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« Reply #4065 on: Jan 16, 2013, 07:39 AM »


France pledges to fight until Mali's Islamist rebels are wiped out

Air raids continue 'day and night' in battle with insurgents, but French president dismisses suggestion of colonialism

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Afua Hirsch in Bamako
The Guardian, Wednesday 16 January 2013   

France will only end its intervention in Mali when political stability and an election process have been restored to the chaotic west African country and Islamist groups have been wiped out, the French president said on Tuesday, raising the prospect of a drawn-out engagement on hostile desert terrain.

The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said a "relentless" fight with Islamists was continuing on Tuesday night and France would stay "as long as necessary".

Mali is in political disarray after a coup last year and the fall of the vast northern desert to Islamist groups who operate a drug trafficking and kidnap economy in several Sahel countries.

French air raids continued "day and night" in the vast area seized by the Islamist alliance, which combines al-Qaida's north African wing, AQIM, with Mali's home-grown Movement for Oneness and Jihad in west Africa (Mojwa) and Ansar Dine rebel groups.

Le Drian described an implacable fight against Islamists who were "agile, determined, well-equipped, well-trained" and could easily hide in the desert.

He said that since Saturday, round-the-clock French air raids had been aimed at stopping the Islamist advance southwards towards the capital, Bamako, and destroying training camps, command structures and any rear bases in the north.

Airstrikes were continuing across a swath of territory east and west of the Niger river. But Le Drian said that in the town of Diabaly, which had seen an air offensive throughout Monday night, Islamists were still "very present" and threatened the south of the country. Diabaly is 220 miles (350km) from Bamako.

Le Drian said the town of Konna, which fell to the Islamists last Thursday triggering the sudden French intervention on Friday, had still not been retaken by the Malian army. The Red Cross said the army had sustained casualties.

France is to boost the 1,700 of its troops engaged in the mission, including 800 soldiers already on the ground, to 2,500.

West African armies are scrambling to join the operation, brought forward by France's air campaign to stop the rebel advance. It has carried out 50 bombing raids since Friday.

A column of French armoured vehicles rolled northward from Bamako towards rebel lines on Tuesday, the first major northward deployment of ground troops. A military official declined to comment on their objective.

On a visit to United Arab Emirates, President François Hollande said France had three aims: to stop the rebel advances, to secure Bamako and to help the Mali government regain control of the whole country. He said France would take a lesser role "as soon as there is an African force, in coming days or weeks", adding that France did not intend to stay.

In response to questions about a return to France's controversial and shadowy role pulling strings in its former colonies, Hollande said the Mali intervention, in an international legal framework with UN backing, had nothing to do with the practices of "a bygone era". He said: "France should only intervene in Africa in exceptional circumstances and for a limited time. That's what we will do."

But he added that France's role was to ensure that "when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory".

Asked what France intended to do with the Islamists, Hollande said: "Destroy them. Take them captive, if possible."

West African defence chiefs met in Bamako to approve plans to speed up the deployment of 3,300 regional troops, foreseen in a UN-backed intervention plan to be led by Africans. After failing to reach a final agreement, they adjourned their talks until Wednesday.

Troops from the Ecowas grouping of west African states are expected to be deployed within a week to bolster the Malian army.

Nigeria, which is due to lead the African mission, pledged to deploy soldiers within 24 hours, but with its own army under pressure on several fronts and the sudden Mali intervention leaving little time for planing, Nigeria had already cautioned that even if some troops arrive in Mali swiftly, their training and equipping will take more time.

The UN refugee agency said the clashes in northern Mali were adding to the already large numbers of displaced people.

The agency spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said 1,230 refugees from Mali had arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania as a result of recent clashes between the French-backed Malian army and the rebel groups. More than 144,000 fled to neighbouring countries in 2012, and nearly 200,000 in northern Mali were displaced within the country.

Earlier on Tuesday the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the current level of the French involvement in Mali would go on for "a matter of weeks".

But a Mojwa commander told Associated Press: "I would advise France not to sing their victory song too quickly. They managed to leave Afghanistan. They will never leave Mali."

Oumar Ould Hamaha said: "It's to our advantage that they send in French troops on foot. We are waiting for them. And what they should know is that every French soldier that comes into our territory should make sure to prepare his will beforehand, because he will not leave alive."

In Lisbon, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said no American troops would be put on the ground in Mali. The US is providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French, and officials would not rule out having American aircraft land there to provide airlift and logistical support. Panetta said the US was still working through the details of assistance it would provide France.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers on Thursday is expected to define what kind of support will be provided to the African mission in Mali.

The Mali government contradicted other reports that the Islamists who seized control of Diabaly had entered the country from Mauritania. "The people in Diabaly are bandits who fled there from the north," Manga Dembele, the minister of communication, told the Guardian at the government headquarters in Bamako. "They have come to seek refuge in the town and they are hiding in the population."

But relations with Mauritania to Mali's west and Algeria to the north have been fraught in recent months, with accusations that both countries have harboured Islamists who crossed porous desert borders to stock up on supplies.

"We are not worried the Islamists will arrive in Bamako," said Dembele.

Responding to questions about the apparent lack of security in the capital where government offices and ministries have little security and are accessible to members of the public. Dembele said the situation there was under control.

Dembele sought to calm increasing anxiety in Bamako about the existence of Islamist "sleeper cells", which it is feared could launch an attack on the city in response to the mounting campaign against them in the north.

********

Mali: French troops in direct combat with insurgents 'within hours'

France accuses militants of using human shields, as five Japanese nationals and a French citizen kidnapped in Algeria

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Afua Hirsch in Bamako and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 11.56 GMT    

French troops will be in direct combat with Islamist militants in Mali "within hours", France's military chief of staff has said.

Admiral Édouard Guillaud said on Wednesday morning that French ground operations had begun overnight – hours after the defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said France's intervention would continue "as long as necessary".

Le Drian had confirmed on Tuesday night that the French intervention in Mali would take the form of both air and ground operations, while preparations continue for the arrival of a west African force."Now we're on the ground," Guillaud said. "We will be in direct combat within hours."

Guillaud accused the insurgents of taking human shields and said France would do its utmost to make sure civilians were not wrongly targeted. "When in doubt, we will not fire," he said.

President François Hollande said on Tuesday France would only end its intervention in Mali when political stability and an election process had been restored and Islamist groups had been wiped out, raising the prospect of a drawn-out engagement on hostile desert terrain.

And in a sign that the French intervention may trigger further retaliation by militant Islamists, at least eight foreigners were kidnapped in neighbouring Algeria on Wednesday morning.

The foreigners were taken from an oil facility in Ain Amenas in southern Algeria, Reuters reported. French foreign ministry officials said they had no immediate comment on the hostage report and were still trying to verify the information.

A column of French armoured vehicles left Mali's capital Bamako late on Tuesday night and headed north towards insurgent frontlines.

**********

Mali music ban by Islamists 'crushing culture to impose rule'

Rebels' clampdown on live performances, from Amadou and Mariam to Tinariwen, is driving music underground

Robin Denselow   
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 January 2013 21.10 GMT          

Nowhere does music have a greater social and political importance than in the vast desert state of Mali. It is shocking, therefore, that it has been banned across much of the two-thirds of Mali currently controlled by Islamic rebel groups.

As "Manny" Ansar, the director of the country's celebrated Festival in the Desert, which has now been forced out of the country, explained: "Music is important as a daily event. It's not just a business, for it's through our music that we know history and our own identity. Our elders gave us lessons through music. It's through music that we declare love and get married – and we criticise and make comments on the people around us."
Link to video: Amadou and Mariam: Wily Kataso live session

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Malian musicians have become household names in the west. The list is remarkable, from the late Ali Farka Touré to the soulful Salif Keita, from Toumani Diabaté, the world's finest exponent of the kora, to the bravely experimental Rokia Traoré. Then there's the rousing desert blues of Tinariwen, who have performed alongside the Rolling Stones.

There is the passionate social commentary of Oumou Sangaré, and the rousing, commercially successful African pop fusion of Amadou & Mariam.

These musicians, with varied, distinctive styles, have educated western audiences about Africa and their country's ancient civilisation, and the way in which traditional families of musicians, the griots, had acted as advisers to the rulers and guardians of the country's history, and kept alive an oral tradition for generation after generation.

And yet the Islamic rebel groups are trying to wipe out this ancient culture – and in the process have forced Malian musicians to examine the role they should now play.

Ansar said he was "ashamed at what has happened has happened – and it was provoked by people who call themselves Muslims, like me".

When I met him at a censorship conference in Oslo, he said the militias were stopping the music "to impose their authority, so there's nothing to threaten them". He added: "That's why they are attacking the traditional chiefs and musicians. And they're using concepts of Islam that are 14 centuries old and have never been applied. I find it strange that these ideas are being imposed now. It's as if they took a computer and wiped the hard drive, and then imposed their ideas instead."
Link to video: Toumani Diabate: How I Wrote Fantasie

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The situation is particularly painful for musicians from the north of Mali, for bands such as Tinariwen from the nomadic Touareg or Kel Tamashek people, whose international popularity has been helped for the last 12 years by the Festival in the Desert.

There have been upheavals in the region in the past, including a huge rebellion in 1990, when Tamashek fighters turned against the Malian government, demanding greater autonomy, a right to defend and support their culture, and even demands for a new country, Azawad.

It seemed at first that the latest rebellion, now a year old, might follow a similar pattern, yet it splintered and changed course, and Islamic groups took over from the nationalists, partly because the former nationalist leader Iyad Ag Ghali (whose songs were once covered by Tinariwen) has now converted to a more extreme form of Islam.
Link to video: Damon Albarn performs in Mali with Afel Bocoum

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Tinariwen are currently back in northern Mali, or living in exile in southern Algeria, but when they played in London last year, guitarist and bass player Eyadou Ag Leche talked of their problems since the Islamists took over the north.

