01/04/2013 01:17 PM
An Evolving Legacy: How Well Do We Know Anne Frank?
By Georg Diez
Anne Frank is a figure of hope whose diary has been read by millions of people around the world. Two new books, an upcoming film and a soon to open museum seek to create a contemporary, complicated -- and more Jewish -- image of the Holocaust victim.
For Buddy Elias, she was the girl with the smile, the girl with whom he played hide and seek, the girl who was determined to go ice skating with him; and she was his cousin, who he is still trying to protect to this day.
In her diary, she even drew a picture of the dress she would like to wear if she were to go ice skating with him.
Elias beams when he talks about her, but his eyes reveal a sense of sadness. For years, Elias has been talking about his favorite cousin Anne, speaking to schoolchildren who are amazed that he exists and that Anne Frank was even a real person. Of course, they know she existed, because they've read her diary. The book has transported them to back house, or Secret Annex. Her words have spoken to them and they have perhaps even trembled as she once did as they read her story. Some people even claim to have seen here, in Manila or Buenos Aires, and they are convinced that Anne Frank survived.
Anne Frank is the face of the Holocaust.
In her room at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam, where she hid with her parents, her sister Margot, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist, from July 6, 1942 to Aug. 4, 1944, she had a photo of Greta Garbo as well as many other pictures pinned to the wall. Like most teenagers, she dreamed about Hollywood.
Buddy Elias went on to become a star in the Holiday on Ice skating show. He was an actor in the theater and on television, and he lived Anne's dream. To this day, it seems to inspire him, although it isn't clear whether he wasn't in fact running away, during all those years spent on tour in Egypt and America, before he became the man who is Anne Frank's cousin. It's the role of his life. For Elias, who is 87, Anne Frank was family.
In the last entry in her diary, written on Aug. 1, 1944 -- three days before she was betrayed and taken first to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands, then to Auschwitz and later to Bergen-Belsen -- Frank described herself as a "bundle of contradictions".
Even today, the rest of the world is still trying to figure out who, exactly, she was?
Anne Frank was, of course, a victim who represented the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Her story became one, as is often stated, that keeps us from forgetting. It was never to happen again, and making sure that it wouldn't was also one of the roles of Anne Frank, who has a shared legacy as both a girl and a memorial.
She was the friend, the strong one, the difficult one, the girl in love, the girl who fought with her mother and discovered her vagina, and the girl who, despite her death, tells a story of hope.
She was the saint of the Holocaust and its teenage star. But there is one thing she rarely was: herself.
A New Focus on Anne Frank
If the producers and the screenwriter of what is, surprising as it may be, the first German film about Anne Frank, have their way, that could soon change. The film, which is scheduled for cinematic release in 2014, seeks to tell the story of both her life and death. It offers viewers the whole Anne Frank, more than just the girl who lived in an annex in Amsterdam -- the story of both her childhood and her life in a concentration camp.
The Frank Family Center now being built in Frankfurt may also help to change our perceptions of Anne Frank. Scheduled to be opened in 2016, it will tell the story of the deep-seated, 400-year relationship between the Frank family and the city of Frankfurt, a story that long predates the Holocaust.
Finally, the work of the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, which is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, could also change the way we view her.
The organizations worked in parallel for a long time, the Basel fund, with its Jewish affiliation, and the Amsterdam foundation, which repeatedly stresses that it operates in the way Otto Frank would have wanted -- even though letters from the 1960s and 70s reveal Otto Frank's suspicions about the foundation.
The dispute between the two organizations is symptomatic, reflecting all the things that have been said about Anne Frank and all the things she has been turned into.
She has been used to preach humanism, and she has been formed into a universalistic icon, a cautionary tale of what humans do to humans, one meant to keep us alert so that we won't forget the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, even though this means minimizing or even suppressing the specifically Jewish part of her life, her suffering and her thoughts.
She has been used to explain the Holocaust, even though it isn't mentioned in her diary and its horrors only play a marginal role in her story from the annex in Amsterdam. But perhaps this is what made her story such a success, because it was the story of the crime of the century without actually focusing on that crime, the tale of a dark fate without the mention of death, but with the constant belief in survival, one that persisted, contrary to all reason.
Frank Talk About Anne
The contradictions that Anne Frank discovered in herself shape her story. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" is not only the perpetual question that pops into the mind when thinking about her legacy, but also the title of a new volume of short stories by Nathan Englander, one of two new works of fiction by American Jews on the subject of Anne Frank, works that are funny, political, bitter and brilliant, two books that show what a vital part of post-Holocaust Jewish indentity Anne Frank has become.
Englander's stories are clear-sighted and humorous, full of fear and violence, revenge and dogmatism. His characters include settlers and their tragedy, a top lawyer at a peepshow, two Auschwitz survivors and schoolchildren in a summer camp.
Englander is constantly redefining morality. An eternal question -- Who am I? -- addresses how this is done, and how moral decisions shape an identity. In Englander's Jewish world, the question is constantly connected to another one: Who was I?
"The entire book is about the question of who owns identity, who owns history and what memory is," says Englander, 42, on a morning in Berlin, where he is on a book tour. He likes Berlin. In fact, the book took shape at the American Academy on Wannsee, the historically contaminated lake where the Nazis discussed the "final solution of the Jewish question." Englander sat there, expressing his surprise over how obsessed he was with the Holocaust. It made him feel uncomfortable, he says. "I didn't know why I am the way I am," he says, a man with black hair, black eyes and clever words tumbling out of his mouth.
As a child growing up in New York, he was convinced that there would be a second Holocaust. "It was pathological and ridiculous. America is the best country the Jews have ever had. On the other, things have never ended well for the Jews, have they?"
As a child, he and his sister invented a game, one that revolved around an outrageous, dangerous morality: Who would hide us, and who would betray us if there were another Holocaust? Would it be a neighbor, a son or a husband who turned us in?
Englander describes this game in the central story of his new book. "We Jews talk about ourselves, about our fear and about this very Jewish feeling," he says, "that nothing in the world is safe." "For many people, the Holocaust is Anne Frank. What do you see when you think about the Holocaust: A mountain of dead bodies or this girl?"
In his book, Englander describes how memory becomes policy and how policy influences our memory of the individual. It's also a reflection on the role and importance of the Holocaust today in discussing the question of identity, including the identity of nations. In a Germany that is powerful once again -- this question arises with each new film about Hitler or Rommel. In Israel, on the other hand, the question is posed very differently: Was this country born out of the Zionist dream or the nightmare of the Holocaust?
A Literary Event
It's a question that Shalom Auslander, 42, finds amusing. "Israel?" he asks. "Just bomb the place. I hated it. Everyone's in a bad mood. Everyone's afraid. The whole time I was there I felt like my father was at the back of my neck. When I returned to New York after a year-and-a-half, I treated myself to a cheeseburger and a blowjob."
Auslander's a punk. He's drinking his second glass of red wine at Joshua's Café, as a storm rages outside. It's lunchtime in Woodstock, two hours north of New York, the scene of his novel "Hope: A Tragedy," to be published in German in late February. He shreds many of the certainties people thought they had about the Holocaust in general and Anne Frank in particular. Optimism is the enemy, says Auslander, hope is a lie and identity doesn't arise from destruction, that is, the Holocaust. In other words, identity that arises from destruction, according to Auslander, deserves to be destroyed.
"I'm often asked whether I'm a self-hating Jew," says Auslander, "and my answer is: I'm a person who hates himself. In that sense, I'm like Anne Frank. We liked self-loathing people. Self-loathing is the way forward. Anne Frank was someone my mother most certainly wouldn't have liked."
It's this tone, this tempo and this furor that propels Auslander's novel forward. The protagonist, Solomon Kugel, has three problems: How does he fix his marriage, how does he get his mother out of his house, and what is Anne Frank doing in his attic? Is it even her, that cursing, ill-tempered, unkempt fury who sends him out to buy matzo bread?
"I don't know who you are," says Kugel, "or how you got up here. But I'll tell what I do know: I know Anne Frank died in Auschwitz. And I know that she died along with many others, some of whom were my relatives. And I know that making light of that, by claiming to be Anne Frank, not only is not funny and abhorrent but it also insults the memory of millions of victims of Nazi brutality."
"It was Bergen-Belsen, jackass," Anne Frank replies. "And as for the relatives you lost in the Holocaust?" she continues. "Blow me." Auslander laughs heartily at the obscenity of his character's words. "I had worked on the book for three years and was stuck. Then that sentence occurred to me: 'Blow me, said Anne Frank.' First I called my wife and said: I've got it. Then I called my psychiatrist."
The obscenity that informs this book is Auslander's response to the obscenity of the Holocaust. He unfolds an entire panorama of Holocaust entanglements and confusion. There is the mother who blames her troubles with the world on the fact that she was in a concentration camp, even though she wasn't born until after the war. There is the publisher who wants nothing to do with Anne Frank when she pays him a visit after the war, because only a dead Anne Frank guarantees him success in publishing her diary. And then there is Anne Frank herself, who has been sitting in the attic for years, working on her novel, and is now under immense pressure. "Thirty-two million," she keeps saying. "Do you think it's easy? Thirty-two million copies, Mr. Kugel. And what do I get from you for it? Elie Wiesel. Oprah Winfrey!"
A dark, humorous energy emanates from Auslander, an energy that enables him to write dark, humorous books that one could easily characterize as brilliant, if only Auslander didn't see that characterization as ridiculous. For him, writing is self-defense. "I grew up with the certainty that I would be brutally murdered one day. For my parents, the Holocaust was a sort of disciplinary measure: We're safe as long as we're afraid."
Auslander isn't the first writer to allow Anne Frank to survive. Philip Roth did it in "The Ghost Writer." But what makes Auslander's "Hope" a literary event is the way the culture of mourning is condensed into punch lines that are so much cleverer and truer and more painful than much of what happens on the annual Nov. 9 mourning that takes place at St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt remembering the Kristallnacht pogroms against Jews; the way Anne Frank complains about being "the suffering one," "the dead girl," "Miss Holocaust, 1945" and "the Jewish Jesus"; and how Auslander tries to liberate Anne Frank from the role of victim and give her a life, a character and a personality.
"Anne Frank was everywhere when I was growing up," says Auslander. "I always asked myself what I would do, where I would flee to and who would hide me. That is, after all, the function Israel fulfills for the Jews. I don't know what the Holocaust means for non-Jews; I just know what it means for Jews. And I know that Anne Frank, if she had survived, would have been angry about what we've turned her into."
A Cousin's Outrage
Buddy Elias can only shake his head and look extremely sad. He is somewhat outraged over both books. He is proud of what he says "my cousin achieved." In his mind, there is something just as calculating about a writer publishing a book with the name Anne Frank in the title as a company using the name in a jeans label. He grows suspicious when he sees people profiting off her fate.
And there is certainly a lot of money at stake. The "Diary of Anne Frank" has been translated into about 60 languages, and more than 30 million copies have been sold worldwide. The girl Anne, the photos, puberty, being in love, self-doubt, strength, and everything set against the background of the ultimate crime -- it's so perfect that old and young Nazis alike hit upon the idea that the diary must be a fake.
It's an ugly discussion. All it takes is to read a few pages of the diary, to experience the tone, directness and language, to recognize that this searching text, sometimes self-confident and sometimes doubting, is beautiful and great, and that it is precisely because of its literary quality that the diary is so open and accessible for young people, as it has been for so many years and in so many countries.
The sentences Anne Frank writes are clear, like her thoughts, and her writing reveals the tradition of this Jewish family of letter writers, a family to which literary was not foreign but in fact a means of expression. "I see the eight of us with our 'Secret Annex' as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds," she writes in November 1943. "We all look down below, where people are fighting each other, we look above, where it is quiet and beautiful, and meanwhile we are cut off by the great dark mass, which will not let as upwards, but which stands before us as an impenetrable wall."
This first diary had a red-and-white checkered cover and a brass clasp. Elias has a copy in his house, a facsimile. He flips through it gingerly, as if being careful not to hurt Anne. Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid Anne, rescued the diary from the annex. There were two versions, because Anne had planned to publish it after the war and was editing the first version. Her father Otto created a third version, one that was more innocent sexually and in which the conflict with her mother was toned down. In a later German translation, anti-German passages were also toned down.
This revised version was published in Dutch in 1947, in German in 1950 and in English in 1952. Many publishing houses had turned down the book, which eventually found its way to the United States through France. But it was only the success of the theater version on Broadway that turned Anne Frank into what she is today: an icon, a beacon of hope and a source of courage.
Politicized in Amsterdam
Writer and journalist Meyer Levin was originally supposed to write the stage adaptation of the diary, but when two Hollywood writers were hired instead, Levin was convinced it was a conspiracy, because his version had been deemed "too Jewish," too dark and too depressing.
The message of the Broadway adaptation, on the other hand, was clear: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." It was with that sentence by Anne Frank that the 1955 Broadway play ended, as did the 1959 Hollywood film.
The poster for the film billed it as a "song to life," promising viewers a glimpse of her "first kiss" and the sound of "her wonderful laugh." But the Anne Frank of the diary is a different person. "There's in people simply an urge to destroy," she writes, "an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again."
That wasn't the Anne Frank people wanted to see in the 1950s. Youth culture was coming into its own, pop music had been born, and this puberty drama in the deep night of our civilization seemed to fit perfectly. The Holocaust became part of the world's cultural heritage.
A Dispute Over Frank's Legacy
Anne Frank's fame has endured until today, and so has the dispute surrounding it.
One of the driving forces behind that dispute is Yves Kugelmann, 41, a member of the board of the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, who has harsh words for the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam: "The Fund is the universal heir appointed by Otto Frank," he says. "It was always opposed to a pilgrimage site. It was opposed to someone making money with Anne Frank. Now there is a museum in Amsterdam that largely de-contextualizes and de-Judaizes the Frank family. Anne Frank was first politicized in Amsterdam and then made the figure of a universalistic message."
Long lines form every morning outside the house at Prinsengracht 263, lines filled with young, expectant, uncertain faces. The house gets more than a million visitors a year, making it a historical pilgrimage site for globalized youth. They climb the narrow stairs, they stand in the empty living room, they admire the postcards in Anne Frank's room and they walk around a house that has been emptied, of both furnishings and significance.
