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« Reply #3840 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:21 AM »

In ‘rape capital’ Delhi, women turn to self-defense

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 4, 2013 7:19 EST

After nearly three weeks of lurid reporting on a horrifying gang-rape in New Delhi, women in the Indian capital say they are more anxious than ever, leading to a surge in interest in self-defence classes.

New Delhi has long been known as the “rape capital of India”, with more than twice as many cases in 2011 as the commercial hub Mumbai, and special care is taken by most women when travelling at night or on public transport.

But the December 16 gang-rape, in which a 23-year-old student was repeatedly violated on a moving bus and assaulted with an iron bar, has brought concern to new levels amid increased focus on the city’s safety record.

Self-defence trainer Anuj Sharma says he has fielded a flurry of calls from concerned women interested in taking classes with his Invictus Survival Sciences training institute in south Delhi.

“There has been a certain surge in the level of demand for services like self-defence and personal protective training,” Sharma told AFP at a class in a school hall, echoing comments from other martial arts experts in the city.

“I think this infamous case has forced people to think that they can no longer put this (safety issue) on the backburner, self-defence is a priority for them,” he said.

Smriti Iyer, a 23-year-old student like the Delhi victim, says she started coming to Sharma’s classes to protect herself better and her example has sparked interest in other friends.

In the classes, Sharma teaches her basic self-defence, including how to squirm free from the grip of an attacker and disable them with a punch or kick to the groin.

“I think women have always known that they have to look after themselves, but after this incident a lot of people of my age have really started taking this up,” said Iyer.

Across the sprawling city of 16 million, shopkeepers say sales of pepper spray and rape alarms are up, while many young women report that relatives have become more concerned than ever about their welfare.

One newspaper reported this week that women had started coming forward to apply for gun licences.

Jai Shankar, owner of a general store on the Janpath main road in central New Delhi, told AFP that sales of pepper sprays had been “brisk” since the gang-rape, which has galvanised disgust over rising crime against women.

“Earlier we would sell just a few cans in a month. But more women have been coming to my shop asking for the spray,” he told AFP.

Ashima Sagar, a 22-year-old sales assistant in Shankar’s shop who takes the “relatively safer” metro train with reserved carriages for women at night, says her mother has become almost paranoid.

“I leave my workplace around nine in the night. After this incident, even if I am late by 10 minutes, my mother gets anxious and calls me to find out if I am OK,” Sagar told AFP.

In the outsourcing industry, rocked by a rape and murder of an employee late at night in 2005, some companies have begun providing extra security to women staff who work shifts around the clock.

“After the Delhi incident, we ensure that at least one security guard is present in our late-night cabs,” Anurag Mathur, a human resource executive in a Delhi-based company, told AFP.

A survey by industry group ASSOCHAM published on Friday showed a 40 percent fall in productivity of women employees at call centres and IT companies because many had reduced their hours or had quit.

As anxiety takes root, meaning in many cases that women simply stay at home more, activists have raised their voices to condemn the state for failing to offer protection.

“Why should we live in a society where every woman is made responsible for her own security and safety? What we need really is a system which will protect us,” said Ranjana Kumari of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

This has been the source of sometimes violent protests against the government over the last two and a half weeks as incensed women led marches and demonstrations in cities across the country of 1.2 billion people.

The statistics show however that any self-defence techniques are most likely to be needed against a family member or neighbour, with more than 95 percent of alleged perpetrators in rape cases being someone known to the victim.

There were 24,206 cases of rape registered in 2011 in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, but this is thought to be gross under-representation of the problem.

In the cities, 17 percent of cases were recorded in Delhi compared with 8.6 percent for Mumbai.

**********

Delhi gang-rape could prove a catalyst for change for women

The gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in India has spurred a potentially defining moment to dismantle centuries of entrenched discrimination and violence against women

Annie Kelly   
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 12.01 GMT          

Protests After Death of Gang Rape Victim, New Delhi, India - 02 Jan 2013
Protesters in New Delhi take part in a silent march to demand justice for the 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped and murdered. Photograph: ZUMA / Rex Features

Over the past two weeks, the streets of India have been calling for change. The outpouring of anger and grief that has followed the rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi just over two weeks ago has resulted in thousands taking to the streets of Delhi and cities, towns and villages across India. It is, says Dr Ranjana Kumari, a women's rights campaigner, an unprecedented moment in India's history.

"Can this grief, this anger at the brutalisation and murder of a young woman result in positive change?" she says. "What we are seeing on our streets is a defining moment of our democracy. For decades, India's endemic violence against women has been a defining issue for women's groups and the rights movement, but for the first time the crime of sexual offence and rape has been taken up by the people themselves."

She says her organisation, The Centre for Social Research (CSR), used to be asked continually why it was failing to mobilise more protesters against the institutional misogyny and violence that makes India one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

"We could never really give an adequate response, because we couldn't find a way to break through the levels of entrenched attitudes towards women," she says.

"Now, for the first time the citizens have got very angry. Civil society at large has taken women's rights as their own cause and as an activist this makes me hopeful even at a time of such grief. For decades, NGOs, women's groups, human rights organisations have been pushing against this wall of institutional sexism; now a part of that wall has broken down and we must seize this moment."

According to Lenin Kumar, student union president at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, fundamental to lasting change is harnessing the anger and the desire for change among India's majority – its young people. "This is the first time in India that so many young people all over the country have poured into the streets in protest over an issue of gender," he says.

"We have had enough. We want gender-just laws, gender-sensitive policing and structural changes to ensure freedom and safety for women. We will form broader solidarities with lawyers, doctors, women's groups and other student groups and we will hold the home ministry to task."

Civil society groups have been putting together a suggested list of legal changes that could ensure better protection for women: tough new rape laws, fast-track courts and better police protection.

The Justice Verma commission, has been established to give recommendations on amending existing laws to provide speedier justice and convictions in sexual assault cases.

"We have demanded amendments in the law on sexual harassment at the workplace – prevention, prohibition and redressal to remove the problematic provision of 'conciliation' and have demanded measures to deal with the harassment that women in our country face everyday," Kumar says.

The attack on 16 December has also sparked an unprecedented debate about social attitudes to women in India. Can India's civil society groups harness this public anger and desire for change, and start to dismantle centuries of entrenched discrimination and violence?

"In the past we have struggled to change attitudes and I think we are all really concerned that the world will move on without any real change happening. The victory of those on the streets cannot simply be the punishment of the perpetrators," says Manak Matiyani of The Youth Collective, a youth development NGO.

"For a lot of people the nature of crime itself is the outrage but what we need to do is seize the opportunity to challenge baseline attitudes to women. Civil society groups keep reaching out to the same populations over and over again. This is the chance to try and get a much wider audience behind our campaigns."

To do this, many women's groups accept that there needs to be greater co-ordination and communication within the sector. "There is an incredible number of different groups working on women's issues in India but what is missing is any real co-operation or cross-working," says Nisha Agrawal, Oxfam India's country director.

"When we were recently trying to co-ordinate on the sexual harassment bill, we realised that within the sector we were very divided on many small issues and this is certainly holding us back. We need to find ways of organising ourselves into powerful networks all working towards a common agenda if we are to honour the young woman who died and reflect the voices of the people on the streets."

Resources are inevitably another stumbling block to seizing momentum. "The women's sector in India is facing a huge funding hole," Agrawal says. "Aid to India is dropping. Corporates and rich Indians are not stepping into the gap. We have no funding of our campaigning work, so this is going to be a real challenge to pick this up and do as much as we'd like to do."

Yet, according to many groups, in the collective horror at the death of a young woman on a bus, the seeds of change have been sown. "We know what needs to be done to make a difference, we know what the government must do to make India a safer and more equal place for women, now we have the public support to make [the government] sit up and listen," Amitabh Kumar, CSR's head of communications, says. "One thing is for sure, when Indian women break the chains of patriarchy, then there is no going back."


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« Reply #3841 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:26 AM »


Concern grows at lack of humanitarian access in Central African Republic

The latest upsurge in fighting in the country has abruptly halted the provision of health services to more than 300,000 people

Mark Tran   
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 12.48 GMT   

Humanitarian groups have expressed alarm at the lack of access to more than 300,000 civilians caught up in the fighting in the Central African Republic, where rebels have seized regional capitals and mining areas in the north east of the country.

The Séléka coalition of rebel fighters have advanced to within 75km of Bangui, the capital, since launching their assault on 10 December. The rebels have said they will not attack Bangui and have agreed to peace talks next week in Gabon's capital, Libreville, organised by African leaders.

"An estimated 316,000 people are living in the affected areas, and some 700,000 persons in Bangui are at further risk of an escalation in fighting," the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday night.

"There are reports of people fleeing their homes for safety from a number of areas, including Bangui, in and around Ndélé, where the fighting initially broke out, and across the borders to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Cameroon," it said.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and the security council have condemned the attacks and called on the rebels to halt hostilities.

Aid agencies have pulled most of their staff out of the diamond-producing city of Bria, leaving just skeleton staff to deal with people who have fled the fighting.

"Internally displaced people are very much in need of health services and we are particularly concerned about women and children," said Catherine Ainsworth, programme officer of International Medical Corps UK, who returned from Bangui to London just before Christmas. "The key issue is limited humanitarian access. The one doctor we have in Bria is running out of stock of medication against malaria and diarrhoea."

Ainsworth, who was posted to the Central African Republic early last year, said Bria was already experiencing very high levels of acute malnutrition before fighting broke out last month. International Medical Corps, which receives funding from the EU's aid emergency arm, Echo, had been planning to step up its health programme, but that has now been disrupted by the latest upsurge in fighting in this chronically unstable and landlocked country.

Ainsworth said there was also concern at the disruption to the planting season. "If there is no planting, it can lead to a ruined harvest, as we saw in 2012," she said.

The Central African Republic has been wracked by political unrest since gaining independence from France in 1960. Between 2002 and 2003, fighting between the national army, supported by armed groups from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and rebels led to scores of civilian casualties in Bangui and throughout the country.

President François Bozizé has offered to form a unity government and not run for a third term in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2016. But he has rejected rebel demands to step down now. He came to power in a rebellion, backed by Chad, in 2003 and has since relied on foreign military help to face down a series of smaller insurgencies. He won elections in 2005 and 2011 despite opposition complaints of fraud.

The International Crisis Group, a thinktank in Brussels, has called on Séléka to publicly and fully commit to respect international humanitarian law and facilitate humanitarian and medical access to areas under their control. It urged the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas), the African Union and the UN to make clear that Séléka commanders will be held responsible for any violations of human rights in areas under their control.

The rebel coalition is made up of armed groups mostly from the north east. They are united in their claims that Bozizé failed to honour the 2007 Birao peace agreement and the 2008 Libreville agreement. Despite its mineral wealth, including uranium and diamonds, 60% of the Central African Republic's population live in poverty.
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« Reply #3842 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Majority of Israelis support Palestinian state

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 4, 2013 7:41 EST

A slender majority of Israelis support the creation of a separate Palestinian state, but do not have high hopes for a peace deal, a survey said on Friday.

The survey by daily Israel Hayom asked more than 800 Israelis “do you support or oppose the idea of two states for two peoples, i.e. the creation of a Palestinian state independent from Israel?”

Almost 54 percent said they favoured the idea, and 38 percent rejected it, with the rest refusing to answer.

The survey’s margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.

More than 54 percent of those surveyed, however, thought a peace deal with the Palestinians was impossible, the study said, and 55 percent did not consider Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas a “partner for peace.”

A question on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank almost split respondents down the middle, with 43.4 percent supporting it, and 43.5 percent in favour of a freeze on construction.

Three Israeli rightwing parties, including two that are expected to be part of the next government after a January 22 general election, are talking seriously about annexing all or part of the West Bank.

Seized by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, the West Bank is now home to hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, as well as about 1.7 million Palestinians.

Polls show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud-Yisrael Beitenu coalition is poised to win the election, but a gradual erosion of support for the list might leave him less room to manoeuvre when it comes to forming his next government.


