t.co/F9KmcrLL

    - T Todras-Whitehill (@taratw) 23 Nov 12

    Police still throwing rocks from the rooftop of Lecee in Mohamed Mahmoud while lights are turned off. Head injuries.

    - Jonathan Rashad (@JonathanRashad) 23 Nov 12

After night fell, the lights went out on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and nearby Qasr el-Aini Street, the heart of the battle between protesters and the police. In response, Ultras - revolutionary street protesters who double as soccer fanatics - responded by launching fireworks and flares at the police.

    #tahrir #nov23 19.35 a power cut has occured in a big block overlooking the square where news broadcasters are http://t.co/tOjOQ8sQ

    - Quick SoTic (@kikhote) 23 Nov 12

    Lights turned off in Kasr Ainy and Mohamed Mahmoud. Ultras throwing fireworks and shamareekh at police.

    - Jonathan Rashad (@JonathanRashad) 23 Nov 12

    #photo : Violence in #Tahrir - El Qasr El Ainy. Like a fireworks!! http://t.co/qpZUMvnP

    - عمرو جميل (@AmrJamil) 23 Nov 12

The clashes resulted in a fire on the roof of an ornate, neo-Ottoman-style building on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. It is not clear how the fire was started.

    Cilantro Building has a fire on the roof #MohamedMahmoud #Nov23 #Cairo #Tahrir http://t.co/DZVW8GsL

    - Quick SoTic (@kikhote) 23 Nov 12

Watch on Youtube.

By nightfall, protesters began to pitch tents in the square to settle in for an overnight sit-in.

    Some people starting to put up tents in #Tahrir. http://t.co/z36TWOhH

    - Basil El-Dabh (@BasilElD) 23 Nov 12

Sherief Gaber, who blogs as @cairocitylimits, reported that the violent clashes seemed to put an end to a sit-in by a small group of Islamist supporters of the blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who had occupied a street just off Tahrir Square, next to the United States Embassy, for more than a year to demand his release from an American prison.

    People throwing rocks at a poster of the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman http://t.co/uMY1sfnB

    - Basil El-Dabh (@BasilElD) 23 Nov 12

While Mr. Morsi's decree sparked dueling rallies and fueled street clashes, it also provoked fierce debate in online social networks.

Supporters of Mr. Morsi echoed his promises that the decree's sweeping powers were temporary and would lapse after Egypt holds parliamentary elections and writes a constitution. Mr. Morsi has held both executive and legislative power since his election because the military junta that ruled before him dissolved parliament in June.

Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood, explained the group's position on Twitter.

    All Constitutional Declarations made tonight are void once we have a Parliment and a Constitution in place,

    - Gehad El-Haddad (@gelhaddad) 22 Nov 12

Islam Rahman, a member of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, said that Morsi needed expanded powers to defend the revolution from the judiciary, whose members were appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak. They have been the only institutional check on Mr. Morsi's power since he was elected.

    Immunity for president's decisions is against a corrupted constitutional court not against political opponents
    @hahellyer @liamstack #Egypt

    - Islam Abdel-Rahman (@IslamRahman) 22 Nov 12

    @kbahey @hahellyer @liamstack Again this is exceptional state. We can oppose by having a constitution and elected parliament

    - Islam Abdel-Rahman (@IslamRahman) 22 Nov 12

Opponents of Mr. Morsi's move reacted angrily to these arguments both online and in Egypt's independent press. Some compared the decree to power grabs that took place in the country's not so distant past.

    @IslamRahman @hahellyer @liamstack Don't know if you remember, but that is how Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak did it: exceptional circumstances

    - Khalid Baheyeldin (@kbahey) 22 Nov 12

Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of the country's leading independent daily newspapers, mocked President Morsi as a "temporary dictator."

    Front Page Of Egyptian Daily Al-Masry Al-Youm tomorrow, referring to the President: "Morsi Is A Temporary Dictator" http://t.co/jHCCqzaf

    - Bassem Sabry باسم (@Bassem_Sabry) 22 Nov 12

This is a link to a photo of the front page of Al-Masry Al-Youm.

    الصفحة الأولى من جريدة المصري اليوم عدد الجمعة 23 نوفمبر http://t.co/XYsu2NSb

    - المصري اليوم (@AlMasryAlYoum) 22 Nov 12

In addition to expanding his power, Mr. Morsi also used the decree to fire the country's public prosecutor, who was another holdover from the Mubarak regime. He also ordered the retrial of former regime officials, including President Mubarak, who was sentenced in June to 25 years in jail for failing to stop the killing of some 800 protesters in the 18-day Tahrir Square uprising. The same trial found Mr. Mubarak not guilty of corruption during his rule.

New investigations into Mr. Mubarak and his top aides began immediately, according to Mr. Haddad.

    Confirmed: New Prosecutor General reopens investigations with Mubarak, his last MoIA: Habib Al-Adly, and his 6 top generals.

    - Gehad El-Haddad (@gelhaddad) 22 Nov 12

Those moves may have been intended to sweeten the deal for protesters and street activists, but few seem satisfied. One exchange in a Twitter post by Kristen Chick, a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, summarized the mood of many in the square.

    Protesters in Tahrir say Morsi gave them "honey and poison" by announcing prosecutor general and retrial decisions alongside "power grab"

    - Kristen Chick (@kristenchick) 23 Nov 12

Reporting was contributed by Robert Mackey.


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« Last Edit: Nov 24, 2012, 09:51 am by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #3152 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:26 am »

Israel firms up security as Gaza truce takes hold

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:35 EST

Israel restricted Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday and kept a tight grip on security as a first death tested a hard-won truce ending fighting in and around Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party meanwhile prepared for a crunch primary Sunday amid signs its popularity was slipping among Israelis who would have preferred a ground invasion of the Hamas-controlled strip.

Tensions on the streets of annexed Arab east Jerusalem remained high a day after angry demonstrators stormed an Israeli police station in a bid to secure the release of a Palestinian woman who tried to stab a border guard.

Israel decided to take out extra precautions by barring Palestinians under 40 from accessing the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem — Islam’s third holiest site — which is also revered by Jews.

“An extensive police force and border guards will also be deployed in sensitive areas around the Old City of Jerusalem,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

The mosque compound in Jerusalem has been the focus of past clashes and Israel sought to prevent any repetition that could jeopardise the truce ending eight days of fighting in which 163 Palestinians and six Israelis died.

The ceasefire itself was holding firmly despite a dozen rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza in the first post-truce hours and a warning from Netanyahu that he would resume the offensive if need be.

The Palestinians also reported their first post-conflict casualty at the hands of Israeli soldiers who allegedly opened fire on a group of farmers near the Gaza border on Friday.

“This is the first Israeli violation of the truce,” Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman of the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza, told AFP.

Hamas “will raise this violation with Egyptian mediators to make sure that it does not happen again,” he added.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the troops were forced to take action after hundreds of Palestinians attacked a border fence in an apparent attempt to take it down.

“The soldiers proceeded to fire warning shots in the air, but the Palestinians continued to close in, and the soldiers then fired at their feet,” the spokeswoman said by telephone.

No rockets were fired in reprisal by Hamas.

The Palestinian emergency services identified the dead man as Abdelhadi Qdeih Anwar, 21. They said he was killed in the southern Gaza village of Khuzaa. Nineteen other Palestinians suffered gunshot wounds.

The first opinion polls assessing the government’s handling of the Gaza conflict in the run-up to a snap general election called for January showed a general sense of disappointment that Israel had accepted the ceasefire terms.

A study commissioned by the Maariv newspaper found 49 percent of respondents saying Israel should have continued its operation of air strikes and just 31 percent agreeing with the truce.

The same poll showed support for Netanyahu’s Likud party slipping by six percentage points over the past month.

But Likud was still leading the opposition Labour party by a 37 to 22 percent margin and on pace to form a new governing coalition with ultra-nationalist and Jewish Orthodox groups.

Maariv said many Israelis felt the truce spelled a “missed opportunity” for the Jewish state to eradicate Gaza’s Hamas leaders.

“The ceasefire agreement was essential in the wake of the global and international circumstances and the heavy pressure placed on Israel” by the United States, Maariv wrote.

But “it seems that most of the public in the country has a hard time accepting these explanations.”

Sunday’s Likud primary will decide who makes it onto the party list to be put to voters in the January 22 election. Analysts are watching to see if the party tilts further to the right in response to public disaffection over the truce.

****************
November 23, 2012

Tension and Confusion Linger in Gaza Strip After Cease-Fire

By JODI RUDOREN and ISABEL KERSHNER
IHT

KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip — In the 12 years that he has lived here in the Abassam neighborhood adjacent to Gaza’s eastern border, Eyad Qudaih said, he had never ventured more than 20 yards east of his white stucco home because Israel said the area was off limits.

