India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 17, 2013, 8:22 am
Delhi Gang Rape Case Expected to Move to Fast Track Court
By SRUTHI GOTTIPATI
NEW DELHI- Two weeks after court proceedings began against the five men accused in a gang rape that sparked widespread protests in India, the case is scheduled to be moved to a special fast-track court created for rape cases, defense lawyers said.
On Thursday, a lawyer for one of the defendants said he hopes to keep the case out of that court altogether and will appeal to the Supreme Court to move the legal proceedings out of Delhi.
V.K. Anand, the lawyer for Ram Singh, who is accused of driving the bus in which the gang rape took place, said he will file an application with the Supreme Court to move the case outside Delhi, where the victim was brutally assaulted, and the state of Uttar Pradesh. The victim's male companion, who was also beaten, was from Uttar Pradesh, he explained, so he did not believe that his client would get a fair trial in either place.
However, A.P. Singh, who represents two of the defendants, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur, said that he's hoping for a speedy trial. "At the next hearing, the case must be transferred to the fast-track court," he said.
Speaking outside the Saket District Court complex, where initial court proceedings are being held, Mr. Anand said he also plans to contest a magistrate's order that the trial be "in-camera," or be closed to outsiders, including the media. Mr. Anand said he is contesting the order to ensure "a fair trial."
Lawyers for the five men, except for one advocate, M.L. Sharma, have also asked the court that their clients not be handcuffed during the trial.
"They're not habitual offenders," A.P. Singh, one of the defense lawyers, said Thursday. "They do not make any attempt to run away from judicial custody. They also haven't made any suicide attempts. They don't need handcuffs."
The five men, who are also facing charges of murder and kidnapping, were escorted by police into the courtroom Thursday afternoon, their faces wrapped in cloth. At the hearing, which lasted a little over an hour, lawyers for the accused received new versions of the police charge sheet against the five men, which they had complained earlier was illegible, as well as photographs of the victim and her companion's cellphones. A CD with surveillance video of the airport hotel where the bus had stopped was also provided to them, the defense lawyers said.
Mr. Singh said Mr. Sharma had been tortured over the last two days at Tihar Jail, where he is being held. Mr. Sharma was not involved in the brutal assault and had not even been on the bus in which the victim had been attacked, he said.
Mr. Thakur, his other client, was on the bus but hadn't been involved in the gang rape, Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Singh said the two men have no criminal history and are innocent. "They are innocent and want to live," he said. "Everyone has a right to live."
The next court hearing is scheduled for Monday, and lawyers said they expected the case to be moved to a fast-track court on the same day, despite Mr. Anand's petition.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 17, 2013, 1:55 am
Ram Singh and Mukesh, Delhi Gang Rape Accused, Remembered With Fear
By BETWA SHARMA
NEW DELHI -Ram Singh and Mukesh, the two brothers accused in the Delhi gang rape case, were likened by a neighbor to Gabbar Singh from the Bollywood classic "Sholay." A particularly cold-hearted Bollywood villain, the character stirred so much fear in viewers that mothers in India sometimes told their children "to stop crying and go to sleep or Gabbar Singh will come."
"Those two were a real bad lot," said the neighbor, a woman from the south Delhi slum of Ravidas, which was home to four of the six arrested in the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on Dec. 16. "They were always drinking, abusing and getting into fights," she added, asking that her name not be used so she could avoid any further media attention.
Several other women in the camp shared similar memories of the two men, who were charged with murder, along with three other men and a juvenile, after the student succumbed to her injuries on Dec. 29. Ram Singh, 32, and Mukesh, who goes by one name and is described by relatives to be in his mid-20s, worked as drivers. They have pleaded not guilty.
The only person who remembered Ram Singh fondly is another brother, who was not involved in the gang rape and also lives in Delhi. Speaking on the phone from Gwalior, where he was traveling for work, he described his oldest brother, Ram, as a devoted husband and loving father.
"He took his responsibilities as the eldest son seriously," said the 27-year-old brother, who declined to give his name to avoid media attention. "Mukesh was the one who was always out to have a good time with his friends," he added.
The brother said that Ram Singh had longed for a child but his wife was unwell, so the brother gave his second child to the couple after his birth in 2007. "Would I have done this if I didn't trust him completely?" he said. "I send my child to a government school, but he opted for a private school because he wanted to make something out of his son."
Mr. Singh turned to alcohol after his wife died in 2008, the brother said: "He was really depressed and started drinking two or three times a week."
The brother recalled that on the day of the gang rape, Mr. Singh came to spend that Sunday with his son, but he left the house at 4 p.m. after getting a call from the minor accused in the case.
"He was very happy and planned to stay the whole day at my place," the brother said. "If I had faintest idea, I would have never let him go."
The brother, also a driver, has pulled Mr. Singh's son out of the private school because he can't afford the expenditure. "The bus fare alone for a month is 800 rupees ($15)," he said.
The brother said that their mother and father had retired to their village in Rajasthan and did not intend to come back to Delhi, where they had lived for 25 years.
"They are completely devastated. My mother is not being able to eat," he said. "We no longer want to be associated with those two."
Now, the door to Ram Singh's house in Ravidas camp is closed. Neighbors described their family as arrogant because the sons earned a good income as drivers. In the slum, most people work as laborers.
Mr. Singh also had an infamous reputation in the slum after he ran away with an older married woman who left her three children for him. (This is the same woman whom Mr. Singh later married.)
"I've seen Ram Singh and her come out of the house with her dressed only in a petticoat," said a neighbor, who was vigorously scrubbing utensils, last week.
"They were both shameless," she added, bitingly.
Mr. Singh's house is next door to the man whose wife eloped with him. "She left us for him," said the 17-year-old daughter of Mr. Singh's wife from her first marriage. "I hate them both," said the daughter, who declined to give her name.
V.K. Anand, Mr. Singh's lawyer, strongly objected to the picture his relatives and neighbors had painted of his client. "He was a driver and all drivers sometimes drink, and if someone is not educated he is considered unreliable," he said.
Manmohar Lal Sharma, Mr. Mukesh's lawyer, accused relatives and friends of lying about his client. "All these people are being manipulated by the police," he said. "This is a simple case of shaming and defaming him in the media."
Neighbors also observed that Mr. Singh was usually the leader and his brother Mukesh followed him since their youth. Residents of the slum described how Mukesh would often bring his employer's car to the Ravidas camp. The brothers would play loud music and race down the roads near the slum.
"They loved each other very much," said Asha, a relative living next door, who declined to give her full name.
"If one brother would give someone five punches, then the other would give six to show solidarity," she said while smoking a beedi and keeping one eye on the news last week.
Suddenly, she raised the television volume to hear a news report about how the eldest Mr. Singh was being attacked by other inmates inside Tihar Jail, where he is imprisoned. "Serves him right," she said.
Several residents blamed Mr. Singh and his brother for involving Vinay Sharma and Pawan Kumar, the two other suspects from the slum, but Amravati, a 40 year-old shopkeeper who goes by one name, said Mr. Sharma had already been in trouble before.
"The brothers were bad, but Vinay got into a brawl with my husband and hit him on the head and vandalized our shop. He even hit my young daughter," she said. "This happened on Dec. 2, and we were going lodge a complaint against him, but then the rape happened."
Ravidas dwellers also described how their own lives had been endangered when a man armed with two bombs came to blow up Ram Singh's house on Dec. 31.
"I grabbed him and pulled him out with the bombs in his hands," said Kamla, a 45-year-old resident who goes by one name, whom neighbors credit for saving them. "It's tragic this girl died, but why should anyone kill so many of our girls?" she added.
Business, too, has been disrupted because of the bad name associated with the slum. Residents said children are scared of going to school because people know they come from the Ravidas camp.
"It is a difficult time right now, but at least the four worms are no longer living among us," said Ms. Amravati.
Ecuadorian tribe gets reprieve from oil intrusion
Residents of Sani Isla have built up an arsenal of weapons to fend of Petroamazonas, in a confrontation which did not take place as expected
Jonathan Watts, Latin American correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 January 2013 13.23 GMT
An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazon has won a reprieve after building up an arsenal of spears, blowpipes, machetes and guns to fend off an expected intrusion by the army and a state-run oil company.
The residents of Sani Isla expressed relief that a confrontation with Petroamazonas did not take place on Tuesday as anticipated, but said the firm is still trying to secure exploration rights in their area of pristine rainforest.
"We have won a victory in our community. We're united," said the community president, Leonardo Tapuy. "But the government and the oil company won't leave us alone. "
The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla, had said they were ready to fight to the death to protect their territory, which covers 70,000 hectares. More than a quarter of their land is in Yasuni national park, the most biodiverse place on earth.
Petroamazonas had earlier told them it would begin prospecting on their land on 15 January, backed by public security forces.
Before the expected confrontation,the shaman, Patricio Jipa said people were making blowpipes and spears, trying to borrow guns and preparing to use sticks stones and any other weapons they could lay their hands on.
"Our intention was not to hurt or kill anyone, but to stop them from entering our land," he said.
It is unclear why Petroamazonas hesitated. The company has yet to respond to the Guardian's request for a comment.
Locals speculated that it was due to a reaffirmation of opposition to the oil company at a marathon community meeting on Sunday.
"They've heard that we are united against the exploration so they have backed off," said Fredy Gualinga, manager of the Sani Lodge. "We're happy they haven't come. Life is going on as normal."
The relief may not last for long given the huge fossil fuel resources that are thought to lie below the forest.
"It was a close thing, but we're not out of the water. The oil company has not given up. They will continue to hound us and to try to divide the community. But at least we have a few days respite," said Mari Muench, a British woman who is married to the village shaman.
The elected leaders of Sani Isla have pledged to resist offers from Petroamazonas for the duration of their term.
"This policy will remain in place during our period in office. We're committed to that and we will do what we can to make it more permanent," said Abdon Grefa, the speaker of the community.
The battle has now moved to the judicial system and the court of public opinion. Their appeal for an injunction went before a judge on Wednesday and they are calling on supporters to help them build a long-term economic alternative to fossil fuels.
"We hope people will write protest letters to Petroamazonas, come and visit our lodge, promote Sani, donate money to our school and projects, volunteer as teachers or provide funds to students to travel overseas so they can learn what we need to survive in the future," said the community secretary, Klider Gualinga.
*******Farming project tackles cloud forest deforestation – in pictures
A new technique known as layer farming is giving thousands of poor farmers in the Chinchipe river basin vital training in sustainable farming that could ensure the long-term survival of the pristine cloud forest
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 January 2013 12.13 GMT
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2013/jan/17/farming-project-cloud-forest-deforestation-in-pictures
In the USA...
January 16, 2013
Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’ Into Gun Control
By PETER BAKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — Four days before taking the oath of office, President Obama on Wednesday staked the beginning of his second term on an uphill quest to pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation.
In the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre, Mr. Obama vowed to rally public opinion to press a reluctant Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, expand background checks, and toughen gun-trafficking laws. Recognizing that the legislative fight could be long and difficult, the president also took immediate steps by issuing a series of executive actions intended to reduce gun violence.
Surrounded by children who wrote him letters seeking curbs on guns, Mr. Obama committed himself to a high-profile and politically volatile campaign behind proposals assembled by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that will test the administration’s strength heading into the next four years. The first big push of Mr. Obama’s second term, then, will come on an issue that was not even on his to-do list on Election Day when voters renewed his lease on the presidency.
“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Mr. Obama said, “and so will Joe.”
The emotionally charged ceremony, attended by family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., reflected a decision by the White House to seize on public outrage to challenge the political power of the National Rifle Association and other forces that have successfully fought new gun laws for decades.
The White House is planning a multifaceted effort to sell its plans, including speeches around the country by the president and vice president and concerted lobbying by interest groups to influence several dozen lawmakers from both parties seen as critical to passage. The White House created a Web page with video testimonials from victims of gun violence and a sign-up for supporters to help advocate the president’s plan.
“I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” Mr. Obama said. “And, by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those Congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong, to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”
The N.R.A. made clear that it was ready for a fight. Even before the president’s speech, it broadcast a provocative video calling Mr. Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing more armed guards in schools while his daughters had Secret Service protection. After the speech the group said it would work to secure schools, fix the mental health system and prosecute criminals but criticized the president’s other proposals. “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the N.R.A. said in a statement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Mr. Obama’s plan included 4 major legislative proposals and 23 executive actions that he initiated on his own authority to bolster enforcement of existing laws, improve the nation’s database used for background checks and otherwise make it harder for criminals and people with mental illness to get guns.
Mr. Obama asked Congress to reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons that passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. He also called for a ban on the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds, like those used in Newtown and other mass shootings. Mr. Obama’s plan would require criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing the longstanding loophole that allows buyers to avoid screening by purchasing weapons from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or in private sales. Nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt from the system.
He also proposed legislation banning the possession or transfer of armor-piercing bullets and cracking down on “straw purchasers,” those who pass background checks and then forward guns to criminals or others forbidden from purchasing them.
For Mr. Obama, the plan represented a political pivot. While he has always expressed support for an assault weapons ban, he has made no real effort to pass it on the assumption that the votes were not there. But he and the White House are banking on the idea that the Newtown shooting has changed the dynamics. “I have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “The world has changed and is demanding action.”
The future of the plan may depend on how much political energy Mr. Obama puts behind it, not just to pressure Republicans but to win over Democrats who support gun rights. Even the White House considers passage of a new assault weapons ban exceedingly difficult, but there did seem to be some consensus building for expanding background checks.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a longtime gun control supporter, made no mention of the assault weapons ban in a statement but pointed to the background checks. “If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime,” he said, “universal background checks is at the sweet spot.”
On the other side, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, dismissed an assault weapons ban as ineffective. “But in terms of background checks, in terms of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who have serious mental health difficulties, we want to do that, and we would take a close look at that,” he told C-Span.
Gun control groups said they would campaign hard for the president’s proposals. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said his group would focus on as many as 25 Congressional districts, including those of Democrats and Republicans. “We will be doing what we can do to make sure that sitting on their hands is the least safe place to be,” he said.
Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a gun rights supporter, said he re-evaluated his position after Newtown. “I was shaken by it, and that caused me to think in a much more probing way about the policy,” he said in an interview. “If it has anywhere near the impact on others that it did on me, then I think the ground shifted a lot.”
But Mr. Obama’s plans still generated strong opposition. “Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”
Other Republicans echoed those sentiments. “The Second Amendment is nonnegotiable,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.
Representative Dan Benishek of Michigan said in a Twitter message: “Let me be clear, I will fight any efforts to take our guns. Not on my watch.”
Also Wednesday, Mr. Obama nominated B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to lead an agency that has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2006.
The 23 executive actions Mr. Obama signed on Wednesday were largely modest initiatives to toughen enforcement of existing laws and to encourage federal agencies and state governments to share more information. Mr. Obama lifted a ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence and directed that a letter be sent to health care providers saying doctors may ask patients about guns in their homes.
Several Republicans accused Mr. Obama of flouting Congress. “Using executive action to attempt to poke holes in the Second Amendment is a power grab,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.
Reporting was contributed by Charlie Savage, Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 16, 2013
An earlier version of this article suggested that several recent mass shootings involved 30-round magazines. While they all involved high-capacity clips, not all of them used clips that held 30 rounds.
Assault weapons ban likely to die in GOP-dominated House
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 19:07 EST
The assault weapons ban proposed by US President Barack Obama on Wednesday faces quicksand in Congress, where Republicans are in a position to defeat any such a measure.
Instead, lawmakers in the House and Senate could address some of Obama’s other proposals, including a universal background check for all gun purchases and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
The debate comes in the aftermath of last month’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is preparing to introduce a bill next Thursday that would ban assault weapons like the one used in Newtown.
An earlier time-limited assault weapons ban was pushed through Congress in 1994 and expired 10 years later. Several attempts to reinstate the ban failed.
Republicans control the House, meaning Speaker John Boehner decides what bills get to the floor for a vote.
Unless there is sufficient outside pressure from constituents or an about-face by the party that has been a staunch advocate of gun rights, Obama’s proposals could wither on the congressional vine.
“House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said after Obama unveiled his proposals.
Aware of the obstacles, the president urged Americans to pressure their lawmakers into passing tighter gun control legislation.
“If they say no, ask them why not. Ask them what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get an ‘A’ grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade,” Obama said.
Several Republican lawmakers expressed frustration with the president’s plan, stressing that the Constitution’s Second Amendment is non-negotiable.
“Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook,” Florida senator Marco Rubio said, adding that it would be wrong to impose “sweeping measures that make it harder for responsible, law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms.”
Senator Lindsey Graham said he expected bipartisan opposition to Obama’s proposal, and added: “As for reinstating the assault weapons ban, it has already been tried and failed.”
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who has voted in favor of gun rights, acknowledged that a full-on ban would be difficult to achieve.
“Is it something that can pass the Senate? Maybe,” Reid told the Nevada Week in Review. “Is it something that can pass the House? I doubt it.”
Others questioned the viability of such a ban, given the ubiquity of some of the weapons — including more than two million AR-15 semi-automatic rifles like the one used in the Sandy Hook massacre.
“This AR-15 that they’re all talking about is one of the most popular hunting rifles in the country,” Republican congressman Charlie Dent told Politico.
Several Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia are avid hunters and gun rights advocates.