This says, Ronald Leopold, is the way it should be. Leopold, 52, a quiet, thoughtful man, has been the director of the Anne Frank Foundation for the last two years. His predecessor held the position for more than 25 years. Leopold says that he wants to give Anne Frank her story back.
The house is a hybrid, a place of residence, the scene of a crime and a memorial, all rolled into one, which makes it unique. Until now, it was possible to visit it without understanding the Holocaust. There is some talk of Hitler at the beginning, the residents of the house die at the end, and in between an aura of reverence prevails. But who were the Franks, where did they come from, what was the situation in the Netherlands during the war, how many Jews were there before and after the war and -- a question that isn't entirely unimportant -- were the Dutch also perpetrators? Why was the percentage of Jews deported from the Netherlands higher than in other Western European countries?
It's because this question still hasn't been answered satisfactorily, and because the country found it difficult to describe its role during the German occupation, that such a sober and auratic exhibition, one that is expanded into generalities, seems almost transfiguring.
"One victim is better than many perpetrators," says Kugelmann. "Anne Frank is a Holocaust Tamagotchi."
The dispute between the fund and the foundation is marked by skepticism toward the historico-political position. There is talk of the foundation's pro-Palestinian positions in earlier years, and there are documents that show how dissatisfied Otto Frank was with the foundation in Amsterdam. But the issues being addressed in court are more specific.
A trial in Hamburg revolves around a graphic novel of Anne Frank. The fund is suing the publisher, claiming it neglected to obtain the rights. The foundation says it "regrets" the legal dispute and speaks of a "change of course" at the fund.
Another trial, this one in Amsterdam, has to do with letters, documents and objects that were lent to the foundation and that the fund now wants back. "The ownership is defined in the will," says Kugelmann, who describes what has happened as a "second expropriation of the Frank family."
In 2011, the Anne Frank Foundation used the €14.3 million ($18.9 million) in revenues from tickets and merchandising to pay for its staff and activities worldwide, including exhibitions from Berlin to Buenos Aires, brochures against racism and extremism and educational materials.
"No one earns any money at the Anne Frank Fund," says Kugelmann. "That was what Otto Frank wanted. It was what he decided when he didn't have any money himself. The family was to receive nothing, and all the money was to go into the fund and the projects."
Those projects include a girls' dormitory in Nepal, a project for the disabled in Switzerland and the Leo Baeck Education Center in Israel. Under copyright law, the diary will soon become part of the public domain, which is why some projects are being pushed through at the moment. A collective edition of the works of Anne Frank is planned for 2013, and then the filming for the fund's most important current project will commence: the first German film version of this very German material.
Anne Frank 'Belongs To Everyone'
The screenplay, by Fred Breinersdorfer, has just been completed. Breinersdorfer, 66, who also wrote the screenplay for the film "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days," takes the matter personally. "I had Nazi parents," he says. "My father was appalled when he saw 'Sophie Scholl.' These people, he said, plunged daggers into our backs at the front."
Who will his Anne Frank be? A victim, a saint, a figure of hope?
"Anne Frank isn't a German character," says Breinersdorfer. "And she isn't an exclusively Jewish character, either. She is the prototype of a human being who becomes the victim of a brutal system and, despite it all, creates her own freedom and develops herself with optimism. She is an enlightened, emotional border crosser. She belongs to everyone."
He will have her die of typhus in the death camp, two days after her sister Margot. "It's also a question of how it can be presented," says Breinersdorfer.
For the period in the annex, he will remain true to Anne Frank's text, a part he characterizes as an "extraordinary coming-of-age story." The life of the Frank family before it was persecuted will also play an important role, and this is where the film intersects with the plans of the Frank Family Center.
They were a German family, the Franks, one with strong women. Buddy Elias has decided to turn over his rich legacy to the new Frankfurt center. He proudly brings out the good porcelain from a gleaming old cabinet. Hanging on the wall next to it is a picture of his grandmother Alice, who was also Anne's grandmother. "She was pure culture," he says, and he's referring to German culture.
Most of the material is still in Basel, in the house where Buddy grew up and where Otto Frank lived after the war. There is a cabinet there with a photograph on it, the photograph Elias likes so much, of Anne Frank holding a pen and looking into the camera. And then there are the hats in the attic, the clothes and all the other valuable objects, and the documents and letters describing what Jewish life was like, the life the Nazis destroyed.
Next to Elias is a small wooden chair that looks almost like a miniature throne. "Anne always liked to sit there," he says, chuckling like a little boy. When children come to visit him in his house and hear about his cousin, he lets them sit on the chair. Otherwise it remains empty.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
In the USA...
Connecticut town to burn violent video games in wake of Newtown shooting
By Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian
Thursday, January 3, 2013 20:33 EST
A Connecticut community is to hold an amnesty of violent video games in the wake of last month’s mass shooting in Newtown.
Organisers Southington SOS plan to offer gift certificates in exchange for donated games, which will be burned. The group, a coalition of local organisations, says its actions do not assert that video games were the cause of the killings in nearby Newtown, but argues that violent games and films desensitize children to “acts of violence”.
Pupils from Sandy Hook elementary school, where 26 people were killed on 17 December, returned to classes for the first time on Thursday in the neighbouring town of Monroe. Sandy Hook elementary is still being treated as a crime scene and it is unclear if it will ever reopen.
The video game amnesty will take place on 12 January in Southington, a 30-minute drive east from Newtown. The town of Southington has provided a dumpster, organisers said, where violent video games, CDs or DVDs will be collected.
“As people arrive in their cars to turn in their games of violence, they will be offered a gift certificate donated by a member of the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce as a token of appreciation for their action of responsible citizenship,” the group said in a statement.
“Violent games turned in will be destroyed and placed in the town dumpster for appropriate permanent disposal.”
John Myers, chairman of Southington YMCA and member of Southington SOS, was not immediately available to speak to the Guardian, but tech website Polygon reported that the works would be incinerated by town employees.
The press release accompanying the announcement said that Southington SOS’s action should not be “construed as statement declaring that violent video games were the cause of the shocking violence in Newtown on December 14″.
“Rather, Southington SOS is saying is that there is ample evidence that violent video games, along with violent media of all kinds, including TV and movies portraying story after story showing a continuous stream of violence and killing, has contributed to increasing aggressiveness, fear, anxiety and is desensitizing our children to acts of violence including bullying.
“Social and political commentators, as well as elected officials including the president, are attributing violent crime to many factors including inadequate gun control laws, a culture of violence and a recreational culture of violence.”
Police in Newtown have still not released a motive for why Adam Lanza killed his mother and 26 others, including 20 children, last month. But experts have disputed the link between violent video games and violence.
A study by Texas A&M university last year found that exposure to violent games “had neither short-term nor long-term predictive influences on either positive or negative outcomes”. Christopher J Ferguson, one of the report authors, wrote in Time magazine in December that “there is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth”.
More than 400 students of Sandy Hook elementary returned to classes for the first time on Thursday at a school in Monroe. The school was heavily guarded by police with officers describing it as the “safest school in America”, according to the Associated Press.
Danbury, the nearest large town to Newtown, had been due to host a gun show this coming weekend but the event was cancelled following the massacre in December. The show, which was set to span Saturday and Sunday, was organised by New York-based Big Al’s gun shows but pulled after a number of complaints. A man answering the phone at Big Al’s gun shows told the Guardian that the event had been permanently cancelled rather than postponed.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Obama prepares to ignore NDAA provisions blocking Guantanamo closure
By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 3, 2013 12:48 EST
President Barack Obama appears ready to ignore key provisions of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that aim to block him from closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, according to a signing statement issued by the White House on Wednesday.
The White House initially warned it would veto the bill, which gives $633 billion to the Department of Defense, if it contained provisions that block detainee transfers to and from the U.S. Despite that veto threat, President Obama signed the 2013 NDAA into law on Wednesday, but like 2011′s bill he attached a signing statement to it.
“I continue to oppose this provision, which substitutes the Congress’s blanket political determination for careful and fact-based determinations, made by counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, of when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees,” the president wrote.
He added: “I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies. My Administration will interpret these provisions as consistent with existing and future determinations by the agencies of the Executive responsible for detainee transfers.”
The statement continued by explaining that the White House will implement the will of Congress “in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict,” giving clear signal that the detainee provisions will be ignored if the administration believes its constitutional powers are being stepped upon.
Despite the statement, the president’s signature on the NDAA will only further complicate efforts to close the notorious terror war landmark, even though a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in November found that there’s more than enough secure prison space in the U.S. to safely house he 166 remaining prisoners at the military facility.
“Scores of men who have already been held for nearly 11 years without being charged with a crime–including more than 80 who have been cleared for transfer–may very well be imprisoned unfairly for yet another year,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Executive Director Anthony Romero said in an advisory. “The president should use whatever discretion he has in the law to order many of the detainees transferred home, and finally step up next year to close Guantanamo and bring a definite end to indefinite detention.”
U.S. fines Transocean $1.4 billion over Gulf oil spill disaster
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 17:21 EST
The United States hit drilling rig operator Transocean with $1.4 billion in criminal and civil fines Thursday for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nearly two months after oil giant BP was fined $4.5 billion for its leading role in the disaster, Transocean agreed to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and pay the fines, the Justice Department said.
The blowout on its drilling rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010, killed 11 and sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, one of the country’s most devastating environmental disasters.
The Transocean vessel was drilling the well for BP at the time, and both companies had pointed the finger at the other as responsible.
In pleading guilty, the department said, Transocean admitted its rig crew was “negligent in failing fully to investigate clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.”
The firm was ordered to pay $400 million to resolve criminal charges and another $1 billion in civil penalties, partly to fund spill prevention and environmental restoration in the five states hit by the three-month-long spill.
“Transocean’s rig crew accepted the direction of BP well site leaders to proceed in the face of clear danger signs — at a tragic cost to many of them,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
“Transocean’s agreement to plead guilty to a federal crime, and to pay a total of $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties, appropriately reflects its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
Transocean said in a statement that the agreements to plead guilty and pay the fines had removed much of the uncertainty about its operations from the case.
“This is a positive step forward, but it is also a time to reflect on the 11 men who lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Their families continue to be in the thoughts and prayers of all of us at Transocean.”
The company said it remained potentially subject to claims related to the assessment of damages to natural resources in the region from the spill but that those claims could be limited depending on ongoing court reviews.
Transocean said it had already set aside a loss contingency of $1.5 billion, and would pay the fines out over five years, with some $1 billion to be paid in 2013 and 2014.
In afternoon New York trade Transocean’s shares were up 6.3 percent at $49.16.
The fines were still small compared with those aimed at BP, the main operator of the well.
In a statement BP said the Justice Department settlement vindicated its view that Transocean was also at fault, adding that another oilfield service company working on the well at the time, Halliburton, was also responsible.
“In settling, Transocean has acknowledged that it played a significant role and has responsibility for the accident. Transocean is finally starting, more than two-and-a-half years after the accident, to do its part for the Gulf Coast,” BP said.
“Unfortunately, Halliburton continues to deny its significant role in the accident, including its failure to adequately cement and monitor the well.”
BP set a deal with US prosecutors on November 15 to settle a criminal investigation by paying $4.5 billion and pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress and two environmental violations.
It must still resolve a civil case on environmental fines which could amount to as much as $18 billion if gross negligence is found. It also remains on the hook for economic damages, including the cost of environmental rehabilitation.
Also in November three former BP employees pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to the disaster. Two supervisors on the rig at the time rejected manslaughter charges, saying they were being treated as scapegoats, and a senior BP executive at the time denied he obstructed justice by lying about the volume of oil leaking from the runaway well.
Originally published Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Sale of Current TV gives Al-Jazeera way into U.S. homes
Since its launch in 2006, Al-Jazeera TV’s English-language news channel has racked up prestigious journalism awards for its reporting on international issues. The problem: Hardly anyone sees Al-Jazeera English because few cable-TV operators carry it.
The Associated Press and The Washington Post
Al-Jazeera has a growing reputation for serious news gathering and its reporters have won some of the biggest awards in journalism. What the Pan-Arab news network doesn’t have is a significant presence in the U.S.
That’s about to change now that Al-Jazeera is spending $500 million to acquire Current TV, the left-leaning cable-news network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore. The deal gives Al-Jazeera access to about 50 million U.S. homes. As part of an expansion, the network is promising to hire more journalists and double the number of U.S. news bureaus it has.
Still, some big questions remain for Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar: How will it stand out in a crowded field of cable-TV news channels? And how can it overcome an image that was cemented for many Americans when it gave voice to Osama bin Laden in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks?
Marwan Kraidy, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on Arab media, said Al-Jazeera needs to overcome the perception among some Americans that it is a “toxic brand.”
The deal to sell Current, announced Wednesday, will make Gore, already estimated to be worth more than $100 million, even richer.
Gore said in an email Thursday: “I am incredibly proud of what Current has been able to accomplish. But broadcast media is a business and being an independent-content producer in a time of increasing consolidation is a challenge.”
Since its launch in 2006, Al-Jazeera TV’s English-language news channel has won prestigious journalism awards for its reporting on international issues, including the Arab Spring uprisings. The problem: Hardly anyone sees Al-Jazeera English (AJE) because few cable-TV operators carry it.
The deal will allow Al-Jazeera to start a new channel, Al-Jazeera America, that will produce news for and about Americans.
Al-Jazeera says it will operate AJE and Al-Jazeera America as separate channels, although about 40 percent of AJE’s content will appear on the new channel. It will use some of the resources of its existing Washington bureaus when it launches this year. In addition, it plans to add five news bureaus across the country to the 10 AJE already operates.
The deal could mark a new era in a new hemisphere for a news organization that helped smash apart government control of information in the Arab world. Al-Jazeera — “the peninsula” in Arabic — transcended national censors when it began broadcasting across the Middle East via satellite in 1996.
But its attempts to enter the rich media markets of the West haven’t been quite as revolutionary. Some of the low visibility of the English-language AJE channel has been economic and technological; cable companies have limited channel positions and have been reluctant to give up slots unless programmers pay steep entry fees.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, for example, secured valuable spots on cable systems when it started in 1996 only by paying system owners then-record sums.