Young people have been stopped from listening to music and families have had their televisions smashed for watching music shows, but music was still being played "underground", he said.

As for the Islamists, he said that he "didn't know where these people had come from", and suggested they were financed through Qatar.

Other bands from the rebel areas reported similar problems. Pino Ibrahim ag Ahmed, of Terakaft, said he had been forced into exile in Algeria and "lost much of his land". He said: "I don't know these groups, or what they want, and it's dangerous moving around." But he was determined to keep playing.

In the Malian capital, Bamako, outside the rebel-controlled area, musicians are also determined to keep working, but face different problems.

Bassekou Kouyate, the world's leading n'goni player, said that musicians in the city are unable to work at the moment as clubs have been closed, all public concerts have been postponed, there are very few weddings taking place, and "even the concert in honour of the great balafon player Kélétigui Diabaté, who died recently, has been cancelled".

He said: "The government is nervous and afraid of terrorist attacks on public gatherings. They are asking everyone to wait until the situation in the north has calmed down."

But he and his wife, the singer Amy Sacko, did take part in a national television programme, along with Oumou Sangaré, in which they "all sang against all forms of sharia law".
Link to video: Tinariwen- exclusive video

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Asked about the French military involvement, he said "they have saved Africa. They have saved Mali from the Islamists. I am going to buy a French flag to put in front of my house, to say thank you. That is how us Malians feel now".

In another musical unity project, the singer Fatoumata Diawara has just finished a new song and video, Peace, which will be quickly released in Bamako on Thursday. The aim, she said was to promote peace and "show that not all Touaregs want an independent state in the north – we want one Mali".

Touareg musicians appear on the song, as part of an extraordinary 45-strong cast that features 13 musicians, including Toumani Diabaté and guitar hero Djelimady Tounkara, and 29 singers, including Sangaré, Amadou & Mariam and Ivory Coast reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly. "There has never been anything like this in Mali," she said. "The political situation is bad so it's time for the musicians to come together." She also agreed with Bassekou that "people are happy" about the French military involvement.

Outside Mali, other musicians are involved in an international campaign to promote the culture of their battered country. Rokia Traoré, arguably the most adventurous female singer in Africa, is currently on tour in Australia. She explains: "I can just keep going and doing the best in my work, to try to make people think good things about Mali and see good things from Mali."

There will no doubt be similar sentiments expressed in London and Glasgow on 26 and 27 January when three Malian artists appear together at the Sahara Soul concerts, at which Bassekou Kouyaté will be joined by the young Tamashek band Tamikrest, seen as a younger answer to Tinariwen, and Sidi Touré, a griot from the ancient city of Gao, currently under rebel control.

When those shows are over, Kouyaté heads back to Mali for further events, which will only take place if security allows. A major festival in his home town of Ségou is to be followed by an appearance at the Evening for Peace and National Unity in Bamako, organised by Oumou Sangaré.

Both events will also feature musicians who are also taking part in a two-pronged Caravan of Artists for Peace and National Unity, which will travel around west Africa next month, ending up in the town of Oursi in the neighbouring state of Burkino-Faso.

It's here that Ansar is hosting his 13th Festival in the Desert, now being staged in exile.

"The brutal sound of weapons and the cries of intolerance are not able to silence the singing of the griots," he said. "The Festival in the Desert must survive all this."

• Sahara Soul is at the Barbican, London, on 26 January and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (celticconnections.com) on 27 January.

*********

Foreign worker killed and seven missing in raid on BP in Algeria

Five Japanese, Frenchman and Irishman kidnapped in fatal attack on oil field near Libyan border

Reuters in Algiers
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 13.29 GMT   

Islamist militants attacked a gas production field in southern Algeria on Wednesday, kidnapping at least seven foreigners and killing a French national, local and company officials said.

An al-Qaida-linked group operating in the Sahara said it had carried out the raid on the In Amenas facility, Mauritania's ANI news agency reported.

The field, near the border with Libya, is operated by a joint venture including BP, Norwegian oil firm Statoil and the Algerian state company Sonatrach.

Five Japanese nationals working for the Japanese engineering firm JCG Corp and a French national were kidnapped, local officials said. The Irish government said an Irishman had also been seized.

A French national was killed in the attack, a local source said, but it was unclear if the victim was the same person who had been kidnapped.

The foreigners were taken in the morning. Algerian troops had mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and had also surrounded the workers' camp at Tiguentourine, a local source said.

Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali with al-Qaida links, but officials have yet to make a link between the kidnapping on Wednesday and the conflict in neighbouring Mali.

ANI, which has regular direct contact with Islamists, said that fighters under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar were holding the foreigners seized from the gas field.

Belmokhtar commanded al-Qaida fighters in the Sahara for years before setting up his own armed Islamist group late last year after an apparent fallout with other militant leaders.

BP confirmed there had been a "security incident" at the In Amenas field, but could give no more details.

Statoil, a minority shareholder in the venture, said it had been notified of the incident on Wednesday morning but could not say if any of its fewer than 20 employees were affected.

Statoil described the incident as an emergency situation.

BP said the field was approximately 1,300 km (825 miles) from the capital, Algiers.

The five Japanese work for the engineering firm JGC Corporation, Jiji news agency reported, quoting company officials. JGC has a deal with Sonatrach-BP-Statoil Association for work in gas production at In Amenas.

In Tokyo, the Japanese foreign ministry said it was gathering information on the situation but could not comment. French foreign ministry officials also said they had no immediate comment and were trying to verify the reports.

*******

Mali: France facing a formidable enemy

French troops have been welcomed in Bamako and beyond but should not under-estimate the sophistication of the Islamists

Gregory Mann for Africa is a Country, part of the Guardian Africa Network   
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 January 2013 10.57 GMT   
   

Phew, Mali. French air raids against Islamist positions began on Thursday night, and the dust hasn't settled yet. The news is changing fast, but, three things emerge from the haze. First, fierce fighting in the north and the east, with French forces in the lead, will open up a whole new set of dangers. With Islamist forces on the attack, foreign intervention was necessary, and many Malians at home and abroad welcomed it enthusiastically. Still, this remains a dangerous moment all around. Second, while the latest crisis might not break the political deadlock in Bamako, it has already changed the dynamic. And third, despite the sorry state of mediation efforts to date – both within west Africa and beyond – savvy diplomacy is needed now more than ever.

First, the fighting.
The French have come in hard and fast, with fighter jets flying sorties from southern France over Algerian airspace, helicopters coming in from bases in Burkina Faso, and special forces and Legionnaires from Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Burkina, and France. There are indeed French boots on the ground, fighting alongside what remains of the Malian army and troops from neighboring countries. So far it is the air assault that has garnered headlines, chasing the allied Islamist fighters from the positions they had taken last week, as well as from most of their Sahelian strongholds (as I write, no reports of fighting in or around Timbuktu). Konna, Douentza, Gao, Léré, Kidal… : ça chauffe.

Three things on that.

The intervention was necessary. The drama of the Islamist offensive should not be underestimated – a successful assault on Sevaré would have meant the loss of the only airstrip in Mali capable of handling heavy cargo planes, apart from that in Bamako. This would have made any future military operation a nightmare for west African or other friendly forces, and it would have chased tens of thousands of civilians from their homes. After Sevaré, nothing would have stopped an Islamist advance on Segou and Bamako, although it is not clear whether the Islamists would have any strategic interest in investing Mali's sprawling and densely populated capital. Still, many Bamakois feared an attack, and had one occurred the human costs would have been astronomical. Malians remember well that only a few months ago, insurgent forces ejected the army from northern Mali as if they were throwing a drunk from a bar. Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal fell in a weekend. The army collapsed, and it has only been weakened by internal fighting since. Any other story is a fairytale.

The enemy is formidable. French officials expressed some surprise at the level of sophistication of the Islamist forces – well-armed, well-trained and experienced. In an early wave of the French intervention, one helicopter took heavy fire from small arms, and a pilot was killed; another French soldier remains missing. Malian casualties were heavy, and likely remain under-reported. Sources from Mopti refer to dozens of deaths among the Malian ranks, and there will be other casualties to come. In short, last week's Islamist offensive put paid to the argument that the Malian army itself was capable of defending the country from further attack and of liberating the territory over which it had lost control.

This is not a neo-colonial offensive. The argument that it is might be comfortable and familiar, but it is bogus and ill-informed. France intervened following a direct request for help from Mali's interim President, Dioncounda Traore. Most Malians celebrated the arrival of French troops, as Bruce Whitehouse and Fabien Offner have demonstrated. Every Malian I've talked to agrees with that sentiment. The high stakes and the strength of the enemy help to explain why the French intervention was so popular in a country that is proud of its independence and why the French tricolor is being waved in Bamako. That would have been unimaginable even six months ago – and probably even last week. More important than how quickly it went up will be how quickly it comes down; this popularity could be ephemeral. One tweeter says French President François Hollande is more popular than Barack Obama right now. I'd wait for Hollande's face to go up on a few barbershops before making that call, but the comparison gives a sense of the relief many felt when French forces came to the rescue of the Malian army.

Not everyone is in favor of the intervention. Let's count some of the more vocal opponents – Oumar Mariko, Mali's perpetual gadfly; former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who argues that it would be better to wait for the lions to lie down with the lambs; Paris-based Camerounian novelist Calixthe Beyala, who argues that those Malians who would prefer not to live under a crude faux-Islamic vigilantism suffer from a plantation mentality; and some truly reprehensible protesters at the French embassy in London, who refuse to believe that most Malians are Muslims and don't need religious instruction from Salafists. It's hard to imagine a leakier ship of fools.