Even if they support “sensible” new gun laws, their vote is complicated by ties to the gun lobby, which supports Democratic moderates, including Reid.
In total, 213 current members of Congress, including 16 Democrats, received checks from the NRA in 2012, according to a study by the Washington Post.
Those who support severe gun restrictions can be assured of a fierce campaign against them.
Some Democrats fear that a gun debate could cost some of their 55 seats in the 100-member Senate. Several in conservative states like West Virginia and Montana face re-election in 2014.
Public opinion, however, is on Obama’s side. Two recent polls show a majority of Americans support an assault weapons ban (55 percent in a Pew survey and 58 percent in an ABC/Washington Post survey.
Congressman Keith Ellison was confident a ban could get through Congress — if Americans speak out.
“We can get it if the people demand it,” he told AFP. “Trust me, Harry Reid will change his mind if he gets enough calls demanding greater gun safety.”
Rick Perry: ‘Pray for help’ rather than passing gun laws
By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 20:57 EST
Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said Wednesday that Americans should become more devout rather than attempt to reduce gun violence through laws and regulations.
After President Barack Obama announced his proposals to fight against gun violence in the United States, Perry released a statement that said none of the proposals would work. The conservative governor insisted “no gun law” could prevent mass shootings like the one in Newtown, because the shootings were perpetrated by evil individuals.
“There is evil prowling in the world – it shows up in our movies, video games and online fascinations, and finds its way into vulnerable hearts and minds,” he said. “As a free people, let us choose what kind of people we will be. Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help. Above all, let us pray for our children.”
Perry added that he was disgusted to see “the political left” use the tragic shooting of 20 young schoolchildren in Newtown to push a “pre-existing political agenda” of gun control. He claimed no one has the right to infringe on the Second Amendment, which upholds American’s right to keep and bear arms.
A week after the Newtown shooting, Perry said the solution to mass shootings in schools was to allow teachers to carry guns.
The Republican Party: No principles, only winning .. dominance and submission. A political party that is nothing more than Sadists to all those who are not identically like them.
January 16, 2013 03:00 PM
Through States, Republicans Plot 2016 Electoral College Coup
Back in 2011, Pennsylvania state legislators toyed with the idea of changing their electoral college vote system so that they would align with already-gerrymandered Congressional districts. Ultimately they didn't go with that idea, but that doesn't mean it died.
Shortly after the November election, that idea was floated again. Stung by the "shocking" outcome of the 2012 general election, Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi proposed changing the electoral college votes from winner-take-all to apportionment by Congressional districts.
But it isn't just Pennsylvania. It's Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, too. Via fairvote.org:
A little number-crunching demonstrates why. If Republicans in 2011 had abused their monopoly control of state government in several key swing states and passed new laws for allocating electoral votes, the exact same votes cast in the exact same way in the 2012 election would have converted Barack Obama's advantage of nearly five million popular votes and 126 electoral votes into a resounding Electoral College defeat.
The power of elector-allocation rule changes goes further. Taken to an extreme, these Republican-run states have the ability to lock Democrats out of a chance of victory in 2016 absent the Democratic nominee winning a national landslide of some 12 million votes. In short, the Republicans could win the 2016 election in by state law changes made in 2013.
These states could actually do it. They all have Republican majorities in their statehouses, and they all have gerrymandered districts. Now that states have begun their legislative calendars, there is absolutely nothing to stop them from taking this kind of action.
This is a Red Alert Moment. Reince Priebus has blessed the plan. Via The Nation:
The RNC chair is encouraging Republican governors and legislators—who, thanks to the “Republican wave” election of 2010, still control many battleground states that backed Obama and the Democrats in 2012—to game the system.
“I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue [Democratic in presidential politics] that are fully controlled red [in the statehouse] ought to be considering,” Priebus says with regard to the schemes for distributing electoral votes by district rather than the traditional awarding of the votes of each state (except Nebraska and Maine, which have historically used narrowly defined district plans) to the winner.
Voter ID will seem like child's play next to this. As it is, it would take a minimum 7 percent margin for a Democrat to win a House seat in any of these gerrymandered districts. If they are able to change the apportionment of electoral college votes to lock them in now, there really won't be a whole lot of reason to even hold elections in 2016. The coup will have been complete in 2013.
Republicans operate on the premise that what they can't win outright, they're happy to steal. This is a Red Alert moment for anyone who actually thinks we should have free, fair elections where everyone's vote counts. We need to counter this with a demand to abolish the electoral college altogether, or at the very least, make twice as much noise as the wingers did over health care reform.
BP estimates that U.S. will be energy self-sufficient by 2030
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 15:27 EST
LONDON — The United States will become almost self-sufficient for its energy needs by 2030, boosted by shale oil and gas output and slowing demand, British energy giant BP forecast on Wednesday.
“By 2030, increasing production and moderating demand will result in the United States being 99-percent self-sufficient in net energy; in 2005 it was only 70-percent self-sufficient,” BP said in its latest Energy Outlook report.
“Meanwhile, with continuing steep economic growth, major emerging economies such as China and India will become increasingly reliant on energy imports. These shifts will have major impacts on trade balances.”
The London-listed giant added that the rapid growth of unconventional energy sources — like shale gas and oil which is extracted from low-pressure fractures in the ground — would redraw the global energy landscape.
“Strong growth in production from unconventional sources of gas and oil will have a major impact on global energy markets to 2030, redefining expectations for major economies and rebalancing global trade flows,” it said.
Unconventional oil sources were meanwhile forecast to provide all of the net growth in global oil supply needs until 2020, and more than 70 percent of growth to 2030, according to BP.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency had in November forecast that the US would become the world’s top oil producer over the course of the next two decades, overtaking Saudi Arabia on the back of surging shale oil and gas output.
Wednesday’s report was published on the same day that Al-Qaeda militants from Mali attacked a gas field run by BP in southern Algeria, killing one person and kidnapping one French and four Japanese staff, officials said.
The attack appears to be the first reprisal against Western interests for a French-backed offensive against jihadists in neighbouring Mali.
Washington police accused of ‘disturbing’ failures to investigate rape
By The Guardian
Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:00 EST
by Joanna Walters
Human Rights Watch to publish report that shows some victims experience fresh trauma from police neglect in rape cases
Police in Washington DC frequently fail to investigate reports of rape, and treat victims so dismissively at times, that they experience fresh trauma while the chances of the perpetrator being caught are undermined, according to a comprehensive report due out next week.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch is expected to uncover “disturbing evidence of police failure” in a 200-plus page report after a two-year investigation into law enforcement practices in the US capital.
But although shocking, the situation in Washington is far from isolated. There are widespread examples across the US of the police routinely neglecting crimes of sexual violence and refusing to believe victims.
“This is a national crisis requiring federal action. We need a paradigm shift in police culture, because rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug, and too many victims are being bullied,” said Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy group that specialises in sexual violence cases.
Human Rights Watch began looking into the situation in Washington after discovering evidence that the city’s Metropolitan police department (MPD) were refusing even to document a significant number of reports of sexual assaults coming in from the central hospital where victims are treated.
Full details and statistics will be disclosed by HRW in its final report, due to be published on 24 January.
But in a preliminary letter to the police department, HRW initially estimated that more than 37% of reports of serious sexual assault and rape were not being followed up on by investigators. Sara Darehshori, the senior counsel at HRW and author of the report, told the Guardian: “There are some good detectives. But some victims’ stories are appalling. And a significant number of cases are falling through the cracks entirely.”
The MPD has disputed the report’s initial findings, but declared it is committed to improvements. Human Rights Watch will pledge to work with them. Washington’s problems are serious but “it isn’t unique,” said Darehshori.
The Human Rights Watch report focuses solely on Washington, but in many cities across the US, the police record an alarming proportion of reported rapes as “unfounded” cases, meaning they decide the crime did not happen and the report was false or baseless.
The national average is 6%. But according to the latest internal FBI statistics, Pittsburgh shelves 34% of cases in this way, Atlanta 24% , Dallas 13%, Jersey City 18%, Lincoln, Nebraska, 19%, San Bernadino 34%, Durham, North Carolina, 31%. Chicago does not declare annual “unfounded” statistics but its average from 2000 to 2009 was 17%.
In New York City, the number of recorded rapes declined by 35.7% between 2005 and 2009. But over that period the number of sex crimes labelled as mere misdemeanors rose by 6%. Advocacy groups also expressed concern about high rates of rape cases being dropped as unfounded and reports of victims being treated dismissively. All this prompted police commissioner Ray Kelly in 2010 to form a task force to improve the investigation and victim interview procedures in sexual assault cases. Reforms are ongoing.
The New Orleans police department is under federal review for shelving 50% of sex attack cases as “non-criminal complaints”.
“Any figure over 10% is alarming and should be looked into,” said Joanne Archambault, a retired San Diego police sergeant who runs the international pressure group End Violence Against Women and trains police across the nation in handling sexual assault.
At the other end of the scale, some figures appear too low, in a national picture of confusion and inconsistency. Houston police department only declares 2% of its rape cases to be “unfounded”.
“Women don’t lie any more often in Pittsburgh than they do in Houston,” said Dr Dean Kilpatrick, director of the national crime victims research and treatment centre and a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. He said many departments’ records were “outrageous”.
Experts agree that an average of 5% of rapes are falsified. “This issue of investigators not believing large numbers of victims, then threatening them or arresting them is a very serious national problem,” said Archambault.
Sara Reedy, 27, last year won a $1.5m settlement from the Cranberry police near Pittsburgh after they did not believe she had been raped at gunpoint and arrested her. She was about to stand trial when her perpetrator was caught elsewhere.
Meanwhile many cities report backlogs of thousands of untested forensic evidence, including Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles County, San Antonio, Phoenix and Albuquerque.
Former Miss Arizona Hilary Peele is a rape victim-turned advocate after her rape kit – the evidence collected by medical professionals after her ordeal – was neglected following an attack in her apartment in 2004. “It’s hard enough to report these crimes in the first place,” she said. Police didn’t test her kit for DNA until she had called every two weeks for eight months.
In Cleveland, Ohio, serial rapist and murderer Anthony Sowell was caught in 2011 after killing 11 women, six of them after a rape kit was disregarded. Milwaukee serial rapist Gregory Below was finally sentenced to 350 years in 2011, but three of his victims said the police dismissed their cases initially.
Across the US, five rapes are committed for every murder. But in concerns about under-recording, in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Newark, New Jersey, there are more murders than rapes, according to annual crime figures, while the numbers are almost the same in Detroit, Baltimore, and Washington DC.
In signs of a turning point in attitudes, however, some cities are taking strong action.
A decade of comprehensive reform in Philadelphia, where the sex crimes department was once nicknamed “the lying bitches unit”, and Austin, Texas, have transformed their police units into models of best practice. Baltimore is undertaking serious reforms and Kansas City is regarded as a good example of policing.
Philadelphia and Austin police make building trusting relationships with victims and working closely with rape crisis centres and the community a top priority. Philadelphia allows annual scrutiny of its records by external experts. Austin pairs detectives and prosecutors to address grand juries, especially on the most common but most difficult-to-investigate cases involving ‘non-strangers’ or alcohol and drugs.
Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project concluded: “We are looking at a chronic and systemic failure to investigate sex crimes properly. But we are also seeing a way forward, a growing acknowledgement of the problems, and no excuse not to undertake serious reform.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
January 16, 2013
Rapidly Produced Flu Vaccine Wins F.D.A. Approval
By ANDREW POLLACK
A new type of flu vaccine won regulatory approval on Wednesday, and its manufacturer said that limited supplies are expected to be available this winter.
The vaccine, developed by a small company called Protein Sciences, is made with a process that does not require the virus to be grown in chicken eggs, as is now generally done. That means a vaccine could be ready weeks earlier in the event of a pandemic.
“This approval represents a technological advance in the manufacturing of an influenza vaccine,” Dr. Karen Midthun, a senior official at the Food and Drug Administration, said in a statement announcing the agency’s approval of the product, which is called Flublok.
The approval comes during one of the more severe flu seasons in recent years, with many Americans rushing to find diminishing supplies of vaccine and spot shortages being reported.
Manon Cox, the chief executive of Protein Sciences, said the company could have about 150,000 doses ready to distribute later this flu season. That is a relatively small amount, but it could be particularly helpful for people who do not get flu shots now because they are allergic to eggs.
A spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said the timing of the approval was unrelated to the current flu season.
Most flu vaccines are made by growing the virus in chicken eggs, then inactivating or killing it, a long process.
Flublok, by contrast, consists only of a protein — hemagglutinin — from the virus. The protein is made by putting the gene for hemagglutinin into a virus that infects insect cells. Those cells, from the fall armyworm, are grown in culture and churn out the protein. Neither eggs nor the live virus are used, though viral genetic information is needed.
While new for flu, such protein-based vaccines are used to prevent some other diseases.
Protein Sciences, a privately held company in Meriden, Conn., first applied for approval nearly five years ago. It was turned down twice, in part because of the novelty of using insect cells. “Every time we were asked to do more and more studies to prove that this cell substrate was safe,” Ms. Cox said.
The company was close to bankruptcy in 2009 when it received a federal contract worth tens of millions of dollars to help develop its vaccine.
The vaccine is approved only for adults 18 to 49 years old. In a clinical trial, Flublok was about 44.6 percent effective against all influenza strains, not just the three contained in the vaccine, the F.D.A. said. As with current vaccines, Flublok will need to change each year to match the flu strains in circulation.
January 16, 2013
When Pills Fail, This, er, Option Provides a Cure
By DENISE GRADY
The treatment may sound appalling, but it works.
Transplanting feces from a healthy person into the gut of one who is sick can quickly cure severe intestinal infections caused by a dangerous type of bacteria that antibiotics often cannot control.
A new study finds that such transplants cured 15 of 16 people who had recurring infections with Clostridium difficile bacteria, whereas antibiotics cured only 3 of 13 and 4 of 13 patients in two comparison groups. The treatment appears to work by restoring the gut’s normal balance of bacteria, which fight off C. difficile.
The study is the first to compare the transplants with standard antibiotic therapy. The research, conducted in the Netherlands, was published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Fecal transplants have been used sporadically for years as a last resort to fight this stubborn and debilitating infection, which kills 14,000 people a year in the United States. The infection is usually caused by antibiotics, which can predispose people to C. difficile by killing normal gut bacteria. If patients are then exposed to C. difficile, which is common in many hospitals, it can take hold.
The usual treatment involves more antibiotics, but about 20 percent of patients relapse, and many of them suffer repeated attacks, with severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
Researchers say that, worldwide, about 500 people with the infection have had fecal transplantation. It involves diluting stool with a liquid, like salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract via an enema, a colonoscope or a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine.
Stool can contain hundreds or even thousands of types of bacteria, and researchers do not yet know which ones have the curative powers. So for now, feces must be used pretty much intact.
Medical journals have reported high success rates and seemingly miraculous cures in patients who have suffered for months. But until now there was room for doubt, because no controlled experiments had compared the outlandish-sounding remedy with other treatments.
The new research is the first to provide the type of evidence that skeptics have demanded, and proponents say they hope the results will help bring fecal transplants into the medical mainstream, because for some patients nothing else works.
“Those of us who do fecal transplant know how effective it is,” said Dr. Colleen R. Kelly, a gastroenterologist with the Women’s Medicine Collaborative in Providence, R.I., who was not part of the Dutch study. “The tricky part has been convincing everybody else.”
She added, “This is an important paper, and hopefully it will encourage people to change their practice patterns and offer this treatment more.”
One of Dr. Kelly’s patients, Melissa Cabral, 34, of Dighton, Mass., was healthy until she contracted C. difficile in July after taking an antibiotic for dental work. She had profuse diarrhea, uncontrollable vomiting and high fevers that landed her in the hospital. She suffered repeated bouts, lost 12 pounds and missed months of work. Her young children would find her lying on the bathroom floor.
Initially, she rejected a fecal transplant because the idea disgusted her, but ultimately she became so desperate for relief that in November she tried it.
Within a day, her symptoms were gone.
“If I didn’t do it, I don’t know where I’d be now,” she said.
Dr. Lawrence J. Brandt, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said that the Food and Drug Administration had recently begun to regard stool used for transplant as a drug, and to require doctors administering it to apply for permission, something that he said could hinder treatment.
A spokeswoman for the agency, Rita Chappelle, said officials could not respond in time for publication.
C. difficile is a global problem. Increasingly toxic strains have emerged in the past decade. In the United States, more than 300,000 patients in hospitals contract C. difficile each year, and researchers estimate that the total number of cases, in and out of hospitals, may be three million. Treatment costs exceed $1 billion a year.
Fecal therapy has often been used to cure gut trouble in cows and horses. Books on traditional Chinese medicine mention giving it to people by mouth to cure diarrhea in the fourth century; one book called it yellow soup.
In 1958, Dr. Ben Eiseman, of the University of Colorado, published a report about using fecal enemas to cure four patients with life-threatening intestinal infections.
The senior author of the new study, Dr. Josbert Keller, a gastroenterologist at the Hagaziekenhuis hospital in The Hague, said that before conducting the research, he and his colleagues had performed the transplant in about 10 cases, and it almost always worked.