But on Friday morning, emboldened by the new cease-fire, he took his four young daughters 300 yards east, to the small plot of land where he dreams of growing wheat as his father once did.

“It was like someone who was hungry and had a big meal,” Mr. Qudaih said, shortly after touching the border fence for the first time. “Grilled sheep with nuts.”

But around 11 a.m., the moment was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. A spokesman for the Israeli military said soldiers had fired warning shots and then at the feet of some Palestinians who tried to cross the border fence into Israeli territory. Mr. Qudaih’s cousin Anwar Qudaih, 20, was killed, and nine others were wounded, Health Ministry officials here in Gaza said.

The episode, which happened at the same spot where an antitank missile fired by Palestinians hit an Israeli jeep, wounding four Israeli soldiers two weeks ago, did not fracture the truce that ended the recent fighting between Gaza and Israel. But it did showcase the confusion that remains over the cease-fire deal announced Wednesday in Cairo. While Hamas officials have been boasting about the concessions they say they have exacted from Israel, Israeli officials say nothing has been agreed upon beyond the immediate cessation of hostilities.

On Thursday, the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said dismissively that Hamas’s main achievement so far was getting a document that was typed rather than handwritten. In substance, Israelis said that they agreed to discuss the border and other issues, but that those talks had not yet begun — and there did not appear even to be a mechanism in place for starting.

But that was clearly not the understanding of the hundreds of Gazans who thought that they would have access to the so-called buffer zone, a 1,000-foot-wide strip of land along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders, that had for years been so tantalizingly close, and yet beyond reach. Palestinians flocked to the fence on Thursday and Friday because their leaders said the cease-fire eased what they call Israel’s “siege” on Gaza, including restrictions on movement in the so-called buffer zone, a 1,000-foot strip on Gaza’s eastern and northern borders.

Hamas leaders said that was but one of the quality-of-life improvements that they had won. They also told their people that Israel would ease the three-mile limit on how far fishermen can venture from the coastline and the passage of people and goods through border crossings.

But an Israeli government official said Friday that since no further talks had taken place, its policies had not changed.

Riad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, described Friday’s shooting as a clear violation of the agreement that was signed, telling reporters at an unrelated news conference in Rome, “I hope it will be the exception rather than the rule.”

Health Ministry officials in Gaza said Friday that the Palestinian death toll from the fighting had grown to 167, not including Mr. Qudaih, as several people died of the wounds they had sustained in Israeli airstrikes. Six Israelis, two of them soldiers, were killed during the eight days of escalated fighting.

That the killing on Friday did not incite other violence suggests that Hamas, the militant Islamic faction that won elections in 2006 and took full control in 2007, is not looking for reasons to return to battle. But Ahmed Yousef, a former adviser to the Hamas prime minister, said patience would be limited.

“Gradual steps should be taken to give the impression to the people we are no longer under siege,” said Mr. Yousef, who remains close to the Hamas leaders and now runs a research organization called House of Wisdom. “It might take some time, but this is what we’re going to achieve in the long run. As long as there is progress, I think the people will continue the cease-fire. If there is no progress, this will start again.”

The buffer zone was established in 2005, when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which it had occupied since the 1967 war. Human rights organizations say that Israel drops leaflets warning residents to stay out of the area, and that its security forces killed 213 Palestinians near the fence between September 2005 and September 2012, including 154 who were not taking part in hostilities, 17 of them children.

Critics say Israel has classified broad sections of border land as a “no-go zone” in which soldiers are allowed to open fire on anyone who enters, which military officials have strongly denied.

Witnesses, including Hamas police officers, said that about 2,000 people flooded this area of the buffer zone in celebration of the cease-fire on Thursday, and that as many as 500 returned Friday morning starting at 7. The Israeli military spokesman described it as a demonstration, but residents said people were just walking the fallow land their fathers and grandfathers once tilled. Some talked to the soldiers through the fence. They placed atop it a tall green Hamas flag and a smaller Palestinian one, a sight unimaginable here a few days — or a few years — before.

One police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that some crossed over a portion of the fence downed by the recent attack on the Israeli jeep and stood on the Israeli side.

“In case you were wondering,” Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the military, wrote on her Twitter account as reports of the shooting emerged, “trying to breach Gaza fence in order to enter #Israel is breaking cease-fire. #IDF responding with warning shots.”

Eyad Qudaih, who lives in one of the few houses in the area, said that when he heard the shooting, “I took my girls and escaped.” By afternoon, his cousin was buried after a funeral procession featuring the flags of Hamas as well as the rival factions Fatah and Islamic Jihad, an echo of the post-conflict unity on display here at cease-fire celebrations on Thursday.

Sgt. Ahmed Mahmoud of the Hamas police said about 2,000 officers had fanned out along the borders on Friday starting at 9 a.m. “to maintain the security.” In blue camouflage suits and navy jackets, they carried wooden sticks but no guns, which he said was part of the buffer-zone arrangement with Israel.

“Within one hour of the shooting, we controlled the area and all the people were out,” Sergeant Mahmoud said. “Now we won’t let people go in.”

By 1 p.m., more than a dozen Hamas police officers were arrayed along the fence, closer than they have dared go in years. Perhaps 50 yards away, on the other side, an Israeli soldier stood behind the open door of his jeep.

The crowds were gone, but a few children ran more freely in the field than they had ever before, one carrying a Palestinian flag. Their parents and grandparents talked outside, contemplating the fence and whether they would indeed be free to approach it today, tomorrow, next week.

Jodi Rudoren reported from Khan Yunis, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Fares Akram contributed reporting from Khan Yunis, and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.

*****************

Originally published Friday, November 23, 2012 at 8:10 PM    

Gazans make a deadly rush to fence at Israel border

The fence-line shooting showcased the confusion that remains over the Israeli-Hamas cease-fire deal announced Wednesday in Cairo.

By KARIN LAUB and SARAH EL DEEB
The Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops fired on Gazans surging toward Israel's border fence Friday, killing one person but leaving intact the fragile two-day-old cease-fire between Hamas and the Jewish state.

The truce, which calls for an end to Gaza rocket fire on Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, came after eight days of cross-border fighting, the bloodiest between Israel and Hamas in four years. The fighting killed 166 Palestinians, including scores of civilians, and six Israelis.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour said Israel's cease-fire violations and other illegal actions risk undermining the calm that was just restored.

The episode showcased the confusion that remains over the cease-fire deal announced Wednesday in Cairo. While Hamas officials boasted about the concessions they say they exacted from Israel, Israeli officials downplayed the deal, saying nothing had been agreed beyond the immediate cessation of hostilities.

On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said dismissively that Hamas' main achievement so far was getting a document that was typed rather than handwritten. In substance, Israelis said they agreed to discuss the border and other issues, but that those talks had not begun.

That was clearly not the understanding of the hundreds of Gazans who thought they would have access to a strip of fertile land that had for years been beyond their reach.

Palestinians flocked to the fence Thursday and Friday because their leaders said the cease-fire eased what they call Israel's "siege" on Gaza, including restrictions on movement in the so-called buffer zone, a 1,000-foot strip on Gaza's eastern and northern borders.

Hamas leaders also told their people that Israel would ease restrictions on fishing off the coast and the passage of people and goods through border crossings.

But an Israeli government official said Friday that while Israel had agreed to discuss the issues with the Egyptian sponsors of the cease-fire, its policy had not yet changed.

In the past, Israeli soldiers routinely opened fire on those who crossed into the buffer zone.

In one incident captured on video Friday, several dozen Palestinians, most of them young men, approached the fence, coming close to a group of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side.

Some Palestinians briefly talked to the soldiers, while others appeared to be taunting them with chants of "God is Great" and "Morsi, Morsi," in praise of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, whose mediation led to the truce.

At one point, a soldier shouted in Hebrew, "Go there, before I shoot you," and pointed away from the fence, toward Gaza. The soldier then dropped to one knee, assuming a firing position.

Eventually, a burst of automatic fire was heard, but it was not clear whether any of the casualties were from this incident.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said a 20-year-old man was killed and 19 people were wounded by Israeli fire near the border.

Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said Israeli forces fatally shot Anwar Abdulhadi Qudaih in the head and injured at least 19 other Palestinian civilians in a border area east of Khan Younis.

During the incidents, Hamas security tried to defuse the situation and keep the crowds away from the fence.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official at ongoing negotiations in Cairo, said the violence would have no effect on the cease-fire.

Israel's military said roughly 300 Palestinians approached the security fence at different points, tried to damage it and cross into Israel.

Soldiers fired warning shots in the air, but after the Palestinians refused to move, troops fired at their legs, the military said.