Second, fighting in the north has already changed the political dynamics on the ground in Bamako. The pro-junta movement MP-22 and Mariko, one of its most prominent leaders, opposed the French intervention just as they've violently opposed the possibility of Ecowas help (this is the same crowd that nearly lynched the interim president last spring). Their position not only contrasts sharply with public sentiment, it also puts the movement at odds with Mali's largest political coalition of the moment, the FDR, which had joined MP-22 in calling for a national conference in the days before the Islamist offensive. Since then the FDR has declared that now is not the time. What to make of this? First, as for MP-22, the dogs bark, but the caravan passes. Second and more importantly, although the question of the national conference might be bracketed for the moment, it will come back soon.

Three important changes have already occurred in Bamako:

First – and strikingly – even Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the coup in March and who still holds a great deal of political power, has welcomed the arrival of French troops. This is important: he had been forced to abandon the argument that his troops could go it alone. His fierce opposition to the idea that Ecowas troops, still less French ones, would come to Mali's aid had been only gradually been whittled down over the last several months, but it withered completely in the face of the recent Islamist offensive. Now, he has had to reverse course. When he made a lightning trip to Mopti-Sevaré over the weekend, it was hard to avoid the impression that he was struggling to remain relevant to both Kati (the garrison) and Kuluba (the presidential palace).

Second, virtually unremarked upon with all eyes in the east, several hundred French soldiers are deployed in Bamako to protect French citizens – of whom there are reportedly some 6,000 in Mali, of whom expatriates are a minority (press: please note). In the current emergency while the French troops are there ostensibly to protect their citizens and other civilians from terrorist attack, they implicitly secure the civilian government against its own military and against mobs like those ginned up by MP-22 and other radical associations. Meanwhile, soldiers from Ecowas countries are arriving by the hundreds, although it is not yet clear what role they will play or where they will be stationed.

Third, their presence puts President Traore in a stronger position. In months past, both the junta and the anti-globalisation left have been allergic to the idea of any foreign troops in Bamako itself, and they have used violence and intimidation to secure their argument. Now Traore has proven strong enough both to ask for military aid and to receive it. Neither he nor his new prime minister, Django Cissoko, remains prisoner to the threats of the military or the radical opposition.

Still, especially given all that's happened over the weekend, it is important to recall to that the political situation in Bamako remains unstable. Dioncounda Traore's "interim" presidency is long past its constitutional sell-by date, and the rest of Mali's political class – including its once-young angry left – have hardly failed to notice that. Last week, before the offensive, a broad coalition formed to demand a "national consultation" (often bruited, sometimes scheduled, never held), Traore's resignation (to be replaced by whom?), and the launching of a military campaign to retake the north (which, coincidentally, they got, even if it was not the Malian-led initiative they wanted).

On Wednesday demonstrators burned tires, blocked traffic, and shut down two of the three bridges across the Niger. Some men in masks reportedly fired guns in the air and carjacked trucks and 4X4s. In response, Traore closed all schools in Bamako and in the garrison town of Kati. If he was attempting to keep the students from joining the fray, he failed. In addition to opening Traore up to a certain amount of Twitter ridicule (Twittercule?), the edict brought the students' union out on the streets on Thursday. They broke into high schools, chasing out students who were sitting exams (bad luck: apparently the questions were easy). At the moment, schools are open again, but the president has declared a state of emergency. In short, Bamako remains uneasy, and the "sacred union" of the last few days can only be temporary.

Third, what all this suggests is that the Mali crisis – which long ago became the Sahel crisis – needs diplomatic intervention every bit as urgently as it needed military intervention.

To date, west African meditation efforts have been manipulated by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré, whom Ecowas has dubbed its mediator in the conflict. Few Malians take Campaoré as a legitimate interlocutor, and no one believes that he has the country's interests at heart. After profiting from hostage-taking by negotiating ransoms with al-Qaida in the Magreb (AQMI), Campaoré was until recently harboring dozens of fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), while attempting to manipulate former prime minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra by remote control. The military threw Diarra out of office in December, and a steady campaign to tarnish his image irreparably has accelerated since then, as he stands accused of diverting funds intended to aid the refugees to finance his political party.

As for Compaoré's guests from the MNLA, it's said that he asked them to leave Burkina after they refused to keep a low profile. Several dozen have since turned up in Mauritania. In response to the latest round of skirmishing, which compelled the postponement of further negotiations in Ouagadougou, Compaoré's lead diplomat Djibril Bassolé called on both sides to stop firing and hold their positions, as if this was a legitimate request to make of a national army defending its own territory and civilians, and as if he himself had anything better to offer than the prospect of further degrading the situation.

As for the UN, although after much discussion the security council has authorised the use of force by Ecowas to re-establish Mali's territorial integrity, the organisation's secretary general seems to be running, as ever, on empty. Ban Ki-moon named Romano Prodi his emissary for the Sahelian crisis, leaving some to wonder if he had not got his dossiers shuffled. Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy, knows nothing of the Sahel and speaks none of its languages, only stumbling along in French. He is scarcely qualified for the job: in 2008, he led a UN-African Union panel on peacekeeping. More to the point, perhaps, he once helped to negotiate for the release of hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet the narrow lens of the hostage conundrum is precisely the wrong way to examine the Sahelian crisis (see: Nicolas Sarkozy), and this is not a peacekeeping scenario. At an event in Paris back in June, Manthia Diawara made the very good point that if Mali's friends and neighbours take the country's crisis seriously, they ought to be delegating some serious mediators to it. Compaoré and Bassolé, on behalf of Ecowas, and Prodi, on the part of the UN, don't make the grade. Could Presidents Yaya Boni of Benin or Macky Sall of Senegal, for instance, step in where Compaoré has failed? Africa is not short on diplomats, elders, and people of experience. President Traore – and Secretary-General Ban – should be writing to them as well.<

Disclaimers:
The situation is changing very quickly, and much of what is written here may soon be outdated.

For lack of a better term, I use "Islamist" to refer to the alliance of AQMI, Ansar Dine, Mujao, and other foreign movements. Other terms are inadequate ("terrorist") or inaccurate. I reserve the terms rebels or insurgents for the host of anti-government forces, which includes the MNLA, a movement now at odds with its former allies Ansar Dine.



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« Reply #4066 on: Jan 16, 2013, 07:45 AM »


Aleppo university blasts kill at least 82

Rebels and regime blame each other after explosions, which left at least 162 people injured

Reuters in Beirut
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 January 2013 21.20 GMT   

Two explosions tore through one of Syria's biggest universities on the first day of student exams on Tuesday, killing at least 82 people and wounding 162, Syria's UN envoy told the UN security council.

"A cowardly terrorist act targeted the students of Aleppo university as they sat for their midterm examinations," Bashar Ja'afari told the council during a debate on counter-terrorism.

Bloodshed has disrupted civilian life across Syria since a violent government crackdown in early 2011 on peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform turned the unrest into an armed insurgency bent on overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 50 countries asked the UN security council on Tuesday to refer the crisis to the international criminal court, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes. But Russia – Assad's long-standing ally and arms supplier – blocked the initiative, calling it "ill-timed and counterproductive".

Each side in the 22-month-old conflict blamed the other for the blasts at the University of Aleppo, located in a government-held area of Syria's most populous city.

Some activists in Aleppo said a government attack caused the explosions, while state television accused "terrorists" – a term they often use to describe the rebels – of firing two rockets at the school. A rebel fighter said the blasts appeared to have been caused by "ground-to-ground" missiles.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said it could not identify the source of the blasts.

"Dozens are in critical condition. The death toll could rise to 90," the Observatory said in a statement, citing doctors and students.

State television showed a body lying on the street and several cars burning. One of the university buildings was damaged.

Video footage showed students carrying books out of the university after one of the explosions, walking quickly away from rising smoke.

The camera then shook to the sound of another explosion and people began running.

If confirmed, the government's report of a rocket attack would suggest rebels in the area had been able to obtain and deploy more powerful weapons than previously used.

The nearest rebel-controlled area, Bustan al-Qasr, is more than a mile away from the university.

Activists have rejected the suggestion that insurgents were behind the attack, however, and instead blamed the government.

"The warplanes of this criminal regime do not respect a mosque, a church or a university," said a student who gave his name as Abu Tayem.

***********

January 15, 2013

Consulate Supported Claim of Syria Gas Attack, Report Says

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

WASHINGTON — A State Department cable asserted that Syrian forces might have used poison gas in December, according to a report by Foreignpolicy.com on Tuesday.

The classified cable was sent by the United States consul general in Istanbul, according to the Web site, and it discussed a consulate investigation into allegations that chemical weapons were used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.

A White House statement on Tuesday evening discounted the possibility that poison gas had been used. But White House and State Department officials declined to comment directly on the cable. Nor did they rule out that some form of chemical agent may have been used.

“The reporting we have seen from media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian chemical weapons program,” the White House statement said.

Reports of some kind of attack surfaced on Al Jazeera and in videos circulated by opposition activists, but details have been sketchy about matters like what kind of substance might have caused the injuries, some of them fatal, that were reported.

President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad would cross a “red line” and possibly set off American military intervention.

“The president was very clear when he said that if the Assad regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons, or fails to meet its obligation to secure them, the regime will be held accountable,” the White House statement said.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this month that the American military was not able to prevent a chemical weapons attack, but he left open the possibility that the United States might respond militarily.

“The act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable,” General Dempsey said. “I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting.”

According to the Foreign Policy Web site, the American investigation into the allegations of chemical weapons use drew on interviews with Syrian defectors, doctors and activists.

***********

anuary 15, 2013

Syrian Rebels Find Hearts and Minds Elusive

By ANNE BARNARD
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — As the Syrian civil war nears the two-year mark, the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad and their international backers have failed to win the backing of many government supporters, including minorities, a slice of the population whose help is essential not only to resolve the conflict, but also to keep Syria from becoming a failed state, analysts say.

