January 12, 2013
Rivals in Czech Presidential Runoff Support Warmer Ties With Europe
By DAN BILEFSKY
PARIS — An outspoken former prime minister and the current foreign minister will face each other in the Czech Republic’s presidential runoff in two weeks, according to the results of the first round of voting released Saturday.
The charismatic former prime minister, Milos Zeman, won 24.21 percent of the vote, giving him a narrow lead over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, an ardent supporter of the European Union and the United States, who got 23.4 percent.
This is the first direct popular vote for a head of state in the Czech Republic. Czechoslovakia split in 1993 to create the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The winner will succeed President Vaclav Klaus, a vociferous critic of the European Union who once compared the European bloc to a Communist state. He has dominated Czech politics for decades.
Both Mr. Zeman and Mr. Schwarzenberg are proponents of European integration, so the next president is expected to offer a decisive break with the outspoken anti-European statements of the Klaus era.
Direct elections were introduced, analysts said, because the previous system, in which the president was elected by Parliament, was deemed not transparent enough.
While the Czech presidency is largely a ceremonial post, it holds deep moral authority, and the president has the power to influence foreign policy as well as make appointments to the central bank. The president also approves the appointment of judges and can grant amnesty.
Many Czech voters have grown weary of politics after a spate of corruption scandals and have been struggling with a creeping sense of disillusionment that the revolution that overthrew Communism in 1989 has not delivered on its promises.
Mr. Zeman, 68, who led a minority government from 1998 to 2002, is a witty man of the people and an economist who analysts said would be a center-left president; the instincts of the pipe-smoking Mr. Schwarzenberg are considered more conservative.
If Mr. Zeman is elected, analysts said, it would be seen as a return to the past, since he has had a long career on the Czech political scene.
As foreign minister Mr. Schwarzenberg, 75, has been widely admired on the international stage. A member of the center-right coalition government, he is also chairman of the conservative TOP 09 party. He was a close friend of former President Vaclav Havel and served in his presidential office. Mr. Havel died in late 2011.
The departure of Mr. Klaus, 71, a fiery former economist who has served two five-year terms, will probably be met with relief in some quarters of Europe and the United States, where he has stirred controversy.
Beyond his trenchant criticism of the European Union, Mr. Klaus has described efforts to try to curb global warming as a folly and called former Vice President Al Gore an “apostle of arrogance” for championing those efforts.
Tomas Sedlacek, a leading economist and a former adviser to Mr. Havel, said that Mr. Klaus’s departure would help restore the country’s prestige. “The ending of the Klaus era is significant because he kept us on the fringes of Europe and in America by trying to shift us to the periphery of European integration,” Mr. Sedlacek said.
But others said they would miss Mr. Klaus’s steadfast resolve. “His strength is that his opinions have remained consistent for decades, and he is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom,” said Tomas Jirsa, a former vice chairman of a national conservative youth group.
The runoff is Jan. 25 and 26.
Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.
Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson join forces to fight Eurosceptics
Tory and Labour grandees to make joint plea as new group is set to urge close EU ties and fight growing isolationist tide
Daniel Boffey, policy editor
The Observer, Saturday 12 January 2013 21.10 GMT
Tory grandee Ken Clarke is joining forces with Labour peer Lord Mandelson in a historic cross-party bid to turn back the rising tide of Euroscepticism.
The two political heavyweights will share a platform to call for an abandonment of plans to disengage from the European project. Clarke, who attends cabinet as a minister without portfolio, is determined to fight back against the clamour for Britain to step back from the European Union or withdraw entirely.
Along with Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard, Clarke and Mandelson will spearhead a new organisation, the Centre for British Influence through Europe (CBIE), which will support a cross-party "patriotic fightback for British leadership in Europe". The organisation will hold its launch event at the end of the month.
Peter Wilding, director of the CBIE, and a former head of media for the Conservative party in the European parliament, told the Observer: "Both Mandelson and Rennard are closely involved in our policy and campaign strategy. Having them with Ken Clarke on one platform, we think, says something in itself about the need for grown-up, consensual politics on Europe.
"We would argue – and many in the Tory party would agree – that disengagement from Europe is profoundly contrary to Britain's national interests."
The group claims that Eurosceptic plans for repatriation of powers are not supported by practical methods to achieve the objectives, while many proposals could be achieved by negotiating with allies within the system rather than through demands for treaty change. They also warn that an aggressive approach to reform could provoke a damaging backlash from other EU member states.
The Clarke/Mandelson heavyweight alliance comes as an influential group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs privately plans to push the prime minister towards a more radical position on the EU.
A leaked copy of demands to be made to David Cameron by MPs from the Fresh Start group includes the call for the UK to unilaterally break its treaty obligations unless the prime minister achieves a fundamental renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU.
The prime minister is adding the finishing touches to a long-awaited speech on Britain's position in Europe, due this month in The Hague. He is expected to promise a referendum during the next parliament to approve a series of significant but limited changes in the UK's relationship with the EU.
The impending speech has prompted high-profile figures on both sides of the argument to stake out their ground. Lord Heseltine yesterday described Downing Street's position as "ill-advised".
The Fresh Start group, led by David Cameron's former press secretary George Eustice MP, will urge the prime minister in the coming days to seek a repatriation of a much more significant swath of powers along with fundamental changes to the way the EU works. They want to take back competences over social and employment laws; negotiate an "emergency brake" allowing the UK to veto future regulation of the financial services; an opt-out from policing and criminal justice measures; and abolition of the Strasbourg seat of the European parliament.
They will tell the prime minister: "The status quo in the European Union is no longer an option. If appropriate reforms cannot be negotiated, the UK should consider unilateral action that would involve breaking treaty obligations."
A letter is also being circulated in Westminster by Eustice and Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom calling for support from MPs, MEPs and peers for their Fresh Start Project Manifesto for Change and "a new relationship with the EU, based on trade and political co-operation". The group is holding a private meeting on Wednesday.
A separate group of Tory MPs, led by Bill Cash MP, who want a straight withdrawal from the EU, will also go public in an attempt to force the prime minister's hand.
Heseltine, a former president of the board of trade and now a government adviser on industrial strategy, spoke of his concerns about Cameron's plans to seek a renegotiation of EU treaties and to offer the public a referendum on the results: "To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn't begun, on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that's unknown, where Britain's appeal as an inward investment market would be the centre of debate, seem to me like an unnecessary gamble."
"There would be people who say I'm being disloyal to the Conservative party in saying these things. I'm being loyal to the self interest of this country".
Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI, writing on this newspaper's website, also urged caution. "To have influence the UK must be viewed as a committed partner today seeking to constructively create a better future for tomorrow," he said. "It is in no one's interest that the UK is persistently seen as a reluctant player constantly looking for the way out and not the way forward."
• An Opinium/Observer poll shows that while nearly half of the public (48%) would be more likely to support a party offering a referendum on Europe, an almost identical proportion (47%) think that successful renegotiation of Britain's ties to the EU by Cameron is unlikely. Respondents were evenly split on whether leaving the EU would have a significantly negative effect on the UK economy, with 34% agreeing, 33% disagreeing and 24% taking no position.
Voters believe Britain should leave EU if it cannot reclaim powers, poll reveals
Opinium/Observer poll: Labour maintains 10-point lead over Tories, while Ukip falls back and Lib Dems reach new low
Daniel Boffey, policy editor
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 12 January 2013 21.00 GMT
Over half of the British public believe that the UK should withdraw from the EU if David Cameron cannot negotiate a significant return of powers, a new poll reveals.
The Opinium/Observer survey found that 53% agreed that the UK should withdraw on that basis, while 19% disagreed.
A majority (57%) also believed that the UK's interests are fundamentally different to other member states. However, there was little optimism about the government's ability to renegotiate a return of powers while remaining a member of the single market.
Only 25% of people believed it was likely that the prime minister would be successful in taking powers back in areas such as employment, compared to 47% who said it was unlikely.
Labour voters were more likely to believe it would not happen (48%), but even Conservative voters were split on the ability of Cameron to achieve what is likely to become their party's policy, 37% deeming it likely and 39% unlikely.
There was also a strong feeling that people could support continued membership of the EU if it could be shown to have economic benefits. Two out of five (41%) agreed that being a member of the EU is a price worth paying if it benefits the economy, while 30% disagreed.
Even Conservative voters agreed with this statement with 41% agreeing, compared to half of Labour voters.
Meanwhile, Labour and the Conservatives both see gains in the first poll of 2013, while the Ukip surge may have peaked.
Labour are on 41%, the first time they have passed 40% since the end of October, while the Conservatives rise to 31% after over a month of being on 29%.
Nigel Farage's Ukip drop back to 12%, ending a recent surge but still putting them five points ahead of the
Lib Dems, who drop to 7%, the lowest figure Opinium have ever recorded for the party.
• Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 1,964 British adults aged 18+ from 8-11 January 2013. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.
January 12, 2013
Journalists in Greece Are Becoming Targets
By LIZ ALDERMAN
The Greek police on Saturday were looking for the people responsible for detonating makeshift bombs at the homes of five journalists in Athens, the latest in a series of actions taken against reporters in Greece that have raised questions about a deteriorating climate for media freedom.
An anarchist group calling itself Lovers of Lawlessness claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks, citing coverage of the financial crisis that the group denounced as sympathetic to the austerity programs being imposed by the Greek government and its foreign lenders.
The news media are the “main managers of the oppressing state designs, manipulating society accordingly,” the group said in a statement posted to the Internet.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the bombings, in which explosives tied to gas canisters caused minor damage at the homes of the editor of the Athens News Agency, Antonis Skylakos, and two broadcasters, Giorgos Oikonomeas and Antonis Liaros, from private television stations. Petros Karsiotis, a crime reporter, and Christos Konstas, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the government agency in charge of privatizing Greek assets, were also targeted. No injuries were reported.
“These attacks are the most visible expression of an increasingly dangerous climate for all journalists, who are being turned into the scapegoats of a crisis they are just analyzing,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Activism by far-left groups appears to be on the rise after a series of attacks and threats against journalists last year by Golden Dawn, the far-right neo-facist group.
On Thursday, about 50 men entered the private radio station Real FM and demanded that a recording be played expressing solidarity with hundreds of squatters evicted earlier from the Villa Amalia, a gathering point in central Athens for far-left groups and students.
“Yesterday they raided radio stations; today we have explosions at journalists’ homes,” said Simos Kedikoglou, the coalition government’s spokesman. “There is an open effort to terrorize the media, a vital part of our democracy.”
The Greek police have also increased their activity. Dimitris Trimis, the head of Greece’s Journalist’s Union, said the police on Saturday blocked journalists in Athens for several hours from covering the trial of people arrested at Villa Amalia. A police spokesman denied journalists were kept out.
In November, about 15 officers surrounded the home of a Greek magazine editor and arrested him hours after he published a list of more than 2,000 Greeks who were said to have accounts at a bank in Switzerland. Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of the magazine, HotDoc, was put on trial for privacy violation and quickly cleared by a judge, but faces a retrial after the prosecutor appealed the verdict.
Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.
Is there life on moons?
By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, January 12, 2013 19:50 EST
In “Avatar,” James Cameron envisaged an alien moon supporting life. Now, scientists believe such a scenario is as likely as life on another planet, writes Robin McKie.
The inhabitants of Pandora, in James Cameron’s science-fiction epic Avatar, were a remarkable lot. Blue-skinned giants living in harmony with nature, they give the citizens of Earth a deserved kicking for invading their world and attempting to plunder its mineral wealth. Cameron’s film, which grossed more than $2bn and won three Oscars in 2010, is the most financially successful film of all time. It also contains an intriguing scientific idea. The people of Pandora, the Na’vi, live not on a planet in orbit around a distant sun, but on a moon of such a planet.
The idea that a moon might support advanced life may seem strange to humans, given the barren, airless nature of our own moon. Nevertheless scientists have now followed up Cameron’s idea and concluded that he was on to something: alien life in our galaxy is as likely to be found on moons as on planets themselves, they say. The research, conducted by René Heller of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam and Rory Barnes of the University of Washington, and the Nasa Astrobiology Institute, will appear in the January issue of Astrobiology.