“After the first four or five patients, we started thinking, ‘We can’t go on doing this kind of obscure treatment without evidence,’ ” Dr. Keller said. “Everybody is laughing about it.”
The researchers studied adults who had been suffering from C. difficile for months and had had at least one relapse after antibiotics. They were picked at random to be in one of three groups. Only one group, 16 people, had the transplant: they took the antibiotic vancomycin for four days, had their intestines rinsed and then had the fecal solution pumped into their small intestines through a nose tube. A second group, 13 people, had the intestinal wash and 14 days of vancomycin; a third group, also 13 people, had only vancomycin.
The donors were tested for an array of diseases to make sure they did not infect the patients. Their specimens were mixed with saline in a blender and strained, to produce a solution that Dr. Keller said resembled chocolate milk.
Dr. Keller said that patients were so eager to receive transplants that they would not join the study unless the researchers promised that those assigned to antibiotics alone would get transplants later if the drugs failed.
Among the 16 who received transplants, 13 were cured after the first infusion. The other three were given repeat infusions from different donors, and two were also cured. In the two groups of patients who did not receive transplants, only 7 of 26 were cured.
Of the patients who did not receive transplants at first and who relapsed after receiving antibiotics only, 18 were subsequently given transplants, and 15 were cured.
The study was originally meant to include more patients, but it had to be cut short because the antibiotic groups were faring so poorly compared with the transplant patients that it was considered unethical to continue.
The results come as no surprise to doctors who have tried the procedure. Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, said he had performed the transplants in more than 100 patients with C. difficile. He said that it worked the first time in 90 percent, and that the other 10 percent were cured with a second treatment. The procedure can be done with a stool solution that has been frozen and thawed, he said.
One of Dr. Khoruts’s concerns about the procedure is that many people assume it can be used for a variety of intestinal problems. He cautioned that, so far, the only real evidence is for C. difficile.
Eventually, he said, if researchers can determine which bacteria are crucial, it should become possible to create products containing them, and to spare everyone the unpleasantness of dealing with stool specimens.
01/18/2013 01:51 PM
Europe's Challenge: A Terrorist Homeland in North Africa
By Christoph Sydow
Dozens of hostages have reportedly been killed after Algerian forces attempted a rescue operation at a natural gas complex overtaken by Islamist gunmen. The incident demonstrates the brutality and determination with which militant Islamists in North Africa operate, just a short plane ride south of European soil.
Western leaders on Friday were pressing for details on a bloody operation by Algerian special forces to free hundreds of hostages from their Islamist captors at a desert natural gas field. The Islamists said they took the hostages in retaliation for French intervention in neighboring Mali, and have threatened further attacks in the future.
Algerian forces began the rescue mission on Thursday, arriving at the gas field in helicopters and opening fire as the Islamists sought to move the hostages to another site. Authorities said dozens of hostages were killed, as were some of the militants, and at least 22 hostages were still unaccounted for. Leaders of Western countries with citizens taken hostage expressed anger at not having been consulted on the raid before it happened.
Officials have not yet released a concrete death toll, but the attack highlights the precarious security situation in the region, which is strategically important for Europe due to its geographic proximity and natural resources.
The region is larger than Western Europe, an inhospitable desert that is sparsely populated and where government control is scarcely seen. In recent years, the northwest of Africa has developed into an enormous region where drug smugglers and Islamist terrorists can move about with impunity. They cross state borders with ease, operating in Mauritania or Mali one day, only to turn up a few days later in Niger or Libya.
The attack on the natural gas field in eastern Algeria proves that Western fears of terrorist operations in the region extend beyond the north of Mali, where Islamists have been in control since last year. A week ago, the French military launched "Operation Serval," a cooperation with Malian forces to push back the Islamists. Germany and other Western allies are providing logistical support to the operation while the country's West African allies have pledged to send troops.
Hollande Lays Out Ambitious Goals
French President François Hollande said on Tuesday that the goal of the mission in Mali 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." It is an extremely ambitious objective and one that seems far out of step with reality for the near future.
Even if French and Malian forces manage to oust the Islamists, there are a number of neighboring countries for them to retreat to, including Mauritania, Algeria and Niger. There the Islamists could sit out the intervention and simply wait for European forces to withdraw.
Security within Mali's Saharan neighbors, after all, is nearly as fragile as it is in Mali itself. Mauritania shares a border with Mali some 2,240 kilometers (1,390 miles) long, and is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. The military has been weakened by several coups and security forces are poorly organized.
Mauritania's vulnerability appeared greatest after a mysterious incident in October 2012, when President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was injured after his convoy was shot at. Officials said it was a mistaken military attack, though doubts have been raised on the story's plausibility. Abdel Aziz has had to go to France for medical treatment, leading to speculation that he can no longer carry out his duties.
Sahara Region Rife with Instability
Similar to Mauritania is Mali's eastern neighbor Niger. Ethnic Tuareg rebels have been fighting the central government in Niamey for years, and the terrorist group Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has been active in the country since 2008.
On top of that come internal power struggles. In 2010, the military staged a coup ousting President Mamadou Tandja. Largely free elections restored civilian rule in 2011, although parts of the country remain out of the government's control. The US think tank Fund for Peace has repeatedly ranked Niger among the world worst failed states.
The security situation in Libya has visibly worsened since the beginning of the uprising against dictator Moammar Gadhafi nearly two years ago. The military has been essentially dissolved and weapons from Gadhafi's armed forces have flooded the markets in the region, ending up in the hands of various militias, including the extremists in northern Mali. Fifteen months after Gadhafi's death, a stable and sustainable government has yet to take hold. Real control over the country rests with competing warlords, and Islamist groups in the region have profitted.
The blood bath at the oil field shows that Algeria has been the most impacted by the developments in Mali. For this reason, Algiers has long opposed French military intervention in its southern neighbor. Algeria itself is still suffering the consequences of its civil war in the 1990s, in which fighting between the military and Islamists killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The military is still the most powerful force in the country, however it has still proved incapable of securing the 1,400-kilometer border with Mali. Regular attacks on Algerian soldiers in the south show the strength of the Islamists.
Plethora of Islamist Groups Active in Region
A variety of militias are active in the expansive desert region stretching from Mauritania to Niger. Many form strategic alliances, while at the same time competing for power and control over human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and cigarettes.
The most notorious of these groups is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. It emerged six years ago from a rebranding of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. In contrast to the Al-Qaida offshoots in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Arabian Peninsula, AQIM has long almost entirely refrained from attacking targets in the West.
Instead, the organization, which is said to have almost 1,000 members, has concentrated on kidnapping Western nationals and holding them for ransom to fill their coffers. Also in contrast to other Al-Qaida affiliates, AQIM has held off on trying to impose its Salafist ideology on native populations, thereby winning over their support.
An AQIM splinter group is the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). The catalyst for the split was reportedly a power struggle between the Algerian-dominated AQIM leadership and fighters from Mauritania and other countries. In November 2011, the group kidnapped a group of Western aid workers from a refugee camp in Algeria. The hostages were freed in July 2012 for a ransom of $18 million (€13.5 million). Northern Mali has since become the most important region for the MOJWA, controlling large parts of the region.
One-Eyed Algerian Behind Hostage Crisis
The Signed-In-Blood Battalion was formed only in December 2012 as another splinter group from the AQIM. The group was founded by a one-eyed veteran of Algeria's civil war named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, believed to be the mastermind behind the hostage crisis at the Algerian natural gas facility. The group said the attack was a direct reaction to French operations in Mali. Belmokhtar has threatened further attacks if French troops do not withdraw from the region.
Finally Ansar Dine is an Islamist group that emerged in the region after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. A few months after the organization first announced its formation in 2012, it took control in northern Mali. Its fighters are well equipped with weapons from Gadhafi's arsenal, and its leaders espouse radical Salafism.
It rejects as un-Islamic the Sufi practice of saint veneration, widespread across northern Africa. After taking control of several northern Malian cities, Ansar Dine destroyed numerous tombs of Muslim saints. It has imposed a brutal form of Sharia law on the region, cutting off the hands of people it accuses of theft and whipping unmarried couples.
France has declared these fundamentalist groups as their main targets in their Mali operations. Getting the upper hand anytime soon, however, promises to be a difficult task.
Mali refugees have witnessed horrific abuses, says UN agency
UNHCR says 700,000 are expected to flee Mali, with those already leaving telling of killings and amputations
Associated Press in Geneva
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 12.28 GMT
The UN refugee agency says it has received reports of horrific abuses being committed in Mali and it anticipates up to 700,000 more people will be forced to flee their homes in the next few months.
UNHCR staff members have relayed horror stories of "witnessed executions and amputations", and said large amounts of money were being offered to civilians to fight against the French-backed Malian army and its supporters, according to the agency's spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming.
Reports of the use of child soldiers among the al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups and disappeared family members have also surfaced, she said.
"The refugees said they fled the recent military intervention, the lack of any means of subsistence and fear of the strict application of sharia law," Fleming said.
"They reported having witnessed executions and amputations, and mentioned that large amounts of money are being offered to civilians to fight against the Malian army and its supporters. According to the accounts from refugees there are children among the rebel fighters. People spoke of family members having disappeared."
The agency is planning for the additional displacement of up to 300,000 inside Mali and 407,000 more refugees flowing into neighbouring countries.
It is urgently reinforcing its teams across the region, she said, as thousands more refugees flee to Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria, Guinea and Togo.
The agency said about 200,000 people were forced to leave their homes in northern Mali in 2012 and were on the move within the country, while 144,500 Malians fled to neighbouring countries.
Mali: who is doing what?
France and UK are among several countries involved in operation against rebels in northern Mali
Julian Borger and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 16 January 2013
France has sent at least 750 troops to Mali and officials have said that number could be greatly increased if necessary. The first on the ground have been Foreign Legionnaires and marines. An armoured column has arrived in Bamako from Ivory Coast and is due to move north.
France is using four Mirage 2000D and four Rafale fighter jets, two C135 refuelling tankers, plus reconnaissance jets and a squadron of helicopter gunships armed with anti-tank missiles and cannon.
West Africa (Ecowas)
Nigeria will be sending 900 troops as part of a 3,300-strong west African force. The first Nigerian company is due to arrive on Wednesday, with hundreds more expected in the next few days. Burkina Faso will send 500 soldiers to Mali and another 500 to help seal the border. Senegal and Togo will also deploy 500 soldiers as part of the Ecowas force. Benin will send 300. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Niger and Guinea have also pledged troops. However, doubts have been raised over how long it will take to get the Ecowas force operational, and over its lack of training in extreme desert conditions.
Two C-17 transport aircraft, one of which has arrived in Mali, are being provided. The second, delayed by mechanical problems, arrived in Paris on Tuesday , and was due to take off for Mali in the evening. The Ministry of Defence said the UK contribution would last one week. No troops would be sent, but British troops could be involved in training the Malian army.
The Pentagon is contributing transport planes, air refuelling tankers, spy planes and drones. However, Pentagon officials told Foreign Policy magazine that legal obstacles had to be overcome before US planes could be deployed as Washington broke off relations with Mali after last year's coup.
Belgium is expected to contribute two C-130 transport planes and a medivac helicopter.
A C-17 is due to arrive in France en route to Mali.
"Logistics, medical or humanitarian support" have been offered, although it is not clear exactly what it will send.
Copenhagen has dispatched a C-130 transport plan to Bamako to help ferry troops and equipment.
Mali: how did it come to this?
The situation in Mali has deteriorated because of factors including political upheaval, new alliances and local tolerance
The Guardian, Thursday 17 January 2013 18.38 GMT
Four elements explain the current violence in the Sahel, a poor relation among the various theatres of extremism over the last decade. The first is the radical transformation of the region. Weaponry looted from Libya after Colonel Gaddafi's fall, the collapse of central government in Mali and the rebellion by local Tuareg tribesmen who became brief allies of the extremists, combined to turn a harsh environment that restricted the capabilities of the militants into one that favoured them. Suddenly there were arms, anarchy and auxiliaries – everything a jihadi group needs.
The southern, Mali-based part of the fractured al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was formed out of the remnants of older Algerian groups in January 2007.
It has gone from being "a first-rate criminal organisation and a second- or third-rate terrorist organisation" in the words of Peter Pham, an expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council thinktank, who frequently advises the US and other governments on Africa, to a force that is now, with its allies, taking on the French army.
A second factor was the rivalry between AQIM factions.
Relations between Mohktar Belmoktar, the veteran Algerian jihadi probably behind the refinery attack, and Abdel Malek Droukdel, the current head of AQIM, have been bad for almost a decade.
"For many years, Droukdel was being badly squeezed in the north while Belmoktar was getting very rich and very powerful," said Camille Tawil, a London-based expert on north African militancy. "Belmoktar has long had leadership ambitions."
When last year the official head of the southern faction of AQIM was killed in a car crash in Mali, Belmoktar did not get the job. Humiliated, he announced the formation of his own group, declared his intention to attack the west and its interests locally, and set about planning operations that would upstage those of AQIM itself.
The third major factor in the upsurge of violence was the alliance of extremist groups that emerged last year as AQIM's southern faction coordinated operations with two other main local extremist outfits, Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
The final factor was local support, or at least acquiescence, in the territories where the extremists now operate. This came through militant leaders' alliances with elite figures such as tribal heads cemented over the previous decade through marriage or mutually beneficial criminal enterprise. It also came from ordinary people growing sick of the anarchy that followed the collapse of the government.
But, while it may look like their moment has come, the success of the militants of the Mali-Algeria border zone may contain the seeds of their eventual defeat. The communities of northern Mali have long practised a moderate form of Islam. Now the militant groups are imposing a far more severe regime. A key reason for the failure of al-Qaida in Iraq was clashes over issues such as burial rituals and veiling between local tribesmen and foreign militants, even in the deeply conservative western provinces of the country.
Local Iraqi tribal sheikhs were also angered when al-Qaida leaders appropriated lucrative rackets, depriving them of funds they needed to maintain influence and position. The same reaction is possible in northern Mali, certainly if the currently considerable reserves of cash held by the extremists start to run low. Adept though they undoubtedly are at surviving in the desert, they are only a major problem if they can capture and hold towns.
Also, the number of individuals who can effect that critical fusion of criminal and jihadi elements with the local elites needed to retain local support, and thus a relatively secure base, is extremely limited.
"There are perhaps 700 to a thousand fighters moving around this space but the number of leaders who make them dangerous and a threat to international security is very small. Without them these groups would simply be a nuisance," said Pham.
The best-case scenario is that conventional military pressure and the killing of key figures, combined with a loss of local support, sends AQIM and its allies back to its previous status as low-grade desert thieves, kidnappers and traffickers.
The worst-case scenario is that the conflict infects neighbouring countries with existing problems with Islamic extremism, and eventually the entire region. Both involve plenty of blood spilt in the sand.
Mr Marlboro: the jihadist back from the 'dead' to launch Algerian gas field raid
Mokhtar Belmokhtar is allegedly behind Ansema kidnapping, with possible motive being strained relations with fellow warlords
The Guardian, Thursday 17 January 2013 13.49 GMT
For a man whose death in combat in the Malian city of Gao was announced last June, Mokhtar Belmokhtar – the Islamist militant allegedly behind the raid on the Ansema gas field in Algeria – has been surprisingly busy.
Since that raid – which saw the deaths of several foreign oil workers, including a Briton, and the kidnapping of 41 more – Belmokhtar has been described in journalistic shorthand as "al-Qaida".
On Thursday, as it was reported that some 25 of those captives had escaped, the real motives behind Belmokhtar's raid – and his relationships with other Islamist groups in the Sahel – began to emerge as far more complex than first reported.
The standard version of Belmokhtar's career as an Islamist leader is easy to summarise. The man dubbed the Uncatchable, as well as Mr Marlboro for his involvement in cigarette smuggling, was born in Ghardaia, Algeria, in 1972, starting his jihadist activities early.
By his own account – given in an interview at a time he was trying to shore up his leadership credentials – Belmokhtar, also known as Khalid Abu al-Abbas, travelled aged 19 to Afghanistan, where he claimed he gained training and combat experience before returning to his homeland in 1992.
This launched him into a two-decade career of Islamic militancy, first as a member of Algeria's Islamic Armed Group (GIA) in the country's civil war, then as a joint founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which started extending its attacks against security forces into countries of the arid Sahel, which forms the southern fringe of the Sahara.
That group evolved into al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group as much interested in the financial benefits of kidnapping and smuggling as building an Islamic caliphate.
Despite the claims that Belmokhtar's latest actions were carried out on behalf of AQIM in response to the French military action in Mali, his real agenda is likely to be more complicated and opaque.
"He's one of the best-known warlords of the Sahara," said Stephen Ellis, an expert on organised crime and professor at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. The reality is that Belmokhtar's relationship with the AQIM leadership – all Algerian like him – had become deeply strained even before this week's attack.
Passed over for several senior positions within the organisation in recent years, in October it was announced he had been relieved of his command of fighters in northern Mali by AQMI's leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, who appointed Yahya Abou El Hamame as "emir of the Sahel".
Then reports in both Malian and other media suggested that Belmokhtar had been removed from command of his unit, known as the Turbaned Ones, after being deemed a loose cannon, later forming his own splinter group known as Those Who Sign in Blood.