Syrian opposition leaders in exile have repeatedly offered promises that a future Syria will guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity, including members of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect, and that government officials without “blood on their hands” will be safe. But that has done little to win the allegiance of a significant bloc of Syrians who are wary of the uprising.

“The opposition is in fact helping to hold the regime together,” said Peter Harling, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who meets in Syria with people on all sides of the conflict. “It seems to have no strategy to speak of when it comes to preserving what’s left of the state, wooing the Alawites within the regime or reaching out to those who don’t know who to hate most, the regime or the opposition.”

Analysts with contacts in Syria said that the opposition had failed to spell out how it would handle challenging political issues like the fate of the Baath Party, the army rank and file, and the public sector — which employs at least 1.2 million Syrians — or how it would curb sectarian violence and revenge killings. The opposition, critics say, has missed opportunities to split government support from within and has allowed Mr. Assad to portray himself to fence-sitters as the best bet to keep the Syrian state intact.

That vacuum, some analysts say, was the backdrop for Mr. Assad’s confident tone in a speech he gave on Jan. 6, when he offered to engage in political dialogue with opponents he considers acceptable.

Mr. Harling said the speech allowed Mr. Assad to try to persuade the undecided that he is still a plausible choice, and reflected a belief in the president’s circle — perhaps mistaken — that “people will ultimately come back to them, because they offer more of the prospect of a state.”

On Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister pointedly called on the opposition to offer specific counterproposals for a political solution rather than complain about Mr. Assad’s refusal to negotiate. And on Monday, Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, chided the United States and Russia for not working harder to bring the sides together, warning that the opposition’s insistence that Mr. Assad step down before any negotiations begin is perpetuating a stalemate and risking a descent into chaos.

The concerns come not only from Russia, Mr. Assad’s strongest ally, and Mr. Annan, who resigned as international envoy to Syria when his mediation efforts went nowhere. They are shared by a growing chorus of Middle East analysts, Syrian intellectuals and a former Syria adviser to the Obama administration, which has recognized the opposition as the country’s legitimate representative.

The former Syria adviser, Frederic C. Hof, wrote last month that although the opposition has offered general assurances to the one-third of Syrians who belong to minority groups, “probably no more than a handful” believe it, especially as jihadist groups grow more prominent on the battlefield and issue videotaped calls for the restoration of the Islamic caliphate.

“And why should they?” he wrote in an article published by the Atlantic Council, a research institute in Washington. “What would weigh heavier on the brain of a non-Sunni Arab (or a Sunni Arab committed to secular governance): the occasional word about the primacy of citizenship, or the televised chanting of hirsute warriors?”

Part of the problem is that the opposition, unlike the government, does not speak with one voice. It is divided among secular and religious members, exiles and those fighting inside Syria, and supporters and opponents of armed struggle. Even after reorganizing under pressure from the West, the coalition has yet to agree on a government in exile.

Yet, the coalition understands the danger, Samir Nachar, a member, said in an interview from Turkey.

“Everyone feels and knows that there is a real dilemma and danger when it comes to the morale of the Syrian citizen,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have anything on the ground that can truly relieve the fears and the anxieties that are plaguing minorities at this time. Sadly, the Alawite sect has been taken hostage by this regime.”

He rejected the criticism of the opposition, saying the radicalization of fighters on the ground is the fault of Mr. Assad for “portraying this as a Sunni revolution,” and of the United States and others for failing to support the mainstream armed opposition through military intervention.

“This is the best way to reassure the minorities, by helping the moderate forces on the ground,” he added.

The United States has long called for a pluralistic new government that preserves state structures, and seems to be addressing the issue with new urgency. In a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday, William J. Burns, a deputy secretary of state, stressed that the exile opposition was reaching out to government technocrats on how to manage “the day after” — for instance, keeping electricity, security and other infrastructure running.

But Yezid Sayigh, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said time was being wasted as the United States and others indulged the opposition’s demand that Mr. Assad resign before talks, adding, “That’s not a political solution, that’s victory.”

Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Center, defended the opposition, arguing that it is hard to change a dynamic that the Assad family worked for decades to create — stamping out any alternative Alawite leadership or moderate opposition to persuade Alawites and others that their fate is tied to the government’s.

The opposition’s efforts at reassurance and outreach have been mixed, analysts say. On Dec. 17, the Syrian vice president, Farouk al-Shara, seemed to hint at compromise, suggesting to Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper that some in the government, the Baath Party and the army believe “there is no alternative to a political solution, and that there can be no return to the past.”

The coalition’s only public response was a statement saying that Mr. Sharaa’s comments showed “the regime is facing its final days with difficulty and seeks not to die alone.”

Protesters in Syria have raised signs calling for a general amnesty “for all supporters of the regime with no blood on their hands,” Mr. Harling said — a statement probably intended to reassure but with the effect of suggesting that mere support for the government is a crime requiring amnesty.

Meanwhile, the government has arguably invested more effort in persuasion. It continues to pay salaries and social benefits in some rebel-held areas. Since Mr. Assad’s speech, Syrian state news media have issued a drumbeat of reports on preparations for “national dialogue.”

That process may be “placating urban fence-sitters,” Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in Foreign Policy recently. “It costs him little to inundate this audience with promises of political progress, however meaningless they may be.”

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« Reply #4067 on: Jan 16, 2013, 07:52 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/16/2013 02:12 PM

The World from Berlin: 'Pakistan Needs a New Political Culture'

The political crisis in Pakistan threatens to trigger yet another period of instability in the country. The three-way power struggle between the military, the government and the courts once again exposes the weaknesses of the country's democratic institutions, say German commentators.

The political drama playing out in Pakistan this week took another twist Tuesday when the country's high court ordered the arrest of Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on suspicions of corruption and nepotism. The suspicions have followed Ashraf for years, but the timing of the announcement now threatens to light a match on the country's smoldering political crisis.

Since Sunday self proclaimed revolutionary leader Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri has been leading a protest march calling for the ouster of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari. Qadri, a moderate clergyman who has denounced corruption among the political class, has seen a meteoric rise to popularity over the last months.

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined his protest and packed Islamabad's streets. The court's announcement came in the middle of Qadri's speech on Tuesday and the crowd broke out in cheers at the news. On Wednesday, Qadri once again called for the end of the government. "If these thieves hadn't ruled Pakistan, today every child in the country would have a smile on their face," he shouted to his followers.

Meanwhile the country's normally meddlesome military has been strangely silent in the midst of chaos. That silence has led some observers to believe that the country's generals are behind Qadri's campaign.

The turmoil comes just weeks before Pakistan's government was set to complete its five year term, a milestone in a country that normally experiences volatile shifts of power. At the same time violence has been growing with extremists attacking the government and religious minorities.

On Wednesday German commentators said that they don't dispute the claims of Qadri's campaign, but that the current political chaos threatens to further destabilize Pakistan's already shaky democratic institutions.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"It says a lot about the government in Islamabad (and the general condition of Pakistan) that its biggest achievement could be that it would be the first government in the history of the country that remains in power for an entire legislative period. It remains to be seen whether the new convulsions actually break its will to survive. It wouldn't be a shame to lose President Asif Ali Zadari and his team, but it would be fatal if the establishment was unable to set in motion an orderly transition and new elections."

"The Pakistani people rely more on personal relationships than on the institutions of their country…. Pakistan not only needs a new government, but also a new political culture. The country is mired in a swamp of violence, injustice, corruption and political hypocrisy. A halfway democratic political reboot would not be a bad start."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"One need not have sympathy for the plight of the current government in Pakistan…. The traditional weaknesses of the country's democratic institutions are once again on display. In principal, the court is right to act on the corruption allegations. But the moment chosen is fatal, because a moderate clergyman, probably with enthusiastic military support, has been catapulted to revolutionary status and could bring about the fall of Zadari's leadership with help from the street."

"The clergyman has many followers and he says the right things: he castigates corruption and pillories Pakistan's democracy as a system that only benefits a small portion of the populace. But he's chosen the wrong solution by calling for more power for the army."

The Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Pakistani generals believe that the country's politicians put their own personal ambitions over the well being of the nation, as they define it. A belief that is not entirely untrue. The military, however, is overlooking the fact that it too has failed in the fight against violent extremism. One could view the current conflict between politicians, judges and armed forces as the growing pains of democracy. After decades of military dictatorships and governments that are obedient to the generals, it is high time that Pakistan finds an urgent and necessary balance among its institutions."

-- Renuka Rayasam

**********

January 15, 2013

Skirmishes Threaten Pakistan-India Thaw

By HEATHER TIMMONS
IHT

NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India on Tuesday made what may be one of his most aggressive public statements ever about Pakistan, saying that renewed hostilities between the countries in the disputed Kashmir region had made a continued thaw in relations impossible.

Hours later, Pakistan accused the Indian military of an unprovoked attack, saying it had shot across the contested Line of Control border the countries share and killed a Pakistani soldier, bringing the total death toll in the skirmishes to five over the past week.

India and Pakistan had maintained a cease-fire since November 2003, and relations had been improving over the past year. But on Jan. 6, Pakistan accused the Indian Army of crossing the Line of Control and killing one Pakistani soldier and wounding another. India denied these accusations, and two days later accused Pakistan of killing two Indian soldiers at the line and of beheading one of them. Pakistan denied these charges.

Responding to the attack and beheading, Mr. Singh told the local television station NDTV on Tuesday that, “after this dastardly act, there can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.” India’s external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, echoed the prime minister’s words in a statement issued later Tuesday.