As the authors point out, more than 850 extrasolar planets – planets in orbit around stars elsewhere in the galaxy – have been discovered by astronomers in recent years. However, most of these have been found to be cold, sterile gas giants, similar to Jupiter and Saturn in our own solar system. Only a few have a solid surface and even fewer orbit their host suns inside “the Goldilocks zone”, the region of space around a star that is neither too hot nor too cold, and which therefore offers the best prospects of allowing liquid water to gather on its surface and to provide home for life.
So why would a moon orbiting such an inhospitable world be more likely to support life? Easy: tidal heating changes everything, say Heller and Barnes. This additional energy source is triggered inside a moon by its proximity to its mother planet. The planet’s gravity distorts the moon’s rock crust and causes it to heat up. The closer the moon and the bigger the mother planet, the stronger the tidal heating. At the right distance, this tidal heating could counterbalance the fact that a moon might be in orbit around a gas giant in deep space far from the warmth of its host star. “There is a habitable zone for exomoons, it’s just a little different to the habitable zone for exoplanets,” Barnes said.
And the study of planets in our solar system provides compelling support for this idea. Before the launch of Nasa’s deep-space missions in the 1970s, it was assumed that the planets, and moons, of the outer region of our solar system would be cold and dead because they orbit so far from the sun. But the Pioneer and Voyager probes, followed later by the Galileo and Cassini missions, found that many of the moons out there were far more active and hospitable to life than expected. For example, it was discovered that Europa, one of the main moons of Jupiter, probably has a huge ocean beneath its icy surface, its water warmed by tidal heating produced by Europa’s close orbit around Jupiter.
Since then, Europa has become a top prospect for finding life elsewhere in the solar system, a notion that formed a key part of the plot of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the follow-up to Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. An unseen alien intelligence warns humans to stay away from Europa because life is already evolving there. Cameron was therefore not the first to suggest moons might make good cinematic homes for aliens.
As to the prospect of finding life on moons elsewhere in the galaxy, the exquisite photometric precision of Nasa’s Kepler space telescope now makes the detection of a Mars- to Earth-size extrasolar moon possible, if not imminent. Indeed, since 2012 the first dedicated “hunt for exomoons with Kepler” has been under way.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
[Image by rxau via Flickr Creative Commons]
In the USA...
NYPD ‘looking into’ drones to survey crowds
By Samantha Kimmey
Sunday, January 13, 2013 20:55 EST
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Thursday that his police force is “looking into” using drones to survey demonstrations, reported DNAinfo.
During an interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York City with Reuters News’ editor-in-chief, Kelly explained the need to look into “anything that helps us,” although a drone program was not being aggressively pursued currently.
When asked about the massacre in Newtown, Conn., he said that he did not believe banning assault weapons would have significant impact on gun crime because “people are being shot with handguns.”
He also discussed the department’s counter-terrorism programs and the fact that the force has privately paid officers in 11 cities worldwide to “act as tripwires or listening posts for the city.”
Harris-Perry: Should Obama override the debt ceiling?
By David Ferguson
Saturday, January 12, 2013 15:48 EST
Saturday morning on MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry,” Harris-Perry discussed possible strategies for President Barack Obama to deal with an obdurate Republican Congress and carry on the business of governing while being obstructed at every turn.
She began the segment by saying, “I’m gonna take you back, way back. 1861. During the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made an unprecedented move, which many, even then, considered an overreach of executive authority.”
That year, Lincoln declared martial law and suspended the Constitutional writ of habeas corpus in order, he hoped, to preserve the United States by putting down the rebellion in the southern states. He defended his actions in a July 4 speech, in which he said, “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?”
Lincoln argued that the executive office had the power to suspend habeas corpus without Congress, and even if it didn’t, such a measure was necessary, and was his Constitutional duty, in order to keep the union together.
“That perhaps convoluted argument,” Harris-Perry said, “is actually a strong claim to presidential authority in the United States Constitution. Perhaps above all else, the presidential duty is to keep the government from going to pieces.”
To do so, she said, sometimes a president may have to choose “the least troubling option from a menu of unconstitutional choices. This may be the situation that President Obama finds himself in with regards to upcoming standoffs with Congress.
“From replacing outgoing cabinet members to the ability to issue new debt, the relationship between the Oval Office and Capitol Hill has already proven intractable. How, then, can he keep the government from going to pieces?” she asked.
In the Columbia Law Review, George Washington University Law’s Neil Buchanan and Cornell University Law School’s Stephen Dorf wrote, “In the debt ceiling deal conflict, given the balance of constitutional, practical and prudential considerations, the least unconstitutional choice would be for the president to continue to issue debt, in the amounts authorized by the duly enacted budget of the United States.”
What that would translate into would be for Obama to “go over the heads of Congress and raise the debt ceiling from the Oval Office.” And while the separation of powers is a grand and noble thing, it has what Harris-Perry called “street-level consequences.”
And while it could be argued that this kind of executive action is unconstitutional, it could equally be argued under the provisions of the 14th Amendment that the debt ceiling itself in unconstitutional, in that the Congress is trying to go back on debt that it has already agreed to pay.
The president may be obligated, she suggested, to ignore the Congress under his constitutional duty to preserve the orderly workings of the government. Is it therefore necessary that the U.S. Constitution must be violated in order to better serve it?
Ultimately, Harris-Perry said, the question is, “When you’re facing a Congress that refuses to act on its power, how does the president keep the government from going to pieces?”
White House answers petitions demanding secession from union: ‘No’
By Matt Williams, The Guardian
Saturday, January 12, 2013 19:22 EST
We the People website, which prompted discussion of Piers Morgan and a US Death Star, leads to official response
The United States are set to remain united for the foreseeable future, after the White House issued a polite “no” in answer to calls for secession from parts of the South.
Petitions had been submitted to the We the People website, which is run by the White House, from discontented individuals in eight states – South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Louisiana. Each called for their state to be allowed to withdraw from the union. Each petition having attracted more than 25,000 names, the White House was obliged to respond.
The task of responding to the petitions for secession – which has not been tried since the end of the American Civil War in 1865 seemed to have settled the question – fell to Jon Carson, director of the office of public engagement. In thanking the petitioners, Carson noted in a statement posted on Friday that democracy can be “noisy and controversial”.
“Free and open debate is what makes this country work, and many people around the world risk their lives every day for the liberties we often take for granted,” he said. “But as much as we value a healthy debate, we don’t let that debate tear us apart.”
Carson went on to explain that the founding fathers established the constitution of the United States “in order to form a more perfect union”. They enshrined in law the right to change the national government through the ballot, Carson said, “but they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”
Since being launched, the We the People has seen the White House obliged respond to a number of petitions, from a call to deport the CNN host Piers Morgan, thanks to his views on gun control, to demands that the US should build a Star Wars-esque Death Star, for the purposes of the nation’s defence.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
January 12, 2013
As ‘Bodega Clinicas’ Fill Void, Health Officials Are Torn
By SARAH VARNEY
HUNTINGTON PARK, Calif. — The “bodega clinicas” that line the bustling commercial streets of immigrant neighborhoods around Los Angeles are wedged between money order kiosks and pawnshops. These storefront offices, staffed with Spanish-speaking medical providers, treat ailments for cash: a doctor’s visit is $20 to $40; a cardiology exam is $120; and at one bustling clinic, a colonoscopy is advertised on an erasable board for $700.
County health officials describe the clinics as a parallel health care system, serving a vast number of uninsured Latino residents. Yet they say they have little understanding of who owns and operates them, how they are regulated and what quality of medical care they provide. Few of these low-rent corner clinics accept private insurance or participate in Medicaid managed care plans.
“Someone has to figure out if there’s a basic level of competence,” said Dr. Patrick Dowling, the chairman of the family medicine department at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Not that researchers have not tried. Dr. Dowling, for one, has canvassed the clinics for years to document physician shortages as part of his research for the state. What he and others found was that the owners were reluctant to answer questions. Indeed, multiple attempts in recent weeks to interview owners and employees at a half-dozen of the clinics in Southern California proved fruitless.
What is certain, however, is that despite their name, many of these clinics are actually private doctor’s offices, not licensed clinics, which are required to report regularly to federal and state oversight bodies.
It is a distinction that deeply concerns Kimberly Wyard, the chief executive of the Northeast Valley Health Corporation, a nonprofit group that runs 13 accredited health clinics for low-income Southern Californians. “They are off the radar screen,” said Ms. Wyard of the bodega clinicas, “and it’s unclear what they’re doing.”
But with deadlines set by the federal Affordable Care Act quickly approaching, health officials in Los Angeles are vexed over whether to embrace the clinics and bring them — selectively and gingerly — into the network of tightly regulated public and nonprofit health centers that are driven more by mission than by profit to serve the uninsured.
Health officials see in the clinics an opportunity to fill persistent and profound gaps in the county’s strained safety net, including a chronic shortage of primary care physicians. By January 2014, up to two million uninsured Angelenos will need to enroll in Medicaid or buy insurance and find primary care.
And the clinics, public health officials point out, are already well established in the county’s poorest neighborhoods, where they are meeting the needs of Spanish-speaking residents. The clinics also could continue to serve a market that the Affordable Care Act does not touch: illegal immigrants who are prohibited from getting health insurance under the law.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the deputy director of community health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said bodega clinicas — a term he seems to have coined — that agree to some scrutiny could be a good way of addressing the physician shortage in those neighborhoods.
“Where are we going to find those providers?” he said. “One logical place to consider looking is these clinics.”
Los Angeles is not the only city with a sizable Latino population where the clinics have become a part of the streetscape. Health care providers in Phoenix and Miami say there are clinics in many Latino neighborhoods.
But their presence in parts of the Los Angeles area can be striking, with dozens in certain areas. Visits to more than two dozen clinics in South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley found Latino women in brightly colored scrubs handing out cards and coupons that promised a range of services like pregnancy tests and endoscopies. Others advertised evening and weekend hours, and some were open around the clock.
Such all-hours access and upfront pricing are critical, Latino health experts say, to a population that often works around the clock for low wages.
Also important, officials say, is that new immigrants from Mexico and Central America are more accustomed to corner clinics, which are common in their home countries, than to the sprawling medical complexes or large community health centers found in the United States. And they can get the kind of medical treatments — including injections of hypertension drugs, intravenous vitamins and liberally dispensed antibiotics — that are frowned upon in traditional American medicine.
The waiting rooms at the clinics reflected the everyday maladies of peoples’ lives: a glassy-eyed child resting listlessly on his mother’s lap, a fit-looking young woman waiting with a bag of ice on her wrist, a pensive middle-aged man in work boots staring straight ahead.
For many ordinary complaints, the medical care at these clinics may be suitable, county health officials and medical experts say. But they say problems arise when an illness exceeds the boundaries of a physician’s skills or the patient’s ability to pay cash.
Dr. Raul Joaquin Bendana, who has been practicing general medicine in South Los Angeles for more than 20 years, said the clinics would refer patients to him when, for example, they had uncontrolled diabetes. “They refer to me because they don’t know how to handle the situation,” he said.
The clinic physicians by and large appear to have current medical licenses, a sample showed, but experts say they are unlikely to be board certified or have admitting privileges at area hospitals. That can mean that some clinics try to treat patients who face serious illness.
Olivia Cardenas, 40, a restaurant worker who lives in Woodland Hills, Calif., got a free Pap smear at a clinic that advertises “especialistas,” including in gynecology. The test came back abnormal, and the doctor told Ms. Cardenas that she had cervical cancer. “Come back in a week with $5,000 in cash, and I’ll operate on you,” Ms. Cardenas said the doctor told her. “Otherwise you could die.”
She declined to pay the $5,000. Instead, a family friend helped her apply for Medicaid, and she went to a hospital. The diagnosis, it turned out, was correct.
Health care experts say the clinics’ medical practices would come under greater scrutiny if they were brought closer into the fold.
But being connected would mean the clinics’ cash-only business model would need to change. Dr. Dowling said the lure of newly insured patients in 2014 might draw them in. “To the extent there are payments available,” he said, “the legitimate ones might step up to the plate.”
This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
January 12, 2013
Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push
By JULIA PRESTON
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.
Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.
The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.
Even while Mr. Obama has been focused on fiscal negotiations and gun control, overhauling immigration remains a priority for him this year, White House officials said. Top officials there have been quietly working on a broad proposal. Mr. Obama and lawmakers from both parties believe that the early months of his second term offer the best prospects for passing substantial legislation on the issue.
Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his plan in the coming weeks, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next month, administration officials said. The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.