************

Israel slams Abbas on Gaza support ahead of UN bid

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 21:00 EST

Israel slammed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday for his support for Gaza following its confrontation with the Jewish state, while casting aspersions on the legitimacy of his upcoming UN statehood bid.

According to Hamas, Abbas telephoned Gaza’s Hamas premier Ismail Haniya on Thursday to congratulate him “on his victory and (offer) condolences for the martyrs.”

The conversation between the two rival Palestinian leaders came after an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel ended on Wednesday eight days of fighting in and around Gaza, in which 166 Palestinians and six Israelis died.

An official who attends Israeli cabinet meetings said “it’s not worthy that president Abbas did not once condemn the deadly rocket fire from Gaza on Israel’s innocent civil population.”

“He didn’t even condemn it after three Israeli civilians were killed in Kiryat Malachi,” a southern Israeli town where a rocket hit a residential building.

“Instead he chooses to praise the Hamas leadership for their crimes.”

The official also took Abbas to task over his upcoming bid for observer status at the United Nations.

“It is also strange how he’s going now to the United Nations to ask for statehood when he only has authority over half the Palestinian people,” he said of Abbas, who rules over the West Bank.

Israel is frustrated and concerned over Abbas’s intention to put the Palestinian bid to the UN General Assembly on November 29, which is expected to pass with ease despite vigorous opposition from the United States.

With direct peace talks on hold for more than two years, the Palestinians are seeking to push for their long-promised state by upgrading their status from an observer entity to that of a non-member state.

Israel says the bid is a breach of the 1993 Oslo Accords, intended to pave the way for a full resolution of the conflict creating in the interim the Palestinian Authority, which was to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza until a final deal.

Israel is contemplating retaliating with punitive actions ranging from suspending the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects for the Palestinians to “toppling” Abbas’s regime, as a foreign ministry policy paper proposed last week.

An official who attends Israeli cabinet meetings said “it’s not worthy that president Abbas did not once condemn the deadly rocket fire from Gaza on Israel’s innocent civil population.”

“He didn’t even condemn it after three Israeli civilians were killed in Kiryat Malachi,” a southern Israeli town where a rocket hit a residential building.

“Instead he chooses to praise the Hamas leadership for their crimes.”

The official also took Abbas to task over his upcoming bid for observer status at the United Nations.

“It is also strange how he’s going now to the United Nations to ask for statehood when he only has authority over half the Palestinian people,” he said of Abbas, who rules over the West Bank.

Israel is frustrated and concerned over Abbas’s intention to put the Palestinian bid to the UN General Assembly on November 29, which is expected to pass with ease despite vigorous opposition from the United States.

With direct peace talks on hold for more than two years, the Palestinians are seeking to push for their long-promised state by upgrading their status from an observer entity to that of a non-member state.

Israel says the bid is a breach of the 1993 Oslo Accords, intended to pave the way for a full resolution of the conflict creating in the interim the Palestinian Authority, which was to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza until a final deal.

Israel is contemplating retaliating with punitive actions ranging from suspending the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects for the Palestinians to “toppling” Abbas’s regime, as a foreign ministry policy paper proposed last week.
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« Reply #3153 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:32 am »

November 23, 2012

Army Fails to Halt Rebels’ Offensive in Congo

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
IHT

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Congolese rebels beat back a government counteroffensive and slowly pushed toward another big city on Friday, while government forces sank deeper into disarray after an army chief was suspended over allegations that he had supplied ammunition to militias and elephant poachers.

For the past week, a group of a few thousand well-disciplined rebel fighters, widely believed to be covertly supported by neighboring Rwanda, has captured a string of towns in eastern Congo, including Goma, a provincial capital, raising serious questions about the stability of this vast and often-troubled country.

Congo’s Army, which has been notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional for decades, has been defeated in just about every recent battle. The government mounted a rare counteroffensive on Thursday on the rebel-held town of Sake, but by dawn on Friday it was clear that the rebels had repulsed the attack and were continuing their advance south toward Bukavu, one of the biggest cities in eastern Congo.

Many residents here say they hope that negotiations now under way in Uganda will bring an end to the fighting. But the rebels have a long list of demands, and it is not clear if the Congolese government has the will — or the capacity — to deal with them.

On Thursday, the Congolese government announced that it was suspending Gen. Gabriel Amisi, the chief of staff of ground forces, after a United Nations investigative panel found evidence that he ran a criminal network that supplied ammunition to elephant poachers and local militias with a reputation for brutality.

Africa is in the midst of a widespread elephant slaughter, and conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.

According to a report written in 2010 by John Hart, an American scientist and one of the top elephant researchers in Congo, the “Congolese military are implicated in almost all elephant poaching,” making the military “the main perpetrator of illegal elephant killing” in Congo.
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« Reply #3154 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:40 am »


Catalonia election: The obsession with independence

23 November 2012
La Vanguardia Barcelona

The issue of self-determination is the main issue in Catalonia's November 25 regional election, and has emerged as the single theme of the campaign. It has been foisted on the electorate in order to avoid more pressing concerns such as unemployment, education and health, argues a columnist.
Lluis Foix

One advantage of this election campaign is that there is just one issue that concerns, interests or upsets the Catalans. We talk about it in the pubs, at home, in the office, and on the street. To tune into a radio station and discover that they are not talking about it is rather a shock. Am I really living in my own country?

The sovereignty theme is all-pervasive, all-encompassing, all-enveloping. It's in the TV debates, constantly and persuasively. Invading all fields, it’s infiltrating in all directions. I’ve been visited by American, British, German, Italian and Swedish journalists who want to hear more on it.

It seems as if the topic that will be cleared up on Sunday at the polls is on the agenda of the White House, the Kremlin and the People's Palace in Beijing. Paris, London and Berlin are awaiting the outcome. I recall the remark James Joyce made to an Irish compatriot: “Since we can not change the country, could we change the subject?” No. That subject is all there is.

Unemployment is the biggest worry

What’s being brought up everywhere is that, on Sunday, we will be able to vote for different options for declaring that a consultation will be held on the “right to decide” – a euphemism for independence that some see coming very soon, that others promise for this legislative term, and that a third group sees hovering in the distance. Not everyone on the independence front is sharing tactics, strategies and timetables. On Sunday night, though, they will come together for a single goal and a single issue.

The question is also viewed differently by the front that opposes sovereignty for Catalonia. The People’s Party (in government in Madrid) are beating the political and media drums with apocalyptic airs. The Ciutadans [centre-left, anti-nationalist] are talking less about the issue, instead touching on subjects that are more uncomfortable for the government. The Socialists want to occupy the middle ground, but there have been so many desertions from its ranks that it will be very difficult for them to avoid the precipice.

The issue of immigrants has not come up in the debate. The sovereignty issue is not taken to the local markets, where politicians on the stump usually head. Few politicians are stopping by the fish stalls or the fruit and vegetable shops, for fear of being taken to task for ignoring other concerns in their focus on sovereignty. Unemployment is the biggest worry. The care of the most vulnerable, education, health, security, corruption and humanism have vanished from the debates. All this will be resolved when independence is no longer a dream. We will live in a land that will flow with milk and honey. Independence will make us all happy.

From Madrid: We need to talk

What will happen “after the noise?” asks Fernando Vallespín in El País. The political scientist takes a rather negative view of the electoral campaign that is drawing to its close –

    Rarely have we seen such a discussion on 'who we are' [...] Paradoxically, though, we have not advanced one inch towards understanding each other. Rather than building bridges, the visceral reactions of most media in Madrid, just like the messianic crescendo of the redeemer of the Catalan homeland Artur Mas, have ultimately encouraged polarisation. The relative silence of the parties that don’t want sovereignty has kept the other voice of Catalonia, the middle ground, the tertium genus, from being heard.

Now, Fernando Vallespín believes, a dialogue must start –

    We have lost a great opportunity to gain a deeper comprehension of the reasons behind the explosion of a society that has, up till now, been an example of moderation and dialogue. [...] If we want to establish some order after the sound and the fury, there is no other choice than to build bridges, to approach each other, and to talk – which is what civilised people do.



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« Reply #3155 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:42 am »

November 23, 2012

Branded a Betrayer for Embracing Syria’s Rebels

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
IHT

TO the senior secret police officer who slapped her repeatedly, toppling her off her feet, Samar Yazbek was a traitor.

Marching in antigovernment demonstrations was bad enough. But what made this a truly appalling betrayal in the officer’s eyes was the fact that Ms. Yazbek was among the scarce prominent Alawites who had broken publicly with the government.

Starting in earnest in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad grabbed the presidency in a coup, the Alawites, adherents of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have wrested Syria away from its historical Sunni masters. They could lose everything if the Sunnis reclaimed power.