But there also have been overtones of an anti-Arabic backlash in AJE’s struggles. The network has operated in the shadow of its Arab-language parent, which was often the first to air Osama bin Laden’s video messages, showed images of dead American soldiers at the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and gave a megaphone to Holocaust deniers and anti-Jewish hate speech.
Bottom line: Despite winning Polk, Peabody and DuPont awards during its six years on the air, AJE has managed to gain access to just 4.7 million of the nation’s 100 million cable and satellite TV homes.
The deal for Current, which is based in San Francisco, has several potential glitches.
Al-Jazeera’s plan to turn Current into Al-Jazeera America could run afoul of some of Current’s programming contracts with cable operators; the contracts prohibit cable networks from making major programming changes without the operators’ consent.
Within hours of the news, Time Warner Cable, the country’s second-largest system owner, dropped Current from its channel lineup, saying its agreement to carry the channel is no longer in effect. But the channel will continue to be carried by DirecTV, Dish Network, Comcast, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even with more distribution and beefed-up reporting, an old issue looms: Will Americans watch news from a foreign-based source? They’ve shown little proclivity to do so before. The BBC — one of the world’s most successful international broadcasters — has found only a small following with its domestic channel, BBC America, which carries entertainment and news programs. English-language news channels from China (CCTV), France (France 24) and Russia (RT), among others, are virtual nonentities among U.S. viewers.
Al-Jazeera’s name and notoriety make its American channel perhaps even more problematic than most.
While the Arabic network has been praised by the likes of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for challenging dictators throughout the Arab world, both the Arabic and English-language channels have been accused of an anti-Western bias.
Although anchors and programming have not been determined for the new channel, “it’s not going to be opinion network or about celebrity news,” said Stan Collender, a spokesman for Al-Jazeera America. “It’s not going to be people screaming at each other. We’ll be in-depth, and we won’t reflect only one point of view.”
Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera English have long claimed independence from their benefactor in Qatar, but criticism of Qatar’s ruling family or its government has been almost nonexistent on the channels, said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organization that monitors Arabic media and describes itself as nonpartisan.
Stalinsky has documented ties between Al-Jazeera’s management and journalists — including its former boss, Wadah Khanfar — and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Pan-Arabic political movement. He is particularly critical of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who appears frequently on Al-Jazeera to inveigh against Jews, the United States and gays and has praised suicide bombings.
Stalinsky calls AJE “a paler version” of the Arab channel that is less hostile to Western interests.
As for the U.S. version: “It’s impossible to know what it will be. ... All I can really say is that it has the same owners and the same money as their other channels,” he said.
Collender acknowledges that criticism of Al-Jazeera has held back AJE and could affect the reception for Al-Jazeera America.
But, he added, “If you mention Fox (News), half the people in a room would roll their eyes, too. Our pitch is that the world is a different place now. What we’re trying to do is prove through the quality that we’re providing that we’re worth watching.”
New Congress faces more budget battles
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 3, 2013 17:20 EST
The 113th US Congress, featuring dozens of new faces in the House and Senate, convened Thursday fresh from the year-end “fiscal cliff” fiasco, as lawmakers cast a wary eye towards the tough budget battles ahead.
Twelve freshman senators and 82 newly-elected congressmen took the oath of office, with President Barack Obama’s Democrats enjoying modest gains in both chambers.
But the balance of power remains divided on Capitol Hill: Democrats control the Senate, while Republicans hold sway in the House of Representatives, where John Boehner kept his job as speaker.
There was little expectation that he would lose the leadership role, but Republican infighting over backing a fiscal cliff deal that hikes taxes on the wealthy triggered speculation about Boehner’s hold on the gavel.
Lawmakers burned the midnight oil in the waning days of the 112th Congress hammering out a deal to prevent $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts from kicking in on January 1 — and possibly tipping the US economy back into recession.
But larger budget battles are on the horizon, particularly over US borrowing, an extension of the government’s 2013 budget, and the now-looming spending reductions set to hit the Pentagon as well as most domestic programs.
The Senate’s Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the new members, and offered warm words to Senator Mark Kirk, who returned Thursday after spending most of 2012 recovering from a stroke.
But McConnell quickly turned to what he called “the transcendent challenge of our time.”
The out-of-control federal debt, McConnell said, is “so huge it threatens to permanently alter (our) economy,” he told the Senate.
McConnell acknowledged his last-gasp deal forged with Vice President Joe Biden was an “imperfect” one that went against Republican no-new-taxes orthodoxy.
But with the battle over taxes behind them — the deal raises rates for individuals earning over $400,000 and on couples earning more than $450,000 — McConnell was already eyeing the looming bout over spending and the debt ceiling.
“It’s time to face up to the fact that our nation is in grave fiscal danger, and that it has everything to do with spending,” he said, throwing down the gauntlet to Obama.
“The president knows as well as I do what needs to be done. He can either engage now to significantly cut government spending or force a crisis later,” McConnell added. “It’s his call.”
Obama left Washington to resume his Hawaii vacation hours after the “fiscal cliff” deal was approved by Congress late on New Year’s Day, and signed the legislation Wednesday by auto-pen.
But Biden was on hand to swear in the new senators, including five women, bringing to a record 20 the number of female senators, as well as Tim Scott, the first black Republican in the Senate since 1979.
“Enjoy it,” Biden told the newcomers, adding that he missed the chamber where he served for 36 years.
“The best time I ever had in my life was serving here,” he told AFP off the Senate floor.
Asked about the trio of looming fiscal fights, Biden expressed confidence that the White House and lawmakers would overcome their differences.
“We’ve always had the battles, and we get through,” he said.
The Biden-McConnell deal largely averted a financial crunch that had global repercussions, but the International Monetary Fund, rating agencies and analysts have warned that the critical problem of deficits and debt still hang over the US economy.
Financial markets cooled Thursday over the last-minute agreement, in contrast to the initial stocks surge which had greeted the deal Wednesday.
The hard-fought agreement, seen as a political victory for Obama, raised taxes on the very rich and delayed the threat of $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for two months.
The respite will prove temporary: aside from clashes on spending cuts, there are worries over lifting the debt ceiling — also at the end of February.
Analysts say the country could see a repeat of the 2011 row that saw Washington’s credit rating downgraded for the first time.
Nancy Pelosi, re-elected to her role as House Democratic leader, took a conciliatory tone.
“I hope with all my heart that we find common ground,” she told the chamber.
Boehner called for a fresh start after the startlingly unproductive record of the 112th Congress, reminding lawmakers to resist the pull of special interests and “follow the fixed star of a more perfect union.”
But he turned swiftly to the “peril” of America’s $16 trillion debt, saying it is “draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state.”
January 3, 2013
Boehner Retains Speaker’s Post, but Dissidents Nip at His Heels
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio was narrowly re-elected speaker of the House on Thursday amid open dissent from conservatives on the House floor that signaled that the turmoil and division of the 112th Congress is likely to spill into the newly constituted 113th.
Mr. Boehner, in his opening address to the new House, indicated that the Republican majority would make the federal debt and deficit its singular focus. He also delivered a blunt message to those he sees as more interested in stirring dissension and scoring political points than in being constructive.
“If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place,” an emotional Mr. Boehner said, calling for the House to focus on results. “The door is behind you.”
In the Senate as well, hard feelings from the old Congress were reverberating in the new.
The Democratic leadership said it would hold off on efforts to limit the filibuster while negotiations with Republicans about procedural changes continued. But more junior Democrats suggested that they were not done pressing to diminish the power of the filibuster, even if that meant taking the extraordinary step of changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote — an approach dubbed “the nuclear option.”
“The Senate is broken,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.
As the 113th Congress convened just after noon, leaders of both parties in both chambers tried to strike a note of comity after the struggles of a Congress marred by acrimony almost to its final minutes.
The children and grandchildren of members romped through the House chamber, and lawmakers clapped one another on the back. The young son of Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, slept, slumped against his father. Newly elected Representative Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, displayed her grievous wounds from the war in Iraq, wearing a skirt that revealed two prosthetic legs, with red pumps on her feet.
“I hope with all my heart that we will find common ground that is a higher, better place for our country,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, before she handed the gavel to Mr. Boehner. “Surely we can be touched by the better angels of our nature.”
But discord was on plain display in the roll call vote for speaker as Mr. Boehner weathered defections from the rank and file to defeat Ms. Pelosi by a vote of 220 to 192. Other nominees — among them the defeated House member and Tea Party firebrand Allen B. West of Florida; Mr. Boehner’s own second-in-command, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia; and retired Gen. Colin L. Powell — drew 14 protest votes from members of both parties.
The tension around Mr. Boehner, who was elected unanimously by House Republicans two years ago, showed in the long, pomp-filled roll call vote, in which each member was called on to publicly announce a choice. A dozen Republicans either voted for someone other than Mr. Boehner, voted “present” or remained silent even though they were in the chamber. It was not until the very last votes that Mr. Boehner cleared the majority he needed.
President Obama called Mr. Boehner to congratulate him.
Some mavericks were members who have been thorns in the speaker’s side for two years, like three representatives who were thrown off committees late last year: Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who voted for Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio; Justin Amash of Michigan, who voted for a fellow sophomore conservative, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho; and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who voted for David Walker, the former United States comptroller.
“I think it was a vote of no confidence,” Mr. Huelskamp said. “In this town the intimidation was intense. There were a lot of members who wanted to vote no.”
House Republican leadership aides denied any such tactics and said rumors of strong-arming were unfounded.
A few who opposed Mr. Boehner were newcomers, signaling a new generation of dissent. Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma voted for Mr. Cantor, and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who prevailed in the Republican primary last year with the help of young Ron Paul acolytes, voted for Mr. Amash. Representative Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, started his career in the House by voting for Mr. Cantor, to “send a statement,” he said.
Representative Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican who served for one term in the 1990s, voted present. And as their names were called repeatedly for their votes, Mr. Labrador looked down at his desk and Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, stood silently in the back of the chamber, arms crossed, staring at the House well.
On the other side of the aisle, the dwindling ranks of Southern Democrats showed that Ms. Pelosi is seen as a liability in some quarters. Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, voted for Mr. Powell. Representative John Barrow voted for Representative John Lewis, his fellow Georgia Democrat and a civil rights icon.
The agenda laid out by both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, jibed well with the demands of small-government conservatives who have complained that neither leader has been sufficiently confrontational with Mr. Obama.
Both said cutting spending would be front and center, putting them on a collision course with the president and Democratic leaders. And neither was taking seriously the president’s pledge not to bargain over raising the government’s statutory borrowing ceiling.
“In a couple of months, the president will ask us to raise the nation’s debt limit,” Mr. McConnell said. “We cannot agree to increase that borrowing limit without agreeing to reforms that lower the avalanche of spending that’s creating this debt in the first place.”
Partisan battles are brewing on issues beyond the budget, including on same-sex marriage, gun control and welfare programs.
Among the new rules of the House adopted Thursday, one requires committees to identify potentially duplicative programs when considering the creation of new programs or reauthorizing existing ones. Another will require annual budget resolutions to contain information about the growth of entitlement programs, like food stamps, a senior Republican leadership aide said.
The new rules will also authorize House lawyers to continue a legal defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal bond exclusively between a man and a woman. That angered Democrats who say it is a frivolous expenditure of tax dollars when the Justice Department has declined to defend the law’s constitutionality.
The first day of 113th Congress included some hopeful notes, especially the return of Senator Mark Steven Kirk, Republican of Illinois, a year after he suffered a major stroke.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. greeted him with a hug and a “Welcome back, man!”
January 3, 2013
Liked but Not Feared, Boehner Keeps a Job Some Might Ask Why He Wants
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — “Public service was never meant to be an easy living,” Representative John A. Boehner lamented Thursday, moments after he overcame a Republican insurrection to win re-election as speaker of the House. For Mr. Boehner, it may only get tougher from here.
After a tumultuous two years in which he struggled to maintain a grip on his fractious caucus, Mr. Boehner — who won the unanimous backing of his party when he was first elected speaker in 2011 — suffered the indignity of 12 Republican defections on the opening day of the 113th Congress. Nine cast their ballots for other people; two remained silent rather than vote, and one simply declared, “Present.”
For Mr. Boehner, 63, of Ohio, it was a warning shot from conservatives, a sobering reminder that while he may hold one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, his power is greatly diminished. His Republican ranks are thinner in the new Congress, and many of those who retired or were defeated are moderates who ordinarily backed him.
“He takes things in stride; he tries not to let it be personal,” said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, the new chairman of the committee charged with electing Congressional Republicans. “You can see it’s eating on him. He’s got the toughest job in the city, if not the country. He’s having to be a one-man band right now in a very, very high-pressure situation.”
In the last several weeks alone, Mr. Boehner has watched, in humiliation, as his so-called Plan B, an alternative to tax cuts adopted by Congress on Tuesday, collapsed for lack of Republican support. He was sidelined in fiscal negotiations between Republicans and the White House, and then forced to accept a package many of his members opposed. Then Republicans from New York and New Jersey turned against him when he delayed a vote on $60 billion in aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
And in the next few months, he will face new confrontations with President Obama over automatic spending cuts set to go into effect in March, and the so-called debt ceiling, which must be raised so that the government can borrow more money. Once again, Mr. Boehner will have to contend with the conservatives in his party, who remain furious over the recent tax legislation because it did not include spending cuts.
Among them are several freshmen whose first act on Thursday was to vote against Mr. Boehner.
“The challenge is no one is running against” Mr. Boehner for speaker, one of those newcomers, Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, told his hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman. “So what does a guy like me do?”
Mr. Bridenstine cast his ballot for Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. Another freshman, Steve Stockman of Texas (who served one term in the mid-1990s), explained his decision to vote “present” by complaining that Mr. Boehner had “signed our country onto a fiscal suicide pact.”
All of which might lead a person to ask: Why does Mr. Boehner want this job, anyway?
“He wants to do something big,” said his communications director, Kevin Smith. “He’s been here for 22 years, and becoming speaker is the first time he’s had a real serious opportunity himself to lead an effort to do something big for this country in terms of getting spending under control. He wants to do something big on entitlements, and he wants to do something big on tax reform. That’s why he’s here.”