The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.
A bipartisan group of senators has also been meeting to write a comprehensive bill, with the goal of introducing legislation as early as March and holding a vote in the Senate before August. As a sign of the keen interest in starting action on immigration, White House officials and Democratic leaders in the Senate have been negotiating over which of them will first introduce a bill, Senate aides said.
“This is so important now to both parties that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat who is a leader of the bipartisan discussions.
A similar attempt at bipartisan legislation early in Mr. Obama’s first term collapsed amid political divisions fueled by surging public wrath over illegal immigration in many states. But both supporters and opponents say conditions are significantly different now.
Memories of the results of the November election are still fresh here. Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, turned out in record numbers and cast 71 percent of their ballots for Mr. Obama. Many Latinos said they were put off by Republicans’ harsh language and policies against illegal immigrants.
After the election, a host of Republicans, starting with Speaker John A. Boehner, said it was time for the party to find a more positive, practical approach to immigration. Many party leaders say electoral demographics are compelling them to move beyond policies based only on tough enforcement.
Supporters of comprehensive changes say that the elections were nothing less than a mandate in their favor, and that they are still optimistic that Mr. Obama is prepared to lead the fight.
“Republicans must demonstrate a reasoned approach to start to rebuild their relationship with Latino voters,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization. “Democrats must demonstrate they can deliver on a promise.”
Since the election, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged to act on immigration this year. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, he again referred to the urgency of fixing the immigration system, saying it was one of the “difficult missions” the country must take on.
Parallel to the White House effort, Mr. Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, have been meeting with a group of at least four other colleagues to write a bill. Republicans who have participated include John McCain of Arizona, who has supported comprehensive legislation in the past; Jeff Flake, also of Arizona, who is newly elected to the Senate; and Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida participated in one meeting last month.
Democrats in the meetings include Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Basic tenets for the bill, Mr. Schumer said, were that it would be comprehensive and would offer eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who follow a prolonged process to correct their status.
“This is a bottom line,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview on Thursday. “The Democrats have made it clear we will not accept a bill without a direct path to earned citizenship.” He said senators from both parties had been “pleasantly surprised” at how rapidly the talks had proceeded.
Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who has emerged as a star in his party, is making immigration one of his primary issues. He has advocated taking changes in pieces, arguing that lawmakers will get better results if the politically and practically tangled problems of the immigration system are handled separately.
Mr. Rubio has been preparing a bill that would provide legal status specifically for young illegal immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the United States as children.
Mr. Rubio said Thursday that the piecemeal approach was “not a line in the sand” for him. But he said he would insist that any legalization measure should not be unfair to immigrants who played by the rules and applied to become residents through legal channels.
His proposals would allow illegal immigrants to gain temporary status so that they could remain in the country and work. Then they would be sent to the back of the line in the existing system to apply to become permanent residents, without any special path to citizenship.
Mr. Rubio said he hoped to rally Republicans to support changes. Speaking of Latinos, he said, “We are going to have a struggle speaking to a whole segment of the population about our principles of limited government and free enterprise if they think we don’t want them here.”
In the Republican-controlled House, the future of a comprehensive bill remains unclear.
Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican who follows immigration issues, said he remained opposed to “amnesty of any kind.”
He said that the Obama administration had been lax on enforcement, and that he would “continue working to secure our borders and enforce existing immigration law.”
But groups backing the overhaul say they are bigger and better organized than in the past. Last month, the labor movement, including the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other sometimes-warring factions, affirmed a common strategy. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would work with labor, Latino and church organizations to pass the overhaul this year.
January 12, 2013
Hawks on Iraq Prepare for War Again, Against Hagel
By JIM RUTENBERG
In the bitter debate that led up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said that some of his fellow Republicans, in their zest for war, lacked the perspective of veterans like him, who have “sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off.”
Those Republicans in turn called him an “appeaser” whose cautious geopolitical approach dangerously telegraphed weakness in the post-Sept. 11 world.
The campaign now being waged against Mr. Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense is in some ways a relitigation of that decade-old dispute. It is also a dramatic return to the public stage by the neoconservatives whose worldview remains a powerful undercurrent in the Republican Party and in the national debate about the United States’ relationship with Israel and the Middle East.
To Mr. Hagel’s allies, his presence at the Pentagon would be a very personal repudiation of the interventionist approach to foreign policy championed by the so-called Vulcans in the administration of President George W. Bush, who believed in pre-emptive strikes against potential threats and the promotion of democracy, by military means if necessary.
“This is the neocons’ worst nightmare because you’ve got a combat soldier, successful businessman and senator who actually thinks there may be other ways to resolve some questions other than force,” said Richard L. Armitage, who broke with the more hawkish members of the Bush team during the Iraq war when he was a deputy to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, who championed the Iraq invasion and is leading the opposition to Mr. Hagel’s nomination, says the former senator and his supporters are suffering from “neoconservative derangement syndrome.”
Mr. Kristol said he and other like-minded hawks were more concerned about Mr. Hagel’s occasional arguments against sanctions (he voted against some in the Senate), what they deem as his overcautious attitudes about military action against Iran and his tougher approach to Israel than they were about his views on Iraq — aside from his outspoken opposition to the American troop surge there that was ultimately deemed successful.
Mr. Kristol’s latest editorial argues that Mr. Hagel’s statement that he is an unequivocal supporter of Israel is “nonsense,” given his reference in a 2006 interview to a “Jewish lobby” that intimidates lawmakers into blindly supporting Israeli positions.
“I’d much prefer a secretary of defense who was a more mainstream internationalist — not a guy obsessed by how the United States uses its power and would always err on the side of not intervening,” he added. Of Mr. Hagel and his allies, Mr. Kristol said, “They sort of think we should have just gone away.”
In fact, the neoconservatives have done anything but disappear. In the years since the war’s messy end, the most hawkish promoters have maintained enormous sway within the Republican Party, holding leading advisory posts in both the McCain and Romney presidential campaigns as their counterparts in the “realist” wing of the party, epitomized by Mr. Powell, gravitated toward Barack Obama.
And while members of both parties think the chances are good that Mr. Hagel will win confirmation, the neoconservatives are behind some of the most aggressive efforts to derail it, through television advertisements, op-ed articles in prominent publications and pressure on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats, including Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, have also indicated reservations.
Their prominence in the fight over Mr. Hagel’s nomination is testament to their continued outsize voice in the public debate, helped by outlets like The Weekly Standard, research groups like the American Enterprise Institute and wealthy Republican financiers like the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose nearly $100 million in political donations last year were driven largely by his interest in Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition, on whose board of directors Mr. Adelson sits, was among the first to criticize the Hagel nomination.
The most outspoken among them had leading roles in developing the rationale and, in some cases, the plan for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein.
One critic is Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser to Mr. Bush during the Iraq war who pleaded guilty in the Iran-contra scandal to withholding information from Congress. He called Mr. Hagel an anti-Semite who has “some kind of problem with Jews” in an interview on NPR last week. (The Council on Foreign Relations, where Mr. Abrams is a senior fellow, distanced itself from his comments.)
The Emergency Committee for Israel, a conservative group, has run a TV advertisement and has a Web site calling Mr. Hagel an inappropriate choice for the Defense Department, citing some of his votes against sanctions on Iran and Libya and his calls to engage in direct talks with groups like Hamas. Its donors have included the activist financier Daniel S. Loeb, and Mr. Abrams’s wife, Rachel, serves on its board.
And of course, there is Mr. Kristol himself, who in the late 1990s helped form a group called the Project for a New American Century. In 1998, the organization released a letter to President Bill Clinton arguing that Saddam Hussein posed a potential nuclear threat to the United States, Israel and moderate Arab states and should be ousted.
It was signed by several future members of the Bush national security team: Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary; Paul D. Wolfowitz, who served under Mr. Rumsfeld; Mr. Abrams; and outsider advisers, including Richard N. Perle, a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee; and Mr. Armitage. Serving as a research associate was Michael Goldfarb, who is helping to direct the Emergency Committee for Israel’s attacks against Mr. Hagel.
Around the same time in the late 1990s, Mr. Hagel was allied with Mr. Kristol and other hawks calling for the commitment of ground troops in support of the Clinton administration’s intervention in Kosovo. Mr. Kristol went so far as to suggest Mr. Hagel as a potential running mate for Mr. Bush in 2000, calling him an “impressive and attractive first-term senator.”
Their relationship broke with Mr. Hagel’s criticism of the Iraq war, and his rare status as a Congressional Republican critical of the intervention led to plentiful TV bookings and the antipathy of the war’s architects and supporters. Besides being a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel had added cachet by way of two Purple Hearts from his service in Vietnam, which left shrapnel embedded in his chest and, he has said, a unique perspective on war.
“Here was a Republican with national security credentials saying that the Republican president was being irresponsible on national security — that’s potent,” said Kenneth L. Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Review Board at the time and a frequent sparring partner with Mr. Hagel on television. “It drove me up the wall not so much that he was Republican, because I didn’t care that much from a political point of view — I thought the substance of his arguments were just wrong and unfounded.”
Mr. Hagel’s earliest concerns arose before the Congressional vote authorizing the use of force. “You can take the country into a war pretty fast,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2002, “but you can’t get us out as quickly, and the public needs to know what the risks are.” In the interview, he took a swipe at Mr. Perle, then one of the most visible promoters of the war, saying, “Maybe Mr. Perle would like to be in the first wave of those who go into Baghdad.”
Mr. Perle had never served in the military. Along with Mr. Hagel’s comment in Newsweek that many of the war’s most steadfast proponents “don’t know anything about war,” his criticism prompted a national discussion about “chicken hawks,” a derisive term for those advocating war with no direct experience of it. And his comments drew a rebuke from The Weekly Standard that Mr. Hagel was part of an “axis of appeasement.”
Mr. Hagel’s words appear to sting to this day. “Normally you hope your cabinet officers don’t resort to ad hominem argument,” said Mr. Perle, who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In an interview, he said his opposition to the nomination stemmed from his fear that Mr. Hagel was among those who “so abhor the use of force that they actually weaken the diplomacy that enables you to achieve results without using force.”
Yet Mr. Hagel did ultimately vote to give Mr. Bush the authority to go to war. He has said that he did so to give the administration diplomatic leverage and that he now regrets it. Explaining his vote on the floor of the Senate, he warned, “We should not be seduced by the expectations of ‘dancing in the streets’ after Saddam’s regime has fallen.”
If Mr. Hagel’s call for caution seems prescient, several opponents have argued that his prediction that the 2006 troop surge would fail was not — a position sure to come up frequently as confirmation hearings get closer.
January 12, 2013
As Texas Bakes in a Long Drought, Water Becomes a Focus for Legislators
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
AUSTIN, Tex. — There is usually no shortage of controversial and politically divisive issues for lawmakers to address in the opening days of a state legislative session, from abortion to immigration to gun rights.
But throughout the opening of the 83rd Texas Legislature last week, one of the most frequently discussed topics had bipartisan support: improving the state’s water infrastructure as the population booms and a devastating two-year drought drags on.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other Republicans proposed tapping an emergency fund that is fed by taxes on oil production to finance the building of new reservoirs and other projects identified in the state’s 50-year water plan, an unusual move in a state where fiscal conservatives usually push to streamline government and limit spending.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and the House speaker, Joe Straus III, a Republican from San Antonio, both mentioned the state’s water needs in their opening-day speeches to legislators on Tuesday, despite the rainfall that soaked Austin as they spoke.
In 2011, the last time the Legislature convened for one of its biennial sessions, Representative Allan Ritter, a Republican and the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was unsuccessful in getting lawmakers to approve legislation imposing an annual fee on water users like homeowners and businesses to help finance projects in the state water plan.
But on Thursday, Mr. Ritter proposed bills that would draw $2 billion from the state’s emergency Rainy Day Fund to establish a water infrastructure bank that would lend money for the projects. This time, his proposals received support from Republican leaders and groups that are often on the opposite sides of issues, including the Sierra Club’s Texas chapter, the Texas Association of Business and other industry groups. At least 20 percent of the money available in the fund would be used for conservation and reuse efforts.
“There were people who were trying to talk about water last time, and there wasn’t any money, and there wasn’t the critical mass,” said James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Austin. “Elite opinion begins to coalesce after a little while, and it takes people a while to get the issue out there, and I think that’s part of what’s happened with water.”