“You are a black mark on all Alawites,” the officer spat out at one point. He eventually unleashed two muscular goons who dragged Ms. Yazbek through a series of basement torture cells as a dire warning.

In the first, she said, three half-naked young men hung suspended by their wrists from the ceiling so that their toes barely scraped the ground. “Blood coursed down their bodies: fresh blood, dried blood, deep wounds carved all over them, like the strokes of an abstract painter,” Ms. Yazbek wrote in her newly published diary of the Syrian revolution’s first four months, “A Woman in the Crossfire.” “Suddenly one of the young men sluggishly tried to lift his head, and I saw his face in those dim rays of light. He didn’t have a face: his eyes were completely shut. There was a blank space where his nose should be, no lips.”

Ms. Yazbek, 42, collapsed, only to be yanked to her feet to continue the butchery tour, which competes for the most harrowing day detailed in the book, a rare early chronicle of the revolution from inside.

In both the book and in life, Ms. Yazbek, a novelist, oscillates between embracing the Alawite label and rejecting it, loath to paint the uprising in sectarian colors. It is a common sentiment among the limited number of Alawites who have publicly joined the revolution.

“I had never cared whether I was an Alawite or not,” she said, speaking in Arabic over coffee in a Midtown Manhattan hotel. “It was like someone saying you had blue eyes.”

Embracing the peaceful protest movement that began in March 2011 was rare among the minority Alawites, who constitute about 12 percent of Syria’s population of 23 million. The official narrative of the uprising, after all, holds that Sunni Muslim terrorist gangs imported from abroad are bent on toppling the government.

Nevertheless, Ms. Yazbek said, “I started to say I was an Alawite and I was with the revolution.”

It was not the first time she had played the contrarian.

Ms. Yazbek, who has the fair complexion of many coastal Syrians, was born into a prominent family whose fortunes had started to recede after her grandfather voluntarily distributed his considerable land to the peasants who worked on it. (A distant relative married Osama bin Laden.)

One of five brothers and three sisters, she ran away from home at 16 and married at 20. She divorced two years later, taking her toddler daughter to Damascus. She was determined to fight for women’s rights, she said, “to combat their status in the Arab world.”

EVENTUALLY she produced nearly a dozen books, five of them novels, and last month she was given the PEN/Pinter International Writer of Courage award. The authorities banned several. She broke taboos by writing about lesbian love, and used fiction to explore the Alawite experience.

One ambitious novel detailed an affair between an actress and a senior officer, both Alawites and both thinly disguised from real life. Among other plot twists, the two determined that they had been lovers numerous times over the centuries. Alawites believe in reincarnation, unlike most Muslims.

Even before the revolution, she was suggesting that the Assad family’s rule had beggared Alawites. She was used to the ire that that brought her personally, but she was unprepared for the bile suddenly directed at her family after the revolution began.

Leaflets calling for her death were spread around the coastal Alawite heartland, including in Jableh, her hometown, near Latakia. A teacher yelled at her niece that her aunt was “a whore.”

Ms. Yazbek eventually accepted that her family publicly disowned her for their own preservation. But she could not bear threats against her daughter, now 19, nor the tearful scenes as her frightened child tried to prevent her from going to more demonstrations. But Ms. Yazbek was determined to become a chronicler of the peaceful protest movement. She did so at great risk, playing dumb at times to talk her way past checkpoints, for example.

The book describes fateful confrontations in painful detail.

Early on, a young demonstrator right next to her was shot dead by a government sniper. “I knew it was an oppressive regime,” she said, “but I was initially psychologically shocked to see people being killed in front of me.”

She was astonished at how quickly security forces materialized to beat demonstrators senseless. “I never thought that murderers could just sprout up out of the streets like trees,” she wrote. “How did the security services make people so savage?”

She relied on Xanax to sleep. She moved apartments in a naïve attempt to escape the secret police. Walking down any street, she realized that she was constantly scanning the roof line for snipers. She mused that her life was a more realistic novel than she could ever write.

She often felt lonely. “I am just a woman in this little world living alone with her daughter,” she wrote. “How narrow this place is for my soul. I can almost reach my hand outside of it and touch the sky.”

The diary ends in July 2011, when she fled to Paris.

SHE has since sneaked back into northern Syria, however, provoking fights with friends.

“I told her that she was just showing off,” said Rania Samara, her French translator and a friend of two decades. “I asked her what was she trying to prove, that she was still part of the fight, risking her life to respond to people who said she should have stayed?”

Ms. Samara said she called her daily for about 10 days. “I told her that she was crazy, that she should not take the risk, that she had a daughter and that I would not be responsible if anything happened,” she said.

Ms. Yazbek got angry, but would not be dissuaded. “She has a very clear idea of what she wants to do and what needs to be done,” Ms. Samara said. “She is courageous and sincere. Everything she does, she does with conviction and heart.”

But her emotions run raw. In her opening speech during a seminar at the International Peace Institute here, she cried as soon as she started talking about the resilience of the Syrian people, despite the ghastly toll.

Like many Syrians, she faults the West, accusing it of a moral failure for not interceding. She said the West had not acted because Syria lacks oil and Israel wants to see it shattered.

She dismissed fears over who might one day control Syria as a flimsy excuse. The people running scores of the local coordinating committees that organized the uprising will emerge as the next generation of political leaders, she said, but right now they are too busy surviving to worry about the transition.

“We want democracy. After all this heroism and after all this chaos, the Syrian people deserve that much, deserve to live in a way that is just and right and free,” she said, tearing up again at the end of the interview. “What they have experienced is a small price to pay for that goal.”


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« Reply #3156 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:45 am »


IHT Rendezvous
November 24, 2012, 8:31 am

Europe Reaches Budget Deal on Space

By HARVEY MORRIS

LONDON - While European government chiefs were grandstanding in Brussels this week in what turned out to be a vain attempt to hammer out a common budget, their science ministers were quietly celebrating a deal to secure Europe's prospects in space.

At ministerial negotiations in Naples of the 20-member European Space Agency (E.S.A), the usually parsimonious British actually agreed to contribute extra funds to ensure Europe's place in deep space exploration.

And Germany and France, in a spirit of compromise that was sorely lacking in Brussels, ironed out their differences on upgrading Europe's workhorse Ariane rocket.

As European space chiefs hailed the outcome of the November 21-22 meeting, Jean-Jacques Dordain, the E.S.A.'s director-general, said the level of funding agreed was a significant achievement given current economic difficulties.

Praising the agreement to spend €10.1 billion, or $13 billion, on space exploration over the next three to five years, Mr. Dordain said: "Member states recognize that space is not an expense, it's an investment."

The successful deal, which was slightly less than Europe's space officials wanted but at least matched current spending, was a recognition that the economies of European states could ultimately lose out if scientific research is slashed in an era of austerity.

David Willetts, the British science minister, announcing an extra £300 million ($480 million) contribution to the E.S.A. earlier this month, said: "It will drive growth, create extra skilled jobs and help the U.K. to realize its ambition to have a £30 billion space industry by 2030."

As part of the Naples deal, Britain agreed for the first time to put money into a manned spaceflight program by agreeing to fund a European project to provide the propulsion unit for NASA's new manned capsule, Orion.

As a result of a Franco-German compromise, the E.S.A. will continue to pursue Germany's preferred option for an upgraded version of the Ariane, the Ariane 5ME, which can carry heavier payloads and put them into higher orbit.

However, the Naples meeting also agreed to fund France's favored solution to build a new Ariane 6 that it says would be cheaper to launch and more competitive.

"We are not talking about victories," said Johann-Dietrich Wörner, chairman of the German space agency. "We are talking about European solutions."

The funding agreed this week pegs spending at current euro levels, so space development will lose out in real terms and some projects will have to go.

Italy, France, Spain and Britain had already decided not to participate in a German-sponsored lunar lander project before the Naples meeting, meaning the E.S.A. will have to shelve plans for an unmanned landing on the south pole of the moon.

The Naples meeting may have been good news for space fans and European aerospace, but scientists remain concerned about the overall impact of budgetary restraint.

The Guardian newspaper reported this week that some of the world's leading research organizations had written to warn José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, that cuts to the European Union science budget would threaten the Continent's economic recovery.

European heads of state were supposed to make a decision on science funding this week. But, as a result of the Brussels budget debacle, that is just one more decision that will have to wait.
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« Reply #3157 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:50 am »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/23/2012 05:20 PM

Inevitability of Debt: The Faustian Bargain between States and Banks

By Stefan Kaiser

States and banks have made a deal with the devil. Banks buy the sovereign bonds needed to prop states up in the tacit understanding that the states will bail them out in a pinch. But experts warn that this symbiotic arrangement might be putting the entire financial system at risk.