“It should not be felt that the brazen denial and the lack of a proper response from the government of Pakistan to our repeated demarches on this incident will be ignored and that bilateral relations could be unaffected or that there will be business as usual,” Mr. Khurshid said. Calling the Pakistani Army’s purported actions “in contravention of all norms of international conduct,” and a “grave provocation,” Mr. Khurshid said they shed doubts on Pakistan’s seriousness about normalizing relations with India.

On Monday, Gen. Bikram Singh, the chief of the Indian Army, warned that India could retaliate. “If provoked, we will retaliate,” he told reporters in New Delhi. “We reserve the right to retaliate at a time of our choosing.” However, there was no immediate comment from the Indian military about the Pakistani claim that it had resumed shooting on Tuesday.

Serious military action between the two nations, which have nuclear weapons, seems unlikely, analysts in India said in recent days. Still, civilians may already be feeling an impact. On Tuesday, India was supposed to start a “visa on arrival” program for older residents of Pakistan. Instead, that program was stalled, The Press Trust of India reported.


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« Reply #4068 on: Jan 16, 2013, 07:56 AM »

January 15, 2013

Italy Closes Consulate in Benghazi After New Attack

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
IHT

ROME — Italy closed its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and withdrew its staff because of security concerns, after an attempted ambush of the Italian consul over the weekend.

Though the diplomat, Guido De Sanctis, escaped unharmed, the episode raised concerns about the tenuous security situation in Libya as the transitional government struggles to rebuild the country after the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi nearly two years ago.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said the attack was an attempt to disrupt the Libyan government’s efforts, “further proof of the international community’s need to intensify support for the Libyan people and institutions.”

In the ambush on Saturday, gunmen fired on Mr. De Sanctis as he drove through Benghazi, but none of the bullets penetrated his vehicle, an armored model that was issued to him after the Sept. 11 assault on the American mission in Benghazi, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Officials in Tripoli pledged to bring those responsible for Saturday’s attack to justice, the Italian government said. But the Libyan government has done little or nothing to pursue those who assaulted the American Mission, and there have been attacks on the Red Cross and on a British envoy’s motorcade in Benghazi over the past year.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the government intended to create a security force to protect embassies and consulates that would include former rebels who now serve in the national police.

Italy, which ruled Libya as a colony until World War II, is the country’s closest European ally. Commercial relations were strong during Colonel Qaddafi’s rule, a state of affairs that Italian diplomats and business leaders have sought to preserve. The president of Libya, Mohamed Magariaf, traveled to Rome last week for talks with Italian political and businesses leaders, and the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, is scheduled to visit Italy at the end of this month.

At a meeting in Rome last Thursday, Mr. Magariaf assured his hosts that security was among his government’s “top concerns.” He said his government was receiving Italian assistance to train Libyan soldiers and police officers.
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« Reply #4069 on: Jan 16, 2013, 07:57 AM »

January 15, 2013

U.S. Criticizes Egypt’s Leader for Anti-Semitic Remarks

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
IHT

CAIRO — A White House spokesman on Tuesday condemned anti-Semitic comments made by President Mohamed Morsi before he took office, calling on him to “make clear this kind of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt.”

In a three-year-old video clip that resurfaced recently, Mr. Morsi, then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, urged Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. In another video clip from 2010 that was recently distributed by a Washington research group, Mr. Morsi referred to “Zionists” as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”

Asked about Mr. Morsi’s anti-Semitic statements during a briefing at the White House, Jay Carney, the press secretary, said, “We have raised our concerns over these remarks with the government of Egypt.”

He added: “We completely reject these statements, as we do any language that espouses religious hatred. This kind of discourse has been acceptable in the region for far too long and is counter to the goal of peace. President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths.”

Representatives of Mr. Morsi have declined repeated requests to comment on the remarks, and on Tuesday they again remained silent.

Though inflammatory anti-Semitism is a staple of political discourse of all stripes in Egypt, Mr. Morsi’s vitriolic statements threaten to undermine his efforts to build a reputation as a leader for moderation and stability in the Middle East. And attention to his remarks may embolden critics in Israel and the West who distrust his commitment to peace with Israel because of his background as an Islamist.

What is more, Mr. Morsi already faces attacks from ultraconservative Islamists and the left that he is too close to the United States and, by extension, Israel. Were he to back away from his remarks, he could become more vulnerable to such criticism.

Mr. Carney emphasized that the White House was still ready to work with the Egyptian president. “Since taking office, President Morsi has reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to its peace treaty with Israel in both word and deed and has proved willing to work with us toward shared objectives, including a cease-fire during the crisis in Gaza last year,” he said.

“This is about action,” Mr. Carney added. “It’s about deeds.”

Although as a Brotherhood leader Mr. Morsi was a fiery critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, his tone as president has been far more civil. He has done little to reshape Egyptian policy toward the Jewish state, and he has worked to maintain close ties with Washington.

The video clip about “apes and pigs” was unearthed in early January by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington group that monitors Arabic news media for anti-Semitic statements.

The other clip, about nurturing hatred, was broadcast on Friday by an Egyptian television satirist, Bassem Youssef, who models his program on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” He often uses footage of public figures for satire and is building a reputation for finding memorable examples of bigotry or extremism. His clip came from a video of a speech by Mr. Morsi in his hometown in the Nile Delta in early 2010 that was publicly available on a Web site run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
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« Reply #4070 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:02 AM »


Burma repeals law used by junta to jail dissidents

Law called for sentences of up to 20 years for those 'who write or deliver speeches that could undermine peace and stability'

Associated Press in Rangoon
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 10.16 GMT   

Burma has repealed a law that the military junta used to sentence dissidents to long prison terms, state media reported, in the latest step towards reforming the government after decades of authoritarian rule.

The law called for prison sentences of up to 20 years for those "who write or deliver speeches that could undermine peace and stability of the nation". The Myanma Ahlin daily said on Tuesday that the law was enacted in 1996 as the military government was drawing up guidelines for the country's constitution and faced opposition from many parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Several dissidents and anti-regime activists were given long sentences under the law. Burma's opposition welcomed the move but remained cautious over other repressive laws.

"That law is actually irrelevant now because it was enacted during the drawing of the constitution guidelines. The constitution was adopted and already in force," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said on Wednesday.

Prominent activist lawyer Aung Thein said on Wednesday Burma still had other severe laws to deal with the government's opponents, including the law that put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the past two decades. Offences under some of these laws are punishable by death or life imprisonment.

"These laws had been used by the administrative authorities to support their judicial power. The laws are very elastic and can be used according to their requirement," he said.


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« Reply #4071 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:05 AM »


IHT Rendezvous
January 16, 2013, 1:25 am

The Extraordinary Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW

BEIJING - Brother Number Two is ill.

That means the Khmer Rouge genocide trials in Cambodia, "one the most significant war crimes trials since " (according to the scholar Peter Maguire, author of "Facing Death in Cambodia,") have slowed again.

Still, the attempt to deliver justice to more than 1.7 million Cambodians killed by their government between 1975 and 1979 continues: the hospitalization of Nuon Chea, 86, the highest-ranking surviving leader of the regime and its main ideologue, known as Brother No. 2 during the reign, is merely the latest bump in the road for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

It is a remarkable tale of perseverance and pitfalls.

Set up by the United Nations and the Cambodian government, the court began operating in 2006 and has to date convicted just one man, "Duch," or Kaing Guek Eav, the commandant of the main Khmer Rouge prison, Tuol Sleng. "Duch" was ultimately sentenced to life in prison. This video from the court's Web site shows Duch apologizing repeatedly.

Bowing to political pressures within Cambodia and overseas, the experimental, mixed tribunal is a "special new court" jointly created by the Cambodian government and the U.N. and supposedly independent of both. The reality has been far messier, critics say.

Probably more criticized than praised, the trial is in itself a real achievement, as Mr. Maguire wrote in this newspaper in 2011, at the beginning of the current trial of Mr. Nuon Chea and his co-defendants, leng Sary, the former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state.

"The fact that the case has even made it this far is a minor miracle to those of us who were in Cambodia during the 1990s, when the defendants' amnesties seemed secure," Mr. Maguire wrote.

"Yet the roller-coaster court was jolted again in December by the resignation of three lawyers, Jasper Pauw, Michiel Pestman and Andrew Ianuzzi. The lawyers were defenders for Nuon Chea in Case 002, as the current trial is known. They cited "government interference that prevented them from best defending their client," the Phnom Penh Post reported.

Among the main problems raised by the lawyers were that sitting Cambodian government ministers refused to reply with court summonses, a complaint described by Clair Duffy, a tribunal monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, as having "some merit," according to the Phnom Penh Post story.

So Brother No. 2's hospitalization on Sunday at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh with acute bronchitis was merely the latest in a string of issues. Increasingly, ill health among the accused, who are all over 80, threatens to terminate the trial completely. A fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, the sister-in-law of the regime's former leader, Pol Pot, and the wife of Mr. Ieng Sary, has already been dropped from the case on grounds of dementia.

Brother No. 1, Pol Pot, died in 1998 without being tried.

In an expert commentary on the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor's Web site, Mr. Maguire lashed out at the United Nations, saying: "Cambodia's 'mixed tribunal' should be deemed an expensive, overcomplicated experiment that should never be tried again."

Mr. Maguire warned that the United Nations ran the risk of never completing Case 002 - and failing to bring justice to Cambodia. But the court could still succeed in what has become a race against time, he said.

"The court's reputation can be salvaged if they can complete the case against the senior Khmer Rouge leaders while they are still alive," he wrote. The court would "end on a high note that even longtime critics like myself will concede."

To follow the extraordinary - and extraordinarily complicated - proceedings of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Trial Observer blog offers regular updates and links from Phnom Penh, as Cambodian and international lawyers fight to bring to justice the accused.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified three lawyers -- Jasper Pauw, Michiel Pestman and Andrew Ianuzzi -- as prosecution lawyers, when they were actually defenders for Nuon Chea in Case 002.