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« Reply #3843 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Originally published Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 6:03 AM    

Syrian warplanes bomb suburbs of the capital

The Associated Press
BEIRUT —

Activists say the Syrian military has bombarded the outskirts of Damascus and other areas around the country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says warplanes bombed neighborhoods around the capital including the rebel stronghold of Douma on Friday.

Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami says government troops are firing rockets and mortars at orchards near the southern suburbs of Daraya and Kfar Sousseh.

The Observatory meanwhile says troops are fighting rebels in Aqraba and Beit Saham, also south of Damascus, near the city's international airport.

It also reported air raids, clashes and shelling around in other parts of the country.

The U.N. said Wednesday that more than 60,000 people have been killed since Syria's crisis began in March 2011 - a figure much higher than previous opposition estimates.

********

January 3, 2013

Hezbollah Chief Urges Lebanon to Help in Syrian Crisis

By HWAIDA SAAD, ANNE BARNARD and CHRISTINE HAUSER
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, openly urged the Lebanese government on Thursday to take a more active role in finding a political solution to the civil war in neighboring Syria and to open its border to refugees to avert further bloodshed.

Mr. Nasrallah, the head of the Shiite militant movement in Lebanon, addressed a ceremony in the town of Baalbek, near the Syrian border, by video link, underscoring the urgency of the need for a resolution. “I call on the Lebanese government to develop its position on the Syrian crisis,” Mr. Nasrallah said, speaking in observance of Arbaeen, the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. “Lebanon must exert pressure for a political solution and a political dialogue in Syria. If military operations continue in Syria, it will be a long and bloody battle.”

Mr. Nasrallah has only occasionally commented on events in Syria during speeches.

After the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, the prime minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, declared that the country would pursue a line of “disassociation” from either side, a position apparently aimed at keeping the fighting from spilling across the border. Nevertheless, there have been occasional flare-ups inside Lebanon and episodes of cross-border shelling.

Mr. Nasrallah also spoke as reports emerged of the escalating death toll among civilians. As the conflict now approaches the end of its second year, multiple reports flow in daily of civilian casualties from airstrikes, gunfire and shelling. This week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that tracks the war from Britain, reported 45,000 deaths, mostly civilian, since the conflict began, while United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, set the number at more than 60,000, based on a new analysis of the broadest data to date.

(Late Thursday, the opposition group in Britain said a car bomb blew up at a Damascus gas station, killing at least nine people, according to The Associated Press.)

Mr. Nasrallah also touched on the refugee problem. Last month the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion in new aid to handle the humanitarian crisis created by the violence and predicted that the number of Syrian refugees would double to more than one million in the next six months. There are now about 160,000 registered refugees in Lebanon alone. Jordan has at least 150,000; Turkey, 140,000; Iraq, more than 65,000; and Egypt, more than 10,000. How many more are unregistered is uncertain.

While Mr. Nasrallah said the best solution for the refugees would be a halt to the violence, he said: “We should deal with the Syrian refugees with purely humanitarian responsibility, without politicization of the issue. Attention must be paid to the displaced families, whatever their political background.”

“We, as Lebanon, cannot close the border with Syria, with our understanding of the political, security and economic risks for this massive displacement,” he said.

Mr. Nasrallah also emphasized the deep connections between Lebanon and Syria.

“We must recognize that Lebanon is a country mostly affected by what is going on around it, especially in Syria, because of sectarian and political diversity, and conflict of interest,” he said.

Mr. Nasrallah and the Hezbollah group have kept their loyalty to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, relatively low-key. Fighters from the movement cross the border to fight for the president, and some have been sent to protect areas important to Shiites, analysts say. With the frontier between Syria and Lebanon weakly controlled, there are concerns that it could be the focus of confrontations with Sunni fighters in a possible regional conflict.

Hezbollah officials strongly deny that the group is fighting in Syria, although Mr. Nasrallah has said that Hezbollah was providing assistance in protecting people of Lebanese heritage in Syrian villages along the border.

Efforts to find a political solution in Syria by Russia, the United Nations’ special envoy and others have appeared to founder in recent days as neither Mr. Assad nor his opponents have expressed a willingness to make concessions to end the bloody conflict.

Nor has there been any change in the case of James Foley, a freelance reporter for Agence France-Presse, the Global Post Web site and other news outlets who was kidnapped on Nov. 22 by unidentified gunmen in northwest Syria. His family made his disappearance public on Wednesday. Mr. Foley had survived detention by government forces in Libya while covering the conflict there.

Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and Christine Hauser from New York.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/04/2013 12:41 PM

Between Syria's Fronts: A Two-Year Travelogue from Hell

By Christoph Reuter

Since unrest began in Syria in the spring of 2011, reporting from the country has been difficult. Former contacts are now dead or can't be located, and the country lies in ruins. Now, amid harrowing conditions, the balance of power appears to have shifted, with rebels beginning to gain the upper hand.

Night falls quickly in Syria, as the overloaded pickup trucks carrying stray refugee families emerge through the mist. The headlight beams from our car fall over destroyed houses on our drive through olive groves and abandoned towns. Campfires can occasionally be seen in the distance.

We've driven along this road once before, in April 2012, which these days seems like an eternity ago. At the time, there was still electricity here, and people still lived in Taftanas, Sarmin, Kurin and other villages in Idlib Province, in northern Syria. But now, in December 2012, entire villages are empty and pockmarked with bullet holes, their residents having fled from airstrikes, hunger and frigid temperatures.

After a while, we reach a village where residents did not openly demonstrate against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the past. As a result, they still have electricity today. A man opens a door, shivering as he looks out at the damp, cold landscape. "Thank God for this weather!" he says wryly. It's been raining for days, and everything seems immersed in fog and mud. But the fog is also a deterrent against aircraft and helicopters, sparing the area the usual bombardment for a few days and providing a moment of calm in the midst of the apocalypse.

Today, Syria is a devastated country. The cities have turned into battlefields, and in the places from which the Assad regime's troops and militias were forced to withdraw, its air force is now incinerating the infrastructure.

Nevertheless, after months of static conflict between unequally matched forces, during which provinces were neither lost by the regime nor gained by the rebels, the balance has suddenly shifted. Military camps, airports and cities are falling to the rebels, while demoralized and hungry Syrian army units are simply giving up. The rebels are already on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, the capital. The army is defending its last bastions in the north and east, like islands in a sea, only able to receive supplies from the air. Even the Russian government, Assad's most important ally next to Iran, is gradually abandoning the dictator. Before Christmas, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wasn't concerned with the fate of the Assad regime.

Anxiety about Postwar Syria

"We are tired," says one of the rebels who have gathered in the village on this evening. The group includes a man charged with distributing bread, a few fighters and the owner of the only satellite telephone in the village. Everyone here has lost friends and relatives, in a country that is sinking all around them.

"The others, the soldiers, are also tired. But at least we know what we're fighting for," the rebel says. Even though they are sometimes worried about the future, about the days after victory when revenge will be taken, another adds: "Who can blame someone whose family was killed?"

But where would that leave a revolution that was intended to bring down the dictator, but not plunge the country into a civil war? The Assad regime will fall, but no one knows what will happen after that.

The West has a bizarre impression of the Syrian revolution, fueled by the multiplicity of reports, photos and videos from a war zone. But who exactly are these Syrians, of whom initially a few, and then hundreds of thousands, began protesting in the spring of 2011 and eventually took up arms against the regime? What is really happening in the country where -- depending on one's interpretation of events -- either al-Qaida groups have long infiltrated the insurgency or the CIA is merely staging everything to bring about "regime change?"

At least 2 million Syrians are currently refugees within their own country, and more than 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries. This week, the United Nations reported that it estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising.

Two Years of Change

Since the beginning of the revolution, we -- a photographer, a Syrian colleague and I -- have traveled around the country a number of times, mostly following secret routes, passed on from one local opposition group to the next. We have been in hiding and have worn disguises, and we have been shot at and chased. It isn't easy to cope with the fact that so many of the people who helped us are now dead.

The current trip, shortly before Christmas, is our eighth since the beginning of the revolution. It passes through the north and to Deir el-Zour, a center for the petroleum industry on the Euphrates River, deep in the country's eastern desert. On our earlier trips, we passed through more than two-thirds of the populated parts of Syria, often spending weeks traveling in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and countless other cities, towns and villages.

We witnessed the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations, the inferno and the strange periods of calm in between.

At the beginning, in 2011, I traveled to the country three times on an official visa, allegedly as an agricultural adviser, an alibi so absurd that it was above suspicion. At the government forces' checkpoints, it helped to identify myself as a devout Christian -- not because all Christians support Assad, but because the regime would like to have their support. In 2011, we were still able to move back and forth between the two sides. But, by 2012, we could only travel in areas no longer controlled by Assad's troops. Unfortunately, this limited our field of vision.

On the other hand, the rebel-controlled area is large and uneven enough to avoid affiliation with individual groups. Moreover, we made a concerted effort to report only what we had experienced firsthand.

This is also a story of loose ends. The people with whom it begins, in the summer of 2011, are almost all dead or missing. Some have taken their place, and some of those are now dead, too. Others have become hardened and obsessed with revenge. Still others have transformed themselves: Interior decorators have become guerilla commanders and electricians are now mayors. They are doing things they have never learned how to do, building a new system even before the old one has been overthrown.

Early Days Full of Uncertainty

In 2011, there was a tension in the air, but no one in Damascus could imagine what would happen later on. Some of the friends I made in 1989, when I spent a year studying at the university in Damascus, made their careers in business. None of them seriously believed that the country would see any major changes.

But then, in the spring of 2011, shaky YouTube videos taken in Daraa in the south and Idlib in the north emerged. Eventually the news broke that hundreds of thousands had protested in Hama, where in 1982, Hafez Assad, the father of the current president and founder of the Assad dynasty, had brutally crushed an insurrection and had his troops destroy half of the city center.

At first, there was news of events happening in more distant parts of the country, only two or three hours' drive away, and yet somehow incomprehensible in the calm of Damascus. "We're having a revolution! I saw it on TV," I was told by an old friend in Damascus, who has expensive art on his walls and cases of Remy Martin cognac in his cabinet -- a brilliant cynic whose father, a member of the opposition, had fled the country years earlier and died in exile. In 2011, the son faced the same dilemma as many others: No one believed in the regime, and yet no one could imagine its fall.

Despite the external calm, fear was everywhere. Who could one trust? We were still allowed to make telephone calls as we pleased, and yet we couldn't speak openly on the phone. Later on, the situation would be reversed when everyone was talking, but the networks were increasingly breaking down. It was also still possible to drive around the country, but one had to make extraordinary efforts to meet with opposition members from other cities.

Finally, we learned that a Dutch Jesuit priest who had lived in Syria for 35 years was traveling from Damascus to Homs. He offered to take us with him to his monastery's rural estate, where it pressed wine and where he would be leading a weekend retreat.

Traveling with a priest on a public bus was above suspicion in Assad's realm. We tried to explain to an activist in Homs, who wanted to take us with him to the nightly demonstrations, where to pick us up the next morning. But he didn't understand why he was supposed to meet us at a Jesuit winery and didn't show up, perhaps because he thought it was a trap.

This meant that we were obliged to attend Father Frans' workshop. There was shooting in Homs, and we had to meditate for two days. There were drones circling in the sky above us, and we did yoga.

We didn't even know which side our host was on. Sometimes he referred to the protests as justified, and sometimes he called the rebels terrorists, leaving us puzzled. But we were anxious not to cause trouble for him or ourselves. It was like that everywhere in the first few months, a time when people said little of what was on their minds because they were still under the spell of the old fear that had held the country in its grip for 41 years.

Abandonded by the World
A few days later, we made our first attempt to reach Homs. We bought our tickets at the bus terminal, but they had to be stamped at a counter staffed by employees of the intelligence apparatus before we were allowed to board the bus.

"To Homs?" The woman at the counter stared at us silently for a long moment before writing "Aleppo" on our tickets. Aleppo, firmly in government hands, was still above suspicion at the time. If Aleppo were stamped on our tickets, no one would ask questions, and the long-distance bus to Aleppo stopped in Homs. It was a small gesture of subversion.