Despite the discontent, Mr. Boehner seemed confident of his re-election; even before Thursday’s vote, which took place shortly after noon, his office announced that he would hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony and picture-taking session later in the day. He did, smiling unfailingly and raising his right hand time and again for the cameras.
Mr. Boehner is an unlikely person to have become speaker of the House. The son of a bar owner, Mr. Boehner grew up in a big Roman Catholic family — he was the second oldest of 12 children — that was not especially political. He put himself through college and went to work for a plastics distribution company, which he eventually wound up running.
His interest in politics blossomed after he became active in the local homeowners association; eventually, he ran for the Ohio legislature. His experience in business gave him a keen interest in regulatory issues and other business concerns, which have been his signature issues.
With his genial manner — and prodigious fund-raising efforts on behalf of fellow Republicans — Mr. Boehner has engendered considerable good will within his party. Though he lost the support of some of his fellow Republicans on Thursday, no one formally rose to challenge him.
“He’s personally well liked, and I think that’s important,” said Ross K. Baker, an expert in Congress at Rutgers University. “There haven’t been any coups mounted against Boehner, and I think that tells you something.”
But Mr. Boehner’s good-natured demeanor can sometimes work against him. As one House Democrat said, insisting on anonymity to avoid angering a leader, Republicans like him, but they do not fear him. The most difficult task for any speaker is to keep his party in line, a lesson that Mr. Boehner has learned the hard way.
“It’s a little bit like being the head caretaker of the cemetery,” said Representative Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican, describing the challenge Mr. Boehner faces. “There are a lot of people under you, but nobody listens.”
Originally published Friday, January 4, 2013 at 4:28 AM
India gang-rape victim's friend recounts attack
By ASHOK SHARMA
NEW DELHI —
Passers-by refused to stop to help a naked, bleeding gang-rape victim after she was dumped from a bus onto a New Delhi street, and police delayed taking her to a hospital for 30 minutes, the woman's male companion said in an interview. It was his first public account of the gruesome attack that killed the 23-year-old student and prompted demands for reform of a law enforcement culture seen as lax in crimes against women.
The gang-rape victim's brother blamed a delay in medical treatment of nearly two hours for her death last week in a Singapore hospital.
The woman's male companion, who has not been named, sat in a wheelchair with a broken leg in his interview aired Friday on Indian TV station Zee News. He recounted the 2 1/2 hour rape and beating by a group of men on a bus, which the pair had boarded as they were returning from seeing a movie together.
`'I gave a tough fight to three of them. I punched them hard. But then two others hit me with an iron rod," he said. The woman tried to call the police using her mobile phone, but the men took it away from her, he said. They then took her to the rear seats of the bus and one-by-one began raping her, beating and violating her with an iron rod.
Afterward, he overheard some of the attackers saying the woman was dead before dumping both onto the street, he said.
On Saturday, police officer Vivek Gogia denied the companion's assertion that police officers debated jurisdiction for 30 minutes before taking the rape victim and her friend to a hospital.
In a statement, Gogia said police vans reached the spot where the rape victim and her friend were dumped within three minutes of receiving the alert. `'Police vans left the spot for hospital with the victims within 12 minutes," he said.
That time was spent in borrowing bed sheets from a neighboring hotel to cover the naked rape victim and her friend, he said.
Also Saturday, a court asked police to produce five men accused of raping the student for pre-trial proceedings on Monday. Police have charged them with murder, rape and other crimes that could bring them the death penalty.
A sixth suspect, listed as a 17-year-old, was expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.
Meanwhile, the rape victim's brother said the delay in providing medical treatment led to complications which perhaps caused her death.
"She told me that after the incident she had asked passers-by for help but to no avail, and it was only after the highway patrol alerted the police that she was rushed to hospital, but it had taken almost two hours," the Press Trust of India quoted the brother as saying in his ancestral village, Medawara Kala, in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
"By then a lot of blood was lost," he said.
The 23-year-old woman died last weekend from massive internal injuries suffered during the attack.
On the night of the attack, the woman and her companion had just finished watching the movie "Life of Pi" at an upscale mall and were looking for a ride home. An autorickshaw driver declined to take them, so they boarded the private bus with the six assailants inside, the companion told Zee News.
After the pair were on the bus for a while, the men started harassing and attacking them.
"The attack was so brutal I can't even tell you ... even animals don't behave like that," the man said.
The men dumped their bleeding and naked bodies under an overpass. The woman's companion waved to passersby on bikes, in autorickshaws and in cars for help, but no one stopped. "They slowed down, looked at our naked bodies and left," he said.
"My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely," he said. "Cars, autos and bikes slowed down and sped away. I kept waving for help. The ones who stopped stared at us, discussing what could have happened. Nobody did anything."
After about 20 minutes, three police vans arrived, but the officers argued over who had jurisdiction over the crime as the man pleaded for clothes and an ambulance, he said.
Finally, he said, they were taken to a hospital.
The man said he was given no medical care. He then spent four days at the police station helping police investigate the crime. He said he visited his friend in the hospital, told her the attackers were arrested and promised to fight for her.
Authorities have not named the man because of the sensitivity of the case. Zee News also declined to give his name, although it did show his face during the interview.
Indian law prohibits the disclosure of the identity of victims in rape cases, and police have opened an investigation into the TV station for broadcasting the interview, New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said Saturday. Violators of the law can face up to two years in prison and a fine.
The woman's companion said he gave the TV interview because he hopes it will encourage rape victims to come forward and speak about their ordeals without shame.
He said his friend was determined to see that the attackers were punished. "She gave all details of the crime to the magistrate - things we can't even talk about," he said. "She told me that the culprits should be burnt alive."
He added, "People should move ahead in the struggle to prevent a similar crime happening again as a tribute to her."
Most people in India are reluctant to get involved in police business because once they become witnesses, they can be dragged into legal cases that can go on for years. Also, Indian police are often seen less as protectors and more as harassers.
On Friday, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde called for changes in the law and the way police investigate cases so justice can be swiftly delivered. Many rape cases are bogged down in India's overburdened and sluggish court system for years.
In the wake of the rape, several petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court to take an active role in the issue of women's safety.
On Friday, the court dismissed a petition asking it to suspend Indian lawmakers accused of crimes against women, saying it doesn't have jurisdiction, according to the Press Trust of India. The Association for Democratic Reforms, an organization that tracks officials' criminal records, said six state lawmakers are facing rape prosecutions and two national parliamentarians are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape.
However, the court did agree to look into the widespread creation of more fast-track courts for accused rapists across the country.
India gang rape: five men charged with murder to appear in court
Men accused of violent assault in Delhi that sent shockwaves through India will make first public appearance since arrest
Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 5 January 2013 12.32 GMT
The five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old year old medical student in Delhi have been ordered to appear in court on Monday. It will be their first public appearance since being detained two days after the attack three weeks ago.
The men's full trial is due to start in a week in a new fast-track court inaugurated last week specifically to deal with sexual violence against women. A sixth accused, a juvenile, will be tried separately.
Feelings are still running high in India, with many calling for wholesale reforms of laws and policing. The incident has also provoked a fierce debate on attitudes to women. Protests have occurred in neighbouring countries, inspired by the ongoing demonstrations in India.
In his first interview since the attack, the male friend of the victim, who died in a Singapore hospital eight days ago, has described how passers-by left the pair lying unclothed and bleeding in the street for almost an hour.
The graphic account in a television interview is likely to add fuel to public anger over the death in a country where official statistics show that one rape is reported every 20 minutes and where sexual harassment of women in public places is systematic.
The woman's friend told the Zee News TV network that he was beaten unconscious with a metal bar by her attackers before the pair were thrown off the bus. They had boarded it in the mistaken belief it would take them home after an evening watching the film Life of Pi at a nearby shopping centre cinema. The women was raped for more than an hour and suffered internal injuries after an assault with an iron bar.
The pair lay on the roadside for around 45 minutes before three police vans arrived. Officers then spent a long time arguing about where to take them, the man said. "We kept shouting at the police, 'Please give us some clothes,' but they were busy deciding which police station our case should be registered at," the man said in Hindi.
Eventually, the officers fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel. The man said he himself, despite serious injuries, carried the victim to a police vehicle.
Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told Reuters that GPS records show the first police van reaching the scene four minutes after it was called. He said it left after seven minutes and arrived at a hospital within 24 minutes.
The friend described the pair's attempts to call for help during the attack. "We were shouting, trying to make people hear us. But they switched off the lights of the bus," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
When they were finally thrown out at a roadside near the city's airport, they pleaded with passers-by for help, he added in the studio interview. A blue metal crutch was leaning against his chair.
"There were a few people who had gathered round, but nobody helped. My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely. We were without clothes. We tried to stop passers-by. Several auto rickshaws, cars and
bikes slowed down but none stopped for about 25 minutes. Then, someone on patrolling, stopped and called the police.," he said.
The man also criticised delays and care at the public hospital where the pair were taken. He said they were again left without clothes or treatment for a protracted period.
Neither the woman nor her friend have been named and the TV channel that ran the interview is under investigation by police who claim it has threatened their anonymity.
His revelations will fuel further criticism of authorities in India who have alternated between public statements promising future reforms and a barely disguised contempt for the largely urban middle-class protestors who have taken to the streets over recent weeks. Huge gaps in the provision of security, healthcare and other basic services supposedly provided by the state have been exposed by the tragedy, deepening public anger.
Metro stations in Delhi have been closed to prevent gatherings in the city centre. Thousands of police were deployed to protect parliament buildings and the homes of senior officials after the news of the attack spread.
Analysts point to a growing gulf between a government used to a traditional opaque and paternalist style of politics and the accountability demanded by new voters.
The victim's friend called on the protests to continue. "If you can help someone, help them. If a single person had helped me that night, things would have been different. There is no need to close Metro stations and stop the public from expressing themselves. People should be allowed to have faith in the system," he said.
He also said he wished people had come to his friend's help when she needed it: "You have to help people on the road when they need help."
According to Indian newspapers, the victim had to give a detailed statement twice because of an administrative dispute between officials. Her friend said he lay on a stretcher for four days in a police station without medical assistance after the attack.
India's bitter culture of rape and violence
The country doesn't need well-meaning white people to defend it – it needs to listen to the voices of Indian women
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 3 January 2013 12.38 GMT
A few days before we ushered in 2013, an Indian-Punjabi rapper called Honey Singh became embroiled in controversy when a concert in Delhi, where he was due to perform, was cancelled after an online campaign against him. There's no doubt about the offensiveness of the lyrics he is accused of spewing, some of which feature vile rape fantasies (Singh now claims they weren't his songs), but the furore teased out bigger questions: how did a man associated with such material become so popular, and why did Bollywood accept him as its highest-paid songwriter?
Most Indians bristle at the accusation that Indian culture doesn't value women. In fact, they say, it extols the virtues of womanhood and their role in society. It puts women on a pedestal, and even goes as far as describing nature and the world we live in as "mother Earth", and "mother India". Indians elected a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, as early as 1966, and the country boasts several prominent female chief ministers, philosophers, scholars, sports icons and writers. During one very popular Indian festival, Rakhi, brothers pledge to protect their sisters for life. Hindu mythology, which is dominant in Indian culture, is full of tales of kings moving heaven and earth to rescue damsels in distress.
But these symbols provide a convenient facade behind which there is endemic violence ingrained in Indian culture. They are part of the lie that Indian women cannot have it so bad, because they are revered. In fact, the opposite is true. In traditional Indian culture, girls are groomed to be good wives, not independent women with their own careers. Traditional values say women are only important not in their own right, but because they produce children and preserve culture.
This mentality leads families to treat them as objects who should remain pure and be controlled: women are their fathers' property, and later their husbands'. Parents worry so much about "losing face" in the community that while boys have all the freedom they want, girls are constantly advised not to do anything that would "bring shame". This mentality explains why so many are forced into marriages, or even murdered by their own parents. It leads to mothers excusing away the heinous crimes of their sons by saying: "If these girls roam around openly like this, then the boys will make mistakes."
In Bollywood films, men routinely chase and harass women. As SA Aiyar points out in the Times of India, old-time villain Ranjeet did close to 100 rape scenes, "with the audience almost cheering him on". The message from Bollywood is almost always that if you harass a woman enough, "no matter how often she says no, she'll ultimately say yes".
The gang rape and murder of the Delhi student wasn't an isolated incident. Reading the descriptions by Indian women of how they live in fear should make anyone worry deeply about the twisted beast that Indian culture has become. Most of all it should make my kind – men of Indian origin – sit up and ask: how did we get here? The epidemic of violence is obviously not good for women, but doesn't it also say something about the state of mind of Indian men that such crimes are on the increase?
Violence against women is a cultural problem. It is culture that leads to a country's laws, and culture that discourages or encourages this violence. So why isn't there a national debate about the social impact of 100 million missing women? There is a tendency to sweep this under the carpet, not just by Indians but even some westerners fearful of sounding racist. Emer O'Toole's article on Tuesday was a classic example of this genre, going as far as praising Indian politicians for their response, even though most protesters were criticising them for their inaction and insensitivity. That was compounded by an attempt to blame colonialism for the lack of rights and social provision for women, but the problem isn't lack of money (India spends billions on nukes and a space programme), but different priorities by a male-dominated parliament where many have charges of assault against women pending.
India doesn't need well-meaning white people to defend it, it needs to listen to the voices of Indian women. We can accept that women are groped, molested, assaulted and raped across nearly every part of the world, without pretending there aren't local differences in attitudes and social provisions. The founder of Jagori, a Delhi-based women's NGO, told the Times of India that though there was growing awareness and reporting of sexual violence, men "are not able to accept" women's increasing assertiveness and "use heinous ways to punish them". India is full of brave, independent female icons, but they have succeeded despite cultural norms – not because it encourages them to be independent. This epidemic won't end until this mentality is challenged to its core.
Rape protests spread beyond India
Demonstrators in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh join protest movement against sexual violence
Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 17.42 GMT
Protests against sexual violence are spreading across south Asia as anger following the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi courses through the region.
Inspired by the rallies and marches staged across India for nearly three weeks, demonstrations have also been held in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh – all countries where activists say women suffer high levels of sexual and domestic violence.