Another reason for the shift, and why some are calling this Legislature the “water session,” has to do with the sense of urgency over the drought.
Texas is in the grip of a record-breaking drought that began in the fall of 2010 and continues to affect many parts of the state. So far, it is the third-worst drought in Texas since at least 1895, when statewide weather records begin, with the multiyear drought in the 1950s being the worst, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist.
The drought has cost farmers billions of dollars and has forced hundreds of communities to limit water usage. Eighteen public water systems were projected to run out of water in 180 days or fewer as of Tuesday, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which monitors and assists those systems.
Meanwhile, the levels of many lakes and reservoirs, a crucial part of the water supply, have steadily decreased with the lack of rainfall.
Without additional water supplies, Texas will be short 8.3 million acre-feet of water by 2060, according to the Texas Water Development Board. It is a nearly unimaginable amount: one million gallons of water equals just 3.07 acre-feet. The board also estimates that failure to meet water needs in times of drought in 2060 could cost Texas businesses and workers up to $116 billion.
But advocates for other causes worry that water may overshadow the state’s other needs and divert attention from restoring the money to social services, parks, education and other programs that was cut during the last legislative session. Thousands of state employees were laid off. School districts have reported eliminating thousands of jobs, increasing class sizes and reducing library services and other programs.
In 2011, when education advocates and Democratic lawmakers called on Mr. Perry and other Republicans to tap the Rainy Day Fund to offset some of the cuts to education, the governor and others refused, saying that doing so would leave the state ill prepared for emergencies.
But last week, some of those same leaders, including Republicans who opposed tapping the fund two years ago for recurring expenses, said they would support using the fund to pay for water projects, through Mr. Ritter’s bills or other proposals.
“I think it’s all ideological,” said Bob Sanborn, the president of Children at Risk, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in Houston.
“In the end, people don’t really have strong principles about a rainy-day fund,” he said. “They want to fund the things that they want to fund. And if something is seemingly not part of your ideology, and public education doesn’t seem to be of high concern to a lot of our Texas leaders, it falls by the wayside.”
Mr. Ritter said there were several priorities for lawmakers to focus on, but that water was a building block of society.
“I’m not saying this is a higher priority than education,” Mr. Ritter said. “We’ve got to have a great education system, but we’ve got to have water to nourish our people and our economy. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do we have educated people, and then water comes? Or do we have water and have a reason for people to be here to go to school?”
January 12, 2013
In Wyoming, Many Jobs but No Place to Call Home
By JACK HEALY
CASPER, Wyo. — After losing everything last year to Southern California’s soured economy, Tiffany Kipp and her family packed up three boxes and a diaper bag and caught a Greyhound bus to Wyoming, their best chance at a fresh start.
They were drawn to Wyoming, where Ms. Kipp has family, by the promise of plentiful jobs and a booming energy sector, and a thin hope of rebuilding their futures on the High Plains. But like a growing number of people here, they ended up on the underside of the boom.
Unable to scrape together enough money for an apartment, the Kipps, who once rented a four-bedroom house north of Los Angeles, bounced from motel rooms to friends’ couches. They ended up in a single room at a shelter run by a local nonprofit organization.
“We lost everything,” said Ms. Kipp, 25, whose husband works for an oil services company. “We needed somewhere to go.”
There is a surprising downside to Wyoming’s economic resilience and its 5.1 percent unemployment rate: a sharp rise in homelessness.
As another winter settles in, many people who moved here fleeing foreclosures and chasing jobs in the oil, gas and coal industries now find themselves without a place to live. Apartments are scarce and expensive, and the economy, while strong, is not growing at the swift pace of drilling towns in western North Dakota, where cashiers can earn $20 an hour and fast-food workers can be paid thousand-dollar signing bonuses.
As homeless rates held steady nationwide last year, federal data show that Wyoming’s homeless population soared by 67 percent, to 1,813 people from 1,083 in 2011. Advocates attribute the surge in part to a more aggressive attempt to count the state’s homeless.
As in any other place in the country, many homeless people in Wyoming have lived on the streets for years or suffer from mental illness or drug and alcohol addictions. But social service workers say they have seen a growing number of economic migrants from Florida and Michigan, Wisconsin and California, with nowhere to settle.
“They’d pack up their pit bulls, their children and they’d move to Wyoming with nothing, just the clothes on their backs,” said Lily Patton, a housing counselor with Interfaith of Natrona County, a nonprofit group. “They keep saying, ‘I’ve never been in this situation before.’ ”
When jobs elude them or a trip to the hospital eats away at their money, some of these new arrivals and returnees visit social service groups to find a way out of town: enough money to fix their car or catch a bus back home. But caseworkers said most were determined to stay and came seeking housing.
Around Casper, population 56,000, robust growth in oil and gas drilling has helped cut unemployment to 4.3 percent, but the boom has also made it nearly impossible for struggling families to find an apartment. Vacancy rates are close to 1 percent, housing officials say, and two-bedroom apartments can rent for $800 to $1,000, out of reach for many of the working poor.
Advocates say the town’s few shelters and temporary housing are full, and the wait for low-income apartments has swelled to as long as two and a half years. On particularly bitter nights, when the wind tears in from the west and temperatures plummet, homeless advocates spread mattresses on their office floors or set out space heaters in storefronts to accommodate people who might otherwise freeze.
“We literally do not have anyplace for people to live,” said Marilyn Dymond Wagner, the executive director of Interfaith. “Where are all these people coming from?”
John Meek, 56, came from Altamonte Springs, Fla., north of Orlando, where “you couldn’t buy a job,” he said. In July, a friend from Wyoming visited and told Mr. Meek about the opportunities here: jobs that paid $18 and $19 an hour for anyone who walked in the door.
“Like a worm on the hook, I bit,” Mr. Meek said.
He found work on the night shift at a pipe extrusion plant, but the job paid only $10 an hour, and those hours have been erratic lately, he said. He has worked only a handful of shifts since Christmas.
Like others, he is staying at a motel, the Royal Inn, where weekly rents run about $250. But Mr. Meek is quickly falling behind. He and a friend met with a landlord but were told they could not sign a lease without $3,000 cash for the rent and the security deposit.
Still others are squeezed into subsidized single-room occupancy apartments or live out of campers in RV parks. Ms. Patton, the housing counselor, recalled one woman from Denver who came to town last summer looking for work. She pitched a tent at a campground on the west side of town and told her two children they were going on an extended camping trip.
At night, the far edge of a Walmart parking lot on the east side of town is transformed into an impromptu campground. Pickup trucks and minivans driven by people looking for a place to sleep slip into the spaces where the night-shift workers park, to blend in and reduce the chance anyone will notice them.
Among those in the parking lot is Chrystal Wise, 39, who spends the cold nights on the bench seat of her 2005 Dodge Durango. Her husband once worked in the oil fields in North Dakota, she said, but became addicted to methamphetamines and lost his job. After losing their apartment in Casper in April, Ms. Wise sent her 15-year-old son to stay with friends, and she and her husband made the truck their home.
This is the first winter she has been homeless, and she never thought she could be so cold. She said she turns on the engine once or twice each night to run the heater, but she cuts it quickly to save gas, and the cold seeps back in. The nights seem to stretch on forever.
At 7 a.m., Ms. Wise wakes up, scrapes the frost from the windshield and drives to a nearby truck stop to wash herself and clean off her work uniform. Then she heads to work at the Hamburger Stand, where she makes $7.60 an hour — barely enough to pay for food, gas and the $450 monthly payments on her truck. Getting an apartment feels like a distant dream.
“I’m just lost,” she said.
If families like the Wises are strained by splitting up, others are trying to stay afloat by doubling up. Angela Morgan and her two teenagers moved back to Wyoming last January from Texas. She got a job cleaning hotel rooms for $9.50 an hour and worked as many shifts as the week allowed. But as the economy slowed for the winter and tourists headed toward the ski slopes 300 miles away, Ms. Morgan’s hours were cut to eight per week. She ran out of money to pay for propane or electricity, her pipes froze and the landlord taped an eviction notice to the door of her mobile home.
Now, she and her children are staying with friends, all six of them crammed into a single mobile home at the Aspen Park trailer court. Ms. Morgan’s friend Misty Elfering has been welcoming, but Ms. Morgan worries about what she will do now.
“I came back for some stability, for some hope,” she said. “It didn’t work out that way. Now, I’m just trying to survive the winter.”
Fearing social stigma, minor rape victim in Sonipat immolates herself
Posted: Jan 12, 2013 at 1227 hrs IST
Sonipat Social fear haunted a minor rape victim in Sonipat district of Haryana as she set herself on fire late on Friday evening.
The incident comes just weeks later, when the whole country is mourning the death of the 23-year old Delhi gangrape victim, who was raped and brutally beaten by six men in a moving bus.
The girl, who has been admitted to a Rohtak hospital, is 16-years-old and was allegedly raped by her neighbour Rakesh when she was on her way back home from school in the first week of January.
Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sonipat, Balbir Singh, confirmed the victim’s age, and said that her mother registered the complaint.
“We got a complaint that a man called Rakesh raped this girl and that is why she burnt herself. The victim is 16 years of age and studies in 10th standard,” he said.
The victim’s mother told the reporter that Rakesh plotted the kidnapping of her girl by lying to her about her father’s sudden illness.
The victim, got inside Rakesh’s car and after locking the doors, he revealed his true intentions.
“The man told her that he was lying to her and that her father was fine and then kidnapped her and raped her,” the mother said.
Indian police investigate two new gang rape cases
Incidents likely to fuel continuing demands for legal and policing reforms to combat sexual violence following Delhi attack
Jason Burke in Delhi
The Guardian, Sunday 13 January 2013 19.51 GMT
Indian police are investigating two new cases of gang-rape, one of a bus passenger in north-western Punjab state, the other of a woman who got off a train in a remote area in the state of Bihar and was assaulted and killed.
The incidents are likely to fuel the continuing clamour for widespread change in India, coming four weeks after a brutal attack on a student on a moving bus in the capital Delhi led to outrage, anger, grief and thousands of people taking to the streets demanding legal and policing reforms to combat sexual violence. The student, who was returning from an evening at the cinema with her friend, died of her injuries nearly two weeks after the attack.
The victim of the incident in Punjab was a 29-year-old woman travelling to her village in Gurdaspur district, 280 miles from Delhi, on Friday night, police officials said. The driver refused to stop at her village despite her repeated pleas and instead drove her, the only passenger on the bus, to a remote farmhouse where he and the bus conductor were joined by five friends. The men then took turns raping her throughout the night, the officials said.
Gurmej Singh, deputy superintendent of police in Gurdaspur, said all of the six men detained for the attack had admitted their involvement.
Details of the second attack are still sketchy and unconfirmed. Local police have said the 32-year-old victim got down from a stationary train between stations and was sexually assaulted by a group of unidentified, inebriated men in an orchard.
Since the Delhi attack, dozens of incidents of sexual violence to women which would not usually be reported are being covered in the Indian media. Newspapers also reported the case of a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Sonipat, Haryana, who was badly injured when she set light to herself in a suicide bid after being raped.
The Delhi rape in December has set off an fierce debate about attitudes to women in India, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes according to official statistics.
"There is discussion for the first time of what it means to be a women here especially the systematic harrassment in the street, on buses and so on. Gang rape is the end of a spectrum [of offences], not an aberration," said Menaka Guraswamy, a lawyer involved in a successful recent campaign to stop a local rapper accused of encouraging misogynist attitudes with his lyrics performing in Delhi.
Seema Mustafa, a writer on social issues who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Analysis thinktank, said that in the past police had not "dealt with the issue severely".
"The message that goes out is that the punishment doesn't match the crime. Criminals think they can get away it," she said.
In her first published comments, the mother of Delhi attack victim said on Sunday all six suspects in that case, including one believed to be a juvenile, deserve to die.
She was quoted by The Times of India newspaper as saying that her daughter told her that the youngest suspect had participated in the most brutal aspects of the rape.
Five men have been charged with the student's rape and murder and face a possible death penalty if convicted. The trial is behind closed doors and media are banned from reporting any of the proceedings in the courtroom. A lawyer for one of the accused has claimed his client was badly beaten by police in detention.
The sixth suspect, who says he is 17 years old, is likely to be tried in a juvenile court if medical tests confirm he is a minor. His maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.