By December, the Associated Press was reporting in an interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha – a figure who has held positions in AQIM, Ansar al Din, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO) – that Belmokhtar was no longer under AQIM's direct command, but was still a follower of al-Qaida.
Belmokhtar's problems with his fellow jihadis have been historic. While instrumental in forming the GSPC, he was passed over for leadership of the group in 2003 when the less experienced and popular Droukdel was elevated above him.
As he increasingly distanced himself from the AQIM leadership with the outbreak of the Islamist insurrection in Mali, he emerged as a key figure through his close relationship with the Ansar al-Dine leader, Iyyad Ag Ghali, who had acted – lucratively – as the intermediary negotiating the release of hostages held by Belmokhtar's group.
Indeed, Belmokhtar and Ag Ghali's careers have been similar in many respects, both credited with being influential fixers in a region, able to negotiate the competing interests of different groups.
During the fighting in the Malian town of Gao last summer, where he was reported to have been killed, Belmokhtar was said to be in an alliance with another defected former AQIM fighter Hamadou Ould Khairou, a Mauritanian who quit AQIM a year before to form his own new militant Islamist group MUJAO, and was, like Belmokhtar, also implicated in the drug trade.
Although some have attributed differences in opinion over how to conduct jihad in the Sahel, other local media sources have suggested far more prosaic reasons for Belmokhtar's split – a falling out over who gets the lion's share of proceeds of the kidnapping business.
Belmokhtar has been credited with a more pragmatic approach to kidnapping than some of his rivals in AQIM, who have less qualms about killing hostages, with Belmokhtar reportedly more likely to negotiate a settlement.
All of which leads to the question of what Belmokhtar's real motive is for launching an attack on the Anseema gas field.
The reality is the operation is probably as much about his own credentials as a jihadi warlord as it is about the French military operation in Mali, and a reminder to those who sidelined him in AQIM that he remains a well connected and powerful figure to be reckoned with.
Algeria crisis: hostages feared dead after troops storm gas field
Thirty hostages reported killed during rescue operation, while David Cameron says Britain should be 'prepared for bad news'
Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour
The Guardian, Friday 18 January 2013
Thirty hostages were feared dead after Algerian troops stormed a desert gas field seized by a jihadist group in a disastrous end to the worst international hostage crisis of recent years.
Reuters news agency quoted an Algerian security source as saying that the 30 victims included eight Algerians, two Britons, two Japanese and one French national, and that the nationality of the remaining 17 hostages killed in the battle had not been confirmed. Earlier in the day, the militants claimed 34 western hostages had lost their lives in the Algerian rescue attempt. Eleven jihadists were also reported to be killed.
One British contractor died in the initial jihadist attack on the In Amenas gas field on Wednesday morning, but prime minister David Cameron warned that the country "should be prepared for further bad news in this very dangerous, fluid situation". The Foreign Office called it "an appalling tragedy".
Algeria's state news agency APS saidthe military operation to free hostages had ended, quoting an unnamed official source who gave no further details.
Mohamed Saïd, the Algerian communications minister, earlier confirmed that several hostages had been killed but said troops had been forced to act to free them due to the "diehard" attitude of their captors. "The operation resulted in the neutralisation of a large number of terrorists and the liberation of a considerable number of hostages," Saïd said, according to the New York Times. "Unfortunately, we deplore also the death of some, as well as some who were wounded. We do not have final numbers."
Officials said 600 Algerian workers at the site had been freed and more than 20 foreigners had survived.
Norway's Statoil company said it was unable to account for nine Norwegian employees who had been at the In Amenas gas field at the time of the raid.
The Algerian government said it was necessary to take instant action to end the standoff as the jihadist group, known as the Signers in Blood, had intended to take the hostages out of the country.
An Algerian source quoted by Reuters said three Egyptians, two Algerians, two Tunisians, two Libyans a Frenchman and a Malian, were among the 11 militants killed.
"The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels," one survivor, a 53-year-old local man called Abdelkader, told Reuters.
The British government complained it had not been informed before the military operation was launched. Cameron was only told once it was under way and immediately demanded an explanation from Algiers. Washington and Paris indicated they too had been left in the dark.
There were also questions about the tactics used by the Algerians to break the hostage standoff. Several reports from the scene describe helicopter gunships strafing the workers' living quarters where the hostages were being held. The militants claimed they still held seven hostages: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen.
One of the survivors was Stephen McFaul, an Irish national, who called his wife, Angela, in west Belfast at 3pm to say he was alive and free. McFaul said the Algerian army bombed four jeeps carrying fellow captives and probably killed many of them, his brother Brian told Reuters. McFaul told his family that he survived because he was on the only one of five jeeps not hit by Algerian bombs.
"They were moving five jeep-loads of hostages from one part of the compound. At that stage, they were intercepted by the Algerian army. The army bombed four out of five of the trucks and four of them were destroyed," Brian McFaul said.
"The truck my brother was in crashed and Stephen was able to make a break for his freedom. He presumed everyone else in the other trucks was killed."
Brian McFaul said he did not speak to Stephen directly, but got an account from Stephen's wife Angela after she spoke to him. The hostages had their mouths taped and explosives hung from around their necks, McFaul added.
The White House said it was concerned about the loss of life and was seeking clarification. A senior official told journalists travelling with the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, in the UK: "Details remain very murky over this raid and what has happened. We're assessing reports that the Algerians may have conducted some kind of action in connection with the incident, but cannot confirm precisely what happened."
French president François Hollande told business leaders the hostage crisis "seems to be heading towards an end in dramatic conditions" and the violence in Algeria justified his decision last Friday to launch a military campaign against Islamist militants in neighbouring Mali.
The Algerian raid, thought to have been spearheaded by the army's special intervention group, was carried out only hours after Britain had said its "focus is on working through the Algerian government and BP", a partner in the gas field.
According to Downing Street, Cameron learned of the rescue attempt from British officials in Algiers in touch with London by satellite link. He then rang the Algerian prime minister at 11am to be informed that the operation was already under way, despite an earlier appeal by the British prime minister that no substantial action be taken without first consulting him.
"The prime minister explicitly told the Algerians he wanted advance warning of any military operation, but they just went for it," a Downing Street source said.
One source described the 10-15 minute phone call as businesslike, but stressed that no British judgment would be made on the operation while it was still under way. However, a spokesman said: "The prime minister explained we would have preferred to be consulted in advance."
The prime minister made that view known first in a phone call on Wednesday, but Algerians countered thatit had not been possible since, in its judgment, it had been imperative to act immediately.
The prime minister's spokesman said "the aim of the British government had been to work with the Algerian government and the company to resolve the situation peacefully".
According to two separate reports, many of the casualties were caused when an Algerian helicopter gunship opened fire on one of the jihadists' vehicles, which was carrying militants and hostages. It is not clear whether the vehicle was attempting to flee the scene at the time.
Even before the main Algerian army attack, the jihadists told al-Jazeera television that the army was firing on the complex, and a Japanese hostage reported he and a Norwegian hostage had been wounded by army snipers. Another hostage warned the "message does not seem to be getting through", al-Jazeera reported, and Algerian troops were continually firing at the camp.
The Signers in Blood militant group that attacked the gas field before dawn on Wednesday also called itself the Masked Brigade and owed allegiance to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran jihadist who until last year was a deputy leader in al-Qaida in the Maghreb. He broke away from the group to start his own faction, pledging to fight western influence in the region. One of the hostage survivors said that members of the group spoke Arabic with Egyptian, Tunisian and Syrian accents.
"The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels," another survivor, a 53-year-old local man called Abdelkader, told Reuters news agency. "We will kill them, they said." He added: "The terrorists seemed to know the base very well … moving around, showing that they knew where they were going."
The timing of the attack also suggested inside knowledge. The group struck when there was an unusually high number of foreigners at the gas field and some of them were leaving in a bus to the airport.
Foreign Office warns In Amenas hostage crisis not over yet
FCO describes Algerian incident as ongoing amid uncertainty about number of casualties and warning from PM of 'bad news'
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 08.26 GMT
The hostage crisis in Algeria is not over yet, the Foreign Office (FCO) said on Friday morning, despite reports from Algerian state news agency APS that the crisis had ended.
Amid uncertainty about the number of casualties, the FCO said the situation was "ongoing". At least one British national has been killed, but reports suggest the fate of the others remains uncertain. The prime minister, David Cameron, said on Thursday evening that Britain "should be prepared for bad news".
An FCO spokesman said: "The terrorist incident in Algeria remains ongoing. The prime minister spoke twice to his Algerian counterpart, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, on Thursday."
Cameron will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Friday morning as efforts continue to establish the full scale of the bloodshed.
"He chaired Cobra twice on Thursday, and will chair another meeting on Friday morning; Cobra will continue to meet as long as the crisis lasts," the FCO spokesman said.
"As the prime minister and foreign secretary have said, to the best of our knowledge on the information given to us by the Algerian government, one British national has sadly been killed.
"We are not in a position to give further information at this time. But the prime minister has advised we should be prepared for bad news.
"Our priority will remain the safety of British nationals and their co-workers. We cannot provide any details that might endanger their lives. But we are working round the clock to resolve this crisis."
The foreign secretary, William Hague, has cut short a visit to Australia to return to the UK and there is expected to be a ministerial statement to the Commons.
The Algerian rescue effort was launched early on Thursday without consultation with the UK, to the apparent dismay of No 10.
Cameron was informed that it was under way when he telephoned his Algerian counterpart in the morning despite having earlier asked to be kept fully updated. Offers of British help had been declined.
The British government complained it had not been informed before the military operation was launched. Cameron was only told once it was under way and immediately demanded an explanation from Algiers. Washington and Paris indicated they too had been left in the dark.
There were also questions about the tactics the Algerians used to break the hostage standoff. Several reports from the scene describe helicopter gunships strafing the workers' living quarters where the hostages were being held. The militants claimed they still held seven hostages: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen.
January 17, 2013
Lack of Warning on Rescue Effort Highlights Limits of Algerian Cooperation
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — On the way to Europe in October, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a much-publicized stop in Algeria to enlist that nation’s help in combating militants who had established a sanctuary in neighboring Mali, including fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
But the limits of Algeria’s cooperation with the United States were visible on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed the gas facility where Islamic extremists were holding dozens of American and other foreign hostages — an operation that a Pentagon official said was undertaken without consultation with the United States.
“The Algerians are jealous of their sovereignty, and that explains why they haven’t consulted with the Americans,” said Anouar Boukhars, an expert on North Africa at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Their position is no negotiation with violent extremists.”
Obama administration officials have been reluctant to discuss the rescue mission, which Algerian officials acknowledged led to the death of some hostages. With an eye on Mali, however, American officials made clear that they planned to continue nurturing the relationship with Algeria.
“When this incident is finally over,” Mrs. Clinton said on Thursday, “we’re going to do everything we can to work together to confront and disrupt Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
She had talked by phone on Wednesday with Algeria’s prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal. The call concerned “what might be needed” to deal with the hostage situation and “the desire to keep lines of communication open,” said Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman.
The State Department would not say if the United States had been notified in advance of Thursday’s operation by the Algerians, but a Pentagon official said it had not.
Some former American officials who have dealt extensively with the Algerian military said on Thursday that they were not surprised that the Algerians would stage an operation without notifying other countries, including Britain and Japan, which were among the countries whose citizens were taken hostage, but which also received no advance notice of the operation.
“This is how they operate; they like to do things unilaterally,” said Rudy Atallah, a former Air Force Special Operations officer and director of African counterterrorism for the Pentagon.
For all that, American officials were striving to keep relations with Algeria on track.
“One thing that is clear: there will not be a satisfactory solution in Mali without Algeria’s participation,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the African Command, said at a recent news conference in Niger’s capital, Niamey.
The Algerians have their own interests in a good relationship. They have concerns about deteriorating security in Mali, and the United States is the largest buyer of Algeria’s oil.
Over the last year, the position of Mr. Sellal’s government on Mali has changed. At first, Algerian officials were worried that a military campaign against militants in Mali might push them north into Algerian territory and radicalize the Tuaregs, a nomadic group in the desert area straddling the borders of Algeria, Mali and Niger.
But as security in Mali worsened, the United States and France stepped up their entreaties to the Algerians. The October visit was Mrs. Clinton’s second as secretary of state, and was followed by a November visit by William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and December meetings between American and Algerian counterterrorism officials.
Algeria has made clear that it will not send troops to Mali, but it began to help in other ways, including by sending thousands of troops to the southern part of its country to secure the border.
The American and French diplomacy also appeared to pay off when, after the militants in Mali began to move south this month, Algeria responded by opening its airspace to the French as they began to rush troops to the landlocked African nation.
“That tells you how pragmatic they have become,” Mr. Boukhars said.
Still, Algeria’s cooperation has not always been everything American officials have wished.
“Senior military and civilian leaders in Algeria have a clear understanding of the threat that exists in northern Mali,” General Ham said. “That doesn’t mean we all agree on all of the details.”
General Ham, who has visited Algeria four times in the past two years, praised the Algerians for tightening their southern border “so that terrorist forces in northern Mali cannot move freely across the region.” But he gently urged the country to work harder to “communicate more clearly and more directly” with Mali and other border nations “so that they could pass information that affects their shared borders more quickly.”
Current and former American officials, along with Algeria experts, describe Algeria’s national security apparatus as something of a black box. A report last year by the Congressional Research Service said that the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, had consolidated his power by diminishing the influence of senior military commanders.
At the same time, according to the report, a military intelligence service, the Department of Intelligence and Security, retains vast power over government decision-making, and operates largely independently from the traditional military chain of command.
A shadowy figure, Gen. Mohamed Mediène, has run the service since the early 1990s. Algeria analysts know very little about him, and few pictures of him exist in the public realm.
In brief remarks at the State Department on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton kept her focus on Mali, avoiding any talk of Algeria’s internal security arrangements. “We’re going to be working with our friends and partners in North Africa,” she said, before speaking again by phone with Algeria’s prime minister.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
Syrian rebels accuse jihadist groups of trying to hijack revolution
Schism develops between al-Qaida-linked units and Free Syrian Army in north of country
Martin Chulov in Aleppo
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 January 2013 16.26 GMT
A schism is developing in northern Syria between jihadists and Free Syrian Army units, which threatens to pitch both groups against each other and open a new phase in the Syrian civil war.
Rebel commanders who fight under the Free Syrian Army banner say they have become increasingly angered by the behaviour of jihadist groups, especially the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, who they say aim to hijack the goals of the revolution.
The rising tensions are palpable in the countryside near Aleppo, which has become a stronghold for the well-armed and highly motivated jihadists, many of whom espouse the Bin Laden worldview and see Syria as a theatre in which to conduct a global jihad.
Syrian rebel groups, on the other hand, maintain that their goals are nationalistic and not aimed at imposing Islamic fundamentalism on the society if and when the Assad regime falls.
Fighting between the well-armed jihadists and the regular units who accepted their help from late last summer would mark a dramatic escalation in the conflict that has claimed in excess of 60,000 lives. However, commanders in the north say such an outcome now appears unavoidable.
"We will fight them on day two after Assad falls," one senior commander told the Guardian. "Until then we will no longer work with them."
In recent weeks Liwa al-Tawheed and other militias who form part of the overall Free Syrian Army brand have started conducting their own operations without inviting al-Nusra to join them.
A raid on an infantry school north of Aleppo in mid-December was one such occasion, as are ongoing attacks against Battalion 80 on the outskirts of the city's international airport and a military base to the east, known as Querres.
"They are not happy with us," the rebel commander said. "But they had been hoarding all their weapons anyway."
Another significant issue for rebel leaders is what to do with state assets that have now fallen into the hands of the opposition.
"They see stealing things that used to belong to the government, like copper factories, or any factory, as no problem," said the rebel commander. "They are selling it to the Turks and using the money for themselves. This is wrong. This is money for the people."
Jabhat al-Nusra does not eschew its links to al-Qaida, or the fact that many of its members are veterans of the insurgency against US forces in Iraq, which morphed into a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
In interviews, the group's members say they have learned lessons from Iraq, which saw them battered to the point of strategic defeat by a combination of a sustained push by US and Iraqi forces and a rebellion by Sunni communities against al-Qaida's pervasive and puritanical ways.
So far in Syria, al-Nusra has avoided targeting civilian facilities, or the country's minority communities. It has also started an outreach programme to communities ravaged by almost two years of war. The aid work has won the group some support in the north of the country, while also earning the ire of rebel groups.
Syria crisis: al-Qaida fighters revealing their true colours, rebels say
A schism is developing in northern Syria between jihadists and Free Syrian Army units, which threatens to pitch both groups against each other and open a new phase in the Syrian civil war
Martin Chulov in Aleppo
The Guardian, Thursday 17 January 2013 16.27 GMT
The young rebel stepped out from his battered sedan looking warily at the throng of passersby as he picked his way through festering rubbish bags piled in front of a school.
He pushed against a wrought iron gate and disappeared into the expanse of the empty schoolyard, invisible in the coal-dark of another power-less night in Aleppo.
"I have a problem with al-Qaida," he said from the gloom. "Come with me, alone, and I'll tell you."
He gripped his short black beard anxiously and began to speak. "I am an engineer," he said. "I trained abroad and I came back for this revolution. My skill is in making machinery parts and now al-Qaida want me to make their weapons. They run everything here. They are very powerful."