In Nepal, the case of a 21-year-old woman who says she was raped and threatened with death by a police officer and robbed by immigration officials, prompted hundreds of demonstrators to converge on the prime minister's residence in Kathmandu. They called for legal reforms and an overhaul of attitudes to women.
"We had seen the power of the mass campaign in Delhi's rape case. It is a pure people's movement," said Anita Thapa, one of the demonstrators.
Bandana Rana, a veteran Nepalese activist, described the ongoing protests in Delhi as "eye-opening". "A few years back, women even talking about sexual violence or even domestic violence was a very rare," she said.
Sultana Kamal, of the Bangladeshi human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), said the protests in Delhi had given fresh impetus to protests against sexual violence.
One incident that has provoked anger in Bangladesh was the alleged gang rape of a teenager by four men over four days in early December in Tangail, 40 miles north-west of Dhaka. The men were said to have made videos of the attack before leaving their victim near a rail track where she was eventually found by her brother.
On Friday a teenager who was said to have been repeatedly raped in a hotel died in hospital in Dhaka of injuries sustained when she subsequently tried to take her own life.
But despite the widespread anger, the social stigma attached to rape victims remains a major problem throughout the region.
Although Bangladesh police arrested suspects in both the cases and investigations are under way, activists fear that corruption as well as deep-seated misogyny among investigating officers and the judiciary make convictions unlikely.
According to ASK's statistics, at least 1,008 women were raped in 2012 in Bangladesh, of whom 98 were later killed.
Khushi Kabir, one of the organisers of a "human chain" in Dhaka to protest against violence to women, said its aim was "to show that people are not going to just let this [movement] die down".
Kabir said although previous demonstrations on similar issues were largely dominated by women, men were now protesting too. The protests had also drawn people from a broad range of society. "We had lawyers, schoolchildren, teachers, theatre activists and personalities, industrialists," she said.
One week after the Delhi rape victim died in a Singapore hospital, the widespread grief and outrage have moderated, but a fierce debate still rages over the country's sexual violence and attitudes to women. One politician from the opposition BJP party was forced to apologise after stating the women who did not stay "within moral limits … paid the price". A senior official in a hardline Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation provoked controversy when he claimed that westernisation was responsible for rapes in cities.
The Delhi rape case is being heard in a special fast-track court inaugurated last week to deal with such offences in the capital. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Saturday. Protests however continue, albeit at a lower intensity than in previous weeks.
The Indian media continue to give prominence to news items that would barely have received attention a month ago.
On Friday it was reported that a 19-year-old woman had died in a hospital in the north-western city of Jaipur after she set herself on fire allegedly following aggressive harassment from a neighbour. She said the man had threatened to kill her brother and father if she did not marry him.
In another incident reported on Friday a woman was said to have jumped from a moving train to escape an assault. Sexual harassment on public transport is endemic in India where men target single young women. Such abuse is described euphemistically as "eve-teasing" with perpetrators dubbed "railway Romeos".
One persistent problem, women say, is men filming their faces or bodies on mobile phones in buses or trains.
Indian activists have repeatedly argued that media descriptions of such activities as "eve-teasing" contribute to the widespread acceptance of sexual harassment in public places.
A recent survey by the Hindustan Times newspaper found that nearly 80% of women aged between 18 and 25 in Delhi had been harassed last year and more than 90% of men of the same age had "friends who had made passes at women in public places". Nearly two-thirds of the latter thought the problem was exaggerated. It was also reported on Friday that though Delhi police had received 64 calls alleging a rape and 501 calls about harassment since 16 December, only four formal inquiries had been launched.
Senior officials across the south Asian region have defended their government's records on tackling sexual violence against women. In Delhi, Sushilkumar Shinde, the Indian home secretary, said on Friday that crimes against women and marginalised sections of society were increasing, and it was the government's responsibility to stop them. "This needs to be curbed by an iron hand," he told a conference of state officials from across India convened to discuss how to protect women. He called for changes in the law and the way police investigate cases so justice could be swiftly delivered. Many rape cases are bogged down in India's overburdened and sluggish court system for years. "We need a reappraisal of the entire system," he said.
Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, the Bangladeshi minister for women and children's affairs, said her government was "taking this issue very seriously".
"Just yesterday [Thursday] a sex offender … was given a very high punishment under the law," she said, "but sometimes the delay and the whole process of the trial takes a bit of time to ensure justice."
Protests are expected on Saturday in Bangladesh following the news of a new incident: the rape and killing of a student in the south-east of the country. The 14-year-old is reported to have left home to bring in her family's cows in Rangamati district one evening earlier this week. Her uncle later found her body in a forest. An autopsy report later confirmed that she had been raped and then strangled.
• Additional reporting: Ishwar Rauniyar in Kathmandu, Saad Hammadi, Dhaka.
Hugo Chávez fights for life as supporters pray in Venezuela
Three months after crowds celebrated another election triumph for the president, the mood in Caracas is transformed
Jonathan Watts and Virginia Lopez in Caracas
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 19.21 GMT
The change of mood in Plaza Bolivar could hardly be more dramatic. Less than three months ago, jubilant crowds filled the main square in Caracas to celebrate another election triumph for Hugo Chávez with chants of "Oo, ah, Chávez no se va" – Chávez won't go.
Now, however, supporters wait anxiously for any scrap of news from Havana, Cuba, where their president is fighting for his life after emergency cancer surgery.
"We are all very confused. We have no idea what to expect. I pray for his recovery but I am expecting the worst," said Joaquín Cavarcas, as he scanned the Ciudad CCS newspaper for the latest update.
Next Thursday, Chávez is supposed to be inaugurated for a further six-year term of office at a ceremony at the National Assembly, a short walk from the plaza. But the usually gregarious, publicity-loving president has not been seen or heard since his operation on 11 December, prompting speculation that he will not recover in time.
In the latest in a series of grave bulletins, the government said on Thursday that the president was suffering from complications brought on by a severe lung infection after surgery. Aides earlier described his condition as "delicate". The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said it was painful to see his close political ally in this state. "The situation for our brother Hugo Chávez is very worrying," he said.
With information scarce, rumours abound. Spain's ABC newspaper claimed the president was in a coma and kept alive by a life-support system. Social networks are abuzz with speculation that he is already dead.
Ministers and ruling party officials have lined up to deny such reports. Venezuela's vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, has told the country to ignore "enemy" rumours of Chávez's imminent demise. On Friday, he accused ABC of being funded by the extreme right which had backed General Franco's "despicable regime" in Spain.
On the streets, nobody is giving up on Chávez, but there is a growing resignation that he will not attend his swearing-in as scheduled.
"We must wait for him to recover and then swear him into office," said Ruben Daza, a newspaper vendor. "I don't think he'll be back next week. The assembly will have to decide what to do in the meantime, but he is the president and we must wait for his return."
Posters hanging from street lamps show Chávez alongside his daughter pointing down on a sea of supporters with a caption: "Now, more than ever, we are with Chávez."
But questions remain over the legal status of the president-elect if he fails to show up for his inauguration. The constitution stipulates the need for a new poll if the president dies or suffers permanent physical or mental disability before inauguration. Article 233 notes: "When there is an absolute absence of the president-elect before taking office, there shall be a new election by universal, direct and secret vote within the next 30 consecutive days."
Until the vote, the interim president should be the head of the national assembly. He is Diosdado Cabello – a former military officer and old ally of Chávez and head of a faction within the ruling camp. If there were an election, he would be likely to run the government, while another ruling party figurehead, Maduro, would campaign for a six-year term.
In his last public broadcast before leaving for Havana, Chávez urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he became incapacitated.
However, other scenarios are possible. The constitution also states that the president-elect can take the oath of office before the supreme court, which is packed with Chávez appointees. Whether he could do this in a foreign hospital is uncertain.
According to Nicmer Evans, a professor of political science at the Central University of Venezuela, only a medical team approved by the supreme court can determine if Chávez is unable to govern. For now, Evans says, the president has not resigned so his absence cannot be considered absolute. If he is unable to be sworn into office, Evans thinks the government could call for a provisional "junta" or the supreme justice could declare Chávez's absence temporary, allowing Maduro to stand in for 90 days or until a medical team declares otherwise.
If Chavéz is incapacitated merely in the short term, Jose Ignacio Hernandez, a law professor at the Central University of Venezuela, said the outcome that would best represent the will of the people would be for the head of the National Assembly – Cabello – to temporarily assume power. This is possible under the constitution for a 90-day period, which can be extended for a further 90 days if the assembly approves.
Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank in Washington DC, said a postponement of the swearing-in ceremony was increasingly likely.
"It is hard to imagine that he will be inaugurated on the 10th," he said. "I think they will just try to put it off and figure out what to do – whether to do it later or call elections."
This, he said, was likely to strengthen the hand of the ruling party and put pressure on an opposition that already appears divided over the correct interpretation of the constitution.
Riding a huge wave of emotion, Maduro would then be likely to win any election. His problems, however, would begin once he took power and started to address some of the tough financial and social problems facing Venezuela while trying to maintain unity in a ruling bloc.
"There is clearly going to be a power struggle within Chavismo," said Shifter. "Cabello is head of a rival faction and in a strong position. He is a crafty guy and he has been waiting a long time. He will follow Chávez's wishes for now, but it's unclear how long that will last, especially if the armed forces end up playing an important role."
Maduro and Cabello have both been at Chávez's bedside this week. When they returned to Venezuela on Thursday, they dismissed rumours of a rift as an opposition ploy.
"We're more unified than ever," said Maduro. "We swore in front of Commander Chávez that we will be united at the side of our people."
For many of his supporters, it is unimaginable that anyone could fully replace Chávez, who has dominated the nation's politics for 14 years. But even if their worst fears are realised, they say Chávez's legacy will endure.
"I want President Chávez to come back, I've prayed for his health from the beginning, but at this point I've lost all hope. I think the president of the assembly should take over and call for elections in the next 90 days and may the best man win. It's what the constitution says," said Sixto Zambrano, a retired soldier.
"I've always liked Chávez, since the day I saw him as a young man speaking in the barracks, but I've seen how cancer goes and one cannot go against that."
"No one has his charisma," Cavarcas said. "There will be no leader like him. No one comes close to him, but the revolution and Chavismo won't end. As long as there are one or two of us left to take this forward, this process will continue."
In the event of an "absolute absence" by the president elect, Venezuela's constitution stipulates that elections must be held within 30 days and the interim president should be the head of the national assembly.
That post is currently held by Diosdado Cabello, a former army officer who joined Chavéz in a failed 1992 coup that led to both of them being jailed. The experience cemented their friendship and a political alliance that propelled them to power, with Cabello serving as the president's chief of staff and in a number of ministerial posts.
If he becomes interim president, it would be his second time as a top-level stop-gap. Cabello took the reins for a few hours after Chavéz was detained in a 2002 coup by the opposition. His electoral record is patchier. From 2004 he served as governor of Miranda state, but lost in a re-election bid against Henrique Capriles – the most likely opposition candidate if a presidential election were to be held.
Despite reports of a rift inside the ruling coalition between a military faction led by Cabello and a civilian faction headed by the vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, the two have worked together for many years and stressed their unity this week. It is likely that both would respect Chavéz's wish for Maduro to be the ruling party candidate if a presidential election has to be held.
January 4, 2013
After Years in Solitary, an Austere Life as Uruguay’s President
By SIMON ROMERO
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes. Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay’s president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road.
In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.
Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor.
His current brand of low-key radicalism — a marked shift from his days wielding weapons in an effort to overthrow the government — exemplifies Uruguay’s emergence as arguably Latin America’s most socially liberal country.
Under Mr. Mujica, who took office in 2010, Uruguay has drawn attention for seeking to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage, while also enacting one of the region’s most sweeping abortion rights laws and sharply boosting the use of renewable energy sources like wind and biomass.
As illness drives President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela from the political stage, suddenly leaving the continent without the larger-than-life figure who has held such sway on the left, Mr. Mujica’s practiced asceticism is a study in contrasts. For democracy to function properly, he argues, elected leaders should be taken down a notch.
“We have done everything possible to make the presidency less venerated,” Mr. Mujica said in an interview one recent morning, after preparing a serving in his kitchen of mate, the herbal drink offered in a hollowed calabash gourd and commonly shared in dozens of sips through the same metal straw.
Passing around the gourd, he acknowledged that his laid-back presidential lifestyle might seem unusual. Still, he said it amounted to a conscious choice to forgo the trappings of power and wealth. Quoting the Roman court-philosopher Seneca, Mr. Mujica said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
THE leader at the helm of Uruguay’s changes, known to his many detractors and supporters alike as Pepe, is someone few thought could ever rise to such a position. Before Mr. Mujica became a gardener of chrysanthemums, he was a leader of the Tupamaros, the urban guerrilla group that drew inspiration from the Cuban revolution, carrying out armed bank robberies and kidnappings on Montevideo’s streets.
In their war against the Uruguayan state, the Tupamaros gained notoriety through violence. The filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras drew inspiration for his 1972 movie, “State of Siege,” from their abduction and execution in 1970 of Daniel Mitrione, an American adviser to Uruguay’s security forces. Mr. Mujica has said that the group “tried by all means to avoid killings,” but he has also euphemistically acknowledged its “military deviations.”
A brutal counterinsurgency subdued the Tupamaros, and the police captured Mr. Mujica in 1972. He spent 14 years in prison, including more than a decade in solitary confinement, often in a hole in the ground. During that time, he would go more than a year without bathing, and his companions, he said, were a tiny frog and rats with whom he shared crumbs of bread.
Some of the other Tupamaros who were placed for years in solitary confinement failed to grasp the benefits of befriending rodents. One of them, Henry Engler, a medical student, underwent a severe mental breakdown before his release in 1985.
Mr. Mujica rarely speaks about his time in prison. Seated at a table in his garden, sipping his mate, he said it gave him time to reflect. “I learned that one can always start again,” he said.
He chose to start again by entering politics. Elected as a legislator, he shocked the parking attendants at Parliament by arriving on a Vespa. After the rise to power in 2004 of the Broad Front, a coalition of leftist parties and more centrist social democrats, he was named minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries.