"Now the only thing that will satisfy us is to see them punished. For what they did to her, they deserve to die," the newspaper quoted the mother as saying.
There have been loud calls for a change in Indian laws so that juveniles committing heinous crimes can face the death penalty. The elderly, male-dominated Indian government has been heavily criticised for its slow and insensitive treatment of the issue.
Originally published Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 3:51 AM
Suspects to appear at India gang rape hearing
NEW DELHI —
The cases of five men charged in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus were expected to be shifted to a fast-track court at a hearing Monday, defense lawyers said.
The hearing had been set for last week but was rescheduled when it turned out that the official list of charges was not completely legible.
Five men have been charged with the Dec. 16 attack on the 23-year-old student, who died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital. A sixth suspect, who says he is 17 years old, is likely to be tried in a juvenile court if medical tests confirm he is a minor.
The attack outraged Indians, leading to massive protests and calls for tougher rape laws.
In a nation where court cases often linger for years, India's government set up a special fast-track court earlier this month to deal with crimes against women.
On Sunday, police said they had arrested six suspects in another gang rape of a bus passenger in India.
Police officer Raj Jeet Singh said a 29-year-old woman was the only passenger on a bus as she was traveling to her village in northern Punjab state on Friday night. The driver refused to stop at her village despite her repeated pleas and drove her to a desolate location, he said.
There, the driver and the conductor took her to a building where they were joined by five friends and took turns raping her throughout the night, Singh said.
The driver dropped the woman off at her village early Saturday, he said.
Singh said police arrested six suspects on Saturday and were searching for another.
Gurmej Singh, deputy superintendent of police, said all six admitted involvement in the rape. He said the victim was recovering at home.
Also on Saturday, police arrested a 32-year-old man for allegedly raping and killing a 9-year-old girl two weeks ago in Ahmednagar district in western India, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. Her decomposed body was found Friday.
Police officer Sunita Thakare said the suspect committed the crime seven months after his release from prison, where he had served nine years for raping and murdering a girl in 2003, PTI reported Sunday.
The attack of the woman on the New Delhi bus set off an impassioned debate about what India needs to do to prevent such tragedies. Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, police reforms and a transformation in the way the country treats women.
"It's a very deep malaise. This aspect of gender justice hasn't been dealt with in our nation-building task," Seema Mustafa, a writer on social issues who heads the Center for Policy Analysis think tank, said Sunday.
"Police haven't dealt with the issue severely in the past. The message that goes out is that the punishment doesn't match the crime. Criminals think they can get away it," she said.
In her first published comments, the mother of the deceased student in the New Delhi attack said Sunday that all six suspects in that case, including one believed to be a juvenile, deserve to die.
She was quoted by The Times of India newspaper as saying that her daughter told her that the youngest suspect had participated in the most brutal aspects of the rape.
The five men who have been charged with the physiotherapy student's rape and murder face a possible death penalty if convicted. If medical tests confirm the sixth suspect is a minor and he is tried in a juvenile court, his maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.
"Now the only thing that will satisfy us is to see them punished. For what they did to her, they deserve to die," the newspaper quoted the mother as saying.
Some activists have demanded a change in Indian laws so that juveniles committing heinous crimes can face the death penalty.
The names of the victim of the Dec. 16 attack and her family have not been released.
January 12, 2013
Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
IN India, a 23-year-old student takes a bus home from a movie and is gang-raped and assaulted so viciously that she dies two weeks later.
In Liberia, in West Africa, an aid group called More Than Me rescues a 10-year-old orphan who has been trading oral sex for clean water to survive.
In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl who was either drunk or rendered helpless by a date-rape drug and was apparently lugged like a sack of potatoes from party to party.
And in Washington, our members of Congress show their concern for sexual violence by failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law first passed in 1994 that has now expired.
Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.
In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape.”
Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking remain a vast problem across the United States.
One obstacle is that violence against women tends to be invisible and thus not a priority. In Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last year, only one ended in conviction. That creates an incentive for rapists to continue to rape, but in any case that reported number of rapes is delusional. They don’t include the systematized rape of sex trafficking. India has, by my reckoning, more women and girls trafficked into modern slavery than any country in the world. (China has more prostitutes, but they are more likely to sell sex by choice.)
On my last trip to India, I tagged along on a raid on a brothel in Kolkata, organized by the International Justice Mission. In my column at the time, I focused on a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old imprisoned in the brothel, and mentioned a 17-year-old only in passing because I didn’t know her story.
My assistant at The Times, Natalie Kitroeff, recently visited India and tracked down that young woman. It turns out that she had been trafficked as well — she was apparently drugged at a teahouse and woke up in the brothel. She said she was then forced to have sex with customers and beaten when she protested. She was never allowed outside and was never paid. What do you call what happened to those girls but slavery?
Yet prosecutors and the police often shrug — or worse. Dr. Shershah Syed, a former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, once told me: “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police. Because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”
In the United States, the case in Steubenville has become controversial partly because of the brutishness that the young men have been accused of, but also because of concerns that the authorities protected the football team. Some people in both Delhi and Steubenville rushed to blame the victim, suggesting that she was at fault for taking a bus or going to a party. They need to think: What if that were me?
The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern slavery was not perceived as an American priority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?
(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)
Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.
Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later, 86 percent said it was always wrong.
But the progress worldwide is far too slow. Let’s hope that India makes such violence a national priority. And maybe the rest of the world, especially our backward Congress, will appreciate that the problem isn’t just India’s but also our own.
Mali conflict: militants killed as French air strikes pound rebel camps
French defence ministry confirms reports of Islamist deaths, together with at least 11 civilians including three children
Afua Hirsch and Nick Hopkins
The Guardian, Monday 14 January 2013
Islamist militants are fleeing major towns in northern Mali after two days of air strikes by French troops, which sources say have left scores of rebels dead.
French fighter jets have pounded insurgent training camps, arms and oil depots as the French defence ministry confirmed reports of Islamist deaths, together with at least 11 civilians including three children.
"Mali is now at the mercy of the French army," said a well-connected Malian official in Bamako. "They are bombing the north, they have killed many terrorists. The Islamists have been running into the desert – they have deserted Gao and Timbuktu."
Residents in Gao confirmed French jets had struck the airport as well as the building that served as the base for the town's feared Islamic police. "The planes are so fast you can only hear their sound in the sky," Soumaila Maiga told Reuters. "We are happy, even though it is frightening. Soon we will be delivered."
Fighting has intensified in northern Mali since France made an unexpected decision on Friday to send troops into the country, to provide aerial support to Malian soldiers in the north, and protect its citizens in the south.
The former colonial power had previously said it would contribute training and logistical support to a planned African-led military intervention in September. But last week al-Qaida linked Islamists, who have controlled northern Mali since April, began advancing further south, prompting fears they could capture new ground.
Since the arrival of French Rafale fighter jets, which are reported to have dropped 250kg (550lb) bombs on militant targets, the Malian army has made significant gains, recapturing the towns of Konna and Douentza, just north of the de facto border between government-controlled southern Mali and the rebel-held north.
But there was uncertainty about the future plans for the French-assisted military operation. One analyst said there were concerns that Islamists were deliberately trying to draw the Mali army into the desert.
"My view is that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) are trying to provoke the Malian army into making a general attack on the north," said Dr Jeremy Swift an expert on northern Mali. "The fighting would start at the beginning of the summer hot season, which is to Aqim's advantage; it starts before the Malian army have had much time to reorganise and train, and most important it starts before the international troop are fielded."
A diplomatic source in Bamako said France had considered the risks before deciding to intervene. "The French are being very careful, they are laying the ground properly; they are not pushing north too quickly," he said.
France's priority is to protect the military garrison in Severé, close to the strategic stronghold of Mopti, the last government-held city before Islamist control, the source said. "The point of the operation is not to rush north. This will be a continual attrition, while we wait for more forces to arrive here."
Mali state television announced the African troops, including up to 1,000 from Burkina Faso and Niger, were expected to begin arriving in the country on Sunday.
Britain has offered the use of its planes to transport troops; the US is providing support with communications and transport.
The UK sent the first of the RAF C-17 transport aircraft to France on Sunday afternoon, and the second is expected to leave RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire early on Monday. They will be packed with men and equipment and at least one of the aircraft should be in Mali on Monday.
The Ministry of Defence said no British combat troops were in Mali and none were expected to be sent. However, the UK has pledged support to a training mission in the country.
Before the crisis, military planners had thought of deploying two training advisers, who would probably not be in Mali before the end of this year. David Cameron will chair a meeting of the national security council on Tuesday to discuss the Mali crisis.
International efforts to support and train the Malian army were part of a repeatedly delayed plan for a west African regional military intervention in Mali, which last year won backing from the UN security council.
But a senior source in previous negotiations with the Ecowas west African bloc told the Guardian those plans were "in the bin" after France's intervention.
The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said France had more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and also to send a warning to the extremists.
Operation Serval as it is known – named after an African wildcat – is believed to have split French soldiers between Bamako and Mopti.
"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," he said on a political talk show with Itele and Europe 1 radio. Le Drian said Rafale jets will be part of the operation and technical support would arriving in the next few hours.
Speaking on Friday, he said French intervention had prevented rebels driving south to seize Bamako, and air raids would continue. "The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe," Le Drian told French television.
Humanitarian groups expressed concern at the fighting and called on all parties in the conflict to respect civilians, after amid concerns about casualties in the towns of Konna, Léré and Douentza.
"Because of the bombing and fighting, nobody dares to move in the city and the patients are unable to hospital," said Rosa Crestani, head of emergency programmes for Médecins Sans Frontières, which is providing treatment in Douentza.
"We are concerned for people living near combat zones and call on all parties to respect the fate of civilian populations and the integrity of medical facilities."
Human Rights Watch said about 10 civilians had been killed in the fighting, including three children who drowned trying to cross the river to safety.
"The resumption of active fighting brings grave risks for civilians," said its spokeswoman, Corinne Dufka. "Other children recruited by the Islamists in Gao have been wounded and possibly died in the fighting. The Islamists who have been recruiting kids from both Mali and Niger for months, must immediately release them.
"Furthermore, the Islamists' threats to retaliate against French non-combatants including hostages, are totally reprehensible and would constitute war crimes. All parties involved in this conflict – Islamist groups, Malian and French army, and Ecowas troops – should do all they can to protect civilians and strictly adhere to the law of war."
Mali: high stakes in 'Hollande's war'
Unpopular in the polls and accused of dithering on the economy, Mali has shown the French president in decisive mode
The Guardian, Sunday 13 January 2013 22.05 GMT
France's sudden military intervention in its former colony Mali to contain Islamist groups which have gained control of the desert north marks a crossroads. Until now, the Socialist president, François Hollande, who had positioned himself as an anti-warmongerer with the early withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, had been planning a more subtle role in west Africa.
Paris played a key part in the recent UN resolution to restore order in Mali. But the plan had been for west African forces to lead the way, starting in September. Europeans would meanwhile train the dishevelled and contested Malian army. In the corridors of the French foreign ministry, diplomats always maintained that France would not - indeed could not - lead on the frontline with troops. Paris was keen to shake off its former colonial mantle by keeping a low-key role.
But after a surprise push by the rebels, leaving the path open to the capital, Bamako, France suddenly stepped in with fighter-jets and ground troops. Hollande carefully explained to the nation that he had a legal international mandate to act, backed by the UN and a request for help from Mali's embattled president. The French defence minister called it "a war against terrorism". Mali risked disintegrating into a jihadist state that would be a major international threat. It was sold as the war France could not avoid.
Yet France remains aware of the baggage it carries in Africa. Since the end of colonial rule, the Élysée has been accused of pulling strings, sweetened with briefcases of petrodollars, propping up contested leaders to suit Paris's business interests in a shady system known as "Françafrique".
The horrors of Rwanda and the bitter taste left by Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 speech in Dakar that "the African has never really entered into history" still cast a shadow. Hollande promised that era was over when he was elected.
France, the only European country still to have a permanent military presence in Africa with several major military bases, had sought to move on from its role as "gendarme" of the region. Weeks before the Mali intervention, Hollande conspicuously refused to come to the rescue of the incumbent leader in Central African Republic, another former colony.