The group he called al-Qaida is known locally as Jabhat al-Nusra. Before the siege of Aleppo started mid-July, the group was unknown in the city and had been only a fleeting presence in the rebellious countryside.
Now though, almost six months later, inspired by the Bin Laden world view of a global jihad to enforce a fundamental Islamic society, al-Nusra is very much competing for influence in the Syria that will take shape if and when the embattled regime falls.
Through a growing role on the battlefield and a rising reputation as an organisation that can get things done, al-Nusra has become a player in the power vacuum that has emerged from the civil war. It is also increasingly known as an enforcer, whose unbending demands are unsettling regular rebel units as well as the societies the group claims to protect.
The rebel, who gave his name as Hassan, worried that eavesdroppers might somehow pick up his whispered English even in this vast, deserted playground, decided the noisy street outside would be a better place to talk.
Generators rumbled their relentless beat across a street slickened with oil, mud, and blood dripping from slaughtered lambs. Meat from the carcasses was being cooked on roadside barbecues, the smoke from the small fires mixing with a freezing fog, which seemed to thicken with the breath of vendors and customers as they huddled in the bitter cold, illuminated by gas lamps and candlelight.
"They [al-Nusra] come to me all the time," said Hassan, who was once part of a Free Syrian Army unit in the east of the city. "I make excuses with them, telling them that the machine part is not right for what they want – anything to avoid doing what they want. They want me to make their bombs."
Over the past two months al-Nusra has felt emboldened enough to step from the shadows. It has opened shopfronts in most towns and villages, from Aleppo to the Turkish border, and has even set up a headquarters in plain sight in the centre of the city, alongside the base of a regular Free Syrian Army unit, Liwa al-Tawhid.
A simple black Islamic banner, the same one adopted by al-Qaida in Iraq, from where many of al-Nusra's members hail, hangs at each of the outposts.
In these hubs al-Nusra cadres receive residents who come to them to resolve disputes and seek aid. Men with notebooks sit inside chronicling complaints and sometimes giving out vouchers for food or fuel.
Throughout history Syrians have sought out patrons, usually tribal sheikhs or chieftains, for assistance in all manner of things, from mediation to marriage. In some cases al-Nusra is now filling these roles.
"Where is the Jabhat [al-Nusra] base?" an elderly man carrying a plastic bag of medication and a handwritten letter asked as he walked along the verge of a main road in Aleppo.
"What do you want from them?" another man said.
"They are good people," he replied. "They can fix problems. I'm very tired of all of this suffering."
The man shuffled down the road to a gate of large horizontal bars, where a smiling al-Nusra cadre, with a ginger beard and green fatigues, ushered him inside to a waiting room.
Other al-Nusra members tinkered with a satellite link for a flat screen TV on the wall. More came and went from the reception area. Many limped from recent wounds, others bore visible scars of war.
In the heady months that followed the storming of Aleppo – a push that was led by the rural poor from the nearby hinterland – al-Nusra took prominent and decisive positions at most battles.
Their prowess as fighters has been acknowledged by other rebel units, who in the early days began to defer to the better-armed and organised jihadists among them.
It was, for a while, a tale of dramatic gains; of revolutionary zeal and a fervour to get things finished, no matter the methods or consequences. Ideological and religious differences were set aside in the battle against a common enemy – the Assad regime.
"But then they [al-Nusra] began to reveal themselves," said a senior rebel commander in Aleppo. "The situation is now very clear. They don't want what we want."
Over the past six weeks a once co-operative arrangement between Aleppo's regular Free Syrian Army units and al-Nusra has become one of barely disguised distrust.
A week of interviews with rebel groups in north Syria has revealed a schism developing between the jihadists and residents, which some rebel leaders predict will eventually spark a confrontation between the jihadists and the conservative communities that agreed to host them.
Some already talk of an Iraq-style "awakening" – a time in late-2006 as when communities in the Sunni heartland cities of Fallujah and Ramadi turned on al-Qaida groups in their midst that had tried to impose sharia law and enforce their will through the gun barrel.
"We'll fight them on day two after Assad falls," a commander said. "Until then we will no longer work with them."
In recent weeks Liwa al-Tawhid and other militias who form part of the Free Syrian Army have started their own operations, without inviting al-Nusra along.
A raid on an infantry school north of Aleppo was one such occasion; so are attacks against Batallion 80 on the outskirts of the city's international airport and a military base to the east, known as Querres.
"They are not happy with us," the rebel leader said. "But they had been hoarding all their weapons anyway."
Another significant issue for rebel leaders is what to do with state assets that have fallen into the hands of the opposition.
"They see stealing things that used to belong to the government, like copper factories, or any factory, as no problem," said the rebel commander. "They are selling it to the Turks and using the money for themselves. This is wrong. This is money for the people."
On Monday al-Nusra units went to a state-owned water factory on the Euphrates river. They invited regular rebel units to go with them as they picked through parts inside the factory for selling to whoever wanted them.
One unit did join the jihadists. Others refused.
"These are Syrian assets for Syrian people," said a rebel commander who did not want to be named. "They see this as an open pasture for them to do as they please. Our job is to protect the state for life after Assad, not to destroy it."
Money is flowing to al-Nusra. Members acknowledge that they receive cash from benefactors in the Sunni Arab world. But their coffers are also being filled with a garage sale of state assets, largely conducted by al-Nusra leaders.
A rebel unit pulled up on a main road in eastern Aleppo just up the road from the al-Nusra base. Pigeons circled over the city's ancient citadel, which soared from a hilltop in the near distance.
Another rebel approached, this time to complain that young girls in his village had been pledged as brides to anyone who joined al-Nusra. "This is part of the employment benefits," he said.
For now, community leaders seem to be able to say no to al-Nusra suitors who come calling, but fear these rights might be whittled away if the group consolidates its influence.
North of Aleppo, in the small forsaken hamlet of Dabek, al-Nusra, fighters had recently paid a visit. Their goal had been to damage a grave that was, in their eyes, too pretentious for Islamic traditions, which specify that all graves, no matter who is buried in them, must be modest.
"They damaged some of the rocks around the grave and they did the same in Azaz [a nearby town]," said the local sheikh. "They are starting to impose themselves and their values."
While the group's footsoldiers are now visible in north Syria, its leaders keep a low profile. Privately, some members, veterans of al-Qaida in Iraq among them, say community outreach is essential to the group's role in Syria.
"There were mistakes made in Iraq. Killing people on camera, being so visibly connected to sectarian fighting. These things cannot be repeated," one member said.
But assassinations of some captured regime soldiers that were recorded on camera and uploaded to the internet show restraint is not being practised by all al-Nusra members.
"There is discipline for those who don't follow the leaders," the member said. "We need the community and they need us."
A rebel commander told a story, as a warning of the dangers al-Qaida represented to Syrian society. Late last year the leaders of some towns in the Aleppo hinterland and the rebel commanders who move between them received word of a visitor.
"He was a Tunisian," said the commander. "And he said he brought a message on behalf of Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaida's leader]. He asked us to join him and said there would be benefits for us if we did. He asked me to pledge a bayaa [oath of allegiance] to al-Qaida. I said no. This is what we all must do. If we continue with them, the Syria of our dreams will instead haunt our children in their nightmares."
January 17, 2013
Jordan Says It Won’t Accept New Refugees if Syria Falls
By HANIA MOURTADA and HWAIDA SAAD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — In the latest sign of the intense pressures Syria’s war has placed on its neighbors, Jordan’s prime minister said Thursday that his country would not accept thousands of new refugees likely to flee Syria if President Bashar al-Assad’s government collapsed.
“We do not encourage our Syrian brothers to come to Jordan because their country needs them more and they should remain there,” the prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, told reporters in Amman, Jordan, according to Reuters. “We will stop them and keep them in their country.”
Jordan’s government would instead deploy special forces troops to create “secure safe havens” for the refugees inside Syrian territory, Mr. Ensour said, without elaborating.
His comments underscored mounting fears in Jordan that it was being destabilized by the influx of more than 200,000 refugees — many living in miserable conditions in a camp near the border — and by the threat of a spreading militancy from the war. Jordan has already come under criticism from human rights groups for turning back Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, in what is seen as an effort to maintain Jordan’s delicate demographic balance.
Despite such concerns, Jordanian officials on Thursday tried to soften the prime minister’s comments, which raised the possibility of both a Jordanian military incursion into Syrian territory and a new humanitarian crisis. A government spokesman, Samih Maytah, said the prime minister’s comments had been taken “out of context,” but offered more or less the same formulation: Jordan will continue receiving the refugees “as long as the flow continues at the same rate,” he said. But if tens or hundreds of thousands came across — “if the regime falls or chaos spreads” — Jordan will stop taking them in.
Jordan’s warnings came as a Syrian antigovernment group called for a United Nations investigation into what it said was a mass killing of civilians by government loyalists on the outskirts of the central city of Homs.
The group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks casualties from Britain using a network of observers in Syria, said 106 people, including women and children, were killed after the loyalists raided the village of Al Haswiya on Tuesday. Whole families were killed, and some victims had been “burned inside their houses,” the observatory said in a statement.
An activist from the area who was interviewed Tuesday after he fled said government troops were “executing people for no apparent reason.” The victims included his 55-year-old uncle, he said, who was killed because he was trying to film the attack.
But the group’s account of the attack and the death toll could not be confirmed. A journalist with the British broadcaster ITV who visited Al Haswiya on Thursday said he was told by locals and government officials that the killings occurred during fighting between rebels and government troops. The journalist, Bill Neely, said he saw blood and human remains in one house, and was told that a woman and five children had been killed there — possibly by rebel fighters who had tried to occupy the house.
Residents told Mr. Neely that about 30 people had been killed in fighting around the village, which is near a military intelligence building that had come under frequent attack by rebels.
“It became clear many people had been killed in the streets, in houses and in orchards,” Mr. Neely wrote. “Exactly what happened I can’t prove.”
Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that its doctors in northern Syria had treated dozens of people injured in government attacks this week, and that many came from an area that has been under “almost daily” bombardment by army helicopters.
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Beirut, and Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan.
January 17, 2013
Pakistani Preacher Ends Protest in Government Deal
By DECLAN WALSH and SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, the preacher turned political activist who led thousands of his supporters to occupy the heart of the Pakistani capital, ended his protest on Thursday night after the government granted his party largely symbolic input into the country’s electoral process.
Mr. Qadri failed to achieve his headline aims, like the immediate dissolution of President Asif Ali Zardari’s government and the installation of a temporary administration led by technocrats — demands that, together with a striking military silence about his movement, had stoked fears of army interference in politics.
Although he electrified the news media and embarrassed the government by closing down the center of the capital for four days, his promises of a “million-man march” did not materialize, and the much smaller group that followed him was drenched by bitter rains that lashed the capital on Thursday.
But the 61-year-old preacher, who mixed eloquent rhetoric with fist-waving ultimatums, did achieve some concessions, particularly for the leader of an obscure party that does not hold a single seat in Parliament. And even as his supporters began dispersing, it was clear that he had carved out an unusually prominent role for a political outsider.
After five hours of talks with representatives of the coalition government, held inside the bulletproof enclosure he inhabited on Islamabad’s main avenue, Mr. Qadri read out a five-point agreement about his party’s role in the elections.
It provided that Mr. Qadri’s Awami Tehreek party would have limited say in the choice of a caretaker prime minister during the election campaign period, and the law minister would consult with Mr. Qadri on the composition of the election commission that oversees voting.
Addressing his supporters, Mr. Qadri claimed victory and described the three-day protest as a “golden chapter in the history of Pakistan.”
But beyond platitudes about weeding out corrupt politicians, the deal accorded Mr. Qadri few solid rights, and some analysts saw it as a way of allowing him to withdraw quietly from Islamabad.
“It is a capitulation in a sense that it is an unconstitutional document,” said Salman Akram Raja, a leading constitutional lawyer. “But in practice, it will have no effect. It is just a face saver that allows Tahir-ul Qadri to leave Islamabad.”
Notably, the final point of the deal behooves the government to avoid all “acts of victimization and vendetta” against Mr. Qadri and his supporters — a pointed reminder of the culture of revenge in Pakistani politics.
After the deal was signed, Mr. Qadri hugged and held hands with Qamar Zaman Kaira, the information minister, who had mocked the preacher at a news conference just a day earlier. Mr. Kaira expressed regret for his sharp-tongued attacks and offered his congratulations. “Today, it is your victory, it is my victory,” he said. “Your peaceful protest is unparalleled.”
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the deal, however, had not been written down: a major street movement had been peacefully defused without loss of life. Warnings from Interior Minister Rehman Malik that suicide bombers could target the rally failed to materialize.
Afterward, Mr. Qadri’s supporters, most of them drawn from small towns and cities across Punjab Province, sang, beat drums and danced in the streets of Islamabad. “Our dream came true tonight,” said Sabir Hussain, who said he came in a convoy of 250 vehicles from Chakwal. “We achieved what we came for here.”
Within a few hours, they started to pack their luggage and return home, undoubtedly happy to avoid another night’s sleep on damp sidewalks with limited water, food and sanitary facilities. Some helped to collect trash and sweep the streets. “Thank God the government finally met our sacrifices,” said Muhammad Shafique, a Kashmir resident who said he had a headache all day.
Mr. Zardari’s government was also battling on another front on Thursday, when its lawyers opposed a Supreme Court order for the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ordered the arrest of Mr. Ashraf and 15 other current and former officials as part of a year-old corruption prosecution relating to Mr. Ashraf’s tenure as minister for water and power between 2008 and 2011. Government officials accused Chief Justice Chaudhry of taking advantage of the chaotic situation to press his longstanding rivalry with the government.
Officials from the National Accountability Bureau, the government’s main antigraft body, told the court on Thursday that the investigation into Mr. Ashraf’s case had been “hurried,” and pleaded for more time to complete their work.
Chief Justice Chaudhry remonstrated with the corruption body’s prosecutors, clearly angry that his order had being defied. He accused the head of the agency, Fasih Bokhari, of being timid with Mr. Ashraf, and accused the officials of behaving like defense counsel for the government.
Such hearings have become part of a wider battle between Chief Justice Chaudhry and Mr. Zardari that has played out, largely through proxies, over the past year. In June the court forced the previous prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, to resign in relation to another corruption case. The case was postponed until Jan. 23.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting.
January 17, 2013
Movement of Missiles by North Korea Worries U.S.
By THOM SHANKER and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — The discovery by American intelligence agencies that North Korea is moving mobile missile launchers around the country, some carrying a new generation of powerful rocket, has spurred new assessments of the intentions of the country’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, who has talked about economic change but appears to be accelerating the country’s ability to attack American allies or forces in Asia, and ultimately to strike across the Pacific.
The new mobile missile, called the KN-08, has not yet been operationally deployed, and American officials say it may not be ready for some time. But the discovery that the mobile units have already been dispersed around the country, where they can be easily hidden, has prompted the White House, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to reassess whether North Korea’s missile capabilities are improving at a pace that poses a new challenge to American defenses.
On Thursday, speaking in Italy, the departing defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, broke from the usual Obama administration script — which is to write off North Korea as a broke and desperate country — and told American troops that he was increasingly worried about another, longer-range North Korean missile, one that was successfully tested last month and reached as far as the Philippines, and could lob a warhead much farther.
“Who the hell knows what they’re going to do from day to day?” Mr. Panetta said. “And right now, you know, North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile, for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.”
After he spoke, Pentagon officials said Mr. Panetta did not mean to imply that North Korea could now hit the continental United States, although intelligence and military assessments have said that Hawaii is within range. But the North has made progress toward its goal of fielding a missile that could cross the Pacific, a goal the previous defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, warned at the end of his time in office could be fulfilled by 2016.
An intensive study of the long-range missile test-flight conducted by North Korea last month, one administration official said, found that it was “largely a success, if you define success as showing that they could drop a warhead a lot of places in Asia.”
The more immediate mystery for the administration, however, is what North Korea may intend with the intermediate-range KN-08, which was first shown off by the North in a military parade last April. At the time, many analysts dismissed it as a mock-up. In fact, it has never been test-flown. But parts, including the rocket motors, have been tested separately, according to officials familiar with the intelligence reports, who described the missile developments on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the assessments.
Officials familiar with North Korean missile technology say the KN-08 weapon is designed with a range capable of striking South Korea, Japan and parts of Southeast Asia — although with uncertain accuracy.
North Korea is aware that it is a focus of American spy satellites, so the decision to roll the missile around the country to potential deployment sites might well have been partly motivated by a desire to send a message to the United States, or at least to get Washington’s attention — which it did. Officials said that North Korea’s advancements in missile technology were among the most significant reasons that Mr. Panetta, as he approached the end of his tenure, had spent so much time in Asia. Much of his effort has been aimed at spurring the development of a regional missile defense system to be deployed with allies, particularly Japan and South Korea.
There is no evidence that the KN-08 has been fitted with a nuclear warhead. While North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and in 2009 — just months after President Obama took office — American intelligence officials have said that the North has not miniaturized a nuclear device small enough to be fitted as a warhead atop its missiles. Some believe that may be the goal of its next test — and perhaps, some intelligence reports speculate, of continuing cooperation on missile design between Iran and North Korea. The Iranians, one official noted, “are grappling with the same issues.”