Homs, a dull industrial city in central Syria, would mark the turning point. In August 2011, we joined demonstrators who knew that security forces could open fire on them at any time.

There were still protests in the winter of 2011, but only in places out of range of the regime's snipers. The manhunt began in the afternoon, when they would shoot at anyone who tried to reach the other side. That winter, for the first time, we heard the question that consisted of only one word and affected everyone. It was shouted at us by a veiled woman on the street: "Ouen?" or "Where?"

Where, the Syrians wanted to know, were the Americans, the Europeans, their Arab brothers, the rest of the world? Why was everyone just watching?

After a funeral at a village cemetery, an old man stood in the winter wind as he laconically -- and accurately -- predicted what was going to happen. "It won't stop," he said. "Bashar will kill as many people as the world allows."

I wonder what happened to the old man. The neighborhoods we visited in the winter of 2011 are now in ruins, and the army has sealed off Homs. Those with whom we walked across the wintry fields, squeezing into entranceways and ducking to avoid snipers, are gone. There is a farewell photo, taken in Homs in January 2012, of SPIEGEL photographer Marcel Mittensiefen and three members of the local "media committee" who helped us. All three are dead.

Change Comes Slowly in the Villages

Omar Astalavista was the pseudonym used by the engineering student who accompanied us in the Homs neighborhood of Khalidiya in August, December and February. He established contacts and made sure we had food and places to sleep. Every few days, he would go back to the other side, the official side, to finish his final exams at the university. "It's crazy, I know, but I'm not going to let them destroy my degree," he said.

When he said goodbye to Marcel at dawn on Feb. 4, he told him: "I hope I can give you my real name next time." He was dead a few hours later. He was trying to film the recovery of victims from a mortar attack when another mortar struck. His real name was Mazhar Tayyara.

Abu Yassir and Abu Mohammed, the other two men in the photo, fled from Homs a few weeks later, with plans to go underground in Damascus. They were shot to death there during a raid in March.

Father Frans, the inscrutable Jesuit who, in the previous summer, had avoided aligning himself with either side, stayed in the monastery in the old section of Homs. About 50 Christian and Muslim families, who either couldn't or wouldn't flee, reportedly took refuge in the monastery.

The key shift in the Syrian balance of power didn't take place in the cities, but in thousands of villages in the countryside. Assad's army was massive and mobile. But it couldn't be everywhere. People weren't as afraid in the villages as they were in the cities because everyone knew everyone else. Slowly but steadily, people in the villages began to change sides.

Assad's troops couldn't prevent every village from joining the rebels. But, in early 2012, it could still punish every village for doing so. When we drove through Idlib in April, we followed in the tracks of the 76th Armored Brigade.

Fighting Fear with Laughter

The brigade barreled through the countryside like a medieval army with modern weaponry, attacking village after village with helicopters and tanks. Soldiers and hired militias looted the houses and then burned them down. People were tortured and shot to death, as were cattle, sheep and even pigeons. After a few hours, or sometimes as much as a day and a half, the marauding troops would disappear again, but not without leaving their calling card behind on building walls: "Liwa al-Maut," or "Brigade of Death," the name they had given their outfit.

We followed their trail through eight villages, where we saw fresh mass graves, putrid piles of dead animals and schools and mosques with meter-wide holes where tank shells had struck. We gazed at the blackened ruins of buildings and saw the graffiti on the walls, with the same words appearing again and again: "Assad forever! Or we'll burn the country down!"

All the survivors could do was flee, and many did. But others stayed behind. "We're farmers," said Khalid Abdul Kadir from Bashiriya. "What else are we supposed to live on? The cherries and apricots will be ripe soon."

Wreckage can be cleared away and people can overcome their grief, but what can they do against fear?

"Sarcasm," said Aziz Adjini, who taught English at the University of Idlib before returning to his village, Kurin. Laughter helps against the horrors, he said, "because the most important thing is for us to conquer our eternal fear." With his moustache and habit of rolling his eyes, Adjini, who was in his mid-40s, resembled Groucho Marx. He came up with the slogans used at the Friday demonstrations in Kurin, such as: "Bashar wants residents to withdraw from their cities to protect the tanks that are there."

Adjini believed in the power of reason and refused to shoot. But his cousin, Mahmoud Adjini, was a lieutenant in an armored infantry division before defecting to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA), for whom he trained a small village militia. "If we ever have tanks," he said, "I'll be able to handle them."

Another cousin, Mohammed Adjini, the local school director, was once an enthusiastic supporter of the regime. But when everything gets confusing, where does that support go? He decided to ignore the fact that one institution of the regime fired on his school with tanks while classes were in session, and that the only reason no one died was that students were able to escape just minutes before.

Afterwards Adjini was on the phone with another regime institution, the school authority, negotiating over which forms were needed to request new teaching supplies to replace those that had been incinerated in the attack.

Destruction over Surrender

Together, the three Adjini cousins formed an image of conditions in the north. For the moment, Aziz seemed to be right. In Bashiriya, a village that was especially hard hit, men sat in the shade of a damaged building and, like Aziz, cracked bitter jokes about regime propaganda. "Why did the army shoot the cows?" Answer: "Because they were paid by people abroad." The men smiled. Then another man said: "Look at the sheep, with their dishevelled wool. It's obvious that they're Islamists!" The men snickered. "It's obvious that the pigeons worked as couriers for the Mossad!" said a third man, referring to Israel's foreign intelligence service. And they laughed again, trying to overcome their fear.

It was the calm between the storms. Around the same time, on the morning of April 10, all of the residents of the town of Maraa, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the northeast, had fled from the approaching army. They had received advance warning that they had one night to wall in the minarets at the mosques to prevent snipers from taking up positions there, as they had done elsewhere. Then they fled into the olive groves or to nearby Turkey.

When they returned, Yassir al-Hajji, the owner of a café, discovered that his refrigerator had been blown open with hand grenades and that his desk was perforated with bullets from a machine gun. He had emigrated 30 years ago and had an American passport, had worked in Maraa as a football coach and, most recently, had owned an antique shop in Athens, but returned in early 2011 when the first protests began. His dream was to represent Maraa in parliament one day. "That was our chance, we thought. We knew it would be tough," he said. "But so what?" He also found the omnipresent words written by the regime troops, which he photographed before they were whitewashed: "Assad forever! Or we'll burn the country down!"

Even for a dictator, it's unusual to threaten subjects with destruction of the entire country. Not even former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or his Libyan counterpart, Moammar Gadhafi, did that. It reveals the strange relationship the Assads have with their country. When Bashar's father Hafez Assad sent his brother Rifaat to Saudi Arabia after the 1982 Hama massacre, the Saudi king refused to see him. Rifaat sent the king his regards, coupled with an ominous threat: "If we ever get threatened again, we will be willing not only to wipe out Hama but also Damascus."

Despite the determination with which the Assads have retained their grip on the country for the last four decades, they seem disconnected from those they govern. They have treated Syria like loot to be held onto, to be destroyed rather than surrendered. Nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to the power of Assad and his Alawite minority. On the contrary, before the senior Assad came into power in the wake of a military coup, the Alawites, about 10 percent of the population, were the poorest people in the country, only coming to Damascus as servants. But then Hafez Assad, after rising through the ranks of the military, finally came to power in another coup, in 1970. His son is now determined to hold on to that power at all costs -- or else, as his soldiers' slogan goes, "we will burn the country down!"

Searching for Bearings

A confused calm prevailed in the villages in the early summer of 2012, as tank brigades devastated the cities where residents had rebelled: Homs, Rastan, Deir el-Zour, the northern suburbs of Damascus.

Yassir al-Hajji was caught between entirely personal fronts. He was the civilian leader of the uprising in Maraa. Aleppo, the large city in northern Syria, was still completely in the hands of the regime. Hajji's 14-year-old daughter still had final examinations to complete at the high school there, and she was determined to do so.

Every morning for almost a week, we anxiously looked on as his daughter traveled to Aleppo on back roads, accompanied by an aunt who would wait outside the school so that she could warn the girl if intelligence agents came to the school to arrest her. But nothing happened. The fighting in Aleppo started six weeks later.

Outside the small towns, Syria in the summer of 2012 felt like being transported back to the Middle Ages. No one knew what the situation was like behind the next row of hills. Our perceptions instinctively changed with the paths that we took. We went from village to village on tiny roads and paths, or across dusty fields, through tributary valleys and olive groves. We avoided cities and major roads.

Every trip across the horizon became an expedition, one that we mapped out with pebbles in the sand and detailed maps we had drawn. Where were the army guards posted? From which hills did their snipers have a view of which areas? Was the wireless network working? If not, did anyone have radios? And, most importantly, who was going to drive in front?

Despite the planning, there was little about these trips that could in fact be planned. As a result, there was no better way to see what was happening in the country than to take these trips, during which we were often stranded, listening to life stories, explanations of why a soldier had changed sides or how a bus driver had become a fighter.

We accompanied the wounded, deserters and refugees, and we sometimes ended up in the middle of battlefield discussions and even FSA arms deals. In December, we accidentally ran into one of the biggest arms traffickers in Idlib, who openly named the source of his supplies. "The regime army," he said. "The officers sell us whatever we can pay for. They know things are coming to an end, and they want to make some money first. They don't care if we use the weapons to shoot at their own soldiers. The system was always corrupt."

Friends or Foes?
We also experienced the chaos of this insurgency. Its weakness -- that it is both leaderless and bubbling up everywhere -- is also its strength. No one can remove the leader of a revolt if there is no leader. Conversely, people often don't know whom they're dealing with. Such was the case near Maskanah in the northeast, where two nighttime patrols with different FSA groups got into a fire fight because each of them thought the other was the enemy.

In Khafsah, near Aleppo, we happened upon a scene in which the representative of one FSA brigade, the "Free Men of the Euphrates," was demanding the return of two cars from another FSA brigade, the "Army of the Holy Sites," which had confiscated the cars at a checkpoint.

"Ahmed said they had to seize the cars!" said one man.

Another man, wrinkling his brow, replied: "Which Ahmed?"

"Well, Ahmed…"

"We have many Ahmeds."

Our routes also created a picture of reality, because our progress followed a topography of religious detours. In Hama Province in central Syria, for example, the villages of the Alawites and those of the Sunnis, who make up the majority of the insurgents, are close together.

"In the past, we were just neighbors," said a driver who normally worked as a shepherd. He took wide detours to keep away from every Alawite village "because that's where the Shabiha have their guards posted." The "Shabiha," or "ghosts," are the militias that have been armed by the regime since the beginning of the uprising. Most are Alawites, and they are repeatedly told that the rebels intend to kill them all.

In all of our months of travel, we happened upon only two Alawite villages that had remained neutral. We had to drive around the rest, near Hama, Homs and Idlib.

Staged Bombings?

But the erosion of the old power continues, especially now that those who served as the nucleus of the government machine for decades -- party officials, officers and bureaucrats -- are also changing sides. In the town of Tulul al-Humr, in the grasslands southeast of Hama, the entire pro-regime leadership has defected. We happened upon a group consisting of the former mayor, an intelligence agent, a few officials and the local leader of the Baath Party, which has served as a tool for the Assads to cultivate their family dictatorship.

"Every week a fax arrived from headquarters telling us about the next party meeting," said the former party official, describing the beginning of the rebellion. "It stated what I was to tell the others about the universal Zionist conspiracy, and about Saudis and al-Qaida paying foreign terrorists to fight in Syria." Taking a deep breath, he added: "You know, my sons went out into the streets. I couldn't do it anymore." He broke along with the system. "I don't even know if they're looking for me now," he said. He kept all the faxes, but the thermal paper doesn't do well in the Syrian heat, and the language about "universal conspiracies" was fading as the paper darkened.

The claims of a "Zionist conspiracy" once invoked in much of the Arab world have slowly faded, even in Syria. But things are more complicated when it comes to al-Qaida and the jihadists.