Already commentators in France are saying Mali could transform Hollande's political image. Unpopular in the polls and accused by critics of dithering on the economy, Mali has shown Hollande in decisive mode. "If Sarkozy had Libya, Hollande will have Mali," said Le Parisien, referring to Sarkozy's personal investment against Gaddafi. But "Sarkozy's war", as Libya was termed, never boosted the former rightwing president's poll ratings and failed to get him re-elected.
Military intervention in Mali, likely to be drawn out, is not without risk for Hollande. He will probably be pictured greeting coffins draped in the tricolour flag. France's eight-month role in Libya saw no troops killed, but on the first day in Mali, a French helicopter was downed and its pilot died. Mali's rebels, who control an area larger than Afghanistan, are better armed and trained than thought, boasting state-of-the-art weaponry left over from the Libya conflict. Civilian casualties are a major factor. France has eight hostages held by al-Qaeda-linked groups in the region who are more vulnerable than ever. The terrorist risk level on French soil has been stepped up to maximum.
France's aim for the time being is to hold back the rebels while a joint West African force prepares the drive to win back the north. So far Hollande has enjoyed the traditional cross-party support for military action, bar a few sceptical voices such as the leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon. Dominique de Villepin, who led world opposition to the US-led Iraq war in 2003, warned that "war is not France" and pointed to the political mess left behind in places such as Iraq.
But most damaging of all, when parliament debates the action in Mali on Monday, the government faces difficult questions on two African fronts. As the Mali offensive began, Paris was shaken by a botched French bid to free one of its intelligence agents held for more than three years by Islamist militants in Somalia. After what seems like a major fiasco and intelligence failing, the hostage is presumed killed, another soldier is perhaps in enemy hands, and two soldiers are feared dead along with civilians.
As one French diplomat said last month of any action in Mali: "It would be heavy, onerous, not the peacekeeping we are used to elsewhere in Africa."
Mali Islamists vow to strike ‘at heart’ of France
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:25 EST
Islamist forces based in northern Mali vowed Monday to avenge France’s fierce military offensive against them on French soil.
“France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France,” said a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Asked where they would strike, Abou Dardar told AFP by telephone: “Everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe.”
Authorities in France were already on high alert over fears of a backlash on home soil by Islamist extremists.
The MUJAO official also referred to France’s eight hostages held in the Sahel region.
“We will make a statement on the hostages today. From today all the mujahedeen are together.”
The French offensive has blocked the advance of Islamist forces towards the capital Bamako from their bases in the north which they have controlled since last April.
On Sunday, French Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao, the main city in northern Mali, and Kidal.
Sixty Islamists were killed in Gao alone on Sunday, according to residents and a regional security force.
French warplanes also attacked rebel stockpiles of munitions and fuel further north at Afhabo, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Kidal, a regional security source said. The area is a stronghold of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).
And they hit a base further east at Lere, near the border with Mauritania, according to witnesses and a statement from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Algeria on Sunday granted France permission to fly through its airspace to reach its targets. Previously, Algiers was hostile to any foreign intervention in Mali.
France launched the operation alongside the Malian army on Friday to counter a push south by the insurgents who had threatened to advance on the capital Bamako.
Gao residents said earlier that the French airstrikes had levelled the Islamists’ position and forced them to flee.
“We can see smoke billowing from the base. There isn’t a single Islamist left in town. They have all fled,” a teacher said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
– Timbuktu residents ‘eager for jets to arrive’ –
Residents of Timbuktu, which has seen some of the worst Islamist abuses over the past 10 months, said they were eager for French jets to arrive.
“Everyone agrees,” said one resident, even if there was a risk that civilians might be killed in such an action. Already, he said, there was growing panic among the Islamists there.
French President Francois Hollande was to hold a cabinet meeting devoted to the Mali crisis early Monday.
And at the request of Paris, the UN Security Council was to meet later Monday to discuss the conflict, a spokesman for France’s UN mission said.
Aides to Hollande described the militants as better trained and armed than expected.
“What has struck us markedly is how modern their equipment is and their ability to use it,” one said, referring to the rebels’ hit on a French helicopter, which fatally wounded its pilot, France’s only confirmed loss.
Meanwhile a west African intervention force for Mali was taking shape.
The force has been authorised by the UN Security Council to help the Malian government reclaim control of the north. It will be commanded by General Shehu Abdulkadir of Nigeria, which will provide around 600 men.
Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo all pledged around 500 troops this weekend, while Benin said it would send 300. It remained unclear however when these forces would arrive.
Media reports have said France is deploying about 500 troops in Mali.
The French mission will be at full strength by Monday, primarily deployed around Bamako to protect the 6,000-strong expatriate community, said its commander, Colonel Paul Geze.
The Islamists took advantage of a power vacuum created by a March military coup to seize control of huge swathes of northern Mali, quickly imposing an extreme form of Islamic law.
They have destroyed centuries-old mausoleums they see as heretical, and perceived offenders against their moral code have been subjected to floggings, amputations and sometimes executions.
France’s intervention has been backed by the European Union and the United States, while Britain is providing logistical support in the form of transport planes.
Tunisia marks two years since its revolution
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:20 EST
Tunisians on Monday marked two years since the flight into exile of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali amid a climate of uncertainty marked by social tension, a weak economy, threats from jihadists and a political impasse.
President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar saluted the national flag at a modest ceremony in Tunis to mark the occasion.
The three men, who represent the ruling coalition headed by the Islamist party Ennahda, gathered at the Kasbah, next to the government’s headquarters, for the brief ceremony, which was attended by the leaders of the main political parties.
Shortly afterwards, Jebali, the secretary general of Tunisia’s main labour union, Hocine Abassi, and Wided Bouchamaoui, representing Tunisian employers, signed a “social pact” at the National Constituent Assembly.
With unemployment considered a driving factor behind the revolution, and with Tunisia still rocked by repeated protests over poor living conditions, some of them deadly, the signing of the accord was loaded with symbolic importance.
In the city centre, political activists prepared to march down Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicentre of the mass uprising that toppled Ben Ali on January 14, 2011 and touched off the Arab Spring.
The demonstrators included supporters and critics of the government, among them hundreds of members of the secular opposition parties and Islamists, and there was a heavy police presence.
Frustration at the government’s failure to address poverty and rising unemployment has mounted since the revolution.
On Sunday, the army deployed in the southern border town of Ben Guerdane after a week of clashes between police and residents demanding development projects to revive the area’s local economy and reduce unemployment.
And the mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said, a prime Tunisian tourism destination, was ravaged by fire at the weekend in a suspected arson attack.
Several shrines dedicated to Muslim saints have been torched or looted in recent months in Tunisia, in acts blamed on hardline Salafists.
Speaking in parliament after the signing ceremony, Jebali, from the ruling Ennahda party, promised to “redouble efforts” to forge a national consensus, and spoke of his desire to enlarge the ruling coalition to overcome the political divisions plaguing the country.
Parliamentary speaker Ben Jaafar, who has strongly criticised the deadlock over the drafting of the new constitution, pledged that the future text would guarantee the goals of the revolution, “establishing a democratic state and the rotation of power”.
But reflecting the failure to reach a consensus so far, no electoral calendar has been drawn up, with the government hoping to hold elections in the summer or autumn of 2013.
Ennahda’s veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi also insisted on dialogue to overcome the political impasse.
“We want to bring all the Tunisian people together, through united political forces capable of dialogue, to agree on a calendar for the big political events, particularly the date of the elections,” he told AFP.
Former premier Beji Caid Essebsi, who heads the secular opposition party Call of Tunisia, expressed concerned about the threat from radical Islamists, speaking at Monday’s ceremony.
“It is the (Tunisian) flag, which represents everyone. But some want to replace it with another, the black flag (of the Salafists). The people must remain vigilant because there is a threat, as we have seen in Sidi Bou Said,” he told AFP.
Tunisia goes on the defensive, two years after overthrowing regime
Coalition led by Islamist party Nahda is facing strong challenges from former Ben Ali allies who argue government is incompetent
Eileen Byrne in Tunis
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 12.57 GMT
Two years on from the day Tunisians overthrew the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, sparking democracy movements across the region, the coalition government headed by the Islamist party Nahda is on the defensive. With little progress on tackling chronic levels of unemployment, it faces an increasingly strong challenge from a new party, Nida Tounes (Tunisian Call), led by Beji Caid Sebsi, a veteran politician who was a key figure in the early years of the Ben Ali regime.
Nida Tounes argues that Islamist politicians – many of whom lost years of their lives in jail under Ben Ali – have proved themselves incapable of running a modern state. It also claims to speak for those who fear that Nahda wants to reinvent Tunisian society along Islamist lines.
But the party's critics depict it as a wolf in sheep's clothing, and warn that it represents a tradition of authoritarianism now looking to make a comeback.
Selma Elloumi Rekik, a businesswoman and founding member of Nida Tounes, said: "We are not against the Islamists, but they don't represent all Tunisians, nor the country's history of being a crossroads of many cultures and civilisations." After the landslide win for the Islamists in the first election following the revolution, in October 2011, she said: "We felt there needed to be an equilibrium, otherwise we would no longer be in a democratic transition."
The new party aspired "to bring together Tunisia's democratic forces", she added. It opposes any move to exclude figures associated with the old regime from political life, although Elloumi Rekik emphasised that none of the 12 founding members of Nida Tounes were ever members of Ben Ali's ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).
She said the new party believed that in these times of economic crisis the country would pay a "very high price" if it excluded ex-RCD figures from political life whatever their skills and experience.
One such figure is Caid Sebsi, an interior minister under independent Tunisia's charismatic but authoritarian first president, Habib Bourguiba. He continued as a member of the RCD central committee until at least the early 1990s, when he chaired Ben Ali's rubber-stamp parliament.
At 86 years old, the silver-haired Caid Sebsi, is nowadays viewed by an increasing number of Tunisians as a reassuringly grandfatherly figure in unsettling times, as rumours of corruption and incompetence surge periodically around the Islamist-led government. News of armed groups using the Tunisian mountains as a training ground alternate with reports of thugs disrupting opposition meetings, and violent anti-government protests at the border with Libya. In the hot-house world of newspaper offices and radio stations around Tunis's central avenue, every week seems to bring a fresh political scandal.
In the Islamist camp, Nahda's president, Rached Ghannouchi, has come under fierce criticism from those who see him as too conciliatory towards the more conservative currents of Salafist Islamism. But he, too, is capable of playing the reassuring elder. "Tunisia is only now learning how to use freedom responsibly," he said, quoting a Tunisian proverb that warns of caution when a deaf mute speaks for the first time.
Some Nahda members suggest the latest spike in tension, ahead of the revolution's anniversary, has been encouraged by those opposed to legislation that would bar all former senior members of the RCD from standing as election candidates or taking part in government for the next 10 years. As well as dampening any hopes of Caid Sebsi running for president, it would introduce a concept of "political responsibility" for individuals who may not have broken any law as such.
This would be applied to those judged to have helped the Ben Ali regime continue in power, whether by turning a blind eye to corruption or by being involved in the regime's public relations, said Zied Adhari, a lawyer and Nahda member of the assembly.
"A democratic transition is a fragile thing. If you are a businessman, and you built your fortune thanks to the old regime, Ben Ali has gone but you are still there with your money. You can still finance groups that are against the revolution. You could fund protests, problems, disturbances, even election campaigns. So we need a way of neutralising elements who were closely linked to the old regime. They can't reinvent themselves as democrats overnight," he said.
Around a dozen former ministers and presidential advisers from the Ben Ali era are held in Mornaguia prison on the outskirts of Tunis, either in pre-trial detention or serving sentences for offenses involving corruption or human rights abuses. Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, remain in exile in Saudi Arabia, which has not allowed them to be extradited back to Tunisia.
Up to 80 other former ministers or business associates of the old regime are stilled banned from travel outside Tunisia, as their cases continue under investigation by a judicial system that is itself still in upheaval. Whiling away their time in the stylish cafes of Tunis's northern suburbs, some former ministers are ready to defend their records, arguing that they were unaware of the level of human rights abuses taking place in Ben Ali's jails, and that their skills could now be put to good use to "serve their country".
Russia: ‘Impossible’ to remove Syria’s Assad from power
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 13, 2013 13:43 EST
Russia on Sunday said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power was not a part of past international agreements on the crisis and impossible to implement.
“This is a precondition that is not contained in the Geneva communique (agreed by world powers in June) and which is impossible to implement because it does not depend on anyone,” news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.