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« Reply #4072 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:13 AM »


Italy: ‘EPP drops Berlusconi’

16 January 2013
Presseurop
La Repubblica

Joseph Daul, the chairman of the right-of-centre European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has made clear that the party’s candidate for February’s Italian general election is incumbent Prime Minister Mario Monti and not the People of Freedom Party (PDL) President Silvio Berlusconi, who represented the conservatives for almost 20 years. Following Berlusconi’s anti-european turn in the campaign to distance himself from Monti, many of his party’s European partners are mulling the PDL’s expulsion from the EPP.

Full Article:

ALL ABOUT General Election 2013

ROME - "Mario Draghi? I would vote for the presidency." Silvio Berlusconi in Omnibus on La7 reveals the name of the candidate at the Quirinale that "could have been very pleased also to the left," as he had said the day before. But the head of the European Central Bank rejects the idea to the sender: "I am committed to the ECB until October 2019," replica SkyTG24. Having called in house number one Eurotower gives the rider an opportunity to return to defend himself from the accusation of lack of credibility in the EU. In this regard, Berlusconi replied: "In Europe, I was feared, not mocked. I imposed Mario Draghi as head of the ECB, I imposed against Tremonti who was not, and against Sarkozy. Barroso also, according to Tony Blair, the ' I put it there myself. "

The EPP bowl again and the Knight of the PDL. But European leaders think differently. And the leader of the European People's Party, French Joseph Daul, on the sidelines of a press conference held in Strasbourg clarifies: "The candidate of the EPP is Mr Monti. But, as always in Italy, the situation is very complicated, because we also the UDC and Berlusconi's party. Which are all members of the EPP. " To those who wondered if it was "embarrassing" to the EPP have candidates in open struggle against each other as Monti and Berlusconi, Daul replied pointing out that "it is like this everywhere" because
"EPP part 52 parties in 27 countries." In the case of PDL "we are talking about a party and a man. Synthesis We will do after the election. A party is a party, not a man." A phrase that underlies the idea of ​​starting a process of "expulsion" of the PDL from the EPP. Because the line impressed by Silvio Berlusconi to his election campaign is not compatible with the principles and policy of moderate Europeans. The former prime minister, in the EPP, is perceived as a foreign body.

Alfano's response to Daul. Secretary Angelino Alfano the PDL intervenes in defense of the party: "The allegations of Daul, ill-informed on the electoral program of the PDL, have no concrete response. Italy - concluded Alfano - is a sovereign democracy and the People of Freedom has a charter of values ​​that mirrors that of the EPP and an electoral program clearly-European. "

The attack on Monti. Leaderino 'immoral', which proved to be very different from what you thought and that has deceived the Italians. Silvio Berlusconi, after the attacks directed at Mario Monti yesterday in The Culling on Sky TG24, back to accuse the outgoing premier to have an ambiguous and argues: "Monti is in shock at the polls that show with one of the leaders or the center. Flaiano I remembered, 'sometimes the failure to your head.' Monti is very different from what we thought and we fell for it, "says arguing again that yesterday, in turn, had said the professor hard to door port . And then once again attacks the prosecutor of Milan ("Monstrous machines defamation"), sparking the protest ANM: "We reject as unacceptable and serious violent personal attacks today directed Mr. Berlusconi against Milan magistrates who constitute an offense intolerable. " He says the president of the National Magistrates Rodolfo Sabelli. "Faced with such insults adds, we can only reiterate the value of a separate and independent jurisdiction, remember the impersonal nature of the office of public prosecutor and especially those who recall covers public responsibilities to respect for all institutions. Finally, express regret for the re-emergence of expressions and aggressive tones, which hoped definitively abandoned. "

The spread and taxes. The accusation of not being able to manage the spread is for the Knight "a mischief with the other, because it has nothing to do with government, is independent and the result is something of financial transactions and speculation." And so on fiscal policy, former Prime Minister claims a redditometro different and better than the head of government. "The redditometro was totally different: for example, there is now the burden of proof and there are all those voices that scare people, and it is discouraging consumption, if we add the inability to pay cash up to 999 euro and the left will go into a police state tax because he wants to raise the limit to 300, have completely frozen purchases of certain goods. This produces contraction in consumption and reduction in sales and you have a surplus of workers. "

The professor "immoral." But the controversy does not stop staff and also relates to the role of senator for life Monti. "There was no negotiation with Napolitano on the appointment. Absoutley immoral Monti who is against us and against the left friezes more of this title should be non-partisan. Monti comes in the guise of independence - added - but it's a prosthetic left. "

Judgment Mediaset and took to the field. The conviction on Mediaset process "was a contributing factor" in the decision to return to the field and take confidence in the government Mountains. "Silvio Berlusconi also attributes this to the push to return to the game." It was a contributory cause: there was already aware of the polls that the PDL without me was 10% and there was an awareness of what they have been able to combine these judges. Then I said, it is possible that I will not be back on the field to combat this disease. "

Judges outrageous. And the attacks against judges continue: "They should go on trial judges in Milan who are monstrous machines defamation. It is a real scandal," says Berlusconi takes issue in particular with "Boccassini, which should go on trial for a lot of good reasons. " One of the others, "having spent considerable resources of the state in respect of a non-existent" on the Ruby case.

Attorney does not reply. The head of the Milan prosecutors, Edmondo Bruti Liberati, chose not to reply to Berlusconi. The chief prosecutor of Milan refers to what he had said during the presentation of the budget office of the prosecutor's office and the office that he holds to the straight line does not respond to politicians even when the attacks prevalicano the line of the right of critical.

The processes of Milan. "I am worried about the outcome of processes especially when they take place in Milan." "Fortunately, there are also judges integerrimi, while those who condemn politicized on the basis of non-existent facts." The process Ruby? "The reaction of my constituents in the face of further evidence of bias on the part of judges in Milan would be a reaction to even greater support."

The thousand lists of the center. "Lists The train is due to this electoral law which recognizes that the little train going strong, but I ask you to give the majority of votes in the PDL, the largest car of the train." And in this regard the Knight then spoke of "fraud of the left that made us lose the 2006 elections: they rigged all blanks and then they have won."

The case Ingroia. "In no country is it possible that one face advertising as pm and then white in the elections. Damnatio We also have this.'s Too comfortable, what is happening now is a scandal," said Berlusconi then commenting on the nomination of Prime Minister Antonio Ingroia with Revolution civil. Then the Knight has also launched an application former pm: "Why dear Ingroia I had an interview with her and her colleagues confidentially in a barracks in Rome, everyone was friendly and after two days after the interview appeared on all Without including coffee break? ". But the former magistrate replied: "I doubt that judges have intratternuti to pass news to newspapers - said Ingroia -. There were fragments, a few words removed." The two met backstage studies La7, where Ingroia took part in Coffee Break. "Maybe I should say goodbye like this," Berlusconi said crossing his wrists ready for the handcuffs ( VIDEO ). The scene in front of director Enrico Mentana which incorporates handshake and greetings with the phone. "You're getting too much of the left," Berlusconi gloss, but does not collect Ingroia, greeting and smiling in the studio. "There you are greeted with affection!" Glosses the presenter, Tiziana Panella. "We greeted each other cordially, from political opponents," recalls the former PM.

Messina Bridge. "The bridge over the Strait must be done because the Sicilian citizens can feel 100% Italian," says Knight.

Cosentino. "I am not an executioner is a sample of garantismo. Committee chairmanship last it was decided that in the event of a final sentence will not be reapplied. Others to decide the committee of jurists to which we have given the cards within a week," says Berlusconi talking about Nicola Cosentino.
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« Reply #4073 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Tax Evasion: EU leads ‘determined’ but ‘largely ineffective’ fight

15 January 2013
Presseurop
El Mundo

"Very determined" but "largely ineffective": in the wake of the publication of a report commissioned by the socialist group in the European parliament in 2012 and coordinated by UK Tax Research Director Richard Murphy, El Mundo looks at the figures delivered by the EU drive to combat tax fraud and and close tax avoidance loopholes. According to the report, capital flight, the black economy and various corporate manouevres to avoid tax continue to cost EU countries €1trn in lost revenue every year. In the current context, reports El Mundo —

    "the drive to combat tax evasion has become a priority for the European Union, now that the crisis has drawn attention to diminishing state revenues. "

In response to a European Council request for an “Action plan” submitted in March 2012, last month the Commission announced a series of recommendations, which as El Mundo points out are non-obligatory, for greater cooperation between the EU’s 27 member states. In the meantime, and in spite of the EU’s limited powers in the fight to combat tax fraud, some positive results have begun to emerge, concludes the daily —

    The most significant success has been the signing of bilateral agreements on the exchange of tax information between the EU, Saint Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Switzerland, which apply in all EU member states.[...] The sums recovered thanks to these agreements have increased 11-fold over the past seven years. Better still, starting on January 1, 2013, a new regulation has come into force to prevent countries from citing banking secrecy as a reason for refusing to comply with a request from a member state for tax information on one of its citizens.
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« Reply #4074 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:18 AM »

British lawmakers will issue demands for staying in European Union

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 7:05 EST

Lawmakers from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party will on Wednesday issue a “manifesto” spelling out the sweeping changes that need to be made to keep Britain in the European Union.

The Fresh Start group of eurosceptic MPs will urge Cameron to demand four “significant revisions” when he makes his long-awaited speech on Friday setting out his plans to change the conditions of Britain’s membership, and likely promising a referendum after the general election in 2015.

The group, which is believed to have the backing of around 100 Tory MPs, is expected to tell Cameron that “the status quo is no longer an option.”