When he presented his proposals for taming banks in late September, Peer Steinbrück was once again spoiling for a fight. The Social Democratic candidate for the Chancellery in next year's general election railed against the chase for short-term returns and excesses within the sector and harshly criticized the "market-conforming democracy" in which politics and people's lives had become mere playthings of the financial markets.

Steinbrück's speech lasted half an hour, or a minute for each of the pages of a document he had prepared on the same issue. The paper lists a whole series of suggested regulations, most of which seem entirely sensible. Most interesting, however, is what's missing from the paper -- and what has thus far been absent from almost all of the proposals of other financial reformers: the disastrous degree to which countries are now dependent on banks.

As European countries have dug themselves deeper and deeper into debt in recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in this dependence. Governments are addicted to borrowed money -- and banks meet this need by purchasing sovereign bonds. As an unspoken reward, the banks expect nothing less than a guarantee of their own survival. Should a bank run the risk of collapse, the state is expected to use taxpayer money to prop it up.

Brimming with Bonds

This government-bank bargain is somewhat of a Faustian pact: States need the help of credit institutions if they want to take on more debt. But, in doing so, they place their fate in the hands of the financial markets. Indeed, the European Central Bank (ECB) estimates that European banks now hold some €1.6 trillion ($2.1 trillion) in sovereign bonds.

What's happening in Greece right now provides a dramatic example of how a state can make itself dependent on banks. The country is de facto insolvent and can no longer secure any loans on the financial markets. Nevertheless, it continues to be able to secure fresh funds by issuing short-term bonds, primarily to Greek banks, as it has recently to make up for a lack of liquidity as euro-zone member states continue to delay the release of the next tranche of emergency aid. Greek banks, for their part, finance their ailing country not only because the bonds have high yields, but also because they can deposit the bonds as collateral at Greece's central bank in return for fresh cash infusions of their own.

The books of many Spanish and Italian banks are also brimming with sovereign bonds issued by their home countries. They have taken out huge amounts of cheap loans at the ECB and reinvested most of the money in sovereign bonds. The business logic behind this strategy is clear: While the ECB only charges 1 percent interest on its loans, the sovereign bonds have yields of up to 6 percent.

Privileges and Denial

Such returns make great sense for the banks in the short term but present a massive problem in the medium term as they enter more and more risky assets into their ledgers. "It's important for the institutes to diversify their assets," says Hans-Peter Burghof, professor of banking at the University of Hohenheim, in southwestern Germany. Burghof also believes that their massive holdings in sovereign bonds are putting the entire financial sector at risk. "If one wants a stable banking system," he concludes, "one cannot abuse it as a vehicle for state financing."

But that's exactly what governments and oversight agencies in Europe are doing. Whenever they formulate new regulations for the banking industry, they always steer clear of dealing with banks' privilege of financing states. Take the following examples:

    Capital resources: Plans call for introducing new equity capital regulations for banks in 2013. The rules oblige banks to gradually increase the amount of their own capital backing risky investments and loans. What is counted as risky? Pretty much everything -- except sovereign bonds. As before, these will not have to be backed by any equity capital at all. Given recent events -- such as last spring when banks were forced to write down billions in losses involving Greek sovereign bonds -- the exception is notable.
    Liquidity: The new regulations stipulate that banks keep enough liquid assets on hand to be able to survive for 30 days without receiving fresh funding from capital markets. Liquid assets is a category that also includes sovereign bonds, giving banks yet another reason to stock up on these sometimes risky securities.
    Financial transaction tax: Last summer, after efforts to come up with a Europe-wide solution failed, France pressed ahead by introducing its own tax on financial transactions. The law levies a tax at a rate of a set percentage for each trade of the shares of French companies as well as of certain derivatives. But the French law does not apply to trades involving -- you guessed it -- bonds issued by countries and companies.

Many experts look sceptically on the degree of preferential treatment governments give to such bonds. Early this week, even Jens Weidmann, the president of the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, spoke up and called for a radical change of course. Banks must be more strictly prevented from "exposing themselves to solvency risks of states," he said. He also proposed a solution in the form of a kind of upper limit on sovereign-bond purchases similar to the regulations limiting how much a bank can lend a company. In the latter case, banks must keep 100 percent in equity capital on hand to back major loans above a certain amount. The high costs of doing so lead most banks to limit the amount they will lend individual companies.

What's more, Weidmann argued for requiring banks for the first time to back the sovereign bonds on their ledgers with equity capital. This call echoes the demand of many business experts. "During the crisis, we learned that sovereign bonds are no longer risk-free assets," says Martin Faust, professor of banking management at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. "For this reason, it would only make sense to call for backing with equity capital."

A Cozy Symbiosis

However, it is unlikely that these suggestions will ever be realized. "That is a political problem," Faust says. "Doing so would be acknowledging that states can go bankrupt."

Implementing Weidmann's proposals could indeed cause serious problems for countries like Spain and Italy. Interest rates on those bonds are already high due to the perceived risks associated with owning them. Implementing capital requirements for sovereign bond purchases would make them even less attractive, which would then drive interest rates even higher. And that could further exacerbate the euro crisis.

It is a situation which suggests that policymakers should act with caution, but does not justify the complete lack of action. Still, the benefits of doing nothing are clear. It allows states to continue piling up debt.
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« Reply #3158 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:52 am »


EU Budget: Commission is nowhere to be seen

23 November 2012
Coulisses de Bruxelles Brussels 

Everyone has forgotten that the European executive prepared the budget which is currently being negotiated by European leaders. And there is a simple reason for this: Commission President José Manuel Barroso has become invisible. Libération’s Brussels correspondent deplores what he describes as a political “suicide”.
Jean Quatremer

In political terms, the Commission has sunk without a trace. Those who still have doubts about this only have to look at the demonstration that is now taking place before their eyes: at a time when the Commission is supposed to defend its proposal for the 2014-2020 budget (the “multiannual financial framework”) before Europe’s 27 heads of state and government, which is its most important legislative responsibility and the one that will orient the Union over the next seven years, it is quite simply absent from the debate.

No one – and that includes member states, the media and Europe’s citizens – has any more interest in what it has to say. This is not an assassination, but a suicide orchestrated by Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso – decidedly a calamity for an institution, which, in the not too distant past, was one of the motors of European construction.

Historically, the  Commission mobilised all of its resources for battles over the budget: manoeuvering, because it had submitted a proposal, and because it had the means to orient the European Union provided that it succeeded in convincing member states, but also the public opinion that weighs on states, of the validity of its action. This was not an easy task for an institution with fragile legitimacy, and for this reason it had to be extremely political. Let’s not forget that politics is not just a matter of taking action, but also of persuading people that the action to be taken is valid.

Petrified commissioners

Jacques Delors, the Commission President from 1985 to 1995, excelled at this exercise. The inventor, in 1987, of “budgetary perspectives” and the multiannual budgetary frameworks which were destined to put an end to annual financial dramas, he never neglected any field of political action. It really was a monstrous and tedious task, but one that paid off. In 1992, I covered the negotiations on the “Delors II package”, in the run-up to the 1993-1999 budget. I can still remember the huge effort that was devoted to explaining the Commission’s position to the media, necessary intermediaries in the bid to reach out to European public opinion.

Delors himself, but also his cabinet chief Pascal Lamy, the commissioners and the directors general of the European Commission, everyone went to work, on and off the record and at press conferences, to explain what was at issue with figures at the ready. It was an incredibly efficient persuasion machine which continued to function under Jacques Santer and Romano Prodi.

This entire field was ploughed over under Barroso. The man has never been a good communicator and is uneasy with the press. However, it was reasonable to conclude that he would wake up for the 2014-2020 financial framework that was to be his political legacy. This has not happened. On the contrary, he has been worse than ever. One tardy and quickly expedited press conference to present a thick commission document on 29 June 2011, without any preparatory work to clear what was a potential minefield. How were we supposed to ask any questions when we discovered the project at the moment when it was unveiled? Everyone was left to work out what it meant for him or herself – a discouraging task when you consider the extreme complexity of the topic. Only one spokesman took it on himself to decipher the main lines of the financial framework for the media.

And since then? Nothing, absolutely nothing. A year with no external communication: with an absent president, whose main preoccupation has been to counter European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s influence on member states and the European Parliament, petrified commissioners who are barely able to talk to the media, and general directors stuck in their offices instead of explaining what's at stake in negotiations.

He will lose on both fronts

As a result, member states have been given a free hand to badmouth the Commission proposals (and they have been all too eager to do this) while Herman Van Rompuy was tasked to take on the Commission’s job of finding a compromise, on the basis of the figures supplied by the European executive. Once he took over the negotiations, the Council President did not neglect to communicate with the media. And when he did, he found that there was no one against him.