There has been a series of bombings of the offices of Syrian intelligence in Damascus and Aleppo since the end of 2011. Curiously, the bombers managed to make it through all security checkpoints to reach the main buildings of the heavily guarded complexes, but usually at times when they were almost empty. In elaborately produced videos, which soon surfaced on jihadist web forums, a previously unknown group named "Jabhat al-Nusra," or "Al-Nusra Front," a group led by "Emir" Abu Mohammed al-Julani, assumed responsibility for the bombings. The group looked like a new arm of al-Qaida.

But in early 2012, no one in the opposition was familiar with Jabhat al-Nusra or its ominous leader. The rebels accuse the regime of inventing the Islamist group and assigning the blame for the entire rebellion on al-Qaida.

There are signs that the regime was involved. As it turned out, the alleged victims of the attacks were in fact already dead, while others who were supposedly dead suddenly walked across the screen when they thought the cameras had been turned off.

After attacks on the local intelligence headquarters in Aleppo, a doctor at the military hospital there told us: "We were responsible for military intelligence. After the explosion in February, a dozen bodies and about 100 wounded were brought to us. The strange thing about it was that the detonation happened at 8:30 a.m. People get up late in Aleppo, and none of the officers is in the office before 11. The victims were security guards."

The doctor says that he happened to be nearby, on his way to the doctors' union, when there was an attack on the "political security force" on March 18. "I heard the powerful detonation and, thinking that there must have been many dead, I ran over there immediately. All I saw was a man with a scratch on his arm, but no one else."

Islamist Connections

In September, two captured Shabiha leaders from Aleppo stated, independently of one another, that they had received explosives from air force intelligence several times and had been told to detonate them in various parts of the city-- under orders from the intelligence commander in Aleppo, Adib Salame.

But while Jabhat al-Nusra members were nowhere to be found in the spring in the otherwise rather open rebel community, groups calling themselves "al-Nusra" did in fact surface all over the country in August. We encountered them in Aleppo, Maskanah, Dayr Hafir and Habul, Deir el-Zour in the east and in Idlib Province.

While the groups have little knowledge of one another, they all dispute having anything to do with the major attacks in Damascus and Aleppo. "But everyone recognizes the name," the group's leader in Maskanah said apologetically. "Okay, it comes from the regime, but now we've just made it our own." We heard the same thing in other places, namely that anyone could establish an al-Nusra cell.

It gradually became apparent that the attacks and videos claiming responsibility were not just making an impression on Western terrorism experts, who promptly began using the phrase "al-Qaida in Syria," but also on Sunni financiers, mostly in Saudi Arabia -- financiers with a penchant for funding jihad.

In this way, al-Nusra -- rebel brigades with Islamist connections -- indeed began to take shape. They remained small compared with the FSA, but they attracted foreign jihadists from the Persian Gulf, Jordan and North Africa. "They have different religious ideas, but they fight with us for the same goal," says Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, one of the leaders of the rebel military council in Aleppo.

When the US government finally declared al-Nusra a terrorist group, it had the unintended effect of providing the various groups using the same name with a level of popularity they had previously lacked. "First the Americans didn't help us for so long, and now they want to tell us who is allowed to fight with us here?" says a commander, echoing the sentiments of many in the country.

A Country Destroying Itself

The face of the war changed in late summer 2012, when the regime stopped using tanks. Instead, like a horrible downburst, death came from the air. It followed us from town to town in September, when we were traveling in the north. In Maskanah, we started running when we saw everyone else running, and we dove headlong into a basement in the nick of time, when the entire building was already shaking from the blast of a shell that had struck two buildings away, creating an enormous cloud of dust. The next shell struck two minutes later, designed to hit the crowd of rescuers and curious onlookers. "They always do it that way," said a bystander, brushing the dust from his shirt.

The next morning in Deir Hafir, half an hour's drive from Maskanah, a plane flew directly above us before bombing its target, the largest animal feed warehouse in the district.

By noon the next day, we were back in Maraa visiting Yassir al-Hajja, the owner of the small café, who had been trying for months to assemble something resembling a rebel town administration. We almost didn't see the plane that attacked a nearby local refrigerated warehouse, knocking it over like a bird of prey. Six people died when two shells struck near the loading dock. An FSA fighter and relative of the dead snapped when we tried to photograph the site, turning his weapon on Yassir and shouting at us to get lost. The owner of the warehouse tried to calm him down, explaining that it was right to document what was happening.

"It won't stop," the old man in the village near Homs had said in the winter of 2011. I thought to myself that this must be what it feels like during a rampage, when someone suddenly turns up and only wants to kill people. The difference is that this rampage isn't over after an hour, but just keeps on going.

We spent the night on the outskirts of the town, and the next morning we saw an approaching L-39, normally a training aircraft. Then we saw the plane dive and drop two bombs, which looked tiny in the distance. We saw clouds of smoke shoot up into the air and heard the booming noise of the explosions. The bombs had struck the last remaining local garbage truck and two men selling fuel from a barrel. Two days later, in the early morning hours, a bomb destroyed the registration office in Maraa.

"Assad, or we'll burn the country down!" This slogan, scrawled on bullet-riddled walls, is the government's entire program, its only claim to power. Now the jets were appearing every day, in town after town, evidence of a country destroying itself.

No One to Help

Yassir, sitting at his small plywood desk that is riddled with bullet holes, says that he can't watch any more funerals. At the beginning, we were still able to convince him to go with us.

But since the last funeral we attended, we too are losing our ability to stomach them anymore. The remains of five young rebels from Maraa were being buried, or what was left of them after their homemade rocket exploded before it was launched. "That wasn't the plan," Yassir mumbled. His words could have applied to many things.

It wasn't the plan that a pastry chef would be mixing explosives and a plumber would be building rockets. It wasn't the plan that neighboring villages would become mortal enemies, and that the attempt to build a different Syria would be destroyed in a hail of bombs. Yassir would still like to become a member of parliament one day, "if I survive this," he says.

In the fog of Idlib, on our eighth journey, we search for three Adjini cousins, university lecturer Aziz, who believed in sarcasm and reason, and the two others. What happened to them, we wonder?

We don't find them in Kurin, which has become a ghost town. We finally catch up with Aziz in front of a hut in the hills, unshaven and wearing tracksuit pants. He is thinner.

Aziz wanted to overcome fear, and he didn't want to shoot. That was in April, but now he's a different person. Today he wants to booby-trap washing machines, microwaves and TV sets, turning them into hidden bombs. He came up with the idea when he heard the rumor that the army was returning to Kurin once again. "And when they start looting here again," he says, "boom!"

His cousin Mahmoud, the officer who had defected, has indeed captured three tanks with his group. And Mohammed, the formerly conformist school director, now complains about the rockets that have broken all the windows in his house. "But he doesn't ask where they're coming from," says Aziz.

The army never returned, but now the planes have come instead. Just days ago, they dropped a cluster bomb on an oil mill in the neighborhood, where farmers were waiting with their olive harvest. Nine were killed. "These people waited the entire year so that they could press their olives," says Aziz.

He has become hardened and bitter. He says that he can understand those who shout "Allahu akbar" and place their faith in God. "Who else has helped us?" he asks. "No one."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan



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« Last Edit: Jan 04, 2013, 07:41 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #3844 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:36 AM »


January 3, 2013

Insider Attacks in Afghanistan Shape the Late Stages of a War

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — It was only after the young Afghan soldier’s hatred of Americans had grown murderous that he reached out to the Taliban.

The soldier, named simply Mahmood, 22, said that in May he told the insurgents of his plan to shoot Americans the next time they visited the outpost where he was based in northeastern Afghanistan. He asked the Taliban to take him in if he escaped.

The Taliban veterans he contacted were skeptical. Despite their public insistence that they employ vast ranks of infiltrators within the Afghan Army and the police, they acknowledged that many of the insider attacks they take credit for start as offers by angry young men like Mahmood. They had seen many fail, or lose their nerve before even starting, and they figured that Mahmood, too, would prove more talk than action or would die in the attempt.

“Even the Taliban didn’t think I would be able to do this,” Mr. Mahmood said in an interview.

He proved them wrong days later, on the morning of May 11, when he opened fire on American trainers who had gone to the outpost in the mountains of Kunar Province. One American was killed and two others were wounded. Mahmood escaped in the ensuing confusion, and he remains free in Kunar after the Taliban welcomed him into their ranks.

It was, he said, his “proudest day.”

Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became “the signature violence of 2012,” in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014.

“It’s a game changer on all levels,” said First Sgt. Joseph Hissong, an American who helped fight off an insider attack by Afghan soldiers that left two men in his unit dead.

Cultural clashes have contributed to some of the insider attacks, with Afghan soldiers and police officers becoming enraged by what they see as rude and abusive behavior by Americans close to them. In some cases, the abusive or corrupt behavior of Afghan officers prompts the killer to go after Americans, who are seen as backing the local commanders. On rare occasions, like the killing of an American contractor by an Afghan policewoman late last month, there seems to be no logical explanation.

But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.

“A great percentage of the insider attacks have the enemy narrative — the narrative that the infidels have to be driven out — somewhere inside of them, but they aren’t directed by the enemy,” said a senior coalition officer, who asked not to be identified because of Afghan and American sensitivities about the attacks.

The result is that, although the Taliban have successfully infiltrated the security forces before, they do not always have to. Soldiers and police officers will instead go to them, as was the case with Mr. Mahmood, who offered a glimpse of the thinking behind the violence in one of the few interviews conducted with Afghans who have committed insider attacks.

“I have intimate friends in the army who have the same opinion as I do,” Mr. Mahmood said. “We used to sit and share our hearts’ tales.”

But he said he did not tell any of his compatriots of his plan to shoot Americans, fearing that it could leak out and derail his attack. The interviews with Mr. Mahmood and his Taliban contacts were conducted in recent weeks by telephone and through written responses to questions. There are also two videos that show Mr. Mahmood with the Taliban: an insurgent-produced propaganda video available on jihadi Web sites, and an interview conducted by a local journalist in Kunar.

Though Mr. Mahmood at times contradicted himself, falling into stock Taliban commentary about how it had always been his ambition to kill foreigners, much of what he said mirrored the timelines and versions of events provided by Taliban fighters who know him, as well as Afghan officials familiar with his case.

Mr. Mahmood grew up in Tajikan, a small village in the southern province of Helmand. The area around his village remains dominated by the Taliban despite advances against the insurgents made in recent years by American and British troops. Even Afghans from other parts of Helmand are hesitant to travel to Tajikan for fear of the Taliban.

Col. Khudaidad, an Afghan officer who runs the Afghan National Army’s recruitment center in Helmand, said Mr. Mahmood enlisted about four years ago. His story, up to that point, would be familiar to many Americans: He was a poor boy from a family of eight who worked sweeping up in a tailor shop and was looking for a better life. The army offered steady pay, reading and writing lessons, and a chance to see something beyond the mud hovels in which he was born and raised.

“He barely had a beard,” recalled Colonel Khudaidad, who also uses only one name, in an interview. “He looked so innocent that you wouldn’t believe what he did if you only saw him then.”

Mr. Mahmood says he was anything but an innocent. He grew up being told that Americans, Britons and Jews “are the enemies of our country and our religion,” he said.

But until May, he worked and fought alongside foreigners without incident. The change came in the Ghaziabad District of Kunar, where he ended up after the start of 2012, he said.

The area is thick with Taliban, along with Islamists from Pakistan. Many residents sympathized with the insurgents and often complained to Afghan soldiers about the abuses committed by Americans and the failure of Afghan soldiers to control much of anything beyond the perimeter of their own outpost, Mr. Mahmood said. The Taliban, they glorified.

Listening to villagers, Mr. Mahmood became convinced that the foreigners had killed too many Afghans and insulted the Prophet Muhammad too many times. He wanted to be driving them out, not helping them stay. The villagers’ stories “strengthened my desire to kill Americans with my own fingers,” he said.

He contacted the Taliban through a local sympathizer. He did not want help — he only asked the insurgents “not to shoot me” if he managed to escape after attacking the Americans, which he told them would happen in a few days.