Before Mr. Mujica won the 2009 election by a wide margin, his opponent, Luis Alberto Lacalle, disparaged his small house here as a “cave.” After that, Mr. Mujica also upset some in Uruguay’s political establishment by selling off a presidential residence in a seaside resort city, calling the property “useless.”
His donations leave him with roughly $800 a month of his salary. He said he and his wife, Lucía Topolansky, a former guerrilla who was also imprisoned and is now a senator, do not need much to live on. In a new declaration in 2012, Mr. Mujica said he was sharing ownership of assets previously in his wife’s name, including their home and farm equipment, which lifted his net worth.
He pointed out that his Broad Front predecessor as president, Tabaré Vázquez, also stayed in his own home (though Mr. Vázquez, an oncologist, lives in the well-heeled district of El Prado), and that José Batlle y Ordóñez, a president in the early 20th century who created Uruguay’s welfare state, helped forge a tradition in which there is “no distance between the president and any neighbor.”
INDEED, if there is any country in South America where a president can drive a Beetle and get by without a large entourage of bodyguards, it might be Uruguay, which consistently ranks among the region’s least corrupt and least unequal nations. While crime is emerging as more of a concern, Uruguay remains a contender for the region’s safest country.
Still, Mr. Mujica’s governing style does not sit well with everyone. The proposal to legalize marijuana, in particular, has incited a fierce debate, with polls showing most Uruguayans opposed to the measure. In December, Mr. Mujica asked legislators to postpone voting to regulate the marijuana market, though he is pushing for the bill to be discussed again soon.
“It’s a shame to have a president like this man,” said Luz Díaz, 78, a retired maid who lives near Mr. Mujica and voted for him in 2009. She said she would not do so again if given the choice. “This marijuana thing, it’s absurd,” she added. “Pepe should return to selling flowers.”
Polls show that his approval ratings have been declining, but “I don’t give a damn,” insisted Mr. Mujica, emphasizing that he considered re-election to consecutive terms, already prohibited by Uruguay’s Constitution, as “monarchic.” “If I worried about pollsters, I wouldn’t be president,” he said.
With two years remaining in his term, Mr. Mujica seems to cherish the freedom to speak his mind. About his religious beliefs, he said he was still searching for God.
He laments that so many societies considered economic growth a priority, calling this “a problem for our civilization” because of the demands on the planet’s resources. (Interestingly enough, Uruguay’s economy is still expanding comfortably at an estimated annual rate of 3.6 percent.)
When the gourd of mate was empty, Mr. Mujica disappeared into his kitchen and returned with an impish grin and a bottle of Espinillar, a Uruguayan tipple distilled from sugarcane. It was not yet noon, but glasses were filled and toasts were pronounced.
After that, the president jumped around subjects, from anthropology and cycling to Uruguayans’ love for beef. He said he could not dream of retiring, but looked forward to his post-presidency, when he hopes to farm full time again.
Finally, Mr. Mujica’s eyes lit up as he remembered a passage from “Don Quixote,” in which the knight-errant imbibes wine from a horn and dines on salted goat with his goatherd hosts, delivering a harangue against the “pestilence of gallantry.”
“The goatherds were the poorest people of Spain,” said Mr. Mujica. “Probably,” he added, “they were the richest.”
January 4, 2013
Fleeing North Korea Is Becoming Harder
By CHOE SANG-HUN
CHEONAN, South Korea — The Rev. Kim Seung-eun said he could measure the increasing difficulty of smuggling people out of North Korea by the higher cost of bribing North Korean soldiers on the Chinese border to look the other way.
“They demand not only more cash, but also all kinds of things for themselves and their superiors,” said Mr. Kim, a South Korean human rights activist who helps North Koreans flee their totalitarian homeland and resettle in the South. “They’ve developed a taste for South Korean goods, too.”
Under North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, human rights activists and South Korean officials say, it has become increasingly difficult to smuggle refugees out of the country, contributing to a sharp drop in the number of North Koreans reaching South Korea in the past year.
The number of refugees has never been particularly large, since most North Koreans are so impoverished they find it all but impossible to raise the money to attempt an escape. But the tightening of controls at the Chinese border led to a fall of about 44 percent from the previous year in the number of refugees reaching South Korea in 2012. The total was 1,509, according to South Korean government data.
Despite the relatively small number, the flow of North Koreans defecting to South Korea to escape poverty and oppression has long been a major embarrassment for the North. Lately, the Chinese also appear to have tightened their control at the river border to help protect their client government. “The crackdowns in China and North Korea came in tandem,” said Mr. Kim, who manages a network of activists and smugglers from his Caleb Mission church in Cheonan, a city about 60 miles south of Seoul. “It’s become more difficult for my people to operate in North Korea and China.”
A devastating famine in the 1990s caused many North Koreans to flee, and the number of refugees peaked at 2,917 in 2009. Today, about 24,000 people who escaped from North Korea live in South Korea.
In the last years of his rule, Kim Jong-il, the previous dictator and the current ruler’s father, added more checkpoints on the roads to the Chinese border, according to South Korean activists and researchers. North Korea built more barriers along the border and rotated patrols more frequently to discourage corruption.
Under Kim Jong-un, who took over a year ago after his father’s death, border controls have tightened further, officials and activists say. The government began to jam the Chinese cellphone signals that activists relied on to coordinate their smuggling operations with collaborators in the North. North Korea also deployed equipment to trace cellphone signals.
“That significantly narrowed the window for cross-border cellphone conversations,” said Kim Hee-tae, a leader of the International Network of North Korea Human Rights Activists. His group raises money from churches; until last year it typically arranged for 180 to 190 North Korean refugees annually to escape to the South. But this past year, he said, his organization managed to bring in only about 100 people.
“Even after the bribes are paid, there is no guarantee of success,” said Do Hee-youn, head of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. “We have recently seen cases where border guards were not punished for having taken bribes when they turned over the refugees.” Adding to the difficulty, some of the missionaries and brokers involved in the smuggling were rounded up by the Chinese police.
“It just became impossible to use public transportation in China because these days you cannot buy a train or bus ticket without a proper ID, which the North Koreans don’t have,” said the Rev. Chun Ki-won, another veteran human rights activist, who runs the Durihana Mission, a Christian group based in Seoul.
But for all the tighter controls imposed by the North Koreans and Chinese, there are still ways of slipping through the cracks.
Landing a border assignment is seen by many North Korean soldiers as a chance to make a fortune by collecting bribes from smugglers. The police in North Korea sometimes protect families with relatives in the South so they can take a cut from cash remittances from the South.
North Koreans have also developed an appetite for outside news and entertainment. “If early defectors fled North Korea for sheer ‘survival,’ an increasing number of North Koreans reaching South Korea flee for ‘a better life’ than they had in the North,” Kim Soo-am, an expert on North Korean refugees at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, recently wrote.
A group of 15 North Koreans that the Caleb Mission team in Cheonan had smuggled out in early December included a striking example of one such defector: a 29-year-old woman who yearned to become a television celebrity. “She had watched so many South Korean soap operas that she developed an illusion about life in South Korea,” Mr. Kim said, pointing out a particularly well-dressed woman in a photograph of the 15 North Koreans. “When we smuggled her out of North Korea, she was already wearing nothing but South Korean-made clothes.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 5, 2013
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article gave the incorrect time period for a devastating famine in North Korea. The famine happened in the 1990s, not in 2009.
Syria rebels' arms supplies and finances drying up despite western pledges
With no sign of the west relaxing its ban on arming opposition forces, rebels are forced to focus on a gradual war of attrition
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 17.22 GMT
Despite widespread pledges of support from western and Arab states, the main Syrian opposition coalition says it has still not seen any significant increase in funding or arms supplies.
Members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed in November, say that there is still no sign of western capitals relaxing their ban on delivering weapons to the rebels and even Gulf Arab governments, which helped arm opposition groups last year, are supplying less each week.
"The supplies are drying up. It is still Syrian expats – individuals – who are providing the funding by and large," said a Syrian businessman who has helped fund the opposition since the uprising began 22 months ago.
As a result, he said, the fragmented rebel forces have given up hopes of a sweep through the country and are focusing instead on a gradual war of attrition: besieging isolated government military bases to stop the regime using planes and helicopters against them and ultimately to capture weapons, to compensate for the meagre supplies from abroad.
Opposition groups claim to be close to overrunning a regime helicopter base near the northern town of Taftanaz, in Idlib province, posting a video online purporting to show a captured tank firing at government armoured vehicles and helicopters inside the perimeter walls of the base.
"The battles now are at the gates of the airport," Fadi al-Yassin, an activist based in Idlib told the Associated Press, adding that the base commander, a brigadier general, had been killed in the fighting on Thursday.
Yassin said that it had become very difficult for the regime helicopters to take off and land at the base, but warplanes from airfields further south, in the central province of Hama and the coastal region of Latakia, were bombarding rebel fighters besieging Taftanaz.
President Bashar al-Assad's government also claimed to be advancing in Daraya, a Damascus suburb close to another military air base and some government headquarters.
As it has become increasingly clear that large-scale external assistance is unlikely to materialise, the many locally-based rebel groups have found ways of sustaining themselves militarily and financially, but have largely given up hoping for a sudden breakthrough.
"What you are going to see is one or two air bases beginning to fall, particularly in the north, in Aleppo and Idlib," the opposition financier said. "But there is a law of diminishing returns. As these bases are encircled there is less bounty in each one as the government has been moving out assets when it becomes clear the bases are going to fall."
In November, the rebels succeeded in bringing down some government aircraft with shoulder-launched missiles captured in a regime base, but Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch said sightings of such missiles had faded in recent weeks. "There was a spike late last year, but there have been no signs of any more since that capture, and there is no evidence we have seen of foreign-supplied missiles," he said.
Over the past two months, the US, UK and France as well as other European states and the Gulf monarchies have declared the newly formed national coalition "the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people", in what they hoped would be a turning point in bringing some cohesion to the deeply divided opposition and in forging links between those in exile and rebel commanders inside Syria.
Such links have continued to be elusive, however, and the new coalition and its backers are blaming each other, in rows reminiscent of the problems that dogged its forerunner, the Syrian National Council.
Western governments have made disbursements of aid dependent on proven control over rebel forces in Syria and credible assurances that the assistance would not further the aims of extremist Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, declared a terrorist organisation by the US. Opposition leaders complain that without significant aid they have little hope of rallying support or exerting any control over the chaotic anti-Assad effort.
"We don't even money for airplane tickets," one complained.
"It is little unfair of the international community and particular the French to bestow this title [of sole legitimate representative] on the coalition and not follow through," said Salman Shaikh, of the Brookings Institution's Doha centre thinktank, which played a role in bringing together disparate Syrian activist and opposition groups last year. "If they cannot provide for people in the north, which I suspect will come under full opposition control this year, then the people on the ground will question what is the point. And what you will get is just more factionalism."
He added: "I see a very dark period ahead of us, with a total breakdown like Iraq in 2006, with sectarianism on a scale we have not yet seen in Syria."
Mustafa Alani, the director of the national security and terrorism studies department at the Gulf Research Centre, said: "The people fighting on the streets are not controlled by people outside. They feel they can topple the regime without any help. They feel they are able to self-finance and self-arm and they can survive.
"Their focus has shifted. Their strategy is not to try to hold villages and towns so much, but to concentrate on air bases, to stop the aircraft flying and to build up pressure in Damascus. That is where the war will be decided."
January 4, 2013
Rebellion at Stalemate, Waiting for Undecided Syrians to Make a Move
By ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — At his government office in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the civil servant avoids discussing what Syrians call “the situation.” But he quietly ponders his own private endgame, toying with defecting to the rebels, yet clinging to his post, increasingly sure there are no fighters worth joining.
A multilingual former military officer, he says he is among many friends and colleagues who feel trapped: disenchanted with President Bashar al-Assad, disgusted by the violence engulfing Syria and equally afraid of the government and the rebels, with both sides, as he puts it, ready to sacrifice “the innocents.”
Mr. Assad remains in power in part because two years into the uprising, a critical bloc of Syrians remains on the fence. Among them are business owners who drive the economy, bankers who finance it, and the security officials and government employees who hold the keys to the mundane but crucial business of maintaining an authoritarian state. If they abandoned the government or embraced the rebels en masse, they might change the tide. Instead, their uncertainty contributes to the stalemate.
The Egyptian and Tunisian rebellions that inspired Syria’s initially peaceful uprising reached tipping points within weeks, with far less bloodshed. In those cases, widespread desire for change overwhelmed the fear of the unknown, and toppled governments — or rather, the dictatorial cliques that headed them. But in Syria, each side has bloodied the other while many stay on the sidelines, and a core contingent of supporters feels obligated to stick with the government even as their doubts grow. That is in part because the government’s ruthless crackdown has made protest far more risky than in other uprisings. But it is also because of doubts, among the urban elite and others, about the direction of the revolution and how a rebel-ruled Syria would look.
“Me and my neighbors, we were the first to go down to the street and scream that we want a country, a real country, not a plantation,” said Samar Haddad, who runs a Syrian publishing house. “But this armed revolution, I refuse it as much as I refuse the regime.”
Ms. Haddad, who is in her late 40s and now spends much of her time outside Damascus, said that she and her circle of intellectuals and professionals embrace unarmed Syrian protesters as heroes, but believe that the armed rebellion is creating warlords and cycles of revenge that will be hard to uproot.
The fence sitters include government employees, security forces, intellectuals and wealthy Syrians. Some, including members of Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, say they fear the rule of Islamists, or the calls for vengeance from some factions of the Sunni Muslim-dominated uprising.
Some are former soldiers who say they defected only to be disappointed by rebels who lack discipline or obsess about religious ideology. One young man, Nour, said he gave up on revolution when he tried to join an Islamist brigade, Al Tawhid, but was rejected for wearing skinny jeans.
Others, like the Damascus civil servant, a Sunni, simply fear a post-Assad vacuum and are confused about the safest course for their families and the country.
Fewer and fewer Syrians appear to believe the government can restore order; the fraying of the country has become hard to miss. This has resulted in countless private debates over how to survive — amid growing alarm that without a political settlement or intervention, endless fighting will gut the Syrian state.
For those who support neither Mr. Assad nor his opponents, life has become a fearful wait.
In Damascus, little gets done in offices that tremble with explosions and empty out by dusk. Government salaries are still paid, the civil servant said, but fewer workers show up. Ms. Haddad said her publishing employees still come to work, in what has become an act of defiance to show that life goes on.
Many people express a wish for a political solution — perhaps a transitional government involving moderate government officials — but believe that decisions are being made by armed men on both sides who refuse to compromise.
“Both sides have the same mind,” said Abu Tony, a shopkeeper in central Damascus who favors a compromise and gave only a nickname for safety reasons.
“This is not life,” he said, “to spend half of the day without electricity, without heating oil and without even bread just because the two sides refuse to give up some of their demands.”
Ms. Haddad said she and like-minded friends were trying quietly to build civil society. But she said: “We feel depressed, useless, helpless. We are not the decision makers.”
Even as some Alawites grow frustrated with Mr. Assad — believing he has poisoned their future in Syria — many believe there is no safe place for them on the other side. In part for this reason, there have not been mass defections by senior Alawite military officers.
But even Sunni soldiers under strong pressure to defect sometimes feel that “we can’t offer them much,” said one rebel commander based in the northern province of Idlib.
He said many were in touch with colleagues who defected earlier, who recount months without salaries, and the humiliation of former colonels commanded by junior fighters with swollen egos.
One such disappointed defector is Nour, who said he served in the feared Fourth Division commanded by Mr. Assad’s brother Maher. He said he defected after security forces raped and killed his fiancée and many friends begged him to join the rebels.
But he was let down, first by fighters who drank and took drugs and offered him money for sexual acts; then by Al Tawhid Brigade, whose fighters, he said, taunted him, saying “You want to join us and you’re wearing skinny trousers?” He said he had decided to stay in Turkey and avoid both sides in the conflict.
The Damascus civil servant and would-be defector — who has talked for months about defecting, first to rebels from his hometown and then to a reporter — said he hesitates over many questions about the rebels and their plans: “Are the people aware enough? Can they practice self-control? Can the rebels set up a security zone?”
“Many questions need answers,” he said.
The government, he added, long ago stopped forcing him to attend pro-Assad demonstrations, but rebel supporters call him a traitor for asking questions.
“Why should I join a group where I am obliged to curtsy?”
An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut.
January 4, 2013
Rally Signals Fatah’s Rift With Hamas May Ease
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Turning the streets of Gaza City into a swarm of sunshine-yellow flags, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians celebrated the anniversary of the Fatah faction on Friday in the heartland of its militant Islamist rival, Hamas, the latest in a series of signals heralding possible reconciliation between the parties after their bitter five-year rift.
The rally, which came on the heels of a Hamas celebration last month in the Fatah-dominated West Bank, added momentum to what Palestinian leaders consider their twin victories in November: Hamas’s firing rockets into Israeli population centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and Palestine’s upgrade to nonmember observer state status at the United Nations.
Though it is unclear if the two sides will ultimately overcome real differences, the show of unity creates a diplomatic quandary for the United States, which has urged Israel to return to negotiations with the Palestinians, but has pushed to exclude Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization.
Nabil A. Shaath, a Fatah leader who organized Friday’s event, and Taher al-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman, each said in separate interviews on Friday evening that they expected reconciliation talks to begin under the auspices of the Egyptians within two weeks. President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt invited President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to Cairo, Mr. Shaath said, where he is expected to meet with the Hamas political chief, Khaled Meshal.
“The climate is excellent for reconciliation,” Mr. Shaath said. “I don’t think there are any more organizational issues to be settled; what is needed is to sit down and write a political program. Cairo remains the best chaperon for this.”
Friday’s huge rally, the first Fatah anniversary celebration in Gaza since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, was unimaginable even six weeks ago. Though more than 170 Gazans were killed and dozens of buildings destroyed during the intense eight-day conflict with Israel, and the United Nations upgrade is largely symbolic, the two events seem to have strengthened both Hamas and Fatah in the eyes of the Palestinian public.
A mid-December poll by the Palestinian Center for Survey Research showed Mr. Abbas’s approval rating at 54 percent, up from 46 percent in September after a year of free-fall. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, got an even bigger boost, to 56 percent from 35 percent, and for the first time, the poll showed Mr. Haniya would beat Mr. Abbas in a head-to-head presidential election.
Positive evaluations of the conditions in both Gaza and the West Bank also rose significantly, and 39 percent said they expected unity between the two areas to soon be restored, nearly triple the portion who said so three months before. Granting permission for rivals to hold rallies is one thing, analysts said, but compromising on core principles and actually sharing power quite another. Recent public statements by Mr. Abbas, Mr. Haniya and Mr. Meshal show great gulfs remain regarding how to deal with Israel, among other things, and Palestinian political experts said they were not as confident as people in the street that such differences would be quickly worked out.
“Neither side is willing to be seen as responsible for the continuation of disunity, so they give lip service to reconciliation, but they realize fully that reconciliation at this point is not on the agenda,” said Khalil Shikaki, who heads the Ramallah-based center for survey research. “Reconciliation now means it will come at a price for one of the two, and neither side is willing to pay the price at the moment.”
Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City, said relations between the parties have clearly improved since the Gaza conflict, but he called the rallies, telephone calls between leaders and exchange of political prisoners “confidence-building measures,” not substantive progress. He and others noted that the factions have signed no fewer than four peace pacts in the past five years, none of which have been fulfilled, and that those agreements call for establishing a national unity government, holding presidential and parliamentary elections and reconstituting the Palestine Liberation Organization to include Hamas, among other things.
“What we see now is some kind of moral reconciliation,” Professor Abusada said. “Hamas and Fatah are no longer inciting against each other, Hamas and Fatah are no longer accusing each other, but the big issues have not been tackled yet.”
Israel and the United States have expressed deep concerns about the prospect of reconciliation, particularly now that an emboldened Gaza leadership feels it has the upper hand. Twice in the last few days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has warned in public comments that Hamas could “take over” the Palestinian Authority. Last month, after Mr. Meshal promised at his own huge Gaza rally to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea,” Mr. Netanyahu condemned Mr. Abbas for considering a full partnership with him.
On Friday, Mr. Abbas, who has not stepped foot in Gaza since 2007, appeared via video feed from Ramallah calling for reconciliation.
“Soon we will achieve unity and end the occupation, raising the Palestinian flag over Al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem,” he told the large crowd, according to the Ma’an news agency. “Our whole lives under occupation and siege, our eyes are now fixed on Jerusalem and we must all take this opportunity to combine our efforts, hearts, and our determination to save Jerusalem, our capital.”
The president was the only official to address the rally, organizers said, with other speeches as well as a much-anticipated dance program canceled because of the surprise turnout. Health officials in Gaza said 50 people were injured, three seriously, in falls from high perches, electrical accidents, and near-suffocations.
“It was so noisy and the sound system was not really coping,” Mr. Shaath said afterward. “I have a Ph.D. in management, but I have absolutely no experience in management of one million people in celebration.”
Crowd estimates ranged from 300,000 to 1.2 million, in any case a large portion of Gaza’s 1.7 million people. Many may not have been active supporters of Fatah, but people who wanted to show unity or simply watch the spectacle. Thousands, including lots of families, spent Thursday night in Saraya Square to ensure themselves a spot, and by dusk on Friday, the throngs had not fully dispersed. After a mass prayer at noon, witnesses said, most of the hours were spent singing revolutionary songs from Fatah’s early days and waving flags.
“We came from the early morning, it’s like a holiday,” said a 23-year-old woman from Beit Hanoun, in the north of the strip, who gave only her first name, Amani. “We are coming today because we have been oppressed for five years. We wish that this will be the first step of unity.”
Abeer Ayyoub contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Fares Akram from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Wire service reports also contributed.
January 4, 2013
Former Israeli Security Chief Calls Netanyahu a Poor Leader
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — In a harsh interview published on Friday, less than three weeks before Israel’s national elections, a former head of the internal security service accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of placing his “personal, opportunistic and current interests” over those of the state when making crucial policy decisions regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the Palestinian conflict and other matters.
Yuval Diskin, who resigned 18 months ago as head of the security service, known as the Shin Bet, said other prime ministers he had worked closely with — both conservative and liberal — “came from this place in which the interests of the state stand above all else,” in contrast to Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak. Mr. Diskin made headlines last spring with public comments accusing the two men of “messianic” leadership and of “misleading the public” regarding the likely effectiveness of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and in the interview published on Friday — conducted by Dror Moreh, director of a new documentary featuring Mr. Diskin and five other former Shin Bet directors — he expands the critique.
“When I look at Netanyahu, I don’t see a shred of personal example as a leader in him,” Mr. Diskin said in the interview, which ran more than 5,000 words in the weekend edition of Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s leading newspaper. “There is a leadership crisis. It’s a crisis of value, it is total disregard for the public. People may think that I see this in an overly extreme manner. I am telling you that from up close, things look even worse.”
The prime minister’s office issued a statement calling Mr. Diskin’s accusations “groundless,” and “motivated by his personal frustration” that Mr. Netanyahu did not choose him to head the Mossad, Israel’s international intelligence agency. The statement also said the critique was being “recycled for political reasons.” Mr. Barak’s office called the claims “astonishing, both in content and in their timing,” given elections scheduled for Jan. 22.
In the interview, Mr. Diskin recounts a particular high-level meeting on Iran in which Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Avigdor Lieberman, then the foreign minister, smoked cigars during the discussion. Mr. Diskin describes the scene as “a kind of total disregard for all the people.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Mr. Diskin said Mr. Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for “two states for two peoples” amounted to empty words that were “meant to sound good to the international community.” He said impasse was in fact the prime minister’s main goal because “Netanyahu fears ideologically taking a step toward the two-state solution and furthermore, he is not built for this by nature, he cannot make decisions of the magnitude made by” his predecessors. He further accused Mr. Netanyahu of weakening President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate whose Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank, and strengthening the militant Hamas faction, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Speaking of his own children, Mr. Diskin said, “When I see the current leadership, I am worried about what we’ll leave for them.”
January 4, 2013
Leaders of Sudan and South Sudan in Ethiopia for Talks
By ISMA’IL KUSHKUSH
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan, two nations that have been locked in a tense dispute over borders, territory and oil since the south split off and became its own country 18 months ago, arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Friday for a summit meeting intended to speed up an agreement signed between both sides last September.
Both presidents were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon, but a report by a Sudanese television channel said the summit meeting was postponed, without giving a reason.
The official Sudanese News Agency reported on Friday that a closed meeting was held between President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Thabo Mbeki, chairman of the African Union panel facilitating the talks.
The meeting was to be followed by a similar closed meeting with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, the news agency said.
In a statement on Thursday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations welcomed the talks.
“The secretary general encourages both presidents to address decisively all outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan regarding security, border demarcation and the final status of the Abyei Area, to urgently activate agreed border security mechanisms, and implement all other agreements signed on 27 September 2012,” the statement by Mr. Ban’s office read.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — along with the Norwegian foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague — issued a joint statement in support of the talks emphasizing the “full implementation of all agreements on their own terms and without preconditions or linkages between them, will help build confidence and benefit the people of the two countries.”
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011, but a number of issues between both states, including how to share oil wealth, the demarcation of borders and the disputed district of Abyei, remained unresolved.
In January 2011, South Sudan shut down oil production, which flows from oil wells in the south through pipelines and a refinery for export in the north. Both countries nearly came to all out war in April 2012 after the south took brief control of the border town of Heglig in the north.
Under international pressure and the threat of United Nations sanctions, however, both sides signed an agreement in Addis Ababa in September 2012 outlining solutions for unsettled issues.
Carrying out the agreement, however, has gone slowly, with Sudan putting a precondition that South Sudan first end its support for rebels inside Sudanese territory, an accusation South Sudan denies.
The rebels are active in the Sudanese states of Blue Nile state and South Kordofan, which border South Sudan. The rebels also fought alongside the South.
South Sudan accuses Khartoum of carrying out areal bombardments along the border, the last being on Thursday, a day before the scheduled summit meeting.
Faisal Muhammad Salih, a Sudanese columnist, believes that despite what appeared to be a lack of political will and the existence of what he described as “extremists on both sides” who want to derail the implementation of the cooperation agreement, a compromise will be reached at the summit meeting.
“Thabo Mbeki was able to convince the U.N. Security Council to give him more time,” he said. “But if his patience runs out, and the issue returns to the Security Council, that means sanctions for both countries.”
“So I think we will see concessions,” he added.
Ulster loyalists plan Dublin demonstration over union flag
Decision to protest in Irish capital raises fears of violence after riot six years ago
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 17.56 GMT
Ulster loyalists are planning to demonstrate in Dublin over the decision to restrict the flying of the union flag 100 miles away in Belfast. The decision to protest in the Irish capital next weekend will raise fears of a repeat of the Love Ulster march in Dublin six years ago, which degenerated into a major riot in the city.
The loyalist victims' campaigner Willie Frazer has confirmed that he has informed the Garda Síochána that he and his followers will hold a peaceful protest in Dublin next Saturday. Frazer was one of the organisers of the Love Ulster demonstration, which marched to the Dáil but triggered rioting and disorder across central Dublin.
The last demonstration by loyalists in Dublin resulted in rioting throughout the city centre with shops looted and Garda officers being attacked with petrol bombs and missiles along the city's main thoroughfare in O'Connell Street.
Loyalists are also planning to picket the Irish consulate in Edinburgh as part of co-ordinated protests next weekend even though the Dublin government played no role in the decision to restrict the flying of the union flag in Belfast.
Many of the protests organised against Belfast city council's decision to limit the number of days the union flag is flown at city hall have turned violent with more than 30 police officers injured in disorder since 10 December.
The SDLP has called on the Police Service of Northern Ireland to take more firm action against loyalist rioters involved in the violence.
A former British Lions rugby star and leading Conservative in Northern Ireland accused the flag protestors of harming the union. Trevor Ringland condemned those involved in the ongoing disorder.
"This disorder and violence against the police is simple thuggery and it will achieve absolutely nothing. Indeed the whole protest movement, if it has any effect at all, is likely to undermine support for the union," Ringland said.
Meanwhile several roads in Belfast and nearby Carrickfergus have been blocked as protests continue over the flags issue.