In fact, much remains uncertain about North Korea’s new missile. There was no question where the mobile launching trucks that carried the missile came from: they are Chinese, and almost certainly imported in violation of United Nations sanctions against the North. The new missile, like most in the North Korean arsenal, appeared to be based on Russian technology.
The missile developments are among a number of steps that have convinced American officials that, a year after his ascension as the third generation to inherit the role as North Korea’s dictator, Mr. Kim is proving as confrontational with the West as his father and grandfather. American specialists also warn of the prospect of a third nuclear test, for which preparations are evident.
For the Obama administration, whose last diplomatic effort with the North ended in failure nearly a year ago, the steps are reminders that everything they have tried in the past four years to lure the country out of isolation — or at least contain its nuclear and missile programs — has largely failed.
If nothing else, however, the missile efforts in the North have spurred American efforts to build a network of antimissile capabilities across Northeast Asia. Japan already has one American X-band radar, officially known as the AN/TPY-2, which is a central element in a complex technical architecture for identifying ballistic missiles and coordinating a response by interceptors. And last September, during his travels in the region, Mr. Panetta and his Japanese hosts announced a major agreement to deploy a second advanced missile-defense radar on Japanese territory.
January 17, 2013
U.S. Calls for ‘Cooler Heads’ in Dispute Over Asian Islands
By MARTIN FACKLER
TOKYO — A top American diplomat called Thursday for “cooler heads to prevail” in an emotional quarrel over disputed islands that has raised tensions in Asia, and he urged the leaders of China and Japan to begin private consultations to avoid a potentially dangerous escalation.
The diplomat, Kurt M. Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, also urged Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to hold behind-the-scenes talks with South Korea to defuse a separate territorial dispute as well as disagreements over history that have driven a wedge between the two countries, the United States’ two closest allies in the region.
Mr. Campbell led a delegation that included officials from the Pentagon and White House who are among the highest-ranking Americans to visit Japan and South Korea since conservative, pro-Washington leaders won elections in both nations last month. The delegation arrived here in Tokyo on Wednesday after a two-day visit to the South Korean capital, Seoul, where Mr. Campbell met the president-elect, Park Geun-hye.
Mr. Campbell said the delegation took time to consult on the fast-moving crisis in Algeria that started when gunmen seized hostages at a gas plant, including Americans and at least three Japanese citizens. He said American and Japanese officials were “in very close, hourly consultations” on the issue.
The main goal of the Asian mission appeared to be coordinating a mutual response to China’s increasingly assertive claims in regional waters, as well to the recent launching of a long-range rocket by North Korea. Japanese officials said talks on Thursday focused on Japan’s continuing standoff with China over the uninhabited island group, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese, that are at the center of the dispute.
Tensions appeared to rise last week after fighter jets from both nations tailed each other in airspace near the islands, raising fears in Washington of a mishap growing into a full-blown military clash that could embroil the United States, which is obligated by treaty to come to Japan’s defense.
“We’ve made very clear our desire to see cooler heads prevail and the maintenance of peace and stability over all,” Mr. Campbell told reporters. At the same time, he said the United States would not serve as mediator — a sign, analysts said, that Washington wanted to avoid getting drawn too far into the thorny regional disputes.
That stance has drawn criticism in Japan, China and South Korea that the United States is not taking enough responsibility for conflicts it helped create by drawing the current borders after breaking up the Japanese empire at the end of World War II.
In Tokyo, analysts and politicians said the Americans’ visit was also aimed at soothing ruffled feathers after the Obama administration turned down a request by Mr. Abe to visit Washington this month, in what was viewed by some Japanese as an embarrassing rebuff for the new prime minister. American officials said they had simply asked that the visit be delayed until new secretaries of state and defense had assumed their duties.
Japanese officials said the Americans also made what amounted to a shopping list of requests before a summit meeting in Washington was possible, including progress on a long-stalled agreement to relocate an air base on Okinawa. The Americans were sent to Tokyo “to communicate the firm commitment of the Obama administration to continuing to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance,” said another member of the delegation, Daniel R. Russel, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia.
The delegation also praised the Abe administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the United States. At Japan’s request, the two nations began talks on Thursday on updating guidelines that were written in 1997 to govern how the American and Japanese militaries would cooperate during a crisis, Japanese officials said.
Another goal was to privately urge that the hawkish Mr. Abe not worsen ties with South Korea by revising official apologies made by Japan in the 1990s to victims of its early 20th-century militarism, analysts and Japanese politicians said.
Those concerns were raised in September when Mr. Abe vowed during an internal party election to revise a 1993 apology to so-called comfort women from Korea and elsewhere who were forced into sexual servitude for Japan’s wartime military. Like many on Japan’s right, Mr. Abe rejects the claim by many historians and the South Korean government that the Japanese military had a direct role in coercing the women to become sexual slaves.
The emotionally charged issue of the women helped lead to the recent deterioration of ties between Japan and South Korea. South Korean officials say anger at Japan’s refusal to officially compensate the women was what drove President Lee Myung-bak to pay a visit over the summer to the islands controlled by South Korea but claimed by both countries, which in turn provoked outrage in Japan.
When asked whether he raised the sexual slave issue in his talks with Japanese officials, Mr. Campbell said, “We support the efforts that the Japanese government has taken to reach out to South Korea,” an apparent reference to a special emissary whom Mr. Abe sent to Seoul this month to mend fences by meeting with the incoming president.
01/17/2013 05:42 PM
Atavistic Abe: Japan's PM Courts Old Dangers
By Wieland Wagner
Japan's once and current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is determined to restore his country to its former greatness. Apart from focusing on its ailing economy, the nationalist leader is talking tough with its much stronger neighbors.
Before Japan's newly elected prime minister took office, he made a pilgrimage to the graves of his ancestors in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in southwestern Japan. He lit incense sticks and pressed his hands together in front of his chest. Then he told his supporters what he had pledged to the dead: "This time, I am determined to fulfill the mission."
With his solemn promise in late December, Shinzo Abe wasn't exactly suggesting that his first attempt as prime minister had failed miserably. Indeed, he resigned in September 2007 after a number of failures and owing to his poor health. Instead, the 58-year-old was invoking the political legacy of his father and grandfather precisely because that is his platform.
On Dec. 16, Abe recaptured the majority in the lower house of parliament for his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was voted out of power only three years ago. Now Abe wants to lead the aging and insecure Asian economic power back to its former greatness and, most of all, to rid it of its unpopular "postwar regime."
In saying that, Abe is referring to what the American occupiers imposed on the Japanese Empire after it lost World War II: its pacifist constitution, a relatively liberal education system and an understanding of history that is wholly foreign to Abe. This reading, which the Allied victors inserted into court decisions in the 1948 war crimes trials in Tokyo, painted both Japan and Germany as aggressors in need of permanent taming.
The premier wants to return Japan to its former position as a "beautiful country," which is also the title of a book in which he describes his vision for the nation's future. He wants this new Japan to re-embrace the values promoted by his father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe (1924-1991), and practiced by his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi (1896-1987), whom he admires.
Kishi was the Japanese version of Albert Speer, Hitler's minister of armaments and war production. He expedited the subjugation of China in occupied Manchuria in the 1930s, and he later managed Japan's war machine against the Allies.
Although arrested after Japan's surrender in 1945, Kishi had already returned to the political stage in 1957 as prime minister, blocking efforts to reconcile his country with China. By making a name for himself as an anti-communist ally of the United States, he gained new influence for his country.
Worrying Friends and Foes
Now that Abe is prime minister, Japan's past is suddenly present again. Fourteen of the 19 members of his cabinet belong to a group of lawmakers that promotes pilgrimage tours to the Yasukuni Shrine, a heroes' memorial where even the men who were designated Japan's main war criminals are among those worshipped as Shinto deities.
"Many Japanese don't see their country as a perpetrator, but rather as a victim of the war," says Kenichi Shimamura. The sociologist believes that the Japanese prefer to think about the suffering they endured in the war, especially after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, rather than about the war crimes they committed.
The new rulers would even prefer to blot out tentative gestures of remorse. In 1993, Tokyo officially apologized for abducting at least 200,000 Asian women to be used as forced prostitutes. Abe, on the other hand, publicly questions whether the military actually forced the so-called "comfort women" to provide sexual services.
Neighboring countries, such as China and South Korea, aren't the only ones who view Japan's new revisionist trend with suspicion. The United States, its main ally and protector, also fears that Abe's cabinet of atavistic politicians could heighten tensions in East Asia.
The situation is already tense enough after last fall's dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Last Tuesday, Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest an incident in which four Chinese ships had spent 13 hours in waters Japan claims as sovereign territory.
Almost every day, Chinese patrol boats and the Japanese coast guard are engaging in risky naval maneuvers and power games in the region. In December, a Chinese reconnaissance plane flew over the disputed islands at a low altitude.
With such acts of provocation, Beijing is alarming the Japanese. Their biggest hope for Abe is that he can bring the ailing economy back to health. But because they also fear China, which replaced Japan in 2010 as the world's second-largest industrial power, Japanese voters decided to give the nationalist politician a second chance as prime minister.
Now Abe wants to quickly increase defense spending. He is expected to buy surveillance drones from the United States soon in response to China's unveiling of eight new unmanned aircraft at an aviation show in November.
But Abe is also a flexible political realist. A few days ago, he sent a special envoy to South Korea to inform Park Geun Hye, its newly elected president, that he has no intention of fueling the dispute over another archipelago, the Dokdo Islands controlled by Seoul, which the Japanese refer to as Takeshima.
During the election campaign, the LDP had stoked tension by announcing plans to introduce an annual "Takeshima Day." But, for the time being, Abe has his hands full preparing his country to face a more dangerous rival, China.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Japan's growth strategy is all wrong
In the struggle to boost growth, Shinzo Abe may destroy Japan's low rate of interest on government debt and private borrowing
Friday 18 January 2013 10.46 GMT
Japan's new government, led by prime minister Shinzo Abe, could be about to shoot itself in the foot. Seeking to boost economic growth, the authorities may soon destroy their one great advantage: the low rate of interest on government debt and private borrowing. If that happens, Japanese conditions will most likely be worse at the end of Abe's term than they are today.
The interest rate on Japan's 10-year government bonds is now less than 1% – the lowest in the world, despite a very high level of government debt and annual budget deficits. Indeed, Japan's debt is roughly 230% of GDP, higher than that of Greece (175% of GDP) and nearly twice that of Italy (125%). The annual budget deficit is nearly 10% of GDP, higher than any of the eurozone countries. With nominal GDP stagnating, that deficit is causing the debt/GDP ratio to rise by 10% annually.
Japan's government is able to pay such a low rate of interest because domestic prices have been falling for more than a decade, while the yen has been strengthening against other major currencies. Domestic deflation means that the real interest rate on Japanese bonds is higher than the nominal rate. The yen's rising value raises the yield on Japanese bonds relative to the yield on bonds denominated in other currencies.
That may be about to come to an end. Abe has demanded that the Bank of Japan (BoJ) pursue a quantitative-easing strategy that will deliver an inflation rate of 2-3% and weaken the yen. He will soon appoint a new BoJ governor and two deputy governors, who will, one presumes, be committed to this goal.
The financial markets are taking Abe's strategy seriously. The yen's value against the US dollar has declined by more than 7% in the last month. With the euro rising relative to the dollar, the yen's fall relative to the euro has been even greater.
The yen's weakening will mean higher import costs, and therefore a higher rate of inflation. An aggressive BoJ policy of money creation could cause further weakening of the yen's exchange rate – and a rise in domestic prices that is more rapid than what Abe wants.
With Japanese prices rising and the yen falling relative to other currencies, investors will be willing to hold Japanese government bonds (JGBs) only if their nominal yield is significantly higher than it has been in the past. A direct effect of the higher interest rate would be to increase the budget deficit and the rate of growth of government debt. With a debt/GDP ratio of 230%, a four-percentage-point rise in borrowing costs would cause the annual deficit to double, to 20% of GDP.
The government might be tempted to rely on rapid inflation to try to reduce the real value of its debt. Fear of that strategy could cause investors to demand even higher real interest rates.
The combination of exploding debt and rising interest rates is a recipe for economic disaster. The BoJ's widely respected governor, Masaaki Shirakawa, whose term expires in April, summarised the situation in his usual restrained way, saying that "long-term interest rates may spike and have a negative effect on the economy".
A spike in long-term rates would lower the price of JGBs, destroying household wealth and, in turn, reducing consumer spending. The higher interest rates would also apply to corporate bonds and bank loans, weakening business investment.
Even without the prospect of faster inflation and a declining yen, fundamental conditions in Japan point to higher interest rates. The Japanese government has been able to sell its bonds to domestic buyers because of the high rate of domestic saving. The excess of saving over investment has given Japan a current-account surplus, allowing the country to finance all of the government borrowing domestically, with enough left over to invest in dollar-denominated bonds and other foreign securities. But that is coming to an end.
The household saving rate has collapsed in recent years, falling to less than 2%. The combination of high corporate saving and low business investment has sustained the current-account surplus, allowing Japan to fund its budget deficit domestically. But the surplus has fallen sharply in the past five years, from roughly 6% of GDP in 2007 to only 1% now. With a falling rate of household saving and the prospect of new fiscal deficits, the current account will soon be negative, forcing Japan to sell its debt to foreign buyers.
Abe plans to supplement the easy-money strategy with an increase in government spending of some $120bn (£75bn), or 2% of GDP. It is not clear why Abe and his advisers believe that this will deliver sustained real GDP growth of 2% a year. Although the $120bn is presumably just for the current year (if the spending can be made to happen that quickly), he also spoke during his campaign about a 10-year rise in government spending of ¥200tn (£1.4tn), substantially more than the $120bn annual rate. The impact of all of this on the national debt and on Japan's interest rates could be staggering.
Abe is right about one thing: Japan needs to get out of its no-growth and deflationary trap. But the policies that he favours are not the way to do it.
01/17/2013 03:42 PM
Isolation Fears: 'Cameron's Problems with the EU Are Just Starting'
By Carsten Volkery
Both those who support and oppose Britain's membership in the EU are putting pressure on the country's prime minister ahead of his speech Friday on London's future in Europe. Cameron's party longs for confrontation with Brussels, but its partners abroad warn against isolation.
Normally, Labour Party opposition leader Ed Miliband draws the short end of the stick in his weekly debate with David Cameron in the House of Commons. The prime minister is too quick-witted. But on Wednesday Miliband had an easy time of it.
"He thinks his problems with Europe will end on Friday," Miliband said of Cameron. "They are just beginning."
On Friday, Cameron is set to give a long-awaited address on Britain's future in the EU. He is expected to call for a looser relationship, and announce a national referendum on a "new deal" with Brussels. In doing so, he is seeking to appease the EU opponents in his own party, for whom the power of the eurocrats has long been a point of contention.
But it doesn't look as if the speech will have the hoped for liberating effect. On the contrary, it may merely mark the beginning of the debate over Europe in Britain. In recent days, the opponents and proponents of the EU have been positioning themselves for a fight.
Cameron is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one side, the euroskeptic majority of his party's parliamentary faction is making noises about finally taking powers back to London from Brussels. On the other, a broad alliance is emerging of pro-European diplomats, executives and representatives of business, banks and literally all Western leaders, who warn that Britain will face isolation and economic consequences if it turns its back on the EU.
Conservative EU Skeptics Pressure Cameron
Just days before the speech, EU skeptics in the Conservative Party upped the pressure on their party leader. The parliamentary grouping, Fresh Start, which includes about 100 Tory parliamentarians, presented a platform on Wednesday calling for five major changes to the Lisbon Treaty:
A veto power for every EU member on financial issues, which would protect The City in London. Currently, a qualified majority is all that is needed, meaning Britain can theoretically be overruled.
That responsibility for labor and social legislation be moved from the European level back to national parliaments. If that were to not be pushed through, they argue, Britain should at least retain an opt-out option.
Great Britain should have an opt-out option in policing and criminal justice issues not covered in exclusions included in the already approved Lisbon Treaty.
New written guarantees that EU countries that are not part of the euro zone will not be placed at a disadvantage in the single market.
The abolition of the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament. Although the members of parliament are based in Brussels, their travel to monthly sessions at the official European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, are estimated to cost close to €200 million a year.
It is likely that Cameron will take up some of these points in his speech on Friday. He has already made similar comments in interviews given during the past few weeks. Yet he is not expected to further cave to other demands being made by euroskeptic forces in his party. For example, there will not be a referendum on Britain's exit from the EU. Cameron has never wanted to threaten a withdrawal, instead saying at every opportunity that Britain wants to remain a full-fledged member of the EU.
In order to placate critics calling for a referendum, he will, however, likely promise a vote on a new deal with Brussels. It is unclear when this referendum will take place, but the earliest date being discussed is 2018. Many Tories believe that is too late. Cameron cannot put things off again until "mañana," a member of parliament warned in the conservative magazine Spectator.
Discontent with the Status Quo
Dissatisfaction with the status quo reaches all the way up into Cameron's cabinet. The Daily Telegraph newspaper has reported that nine of his cabinet members would support an exit from the EU if negotiations with Brussels over returning competencies in a number of policy areas to London do not yield results.