Instead of being at its centre, the Commission has simply disappeared from the debate. And sulking in the corridors of Brussels will not enable it to exert any influence or get back into the game. Who can quote anything from Barroso’s last interview with the media? The answer is simple – no-one, because he doesn’t speak to the media. And his November 21 speech to the European Parliament will not be enough to save the day. Almost nobody made ​​the trip to Strasbourg to hear it – they were getting ready for the Eurogroup and the European Summit.

Engrossed in his little institutional game, Barroso has forgotten that he also has an obligation to convince European citizens –  a political mission that  cannot be fulfilled by lobbying and running a secretariat. As it stands, he is losing on two fronts: against member states that are increasingly disdainful of his institution, and in the realm of public opinion which is increasingly indifferent. Hats off to the maestro!
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« Reply #3159 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:53 am »

November 23, 2012

New Setback for European Union as Budget Talks Falter Over Administrative Costs

By JAMES KANTER and ANDREW HIGGINS
IHT

BRUSSELS — A summit meeting of European leaders collapsed Friday amid bitter discord over a new budget for the European Union, delivering a further blow to a 27-nation grouping already struggling to contain a debt crisis, social discontent fueled by rising unemployment, and doubts about the long-term viability of the euro currency.

Leaders abandoned efforts to set the shape of a trillion-euro long-term budget and called for a new round of talks early next year to try to reach a deal.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who along with the leaders of the Netherlands, Sweden and several other countries had pushed hard for deep cuts, criticized proposals that left spending on the union’s administrative machinery intact.

This, he said at a news conference, showed that “Brussels continues to exist as if in a parallel universe,” referring to the headquarters for the European Union, which employs about 33,000 people in the European Commission, the union’s main administrative arm.

Mr. Cameron complained that “more than 200 commission staff earn more than I do.”

The refusal to trim bureaucratic costs, which amount to about 6 percent of total spending, is “insulting to European taxpayers” as many governments are slashing spending, Mr. Cameron said.

The European Commission had no immediate comment on Mr. Cameron’s remarks, but officials noted that the commission last year announced a number of civil service overhauls. These include plans to reduce the staff by 5 percent between 2013 and 2017 through “normal turnover,” to raise the minimum working week to 40 hours from 37.5, and to increase the retirement age to 65 from 63.

The impasse after two days of negotiations was the second failure this week in Brussels. Finance ministers met all night on Monday without reaching an agreement on whether to release the next round of emergency aid to Greece, where unemployment is around 25 percent.

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, which represents the leaders of European Union member states, convened the summit meeting and called off the negotiations rather than prolonging them through the weekend. He said that the European Union’s budget “has to be balanced and well prepared, not in the mood of improvisation, because we are touching upon jobs, we are touching upon sensitive issues.”

“We should be able to bridge existing divergences” in the new year, Mr. Van Rompuy said.

Much of the attention at the meeting focused on Mr. Cameron, who rallied a group of countries in favor of deep cuts to the Multiannual Financial Framework, a seven-year spending plan.

Disagreements over where the ax should fall left France and Germany on different sides, disrupting a French-German tandem without which significant deals in Europe rarely happen. Germany pushed for cuts, though not as insistently as Britain.

France defended payments to farmers, which make up around 40 percent of the current budget, but insisted that there was no rupture with Germany. “I don’t only defend the position of France, but the position of Europe as a whole,” President François Hollande said.

The negotiating marathon over the budget is held every seven years. The focus on hard cash tends to push national interests to the fore and swamp talk of European harmony, a cause for which the Norwegian Nobel Committee last month named the European Union as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The budget, which amounts to about $168 billion per year, goes mostly to subsidize farmers and support regional projects in poorer member states. These policies were originally intended to help bind Europe together and mute the economic discord that in the past fueled bloody wars.

But differences in economic performance and in priorities between member states are huge, pushing them to embrace divergent agendas in budget talks.

In large measure, this is because what began as an economic bloc comprising six similarly developed market economies in Western Europe is now a 27-member body that includes 10 much poorer Eastern and Central European nations that were part of the socialist bloc.

As well as divisions between east and west, there is also a big gulf between northern countries, especially Germany, and so-called Club Med states in the south like Greece, which, burdened with huge debts, is struggling to keep its economy afloat and avoid social unrest.

“There are still important differences on a number of key issues, especially the overall size of the budget and the fairness of distributions between member states,” José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, told reporters as the summit meeting broke up on Friday afternoon.
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« Reply #3160 on: Nov 24, 2012, 08:58 am »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/23/2012 04:53 PM

The End of Financial Times Deutschland: Germany Hit by Wave of Newspaper Bankruptcies

For years, Germany had seemed largely immune to the print-media woes washing over the US. In recent weeks, though, the country's newspaper industry has been hit by a pair of high-profile bankrupcies. On Friday, the respected Financial Times Deutschland became the latest victim.

Germany's newspaper market is among the biggest in the world. With 333 titles to choose from, numerous robust local and regional papers among them, the country has long seemed a bastion of stability amid a struggling global print news market.

Those times, however, would seem to be over. On Friday, German publisher Gruner + Jahr announced that it was ceasing publication of the Financial Times Deutschland, the German offshoot of the influential British financial daily. The final issue of the salmon-colored broadsheet is to appear on December 7, after which some 320 employees will lose their jobs.

"This is not a good day for financial journalism in Germany," one FTD journalist told Reuters on Friday.

The announcement comes after days of speculation that the paper was in trouble, and it also follows several other recent blows to the country's highly diversified print-media landscape. Just last week, the Frankfurter Rundschau, one of Germany's 10 largest dailies, filed for bankruptcy after years of falling subscription numbers and a dwindling print advertising market.

In October, the German news agency DAPD declared bankruptcy just two years after it was founded via a fusion of the Associated Press' German language service and the German wire service DDP. Cuts are also forthcoming at the Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung, published by the same company as Frankfurter Rundschau.

Widely Respected

Still, the shutdown of the Financial Times Deutschland does not come as a surprise. Launched in 2000, the paper has never made a profit and has lost an estimated €250 million since then, according to estimates cited in the German media. Last year, the paper lost €10 million ($12.9 million).

During its 12 years in existence, however, the paper became one of Germany's most widely respected financial outlets. In 2008, British publisher Pearson, which publishes the FTD's namesake, sold its 50 percent share to Grüner + Jahr for a reported €15 to €20 million.

"The Financial Times Deutschland was one of the most ambitious journalistic projects of the last decade," said Julia Jäkel, head of Gruner + Jahr, in a statement released on Friday. "Daily newspapers are under pressure, particularly in the business sector. The FTD has made losses since its founding in 2000. Given that background, we see no way to continue publishing the paper."

Despite the continued dedication of Germans to printed newspapers, which makes Germany the liveliest print market in Europe, the sector has not been immune in recent years to the challenges that printed products are facing in the US and all over the world as an increasing number of readers switch to the Internet for their news. According to Nielsen Media Research, newspaper advertising revenue in Germany plunged by 6 percent in the first 10 months of the year relative to the same time period in 2011 -- marking the continuation of a long downward trend. Whereas newspapers owned 29 percent of Germany's advertising market in 2000, that number had fallen to 20 percent by 2011, according to the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV).

The Ascendency of Online

When it comes to circulation, falling numbers have likewise become the norm. In the last decade, paid circulation of German dailies has fallen by a fifth, from 23.7 million copies in 2001 to 18.4 million in 2012, according to the BDZV -- a fall roughly equivalent to that seen in the US. Circulation of the Financial Times Deutschland, however, fell even faster. Between the third quarter of 2006 and the third quarter of this year, subscriptions dropped from 62,000 to 42,000. The total circulation during that period consistently hovered around the 100,000 mark, but an ever-greater share of papers were giveaways.

In recent years, of course, the losses experienced by print journalism have been more than reflected by gains seen online. Combined, print and online news outlets in Germany have never had a greater audience. And online advertising revenues have rocketed upward in recent years, climbing by 15.4 percent in 2011 alone.

However, it is still not enough to finance a print outlet. And that, ultimately, is one of the primary factors that did in the Financial Times Deutschland.

"Since our founding, we have reported on the creative-destructive power of the Internet more than perhaps any other outlet in Germany," wrote FTD editor in chief Steffen Klusmann on the paper's website Friday. "But we were unable to develop a web-based business model that was able to finance the kind of journalism we practice."
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« Reply #3161 on: Nov 24, 2012, 09:03 am »

November 23, 2012

Where ‘In Bed With Media’ Can Be Taken More Literally

By SCOTT SAYARE
IHT

PARIS — The nation’s leading conservative newspaper ousted its top editor, apparently hoping to ingratiate itself with the new government. A cultural magazine brought in a new editor as well, opting for the partner of a newly minted government minister. The man she replaced took a job working for the new president. The springtime election of François Hollande, the first French president from the left in 17 years, has brought about a shuffling of the news media ranks, along with a host of potential conflicts of interest.