He was on guard duty when American soldiers arrived at the outpost on May 11. He waited for a few of them to shed their body armor and put down their weapons, and then he opened fire. (New regulations require American trainers to keep their armor on and weapons at hand when visiting Afghan bases.)

The Afghan and American soldiers initially thought the attack was coming from the outside. They “didn’t even think that someone within the Afghan Army might have opened fire on Americans,” he said. “I took advantage of this confusion and fled.”

He claimed to have hit six Americans. “I don’t know how many were killed, though I hope all were,” he said. The coalition said one soldier was killed and two were wounded.

The Taliban welcomed him as a hero. He was given the title “ghazi,” an honorific for someone who helps drive off non-Muslim invaders. “They let me keep the same rifle I used to kill Americans.”

In August, the Taliban featured Mr. Mahmood in a propaganda video, calling him “Ghazi of Ghaziabad.” The video shows Mr. Mahmood, smiling broadly, being draped with garlands and showered with praise from local elders, Taliban fighters and cheering crowds of men and boys.

The following month, the American-led military coalition announced that it had killed Mr. Mahmood in an airstrike. The coalition now says it was mistaken and that Mr. Mahmood is still with the Taliban in Kunar.

Villagers and officials in Helmand backed up that account, saying Mr. Mahmood had been in touch with relatives since the report of his death. Mr. Mahmood said he spoke only to his mother, and that “she was happy.”

Sangar Rahimi and Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Asadabad.


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« Reply #3845 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Saudis aiding U.S. drone attacks in Yemen: report

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 22:38 EST

Saudi Arabia has provided fighter jets to assist the United States with its drone strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, the London Times reported on Friday.

US drones are backing Yemeni forces combating militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The group’s Yemen branch is considered by Washington to be the most active and deadliest franchise of the global jihadist network.

The Times cited a US intelligence source as saying that “some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi Air Force missions”.

US drone attacks in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation, and for the first time totalled more than in Pakistan last year.

A new US drone strike on Thursday killed three Al-Qaeda suspects in the town of Rada in Yemen’s central Al-Bayda province, the site of similar recent attacks, tribal sources there said.

AQAP took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government during an uprising in 2011 against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.

But after a month-long offensive launched in May last year by Yemeni troops, most militants fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.
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« Reply #3846 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:48 AM »

January 3, 2013

Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces

By SALMAN MASOOD and ISMAIL KHAN
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An American drone strike killed a top Pakistani militant commander in a northwestern tribal region, security officials said Thursday. The death of the commander, Maulvi Nazir, was seen as a serious blow to Taliban fighters who attack United States and allied forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The drone strike took place on Wednesday night and targeted Mr. Nazir’s vehicle in the Angoor Adda area in South Waziristan. Five other people were also killed, including one of his aides, officials said.

“He has been killed; it is confirmed,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The vehicle he was traveling in was hit.”

Mr. Nazir was heading from Bermal to Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, when the drone hit the vehicle he was in.

In a separate drone strike on Thursday morning, at least four people were killed in North Waziristan when a vehicle was targeted. Their identities were not immediately known.

Mr. Nazir, believed to be in his 30s, was based in the western part of the South Waziristan tribal region. He led the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and his loyalists regularly joined attacks on American forces across the porous border with Afghanistan. Unlike other Taliban factions, Mr. Nazir’s fighters did not attack Pakistani military or government sites, instead focusing on the war in Afghanistan. He was believed to have signed a peace pact with the Pakistani military.

Mr. Nazir was allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a leading warlord in North Waziristan. The two commanders’ nonconfrontational posture toward the Pakistani military often led to their being labeled here as “good Taliban.”

In Washington, American officials said Mr. Nazir’s apparent death could hurt Al Qaeda’s sanctuary in the Pakistani tribal areas.

“Commander Nazir and his men were directly involved in planning and executing cross-border attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and in providing protection for Al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan,” said one American official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the intelligence matter. “While it is too soon to tell, the death of Nazir, along with some of his deputies, could push his network into disarray, degrading Al Qaeda’s access to South Waziristan as a result.”

Asad Munir, a former Pakistani Army brigadier and the intelligence chief in Peshawar, said Mr. Nazir’s killing could lead to a spurt in violence.

“A dangerous scenario for the Pakistani military would be the joining of hands of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir supporters with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” he said.

Mr. Munir said that the area controlled by Mr. Nazir’s forces had been “relatively peaceful” but that his death increased the chances of attacks on military targets.

Mr. Nazir had survived two earlier drone strikes. In November, he survived a suicide attack attributed to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or T.T.P., the Pakistani Taliban, who conduct attacks inside Pakistan. After the suicide attack, he expelled rival Mehsud tribesmen from territory controlled by his fighters.

Mr. Nazir also opposed the presence of Uzbek fighters in Pakistan and, with the help of the Pakistani military, pushed Uzbeks out of his region several years ago.

Mohammad Din, a resident of Wana, said people were widely mourning Mr. Nazir’s killing there. “The main bazaar in Wana was closed for all routine activities,” Mr. Din said in a telephone interview. He said Mr. Nazir opposed polio vaccination in the region but otherwise did not disrupt government projects and cooperated with the local administration.

Some analysts said that militants like Mr. Nazir could be troublesome for the Pakistani military with the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, said: “Maulvi Nazir would probably have posed a problem for the Pakistan Army if and when a political settlement is reached in Afghanistan in 2014. But in the interim, the killing of Nazir and his deputies likely hurts the Pakistan Army’s efforts against the T.T.P. in South Waziristan.”

Mr. Rafiq, based in Washington, continued, “Nazir would probably have wanted to hold on to his local jihadist fief, making him a long-term threat for the Pakistani state.”

The suspicion that the Pakistani military gave a nod to Mr. Nazir’s killing could result in attacks on Pakistani troops in some areas in South Waziristan, analysts said.

Pakistani officials publicly denounce American drone strikes but have privately acknowledged the effectiveness of the campaign.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.


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« Reply #3847 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:53 AM »


Venezuelan government announces Chávez has 'severe' respiratory infection

Venezuelan president suffering breathing problems from respiratory infection, the government announces in latest update

Reuters in Caracas
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 07.35 GMT   

Venezuela's vice president Nicolás Maduro delivers a hopeful message after returning from Cuba to visit Hugo Chávez in hospital. Source: Reuters Link to this video

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is still suffering a "severe" respiratory infection that has hindered his breathing as he struggles to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba, the government said on Thursday.

The 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public nor heard from in more than three weeks. Officials say he is in delicate condition after his fourth operation in just 18 months for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.

"Comandante Chávez has faced complications as a result of a severe lung infection," information minister Ernesto Villegas said in the latest official update on the president's condition.

"This infection has caused a breathing insufficiency that requires Comandante Chávez to comply strictly with medical treatment," the communique added, giving no further details.

Vice president Nicolás Maduro had earlier returned to Venezuela on Thursday after visiting Chávez in hospital as rumours swirled that the president could be close to death.

Flanked by senior government figures including Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly, Maduro toured a coffee production plant in Caracas - the type of visit that the president made frequently before he fell ill.

"He is conscious of the battle that he's in, and has the same fighting spirit as always, with the same strength and energy as always, with his confidence and security," Maduro said. "We're going to be alongside him with the same strength and the same energy."

Maduro said Cabello, oil minister Rafael Ramirez and Chávez's elder brother Adan, among others, had all been with the president in the Havana hospital.

Venezuelan bonds rallied to five-year highs earlier on Thursday on rumours that Chávez's health had taken a turn for the worse. Foreign investors generally hope for a more business-friendly government in Venezuela, and its assets have rallied in recent months on news of his illness.

In scenes that recalled Chávez's hours-long televised visits to building sites, hospitals and oil refineries, Maduro told workers at the nationalised Fama de America factory that there was no "transition" taking place in the country.

"The only transition in Venezuela is the transition to socialism," he said in comments carried live by state television.

"It began six years ago, ordered by Comandante Hugo Chávez as chief and president, elected, re-elected and ratified, much as it pains the bourgeois hucksters and the right, who have done so much damage to our fatherland."

Chávez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for the South American Opec nation. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor majority but critics call him a dictator.

His condition is being watched closely by Latin American allies that have benefited from his help, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.

Chávez is still set to be sworn in on 10 January, as spelled out in the constitution. If he were to die or had to step aside, new elections would be held within 30 days, with Maduro running as the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) candidate.

While the constitution gives 10 January as the start of a new presidential term, it does not explicitly state what happens if a president-elect cannot take office on that date.

Top PSUV officials have suggested that Chávez's inauguration could be postponed - while the opposition says any delay would be just the latest sign the former soldier is not fit to govern.

Cabello said the "Chavismo" movement was in pain but remained resolute, and he issued a warning to the opposition: "Make no mistake about these people or this revolution. It is going to cost you very, but very, dearly," he said.

On Saturday, Cabello will likely be re-elected as head of the Chavista-dominated National Assembly, a key post that could see him assume Chávez's role temporarily while new elections are called should the president have to step down.

In the past Cabello has been considered as a rival of Maduro, but the pair have been at pains to deny that. Their appearance side-by-side at the coffee factory on Thursday looked to be the latest effort to project a unified front.

Last year, Chávez staged what appeared to be remarkable comeback from the disease to win re-election to a new six-year term in October despite being weakened by radiation therapy. But he returned to Cuba for more treatment within weeks of his win.

Officials have said he suffered unexpected bleeding and then a respiratory infection after a six-hour operation on 11 December. That respiratory infection caused further complications, they have said, without giving more details.

The head of the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition, Ramon Aveledo, has accused the authorities of breaking a pledge to keep Venezuelans informed about Chávez's health.

And one opposition leader suggested on Thursday that legislators should form an official commission to visit Cuba and assess the president's condition for themselves.

Maduro hit back in his televised comments, saying the public had been provided with updates almost every day, and he accused Aveledo of orchestrating a campaign of misinformation.

"We have no doubt Mr Aveledo is behind the campaign of sick rumours that began on Twitter and Facebook," Maduro said.

*********

Venezuela slams ‘psychological war’ over Chavez health

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 4, 2013 7:08 EST

Venezuela accused the international media of waging a “psychological war” over President Hugo Chavez’s health to try to destabilize the government and bring down its socialist revolution.

The hardline stance was adopted after Vice President Nicolas Maduro returned from a visit with the ailing Chavez in Cuba, where he is suffering from complications more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said a “severe pulmonary infection” that Chavez developed after the surgery had led to a “respiratory insufficiency” requiring strict adherence to his treatment.

Villegas then leveled the charge that the president’s health had become the target of a campaign to destabilize the government and finish off its socialist revolution.

The government “warns the Venezuelan people about the psychological war that the transnational media complex has unleashed around the health of the chief of state, with the ultimate goal of destabilizing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” he said in a televised statement.

The statement came amid rising demands at home for a detailed accounting of Chavez’s condition and whether he is fit to take the oath of office January 10 for another six year term.

Venezuela’s constitution calls for new elections to be held within 30 days if the president is unable to take the oath of office or dies during his first four years in office.

But Maduro and National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, the regime’s number two and three leaders, made clear on their return from Cuba that they were not preparing for a transfer of power.

“Here there is only one transition and it began at least six years ago and it was decreed by comandante Hugo Chavez,” Maduro said, referring to the launch in 2006 of the president’s socialist revolution.

Maduro and Cabello spoke on Venezuelan state television, as they toured a coffee packaging plant in Caracas that had been taken over by the state.

Both men went out of their way to deny rumors of an internal power struggle between them, with Maduro saying they had sworn before Chavez that they would remain united.

“We are here more united than ever,” said Maduro, who is Chavez’s handpicked successor. “And we have sworn before comandante Hugo Chavez, and we reaffirmed to him today in our oath … that we would be united with our people.”

Referring to the reported rift, Cabello said the opposition would have to wait “2000 years for that to happen” and said “no conciliation is possible with this opposition.”

Maduro accused the opposition of “lies and manipulation, a campaign to try to create uncertainty.”