The manifesto will call for the repatriation of all social and employment law and an opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures, according to a copy seen by the Daily Telegraph.

It will also demand an “emergency brake” on any new laws affecting the financial sector and “an end to the European Parliament’s costly monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg,” the newspaper reported Wednesday.

The report, backed by Foreign Secretary William Hague, will also propose limits to the free movement of people across the EU.

The foreign minister revealed that the report could drive Tory policy should the party win the next general election.

“Many of the proposals are already government policy, some could well become future government or Conservative party policy and some may require further thought,” he wrote in the report’s foreword, according to the Telegraph.

“Europe is changing so fresh thinking is doubly welcome,” he added. “It will be essential reading for all of us when we come to write the Conservative party’s next general election manifesto.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned Cameron on Tuesday that a prolonged period of uncertainty about Britain’s relationship with the EU would have a “chilling effect” on the economy.

“We should be very careful at a time when the British economy is still haltingly recovering from the worst economic shock in a generation to create a very high degree, and a prolonged period, of uncertainty,” Clegg told the BBC.

Cameron is under pressure from members of his party to try to take back powers from Brussels to London, but the issue has caused tensions with business leaders and Clegg’s pro-European Liberal Democrats, the coalition partners.

In a tetchy interview, Clegg noted that a law was already in place requiring such a vote where any new treaty transferred fresh powers to the EU.

Any further discussion about referendums was unwise, he said.

“Given that we’ve provided that clarity… I don’t think it is wise to add to that with a degree of uncertainty which I believe would have a chilling effect on jobs and growth in this country,” he said.

“And for me the priority remains jobs and growth, not an arcane debate which will go on for years and years.”

German politicians have accused Britain of trying to blackmail its European partners by warning that either it changes its membership conditions or proposes to increasingly eurosceptic voters that London leave the EU altogether.

Nigel Sheinwald, Britain’s ambassador to Washington until last year, said in a Guardian interview published Wednesday that membership of the EU was vital for Britain’s world standing.

“If Britain is active and influential in Washington that makes us more influential in Brussels, Delhi and elsewhere,” he said.

“Equally if we are influential in Europe, then we have a bigger impact in Washington and the other power capitals. These things are mutually reinforcing,” he added.
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« Reply #4075 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:25 AM »

January 15, 2013

Global Economy Brightens With Modest Growth Ahead, World Bank Says

By ANNIE LOWREY
NYT

WASHINGTON — Some of the darkest clouds threatening the global economy have started to lift, according to the World Bank’s periodic update to its economic forecasts.

The latest version of the twice-yearly Global Economic Prospects report is one of the development bank’s least pessimistic in recent years, but hardly an exercise in optimism. It describes a “dramatic” easing of financial conditions around the world, stemming in part from policy changes to soothe the bond markets in Europe. Still, it warns that global growth will continue to be sluggish for years to come.

In the report, the World Bank estimates the world economy grew just 2.3 percent in 2012. It expects growth to pick up only modestly in the coming years, from 2.4 percent in 2013 to 3.3 percent in 2015.

Developing countries were responsible for more than half of global growth in 2012, the report said, and they will continue to be an engine of growth. The report estimates that developing countries grew 5.1 percent in 2012, and that the pace of growth will accelerate to 5.8 percent in 2015.

“Four years after the crisis, high-income countries are still struggling,” Andrew Burns, the report’s lead author, said in an interview. “Developing countries need to respond to that difficult environment not through fiscal and monetary stimulus, but rather by looking to reinforce their underlying growth potential in order to have sustainably stronger growth going forward.”

For the last four years, developing countries have remained in something of a defensive crouch, World Bank experts said. Their central banks and finance ministries have intently focused on managing the volatile financial and economic conditions emanating from the United States and Europe, and their policy making has focused on the short term.

But credit conditions have eased significantly in Europe, particularly since the European Central Bank, led by Mario Draghi, embarked on a major bond-buying program last year.

Growth has started to pick up in the United States, after taking a hit in the second half of 2012 because of uncertainty stemming from the presidential election and the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that Congress mostly averted this month.

Now, developing economies need to focus more on their domestic economic troubles, bank economists said. That might mean making long-term investments in infrastructure, education, public health or regulation, rather than focusing on short-term stimulus measures to counteract economic fluctuations from elsewhere around the globe.

“They have spent the past four years reacting to what’s going on in high-income countries,” said Mr. Burns, noting that different developing countries faced significantly different development challenges. “As a result, almost necessarily, they’ve been paying less attention to some of these long-term growth-enhancing reforms that are so necessary.”

The report says that significant downside risks to global growth persist, including stalled progress in solving the European debt crisis, fiscal uncertainty in the United States, a decline in investment in China and spiking oil prices. However, the report said, “the likelihood of these risks and their potential impacts has diminished, and the possibility of a stronger-than-anticipated recovery in high-income countries has increased.”

Developing countries may start to reorient away from a crisis mind-set, the bank said.

“The whole discussion has been dominated by the global crisis,” said Hans Timmer, the director of the development prospects group at the World Bank. “It’s logical that you are distracted, but there are several problems with that: If you don’t go back to the reform agenda, you don’t have that growth in the future.”

Weakness in large, wealthy countries continues to weigh on growth in the developing world, the report notes, hitting big exporters in South Asia, for instance. Political turmoil continues to rack the Middle East and North Africa, it said. But economic activity in East Asia has rebounded because of increasing regional trade and domestic demand in China.

In contrast, developed countries, like Germany, Japan and the United States, had growth of only 1.3 percent in 2012. The bank expects that growth to pick up starting in 2014, reaching 2.3 percent by 2015. The bank projects that the euro zone will continue to contract in 2013, reaching sluggish growth of 1.4 percent by 2015.

Global trade in goods and services is a bright spot in the report. Over all, such trade grew just 3.5 percent in 2012. The bank expects trade to jump 6 percent in 2013 and 7 percent by 2015, in no small part because of accelerating demand from new consumers in big developing countries.

“From hopes for a U-shaped recovery, through a W-shaped one, the prognosis for global growth is getting alphabetically challenged,” Kaushik Basu, the World Bank chief economist, said in a statement. “With governments in high-income countries struggling to make fiscal policies more sustainable, developing countries should resist trying to anticipate every fluctuation in developed countries and instead ensure that their fiscal and monetary polices are robust and responsive to domestic conditions.”
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« Reply #4076 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:27 AM »

Originally published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 5:36 AM  

Israeli watchdog rips Netanyahu over settlements

By KARIN LAUB
Associated Press

JERUSALEM —

A review of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's settlement policies shows a clear intent to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state by stepping up construction in strategic areas, an Israeli anti-settlement group said Wednesday.

During Netanyahu's four-year term, 38 percent of nearly 6,900 West Bank construction starts were reported in settlements deep inside the territory, compared to 20 percent under his predecessors, the Peace Now group said.

The report by the watchdog was released a week before Israel's parliamentary elections, which Netanyahu appears poised to win.

According to the report, the government also issued bids for 5,302 settlement apartments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and advanced planning for thousands more, the group said. The group's findings were based on aerial photos, field visits and official reports.

The latest bids were issued on Tuesday, when the government asked developers to compete to build 84 apartments in Kiryat Arba, a settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, and 114 in Efrat, a major settlement south of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, for a future state. In November, the U.N. General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in these borders, over Israel's objections.

Israel still occupies the West Bank and east Jerusalem and while it withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza, it controls most access to the coastal territory, now ruled by Hamas militants.

Netanyahu has said he's willing to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state, but wants to keep east Jerusalem - the hoped-for capital of the Palestinians - and chunks of the West Bank. Netanyahu has rejected a Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze during negotiations, and talks have been on hold for the past four years.

Polls ahead of the Jan. 22 vote indicate Netanyahu is poised to win another four-year term.

Peace Now concluded that Netanyahu's policies in his first term "disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied the government is trying to undermine prospects for Palestinian statehood through settlement expansion.

Israel has "allowed construction in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs, areas that will remain part of Israel in any future peace agreement," he said.

Israel hasn't clearly defined settlement blocs, but they are believed to include larger settlements near Israel as well the Ariel enclave of 17,000 settlers in the heart of the West Bank. In all, about half a million Israelis live in dozens of settlements on war-won land, including nearly 200,000 in east Jerusalem and more than 300,000 in the West Bank.

Asked to comment on Peace Now's report of a sharp construction increase in more remote settlements, Regev said: "I don't know that figure to be true."

The Peace Now report said settlers in some of the more remote settlements built without approved plans or permits, but "with the tacit approval of the Netanyahu government."

In all, construction began on 6,867 apartments in West Bank settlements since Netanyahu took office in March 2009, the report said.

Thirty-eight of those apartments were located in Jewish enclaves east of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank, proposed by some in Israel - though not by Netanyahu - as a future border with the Palestinians.

Israel began building the barrier in 2002, portraying it as a defense against Palestinian militants who had killed hundreds of Israelis in an armed uprising. However, it meanders through the West Bank to scoop up Jewish settlements on the Israeli side, prompting allegations of a land grab under the guise of security.

Thirty-two percent of construction starts were west of the barrier, and close to 30 percent in areas where the route of the barrier is not final, the report said. The report said the count is not complete, and that the final figure is expected to be higher.

Although Netanyahu outdid his predecessors in terms of launching settlement construction deep inside the West Bank, Peace Now researcher Hagit Ofran said the annual average of construction starts in the Palestinian territory was slightly lower under Netanyahu than under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

Since the 1970s, Israeli leaders have steadily expanded settlements, including Olmert who negotiated with Abbas in 2008, before resigning over corruption allegations.