Coverage has shifted too. Much of the news media, which largely lean left, used to revel in denouncing Mr. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, but now many journalists are feeling bereft of material because of the new president’s less dramatic governing style. Mr. Hollande has proved confoundedly boring, they say, especially for news outlets that sometimes cover the government as if nothing else matters, relying on Paris politics to drive the news.

The line between politicians and the news media can be blurry in France, where the fates of some journalists have long been hitched to those in the government they pester or please. Mr. Sarkozy’s close ties to media executives were considered something of a scandal, and his presidency drew greater scrutiny to the incestuous relationships.

Mr. Hollande campaigned on a pledge to be “exemplary.” But in a country where much of the Paris elite share a common background, attended the same schools and go to the same parties, the traditional commingling of journalists and politicians has endured. Daniel Carton, a former reporter in France, blames the news media for not doing more to resist such close ties.

“They know exactly what they need to do to avoid things getting out of hand, but they won’t do it,” said Mr. Carton, an outspoken critic of conflicts of interest in French journalism.

For decades, newspapers have relied heavily on state subsidies. The public media, which account for perhaps half of mainstream television and radio news, are still run by political appointees. Private media outlets belong to companies or investors with demonstrated political leanings or business connections to the state, undermining journalistic impartiality.

Perhaps most striking this election cycle was the situation of Étienne Mougeotte, whose run as top editor at the rightist daily Le Figaro began and ended with the presidency of Mr. Sarkozy, the politician he championed and whom he was said to advise.

“We’re a newspaper of the center and the right, and we support Nicolas Sarkozy,” Mr. Mougeotte told the center-left Le Monde last year. Under Mr. Mougeotte, Le Figaro was routinely criticized, sometimes by its own reporters, as being a mouthpiece for the government.

Mr. Hollande was said to have requested Mr. Mougeotte’s dismissal, according to French media reports, and it came in July.

The publisher, Serge Dassault, is a senator from Mr. Sarkozy’s political party. But Mr. Dassault also heads a major military contractor, and there was widespread speculation that Mr. Mougeotte’s ouster was meant to put the Daussault group in good stead with the new president.

The news and culture magazine Les inRockuptibles hired as its new top editor Audrey Pulvar, a radio and television personality who was also the partner of Arnaud Montebourg, a government minister and a prominent member of the Socialist Party.

Mr. Pulvar recently announced the end of her relationship with Mr. Montebourg, but other such relationships have continued. Valérie Trierweiler, Mr. Hollande’s current partner, began an affair with him while reporting on him in the early 2000s, when he was a member of the National Assembly. She grudgingly passed on a television news job this fall and stayed at the magazine Paris Match as a critic.

Ms. Pulvar replaced David Kessler, who left to join Mr. Hollande as an adviser. Also, a legal affairs reporter at Europe 1 radio became the spokesman for the justice ministry. A political reporter at Les Échos, a leading French financial newspaper, joined the prime minister’s press office.

The public media have gone through postelection changes too. In October, Mr. Hollande named a new director for the country’s international radio and television news networks, RFI and France 24. He has pledged to reform the law that allowed him to make that appointment, but not until next year. The directors of Radio France and France Télévisions, both appointed by Mr. Sarkozy, are expected to be replaced. The current law, which makes the naming of public media chiefs a presidential prerogative, was introduced by Mr. Sarkozy in 2009. At the time, commentators called the measure a power grab. Mr. Sarkozy said it was meant to remove a layer of “hypocrisy” from the appointment process, which was controlled by a handpicked government council.

The public media no longer serve as state propagandists, as they effectively were until at least the late 1960s, but remain under government “oversight,” said Jean-Marie Charon, a sociologist who studies the news media.

Private publications are also beholden to the state, at least financially. The government provided $1.5 billion in subsidies to them last year.

Publications on the left are struggling to “find the right distance” from the government, Mr. Charon said. The jubilation that dominated political coverage last summer in Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Monde has since given way to acrimony. Whichever way the French news media lean, the departure of Mr. Sarkozy has left many outlets yearning for more excitement.

“We had five years that were pretty exceptional; we had a man who was the center of everything,” said Pierre Haski, co-founder and editor of Rue89, a news Web site. “All of a sudden, we’ve gone from an overload to an underload.”

“Sarkozy was good for sales,” Mr. Haski added. “Hollande is not good for sales.”
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« Reply #3162 on: Nov 24, 2012, 09:05 am »

November 23, 2012

As Prison Life Deteriorates in Portugal, Some Stay

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

LISBON — Life inside Portugal’s prisons has become intolerable, as budgets cuts render them overcrowded, short of necessities and rife with abuse — and that is the view of the prison guards. So it was a surprise to Júlio Rebelo, the president of one of the guards’ unions, that some prisoners did not seem to want to leave.

“We’re in a situation of such austerity that many prisoners don’t even apply for prison leave because at least their meals are paid inside,” Mr. Rebelo said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen this, but it seems families just don’t have the means to welcome prisoners back at home.”

Indeed, much of the reason for the deteriorating conditions inside Portugal’s prisons is the deteriorating conditions outside. Government cuts and mounting hardship have added dangerous new burdens to a system that guards and prisoners alike warn is already stretched beyond its limits. Things are so bad, Mr. Rebelo said, “We have to bring our own toilet paper to work these days.”

Approaching its fifth year of economic crisis, Portugal is increasingly feeling the bite but perhaps nowhere more sharply than in its prisons. The crisis has sent petty crime soaring. Thefts in the second quarter this year rose almost 14 percent, and were up 22 percent from the same time in 2008.

So hard pressed are many Portuguese that they can no longer afford to pay fines even for drunk driving or traffic violations and instead spend three or six months in prison, helping swell the population 10 percent beyond capacity.

Let alone toilet paper, budget cuts have coincided with the new burdens to leave the system wanting everything from guards to cells to more prisons, which have been put on hold as the government chops away at spending to meet the targets set by its international creditors.

Before Portugal was forced to request a €78 billion, or $102 billion, international bailout last year, the government had planned to build 10 new prisons, at a cost of €750 million. Now the government is building just one, in the Azores.

The surge of prisoners has made life “completely chaotic for the inmates and for those who work there,” said Jorge Alves, the president of another guards’ union.

Portugal’s prison authorities would not grant a reporter and photographer access to one of its prisons, and the justice ministry declined a request for an interview. But early this year, Portugal’s justice minister, Paula Teixeira da Cruz, recognized that conditions inside some prisons had become “shameful” and promised a €31 million overhaul of the system.

Prison guards, social workers and lawyers say those plans have fallen far short of what is needed, adding room by 2015 for just 1,137 more prisoners — less than the overpopulation of prisons in Portugal as of June. Portugal’s most recent official statistics indicate that its prisons had an occupancy rate of 110 percent, amounting to a surplus of 1,413 prisoners. The total number of inmates rose to 12,344 at the end of June from 11,099 in 2009.

In terms of overcrowding, Portugal ranks 13 out of 56 countries in greater Europe, including central Asian states like Azerbaijan, according to a study by the U.K.-based International Center for Prison Studies.

For his part, Mr. Alves works at the Custóias prison, which is built for 700 inmates. In the two months to mid-October, the number of prisoners there rose from 800 to 1,034, he said.

Mr. Rebelo, the other union leader, accused the government of manipulating statistics to play down the overcrowding problem. In Mr. Rebelo’s prison, Sintra, the number of inmates is set to rise to 753 from 630 under a plan to add bunk beds. Sintra, one of Portugal’s newest prisons, was built in 2004 to hold 600 inmates.

“They’ve changed their calculations for available space from square to cubic meters, so that bodies can basically be piled up while keeping ratios officially unchanged,” he said.

The one thing the guards and the inmates can agree on is that conditions are terrible. “Guards are now working under the worst conditions that I’ve seen — so I’ve got some sympathy for that — but the real problem is that when guards are in such a bad state of mind, their response is unfortunately to pile on the abuses and violence,” said Carlos Santos, a former inmate.

Mr. Santos knows Portugal’s prison system only too well. He was released this year after 18 years in jail, spent in five different prisons for crimes that included homicide, drug trafficking and theft.

Mr. Santos said he spent his last year sharing a two-person cell with five other inmates. In September, inmates staged a strike to denounce beatings by guards, as well as worsening food and sanitary conditions, including having to share cells with inmates diagnosed with infectious diseases.

Former inmates claim basic items like shampoo and detergents, previously distributed for free, must now be bought, with guards in turn overcharging inmates and pocketing the difference. “In a crisis, corruption takes whatever little money is available out of the system,” Mr. Santos said.