“We know that the United States is where these manipulations are being managed,” he said. “They think that their time has come. And we have entered a kind of crazy hour of offensive by the right, here and internationally.”

It was unclear whether Maduro was referring to US-based Venezuelans or the US government.

Earlier in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied claims that US officials were meddling in Venezuelan affairs, but acknowledged they had been in contact with Venezuelans “from across the political spectrum.”

“There’s no ‘made-in-America’ solution here. This has to be something that Venezuelans have to do,” Nuland said.

“The message we are giving to Venezuelans of all stripes (is) that we want to see any transition be democratic, be constitutional, be open, be transparent, be legal within Venezuela, and that it has to be decided by Venezuelans.”

Chavez was re-elected October 7 despite his debilitating battle with cancer and the strongest opposition challenge yet to his 14-year rule in Venezuela, an OPEC member with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

But he has not been seen in public since he underwent a long and complicated surgery 23 days ago for a recurrence of cancer, and officials have acknowledged that his recovery has been difficult.

The rector of the Central University of Venezuela, Cecilia Garcia Arocha, proposed sending a team of medical experts to Havana to assess his condition. Opposition leader Antonio Ledezma said it should include opposition figures.

Cancer was first detected by Cuban doctors in June 2011, but the Venezuelan government has never revealed what form of the disease he is battling.

Information about his progress has come in vague, often upbeat comments and tweets by Maduro and a handful of other aides and close allies.

On Thursday, Maduro, who spent five days in Havana, said Chavez was “battling” for his health.

“We ask once more for respect for president Chavez fight to fully regain his health in a complex situation,” he said.


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« Reply #3848 on: Jan 04, 2013, 07:57 AM »

Denmark: Let’s truly commit to Europe

4 January 2013
Berlingske Tidende Copenhagen    

As they celebrate the 40th anniversary of entry into the European Union, Danes are weighing up the pros and cons. To persuade fellow Danes that the Union can still benefit Denmark, all the country's political forces should come together and propose daring new ideas, writes Berlingske.
Berlingske Tidende

Measured on any political or economic scale, Denmark has done well out of its membership in the EU. There are many examples: the freedom of movement of labour, goods and capital, the internal market, the common environmental policy, cooperation on research and innovation, and the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime, to mention only a few.

However, with Europe gripped by crisis for some years now, scepticism towards the EU is growing. Some cautious observers, in Denmark and in other European countries, are worried that the project may not be as wise as was once thought.

It's not the EU, though, that has caused the economic problems. The crisis has been so protracted mainly because some European countries have welfare structures that are too big, too expensive and too inefficient, and that have failed to keep up with the times. Several countries have already made reforms, but the changes have usually been too few and too minor. To overcome the crisis, Denmark and other European countries must prepare themselves for what comes after the crisis. The more reforms to the rigid European welfare states, the better.

Rich paying the most

In these years of crisis, it is the rich countries of the EU who are paying the most for the negligence of the others. That is what has stirred up dissatisfaction among a group of reforming countries, including Denmark, which have made an effort to reduce their budgets and push through reforms to emerge from their own difficulties – and now have to pay to clean up the messes the others have created. The alternative to reforms is to end up in a condition like Greece, and that will be the end of Europe's hopes of becoming a power like the United States or China.

As Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen notes, there are strong reasons to reflect deeply on how Denmark can get the most out of cooperating with the rest of Europe. This is why an agreement on European policy has to be hammered out between the parties. It's an accurate judgment, and any such agreement must contain a clear strategy on how to make the EU more relevant to Denmark.
Need for a new plan

The need for action is urgent, especially as the prime minister [Helle Thorning-Schmidt] has stepped onto the stage with a bold initiative. The great Danish conservative-liberal party, Venstre, though, must also try to come up with some ideas, while recognising that it is the two major parties, the Social Democrats and the Liberals, who will carry the burden.

That is why the Social Democrat prime minister and his challenger, former prime minister and Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Liberal), should quickly reach a political agreement on long-term European policy in Denmark for the years ahead. Then they can bring in the other pro-European parties.

2013 will be a decisive year for the European Union. We just have to be ready with a plan that considers both how to ensure popular support for the EU, and how we can place ourselves at the heart of Europe.
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« Reply #3849 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:00 AM »

Merkel shepherds us away from the fiscal cliff

3 January 2013
NRC Handelsblad Rotterdam

The last minute negotiations in Washington to avoid a budget shortfall show that short-termism is well grounded in US politics. And by contrast, it shows that despite her controversial handling of the euro crisis, the German chancellor is wise enough to instead push for long-term solutions.
Melvyn Krauss

To hijack a phrase made famous by the US historian Robert Kagan, “Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus” when it comes to dealing with questions of long-term fiscal health.

The fact that the best Washington politicians could come up with in the face of the so-called “fiscal cliff” is a stripped-down, minimalist agreement belies a genuine US interest in solving its long-term budget deficit problem.

This is not mainly because of US partisan differences (though it often is portrayed as such). Americans of whatever political stripe simply are not serious about the nation’s long-term fiscal health.

How else could you interpret the fact that the only way Washington politicians could be coaxed into accepting an even modest amount of fiscal austerity in pursuit of long-term fiscal health was to convince them – with gimmicks like the “fiscal cliff” – that greater amounts of austerity awaited had they failed to take at least a minimal dose of fiscal medicine now?
Jumping off the fiscal cliff

If US President Barack Obama and Congress really cared about fixing the country’s budget deficit problem, they would have enthusiastically jumped off the “fiscal cliff” with its mandated spending cuts and tax increases, not endlessly haggled to circumvent it.

This is just the opposite of what is happening in Europe where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading the charge for short-term fiscal pain in pursuit of long-term fiscal gain. Keynesians and supply-siders both disagree but Mrs Merkel is sticking to her guns that Europe can not return to sustainable growth and prosperity without first putting its fiscal house in order – and she is creatively using German money to get the German rules she wants for Europe.

This – plus the fact that she has been both wise and courageous enough to embrace Mario Draghi’s market-stabilising bond-buying program in the face of determined Bundesbank opposition – is the reason I believe she deserves to be Europe’s person of the year.

Investors note: 2013 looks like the year markets start to realise it’s the “people from Venus” who are on the right track and the “Martians” who are on the wrong one. It’s the Americans who are kicking the fiscal reform can down the road, not the Europeans.
‘Tidal wave of turmoil’

This is putting Europe in danger as well as America. Washington’s failure to address US long-term fiscal health can spark a virtual tidal wave of turmoil throughout the entire global economy. We live in the kind of inter-connected world where the “people from Venus” can suffer grave consequences if the “people from Mars” are not tending to business.

A blow up of the US bond market would do serious damage to Europeans and Americans alike (not to mention the Asians).

Part of the blame for US fiscal health problems rests squarely on the shoulders of the US Federal Reserve, whose quantitative easing policies – whether intentionally or not – have made it easier for US politicians to put the nation’s long-term fiscal health on the back burner.

Why make painful fiscal reforms to protect your sovereign debt when the central bank’s unconditional buying of US bonds does the job for you? (The ECB is demanding reforms before it spends a euro on bond buying).

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke undoubtedly would be loath to admit it but quantitative easing, Federal Reserve style has helped take the air out of the US fiscal reform balloon.


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« Reply #3850 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:02 AM »

January 3, 2013

Fiscal Deal Fails to Allay Doubts on U.S. Global Power

By DAVID E. SANGER
IHT

WASHINGTON — Two years ago the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, declared that “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” After a decade in which the nation had chased Al Qaeda and invaded Iraq, Admiral Mullen was saying, in essence, that the biggest enemy was us.

Now that Congress and President Obama have slipped past the latest budget deadline with a bill that does little to address the country’s long-term debt issues — and by some measures might worsen them — the worries of the national security establishment have been reignited. Most pointedly, military and diplomatic experts wonder whether the United States is at risk of squandering its global influence.

“There’s a sense that we’ve been playing roulette with our position, and this deal does nothing to stop that,” Richard N. Haass, the president of Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview. His coming book, “Foreign Policy Begins at Home,” is part of a wave of recent literature arguing that America’s reduced global ambitions are linked to its status as a debtor nation.

Vali Nasr, who will soon publish “The Dispensable Nation,” argues that the debt, among other economic woes, has allowed Mr. Obama and other Democrats to justify a retreat from global engagement. “It’s made it far easier to say ‘We can’t do more,’ ” said Mr. Nasr, the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “And without addressing the debt issues, it will be easier to make that argument for years to come.”

A departing senior diplomat at the State Department who requested anonymity, ruminating on the outcome of the confrontation on the fiscal crisis, said that the failure to attack the long-term debt issues would become another reason “to turn our backs on the Middle East and trim our sails on the new focus on Asia.”

That is the theme that the Chinese — who have an interest in portraying the United States as a declining power unable to manage its economy — are already promoting. “The politicians have chosen to kick the can down the road,” the state-run Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Wednesday. “The can will never disappear,” it continued, warning that the United States was falling “into an abyss you can never come out of.”

Most evidence suggests that the country’s debt is not an immediate crisis. The deficit is expected to shrink somewhat in coming years, and even after the United States lost its AAA bond rating, foreigners have remained willing to lend the country money at very low interest rates. That is a sign of confidence in the American economy and a recognition that Europe and Asia have problems of their own.

But the aging of the population and the growth of health costs will most likely cause the deficit to grow rapidly in coming decades, meaning that the most difficult choices about taxes and spending are still ahead. Absent decisions on those issues, the government will have fewer resources and be more dependent on foreign lenders — increasingly the Chinese.

“Partly it is about resources,” Mr. Haass said, referring to the national security implications of the deficit. “But it is also about reducing your vulnerability to the machinations of currency markets and potentially hostile central bankers” who choose whether to buy American debt.

“When we appear to be dysfunctional, as we have in recent times, it makes it hard to be the model for the democratic, capitalistic model we say we want to be in the world,” he added.

History suggests that the relationship between debt and American power is a complex one, subject to differing interpretations by both economists and historians. The federal debt exceeded 100 percent of the gross domestic product at the end of World War II, but the postwar period nonetheless marked the beginning of America’s superpower status. The debt fell fairly steadily during the cold war, and it was cut to about a third of gross domestic product by the end of the Nixon administration — even as the country retreated into a post-Vietnam War funk.

On the flip side, the era now regarded as America’s “unipower moment” — the Clinton years of the mid-1990s — was also a time when the government was significantly reducing debt.

But historians point out that other factors besides debt have often driven the perception of American power. The growth of the American manufacturing behemoth in the ’50s and ’60s helped drive the nation’s rise. So much seemed at stake in the cold war that most Western countries waited for Washington to act first, regardless of its postwar deficit. In the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the only player with global reach — and made it easier to cut defense budgets, suggesting that power drove deficits more than the reverse.

Today, the United States lacks many of those earlier advantages. With economic growth harder to come by, the only obvious way to make major cuts in the budget is to go after Social Security, Medicare and the $1 trillion national security budget — which includes the military, intelligence, diplomacy and development. And whenever the United States decides not to engage in some part of the world, countries look to a new source of investment and aid: China.

That is certainly happening in countries that are waiting for the promised “Arab Spring fund” to aid emerging democracies.

“Morsi has played this very smart, asking the Chinese whether they are willing to invest in Egypt the way they have in Kenya or Uganda,” Mr. Nasr said, referring to Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi.

“What’s happened is that we’ve been able to hide behind the economic argument to justify why we are no longer the venture capitalist of democracy,” added Mr. Nasr, who worked for Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan early in the Obama administration who died in 2010.

When Mr. Obama came to office, no one made the argument about focusing on the domestic sources of American power more than the new president. He used that as an argument for ending America’s military presence in Iraq and moving to the exits in Afghanistan. “Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power,” Mr. Obama said in 2009. “It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy.”

In the presidential campaign last year, he pushed back at arguments about long-term American decline. Since his re-election, his aides have as well, arguing that the restoration of growth, though slow, and exploitation of new sources of American oil and gas have set the stage for a revival over the next four years.


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« Reply #3851 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:14 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/03/2013 05:57 PM

The Greece of Asia: Japan's Growing Sovereign Debt Time Bomb

By Anne Seith

The eyes of the financial world are on Greece and other heavily indebted euro-zone countries. But Japan is in even worse shape. The country's debt load is immense and growing, to the point that a quarter of its budget goes to servicing it. The government in Tokyo has done little to change things.

Today's Tokyo has become a permanent mecca of consumption, its boroughs seemingly divided according to target markets. The city's Sugamo district, for example, is dominated by the elderly. Escalators in the subway station there go extra slow, while the stores along the Jizo Dori shopping street offer items such as canes, anti-aging cream and tea for sore joints. The Hurajuku neighborhood, on the other hand, is teeming with fashionistas made up to look like Manga characters.

This world of glitter, however, is but an illusion. For years, the world's third-largest economy has been unapologetically living on borrowed cash, more so than any other country in the world. In recent decades, Japanese governments have piled up debts worth some €11 trillion ($14.6 trillion). This corresponds to 230 percent of annual gross domestic product, a debt level that is far higher than Greece's 165 percent.

Such profligate spending has turned Japan into a ticking time bomb -- and an example that Europe can learn from as it seeks to tackle its own sovereign debt crisis. Japan, the postwar economic miracle, has never managed to recover from the stock market crash and real estate crisis that convulsed the country in the 1990s. The government had to bail out banks; insurance companies went bust. Since then, annual growth rates have often been paltry and tax revenues don't even cover half of government expenditures. Indeed, the country has gotten trapped in an inescapable spiral of deficit spending.

The fact that this tragedy has been playing out in relative obscurity can be attributed to a bizarre phenomenon: In contrast to the debt-ridden economies in the euro zone, Japan continues to pay hardly any interest on what it borrows. While Greece has recently had to cough up interest at double-digit rates, for example, the comparable figure for Japan has been a mere 0.75 percent. Even Germany, the euro zone's healthiest economy, has to pay more.

Endless Amount of Money

The reason is simple: Unlike countries in the euro zone, Japan borrows most of its money from its own people. Domestic banks and insurers have purchased 95 percent of the country's sovereign debt using the savings deposits of the general population. What's more, the Japanese are apparently so convinced that their country will be able to pay off its debts one day that they continue to lend their government a seemingly endless amount of money.

Experts warn that this system cannot go on for much longer. Takatoshi Ito, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo, says for example that Japan could become the "next Greece" if its government doesn't change course; the money, he says, will eventually run out. Ito and a colleague have calculated that even if the Japanese people invested all of their assets in sovereign bonds, it would only be enough to cover 12 years of state expenditures.

But who is supposed to come to Japan's rescue once that point has been reached? "If Japan is forced to go looking for investors abroad, a debt crisis will be unavoidable," says Jörg Krämer, the chief economist of Commerzbank, Germany's second-largest bank.

The man tasked with averting this disaster has his office in a building that looks like a fortress compared to the glass-and-steel skyscrapers surrounding it. The walls of the Bank of Japan, the country's central bank in Tokyo, are made of heavy, gray stone decorated with thick columns and gables.

Yet the impression of an impregnable fortress is misleading. The bank's 63-year-old governor, Masaaki Shirakawa -- a thin man with neatly parted hair -- no longer adheres to the disciplined monetary polices his Western counterparts preach. Instead, Shirakawa keeps the money printers going to stimulate the economy. Since 2011, his bank has launched emergency programs with a total volume of around €900 billion. In comparison, the euro bailout funds jointly financed by the euro zone's 17 member states only add up to €700 billion.

Carefully Weighing Each Word

For some time now, Japanese banks have been able to borrow money from the central bank at interest rates close to zero. By following this policy, Shirakawa is doing exactly what a number of European politicians -- and particularly ones from cash-strapped Southern European countries -- have been asking the European Central Bank (ECB) to do: He is financing the Japanese government. He denies doing so, and the method he uses are circuitous, but it amounts to the same thing.

So far, though, his strategy has done little to help. "At the moment," Shirakawa admits, "the effect of our monetary policy in stimulating economic growth is very limited." The cheap money is stuck in the banks rather than flowing into the real economy. "The money is there, liquidity is abundant, interest rates are very low -- and, still, firms do not make use of accommodative financial conditions," Shirakawa adds. "The return on investment is too low."

Shirakawa is sitting stiffly in a black leather chair with a straightened back and crossed legs. He carefully weighs each word.

The chief central banker, though planning to retire this spring, is currently under massive pressure. The government of newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative, recently made clear that it expects Shirakawa to print even more money. Abe's inauguration took place on Boxing Day.

The prime minister wants to launch a massive new €91 billion ($120 billion) economic stimulus program, refuelling the Japanese economy with public investments in the construction sector. At the same time, Abe wants Shirakawa to pump unlimited cash into the economy. If the central banker is unwilling to go along with those plans, Abe has warned he is prepared to change the law and place the central bank under government control.

It's the kind of idea economists have little regard for. "That would be tantamount to the driver of a car steering towards a wall and putting the pedal to the metal one more time before impact," economist Krämer says dryly. Klaus-Jürgen Gern, an Asia expert at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, speaks of "pure helplessness".

Election Gift?

Central bank chief Shirakawa himself seems unsure of the best way to respond. Four days after Abe's electoral victory, the central banker apparently caved and increased his emergency sovereign bond and securities buying program by a further €90 billion. Observers described it as a Christmas present for the imperious election winner.

Still, it also appears that Shirakawa is likewise aware that he may just be throwing good money after bad -- even if, according to Japanese tradition, he hides the concession behind prim courtesies.

Money is only a means with which "to buy time," he says. "It can alleviate the pain. But the government has to implement reforms too."

That may be, but every political effort that has been made in recent decades to activate the overregulated economy has failed. In the retail sector, for example, proceedings have become hopelessly old-fashioned. The industry has slept through many IT revolutions because the country seeks to "preserve as many jobs as possible through extreme state regulation," says Martin Schulz, who has worked since 2000 at the Tokyo-based Fujitsu Research Institute.

It even appears that election victor Abe may be planning to scrap his predecessor's plan to increase the value-added tax (the VAT sales tax) in several steps, from 5 to 10 percent.

One thing is sure, warns central banker Shirakawa, "If we don't deliver fiscal reform, then the yield on Japanese government bonds will rise."

'A Real Problem'

Were that to happen, it would be tantamount to pulling a card directly from the center of a house of cards. Fully one-quarter of the government's overall budget currently goes toward servicing debt. Were Tokyo forced to pay higher interest rates, it's mountain of debt would grow even more rapidly.

One additional "potential risk," is the "amount of holdings of Japanese government bonds within the banking sector," as central bank chief Shirakawa politely notes. If long-term interest rates were to rise considerably, it could affect the stability of the sector.

That, at the very latest, would mark the point at which the crisis could spill across Japan's borders. In Germany, financial institutions like Mitsubishi UFJ may not be widely known, but they are still internationally networked mega-institutions that have the potential to destabilize the entire finance community.

Predicting the potential effects of the Japanese debt crisis is extremely difficult. But researcher Schulz is convinced that there won't be any "major crash." Out of self-preservation, he says, it is unlikely that large holders of Japanese bonds, such as domestic banks, would shed those bonds very quickly. Such a move would severely damage faith in Japanese debt and, by extension, in the banks that hold that debt. Instead, he predicts "many small crises" in the coming years. He and other economists further believe that there is plenty of room to raise taxes as a countermeasure; taxes in Japan remain relatively low.

Nevertheless, warns Commerzbank economist Krämer, one shouldn't give short shrift to the potential dangers of the Japanese debt crisis. "The psychological effect could be the most dangerous one," he says. What would happen, for example, were investors to suddenly lose faith in other heavily indebted countries such as the US.

"Japan remains one of the world's biggest industrial nations, and the yen is an important currency for international monetary transactions," says Asia expert Gern. "If everything were to spin out of control, then the world would have a real problem."

Translated from the German


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« Reply #3852 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:17 AM »


Cameron promises voters 'a real choice' over relations with Europe

However, PM says voters will have to wait until his speech later this month to see if 'in-or-out' referendum is on the cards

Patrick Wintour, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 09.38 GMT   

David Cameron has promised to give voters "a real choice" over Britain's future relations with Europe, but said voters will have to wait until his speech later this month to see whether he will offer an in-or-out referendum on UK membership of the EU.

He said it was perfectly reasonable that as the EU had asked for treaty changes to make the single currency work effectively, so it was right that the UK could ask for changes in its relationship with the EU. Voters, he told BBC Radio 5 Live on Friday, will get "a real choice about that change in Europe".

Asked whether that could involve the option of withdrawal, he said: "You will have to wait for the speech.

"But it will demonstrate very clearly that it is the Conservative party at the next election that will be offering people a real change in terms of Europe and a real choice about that change."

He conceded that any renegotiation would be tough but said it was not in Britain's national interest to withdraw and no longer be "round the table writing the rules".

"I don't think it's right to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland where basically you have to obey all the rules of the single market but you don't have a say over what they are," he said.

His speech later this month is expected to sketch out the kind of negotiating demands Britain will make after the general election when the EU seeks treaty changes to ensure the single currency works effectively, including greater monitoring and supervision powers. He is expected to ask for a repatriation of powers over issues such as social welfare.

There needs to be unanimity for any treaty changes sought by the UK, prompting claims that the prime minister is in danger of setting out unrealistic negotiating demands that would force him to admit defeat and recommend the UK leave the EU.

Unless Cameron says he is willing to quit the EU, it is also argued he will have no credible bargaining position.

The Franco-German axis at the heart of the eurozone is unlikely to map out the detail of how it wants the eurozone to work and relate to non-eurozone members until after the German elections in the autumn.

Cameron said it was perfectly reasonable for his Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition to have a different view on the EU, but even now, he said, the UK was achieving gains in its negotiations, adding that he was confident he would secure an acceptable deal on the future size of the EU budget.

He said that in private the coalition was not at war the whole time and the way for the Liberal Democrats to do well at the next election was not to row in public. He said the Liberal Democrats will do well when the coalition does well.

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

Falklands row: Sun takes out advert in Argentinian newspaper

Message in the Buenos Aires Herald is a direct response to President Cristina Fernández's advert in the UK

Haroon Siddique   
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 09.46 GMT      

The Sun has taken out an advertisement in an Argentinian newspaper reasserting British sovereignty over the Falklands, after Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, published an advert in the UK press accusing Britain of colonialism.

The Sun advert, published in the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, which has a circulation of more than 20,000, tells the Argentinians to keep their "hands off" the islands, which the two countries fought a war over 30 years ago.

It came after Fernández marked the 180-year anniversary of the Falklands being "forcibly stripped" from her country with a caustic open letter to David Cameron, also published as an advert in the Guardian and Independent, demanding that they be returned to Argentina.

The advert in the Herald, addressed personally to Fernández, says: "Claims that 180 years ago Argentina was 'stripped' of the Falkland Islands are unfounded. No Argentinian civilian population was ever expelled. It was an Argentine garrison which had been sent to the islands to try to impose Argentine sovereignty over British sovereign territory … until the people of the Falkland Islands choose to become Argentinian, they remain resolutely British."

The Sun's riposte comes after a strong response from the UK and Falklands governments to Fernández's demand. Cameron said the islanders had his "100% backing" to stay British, while the Foreign Office said there could be "no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the islanders so wish". A response from legislative assembly member Dick Sawle, published on the Falklands government website, said Fernández's letter was "disappointing" and "historically inaccurate", and dismissed her description of the islands as a British colony.

The islanders are due to vote in a referendum in March that is expected to give overwhelming backing for the territory to remain British. Critics suggest Fernández's campaign to assert Argentina's sovereignty claim is an attempt to shore up domestic support ahead of mid-term legislative elections in October.

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« Reply #3853 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:21 AM »

January 3, 2013

Taking Calls on Abortion, and Risks, in Chile

By AARON NELSEN
IHT

SANTIAGO, Chile — Every time the phone rings, Angela Erpel feels her nerves swell. Sometimes it is a scared teenager on the other end, or a desperate mother of three. There are the angry ones, too, with callers playing the sounds of crying babies or sending text messages with pictures of aborted fetuses.