Lavrov conceded that a rare speech Assad delivered on January 6 laying out his own vision for a peace settlement probably did not go far enough and would not appease the armed opposition.
But he also urged Assad’s enemies to come out with a counterproposal that could get serious peace talks started between the two sides for the first time.
“President Assad has forwarded initiatives aimed at inviting all in the opposition to dialogue. Yes, this initiative probably does not go far enough,” said Lavrov.
“They will probably not look serious to some. But these are offers. And if I were in the opposition’s place, I would present my counter-ideas about establishing dialogue.”
Russia on Saturday reiterated its support for a transition plan that was agreed in Geneva on June 30 but never implemented because of the fighting.
The accord is now being heavily promoted by UN-Arab League envoy on the 21-month crisis Lakhdar Brahimi.
The Geneva deal calls for power to be handed to an interim government but offers no clear guidance about Assad’s future role.
Russia argues that only the Syrian people themselves can oust Assad through either elections or some form of negotiated settlement.
Western powers and Arab states — as well as the armed opposition — counter that the plan can only work if Assad steps down.
Watchdog group: Rape a ‘significant’ factor in Syria conflict
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:15 EST
Rape has been a “significant” weapon of war in the conflict raging in Syria since March 2011 and is the “primary” factor in the exodus of women and children refugees to neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon, an aid group said on Monday.
In its report, “Syria: A Regional Crisis,” the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) described rape “as a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war”.
“In the course of three IRC assessments in Lebanon and Jordan, Syrians identified rape as a primary reason their families fled the country,” the report said, calling for urgent attention to the issue.
“Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men. These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members.”
The IRC said it was also told of attacks in which women and girls were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed.
Syrian survivors rarely report sexual violence due to “the stigma and social norms around the dishonour that rape brings to women and girls and their families,” the IRC said.
Many interviewed by the IRC said survivors fear retribution by their assailants, being killed by “shamed” family members, or in the case of girls, being married off at an early age “to safeguard their honour,” the report said.
The IRC said survivors who flee face a shortage of medical and counselling services, in addition to “unsafe conditions in refugee camps as well as elevated levels of domestic violence.”
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that registered Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and North Africa now number more than 600,000.
The UN has said it expects refugee numbers to swell to 1.1 million by June if the war continues.
Inside Syria, more than 2 million civilians are displaced and the United Nations estimates that 4 million are in dire need of assistance, the IRC said, warning the crisis “will be a protracted humanitarian emergency.”
« Last Edit: Jan 14, 2013, 08:20 AM by Rad »
January 13, 2013
Egyptian Court Rejects Verdict Against Mubarak
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — An Egyptian appeals court on Sunday threw out the guilty verdict and life sentence against former President Hosni Mubarak on charges that he allowed the killing of protesters. The court ordered a new trial, which would once again send the ailing autocrat rolling on a stretcher into the steel defendant’s cage in an Egyptian criminal court.
Whether this was a victory or a setback for Mr. Mubarak was confused and contested. Both the prosecution and the defense had appealed the verdict, one side seeking a stronger verdict and the other an acquittal. Lawyers for the Islamist party allied with President Mohamed Morsi argued that a new trial with new evidence could yield a death penalty.
But other Egyptians reacted to the decision with exasperated sighs, seeing a parable of the country’s fitful progress in its struggle to break free of its autocratic past.
“Oh my God, we went back to square one, back to the early days of the revolution two years ago, when people were first calling for a Mubarak trial,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University of Cairo.
Mr. Mubarak’s unending case, he said, reflects Egypt’s unfinished revolution, in which a leader of the old Islamist opposition has come to preside uneasily over the largely still intact institutions of Mr. Mubarak’s former government, including the courts and the police.
“You are fighting Mubarak with his laws and his men,” Mr. Shahin said.
With a parliamentary election set for April, the new trial appeared certain to revive the calls for justice and revenge that once animated the uprising against Mr. Mubarak. Among Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, the renewed attention to the case played into their depiction of an epic struggle between Egypt’s newly elected leaders and the vestiges of the old state.
“God’s will was for the trial to be redone under Morsi, with the availability of new evidence and new defendants,” Essam el-Erian, a senior leader of President Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement.
Mr. Mubarak, 84, spent Sunday night in a military hospital, where he has been transferred repeatedly from his prison cell because of a host of reported health problems, some resulting from falls in the prison bathroom. At one point last year, the official Egyptian state news agency erroneously reported that he was “clinically dead” from a stroke. His first trial was conducted under the rule of the generals who seized power at his ouster, and have since ceded authority to Mr. Morsi.
More than 800 civilian demonstrators were killed, many of them by police and security forces, during the three weeks of mostly nonviolent protests that ended Mr. Mubarak’s rule. When the transitional government pursued charges against Mr. Mubarak and his circle, human rights lawyers faulted the prosecutors for relying on the same police force accused of killing the protesters to collect evidence against itself. And during Mr. Mubarak’s trial, many accused the prosecutors of failing to make good use of the evidence they did gather.
The guilty verdict was considered ripe for appeal from the moment it was issued, because the judge who handed it down said at the time that he had seen no evidence to back up a conviction. Instead, the judge reasoned that Mr. Mubarak and his Interior Ministry bore responsibility for the deaths of the protesters by virtue of their positions; he acquitted a half-dozen subordinate Interior Ministry officials who were charged in the same case.
Under Egyptian law, the ruling on Sunday effectively rewinds the court proceedings to the original indictment of Mr. Mubarak in 2011. When the case is assigned to a new court, the judge will have broad latitude and can send the case back to prosecutors for further investigation and new evidence, or even amend the charges.
Evidently anticipating Sunday’s ruling, Egyptian prosecutors recently had begun a new case against Mr. Mubarak, accusing him of taking payoffs from the state news organization Al Ahram in the form of $1 million in gifts over the last six years of his rule. The prosecutors issued an order on Saturday that would allow them to go on detaining Mr. Mubarak for questioning in that matter even if the court threw out his conviction in the protesters’ deaths.
But on Sunday, the state media reported that Mr. Mubarak and his family had unexpectedly agreed to repay $3 million in gifts he and they had received from Al Ahram in order to resolve the charges. If the repayment is accepted, the judge who hears the retrial could decide whether Mr. Mubarak remains in prison or goes free in the interim.
On the other side, lawyers with Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party and other advocates of a stronger conviction said they hoped that in a retrial, the prosecutors would take advantage of the findings of a presidential fact-finding commission looking into the protesters’ deaths.
The commission’s findings have not been disclosed publicly, but they reportedly include evidence that Mr. Mubarak was fully aware of the brutal tactics his police were using against protesters, something he denied in the first trial. Members of the commission have said that Mr. Mubarak received “firsthand” reports and watched the street battles around Tahrir Square on a video monitor in his office as they happened.
Ali al-Gineidy, a former member of the commission, said in an interview that Habib el-Adly, Mr. Mubarak’s interior minister, told the panel that “Mubarak knew everything, big and small.” Mr. Adly did not testify in the first trial, and it was unclear whether he would in the second.
So far, no credible reports about the commission’s findings have said that it found any evidence that Mr. Mubarak ordered or directed the use of deadly force against the protesters, the most serious accusation against him.
The commission’s findings could help make a retrial more credible, said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which has tracked the case.
“For the second trial to be more serious at all is going to require more rigorous investigation, and that can’t be done by the same police force,” Mr. Bahgat said, adding that if the second trial sticks to the same evidence as the first, it will almost certainly result in acquittal.
Before the court’s decision on Sunday, Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Adly were the only defendants to be convicted of any responsibility for the killing of the protesters, Mr. Bahgat noted. At least 93 police officers or Interior Ministry officials have been acquitted.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 14, 2013, 2:43 am
Government Quells Maoist Rebellion in West Bengal
By JASON MIKLIAN and KRISTIAN HOELSCHER
KOLKATA -Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often called the conflict against the Communist Party of India (Maoist) the greatest internal security threat that India faces. With some 6,000 dead in India's heartland since 2005 alone, it has certainly been one of the most violent.
Mr. Singh's lingering inability to quell the bloodshed through a "two-pronged strategy" of economic development and armed counterinsurgency has led to repeated howls of protest; from the left for human rights abuses committed by ill-trained troops, and from the right for not employing a heavier hand to crush the rebellion. Traditionally protected by tribal populations, which have struggled to take part in India's booming economic growth, the mobile Maoists evaded disjointed state-by-state responses while traversing India's heavily forested central states. Recently the conflict took a particularly gruesome turn, when the body of a constable was discovered in Jharkhand, with a bomb sewn into the abdomen.
But a surprising thing happened at the start of this decade. After years of feeling one step behind the insurgents, the conflict's momentum has suddenly shifted to the government's favor. This was nowhere more evident than in the state of West Bengal. In 2010, more than 400 people died here as the state became the epicenter of the long-running insurgency. However, according to newly released figures collected by the Institute for Conflict Management, a research organization based in New Delhi, there were a mere four Maoist-related deaths in West Bengal in 2012 - a 99 percent drop in two years. While Maoist violence across India has fallen by more than 65 percent during the period, in West Bengal it has been all but eliminated.
How did the state turn things around so dramatically - and so quickly? Inspector General Vivek Sahay, who leads the Central Reserve Police Force in West Bengal, is in charge of the state's anti-Maoist operations. Mr. Sahay believes that a greater number of officers available to combat the insurgency was essential to the turnaround. However, he said renewed attention to developing the building blocks of governance was just as important in causing the turning point as any military or strategic gains.
By weakening the insurgency in West Bengal, the government has been able to re-establish a constructive presence in rural areas, something Mr. Sahay sees as crucial. "Our success can't be judged merely by kills or arrests," he said. "It should be judged by the ability of other (government) departments to spend, to ensure that there is no fresh escalation of violence."
Mr. Sahay is speaking about the second leg of the government's strategy, highlighting the Central Reserve Police Force's mandate to create an environment secure enough for rural development programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other service-minded efforts to operate. By directly engaging with citizens, the government hopes that programs like these are the key weapon in the battle to win rural hearts and minds. Meanwhile, members of Mr. Singh's government are daring to project confidence for the first time, lauding the "two-pronged strategy" as central to its success.
Still, backroom dealings may have also played a role. The Trinamool Congress, West Bengal's current ruling party, has been repeatedly accused of aligning with the Maoists to gain rural support before the 2011 elections that brought it to power. The Trinamool Congress's electoral rival, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), alleged that the chief minster of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, orchestrated a cease-fire deal with the Maoists before elections in exchange for rural support. Ms.Banerjee denies the deal, but her colleague, Kabir Suman , recently gave the claims renewed validity, claiming that they would have lost several key rural constituencies (and perhaps even the election) without the Maoists' help.
Yet this alleged alliance may actually have served as the inadvertent breaking point of the insurgency. After the Maoists broke a cease-fire by assassinating several Trinamool Congress politicians, members of the Central Reserve Police Force used information gathered from pre-election mingling to kill the then-operational head of the Maoists, Kishenji.
A combination of secret surrender packages and promises to other former Maoist leaders of government jobs - mainly spying on their former comrades - have decimated Maoist ranks, leaving few capable enough to lead guerilla battles. Ms.Banerjee has cashed in on these victories, and in presiding over a populist government that has actively tried to extend development to its rural base, has made more concrete attempts to weaken the appeal of the Maoists than any West Bengal chief minister in a generation.
Will this combination of military successes and new promises of rural development finally mark the end of the 45-year old Maoist movement? Strategic successes by state and federal forces and a supportive political climate in West Bengal have quelled much of the worst violence, but few see permanent victory as being just around the corner. Even so, most recognize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to win back rural populations who feel that their government has repeatedly failed them. As Mr. Sahay warns, "it would be a colossal blunder if we let it slip."
Jason Miklian and Kristian Hoelscher are researchers at the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway. Mr. Miklian works primarily on the Maoist conflict in India and Mr. Hoelscher's research work focuses on urbanization, politics and conflict in developing democracies.
January 14, 2013
U.N. Human Rights Chief Seeks Investigation of North Korea
By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
GENEVA — In a bid to rebalance the international debate that has largely focused on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and security, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, called on Monday for an international inquiry into human rights offenses committed by the North Korea over many decades.