But Cameron's hands are tied. Prior to the next elections for the European Parliament in 2014, there will be no initiative for treaty change in Brussels. And even after that, it is unclear where the impetus for a reform would come from. In most of the EU capitals, there is little desire to start arduous treaty negotiations. Indeed, the restructuring of the architecture of the euro has been managed so far without the need for treaty change.
Moreover, most EU partners have no interest in making concessions to the British. Abroad, Cameron's rhetoric has been met with head shaking. He has been warned repeatedly by Berlin not to blackmail his partners.
Even Washington weighed in on the debate last week, when Phil Gordon, an assistant secretary of state, publicly repeated the long-held United States position that it is in America's interest for Britain to have a strong voice in the EU.
Cameron's own business secretary, Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives' junior coalition partner, warned in pre-released excerpts from a speech of a "dangerous gamble" if Britain proceeds wiith a referendum. There are "many in Europe, notably in France, who would be happy to see the back of the UK, whatever that may mean in practice. And even the UK's allies on market reform, notably Germany, have limited political capital to spend getting a more favorable arrangement for the UK."
On Wednesday, Nigel Sheinwald, the former British ambassador to Brussels and Washington, warned Cameron against creating false expectations for British voters. He told the Guardian that it could be possible, in the best case scenario, to negotiate something with the EU partners, but cautioned it would be a "slow, difficult and gradual" process.
A 'Chilling Effect' on the Economy
Other EU supporters are more direct. They warn Cameron that the prospect of a referendum is already affecting economic growth in Britain. The uncertainty over Britain's membership in the EU is scaring investors, they say. And it is a debate the country can ill afford, argue pro-European political veterans, including the Tories Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke, and Labour Party politician Peter Mandelson, the former European commissioner and cabinet member under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Even Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister with the Liberal Democrats, has warned of a "chilling effect" on the British economy.
Meanwhile, the muddled planning for the speech has brought sharp criticism. The grand performance was announced six months ago. Then Cameron wanted to speak last fall, then before Christmas, and finally on Jan. 22. The prime minister postponed the speech again and again because the timing wasn't right. Cameron's critics mocked him for not knowing what he should say.
What was especially embarrassing was that planners at Downing Street overlooked the fact that Jan. 22 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty between Germany and France. Members of both countries' parliaments will meet that day to celebrate. A speech by the British prime minister criticizing the EU would have come across as an out-of-place counter event.
When officials at Downing Street became aware of the conflict, they pushed the date of the speech up to Jan. 18, acting on short notice. The British Embassy in the Netherlands was instructed to send out invitations to the event, which will take place in Amsterdam. The exact location where the address is to be held will not be announced until the last minute, with security concerns being given as the official explanation for the secrecy. Of course, it could also be a way of keeping protesters at bay.
Even those sympathetic to the prime minister have been perplexed by Cameron's waffling. "I can see no feasible way David Cameron can gain anything from this speech," conservative radio presenter Iain Dale blogged this week. "If you've got nothing definite to say, it's probably best to say nothing."
United Kingdom: Europe baffled by British reluctance
On Cameron, Europe and other demons
17 January 2013
I Kathimerini Athens
By Nikos Chrysoloras
To an outsider here in Brussels, Britain’s stance toward Europe is utterly incomprehensible. Like it or not, the European Union is the largest market in the world, while the unification process has ensured that, for the first time in our continent’s history, war is just a distant memory of the past, not a bleak prospect for the future. Take every issue that really matters to our troubled world, from environmental protection to human rights, democracy and peace, and you will see that Europe is a global leader and a prominent force for good. True, Europe’s response to the economic crisis has been weak, to say the least, while its decision-making system is broken, but the same could be argued for the American political system, following the dramatic negotiations on the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. Does this mean that the US is also beyond salvation?
The UK could play a leading role in the process of reforming and strengthening the EU, possibly the leading role. There are several reasons for that: First of all, it could capitalize on its close relationships with all the Eastern European countries, since Britain was the main advocate of the enlargement process, and the new member states have not forgotten that. Second, Britain could find strong allies among the traditionally market-friendly open economies of Scandinavia. Moreover, the so-called “capital of Europe” has already become Anglophone, and French diplomats and journalists alike complain that their language has been completely marginalized in Brussels. Paris has its own structural and competitiveness problems, and it is very likely that French influence in Europe will wane over time. Finally, due to historical reasons, the peoples of Europe have a natural aversion to German dominance, while Berlin has so far been reluctant to assume a hegemonic role in Europe. Do the headcount and you will see that the balance of power in Brussels could easily turn in London’s favor. Indeed, in the medium term, Britain could even challenge Germany’s place as “first among equals” in Europe.
But under the Conservatives, the UK has already given up on this prospect, almost as if this economic and political giant right on its shores didn’t exist. No matter what Prime Minister David Cameron says in his Europe speech this Friday, the ugly truth is that for diplomats, lobbyists and the media in Brussels, the UK has not just failed to capitalize on its potential, but has already assumed an “observer status” in the EU. Many European journalists just don’t care about the British briefings ahead of EU summits, because the UK’s voice at these summits is rarely ever heard. According to some diplomats, Cameron looks “bored” (!) in the meetings with the leaders of the largest economic bloc in the world. The countries of the so-called “White Commonwealth” (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) cannot rely anymore on Britain to defend their interests in Europe, because Britain’s political influence is diminishing at a speed no one ever expected. Even more worrying are the data from the HR departments of the EU. Over the last four years, the number of British technocrats and executives promoted to senior European posts has dropped to almost zero. According to some accounts, the number of new recruits in the European institutions from Britain has decreased by almost 60 percent and it now almost equals the number of Estonian nationals. Britain has already said so many nos and asked for so many opt-outs that soon no one will care in Brussels whether it stays or goes. This obsession with “repatriating” powers from Europe is also incomprehensible, given the fact that most of the important issues today – from cybercrime to trade – require a regional or global approach, and the traditional nation state looks like a parochial structure for tackling them.
Sure, Cameron is right that if Britain leaves the EU, it won't collapse. It will still be a large economy. But compared to the giants of the East, the US and the eurozone, it will be relegated to the “second division” of economic powerhouses. True, it will still be a nuclear power. But so is Pakistan. It will still have a special relationship with the United States. But Washington has made it clear that it wants its closest ally to have a say in Brussels. It will still have the Commonwealth of allies. But to these nations, Britain will be of little diplomatic use outside the EU.
I understand that Britons are islanders and have their own ways. But contrary to the urban myths and outright lies of the British yellow press, the EU has never asked them to start driving on the right, drink in liters instead of pints, change their pubs for bistros, and measure distance in kilometers instead of miles. Britain is deeply European in what really matters – its respect for the rule of law, democracy, and those inalienable rights that define human dignity.
The future of Britain in Europe will of course be decided by its people, and its government. But since I have lived, studied and worked in this country for six years, and grown to love it as a second homeland, I feel obliged to say that the Conservative backbenchers are pushing it toward a monumental diplomatic and political error of unimaginable proportions. Europe also stands to lose so much, as without Britain it will become even more bureaucratic, inward-looking and rigid.
My apartment in Athens was next to the Allied cemetery. Every day, its views reminded me that when darkness befell our continent, Britain defended it at a great cost. Today, Britain can lead the way toward a more dynamic, transparent, prosperous and accountable Europe, in a world where the balance of power is rapidly shifting to the East. Future generations will never forgive those who ignored the call of logic, and instead led their country into irrelevance.
* Nikos Chrysoloras is Kathimerini's correspondent in Brussels
01/17/2013 02:46 PM
Corrupt-i-stan: Kazakh Massacre Fuels Rising Mistrust
By Christian Neef
The shocking murder of 15 soldiers in Kazakhstan led to a dubious trial and the sacking of the chief of the border guards. Now the suspicious airplane death of his reform-minded replacement has compounded widespread mistrust of the government.
The courtroom in Taldykorgan, a small city 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the border with China, is small and stuffy, with less than 30 seats.
On this December day, 20-year-old soldier Vladislav Chelakh is standing in the glass cage used for defendants listening to a verdict being pronounced against him. Judge Erbol Akhmetzhanov speaks for only 10 minutes, but his words have an effect on the entire country.
Akhmetzhanov reads off the articles in the criminal code under which the slight young man in the black Armani shirt is being convicted: "murder, theft, betrayal of state secrets, misappropriation of weapons, malicious destruction of military property, desertion." The sentence isn't surprising: life imprisonment in a labor camp. "There are no mitigating circumstances," Judge Akhmetzhanov says.
Chelakh was accused of killing 14 fellow border guards and a hunter at a remote post on the Kazakh-Chinese border. Four years ago, he would have been sentenced to death, but Kazakhstan essentially abolished the death penalty in 2009.
It's a miracle that Chelakh is even alive to hear the verdict. In October, he tried to hang himself with a tracksuit bottom tied to his cell window. A month later, guards saved him after he sliced open an artery with a sharp piece of plastic.
"They did everything to get to me, but they didn't search for the truth," Chelakh said a few days before his sentencing. Since then, he has remained silent.
It's a different story with his mother, Svetlana Vaschenko. "He is innocent," she shouted as uniformed guards pulled her son out of the courtroom. "This trial proves that Kazakhstan is not a nation of law," said Serik Sarsenov, his defense lawyer.
The Taldykorgan trial, the most spectacular to date in the history of the young nation of Kazakhstan, ended in tumult -- and with the certainty that this isn't a case that will simply be filed away and forgotten. The court had no evidence, no motive and no witnesses. The verdict will be appealed, although attorney Sarsenov sets little store in the appeals process in Kazakhstan and plans to take his case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
There is a different dynamic outside the courtroom, in Kazakh living rooms, on the street and on the Internet, where the Kazakh people clearly oppose their government -- and don't put anything past it, even if it entails covering up a mass murder. This widely held belief has led most Kazakhs to side with Chelakh. One blogger predicted that powerful men will eventually kill Chelakh "after an alleged escape attempt, so as to eliminate the last witness to this massacre."
The case "is a reflection of our government system," says Guljan Yergalieva, a prominent opposition journalist. "They provoke, they falsify and they lie. The people in power here have behaved suspiciously from the very start."
Chelakh's is the story of a country blessed with gold, oil, natural gas and uranium, almost eight times the size of Germany but with a population of only 17 million. Its autocratic ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has established a bizarre personality cult around himself and promotes his country as a model nation in the heart of Asia, despite the deep mistrust between the government and the governed. But Kazakhstan's story doesn't bode well for the future in the fragile region north of Afghanistan.
A Grisly Massacre
It was a warm day on May 10, 2012, when 14 soldiers and a captain set off for Arkankergen, a post on the Chinese border that is high in the Alatau Mountains, at 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) above sea level, and only manned in the summer. The border service is an elite group, part of the country's KNB national intelligence service.
Communication with the post was broken off on May 28, and a search team was dispatched two days later. When the men arrived, they encountered a horrific scene.
The Arkankergen post was no longer there. Almost everything had been burned down, including the wooden buildings housing the soldiers, the officers' quarters and the other service structures. The team found the remains of 13 soldiers in the ashes and another body on the banks of a nearby stream. Some 150 meters from the site, the soldiers discovered the body of a hunter, a retired air force major who ran a forestry business nearby. The remains of the 15 men were unrecognizable at first, and only 13 were eventually identified. The task was even daunting for experts from Berlin's Charité Hospital, who were brought in to assist the Kazakh authorities.
On June 4, another team found Chelakh, then 19, in a mountain hut. He was the only survivor from the Arkankergen border post. Chelakh was confused and, according to the public prosecutor's office, he was dressed in civilian clothing and carrying a pistol, a notebook computer and mobile phones from the dead soldiers.
Chelakh reportedly said that unknown assailants had attacked the border post at 5 a.m. on May 28. He had been on guard duty that night and, after hearing gunshots, he fled into the mountains. When he later returned to the camp, he found the bodies.
But who committed the attack? People coming from the Chinese side of the border? The Kazakhs have a deep-seated fear of the Chinese, and Arkankergen is in an area in which the Soviet Union and China fought a border war in 1969.
Or did drug traffickers attack the post? A synthetic drug known as krokodil, or "crocodile," 10 times stronger than morphine, is reportedly smuggled into the country via the nearby Tarlauly Pass.
Or was it Islamists using the Arkankergen murders to send a message? Radical imams control the mosques in many cities in the south, and last year supposedly quiet Kazakhstan saw attacks on a monthly basis. In July, an explosion killed eight people near Almaty, the nation's largest city and former capital, and in August, authorities found the bodies of eight men and women who had been stabbed to death. Soon thereafter, security personnel killed nine "terrorists," and another five people were killed in an "anti-terror campaign" in September.
And now there is Arkankergen, which President Nazarbayev initially described as an "act of terror." First he announced a day of national mourning, and then he sacked and replaced the head of the country's border guard.
It took only six days for the authorities to announce that the sole survivor, Chelakh, had confessed to the murders -- all 15 of them.
A video of this confession was posted online even before the preliminary investigation had been completed. It couldn't have come from anyone but the Kazakh intelligence service.
"I was humiliated and insulted throughout my entire term of service," Chelakh says in the video. "The last straw came when Kambar Aganas, a soldier, tried to hit me just because I woke him up for guard duty." He was beside himself, Chelakh says in the video. Then he says he went to the weapons storage room and grabbed two AK-47 assault rifles, 50 rounds and a Makarov pistol.
First, he says in the video, he killed Aganas with a shot to the back of the neck, and then he murdered the rest as they lay in their beds. The captain was hiding behind a door, so he shot him through the door. Finally, he says, he walked over to the forestry business, killed the hunter with a volley of shots and then set the barracks on fire. He claims that he committed the crimes in a "state of disorientation."
The mass murder on the border soon became the most important topic of conversation in Kazakhstan, and the government was determined to provide a quick explanation for what lay behind the grisly crime. It made the video public and declared Chelakh guilty on 15 counts of murder before a court had even been allowed to hear the case.
Still, Kazakh experts found many inconsistencies in Chelakh's account. It was written in words that a confused killer would hardly have used, and there were many conflicting details. The experts also concluded that it would be almost impossible to shoot and kill a dozen men without any of them trying to flee.
There were other contradictions relating to when things happened, the weapons used and the ammunition. Residents of a nearby village reported seeing strangers at the time of the killings. Why didn't Chelakh flee across the Chinese border? And why did the president replace the head of the border guard after the massacre?
A newsreader at Channel 31, a private Kazakh television station, quit rather than having to report on Chelakh's confession, saying he believed it was fabricated. On the Internet, opposition members started referring to the case as a "show."
Chelakh himself soon recanted his confession, claiming that his interrogators had dictated it to him. He said that they had threatened him with rape and promised him a mild sentence if he pled guilty. He identified the interrogators in a police line-up.
Chelakh is from Karagandy, an unattractive city on the Kazakh steppes, where temperatures fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter and climb to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. There were once close to 100 coal mines in the region, as well as many steel mills where gulag inmates worked at the behest of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1995, when Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal acquired the most important steel mill, he closed most of the coal mines.
Chelakh grew up in one of the drab developments on the city's outskirts, where his mother Svetlana still lives today. She is a simple 39-year-old woman who worked as a sales clerk before becoming a taxi driver. Of course she doesn't believe that her son is guilty. What mother would? His letters, which she fetches from a cabinet, speak for themselves. "I was lucky," he wrote in the awkward handwriting of a 19-year-old, "because I get along well with everyone. The officers are okay." There is no mention of the brutal army hazing ritual known as "dedovshchina," in which older soldiers bully younger conscripts.
"He once wanted to become a locomotive engineer," his mother says, "but after the conscription meeting with the military commission, he dreamed of a career with the KNB." The boy thought it was a good sign that he had received a draft notice saying he would be assigned to the KNB's border guard division.
"The whole thing is made up," says Vladimir, Chelakh's 69-year-old grandfather. "They're protecting the higher-ups and destroying the evidence." When asked if the neighbors have shunned the family since learning of Chelakh's suspected involvement in the mass murder, Vladimir laughs and says: "People come to our door almost every day and bring us money, sometimes 2,000 tenge (€10 or $13) and sometimes 5,000. We quickly accumulated $2,000, so we were able to travel to the prison to see Vladislav and look for lawyers."
When they were unable to secure train tickets to Almaty, he says, the station manager got them the tickets himself. "Synok, my boy," the manager reportedly said, "everyone here knows that your grandson is innocent."
Drenched in Corruption
Why would a large percentage of the population believe that Vladislav Chelakh is innocent without knowing the details of the massacre in the Alatau Mountains?
"People are willing to believe anything, just not the official viewpoint," says Sergei Perchalsky, a local journalist in Karagandy who is familiar with both sides: the people and the regime. He suggests we meet at an inconspicuous café in the center of town.
"In his need for admiration, Nazarbayev announces a new victory every day. He brought the OSCE summit and the Asian Winter Games to Kazakhstan, and now Expo 2017," Perchalsky says. "But these aren't the victories of ordinary people." Those people, he explains, are constantly forced to deal with Nazarbayev's bureaucrats, his mayors, police officers and judges -- all of whom are corrupt.
"Some 10,000 people are waiting for apartments in Karagandy, while government officials are selling off housing," Perchalsky says. "Construction contracts can only be secured with substantial bribes, and when the interior minister recently visited the city, every policeman had to spend $200 for a suitable gift for the visiting dignitary -- unofficially, of course."