Then Ms. Erpel, 38, a sociologist who volunteers at Chile’s Safe Abortion Hot Line, gathers herself and settles into a familiar dialogue on the use of misoprostol, a drug that will induce a medical abortion.

“We don’t give them a moral guide or advice; we only provide information,” she said.

Since the hot line began in 2009, volunteers spread across this long, thin country have taken turns answering tense calls from women seeking information about abortion every evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. There have been more than 12,000 calls so far, and they continue rolling in at a steady clip.

In a country where abortion is entirely illegal, even in cases of rape or when a woman’s life is in danger, the hot line is a risky endeavor. Operating in a legal gray area, volunteers face a daunting prison sentence if a conversation veers too far from a lawyer-approved script. The hot line already has had three lawsuits brought against it, though all were eventually dropped.

According to the law, having an abortion carries a penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison, depending on the circumstances, while doctors and others who perform an abortion or assist with one could face up to 15 years, prosecutors say. In practice, however, fewer than 500 cases have been prosecuted over the last several years.

“I think there is a certain sensitivity to the social conditions behind these abortions, such as poverty or rape or teenage pregnancy,” explained Paula Vial, a lawyer and former public defender in Santiago.

Beyond the legal consequences, the 30 hot line volunteers are keenly aware of the social ramifications of taking an active role in such a polarizing issue. They wear masks when promoting the hot line at public gatherings, and are often vague about the details of their volunteer work in their daily lives. Many fear losing their jobs or driving a wedge into personal and family relationships. Indeed, Ms. Erpel was the only volunteer willing to go on the record about her work with the hot line, and even she is usually circumspect about it.

“It’s complicated,” she explained. “I’m open about being in an organization, but not necessarily that I work directly with abortion.”

Abortion was not always a clandestine affair in Chile. The current law that strictly bans it was one of the final acts of the dictatorship. In 1989, shortly before relinquishing power, Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended a tradition of legal abortion dating to 1931, in which a pregnancy that threatened a woman’s life, or a fetus that was not viable outside the womb, could be terminated. Chile’s law now is one of the strictest in the world.

By contrast, Uruguay legalized abortions in the first trimester for any reason last October, joining Guyana and Cuba as Latin American countries with broadly legalized procedures. Abortion is also legal in Mexico City. But Chile has remained a socially conservative country, after 20 years of economic growth and the election in 2006 of a woman as president.

“The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has had a very strong influence in public policy,” said Claudia Dides, a spokeswoman for the Movement for the Legal Interruption of Pregnancy.

In a pivotal case in 2008, Karen Espíndola, then 22, learned in her 12th week of pregnancy that her fetus had holoprosencephaly. Fetuses with the condition have a single-lobed brain, and most die before they are born. It is a common reason for terminating a pregnancy.

Ms. Espíndola sought an abortion, appealing to the president and setting off a national conversation over abortion. In February 2009, Ms. Espíndola gave birth to Osvaldo, who died in 2011.

“In reality he was never conscious he was alive,” she lamented. “He fought to breathe; he was fed through a tube. We all suffered a lot. Nobody here is a winner.”

Chile has witnessed a swell of liberal social movements in recent years, with gay men and lesbians pressing for the country’s first hate-crime legislation, environmentalists stalling dam-building projects in Patagonia, and students pushing for an overhaul of the education system.

Advocates contend that abortion rights sentiment bubbles near the surface as well, but the government has pushed back.

After criticizing the abortion hot line in the news media, the Ministry of Women started a hot line of its own. It is attended by psychologists and social workers who answer calls from men or women looking for information or support when facing what the ministry calls an “abortion situation” or “post-abortion syndrome.”

“Maternity, one of the most satisfactory experiences in the life of a woman, can go through difficult and desperate moments,” Minister Carolina Schmidt said at the time the government hot line began.

Other influential anti-abortion organizations offer to guide women considering abortion away from the procedure.

“If you help that person define what is troubling them and making them think of an abortion, and together you find a solution, in the end the person decides for life and her child,” said Victoria Reyes, director of assistance for Foundation Chile United. “We are convinced the second victim of abortion is the woman; the woman who has an abortion carries that guilt.”

The government reported several hundred adoptions in 2011, but it estimates 120,000 abortions, in a country with a population of about six million women from 15 to 64 years old.

Misoprostol, sold under the brand name Misotrol in Chile, has changed the way many of those abortions are performed. The drug was originally developed as an ulcer medication, and its warning label advised that, in excess, misoprostol would cause a woman to miscarry. Before long, women in countries with little or no access to safe abortions were using the drug to do that very thing.

Misoprostol “is a revolution for women,” said Rebecca Gomperts, founder of the Dutch organization Women on Waves. “Even where abortion is illegal and women don’t have a doctor, or they are poor, they still have a way to do a safe abortion.”

The abortion hot line is Ms. Gomperts’s creation. A medical doctor and former Greenpeace activist, she realized in 1999 that it was possible for a ship sailing under a Dutch flag to take women from countries where abortion is illegal to international waters to administer misoprostol.

Before departing Chile, Women on Waves helped set up the abortion hot line, training volunteers how to discuss misoprostol according to World Health Organization guidelines.

There are now five abortion hot lines in South America: in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Misoprostol was taken off pharmacy shelves in Chile under Michelle Bachelet, the former president who now runs the United Nations’ agency for women’s advancement, so access to the drug is almost entirely a black market transaction.

Dozens of Web sites offer misoprostol at exorbitant prices, and sometimes of dubious quality.

One 29-year-old lawyer who became pregnant a few months ago said she paid $300 for the necessary 12 pills.

“To meet someone in a clandestine place, hoping they aren’t a police officer, wondering if they are even giving you the right pills, knowing that you could go to prison when all you want to do is exercise your right as a woman is horrifying,” the lawyer said on the condition of anonymity to avoid prosecution.

To its volunteers, the Safe Abortion Hot Line stands as a simple equation — 30 women and a single cellphone that gets passed among them. This month, they expanded: they released an abortion manual on using misoprostol.

Occasionally, women call back the hot line after a successful abortion, but more often the volunteers never know the outcome.

“That’s always the hardest part,” Ms. Erpel said.


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« Reply #3854 on: Jan 04, 2013, 08:23 AM »

January 3, 2013

Prostitutes in Israel Are Finding New Lives in Training for the Fashion World

By ISABEL KERSHNER
IHT

TEL AVIV — For 20 years Aviva, 48, flamboyant and transgendered, worked the streets of the business district of this Mediterranean city, as well as the seedy square mile around the central bus station and the Tel Baruch beach, once a notorious hub of Israeli prostitution that has become a spruced up stretch of sandy coast.

Alona, 40, immigrated to Israel with her parents from Ukraine in the early 1990s. Her circumstances quickly degenerated from working in a casino to a life derailed by debts, drugs and prostitution. When she was not in prison, the squalid streets around the bus station became her home.

“In the streets there was no toilet, no toilet paper,” Alona said. “I forgot a lot of things, like how to look after myself, to love myself. I learned to survive.”

Now, in an endeavor as far removed from their former lives as the gleaming banks and trendy boutiques of Tel Aviv are from the city’s sleazy subculture, the two, who asked to be identified only by their first names, recently completed a free course in styling and the retail clothing business. Along with other former prostitutes who have received similar training in dress design and sewing, they are now aiming to find a place in the world of fashion. There is always demand for sales staff in Tel Aviv’s bustling stores, and one talented graduate even went on to a professional design school on a scholarship.

“The course gave me a lot of self-confidence and knowledge,” Aviva said. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to start something of my own. When they gave me the certificate — the first in my life — I was proud of myself. I’d done something positive.”

The idea for the program grew up from the underside of Tel Aviv.

The program’s initiator, Lilach Tzur Ben-Moshe, was working as a fashion writer and editor at a leading Hebrew news Web site and volunteering at the city’s rape crisis center when, four years ago, she moved to the dilapidated Shapira Quarter near the bus station. Her squalid new neighborhood exposed her to the full misery of the sex trade, and she determined to help women to leave it.

“I didn’t want just to answer the phone in the help center,” she said. “I wanted to offer something more optimistic, more beautiful, the opposite of that awful world of prostitution.”

With an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 prostitutes in Israel, a country of about eight million people, antiprostitution campaigners say the industry has an annual turnover of more than half a billion dollars. While it is illegal to pimp or to run a brothel, prostitution is not a criminal offense in Israel. There are efforts to promote new legislation that would impose criminal penalties on people who are clients of prostitutes.

Up until a few years ago Israel was a prime destination for traffickers of women. An estimated 3,000 women per year were smuggled in, mostly from Eastern Europe, to work in the sex industry. That number has declined since Israel passed an antitrafficking law in 2006, according to the United States State Department Trafficking in Persons Report of 2012, and most of the prostitutes here are now said to be Israelis.

At around the same time as Ms. Tzur Ben-Moshe’s move to the Shapira Quarter, Israel’s first hostel for women trying to get out of prostitution and undergoing rehabilitation, Saleet, opened nearby. Ms. Tzur Ben-Moshe built the first course with Ido Recanati, a local fashion designer, offering women from the hostel training in sketching, fabrics and stitching. She then teamed with Iris Stern Levi, who had worked for 20 years at the rape crisis center. They founded an association, called Turning the Tables, and now are directors of the program, whose weekly sessions take place over a period of several months. Some students come from the hostel; some via Elem, an Israeli organization for youths in distress; and some are from a shelter for women straight out of prison.

Financing has come from the National Council of Jewish Women, an American organization of volunteers and advocates of social justice, as well as local companies and private individuals. Many Israelis connected with the fashion industry — designers, fabric suppliers and the Gertrude fashion house among others — have donated time and materials.

The efforts, Ms. Tzur Ben-Moshe said, are “our little bit, to show there’s a way out.”

At a recent session in a building off Dizengoff Street, in the heart of Tel Aviv’s chic shopping and cafe district, half a dozen women practiced unpacking boxes of stock at a workshop given by Uri Reiss of 911 Fashion Ltd., which imports unique brands to Israel and runs a chain of stores in and around Tel Aviv at which the women will get some work experience.

Pulling a short chiffon dress out of a box, Aviva, amply built with long, dyed-blonde hair and a deep laugh, guffawed, “For me, that’s a shirt.”

Alona, whose thin arms bear the scars of years of drug abuse, offered advice to Mr. Reiss about how stores can fall short — customers buying shoes might have nowhere proper to sit, or mirrors might not go all the way to the floor. Shoplifters, she added, often cover security tags with nylon or aluminum foil to prevent them beeping at the exit. “A saleswoman,” she said, “always needs to keep an eye.”

Many prostitutes here begin as teenagers and have little education and no other work experience.

“Working in stores will help them integrate into the real world,” Mr. Reiss said.

The courses also teach them how to get through a job interview and to cope when prospective employers ask whether they have ever stolen or used drugs.

“The answer,” Ms. Stern Levi said, “is, ‘Yes, I have a past. But I am looking forward now.’ Turning the Tables is turning people with the stigma of being ex-sex workers into women with expertise.”

Aviva came to Israel with her family from India in 1979, and, still male, completed compulsory military service. Afterward, Aviva made the transition to female but felt rejected by society and could not find a regular job. Prostitution was her answer. Change came, she said, when she found love. Now in a steady relationship, she found her way, with the help of Elem volunteers, to the hostel and the course — a whole new world of people.

“At first I wasn’t sure if I would understand them,” she said. Having completed the course, she was waiting to hear from a fashion designer about a job as a seamstress.

Alona first heard of the hostel after visiting an emergency apartment it ran near the bus station where prostitutes could come in from the street to shower and rest. This was her third attempt at a reset. The first time she moved into Saleet she stayed for one day; the second was a short stint directly from prison. Now it had been six months and she said she wanted to become a stylist in a clothing store and had been reading a lot about the building of fashion empires like that of Coco Chanel.

“It’s a new life,” she said.


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