Portugal’s prison guards insist the country’s economic crisis has made their situation even more intolerable than that of the inmates. They complain of crumbling infrastructure and delays of six months to replace damaged security cameras. Meanwhile, the maintenance company that handles the prison fleet is refusing to repair any more vehicles until it gets paid for previous work.

After the guards already went on strike for several days last November, the government agreed to hire 240 new guards. The guards, however, say that 800 new recruits are needed to maintain order in overcrowded jails. “It would be a big mistake to underestimate what prison guards can do when they are put under intolerable pressure,” Mr. Rebelo said.

While prisoners are complaining about more physical abuse by guards, Mr. Rebelo claimed that the number of assaults against guards had climbed as much as 200 percent in the past three years, in part because of the overcrowding.

The prospects for those who leave jail are gloomier as well. After spending 15 years in jail, Jorge Montero, 35, was released in 2009, just as joblessness started to rise. Unemployment is now almost 16 percent.

Unable to find work in Portugal, he said he had managed to avoid sinking into poverty only by traveling regularly to Switzerland, where he has family, and working there as a carpenter on short-term contracts.

“If you come out of jail in Portugal now, you’ve got almost zero chance of not going straight back in,” he said, “because there’s just nothing for you to do except sit around and stay poor and depressed.”

Marisa Moura contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3163 on: Nov 24, 2012, 09:09 am »


Doubts as greenhouse gas leader hosts climate meet

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:50 EST

Qatar has much to prove in the coming days as the fossil fuel producing nation with the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint hosts the 18th UN climate change conference.

Environmentalists question whether the tiny emirate has the diplomatic muscle, and more importantly, the political will, to play a positive role in the critical two-week huddle that kicks off next Monday in Doha.

The oil- and gas-guzzling Gulf nation, seeking to expand its global reach and recently awarded the 2022 football World Cup, insists it is committed to a succesful conference.

Not all are convinced.

“It (Qatar) would not be my choice,” Raul Estrada, an architect of the historic 1997 Kyoto Protocol, told AFP.

He says the country’s funding of the conference would have been an important factor in awarding it the event. But as conference president, Qatar hasn’t been seen to be “pushing for a result”.

“You need to have a strong leadership to have progress, to advance. I don’t see that leadership,” said the Argentine ex-diplomat.

“In the whole history of the climate negotiations, Qatar was trying to avoid the adoption of commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate change.”

The Gulf state which depends almost entirely on fossil fuels for income and energy will find itself in a strange role — expected to steer some 194 nations towards a new deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and by default, their dependence on oil and gas.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, Qatar was the world’s 19th largest crude oil producer last year and the fourth biggest natural gas exporter.

In its latest Living Planet Report in May, green group WWF named the emirate as the country with the largest ecological footprint.

Qatar has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol on curbing Earth-warming gas emissions, but as a developing country does not have fixed emission reduction targets, nor has it made any voluntary pledge.

It is a coastal dryland that depends solely on energy intensive and costly desalination plants for its water needs.

Qatar “is also one of the 10 developing countries predicted to be most affected by rising sea levels,” former Qatari petroleum minister and conference president Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said in a statement Wednesday.

“Environmental sustainability is a key pillar of our national vision,” he said.

Sven Teske of Greenpeace International argues that steering the talks towards success was clearly in Qatar’s “mid-term and long-term interest.”

“Reducing (greenhouse gas) emissions is not a burden anymore, it’s a business opportunity… and that changes the dynamics” at the negotiating table, he said.

“When climate negotiations started years ago, solar energy was ten times more expensive than today… Now, it’s really good business,” said Teske, adding Qatar should grab this opportunity for “new markets, new technologies and new businesses in renewable” energy.

But some think this is expecting too much.

“We weren’t reassured by this story showing the Qatari (conference) President (Attiyah) schmoozing at the Oil and Money conference in London the other day,” said Kelly Rigg of the Global Campaign for Climate Action.

“This was clearly bad judgement.”

One European negotiator said Qatar’s latest row with Russia over the crisis in Syria could further hamper its ability to bring the parties to the negotiating table.

Climate conferences have made halting progress in the past, even with host nations deemed to have fewer conflicts of interest than Qatar.

There is one thing even the critics seem to agree on: the nation of some 1.6 million stands to lose much if the world’s leaders fail to reverse the global warming trend.

“Climate change and increase in temperatures is making Qatar even more vulnerable to the lack of water and food insecurity” it already faces, UN climate Chief Christiana Figueres said in a video posted on the UNFCC website.

“Every single drop of water that is used in Qatar needs to be desalinated. Every single gram of food that is eaten needs to be either imported or grown with desalinated water,” she added.

“I have no doubt they (Qatar) are committed to a (meeting) that is not only going to be successful in format but that is actually going to be successful in substance.”

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Britain delays emissions cut decision to 2016

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 23, 2012 15:48 EST
 
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks next to British Energy Secretary Ed Davey (right) at the Clean Energy Ministerial conference The British government's long-awaited legislation that aims to secure investment in low-carbon energy will not include a target to cut emissions by 2030, according to details released on Friday. Photo: AFP.
Topics: coalition government ♦ emissions ♦ Prime Minister David Cameron
 

The British government’s long-awaited legislation to secure investment in low-carbon energy will not include a target to cut emissions by 2030, according to details released on Friday.

After months of wrangling, the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats reached agreement late on Thursday on an Energy Bill to be published next week.

In a compromise, the coalition partners agreed to delay until 2016 a decision on cutting emissions from the power sector by 2030, but their move was heavily criticised by environmental campaigners.

The negotiations have been characterised as a battleground between finance minister George Osborne, who favours energy generated by gas-powered plants and the Lib Dems, who want clean energy sources such as renewables and nuclear.

Osborne believes the use of gas will keep bills down, while the Lib Dems — the junior partners in the coalition — want gas phased out of the energy system.

An estimated £110 billion (136 billion euros, $175 billion) is needed in the next decade to renew Britain’s ageing electricity infrastructure, with much earmarked for low-carbon power sources such as wind farms to cut emissions.

Ministers agreed that £7.6 billion could go towards securing low-carbon electricity in 2020, up from £2.35 billion this year, but consumers were warned they will see their energy bills rise to pay for it.

The main opposition Labour party said the decision to delay the setting of an emissions target was a “humiliating failure” for the government, while green groups said it left Britain over-reliant on gas at a time when prices were rising.

Energy minister Ed Davey, a Lib Dem, insisted it was “a durable agreement across the coalition against which companies can invest and support jobs and our economic recovery”.

“The decisions we’ve reached are true to the coalition agreement. They mean we can introduce the Energy Bill next week and have essential electricity market reforms up and running by 2014 as planned,” he said.

However, Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said the agreement was “the final nail in the coffin of Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever.

He added: “This decision motivated by outdated ideology will help keep the nation hooked on increasingly expensive gas, drive away green jobs and investment and jeopardise UK climate goals.”
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Ancient tombs discovered in Pakistan’s Swat reveals complex funeral rites dating back more than 3,000 years

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 9:48 EST

Italian archaeologists say they have discovered a cemetery that reveals complex funeral rites dating back more than 3,000 years in Pakistan’s Swat valley, recently controlled by the Taliban.

The Italian mission began digging in the 1950s at Udegram, a site of Buddhist treasures in Swat, the northwestern district formerly known as the Switzerland of Pakistan for its stunning mountains, valleys and rivers.

Archaeologists were aware of a pre-Buddhist grave site in Udegram, but only recently discovered the collection of almost 30 graves, tightly clustered and partially overlapping.

“Some graves had a stone wall, others were protected by walls and enclosures in beaten clay,” Luca Maria Olivieri, head of the Italian mission, told AFP.

“The cemetery… seems to have been used between the end of the second millennium BCE and the first half of the first millennium BCE,” he added.

Olivieri says the tombs point to the culture that predates the Buddhist Gandhara civilisation that took hold in northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan from the first millennium BCE to the sixth century AD.

“The presence of a few iron fragments might be amongst the most ancient traces of this metal in the subcontinent,” he said.

Bodies were first laid to rest in open graves, fenced in by wooden railings. Then the graves were re-opened and the bones partially burnt before the graves were sealed and a burial mound built.

Men were buried with high quality flasks, bowls and cooking pots, and women with semi-precious beads, bronze hairpins, and spindles.

Taliban insurgents led by cleric Maulana Fazlullah terrorised the Swat valley from 2007 to 2009, beheading opponents and burning down girls’ schools as part of their determination to implement a harsh brand of Islamic law.

An army offensive in 2009 claimed to have defeated the insurgency, but isolated attacks continue.

In October, the Taliban shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head in Mingora, the main town of Swat, in a case that sparked worldwide condemnation.

She is now undergoing treatment in Birmingham, England.


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