However, Netanyahu has gone further than his predecessors in many ways, establishing facts on the ground that "are lethal to the two-state solution," Ofran said

In response to the Palestinians' successful U.N. recognition bid, Netanyahu announced he's moving forward with plans to build a new settlement with more than 3,400 apartments near Jerusalem, a location critics say with badly hurt prospects of setting up a Palestinian state with contiguous territory. In recent days, Palestinians have set up a protest tent camp in the area.

After initially curbing construction under U.S. pressure for 10 months early in his term, Netanyahu's government made up for lost time in the last two years, issuing tenders for 5,302 apartments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the report said.

The bids pave the way "for an explosion of construction in settlements in coming years," Peace Now said.
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« Reply #4077 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:34 AM »

Study: Democracy in decline around the world

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 7:20 EST

Democracy around the world was in decline in 2012 for the seventh year in a row as the Arab Spring led nervous autocratic leaders to clamp down on any stirrings of dissent, a study said Wednesday.

The annual report by the Freedom House non-governmental organization found 90 countries now enjoyed full freedom, up from 87 nations in 2011, but 27 places saw new restrictions on rights of assembly, expression, and the media.

There “is a critical need for leadership from the United States and other democracies,” the “Freedom in the World 2013″ report said, arguing in favor of a greater US engagement with civil society in oppressed nations.

Some three billion people, or 43 percent of the global population, enjoyed full political rights and civil liberties, while 1.6 billion resided in partly free countries, where there is only limited respect for freedoms in place.

Some 34 percent of the world’s population, or 2.3 billion people, however lived in countries deemed to be not free.

Russia, Iran, which stepped up its repression of journalists and bloggers, and Venezuela — where President Hugo Chavez was re-elected against a backdrop of a “badly skewed” electoral playing field — were singled out by the report.

“Our findings point to the growing sophistication of modern authoritarians,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House vice president for research.

“They are flexible, they distort and abuse the legal framework, they are adept at the techniques of modern propaganda,” he added in a statement.

“But especially since the Arab Spring, they are nervous, which accounts for their intensified persecution of popular movements for change.”

Authoritarian regimes moved to weaken “the elements of democratic governance that pose the most serious threats to repressive and corrupt rule: independent civil society groups, a free press, and the rule of law,” the report said.

There were some successes for democracy, with the most dramatic improvements since 2008 seen in Libya, Tunisia and Myanmar. Egypt, Zimbabwe, Moldova and Ivory Coast were also among those countries where repressive restrictions were eased.

But Mali, where rebel soldiers ousted the elected government last year, topped the list of nations in which the most freedoms were lost, suffering “one of the greatest single-year declines in the history of Freedom in the World,” said the report, which has been drawn up annually since 1972.

“Nigeria, another country plagued by Islamist militants, suffered a less dramatic decline, as did the Central African Republic, which at year’s end risked being conquered by a rebel group.”

The most serious declines in freedom in the Asia-Pacific region were seen in the Maldives, where the democratically-elected president was forcibly removed, and Sri Lanka, marred by corruption.

And China’s communist leaders continued to operated “the world’s most complex and sophisticated apparatus for political control.”

The report also warned that since the re-election of Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia, the country has “ushered in a new period of accelerated repression.”

“Putin has moved in a calculated way to stifle independent political and civic activity, pushing through a series of laws meant to restrict public protest, limit the work of NGOs, and inhibit free expression on the Internet.

“With Russia setting the tone, Eurasia (consisting of the countries of the former Soviet Union minus the Baltic states) now rivals the Middle East as one of the most repressive areas on the globe,” the report said.

Freedom House also took aim at the administration of US President Barack Obama, saying it had “failed to offer a credible response” after Moscow kicked out the US Agency for International Development late last year.

“The administration has built an uneven record on support for freedom to date. There have been some positive initiatives, but there have also been occasions when the United States stood by while those who put their lives on the line for political change were crushed, as with Iran in 2009,” it charged.
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« Reply #4078 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:36 AM »

U.S media brings glitz to increasingly urbane Mongolia

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 7:10 EST

Every time a new Mongolian-language edition of Cosmopolitan magazine is released, Tselmeg Erdenkhuu sits down with a friend to explore a monthly dose of Hollywood gossip, glitzy fashion and scintillating sex.

“They talk about sex a lot in this magazine, like what position is healthy or how to make men go crazy,” said the 28-year-old businesswoman, a single mother.

The titillating revelations are just part of a US media invasion of the once remote country, which has ridden a globalisation wave since shaking off communism two decades ago.

Mongolians are avid readers and the country’s literacy rate is over 97 percent, a legacy of the Soviet-era education system which saw village boarding schools set up for nomads’ children.

Even in the vast nation’s distant grasslands herdsmen are to be found reading crumpled two-week-old newspapers inside their felt-covered yurts.

With its economy roaring on the back of a mining boom that fuelled 11 percent growth last year publishers now see opportunities from targeting newly wealthy Mongolians with premium-priced, Western-linked products.

Launched in December 2010, Cosmopolitan has built a circulation of 5,000 copies. National Geographic and, most recently, Playboy have since followed in its wake.

The US financial news agency Bloomberg set up a joint-venture television station in Ulan Bator in October, aimed at the city’s emerging financial kingpins and ordinary people looking for advice on what to do with their free government-issued shares in state-owned mining companies.

With the rapidly shifting economy, fast urbanisation, major infrastructure projects and environmental threats, the Mongolian-language National Geographic is also making an impact, despite its steep cover price of MNT20,000 ($14.40).

“Many people are concerned about nature and how it can be preserved while we simultaneously develop our economy,” said Khaliun Tseven-Ochir, the general manager of Irmuun, which publishes both National Geographic and Cosmopolitan.

“Through National Geographic we can influence our country’s leaders to avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past. Our readers expect us to raise these issues,” she added.

The Mongolian version of Playboy has also found its way to supermarket checkout stands, selling some 3,000 copies of the inaugural October edition.

Racy images of Kim Kardashian and Mongolian model Sarnai Saranchimeg were the primary selling points and for those who buy it for the articles, there were interviews with Ulan Bator mayor Bat-Uul Erdene and actor Jack Nicholson, plus a profile of the late Steve Jobs.

“Before we launched most people thought that Playboy is just porn. But we are challenging that perception with intellectual articles that will help keep our Mongolian men informed,” said editor-in-chief Bolormaa Natsagdorj.

Mongolia has 2.75 million people spread across an area half the size of India, and its media landscape is as wild as its physical one.

The new magazines compete with dozens of local publications, many of them trashy tabloids filled with sex scandals, soft porn and yellow journalism, often with unsourced facts.

Some owners of major daily newspapers — which do not do not reveal circulation figures, but are said to sell 5,000-8,000 copies — have family or friendship links to top politicians.

But the arrival of US media can only raise local reporting standards, said Khulan Jugder, a journalism instructor at the capital’s University of the Humanities.

“Mongolian media stations are all private and politicians own many of them. So they can’t inform in an unbiased way or make objective programmes,” she said.

Cosmopolitan and Playboy split about 50-50 between locally produced and US content, while National Geographic is mostly translated. Around four hours a day of the Bloomberg television programming is local, and the rest translated from Hong Kong.

For now they are more emblematic of a social transformation that is already seeing young, upwardly mobile Mongolian women challenging traditional norms of dating, career choice and lifestyle.

Mongolia’s Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, 46, seems to epitomise the changes. A Stanford graduate and one of nine female members of the country’s 76-seat parliament, the Great Hural, she has moved up the ranks of government with positive energy, a can-do attitude and an array of fashionable trouser suits.

Cosmopolitan “certainly helps our young ladies and girls gain confidence in themselves”, she said. “Women need to share their secrets of success, beauty and strength. Sisterhood is a natural need of every woman.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4079 on: Jan 16, 2013, 08:38 AM »

Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly to be buried beside mother

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 7:25 EST

Legendary Australian outlaw Ned Kelly will finally be laid to rest beside his mother on Sunday in line with his final wishes at a plot not far from the site of his last stand, reports said.

Descendants of the infamous bushranger, who was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880 after he murdered three policemen, said they would lay Kelly to rest beside his mother Ellen in a private burial.

Kelly’s remains were thrown into a mass grave after his execution and discovered during renovations to the gaol in 1929 when they were reburied inside Pentridge Prison, save his skull which remains missing.

Redevelopers of the now-defunct prison site wanted to use Kelly’s remains for a museum or a memorial but the Victoria state government ordered that they be returned to the family last year.

According to Joanne Griffiths, the great-granddaughter of Kelly’s sister Kate, the family would formally farewell the outlaw at a Catholic service in the town of Wangaratta on Friday ahead of his burial in an unmarked grave Sunday.

“That’s what he would’ve wanted. That’s what he requested, and he wished to be buried in consecrated ground,” Griffiths told ABC radio.

The Kelly family said he would be interred at a small cemetery at the town of Greta near Glenrowan, the scene of his final gun battle with police, which he famously survived due to his home-made plate metal armour suit and helmet.

“The descendants of the Kelly family wish to give effect to Ned Kelly’s last wish and that he now be buried in consecrated ground with only his family in attendance in order to ensure a private, respectful and dignified funeral,” the family told The Age newspaper.

“The family wish for their privacy to be respected so that they may farewell a very much loved member of their family.”

Kelly’s three accomplices, including younger brother Dan, were killed in the showdown, ending an 18-month country town bank robbing campaign that saw the so-called Kelly Gang become folk heroes.

When they were confronted by police at Glenrowan the gang was subject to an 8,000-pound bounty — the largest reward ever offered in the British Empire at the time.

The Kelly gang exploits have been the subject of numerous films and television series.

Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger played the lead role in the 1970 movie “Ned Kelly”, while Heath Ledger starred as the bandit in a 2003 remake.

Kelly has also been the inspiration for many books, most notably Peter Carey’s novel “True History of the Kelly Gang”, which won the 2001 Booker Prize.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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