Ten police officers were injured during loyalist rioting in east Belfast on Thursday night which the PSNI described as "despicable" and well planned.
A man and a 16-year-old boy were arrested and charged with rioting.
Christopher Shires, 23, of Beechfield Street in the city, appeared before Belfast magistrates court on Friday and was remanded in custody. The teenager is due to appear at Belfast youth court on 28 January.
Cameron's insistence on EU budget cut counterproductive, says Irish MP
Leader of Irish opposition says EU should introduce US-style fiscal stimulus plan across Europe to end eurozone crisis
Henry McDonald in Dublin
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 January 2013 18.26 GMT
David Cameron's insistence on cutting the European Union budget will endanger any fiscal stimulus to save Europe's economy, the leader of Ireland's opposition has warned.
Micheál Martin, currently the most popular politician in the Republic, described the UK prime minister's demand for a 1% cut in EU spending as counterproductive.
Instead the EU should introduce an Obama-style fiscal stimulus plan across Europe to help end the eurozone crisis, said Martin, whose Fianna Fáil party has recovered in the opinion polls from its historical electoral drubbing in 2011.
"The European leadership is letting us down because we do need stimulus," he said. "Solving the eurozone crisis is not just about correcting the public finances. Ireland does not have the capacity to create a strong stimulus so it needs to be European-wide. Yet, what is the big debate in Europe at the moment? 'How can we cut 1% off the EU budget?' Britain wants to cut the budget but yet that makes no sense."
He added: "You cannot say it's austerity all the way and it's cuts, cuts, cuts. Europe actually has the capacity to have stimulus. The EU for example is wealthier than the United States but the European Union leaders have not taken this on board. The drive for a 1% cut would hurt everyone in Europe because that would mean no meaningful fiscal stimulus would come from the EU, which is what is needed.
"It's worth remembering that the EU budget in its entirety is only 1% of all European income. Which is tiny compared to the US where the federal budget is around 20% of the economy and over there the federal government has and does help up states that are in trouble. That's part of the contract in the US, it's part of its national contract."
The last opinion poll in Ireland gave Fianna Fáil 20% while Martin was the most popular political leader in the state. This turnaround in fortunes has been surprising given the party's hammering in the 2011 general election when it lost power after ruling for 14 years and sustained a historic loss of seats.
After licking its wounds and returning to the Dail with just 20 seats, the party founded by Eamon de Valera found inspiration from an unlikely source – the British Conservative party, Martin said. Fianna Fáil even consulted with the historian Tim Bale who advised David Cameron on rebranding the Tories following a series of electoral defeats.
"Tim Bale told us about the journey the Conservative party went through from equally devastating electoral defeats they had," he said. "The immediate issue for the Conservatives was, by all analyses, that they didn't get it. They did not get the scale of the defeat. They did not get the message the people were sending them, the Conservatives simply thought their vote just went away for a short time.
"I would like to think that from relatively early on that we as a party generally got it. We got and understood the message from the electorate. Listening to what happened to the Tories has been a big help and we have learned, relatively quickly, to listen," he said.
Aside from the Celtic Tiger's collapse and the loss of economic sovereignty when Ireland was bailed out by the IMF and the European Central Bank, Fianna Fáil lost the faith of an electorate who perceived the party as too close to a nexus of bankers, speculators, builders and other corporate interests. Martin insisted however that the party had changed the way it was funded and was becoming once more a grassroots national organisation.
"Fine Gael [the main party currently in government] are no slouches when it comes to gaining corporation donations. When they were in government between 1994 and 1997 they used corporate donors to erase about €1m of party debt. But perception can be as important as reality in politics. So in the run up to the general election Fine Gael told all its candidates to keep saying 'Fianna Fáil, bankers, debt …' and it clearly worked. We have now banned corporate donations and concentrate on raising finances through a national draw."
Martin said he did not fear being eclipsed as the main opposition party by Sinn Fein, some of whose Dáil deputies outshine Fianna Fáil ones in debates inside the Irish parliament.
"They have no constructive, alternative policies. They are simply engaged in oppositional politics not realistic policies for governing the country," he added.
Democracy: Wooing Europe’s masses
4 January 2013
Project Syndicate Prague
Ahead of the 2014 European Parliament elections, the EU could learn much from the recent US presidential vote regarding how to engage with its citizens, gain legitimacy and achieve a louder voice on the international stage.
The European Union has a long track record as a global beacon of peace, prosperity, and success in fields ranging from culture and science to sport. And yet Europe has attracted more global attention in the last two years than it did in the previous six decades, as its debt crisis – exacerbated by a sputtering economy and internal disagreements – makes headlines worldwide. After all, controversy sells. But the public debate that this controversy has fuelled has not been entirely constructive.
Nearly six decades after the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community, the debates taking place throughout the EU continue to be conducted largely by national actors in national forums – and with a view to national interests. To make genuine progress, clearly defined European interests must replace national interests in determining the EU’s development.
Defining these interests will require a serious, honest, pan-European debate – one that is more than the sum of national debates. The discussion must be public, engaging European citizens, rather than just the small circle of policymakers that comprises the European Council.
The absence of a European public sphere presents an obstacle to such a discussion. The existing common European space – composed of media outlets like the Financial Times and The Economist, and Europe-wide conferences, NGO networks, and exchange programs like Erasmus – engages only wealthy, cosmopolitan European elites. While social media could offer an opening for creating a more inclusive European public sphere, at least for English-speaking citizens, this will take some more time.
A chance to initiate debate
In the meantime, Europeans should view the run-up to the 2014 European Parliament elections as an opportunity to initiate a genuine public debate about their future. They should start by emulating successful public discourse elsewhere, such as in the United States.
To be sure, the recent US presidential election was messy, populist, and corrupted by corporate interests. But it also exemplified a dynamic debate between competing visions of America’s future: a more egalitarian country that assumes a constructive global role, or an outwardly aggressive America that is of and for its wealthiest citizens. Billions of people worldwide followed the candidates’engaging – and often theatrical – debates; they did not need a vote to feel invested in the discussion.
In the next 20 months, the most effective features of the US election campaign should be merged with Europe’s electoral tradition. The first step toward an inclusive, compelling debate about Europe’s future is to ensure that the 2014 elections actually determine which political party or coalition fills government positions, including the executive – as should be the case in a parliamentary democracy.
As it stands, only the European Parliament is directly elected. But it is the European Council, which comprises national politicians, that proposes the EU executive – the European Commission President and its commissioners – on which the parliament then votes. Because these positions are filled without regard for the electoral outcome, citizens do not value European Parliament elections, viewing the entire institution as little more than a jobs programme for politicians and their coterie.
Searching for a common platform
To improve this structure without treaty changes, Europe’s political-party families, beginning with the largest and most influential, should deliver on their promise to nominate their own candidates for European Commission President. The frontrunners must then conduct real political campaigns, which their parties design, manage, and finance by pooling existing European and national party resources.
Such pan-European election campaigns would force kindred political parties to develop and win support for a common platform. For example, social democrats could promote a European minimum wage; Greens could advocate for a Europe-wide energy policy that does not rely on nuclear power; and conservatives might champion lower taxes across Europe.
In addition, a forum for pan-European debate must be created. This should entail, first and foremost, broadcasting formal debates between the leading candidates across Europe – the model being the Eurovision Song Contest and the Champions League in football.
In short, if the EU presents itself as a functioning political system in its own right, with solid democratic structures and processes, it will gain the attention and esteem of its citizens and the rest of the world, leading to increased popular participation at home and greater soft power abroad. Channeling controversy into productive discussion –rather than simply making headlines –is crucial to bolstering democratic processes and addressing urgent problems.
The euro crisis threatens the EU’s very existence. But it also provides an opportunity to broaden the crucial debate about Europe’s future –a debate that will work only in the context of a genuinely European parliamentary democracy.
Greece: Lagarde List sparks inter-party feuding
3 January 2013
To Ethnos, To Vima
“War over the list” headlines To Ethnos. Former finance minister, Giorgos Papakonstantinou, who is accused of excising the names of his close family from the "Lagarde List" of Swiss bank account holders, will shortly face a parliamentary inquiry. However, the investigation will not be enough to satisfy the members of the radical left coalition Syriza, which is publicly accusing another former finance minister and the current leader of the Pasok socialist party, Evangelos Venizelos, of attempting to hide the list.
For Ta Nea, the “polarisation of the parties” could blow apart a number of political movements: in particular Pasok, which has been extensively implicated in the scandal, and whose approval rating plunged from 49 per cent to 7 per cent between the 2009 and 2012 elections. “The party which supports the government is waiting for backing from the prime minister,” notes the daily.
However, the rules of “political procedures will require investigation of political figures” implicated by the list. To Vima remarks —
The affair has highlighted the mores of those in power and revealed the attitudes that prevail in the management of scandals. For many observers, the affair has drawn attention to the basic political problem of this country, which is the arbitrary status of politicians and the protection of the powerful. Having said that, it is extremely important that criminal or civil cases be conducted without paralysing the government or diverting it from its principal mission, which is the stabilisation of the economy and the resumption of development. The government and all of the political parties must protect the climate of economic stabilisation. However, this does not mean they should not be extensively questioned on all aspects of the political scandal that has been prompted by the Lagarde List.
Greece: Why I published the Lagarde List
31 October 2012
The Guardian London
In 2010, the so-called “Lagarde List”, which names more 2,000 Greek tax evaders, was handed over to the Greek government. But nothing was done. Kostas Vaxevanis, editor in chief of Hot Doc, was recently arrested for publishing it. For him, it’s a symptom of Greece's corruption.
"The more laws a country has, the more corrupt it is," the Roman historian Tacitus used to say. Greece has quite a few laws. So many, in fact, that corruption can feel quite safe. An exclusive club of powerful people engages in illegal practices, then pushes through necessary laws to legalise these practices, granting itself an amnesty, and in the end, there are no media to uncover what really happened.
As I write, the adventures of an independent magazine in Greece, Hot Doc, which I edit, are being discussed worldwide. Our publication of a list of alleged Swiss bank account holders, and my subsequent arrest, has provoked a storm. But not in the Greek media. A few months ago, Reuters and the British press uncovered scandals involving Greek banks. The Greek media didn't write anything then either. The space that should have been granted to reports about these scandals was occupied by paid advertisements sponsored by the very people who caused the Greek banks to go under.
The "Lagarde" case in Greece is merely an extreme expression of this situation. In 2010, Lagarde handed to the then minister of finance, George Papaconstantinou, a list of Greeks who held bank accounts abroad. Some of this was "black money" – money that may not have been taxed or needed to be laundered. In a convuloted train of events, Papaconstantinou admitted to losing the original data, but was able to pass another copy to his successor Evangelos Venizelos, who eventually admitted to having held it but has failed to produce it so far. The list has still never been properly investigated.
For the past two years, the issue of naming people who are assumed to hold bank accounts in Switzerland has poisoned political life in Greece, with political and financial blackmail taking place in the dark rooms of corrupt power. It's in this context that Hot Doc published 2,059 names of Greeks alleged to have Swiss bank accounts, without specifying the amount of their deposits or any other personal information.
And then, with utmost hypocrisy the powers that be remembered what they were about. The Athens prosecutor made a move ex officio and ordered my immediate arrest. The law on personal data was invoked as a basis for indictment. In reality, though, there was no personal data involved – only the fact that certain individuals held an account in a certain bank. We did not even allege that these individuals were guilty, only called for an investigation.
Background: A trial with a political dimension?
Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested and released on October 28, the day after his magazine published more than 2,000 names of people who had money deposited in the HSBC bank in Switzerland. The names were on the so-called Lagarde List, named for the former French Minister of Economy who handed the document to the Greek authorities in 2010 on a CD.
The editor-in-chief of Hot Doc appeared in court in Athens on 29 October, charged with breaking the law on publication of private data, but the trial was put off until November 1. His lawyers have said they will attempt to demonstrate the political dimension of the case. According to Athens daily Kathimerini, the postponement should also allow some of the persons named in the list to be summonsed as witnesses at the hearing.
01/04/2013 06:18 PM
Media Report: North Korea Enlists German Help to Prepare Economic Opening
Pyongyang may be preparing to open up its economy. A report in a prominent newspaper claims the regime has enlisted the aid of German economic and legal experts to lay the groundwork for foreign investment in North Korean companies. The move could be made as soon as this year.
On New Year's Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for a "radical" economic renewal for his country and an end to decades of conflict with South Korea. Now, a German media report says he is moving quickly to fulfill at least the first pledge.
According to an article to be published on Saturday by the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the communist regime in Pyongyang is preparing to open up the country's economy to foreign investors. Moreover, it has enlisted the assistance of German economists and lawyers to lay the groundwork for the move.
"There is a master plan," one of the economists involved in the plan told the paper. "They want to open up this year." The FAZ did not identify the economist, but noted that he works at a respected German university and that he had advised other governments in Asia in the past.
The economist told the paper that the country is primarily interested in modernizing its laws relating to foreign investment. However, North Korea is not intending to follow the Chinese model, which called for the creation of special economic zones for foreign investors, the economist told the FAZ. "Rather, they are interested in the Vietnamese model, in which specific companies were chosen as recipients of investments," the source said.
Signs of Change
Such a move would be revolutionionary for North Korea , which has long been largely cut off from the rest of the world by virtue of its heavy-handed regime. The country's economy is in a shambles as a result. But since Kim Jong Un took over from his late father just over a year ago, there have been signs of change.
His New Year's address was the most obvious indication that he is prepared to embark on a path different from the one followed by his father, Kim Jong Il. Indeed, even holding such an address was a departure; it marked the first such speech by a North Korean leader since Kim Il Sung held the last one in 1994.
Furthermore, Kim was surprisingly open about the poor economic situation in which his country finds itself. He pledged renewal, indicating that it would largely be dependent on continued technological advancement. He also highlighted last month'srocket launch, saying it was a boost for "national self-esteem."
Still, even as the FAZ reports that there are many in the country's leadership who are in favor of opening up the country to investments from Japanese, South Korean and Western companies, the professor the paper cites notes that it is far from a done deal.
"The military in North Korea," he told the paper, "will not want to give up power." He added that it is by no means clear whether Kim's reform efforts will be able to overcome military resistance.