Members of the political elite tend to use weapons to settle disputes and get rid of members of the opposition. Nazarbayev's former son-in-law is suspected of involvement in several murders, and a former prime minister has fled the country.
"You can buy anything in Kazakhstan," says Perchalsky, "a driver's license, a school diploma, a ministerial post or a contract killer. The practical aspect of it all is that you can settle any infraction of the law with money -- any. And people know it. The Chelakhs, however, are poor and can't even use this method to free their boy."
Serik Sarsenov, Chelakh's 60-year-old attorney, has been practicing for a long time. He has defended journalists and participated in political murder trials. He spent 20 years with the police's criminal investigation division, and he is all too familiar with how the police and the courts operate. And now he is defending Chelakh.
Sarsenov was given 40 hours to read the 53 binders of documents. And then the court denied all of his motions. He summoned witnesses, called for expert witnesses and requested the release of classified files. But it was all in vain. "This system," says Sarsenov, "is like a cancer that has formed metastases everywhere."
But if Chelakh is innocent, what happened at the Chinese border?
Journalist Guljan Yergalieva knows what they're saying in political discussion groups in Almaty. The government has banned her newspaper, Svoboda Slova ("Freedom of Speech"), her website guljan.org was shut down in December, and tax investigators have searched her house.
"The last few months have been the worst in Kazakhstan's more recent history," Yergalieva says. "It began with the shooting of the 17 striking oil workers, when the police fired on fellow Kazakhs for the first time. Then came the Chelakh case." The army is also deeply corrupt, she says, and the wealthy clans are getting more and more ruthless in their struggle for the country's oil billions.
"The people surrounding Nazarbayev are terrified that they could lose control of the country," Yergalieva continues. They don't understand why the 72-year-old president is playing his wealthy daughters, sons-in-law and government officials off each other rather than designating a successor. "They want to force him out of office, like (former Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev or (former Russian President Boris) Yeltsin, by proving that Nazarbayev can no longer guarantee the stability of Kazakhstan," Yergalieva says. "They are provoking all kinds of incidents, possibly including what happened in the Alatau Mountains."
Still, perhaps something much simpler was behind the murders. Could border officials have been trying to cover up some sort of illegal dealings in the mountains? Or was the massacre the work of the intelligence service?
Those who had previously dismissed such explanations as conspiracy theories may have changed their tune after Dec. 25, when a military aircraft crashed near Shymkent in southern Kazakhstan, killing all 27 people on board. The dead included the new head of the border guard, who had been appointed after the massacre in the Alatau Mountains, and his top staff officers.
The new director had been trying to reform the corrupt agency. The plane, an Antonov An-72, is considered a reliable aircraft and had just been serviced. It was already a ball of flames when it crashed, as if there had been an explosion on board.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
01/18/2013 10:15 AM
Data Protection: All You Need to Know about the EU Privacy Debate
By Konrad Lischka and Christian Stöcker
The European Union is seeking to increase the private sphere of its citizens by strengthening data protection laws for the web. Large Internet firms and lobbyists are fighting the plans. Here's an overview of the debate in Brussels.
When it comes to hysteria over coming data protection rules in Europe, the most extremist warnings from lobbyists these days are coming out of the law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse. The head of the firm's privacy and information law group, Eduardo Ustaran, recently told the American technology news service ZDNet that if the EU's draft privacy and data protection law isn't changed, Gmail and Facebook may be forced to abandon their ad-supported models and start charging their customers in Europe or stop providing them with these popular services altogether.
"If they weren't able to use your data in the way that is profitable or useful for them for advertising purposes, then either the user has to pay for it or stop using the service," Ustaran, whose company represents Facebook, Google and Zynga among other companies, told ZDNet.
Not even industry associations representing the IT industry, who have been particularly critical of the draft European Data Protection Regulation, have gone that far. The demonstratively dark picture Ustaran paints of the regulations shows just how tough the fight between Web giants and regulators is growing over the issue of data protection reform.
So why has the debate grown so shrill? SPIEGEL ONLINE takes a stab at the most pressing questions.
The Story So Far?
European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding presented a draft (the Reding draft) for a new EU data protection regulation at the beginning of 2012. The draft is intended to update EU data protection laws to make them fit for the Internet age. At the time, Reding promised the "right to be forgotten" for consumers who post personal information on Internet platforms. All those embarrassing Facebook photos, she promised, could be gone with just a few mouse clicks.
At the same time, Reding pledged a "one-stop shop" for the clarification of data protection questions -- a unified EU policy and a clear point of contact for every company. Since then, Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party member and the rapporteur for the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, has also presented a modified version (the Albrecht draft), reflecting the concerns of the EU's democratically elected legislative body.
The suggested changes included in the Albrecht draft are based in part on the extensive feedback submitted by companies, industry associations, civil rights organizations and others during the past year. Members of the different party groups in the European Parliament also submitted their own suggestions and remarks.
Where Do Things Stand Now?
Requests for changes to the draft can still be submitted to the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee until Feb. 27. The committee is tentatively expected to vote on a completed draft in late April or early May. In parallel, a working group of the powerful European Council, the body that is led by the leaders of the 27 EU member states, will add its revisions to the draft. Parliament could then vote on the final text in June or July. The final regulation needs to be approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council, but Albrecht believes this will happen by the end of the year.
Who Is Fighting against Whom?
The main parties in the debate are companies, civil rights proponents and data protection officials in the EU member states. The latter want to prevent a situation in which they lose influence to Brussels and a regulation is passed that might make it easier for companies to interpret the data protection regulation to their own advantage. Meanwhile, companies and civil rights activists are arguing over the definition of private data and how it should be dealt with. Companies would like as much flexibility as possible and little by way of strict regulations. They argue that a surfeit of regulations would act as a corset that strangles innovation and growth. But privacy advocates argue that reliable data protection is the necessary foundation for gaining the trust of users and ensuring growth.
Which Data Is Considered Private?
Jan Philipp Albrecht isn't pleased with the European Commission definition of personal data as laid out in Reding's draft. The reason is that, taken individually, many pieces of data may not be considered to be personal. If combined, however, it may be possible to clearly identify the end user using these bits of data. These are defined as "online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools and protocols, such as IP addresses or cookie identifiers."
But Albrecht's draft goes further, including the term "and other unique identifiers" in its definition of potentially private data. "Since such identifiers leave traces and can be used to single out natural persons, this regulation should be applicable to processing involving such data, unless those identifiers demonstrably do not relate to natural persons, such as for example the IP addresses used by companies, which cannot be considered 'personal' as defined in this regulation."
The debate is still raging over the precise definition of what can be considered personal data.
When Must User Consent Be Sought?
The precept of the new regulation is that firms can use personal data if they have obtained the consent of the user in question or if the law explicitly permits the processing of that data -- and both the European Commission and parliament rappateur Albrecht are also in agreement here.
But what exceptions to this principle are allowed and what kind of user consent will be required?
The Reding draft includes an exception that is as sweeping as it is vague: namely that the "legitimate interests pursued by" the party processing the data may make consent unnecessary. Under the exception, the processing of personal data can also be considered legal as long as such interests are not "overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject."
What Is Considered to Be Consent?
The Albrecht draft goes a long way in reining in Reding's language, which leaves broad room for interpretation. It offers a more concrete definition of the "concrete interests" of the "controller," or party processing the data. More specifically, for example, it cites processing of personal data that takes places as part of "the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the media and the arts." It also explicitly identifies "direct marketing," a clear attempt by Green Party member Albrecht to formulate a compromise that will not get immediately rejected by the large lobby groups.
The Albrecht draft also provides a firmer definition of what would be considered consent. The standard prompt often seen on websites today that is automatically checked unless a user unchecks it would not be permitted under his version. He has also included an additional criteria for the determination of what is a valid consent: the market position of the party processing the data. If a company is in a "dominant market position with respect to the product or services offered to the data subject," then consent "does not provide a valid legal ground" for the processing of personal data.
The European Parliament committee version also goes another step further on the issue than the Commission proposal. It regulates that consent would not be valid in cases where a company changes its service terms in a way that gives a person "no option other than to accept the change or abandon an online resource in which they have invested significant time." This could be a reference to Facebook's strategy of constantly declaring increasing areas of its user's data as "public" without obtaining the explicit consent of users.
Who Will Regulate Companies in the EU?
The European Commission would prefer that in situations where Internet companies have several offices in Europe that supervisory authority for those firms would be handled by the member state in which they have their European headquarters. Take Facebook, for example, which has its European headquarters in Ireland. The Irish government's data protection commissioner would then be responsible for the concerns of all EU citizens relating to the company's privacy policies.
It's a centralization of supervisory authority that Albrecht rejects. Under his draft for the new data protection regulation, EU citizens would still be able to address their problems with the authority in their own country and in their own language. But the local supervisory authority would be "competent" for addressing any problems but not solely "responsible". They wouldn't have the last word and they would have to consult with their colleagues in other countries before making any final decisions.
Under the Albrecht draft, the planned European Data Protection Board, which would feature top data protection officials from each member state, would be also be equipped with a veto power. If, for example, a German data protection commissioner complained to his or her Irish counterpart about a company that is based in Ireland and the official in Berlin didn't believe the Irish had handled the case correctly, the conflict would then be resolved by the board at the EU level. The board could overrule an Irish decision if it mustered a two-thirds majority. Under the Reding draft, the European Commission would have had the last word in unresolved disputes.
The European Commission's draft itself offers several advantages to companies. They are given a single point of contact for resolving issues and greater legal certainty. But it would have plenty of disadvantages for everyone else. Users would have to seek help outside the countries they live in, the competition of ideas in the design and implementation of EU regulations is diminished. It could also lead to a situation in which corporations choose the sites of their European headquarters based on the strength, or lack thereof, of data protection supervision in that country. That kind of competition between countries in attracting companies to locate their offices there has already been a phenomenon in the EU for some time now. Apple and Amazon for example, sell all of their e-books and some other goods from Luxembourg, an EU state with lower taxes.
How Much Power Will the European Commission Have?
Under existing privacy regulations, data protection supervision in EU countries must be conducted entirely independently of public authorities, and data protection controllers are not under the supervision of the European Commission. But the EU wants to weaken this policy and install itself as the data protection agencies' supervisory authority.
In Reding's draft, the European Commission establishes for itself the right to suspend planned measures by member state data protection authorities. In certain cases, the Commission is also seeking to provide itself with "implementing acts" that would give it power over data protection authorities.
There is resistance to these plans within the European Parliament. Under the Albrecht draft, the Commission would not be permitted to suspend measures. According the draft, it would only be permitted to demand detailed information on the reasoning behind the authority's decision. As a last resort, it could challenge binding decisions of the European Data Protection Board before the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the bloc's highest legal authority.
01/16/2013 05:37 PM
Redacting Racism: Edit of Classic Children's Book Hexes Publisher
By Charly Wilder
A German publisher is being accused of excessive political correctness for removing controversial language from a classic children's book, sparking debate about how to handle outdated and offensive words in the genre.
Last month German Family Minister Kristina Schröder incited the ire of her fellow conservative politicians when she took aim at politically incorrect content in classic children's literature. In addition to suggesting that God should be gender neutral, she criticized sexist and racist messages in some of these tales too. If she were to read aloud to her daughter from one of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books, called "Pippi in Taka Tuka Land" in German, she would leave out the word "negro" in order "to protect my child from taking on such expressions," Schröder told the daily newspaper Die Zeit.
Now one of Germany's oldest children's book publishers, Thienemann Verlag, is taking a similar tack, and the reaction has been no less contentious. Its new edition of Otfried Preussler's beloved 1957 tale "The Little Witch" ("Die kleine Hexe") has been amended to remove certain questionable terms, including the word "negro." The decision has sparked heated discussion over how to handle outdated, controversial language in classic children's books.
"As a publisher it's my job to convey classics from one generation to the next," says Klaus Willenberg, the director of Thienemann Verlag. He says he had wanted to amend the text for years, but was only recently able to secure the approval of the late Preussler's daughter. Now many are accusing him of censorship and excessive political correctness.
The passage at the heart of the debate describes a group of children dressed in costume to celebrate Fastnacht -- the pre-Lent carnival observed throughout southern Germany and parts of Austria and Switzerland. "But the two little negroes were not from the circus," it reads. "Nor were the Turks or the Indians. Even the little Chinese girls, the man-eater, the Eskimo women, the desert sheik and the Hottentot chieftan were not from the show booth. No, it was carnival night in the village!"
Otfried Preussler's books have been translated into 55 languages, and more than 50 million copies have been sold worldwide. Some 50,000 copies of "The Little Witch," which follows the story of a 127-year-old "bad witch" determined to turn good, are sold each year, according to the publisher. In the new text, part of a colorized edition that will be released in July by Thienemann Verlag to commemorate the celebrated author's 90th birthday, the children's costumes are no longer ethnic. Other terms -- like "wichsen," which once meant "to polish," but is now more often associated with male masturbation -- have also been removed.
An Attack on Artistic Integrity?
"It's not just about politically incorrect terms such as "negro," but also terms that children no longer understand," says Willenberg, who has since received some 200 angry emails in response to last week's announcement. Several conservative German newspapers, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt, have printed critical editorials of the revisions. They argue that altering a work of literature ruptures its artistic integrity, and that protecting children is not the duty of the publisher, but of parents or teachers, who should explain problematic terms to children.
"Why shouldn't parents have the choice of what to read to their children?" asked Jacques Schuster in an editorial for Die Welt. "Anyone who believes art should be changed in retrospect because it contradicts the prevailing morality must have been pleased in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan."
"I'm not saying that Preussler was racist, but that sentence was always racist," said Mekonnen Mesghena, the head of the Migration and Diversity department at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a Berlin-based think tank. It was Mesghena's letter to the Thienemann Verlag that put the revision into motion. A naturalized German citizen who emigrated at the age of 14 from war-torn Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, Mesghena says he was surprised to come across the passage while reading "The Little Witch" to his seven-year-old daughter Timmit.
"It was simply a shock to me to have such a popular book like this on the market," he says. "She has all these friends around her, the majority white Germans, but some Turkish and Asian children as well. I couldn't imagine what it would be like if they read it together. It's a disgusting situation."
An 'Inherently Tricky' Undertaking
This isn't a new debate in Germany. In 2009, the Hamburg publishing house Friedrich Oetinger printed a new version of "Pippi Longstocking" in which her father was changed from the "Negro King" to the "South Sea King." In previous editions, the publisher had kept the original text but included a footnote explaining that the terminology is no longer in use, a method now suggested in the current debate as an alternative to censorship.
"I find it inherently tricky to intervene in literary texts," says Julia Lentge, a spokesperson for the Munich-based Arbeitskreis für Jugendliteratur, the state-sponsored umbrella organization responsible for the German Children's Literature Award, which was bestowed upon "The Little Witch" in 1958. Though she says she's not necessarily opposed to this particular revision, she also doesn't think it should set a precedent. It would be "such a pity if the original text were no longer available," she adds.
The question of how to deal with racism in classic children's literature is not limited to Germany, of course. In the first edition of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," published in the United States in 1964, the Oompa-Loompas were Pygmies brought by Willy Wonka from Africa in a packing case and forced to work in his factory. For the second edition, published in 1973, they were changed into "rosy-white" creatures with long "golden-brown" hair.
Scottish author Helen Bannerman's 1899 classic "The Story of Little Black Sambo," about a South Indian boy whose wits are pitted against four hungry tigers, was a favorite for half a century before it drew controversy for its resemblance to racist iconography. Both the text and illustrations have since seen major revision, and a politically correct 1996 adaptation by American illustrator Fred Marcellino was a best seller. Yet there are still many classic children's books -- such as the French Babar series, which debuted in 1931 and has been criticized for its colonialist undertones -- that remain in wide circulation in their original form.
Annotation Instead of Revision
"The classics offer a chance to submerge ourselves in another time, in another kind of language, which might sound somewhat disconcerting, but might also be exciting," Lentge says. "I think one should really consider whether instances like this can't be handled by some kind of annotation, a forward or an epilogue by a children's book expert who could put the work in its historical context," she continued.
But this isn't necessarily helpful, says Mesghena. "The notion of commentary is such an academic approach. If you're reading a bedtime story, it's completely absurd that you would read commentary," he argues.
Since Thienemann Verlag announced its revision last week, Mesghena says he has been inundated with more than a hundred angry emails.
"The lowest form of response is people saying, 'Who are you? You were not born here. You come here and want to change our society'," he says. "Then there are people who say I'm inserting race into a text that never had those intentions. But terminology is never neutral. It shows the structure of dominance. It's not about intentions. That was my first letter to the publisher, that this is racist. This is where racism starts," says Mesghena. "And if I didn't have the confidence before that parents would take the responsibility to properly explain these terms to their children, I have far less confidence now."
Yet both Mesghena and Klaus Willenberg of Thienemann Verlag say that not all of the responses they've received have been negative.
"We have also received some letters that approve of our decision, because now Preussler's wonderful stories can be read by children of today and tomorrow," says Willenberg, who plans to scour all the classic children's titles owned by the publishing house and rid them of discriminatory language.
"I think because of Germany's history, racism is such a loaded issue," Mesghena adds. "So just the fact that so many people are willing to talk about race so openly is a positive thing."