Ms. Pillay, the Geneva-based high commissioner for human rights, drew attention to North Korea’s “elaborate network of political prison camps,” believed by human rights organizations to hold 200,000 prisoners. The camps not only punish people for legitimate and peaceful activities but also employ “torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity,” Ms. Pillay said.
There had been some initial hope that North Korea’s change of leadership a little over a year ago might lead to improvement in its human rights practices, Ms. Pillay said, but “we see almost no sign of improvement.” Instead, North Korea’s self-imposed isolation had “allowed the government to mistreat its citizens to a degree that should be unthinkable in the 21st century,” she said.
Human rights groups have lobbied hard for an international investigation over the past year and hope that Ms. Pillay’s call will help to persuade Japan, with support from the United States and European Union, to sponsor a resolution at the next session of the Human Rights Council in March creating a commission of inquiry to examine conditions for North Korea’s 24 million people.
Ms. Pillay and human rights groups hope to build on North Korea’s growing isolation in the United Nations General Assembly and at the Human Rights Council, both of which passed resolutions condemning North Korea by consensus for the first time in 2012, unopposed even by China, the North’s closest ally.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who inherited the position from his father in December 2011, has sought to shape an image as a modernist but stated that his “first, second and third priorities” were to strengthen the military and stirred international alarm with its successful launching of a long-range rocket last month.
Ms. Pillay expressed concern that international preoccupation with North Korea’s nuclear program and rocket launchings had diverted attention from a human rights situation that has “no parallel anywhere in the world.”
“What we are trying to do is put human rights as a priority in the international debate on North Korea,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, one of more than 40 organizations in the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea that are backing the inquiry. “Right now it’s nearly invisible.”
The Human Rights Council has supported an investigator monitoring human rights in North Korea since 2004, but Pyongyang has refused any cooperation, and it was “time to take stronger action,” Ms. Pillay said.
In an election campaign last month, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan pledged support for a United Nations inquiry into abductions of Japanese by North Korea, but the government is still considering whether to sponsor a Security Council resolution calling for an international inquiry. “Japan is the leader on this issue,” Ms. de Rivero said. “If they don’t want it, it’s not going to happen.”
January 14, 2013
Shots Fired at Office of Greek Prime Minister
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — Rifle shots were fired early Monday into the Athens offices of Greece’s conservative party, which leads the fragile coalition government, causing no injuries but intensifying a wave of political violence in the debt-wracked country.
A police spokesman said Kalashnikov-type assault rifles were used in the attack which followed a series of bloodless bombings targeting media and political targets in recent days.
A bullet shattered the window of the third-floor of the building and was found in the office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, according to a police spokesman who said another bullet was found on the roof and nine casings outside the building, which is on a busy thoroughfare near central Athens. Security guards saw two men getting out of a car shortly before 3 a.m. and opening fire at the new Democracy party offices which were empty at the time of the attack, according to the police.
Police did not speculate on the identity of the assailants but state television reported that antiterrorism officers had joined the investigation. A string of attacks involving homemade gas canister bombs on Friday that targeted five prominent journalists was claimed by an anarchist group called Militant Minority-Lovers of Lawlessness. It cited media coverage of Greece’s economic crisis seen as sympathetic to the austerity drive being imposed by the Greek government and its international creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which have pledged 240 billion euros in loans to Greece since 2010.
Attacks on local offices of New Democracy, on banks and on a building belonging to the state power board, which levies an unpopular property tax, have yet to be claimed though police investigations are focusing on anti-establishment or anarchist groups who have used gas canister bombs to protest austerity in recent years. Dozens of suspected anarchists were arrested last week in a raid in central Athens where police confiscated petrol bombs.
Unidentified bombers also targeted the Athens home of the brother of government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou late Saturday.
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Kedikoglou pointed to a “dangerous escalation of spreading terror” and took a dig at Syriza, the main leftist opposition party, which he has repeatedly urged to condemn attacks apparently linked to anarchist and far-leftist groups.
“The difference between inflammatory statements and inflammatory attacks is very small,” said Mr. Kedikoglou said on Monday. “There has to be a clear denunciation of violence and verbal violence.”
A Syriza spokesman, Panos Skourletis, said his party’s condemnation of the attacks was a “given” and accused New Democracy of creating a “civil war climate” to distract public attention from an ongoing austerity drive and from economic problems and political scandals which have helped the leftists rise in opinion polls. The leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, who was in Berlin on Monday to meet with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, spoke by telephone with Mr. Samaras after Monday’s assault to ask for a thorough investigation into the bombings, according to state television.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 14, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated a group that claimed responsibility for attacks involving homemade gas canister bombs on Friday. The group was Militant Minority-Lovers of Lawlessness, not Military Minority-Lovers of Lawlessness.
January 13, 2013
Russians Rally Against Adoption Ban in a Revival of Anti-Kremlin Protests
By ELLEN BARRY and ANDREW ROTH
MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians marched Sunday to condemn the Parliament’s move to ban the adoption of Russian children by American families, an event called a “March Against Scoundrels.” The protesters chanted, “Take your hands off children,” and carried posters showing the faces of lawmakers stamped with the word “shame.”
Marchers flooded blocks of tree-lined boulevards on a bitterly cold day. The police estimated the turnout for the march, which was approved by the city’s authorities, at 9,500, but a group of activists told the Interfax news agency that about 24,000 people had shown up.
The sight gags and clever slogans of last year’s antigovernment rallies were absent on Sunday, and many of the marchers became emotional in talking about why they took part. Some questioned the morality of a ban on adoptions by Americans in a country where so many children are in foster care or orphanages.
“Even I can’t afford to adopt, and I’m supposedly middle class,” said Yekaterina Komissarova, 31, adding that perhaps the issue angered her so deeply because she is the mother of two children.
Another marcher, Tamara Nikolayeva, 62, nearly shouted as she accused Russian leaders of using orphans as pawns.
“They have decided to settle a score by using children, and it’s shameful,” Ms. Nikolayeva said as friends gathered around, nodding their encouragement. “O.K., maybe at some point it will be better not to give our children away; we should take care of them ourselves. But first you have to make life better for them here. Give them a chance to study. Give them a chance to get medical treatment.”
The adoption ban has underlined a growing division in Russian society, as the government has embraced conservative language tailored to voters in the heartland and has turned away from more prosperous city dwellers who have mobilized over the Internet. State-controlled television has regaled Russians with reports of American parents who abuse or neglect Russian children, and a top official derided the marchers as “child sellers.”
“I am especially surprised to see people gather at such a large action in support of American business — because for them, our children, Russian children, are factually, let’s put it this way, an object of trade,” Yekaterina Lakhova, the United Russia lawmaker who sponsored the ban, said in an interview with Kommersant FM radio shortly after the march began.
“Economically developed countries — and we do not consider ourselves a third world country, we are in the top 20 — do not give up their children to foreign adoption as much as we do,” she said. “Excuse me, but in the past years, we have given the United States a small city with a population of up to 100,000. That is how many children we have given up to foreign adoptions.”
President Vladimir V. Putin approved the adoption ban in late December as part of a broader law retaliating against the United States for the so-called Magnitsky Act, an effort to punish Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
Russian leaders have complained bitterly for years about what they consider light sentences in cases where American parents abused or neglected children adopted from Russia, and named the ban after Dmitri Yakovlev, a toddler who died of heatstroke in Virginia in 2008 after his adoptive father left him in a parked car for nine hours.
But the decision has proved to be controversial in Russia, even within government circles. More than 650,000 children live in foster care or orphanages in Russia, of whom about 120,000 are eligible for adoption. Many children in orphanages are sick or disabled, and most have little hope of finding permanent homes.
“We hope that these people, who came out to express their opinion, are aware of the plans of our nation’s leaders to bring order to the adoption process, and the implementation of a range of measures aimed to improve the lives of orphans,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary.
The protesters on Sunday, however, were not likely to be convinced. One woman carried a sign that said, “Stop the repressions, you’re making revolutionaries out of us.” Many said they supported the Magnitsky Act, which American lawmakers passed late last year, as a way to hold Russian officials accountable for crimes that would otherwise never be punished.
“I truly think they have lost touch with society, and they use these laws to divert society’s anger toward ‘our enemies,’ the Americans,” said Boris Komberg, a physicist who was distributing a poem he had written about the adoption issue.
Yelena Rostova, 61, said anger over the ban had caught the authorities by surprise.
“They expected that, as usual, we would swallow it, keep quiet,” Ms. Rostova said. “We have had two weeks to think about this law, and not everyone understood right away, but as time passed, people realized what it means to leave invalids, sick children, in Russia, where there is no help. Everyone knows what kind of medicine we have here.”
Because of the long winter holidays, there is little fresh data about the public’s opinion, but in a survey released in December by the Public Opinion Foundation, 56 percent of Russians said they approved of banning adoptions by Americans.
Leonid Perlov, 58, a geography professor, cast an appraising eye at the long line of marchers. He then turned back and said it would be foolish to expect political change anytime soon.
“This is not the country,” he said. “This is Moscow. Believe me, there is a very big difference.”
January 13, 2013
Georgia Frees 190 Inmates Deemed Political Prisoners
By OLESYA VARTANYAN
TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia on Sunday released 190 inmates identified by lawmakers as political prisoners, the first group to be freed under a sweeping amnesty law passed last year by a new Parliament.
“I thought this day would never come,” said one of the detainees, David Meskhidze, a former military engineer, as he left a prison outside Tbilisi and embraced his sister.
President Mikheil Saakashvili had opposed the amnesty law, but Parliament mustered enough votes to pass it without his signature. The amnesty fulfills a campaign pledge by the new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who promised to reduce prison crowding and free people he considered to be political detainees.
Among the inmates freed were people convicted of taking part in military mutinies, spying for Russia and engaging in illegal political rallies.
Over the next two months prisoners convicted of nonpolitical criminal offenses could also benefit from the amnesty law, which could free about 3,000 inmates and reduce the sentences of 14,000 more.
Mr. Ivanishvili’s political coalition, Georgian Dream, won parliamentary elections last October, setting the stage for a power struggle between the prime minister and the president. Mr. Saakashvili, whose popularity had been sliding as he nears the end of his second term in office, is scheduled to step down in October after a presidential election. Term limits bar him from running again.
But the two will share power until then, and the amnesty law is an early test of how this arrangement will work.
Mr. Meskhidze, walking out of prison Sunday, said he had not seen his family since 2010, when he and 12 other people were arrested and convicted of spying for Russia. He said that he was innocent, and that the whole case had been fabricated by Mr. Saakashvili’s prosecutors because they wanted to “promote hatred” for Russia in Georgia. The two countries fought a brief war in 2008 and have not re-established diplomatic relations after severing them during the conflict.
“For two years and three months I was trying to understand why this happened to me,” Mr. Meskhidze said. “I never did anything bad to my beloved country and was always an honest soldier. It was just bad luck for me.”
Hundreds of people gathered near the prison in the suburbs of Tbilisi, the capital, on Sunday, applauding and weeping when the first inmates appeared near the gates.
Last year a parliamentary commission identified the group of 190 inmates freed Sunday as political prisoners and gave them priority for release. All of them were opponents of the former government.
Mr. Saakashvili strongly disagreed with those who said the prosecutions were politically motivated. “The new government released a lot of Russian spies today,” he said in a televised address. “Now everyone thinks: ‘It is so good that people got released.’ I would also be happy if I didn’t know what it can lead to. It is a problem for the state, for its security.”
The president refused to sign the amnesty bill. But Parliament, now dominated by Mr. Saakashvili’s opponents in the Georgian Dream coalition, easily overturned his veto at the end of December.
“Today we cleaned the conscience of our country,” said Eka Beselia, a member of the Parliament and the author of the amnesty bill, after greeting the released inmates near the prison. “All these people were personal prisoners of Saakashvili. It is very important that Georgia now has no political prisoners, and we can declare we are a worthy member of the civilized world.”
Among those freed Sunday were two Russian citizens, whose release Moscow had been demanding. One, Pavel Bliadze, 50, a retired Russian Army colonel, had been accused of illegally possessing a gun.
“I came to Georgia for three months’ vacation and stayed here for three years in jail,” Mr. Bliadze said, smiling as he walked out of prison. “Georgia’s security forces asked me to admit on camera that I brought money for the organizers of a military mutiny. I disagreed, and they sent me to prison.”
Andrew Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow.