In the USA...
Clinton: U.S. and Somalia launch new era of diplomatic ties
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 17, 2013 15:10 EST
The United States and Somalia Thursday launched a new era of diplomatic relations, as Washington recognized the African nation’s government for the first time since 1991.
“Today is a milestone, it is not the end of the journey, but it is an important milestone towards that end,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after talks with new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
White House: Iran under pressure from sanctions
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 17, 2013 15:39 EST
The White House said Thursday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest warnings on the state of Iran’s economy, proved the “profound impact” of nuclear sanctions.
Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that Tehran needed to tailor the economy to subvert Western sanctions, saying the current approach would be a “losing strategy.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the comments were the latest sign that “the comprehensive international, multinational effort to sanction Iran has been effective in the sense that it has had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.”
“Iran is paying a high price for its refusal to abide by its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and will continue to pay a high price.”
Carney said there was a “different path” available to Iran if it would seriously abide by comments to open its nuclear program, which the West believes is designed to make weapons, to international inspections.
In remarks to Iranian lawmakers, Ahmadinejad said one solution would be to “ultimately decide to once and for all cut the government’s dependence on oil revenues,” warning that it would create “pressure as the result.”
Iran lost a substantial part of its oil revenues in 2012 due to sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program, Iranian officials have said.
Estimated by experts at around five billion dollars per month, the loss in oil revenues has led to a contraction of the 2013/2014 budget being prepared by the government, according to some MPs.
The sanctions have also had a role in the collapse of the Iranian currency and thus soaring prices, exerting “pressure on a large part of the people,” Ahmadinejad said.
Peace talks with Taliban haven’t begun, says U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan
By Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian
Thursday, January 17, 2013 22:48 EST
There are no significant peace talks under way with the Taliban, the US ambassador to Afghanistan has said, despite years of western and Afghan government efforts to broker a political end to the decade-long war in the country, and some recent signs of progress.
James Cunningham, the US Ambassador in Kabul, described reconciliation as “a process that hasn’t even really begun”, although he added that one of Washington’s goals is ensuring “at least the beginning of a serious process”.
He also hinted at concerns over the unconditional release of some Taliban prisoners held in Pakistan, which was done at the request of Kabul, and was seen as a goodwill gesture intended to help ease the way for negotiations.
“To this point they’ve had a pretty hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released,” Cunningham said when asked if he was working with Islamabad to ensure the released men don’t rejoin the insurgency. “We would have preferred to have greater visibility into that. Still, it’s positive that they were released, I think, from the Afghan point of view.”
Secret discussions involving US, Afghan, Pakistani and Taliban officials have been underway for months, focused around confidence-building measures, including the establishment of a political office for the Taliban outside the immediate region and the release of Taliban prisoners.
Earlier this month the insurgent group said they were prepared to open a political office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations “with the international community”, and since last November Pakistan has also released three batches of Taliban prisoners. The moves were taken as signs of real progress towards getting peace talks under way after years of false starts, missteps and outright disasters.
Among the most serious pitfalls were Nato’s 2010 discussions with a grocer from the Pakistani city of Quetta, who posed as a senior Taliban official ready to broker talks. He was flown to Kabul for meetings and pocketed thousands of dollars in cash incentives.
In 2011, a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy killed the Afghan government’s top peace negotiator, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, by hiding explosives in his turban, and then last December an attacker with a bomb concealed in his underwear, also posing as a potential broker for peace talks, nearly killed the country’s spy chief.
One advantage of having a Taliban office is that it should reduce the risk of impostors presenting themselves as Taliban negotiators. But there are question marks over what real incentives the insurgent group has to talk, as the western troops are already heading home, and the Afghan security forces are short on key capacities, from bomb disposal to intelligence and air power.
Afghanistan’s political landscape may also be dramatically different in two years time, with a new Afghan president set to be elected next year – incumbent Hamid Karzai cannot stand for re-election – and most western troops gone by the start of 2015.
Cunningham, speaking at a news conference to discuss Karzai’s recent visit to Washington to meet US counterpart Barack Obama, said the US hoped to start substantial talks soon, but did not give any further details.
“What we would like to see, and what I think the Afghans would like to see, is … if not the conclusion of a negotiation, at least the beginning of a serious process on peace and reconciliation as soon as possible,” Cunningham said.
“But so far it hasn’t proven possible to bring those pieces together to get that going … We think its important if we can to help get the Afghans get this process underway, and then try to help them steer it to the best result possible.”
Cunningham also rejected a claim by Karzai that the US had promised Afghanistan drones, saying pilotless surveillance aircraft came up in discussions about equipping Afghan forces during the trip to Washington, but no decision had been made. If drones were provided, they would be unarmed, he added.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Black conservatives launch effort to scrap part of Voting Rights Act
By Paul Harris, The Guardian
Thursday, January 17, 2013 20:36 EST
A group of prominent black conservatives is trying to help scrap a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights-era legislation that enshrined the right of black Americans to have equal treatment at the ballot box.
The law was signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson in the presence of civil rights leaders like Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and it represented one of the milestone victories in ending the Jim Crow segregation of the deep south.
Now, however, a black conservative group called Project 21 has filed a legal brief before the US supreme court in support of a case aimed at overturning key provisions of the act. The bid, on which the supreme court is set to rule this summer, has been brought by the authorities in Shelby County in the southern state of Alabama.
Project 21′s argument focuses on the part of the Voting Rights Act called Section 5, which holds that certain areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination when it comes to voting rights need to get federal approval before changing any of their voting procedures.
Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel for the US Senate judiciary committee and a co-founder of Project 21, told the Guardian that her group – which represents numerous high-profile black conservatives – supports the scrapping of Section 5 because she believes America had changed so much since the law was signed.
“Now we are in 2013, and the Voting Rights Act was something that came from a historical context. We need to update the law and this part of it is no longer needed,” Harley LeBon said. She said her own father had hailed from the deep south and had left the region at times to get away from racial discrimination, but she insisted changing the act now was still the right thing to do. “Just because issues may be difficult to deal with does not mean they should not be dealt with,” she said.
However, the effort to scrap part of the Voting Rights Act has met stiff opposition with many civil rights groups, especially those seeking to represent black Americans. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has come out strongly against the legal bid by Shelby County and its supporters.
Myrna Perez, a senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said that changes to the law would be potentially harmful in the wake of controversial attempts at changing voting laws in many parts of the United States in recent years. “(The act) is single-handedly responsible for much of the progress this country has achieved in terms of electoral equality. Changing it would have a tremendous impact. There would be no backstop against states or localities that wanted to conduct discriminatory practises in voting,” Perez said.
Last year the federal government used Section 5 to block a highly controversial redistricting plan in Texas which it had feared created extra congressional seats dominated by white voters, when in fact most of the growth of Texas’ voter rolls came from minority voters, especially Hispanics.
The League of Women Voters had called the Texas redistricting scheme an “extreme example of racial gerrymandering” aimed at reducing the influence of non-white voters. The plan was blocked by a federal court in August 2012. Myrna said such events showed that the Voting Rights Act was still needed. “That happened just a few months ago last year,” she said.
Harley LeBon disagreed, saying that Section 5 was an unfair intrusion by the federal government into the rights of local government to organise their own affairs and that she was happy for black conservatives at Project 21 to spark a debate on such a thorny racial issue. “This is what America is all about: having a discussion. There is a whole network of black conservatives. The Democrats do not have a lock on black support,” she said.
Project 21 is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington-based foundation that says it is dedicated to finding “free market solutions” to social problems. According to its website, the NCPPP opposes environmental regulation, the influence of the United Nations and wants to drastically cut government spending.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
January 17, 2013
Difficult Choices on Debt if the U.S. Hits the Ceiling
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — By mid-February or early March, the United States could face an unprecedented default unless it raises its debt ceiling, the Treasury Department said this week.
Some legislators have theorized that a quick breach in the debt ceiling might cause only a minor disruption to government finances. And some commentators have suggested that the United States could pass legislation to prioritize or guarantee payments to bondholders, thus erasing what they describe as the worst of the financial market reaction and removing the threat of technical default.
But experts in government finance and markets described running up against the debt ceiling as an event that might quickly precipitate a financial crisis and eventually lead to a recession — an event with far greater disruptive potential than the “fiscal cliff” package of tax increases and spending cuts, a government shutdown or even the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
A debt-ceiling crisis would be at its heart a cash-management problem. Every day the government receives millions of bills to pay, to its employees, older Americans, soldiers, bondholders and contractors, among others. Under normal circumstances, it makes payments with new revenue as well as with the proceeds from bond sales. But the country has already run out of authority to issue new debt, as of Dec. 31, and Congress has not yet raised the statutory debt ceiling, currently around $16.4 trillion.
The Treasury Department is undertaking “extraordinary measures,” like suspending the reinvestment of certain government retirement funds, to leave it with more cash on hand. But such measures buy the country only so much time, and in a matter of weeks outflows will overwhelm inflows.
That day might be Feb. 15, for instance. According to a Bipartisan Policy Center analysis, the government expects about $9 billion in revenue to arrive in its coffers that day. But it has $52 billion in committed spending on that day: $30 billion in interest payments, $6.8 billion in tax refunds, $3.5 billion in federal salaries, $2.7 billion in military pay, $2.3 billion in Medicaid and Medicare payments, $1.5 billion owed to military contractors and a smattering of other commitments.
The Treasury would be confronted with paying doctors but not soldiers, Chinese bondholders but not defense companies. Worse, it is not clear whether the Treasury secretary would have the legal latitude or even the technical ability to prioritize some payments over others. Every day the country remained in breach of the ceiling, the problems would be compounded.
The Treasury Department has shed little light on what actions it would take if the country breached the ceiling.
But there are a few clues as to how the Obama administration might react. A Treasury inspector general’s report from last year described some of the planning for the debt ceiling standoff in 2011, which caused a broad slump in the market and raised the country’s borrowing costs by about $1.3 billion in that fiscal year. “Treasury considered asset sales; imposing across-the-board payment reductions; various ways of attempting to prioritize payments; and various ways of delaying payments,” the report said.
It determined that delaying payments might be the least harmful option, but made no decisions about the best route forward. Moreover, “Treasury reached the same conclusion that other administrations had reached about these options — none of them could reasonably protect the full faith and credit of the U.S., the American economy, or individual citizens from very serious harm,” the report said.
Some Republican lawmakers have suggested giving the Treasury more guidance. For instance, Representative Daniel Webster of Florida has put forward a bill ordering the Treasury to pay obligations to bondholders, followed by troops, national security “priorities,” Social Security and then Medicare.
But organized chaos would still be chaos, analysts said. Consider again the day of Feb. 15. The country would not have enough money to pay its bondholders, let alone anyone else. Moreover, analysts have raised questions about whether the Treasury would be able to reprogram its automated payment systems to prioritize some payments over others. With bills stacking up day by day, the government would be able to make only about 60 percent of its payments over time.
Businesses and individuals would be left without expected funds from the government, and a tremendous financial crisis might ensue. “We’re the reserve currency of the entire world,” said Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center, in Washington. “There’s trillions of dollars of our debt sliced and diced into all sorts of financial instruments around the world. If you’re a 28-year-old bond trader for Nomura in Tokyo, and someone says, ‘Hey, we just heard a rumor Treasury isn’t making all its payments,’ what do you do? You panic and you sell.”
For that reason, 84 percent of the top economists surveyed by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business this week said the debt ceiling “periodically creates unneeded uncertainty and can potentially lead to worse fiscal outcomes” for the country.
“Deciding whether or not to pay the debts incurred to fund the previously approved tax and spending is nuts,” responded Anil K. Kashyap of the University of Chicago.
Richard H. Thaler, also of Chicago, said, “The debt ceiling is a dumb idea with no benefits and potentially catastrophic costs if ever used.”
A standoff in the debt ceiling — even a brief one, with bondholders paid on time — might also raise the country’s borrowing costs permanently. “It is not assured that the Treasury would or legally could prioritize debt service over its myriad other obligations, including Social Security payments, tax rebates and payments to contractors and employees,” Fitch, the major ratings agency, said on Tuesday. “Arrears on such obligations would not constitute a default event from a sovereign rating perspective but very likely prompt a downgrade even as debt obligations continued to be met.”
For that reason, some Republicans are shying away from using the debt ceiling as leverage — with some quietly suggesting that a forthcoming debate over the continuing spending resolution necessary to finance the government might be a better time to wrangle for budget cuts.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Speaker John A. Boehner described the debt ceiling as “one point of leverage” but “not the ultimate leverage.” The White House has refused to negotiate any budget cuts as part of talks over the ceiling, and has suggested that Congress give up most its authority over the debt ceiling to begin with.
January 17, 2013
Massacre at School Sways Public in Way Earlier Shootings Didn’t
By MICHAEL COOPER and DALIA SUSSMAN
The massacre of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., appears to be profoundly swaying Americans’ views on guns, galvanizing the broadest support for stricter gun laws in about a decade, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
As President Obama tries to persuade a reluctant Congress to pass new gun laws, the poll found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — think gun control laws should be tightened, up markedly from a CBS News poll last April that found that only 39 percent backed stricter laws.
The rise in support for stricter gun laws stretched across political lines, including an 18-point increase among Republicans. A majority of independents now back stricter gun laws.
Whether the Newtown shooting — in which 20 first graders and 6 adults were killed — will have a long-term effect on public opinion of gun laws is hard to assess just a month after the rampage. But unlike the smaller increases in support for gun control immediately after other mass shootings, including after the 2011 shooting in Tucson that severely wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the latest polling results suggest a deeper, and possibly more resonating, shift.
In terms of specific gun proposals being considered, the poll found even wider support, including among gun owners.
The idea of requiring background checks on all gun purchases, which would eliminate a provision that allows about 40 percent of guns to be sold by unlicensed sellers without checks, was overwhelmingly popular. Nine in 10 Americans would favor such a law, the poll found — including 9 in 10 of the respondents who said that there was a gun in their household, and 85 percent whose households include National Rifle Association members.
A ban on high-capacity magazines, like the 15- and 30-round magazines that have been used in several recent mass shootings, was supported by more than 6 in 10, and by a majority of those who live in households with guns. And just over half of all respondents, 53 percent, said they would support a ban on some semiautomatic weapons.
After the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Tucson in 2011, polls found that 47 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws.
“I’m from a rural area in the South, I grew up in a gun culture, my father hunted,” Leslie Hodges, a 64-year-old graphic artist who lives in Atlanta and has a gun, said in a follow-up interview. “However, I don’t believe being able to have a gun keeps you from thinking reasonably about changes that would keep someone from walking into a school and being able to kill 20 children in 20 seconds. I think that we can say, O.K., we want the freedom to have guns in this country, but there are rules we can all agree to that will make us all safer.”
The poll also gave an indication of the state of play in Washington at the outset of what is expected to be a fierce debate over the nation’s gun laws, as the National Rifle Association and several members of Congress, particularly Republicans in the House, have criticized the gun control measures that Mr. Obama proposed Wednesday and have vowed to block them.
Americans said that they trusted the president over Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions about gun laws by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent, the poll found.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, is viewed favorably by nearly 4 in 10 Americans, the poll found. All told, 38 percent said that they had a favorable opinion of the group, while 29 percent had a negative view and the rest had no opinion. The N.R.A. was viewed positively by 54 percent of those with guns in their homes.
But the group is deeply unpopular with people in households without guns, who were twice as likely to have a negative view of the N.R.A. as a positive one: 41 percent of them expressed a negative view of it, while only 20 percent expressed a positive one.
The survey underscored how common guns in America are: 47 percent of those surveyed said that they or someone in their household owned a gun, and 31 percent had close friends or relatives who did. The top reasons cited for owning guns were protection and hunting.
The national poll was conducted by land lines and cellphones from Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, before the president announced his proposals to curb gun violence. It surveyed 1,110 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Some gun owners, like Sally Brady, a 69-year-old retired teacher who lives in Amissville, Va., explained in follow-up interviews why they would support some restrictions on ammunition or more thorough background checks of all gun buyers.
“I see no reason for high-capacity magazines if you want to go hunting,” said Mrs. Brady, an independent who owns a hunting rifle. “The purpose of hunting is sport, and you don’t need a whole big bunch of bullets to shoot a deer or a squirrel. If you’re that poor of a shot, stay out of the woods.”
Despite the higher support for stricter gun laws, many Americans do not think the changes would be very effective at deterring violence. While most Americans, 53 percent, said stricter gun laws would help prevent gun violence, about a quarter said they would help a lot.
Other steps were seen as being potentially more effective. About three-quarters of those surveyed said that having more police officers or armed security guards would help prevent mass shootings in public places. And more than 8 in 10 said better mental health screening and treatment would help prevent gun violence.
Violence in popular culture is seen by a large majority of Americans, 75 percent, as contributing to gun violence in the United States, including about 4 in 10 who say it contributes a lot.
Marjorie Connelly, Megan Thee-Brenan and Marina Stefan contributed reporting.
Republicans gather at former plantation to discuss minority outreach
By Richard Adams, The Guardian
Thursday, January 17, 2013 19:13 EST
After its general election battering, the Republican party has retreated to lick its wounds and ponder what went wrong – on the leafy grounds of a luxury golf resort in Virginia.
And what better place for today’s GOP to hold strategy sessions titled “Successful communication with minorities and women” than on the grounds of a former plantation in the south?
“When the first English foot was placed in Virginia, it was here on these grounds that once served as a central part of the area’s plantation life in the 1600s through 1800s,” boasts the website of the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, which draws a discrete veil over whatever events in the 1800s may have caused that to end.
But tradition lives on in the name of the resort’s Plantation Golf Course and the 374-seat Burwell Plantation Room – where, as luck would have it, the forum on minorities and women was to be held.
Included among the sessions is one that probably sums up the state of mind of many attendees: “What happened and where are we now?” It’s a good question, after the bruising battle the Republicans endured over the “fiscal cliff” at the end of last year, with the party in Congress preparing to get back in the ring for the debt ceiling extension tussles at the end of February.
Attempting to answer that question was former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who threw out hints that the Republicans in Congress were prepared to avoid a showdown over the federal debt ceiling, which limits the total that the federal government can borrow.
“We’re discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and White House involved in discussions in March,” said Ryan, describing the intra-party talks going behind closed doors at the resort.
Failing to raise the debt ceiling would have big implications, with the US Treasury unable to issue bonds or repay interest owing, and could even trigger a downgrading of the US’s sovereign credit rating.
But Ryan wouldn’t go into details, saying a short-term extension was one of a number of options being considered – along with how to deal with the looming budget cuts scheduled for the end of March, having been narrowly put off during the fiscal cliff negotiations.
“Our goal is to make sure our members understand all the deadlines that are coming, all the consequences of those deadlines that are coming, in order so that we can make a better informed decision on how to move and how to proceed,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, John Fleming, a member of the House of Representatives from Louisiana, told reporters that immigration was not among the hot topics being discussed so far, and that there had been “zero discussion” of gun control legislation – a strange omission, given President Barack Obama’s statement just yesterday.
“We’re only talking about what we’re doing over the next 120 days,” Fleming said, according to the Huffington Post’s Sabrina Siddiqui, thus proving that the relaxing resort must be taking minds off the hurly-burly of current events.
No word yet if the GOP attendees have been enjoying the recreational activities on hand – “from educational Segway tours of our natural surroundings to organized geo-caching competitions,” according to the resort’s publicity material.
Among the motivational speakers invited to address the retreat is Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mt Everest and thus the perfect person to inspire Republicans as they grope their way towards the heights of government.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
January 18, 2013
Stakes for France Are High as Hollande Continues an Intervention in Mali
By STEVEN ERLANGER
PARIS — This was not the war President François Hollande wanted.
In just two hours last Thursday, after a plea for help from Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, Mr. Hollande decided to send in French warplanes and ground troops.
It was supposed to be a quick and dramatic blow that would send the Islamists scurrying back to their hide-outs in northern Mali, buying time for the deployment of an African force to stabilize the situation. Instead it is turning into what looks like a complex and drawn-out military and diplomatic operation that Mr. Hollande’s critics are already calling a desert version of a quagmire, like Vietnam or Afghanistan.
Some here speak of Mr. Hollande’s “Sahelistan.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president, reminded Mr. Hollande of “the danger of a military operation without a clear enemy, with the risk to civilians that is bound to engender hostility among the citizens.” He warned of “neocolonialism.”
Mr. Hollande, who has a reputation for indecisiveness, has certainly taken on a difficult task. The French are fighting to preserve the integrity of a country that is divided in half, of a state that is broken. They are fighting for the survival of an interim government with no democratic legitimacy that took power in the aftermath of a coup.
But Mr. Traoré, 70, does represent the internationally recognized government of Mali, said a senior French official, shrugging. And then, like every French official on the topic, he asked a questioner to imagine the alternative — “another Somalia” on the western edge of Africa, lawless and dominated by Islamic radicals close to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who would set about instituting the harshness of Shariah law all over Mali, stoning adulterers and cutting off the hands of thieves, while engaging in the drug and arms smuggling, kidnapping and terrorism that funds their notion of jihad.
That prospect, the officials insist, is why the entire region, including Algeria, has supported the French intervention, which was also backed by the Security Council. The French initiative has also had public support, if provoking quiet concern about overreaching, from allies like the United States and Britain.
It was not supposed to be this way, French officials and experts acknowledge. Sometime in the autumn, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085, African troops from the Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, together with a retrained and reinspired Malian Army, were supposed to take back the north of the country. Those African forces were to be trained with the help of the European Union and guided in their mission by French forces in an advisory capacity, with the United States helping to provide financing and airborne reconnaissance, intelligence, air transport and air-to-air refueling.
France was supposed to have a largely civilian role, not itself engaged in fighting and with no troops on the ground. Ecowas and the Malians were supposed to fight their way into northern Mali and clear it of Islamists.
Just 10 days ago, before Mr. Hollande’s sudden action, a senior adviser at the Élysée described how slowly the Mali operation was going. He described the difficulties with Ecowas, with squabbles over financing, training and transporting Ecowas troops, and how hard it had been to get Washington, after the Libyan civil war, to pay attention to a deteriorating situation in Mali and the risks of Islamic terrorism spreading in the Sahel.
The Americans finally started listening to French concerns last September, he said, but had their doubts about how easy it would be to drive the Islamists out of the vastness of northern Mali. And Washington did not consider the Ecowas plan to be well conceived.
The Islamist rebels chose not to wait around, of course, launching their push to the south and prompting French intervention in a singularly leading role. With 1,800 troops now in Mali and a projected total of 2,500, the French do not need help on the ground, officials insist. But they are pushing Washington to move more quickly through the interagency process to provide reconnaissance drones, air transport planes and refueling planes. European and NATO allies like Britain have already moved to help, with the British quickly providing two C-17 transport planes to move troops and equipment.
On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain gave explicit support to France and an implicit push to Washington and European allies to do more in West Africa to fight radical Islamic terrorism. “Those who believe that there is a terrorist, extremist Al Qaeda problem in parts of North Africa, but that it is a problem for those places and we can somehow back off and ignore it, are profoundly wrong,” he told Parliament.
Mr. Cameron called the Algerian drama a warning. “What we know is that the terrorist threat in the Sahel comes from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which aspires to establish Islamic law across the Sahel and northern Africa, and to attack Western interests in the region and frankly, wherever it can,” Mr. Cameron said in words that will please Paris. “Just as we have reduced the scale of the Al Qaeda threat in other parts of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so it has grown in other parts of the world. We need to be equally concerned about that, and equally focused on it.”
Most experts think that the French, even if they drive the Islamists out of major populated areas in the north of Mali, will not move in force throughout the vast desert. The French still mean to prepare the ground for Ecowas and Malian troops, to create the stability that can allow new political negotiations on Mali’s future.
Mali will only succeed, French officials say, if the state is reconfigured, with significantly more autonomy for the Tuaregs in the north, who have long wanted their independence, and rebuilt governmental institutions and legitimacy. That of course will take some time, even if it is done under the auspices of Ecowas or the United Nations.
Camille Grand, a defense expert and director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said the French objective is “to return to the status quo ante, where those Islamist groups are cornered in the gray zones on the borders, with limited ability to act and not controlling population centers, where it is difficult for them to make raids or take hostages.”
Those goals, he said, are “definitely something that makes sense from a military standpoint. But “if the ultimate objective is to eradicate the presence of radical Islam in the Sahel,” he warned, “it probably won’t happen; it’s a bridge too far for anyone.”
In all likelihood, Paris is not that ambitious. But Mr. Hollande’s critics worry that he may already have gotten himself in deeper than he planned, or even realizes. In a column Friday in Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrède wrote that the French endgame is unclear. “In launching itself militarily in the front line, France also takes on a responsibility” for the reconstruction of the state, she said. “The after-intervention — we have seen it elsewhere in the world — is the true headache of interventions. The ultimate test will be there.”
John F. Burns contributed reporting from London.
January 19, 2013
Algerian Hostage Standoff Continues as Victims Named
By ADAM NOSSITER and GERRY MULLANY
BAMAKO, Mali — Islamic militants in Algeria continued to hold at least 10 and possibly dozens of foreign hostages Saturday as details started emerging about some of the people killed in the standoff.
The United States said for the first time that Americans were among the remaining captives and confirmed the first known death of an American hostage, Frederick Buttaccio, 58, of Katy, Tex. Linked In, the social networking site for professionals, lists a Frederick Buttaccio as a sales operations coordinator for BP, the British energy giant that helped run the complex, but a BP executive said it would not comment on any employee who may have been at the facility.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, identified a French citizen who was killed as Yann Desjeux, but he added that “the lives of three others of our compatriots who were on the site during the terrorist attack have been saved.” The country’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Saturday that the government believed that no more French nationals were being held hostage.
As the hostage situation entered its fourth day, there were no signs of a resolution. A senior Algerian government official said no talks were planned with the militants.
“They are being told to surrender, that’s it,” the official said. “No negotiations. That is a doctrine with us.”
French television said that shooting had erupted again at the site early Saturday, but gave no details.
Two days after the Algerian army began an assault to try to free the hostages, all foreign governments and companies with citizens at risk were still scrambling for basic information about the missing as they ferried escaped hostages out of the country on military aircraft and urged Algeria to use restraint.
The Norwegian energy firm Statoil said that six workers for the company, all of them Norwegian, were unaccounted for.
“We can never lose hope,” Statoil’s chief executive, Helge Lund, told a news conference Saturday morning. “Bringing home our employees is our primary goal.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington on Friday that the situation in Algeria was “extremely difficult and dangerous.”
Describing a conversation she had earlier Friday with Algeria’s prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, Mrs. Clinton said she had emphasized to him that “the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.”
Algeria’s state news agency, APS, said 12 Algerian and foreign workers had been killed since Algerian special forces began an assault against the kidnappers on Thursday. It was the highest civilian death toll Algerian officials that have provided in the aftermath of the assault, which freed captives and killed kidnappers. The incident was one of the worst mass abductions of foreign workers in years.
Previous unofficial estimates of the foreign casualties have ranged from 4 to 35. The American who died, Mr. Buttaccio, lived in a gated community in Katy, a suburb that is about 30 miles west of downtown Houston.The Algerian news agency also said that 18 militants had been killed and that the country’s special forces were dealing with remnants of a “terrorist group” that was still holding hostages in the refinery area of the gas field in remote eastern Algeria.
It also gave a new sense of how many people may have been at the facility when the militants seized it on Wednesday, asserting that nearly 650 had managed to leave the site since then, including 573 Algerians and nearly half of the 132 foreigners it said had been abducted. But that still left many people unaccounted for.
The senior Algerian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed there were about 10 hostages under the control of possibly 13 to 15 militants, but he emphasized that “nothing is certain” about the numbers, which have varied wildly since the crisis began. He also said that there were other workers on the site “who are still in hiding” but that the Algerian military had secured the residential part of the gas-field complex.
“What remains are a few terrorists, holding a few hostages, who have taken refuge in the gas factory,” he said. “It’s a site that’s very tricky to handle.”
The official also challenged the criticism made in some foreign capitals that the Algerian military had acted hastily and with excessive force. On the contrary, he said, Algerian forces had returned fire only as the militants sought to escape the complex with their captives.
“There was a reaction by the army,” he said. “They tried to flee and they were stopped,” the official said of the militants. “They came absolutely to blow the whole site up. These are bitter-enders.”
Earlier Friday, the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that not all Americans had been freed. “We have American hostages,” she said, offering the first update on what was known about United States citizens since officials confirmed on Thursday that seven or eight of them had been inside the gas-field complex.
Ms. Nuland also said the United States would not consider a reported offer made by the kidnappers to exchange two Americans for two prominent figures imprisoned in the United States — Omar Abdel Rahman, a sheik convicted of plotting to bomb New York landmarks, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman convicted of shooting two American soldiers in Afghanistan. It was impossible to confirm that offer, which was reported by the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, a service that tracks jihadist activity on the Internet.
Intensifying the uncertainties, a spokesman for the militants, who belong to a group called Al Mulathameen, said Friday that they planned further attacks in Algeria, according to a report by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which maintains frequent contact with militant groups in the region. The spokesman called upon Algerians to “keep away from the installations of foreign companies because we will suddenly attack where no one would expect it,” ANI reported.
The Algerian military operation to end the gas-field siege was done without consulting foreign governments whose citizens worked at the facility. It has been marked by a fog of conflicting reports, compounded by the remoteness of the facility, near a town called In Amenas that is hundreds of miles across the desert from the Algerian capital, Algiers, and close to the Libyan border.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the number of Britons at risk was estimated late Thursday at “less than 30.” That number has now been “quite significantly reduced,” he said, adding that he could not give details because the crisis was continuing. British officials have said they know at least one Briton was killed when the militants seized the facility.
Offering a broad account of Algeria’s handling of the operation, he told lawmakers: “We were not informed of this in advance. I was told by the Algerian prime minister while it was taking place. He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond.”
Frustration with Algeria’s information vacuum seemed particularly vexing to Japan, where an energy company that had assigned 17 employees to the gas-field facility said Friday that seven were confirmed safe but that 10 were unaccounted for. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had personally appealed to his Algerian counterpart by phone early Friday to stop the military action, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, but was told that military action was “the best response and we are continuing our operation.”
A separate hostage situation of sorts appeared to have been averted at a village in Mali, the neighboring country where a French military intervention to stop radical Islamists may have been the catalyst for the Algerian gas-field seizure by the Al Mulathameen group. But details were sketchy.
A senior French official in Paris said Malian Islamist fighters, threatened by French and Malian soldiers, had occupied the village, Diabaly, and were threatening to use residents as human shields if attacked. But by Friday evening, a local official in Diabaly said the Islamists and most of the villagers had fled. “There’s practically nothing left in Diabaly except burned-out vehicles and boxes of ammunition,” said the official, Benco Ba, a local parliamentary deputy.
The Algerian fighters had been prepared to attack the gas complex for nearly two months, the militants’ spokesman said, according to the ANI report, because they believed that the Algerian government “was surely going to be the ally of France” in the Malian conflict.
Hostages and analysts have said the attackers appeared well-prepared and deeply knowledgeable about the site, and there was evidence to suggest they had informers on the site or were in contact with workers there. An official at BP indicated earlier in the week that the attackers had shut off production at the site at the time of the attack, for instance. And at least two former hostages, interviewed independently, have said the fighters were aware of labor tensions and plans for a strike among catering workers on the site.
“We know you’re oppressed; we’ve come here so that you can have your rights,” the militants told Algerians on the site, according to one former hostage. Another hostage said the fighters had asked about the plans for a strike.
Adam Nossiter reported from Bamako, and Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong. Reporting was contributed by Elisabeth Bumiller, John F. Burns and Julia Werdigier from London; Alan Cowell, Steven Erlanger and Scott Sayare from Paris; Michael R. Gordon, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker from Washington; Martin Fackler and Hiroko Tabuchi from Tokyo; Clifford Krauss and Manny Fernandez from Houston, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
January 18, 2013
Hiding, Praying, Tied to Bombs: Captives Detail Algerian Ordeal
By LYDIA POLGREEN and SCOTT SAYARE
The gunmen, dressed in fatigues and wearing turbans, stormed in well before dawn aboard pickup trucks, announcing their arrival with a burst of gunfire.
Dozens of employees were eating breakfast at the time before heading off to the vast network of tubes and silos of the In Amenas gas field, where hundreds of Algerians and foreigners work to extract natural gas from the arid sands of the Sahara.
“God is great,” the gunmen cried as they arrived.
It was the beginning of a terrifying ordeal — one in which foreign hostages would come under fire from both the gunmen holding them and the Algerian government soldiers trying to free them. For many of the captives, it is an ordeal that has yet to end.
Some hostages were forced to wear explosives on their bodies. Others hid under beds and on rooftops, praying to survive but expecting death. One was shot in the back while his fellow captives looked on. Left by their captors with their cellphones, some phoned home with terrifying accounts of the horrors unfolding all around.
These were among the chilling tales recounted Friday by some of the hundreds of workers who managed to escape the national gas field on the eastern edge of Algeria that had been stormed by Islamist militants two days before.
The gunmen, fighters with a group called Al Mulathameen, said they were acting to avenge the French intervention in nearby Mali, Algerian officials said. But there were indications that the attack had been planned long before the French military began its offensive to recapture the northern half of that country from Islamist insurgents.
The attackers appeared to know the site well, even the fact that disgruntled Algerian catering workers were planning a strike.
“We know you’re oppressed; we’ve come here so that you can have your rights,” the militants told Algerians at the facility, according to one Algerian former hostage. Another hostage said the fighters had asked about the plans for a strike.
“The terrorists were covered with explosives, and they had detonators,” said a senior Algerian government official who was briefed on the crisis. He said the situation remained a standoff on Friday, with “a few terrorists holding a few hostages.”
Former captives said that several of the fighters appeared to be foreign, with non-Algerian accents. One Algerian worker said that some of them may have been Libyan and Syrian, and that one might have been French. Another gunman who spoke impeccable English was assigned to speak to the many foreigners.
When the Algerian military eventually intervened, the situation grew even more chaotic. According to one witness, Algerian helicopters attacked several jeeps that were carrying hostages. The fate of at least some of those hostages remains unknown. The Algerian state news agency reported that 12 Algerian and foreign workers had been killed since the start of the military operation and that dozens remained unaccounted for.
From the start, it was clear that the gunmen only wished to harm foreigners. Algerian workers, along with other Muslims who could prove their faith by reciting from the Koran, were herded into one area, workers said.
“They told us, ‘We are your brothers. You have telephones: call your families to reassure them,’ ” said Moussa, an Algerian worker who asked to be identified only by his first name.
Algerian women in the group of hostages were released right away on Wednesday morning, Moussa said, but the militants initially declined to release the Algerian men, saying it was for their own good. “We’re afraid that if we free you, the army will shoot at you,” he quoted them as saying.
Foreigners, meanwhile, were taken away, their hands bound with rubber, both Algerian witnesses said. Some of the employees resisted. Several Filipino workers who had refused to leave their rooms were beaten, Moussa said. At one point, the fighters shot a European as he tried to flee, he said. The other Algerian described seeing a middle-aged European man, perhaps a security official, shot in the back in the cafeteria, where the lights had been switched off. He believed the man had died.
Before being captured, Stephen McFaul, 36, an electrical engineer from Belfast, Northern Ireland, barricaded himself in a room with a colleague at the first sound of gunfire, quietly using his cellphone to assure his family that he was all right.
“I joked that I was from Northern Ireland and that I had been through better riots,” he told the colleague, according to John Morrissey, a representative for his family in Belfast who was responding to reporters for media organizations around the world.
Mr. McFaul, who had been sent to work in Algeria only three weeks ago, was seized a few hours later, Mr. Morrissey said, and ultimately placed in the last jeep of a five-jeep convoy that came under heavy air attack from Algerian forces.
The first four jeeps were destroyed, and when Mr. McFaul’s vehicle veered off the road, he and a fellow worker managed to climb out of the back window, which had been broken. Their hands had been tied, their mouths taped and they had been forced to wear vests loaded with explosives, Mr. Morrissey said.
The two made a run for it, reaching the security forces, who disarmed the explosives. The spokesman said Mr. McFaul was “bright and together and nervously excited” about returning home.
At least one American, identified by a Corpus Christi, Tex., television station as Mark Cobb, also escaped. Mr. Cobb, who is from the Corpus Christi area, is said to have taken cover in an unused room and then made his way out of the plant unharmed, according to the station, KRIS-TV. On Friday, the station said, Mr. Cobb sent a text message to a friend that said, “I’m alive.”
Other foreigners, like Alexandre Berceaux, a French employee of a catering company working at the site, hid themselves as best they could.
“I stayed hidden for nearly 40 hours in my bedroom,” Mr. Berceaux told Europe 1 Radio. “I was under the bed, and I put boards everywhere just in case. I had food, water; I didn’t know how long I would be there.”
He said he was certain he would be killed. “When the Algerian soldiers, whom I thank, came to get me, I didn’t even know it was over,” he said. The soldiers came with his colleagues, he said, “otherwise I would never have opened the door.”
Mr. Berceaux said Algerian soldiers found some British hostages hiding on the roof and were still searching the site for others when he was escorted to a nearby military base, from which he expected to be transferred to France. Others might still be hidden, he said.
Among the casualties was a French citizen identified as Yann Desjeux, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said in a statement on Friday evening. Mr. Desjeux had contacted his family by telephone midday on Thursday and died sometime later, according to the French newspaper Sud Ouest, which also had spoken to Mr. Desjeux on Thursday.
The newspaper said a freelance journalist had dialed up a militant he had been in contact with previously and discovered that the man was involved in the raid on the factory. The journalist asked if any Frenchmen were captives, and the militant then passed the phone to Mr. Desjeux, 52, who said he was being well treated and that the captors wanted the French government to warn Algeria not to raid the factory.
The circumstances of his death were not clear.
Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Bamako, Mali; Douglas Dalby from Dublin; and Manny Fernandez from Houston.
January 18, 2013
British Leader Sees Wider Threat in Algeria Attack
By JOHN F. BURNS
LONDON — With more than 60 hostages still missing and many feared dead, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Friday that the Qaeda-linked attack on a remote Algerian gas installation demonstrated the need for Britain and its Western allies, including the United States, to direct more of their diplomatic, military and intelligence resources to the intensifying threat emanating from “the ungoverned space” of the North African desert, treating it with as much concern as the terrorist challenge in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mr. Cameron offered little new information about the showdown at the In Amenas plant, nearly 1,000 miles from Algiers, the Algerian capital, in the oil-and-gas-rich emptiness of the Sahara, saying the information reaching London about what he described as a “continuing situation” remained sketchy. He added that Britain learned overnight that the number of British citizens caught up in the hostage-taking and the subsequent shootout was “significantly” fewer than the 30 people feared on Thursday. As part of the effort to learn more, he said, a special plane had been assigned to carry Britain’s ambassador in Algiers and other British diplomats to the area of the gas plant on Friday.
But in an hourlong session in the House of Commons, Mr. Cameron pointed to the somber implications of underestimating recent events in Mali and Algeria as a regional problem for North Africa rather than as an increasingly fertile arena for Islamic militants and their hostility to the West. He said he had discussed his concerns in a telephone conversation with President Obama on Thursday.
The British leader said the growth of Islamic terrorist networks in the countries of the Sahel, the broad area of North Africa that runs more than 3,000 miles from Mauritania in the west to Sudan and Somalia in the east, should be a renewed focus of Western counterterrorist concerns and resources. At one point, he said military assistance to the affected countries needed to be part of NATO military planning, though he again emphatically ruled out any British combat role in support of France’s campaign against militants in Mali.
Pointing to the leading role played in the Algerian attack by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a terrorist ringleader and smuggler with links to North Africa’s main Islamic terrorist group, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Mr. Cameron warned that the Algerian attack was symptomatic of a far broader threat.
“What we know is that the terrorist threat in the Sahel comes from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which aspires to establish Islamic law across the Sahel and northern Africa, and to attack Western interests in the region and, frankly, wherever it can,” Mr. Cameron said. “Just as we have reduced the scale of the Al Qaeda threat in other parts of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so it has grown in other parts of the world. We need to be equally concerned about that, and equally focused on it.”
To some British commentators, Mr. Cameron’s remarks sounded like an effort to prompt the United States to become more deeply involved in North African security matters. In the 2011 Libyan conflict, the United States stepped back from the lead role it has traditionally taken in NATO military operations and left Britain, France and Italy to conduct the bulk of the bombing in support of the Libyan rebels’ successful campaign to topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Since then, high-ranking British officials have expressed concerns that the Obama administration is stepping back from European political and security issues and turning its attentions increasingly to the nations of the Pacific.
With the approach of Mr. Obama’s second inauguration on Sunday, The Spectator, a London-based weekly that is influential in Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party, devoted its cover this week to an article headlined “The Pacific President,” and an illustration showing Mr. Obama in a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and shorts surfing off a palm-lined beach. “As Barack Obama is sworn in again as president, his allies in the West will ask themselves the same nervous question they posed four years ago: how much does he care about us?” the accompanying article asked.
White House officials said on Thursday that Mr. Obama had used his telephone conversation with Mr. Cameron to underscore American concerns that Britain remain a robust force within the 27-nation European Union, a hot-button issue for Mr. Cameron. The prime minister had planned — then canceled, amid the Algerian crisis — a landmark speech in Amsterdam on Friday in which he was to have outlined his plan to negotiate a much sparer role for Britain in the European bloc.
In his remarks to lawmakers on Friday, Mr. Cameron offered what could have been construed as an oblique riposte to Mr. Obama, or at least to officials in the Obama administration who have urged that Europe take greater responsibility for confronting terrorist and other security threats at its own doorstep. He may also have been addressing domestic critics in Britain, or other NATO countries that have been less active than Britain in counterterrorism efforts aimed at confronting the spread of Islamic militant groups.
“There is a great need for not just Britain but other countries to give a priority to understanding better, and working better, with the countries in this region,” he said. “Those who believe that there is a terrorist, extremist Al Qaeda problem in parts of north Africa, but that it is a problem for those places and we can somehow back off and ignore it, are profoundly wrong. That is a problem for those places, and for us.”
Mr. Cameron noted that Britain had been “the first country in the world” to offer France military assistance in its campaign in Mali, deploying one of the largest military transport aircraft it has, an American-made C-17 Globemaster, to ferry French troops and military equipment to Bamako, the Malian capital. He said it was time for Britain and France to move beyond their spheres of influence in Africa dating back to the colonial era, “and recognize that is in our interest to boost the capacity of all African states” confronted by the terrorist threat.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 18, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that Libyan rebels overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. It was 2011, not last year.
Binyamin Netanyahu on course to win Israeli elections
Final opinion polls before Tuesday's elections point to win for rightwing Likud-Beiteinu alliance and formation of more hawkish coalition
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 15.00 GMT
Binyamin Netanyahu is on course to head a more hawkish and pro-settler government following Tuesday's elections, even though final opinion polls show a drop in the number of seats his rightwing electoral alliance is expected to win.
A series of polls on Friday – the last day permitted for the publication of opinion surveys – showed Likud-Beiteinu likely to take 32-35 seats in the 120-place parliament. Its nearest rival, Labour, is predicted to get 16 or 17, and the extreme right Jewish Home is expected to finish third, with 11-13 seats.
But around 15% of voters are undecided. If a substantial proportion of those actually vote on Tuesday, they could have a marked impact on the parties' final tallies. Turnout in Israeli elections is traditionally high, although it has fallen in recent years. It is expected to be about 70% in this election.
Although Likud-Beiteinu is set to be the biggest party by some distance, support for the alliance between Netanyahu's Likud party and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu has steadily fallen during the campaign. The American election strategist Arthur Finkelstein, who advocated the merger and is advising the alliance, predicted it would win 45 seats, and polls a month ago were forecasting 39 seats.
Support has drained to the ultra-nationalist, pro-settler Jewish Home, led by Netanyahu's former chief of staff Naftali Bennett, in an indication of the hardening of opinion on the right of the Israeli political spectrum. "This election will likely mark an acceleration of Israel's long-predicted … journey toward a hegemonic nationalism resembling apartheid-era South Africa," wrote Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and north Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in Foreign Policy this week.
Netanyahu has sought to stem the loss of votes by appealing to the pro-settler vote. He would seek a "real and fair solution" with the Palestinians "and that certainly doesn't include driving out hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem and in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, in the Ariel bloc," he told the Jerusalem Post on Friday. Ariel is a huge settlement which juts deep into the West Bank, almost reaching the Jordan valley.
Asked in an interview with the Hebrew-language Ma'ariv if he would guarantee that no settlement would be uprooted in the next four years, Netanyahu said: "Yes, correct. The days of bulldozers flattening settlements are behind us, not in front of us."
Speculation is turning towards the complexion of the coalition government Netanyahu will assemble in the coming weeks. Most analysts expect him to form a rightwing-religious block, though he may seek to include at least one of the centrist parties to add breadth to the coalition.
"Israel's right wing has become more hardline, and Netanyahu is a relative moderate. He is out of kilter with much of his own party," said David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel. "He would prefer another party to his left in the coalition. He will not want to be the most dovish person in his government."
Labour has said it will lead the opposition rather than join a Netanyahu-led coalition. But the centrist parties Yesh Atid, led by former television personality Yair Lapid, and Hatnua, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, have not ruled out becoming coalition partners. An attempt to form a centre-left alliance between these three parties, potentially capable of challenging the Likud-Beiteinu alliance, failed.
The inclusion of a centrist party may help Netanyahu repair relations between the Israeli government and the Obama administration, which have been seriously strained over the past year.
The Israeli elections: facts and figures
• Israeli voters go to the polls on Tuesday to elect the 19th Knesset (Israeli parliament). There are 34 parties competing for 120 seats.
• There are 5.1 million eligible voters in Israel, plus another 600,000 abroad.
• Israel uses a kind of proportional representation, called the list system. The public votes for a party, not individuals, with the proportion of votes determining the number of seats allocated to a party. So if a party gets 10% of the popular vote, it is allocated 12 seats – and the first 12 candidates on its list become members of the Knesset.
• There is a minimum threshold of 2% of the popular vote to gain a seat.
• No party has ever won an overall majority, so every government in Israel's history has been a coalition.
• The leader of the party with the biggest number of seats is asked to put together a coalition within 42 days. If he or she cannot, it falls to the leader of the next biggest party. Coalition horse-trading can continue for days or weeks.
• Likud-Beiteinu, the rightwing political alliance led by the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is expected to be the biggest party. Netanyahu may seek to bring religious parties into a coalition to gain a majority, or he may seek the support of centrist parties. Or he could invite both to create a broader coalition.
• Labour, expected to be the second biggest party, has said it will not join a coalition led by Likud-Beiteinu.
• Opinion polls are banned in the final few days of the election campaign
anuary 18, 2013
Myanmar Announces a Cease-Fire in Assault Against Kachin Rebels
By THOMAS FULLER and EDWARD WONG
BANGKOK — After weeks of intense fighting near the border with China, the Myanmar government on Friday announced what appeared to be a unilateral cease-fire in its offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels. The government also said it would pursue peace talks, but it was unclear how the rebels would react to the government’s overtures.
The announcement of a cease-fire, to start Saturday, was made during the main evening newscast and came only hours after Parliament approved a resolution calling for an end to a year and a half of fighting. Myanmar’s actions have come under increased scrutiny by an international community fearful that the country, an emerging democracy, will backslide.
China, an ally worried about an influx of refugees, as well as the shells that have landed on its side of the border, had also been vocal and called for a cease-fire, according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency.
Many questions remain about the cease-fire, including whether the military — which has been gaining territory almost daily — will comply with the order. Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by a military junta until 2011 and is still transitioning to more democratic rule, with the roles of its leaders still evolving. President Thein Sein — who is not the commander in chief under the country’s new Constitution — had suggested several times that the army was not supposed to go on the offensive but was to act only in defense, though it has been unclear how strongly he was pushing the army to stop fighting.
Friday’s announcement was much more detailed, including a precise time (by 6 a.m. Saturday) when the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect.
One leading Kachin voice, the Rev. Samson Hkalam, the general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said by telephone that he was skeptical of the announcement.
“According to our experience, the declarations by the government are one thing,” he said. “What the army does is another.”
He also said the cease-fire was limited. “There are many areas that Myanmar troops occupy,” he said. “The cease-fire applies to only one area.”
According to the government announcement, the cease-fire applies to the area around the town of Lajayang, the site of the major fighting. It is not known what that means for the rest of Kachin State, where the rebels control pockets of territory.
The statement said the military had “concluded its conditional mission” in the Lajayang offensive and had secured the “safety of troops.” It said there had been more than a thousand “battles” between the rebels and government troops since Dec. 10. The government also said the military had suffered many casualties, but did not give a number. A military officer, however, said 218 troops had been killed and 764 wounded since Nov. 15, according to an official tally. The officer requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The cease-fire announcement came as the commander in chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Vice Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, is on an official visit to Singapore and Malaysia.
The Myanmar military has intensified its campaign against the Kachin rebels since the end of December, and witnesses have described frequent shelling in and around the town of Laiza, the rebel base.
The central government’s relationship with its many minorities is considered a crucial gauge — for those inside and outside the country — of the reforms that Mr. Thein Sein has been carrying out since coming to power in March 2011 and that have helped lead to a suspension of sanctions by the United States and other countries.
The hostilities with the Kachin have already increased tensions among other ethnic groups, a point underlined by a statement issued by the leaders of the Wa, a group that has a cease-fire agreement with the government but still has thousands of men under arms.
The statement, which was co-signed by two other groups, warned of a return to civil war in Myanmar. “The country will return backward” if the fighting does not stop, the statement said.
The debates leading up to the cease-fire have been notable for the relative absence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate, who was quoted this week as saying that she would not take a major role in trying to end the fighting because it was not the purview of her parliamentary committee.
Instead, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Thura Shwe Mann, a former general, commanded the spotlight. He rushed the motion for an immediate halt to hostilities in Kachin State to a vote — without discussion — because he said the issue was “vital for the country,” according to Burmese news reports. The strong call was notable because it appeared to reflect the growing influence of Parliament — an institution that did not exist under military rule.
Before the Myanmar government’s announcement, official Chinese news organizations reported that Burmese refugees fleeing the fighting had entered southwestern China, where many were living with relatives and friends.
The reports, which appeared this week, said the number of those arriving in China was growing, but did not give estimates. An article published online by People’s Daily, controlled by the Communist Party, said some hotels near the border between Yunnan Province and Kachin State were fully booked.
The Myanmar Army has been pressing a campaign against the rebel Kachin Independence Army since June 2011, when a 17-year cease-fire collapsed. The rebels controlled a large area in Kachin State and protected it as an autonomous region. The fighting has disrupted Chinese hydroelectric projects in the region and jade mining, an important part of the border trade in Yunnan.
Thousands of Kachin, who are mostly Christian, crossed into Yunnan after the breakdown of the 2011 cease-fire, and many took shelter in refugee camps. Chinese Christians provided aid, as did ethnic Kachin living in China, who are called Jingpo in Mandarin. Last August, officials in Yunnan forced most of the refugees to leave the camps and return to the war zone, drawing criticism from Human Rights Watch and other groups.
Thomas Fuller reported from Bangkok and Edward Wong from Beijing. Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.
January 18, 2013
As Dispute Over Islands Escalates, Japan and China Send Fighter Jets to the Scene
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — The action in the skies over the East China Sea started simply enough.
Last week, the Chinese government sent a civilian surveillance plane, a twin propeller aircraft, to fly near the uninhabited islands at the heart of a growing feud between China and Japan. Tokyo, in response, ordered F-15 fighter jets to take a look at what it considered Chinese meddling. The Chinese then sent their own fighters.
It was the first time that supersonic Chinese and Japanese military fighters were in the air together since the dispute over the islands erupted last year, significantly increasing the risk of a mistake that could lead to armed conflict at a time when both countries, despite their mutual economic interests, are going through a period of heightened nationalism that recalls their longstanding regional rivalry.
The escalation comes amid a blast of belligerent discourse in China and as the Obama administration has delayed a visit to Washington requested by Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister of Japan, the United States’ main ally in Asia. After the rebuff, Mr. Abe announced that he would embark on a tour of Southeast Asia intended to counter China’s influence in the region. On Friday, as Mr. Abe cut short his trip to return to Tokyo to deal with the hostage crisis in Algeria, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington that Mr. Abe would meet with President Obama in the second half of February.
For Japan and China, what began as a seemingly minor dispute is quickly turning into a gathering storm, military analysts and Western diplomatic officials warn, as each country appears determined to force the other to give ground.
“What is really driving things is raw nationalism and fragmented political systems, both on the Japanese and even more so the Chinese sides, that is preventing smart people from making rational decisions,” said Thomas Berger, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University. “No Chinese or Japanese leader wants or can afford to be accused of selling out their country.”
The backdrop for the dispute is the changing military and economic dynamic in the region. In Japan, which rose from utter defeat in World War II to become a prosperous global economic power, many experts talk of a nation preparing for an “elegant” decline. But Mr. Abe has made clear that he does not subscribe to that idea and hopes to stake out a tough posture on the islands as a way of engineering a Japanese comeback.
In contrast, Beijing brims with confidence, reveling in the belief that the 21st century belongs to China — with the return of the islands the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese refer to as the Senkaku as a starting point.
Though Japan is far richer than China on a per-person basis, its economy has been stagnant for years and contracted once again in the second half of 2012. It was hit hard by a slowdown in exports to China after the island dispute erupted in August; Chinese protesters disrupted Japanese plants in China and boycotted Japanese products during the autumn. The value of Japanese exports to China fell by 17 percent between June and November, the World Bank said this week.
China’s fast-growing military still lags behind the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in sophistication of weaponry and training, but Japan’s edge is diminishing, according to Dr. Berger, an expert on the Japanese military, and other Western defense analysts.
For now the Chinese military wants to avoid armed conflict over the islands, Dr. Berger said, but its longer-term goal is to pressure Japan to give up its administration of the islands. That would give China a break in what is known in China as the “first island chain,” a string including the Diaoyu, that prevents China’s growing ballistic submarine fleet from having unobserved access to the Pacific Ocean. Taiwan is part of the “first island chain,” as are smaller islands controlled by Vietnam and the Philippines.
“The Chinese leadership seems to think that the cards are in their favor, and if they push long and hard enough, the Japanese have to cave,” Dr. Berger said.
A senior American military official said that Washington considered China’s decision to send its fighter jets in response to Japan’s to be “imprudent” but not a violation of international law. The Chinese jets had entered what is known as Japan’s Air Defense Identity Zone, but had not infringed Japan’s airspace, the official said.
The United States was watching closely and advising restraint on both sides, because there is no established method of communication — or hot line — between Japan and China that can be used in the event of a confrontation. With jet fighters from both countries aloft last week, “the potential for mistakes that could have broader consequences” was vastly increased, the official said.
The Chinese state-run news media have stepped up their hawkish tone since the episode. On Mr. Abe’s trip to Southeast Asia, which the Chinese say is intended to create a pro-Japan alliance, the overseas edition of The People’s Daily newspaper said, “Even the United States, the world’s sole superpower, acknowledged that it cannot encircle and contain China, so why should Japan?”
Chinese experts express similar views. In an interview, Hu Lingyuan, the deputy director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, described Mr. Abe as a Japanese nationalist who was trying to overextend Japan’s reach. “The Diaoyu conflict keeps escalating,” he said. “A solution is not possible.” And as the commentary became harsher, the Chinese news media stressed reports of training by the military’s East China Sea units. Dozens of J-10 fighter jets participated in a live ammunition drill with the Navy’s East China Sea Fleet, the state run news agency, Xinhua, reported Thursday.
Before returning to Japan, Mr. Abe spoke to reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia. He said he opposed “changing the status quo by force,” and called on China to behave in a responsible manner.
“The seas is a public asset that should not be governed by force but by rule of law that keeps it freely open to all,” he said. “We will work with Asean nations to do our utmost to defend this.” Asean refers to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
With a top United States diplomat, Kurt M. Campbell, in Tokyo this week, Washington is urging both sides to open a dialogue.
But the initial signs are not particularly promising. On Thursday, a former Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama of the opposition Democratic Party, met in Beijing with Jia Qinglin, the chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
The setting looked conciliatory. China, however, used the occasion to make a point that was immediately rejected in Tokyo. Mr. Jia called for talks with Japan over the disputed islands, an idea that Japan has always said was unacceptable. Japanese governments have consistently maintained that the islands rightfully belong to Japan and that there is nothing to discuss.
Martin Fackler contributed reporting from Tokyo. Bree Feng contributed research.
January 18, 2013
Cameron Warns That Britain Could Leave European Union
By JOHN F. BURNS and ALAN COWELL
LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron, who canceled a long-anticipated speech because of a hostage crisis in Algeria involving Britons, planned to deliver an explicit warning that Britain might leave the European Union if changes in its administration were not made, according to excerpts from the speech released Thursday and embargoed until Friday.
According to the excerpts, Mr. Cameron would have said that without changes in the European Union, “the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift toward the exit” — a statement that drew an admonition from President Obama telling Britain not to jeopardize its membership in the European Union, British newspapers reported.
On Thursday, Mr. Cameron canceled his speech, which was to have been delivered Friday in Amsterdam, citing the need to stay in London to be on hand for developments in the hostage crisis in Algeria, where Britons were among the dozens of captives taken by Islamic militants at a natural gas plant operated partly by BP, the British-based oil giant. In Amsterdam, Mr. Cameron had planned to set out an outline of a plan to renegotiate a pared-down role for Britain in the 27-nation European Union, rebuffing the centralizing momentum in other major European nations as they struggle to save the euro, the common currency that Britain has shunned, and to call a referendum by 2018 on the result.
In advance of the speech, Mr. Cameron placed calls on Thursday to Mr. Obama and President François Hollande of France to set out what he would say, British officials said.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Obama “underscored our close alliance with the United Kingdom and said that the United States values a strong U.K. in a strong European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity and security in Europe and around the world.”
The warning came a week after a senior State Department official, Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary for European affairs, said a continued “strong British voice” in an “outward-looking” European Union was in America’s interests, and warned specifically against the referendum on Europe, which is an important component in Mr. Cameron’s plans. “Referendums,” Mr. Gordon said, “have often turned countries inward.”
In the excerpts, Mr. Cameron planned to warn that there was “a gap between the E.U. and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is — yes — felt particularly acutely in Britain.”
“If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift toward the exit,” Mr. Cameron planned to say. “I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success, and I want a relationship between Britain and the E.U. that keeps us in it.”
“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity, or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the Continent,” he was to say, according to the excerpts.
“And yes, of course, we are seeing this frustration with the E.U. very dramatically in Britain,” the excerpts said. “Europe’s leaders have a duty to hear these concerns. And we have a duty to act on them.”
But according to the Press Association news agency in Britain, which published the excerpts, the comments did not reveal whether Mr. Cameron intended to commit himself to a referendum offering Britons a yes-or-no response to continued membership.
John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.
01/18/2013 02:05 PM
Mixed Messages: Poll Shows Growing Support for Europe in UK
Excerpts of British Prime Minister David Cameron's postponed speech show that he would have focused on "increasing" frustration in his country over the EU. But the comments come as a new report indicates that support for Europe in Britain is growing.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his planned address on the future relationship between Britain and the European Union because of the hostage drama in Algeria. But the British leader on Thursday released advance excerpts of the speech he had been planning to deliver in Amsterdam indicating that he was planning to demand future opt-outs from EU policies and to call for a referendum in Britain on a "new deal" with Europe.
Cameron is under considerable pressure from euroskeptic voices within his Conservative Party to take an aggressive stance towards Brussels and the country's EU partners.
"There is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is, yes, felt particularly acutely," the prime minister was to have said. If the challenges aren't addressed, Cameron's draft speech warned, "the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit."
"I do not want that to happen," the draft reads. "I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."
Cameron was to have said that Europe is undergoing "fundamental change" that has been accelerated by the euro crisis. The draft also cites measures taken to prevent the crash of the common currency, which Britain is not a part of, as part of the democratic deficit. "People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent." The draft claimed that frustration with the EU could be seen "very dramatically" in Britain and that it is the duty of Europe's leaders to "hear" these concerns and that the British government has "a duty to act on them." Although Britain is not part of the euro zone, it has contributed to the bailouts of countries afflicted by the debt crisis.
Poll Finds Growing Support for EU
Despite Cameron's assertive tone, anti-European sentiment within the British population appears to be diminishing, especially among 18 to 34 year old, a new poll has found.
The survey -- commissioned by Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the think tank of the center-left Social Democratic Party, and Britain's Fabian Society, conducted by pollster YouGov -- found that two-thirds of Brits within that age group would vote in favor of their country remaining in the EU if it were put up to a vote in a referendum. The reverse held true for those over the age of 60, a segment of the population in which two-thirds believe the country should leave the European political bloc.
The pollster found that the reason for the divide in thinking about the EU is personal experience. Only 19 percent of young Britons say that they have not profited from the Europe, whereas 51 percent of those over 60 make that claim.
A major difference between generations also emerged when asked if major challenges like climate change or the global financial crisis are best addressed by the EU countries working together, with 59 percent of young Brits finding this argument convincing, compared to just 43 percent of those over 60.
The poll could boost the hopes of EU proponents in Great Britain. "The 18-34 age group have grown up with globalization and know that the idea of an isolated Britain outside of the EU belongs to a bygone era," said Emma Reynolds, a member of the British parliament and European affairs spokeswoman for the left-leaning Labour Party.
Euroskeptic Voices Dominate Debate
Still, euroskeptic voices have dominated the public debate over European affairs in Britain for years. That is likely to be made very clear when Cameron finally gives his speech. It is viewed as certain that Cameron will seek to shift a number of regulatory competencies from Brussels back to Britain, and that he will attempt to negotiate a "new deal" with his country's 26 EU partners and give his people the right to vote on it in a referendum. By doing so, he is hoping to contain widespread displeasure over the current status quo in Brussels.
Ironically, the fierce debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU has sparked a palpable shift in public opinion in recent weeks. Last May, 51 percent of Brits said they would support their country leaving the EU, YouGov head Peter Kellner wrote on the pollster's website this week. At the time, only 28 percent of British people said they thought their country should remain in the Union.
In the most recent survey, however, only 42 percent of Brits said they thought the country should leave the European Union, compared to 36 percent who said Britain should stay. Kellner said he believed the trend would continue. He also predicts that if a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU were to be held next year that a majority would vote to continue membership.
The reason is simple, he argues: fear. Warnings from pro-European politicians and industry groups that exiting the EU could adversely impact the investment climate in Britain and cost British jobs appears to be having an influence. In addition, Keller says that if the government were also to offer Brits a "new deal" with the EU, 50 percent would support remaining in the EU. Only 25 percent would be against it.
Greek politicians launch inquiry into former finance minister
George Papaconstantinou faces investigation over claims he failed to crack down on tax evasion and protected relatives
Helena Smith in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 17.38 GMT
A dramatic few weeks lie ahead for Greece after politicians moved on Friday to launch an official inquiry into allegations of misconduct by George Papaconstantinou, the former finance minister universally identified as the architect of the debt-stricken country's first austerity programme.
After a marathon 16-hour debate, Greek MPs voted overwhelmingly to investigate Papaconstantinou following accusations that he not only failed to crack down on tax evasion – widely blamed for the nation's financial woes – but deliberately erased the names of relatives from a list of possible culprits with holdings in the Geneva branch of HSBC.
The LSE-trained economist faces prosecution – and jail – if on the basis of their findings investigators decide by the end of February to try him before a special court.
In an atmosphere made shriller by public fury over belt-tightening, the beleaguered politician vehemently denied the charges, telling the 300-seat house that he had fallen victim to a vicious "smear campaign" and was clearly being made a "scapegoat".
"I did not tamper with the data. It is inconceivable that I would have acted in such a way that would so blatantly involve me," he said in a speech that was by turns poignant, angry and matter-of-fact.
On Friday he issued a statement saying: "The only thing that I want is to be given the opportunity to clear my name from the gross fabrication against me and for accountability to be attributed where it should be."
Highlighting the tensions the affair has unleashed, the debate preceding the 2am ballot was unusually intense, with the socialist Pasok leader, Evangelos Venizelos, who succeeded Papaconstantinou in the job, exchanging heated barbs with the main opposition Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.
The party had proposed that Venizelos also be investigated for failing to act on the list, a dossier of more than 2,000 well-heeled Greeks with offshore accounts in Geneva that was first handed to Papaconstantinou in late 2010 by the then French finance minister, Christine Lagarde. Parliament rejected the motion along with the proposal of two other opposition parties that the former prime ministers George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos be similarly investigated.
"The Lagarde list is not an isolated incident, but the tip of the iceberg," Tsipras railed. "An iceberg that if revealed will show a lot that until now has been hidden under the surface of the waters." The leftist leader insisted the "kleptocratic" political establishment that had brought Greece to the precipice of economic collapse was in cahoots with wealthy tax dodgers whose interests it was determined to protect.
The catalogue of names was first handed to French authorities after a renegade HSBC employee allegedly stole the details of some 24,000 customers with offshore accounts in Switzerland. But while other countries, including crisis-hit Italy and Spain, acted on the list, Greece resisted the urge to rein in much-needed revenue with Papaconstantinou, who has since been expelled from the socialist Pasok party, admitting that he did not know what happened to the original list after his associates copied it on to a USB stick for "security reasons".
Wading into the furore, Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, said this week that she had handed over the data at Papaconstantinou's request because the moderniser seemed determined "to pursue every avenue" in the battle against tax evasion. "Not enough has been done," she told Greek reporters, addressing the issue of tax avoidance. "When we look at revenue it is not on target," she added, exhorting Athens's coalition government to get serious about rooting out tax dodgers if it wanted to receive further financial assistance from the IMF.
As Greeks endure their hardest winter yet, amid record levels of unemployment and poverty, the scandal the Lagarde list has unleashed looks set to deepen as demands mount for a political elite held responsible for the country's economic mess to be punished.
For many the list's mishandling has amplified, in the most egregious way, an indisputable fact: that while low-income Greeks and pensioners have paid a heavy price, enduring relentless cuts and tax increases since the debt crisis erupted, the rich have got off scot free.
01/18/2013 06:06 PM
Snakes and Ladders: Investment Banking on the Brink
By Martin Hesse, Thomas Schulz, Christoph Scheuermann and Anne Seith
For decades, investment bankers have held the key to untold riches -- but now they're being laid off by the tens of thousands. As the crisis forces the industry to search for a new identity, is it ready to mend its ways?
The suicide victims chose a location with symbolic significance. Last fall, only a few weeks apart, a businesswoman and a banker went to the Coq d'Argent, an upscale restaurant and hot spot in the world of London high finance, located on the top floor of a shopping complex, to end their lives.
The woman put down her purse and jumped from the restaurant's cozy rooftop terrace. The banker, an investment specialist, jumped into the building's atrium around lunchtime.
The "City," the casual term the financial center uses in reference to itself, was shocked. The suicides are the most glaring expression of an apocalyptic mood that seems to have gripped all of London. Hospitals are reporting a high incidence of patients with alcohol problems, while top restaurants are fighting for every customer.
The crisis has struck at the heart of the financial center. In 2012, banks began to downsize their investment banking activities. For years, the area had been seen as a playground for those seeking instant riches and guaranteed success, and it provided tens of thousands with sometimes exorbitant incomes.
October 30 would become a horrific day for the financial district after the Swiss bank UBS announced that it was slashing 10,000 jobs in the sector. On one morning alone, the bank's London office let hordes of bankers go. Some were intercepted at the entrance, still carrying their coffee in to-go cups, only to be shown the door a short time later with a piece of paper filled with instructions.
All he felt was hate, says a 51-year-old who was among those affected by the recent layoffs. For him and others like him, the chances of finding a new job are slim. The competition is also doing its utmost to downsize. Morgan Stanley plans to lay off 1,600 employees in the coming weeks, Lloyds is cutting as many as 15,000 jobs worldwide, and Deutsche Bank has just eliminated 1,500 jobs in its investment banking division.
An era seems to be coming to an end, the era of an industry that led us to believe that what it did was useful. In reality, though, it was lining its pockets by conducting more and more reckless transactions and involving itself in increasingly insane deals and products. Senior executives say the business is merely shrinking to a healthy level and characterize it as something like a catharsis.
As former investment bankers search for new identities, arrogance is being replaced with humility. It's important to "improve the way we operate as an organisation," Antony Jenkins, the new CEO of the major British bank Barclays, wrote in a memo to employees. Anshu Jain, co-CEO of Deutsche Bank and the former head of its investment banking division, has promised "cultural change."
While conducting research for this article in Frankfurt, London and New York, SPIEGEL kept hearing the same phrase: "The party is over." The authors met with current and former investment bankers around the world and spoke with them about their sudden decline, their convictions and their self-image. They were told how the industry had become more and more powerful since the 1990s, and how it gradually disconnected itself from the rest of the world in the belief that it could use formulas and financial models to calculate away all risk.
After the scandals of the recent past, many insiders were shaken and introspective. But hardly anyone would admit to having made mistakes. Indeed, all of their actions were informed by the logic of a culture that has developed such perverse incentive systems that it will probably take more than a few years to regulate it back to health.
'The Normal Ones and the Nuts'
Like most of the people we interviewed, a man we'll call Peter Burger was adamant about not being identifiable and insisted on using a pseudonym. And, again like most of our interviewees, he did not conform to the image of the carefully groomed and impeccably dressed investment banker. Burger has a crew cut and wears an off-the-rack suit. With a chuckle, he admits that he only pulled it out of the closet for the interview.
Now he is sitting in a Frankfurt steakhouse, drinking a beer with his rare steak and talking about his industry. "There are two types of investment bankers, the normal ones and the nuts," he says. "The nuts haven't heard the news yet. They're still out buying cars for six-figure sums."
Burger leaves no doubt that he doesn't consider himself one of the nuts. But he does buy and sell securities for his clients, making him one of the most notorious representatives of his species: a trader.
In another conversation, a management consultant from the industry develops a typology of sorts: "There is indeed the poker player type in the business, with a tattoo under his shirt, a considerable ability to cope with stress and a short attention span whose goal is to maximize profits in the short term without regard for what's moral." And then there are the gifted salespeople, he adds, who can persuade customers to buy securities that make sense -- as well as those that don't.
Finally, there are the super-brains: Mathematicians or nuclear physicists who became investment bankers, partly because of the intellectual challenge. These people made the most money because they came up with the formulas for highly profitable structured products, which were then sold millions of times before the crisis.
All of this has little to do with traditional investment banking, say so-called M&A consultants and IPO specialists. They arrange mergers and acquisitions, plan initial public offerings and embody a completely different kind of banker. They come complete with a broad job profile and multiple foreign languages, and they've often had years of training in management consulting firms. In fact, the people working in the trading rooms are about as foreign to them as car salesmen are to professors.
The divides don't just exist between traders and advisers, but also between the German- and English-speaking worlds. In London and New York, people often get into investment banking at 22, pass through three to five levels of management and, by their early 30s, may have reached the position of managing director, the level just below the executive board. In good times, they can enjoy seven-figure annual incomes.
"In London, everyone is like the nuts we have here in Germany," says Burger, a more down-to-earth man. "Cold lone wolves, and extremely unpleasant." There is more money at stake in London, he adds, and the people who work there see themselves as lying at the center of the universe.
The Wild Times
Frank Meier (also a pseudonym) still remembers how he first came into contact with this world 20 years ago. It fascinated him.
It was the 1990s, and Germany's traditional banks wanted to finally get involved in this new, exotic business that promised such tremendous profits. To do so, they lured their first employees away from American competitors, such as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch.
Meier is a friendly man, polite in an almost old-fashioned way, with a pocket square in his sports coat. Nevertheless, he says, the "high-flying investment bankers" impressed him when he was a young man because they were so different from the "stolid" German bankers, "who were virtually unapproachable."
The adventurers from the United States drove Aston Martin convertibles instead of the usual Daimler sedans, slapped everyone on the back and addressed each other by their first names. More importantly, they earned small fortunes with every deal.
At the time, everything seemed possible in investment banking. Politicians worldwide celebrated the industry in their unconditional faith that the market could regulate itself without onerous regulations. In 1986, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher initiated the measures to deregulate financial markets known as the "Big Bang." The United States gradually followed suit until, in 1999, it finally repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prohibited investment banks from doing business with private customers because of the high risks involved and to protect the latter's savings.
Now that it had been unfettered in this manner, the financial market grew at a tremendous pace, and investment banks became giants with branches all across the world. Goldman Sachs alone increased its total assets in a decade, from $152 billion (€114 billion) to more than $1 trillion. In 2006, the average Goldman Sachs employee was making $622,000.
Not surprisingly, the industry attracted some of the most gifted talent, people who were allowed to unleash their creativity. In 1998, a team headed by JPMorgan banker Blythe Masters took apart dubious loans for the first time and repackaged them into securities, which were then sold. And, to the astonishment of German bankers like Meier, the resulting risk was purged from JPMorgan's books.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the industry's glamorous soldiers of fortune were almost effortlessly raking in millions through the privatization of government-owned companies, such as the airline Lufthansa, and acquisitions, such as the merger of the mobile communications giants Mannesmann and Vodafone. Since the invention of Excel, everything under the sun can be calculated on a grand scale, says Meier. "You could model cost synergies and construct scenarios."
It only gradually emerged that the bankers, with their murky forecasts, were often wrong. In fact, studies now show that every other merger was a failure. Nevertheless, the volume of such transactions increased tenfold from 1990 to 2007, to almost $4 trillion worldwide. Investment bankers, it would seem, can be very convincing -- especially when they're banking on high fees.
Conforming to Clichés
The cost of the 2007/2008 financial crisis, which is estimated to be in the trillions, provides a sense of the price of excessive growth. So does a conversation with someone who got out of the business: Rudolf Wötzel, the former head of Lehman Brothers' M&A business in Germany.
Wötzel quit the job in 2007 out of concern that it was destroying him. Today, he runs a hostel for mountain hikers in Switzerland. His hair is longer than it used to be, and now he's wearing jeans and a black-and-white plaid shirt. Still, he hasn't become completely detached from his old world. "I'm on my way into the valley again," says Wötzel. He wants to share his experiences with others. "Not everything about investment banking is bad," he says. "But the industry needs to fundamentally change and publicly express its social and economic role in a self-critical and constructive way."
Wötzel believes that a monoculture has developed in the industry, starting with recruitment methods. "In their recruitment,," he says, "investment banks focus on a handful of elite universities, which produce similar, streamlined types of people."
The investment banks show the candidates glossy brochures depicting the rosy side of the business, and then they roll out the red carpet. But, once on the inside, they discover that things are very different.
"Suddenly the glamorous image is no longer sustainable, and it quickly becomes evident how one-sided the career mechanisms are," says Wötzel. Those who deliver the biggest deals and the most impressive spreadsheets, and are the most skillful at playing the political game, are the ones who succeed. This leaves a mark on people. "Once they have been in investment banking for 10 or 20 years," he says, "they begin to conform to the cliché."
Some who remain in the business say that people like Wötzel are losers who couldn't stand the pressure. On the inside, the winners are seen as "outperformers," and yet many have checked their realistic self-perception at the door. "As a result," Wötzel says, "100 percent of recognition has to come from the outside, through bonuses and promotions, while intrinsic motivation falls by the wayside."
'Less and Less Fun Every Day'
The machine in which Wötzel worked made the banks rich and made it easier for the rest of the world to live on borrowed money. In the end, however, it began to destroy itself, generating one scandal after another.
Banks manipulated the LIBOR interest rate, which affects financial transactions worth hundreds of trillions of dollars. They foisted risky assets on customers and became involved in money laundering and tax fraud. Traders like Kweku Adoboli (UBS), Jérôme Kerviel (Société Générale) and Bruno Iksil (JPMorgan Chase) gambled away billions through risky transactions, either on their own or with their departments.
Former German President Horst Köhler once described the financial markets as a monster controlled by investment banks. Since 2008, politicians have been trying to tame the monster and assume control.
For instance, they want banks to set aside more capital as collateral for risky deals in the future, which means that many areas will hardly be profitable anymore. Banks and bankers are to be forced into a tighter corset -- but they are fighting back. The United States recently -- and yet again -- cast doubt on the chances of seeing new rules introduced. There is also heated debate worldwide over tighter regulation of bonuses, which are sometimes exorbitant.
"It gets to be less and less fun every day," says trader Peter Burger, who believes that the proposed regulations are almost as excessive as the banks' former dealings were.
Bankers are especially upset over the move to sharply curtail personnel costs. There is no other industry in which workers cost as much as in investment banking. "This is the only industry in which labor has exploited capital," jokes one adviser.
For this reason the mass layoffs at UBS -- which is completely abandoning large portions of its investment banking business following the appointment of Axel Weber, the former president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, as supervisory board chairman -- are seen as a warning sign for the entire industry. It is "as if Daimler stopped making sedans," says the head of the German division of a major US investment bank.
The Safer Survivors
US investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald has already had to reinvent itself once before. It lost three-quarters of its staff, a total of 658 employees, in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
Today, Cantor Fitzgerald has 1,600 employees in 30 offices around the world. The company survived not only the 9/11 disaster, but also the recent financial crisis. "We've just gotten much bigger and better," says CEO Shawn Matthews. One reason for this is that Cantor primarily deals in bonds, a sector that's booming now that companies with insufficient access to credit are raising more and more capital through bond issues.
Is this what the investment bank of the future looks like -- Cantor's modest office on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building in Manhattan?
Matthews says that his industry has to find its way back to how things still were in the 1990s, when bankers were compensated differently and such large amounts of debt were not in play. Things only became dangerous, he says, when investment banks transformed themselves from private partnerships into publicly traded companies. As a result, managers no longer felt that they were putting their own money on the line whenever they took major risks.
Cantor Fitzgerald is a privately held partnership with only a limited amount of capital at its disposal, and Matthews is visibly proud of that. "We don't have to worry about the pressures of quarterly (reporting)," he says, "so we have the ability as a group to determine how we can build long-term wealth."
Matthews is convinced that many small and mid-sized banks will completely disappear, partly because -- for the first time in decades -- the "next big thing" that would enable investment bankers to stir up the financial world isn't visible on the horizon. In the 1990s, it was derivatives and, most recently, it was complex mortgage-backed securities. But now the financial wizards seem to have run out of ideas.
"So you start to look at it from the standpoint of what is the new Wall Street," says Matthews. "It's still a great place to have a great living, (a) good lifestyle, the ability to clearly carve out a significant career, but not the world that was kind of the illusionary world that was created by infinite leverage."
But that place is still a long way away.
Smaller, but Still Plenty Risky
Roland Berger, a German management consulting firm, estimates that another 25,000 jobs will be slashed in the coming years as the entire industry rebuilds itself.
"The trend is fundamentally toward the sale of simpler, industrially produced products," says Markus Böhme, an expert with Berger. These instruments are known as "plain vanilla," which is industry jargon for mass-produced and therefore requiring far less personnel.
But will the world of investment bankers truly become less risky?
"The investment banks will get rid of the traders, but not the books," warns Michael, a 35-year-old who worked as a trader of "exotic" products in London for 10 years after training to be a software engineer.
In the wild years, UBS's balance sheet, for example, was inflated with hedging transactions and bets worth 560 billion Swiss francs (€450 billion/$600 billion). The competition argues that downsizing the portfolio will be about as easy as shutting down the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Indeed, only a select group of experts understands what exactly is still lurking in the books of investment banks. "The formulas are simple; it isn't very high-level math," says Michael, "but you have to see the risks." The trick, he adds, is to recognize all contingencies.
Many investment bankers who are losing their jobs are also moving to hedge funds, where they now place their bets in the hidden world of the shadow banks. Others are looking for loopholes and new areas in which to ply their trade. Investment bank Goldman Sachs, for example, is engaging in risky deals for its own account, despite its insistences to the contrary. The bank's financial jugglers are circumventing a ban on such transactions in the United States by simply making bets for longer terms, which are not covered by the law.
Meanwhile, players such as JPMorgan are getting involved in the commodities market in a major way. Of all people, JPMorgan banker Blythe Masters, who became world-famous for the role she played in inventing the first credit derivatives, now heads the bank's global commodities division.
Things haven't changed much in the latest preferred sector of many investment bankers: At first, the banks only hedge against risks, but then they sell these risks and, to do so, they invent new and increasingly complex methods. Eventually, the volume they move around on the financial markets becomes so big that they acquire overwhelming influence. "If you ask me, this is the next scary thing," says one banker.
So is the system incapable of being reformed? Frankfurt personnel consultant Andreas Halin, who has been in the business for many years, answers the question with a telling comparison.
"Money is like saltwater," he says. "The more you drink, the thirstier you get."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
01/18/2013 06:53 PM
Germany's Magic Eight Ball: Lower Saxony Vote Set to Shake Up National Race
Voters in the state of Lower Saxony are heading to the polls on Sunday in a neck-and-neck vote that has profound implications for general elections later this year. The center-left Social Democrats are particularly apprehensive.
Gerhard Schröder is back. On Wednesday evening, the former German chancellor made his way to the small town of Osterholz-Scharmbeck in the state of Lower Saxony to engage in one of his favorite pastimes: campaigning. "Stephan is one of those you can depend on," Schröder assured his audience. "He will do a great job!"
Schröder was referring to Stephan Weil, the Social Democratic candidate who would like to take over the state governorship from David McAllister in elections this Sunday. But for all the praise the former German leader showered on Weil, Schröder's presence at the campaign event was nothing short of an acknowledgement that all is not right in the SPD's world. As the party's best campaigner -- he is to the SPD what Bill Clinton is to US Democrats -- Schröder is only hauled out in moments of need. And Lower Saxony was not supposed to be one of them.
Just a few short weeks ago, polls indicated that Weil, with the help of the Green Party, would easily defeat McAllister's re-election campaign in the last state vote before German general elections. The lead, however, has vanished, with a poll released by tabloid Bild on Friday showing the possible SPD-Green coalition now tied with McAllister's coalition pairing the center-right Christian Democrats with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). Both camps stand at a combined 46 percent. And that is a bad sign for a center-left party that would like nothing more than to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel this fall.
A lot is riding on Sunday's election in Lower Saxony. Several parties are looking to the state with a mixture of fearful anticipation and nervous fatalism. The SPD in particular is looking for a bounce from the state to help it begin making up ground on the national level that it has lost during the last several weeks of slip-ups by its candidate for the Chancellery, Peer Steinbrück.
It has been a steep slide. At the beginning of last October, just days after Steinbrück's candidacy was made official, the SPD shot upwards in the polls, to 30 percent in one nation-wide survey. The former finance minister, who helped Merkel guide Germany through the worst of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, was widely respected by many in the country.
But the bump didn't last. It quickly came out that Steinbrück had spent the few years since the SPD crashed out of government in 2009 on a highly lucrative speaking tour, amassing over a million euros in fees. There is, of course, nothing untoward about his extracurricular earnings. But for a party that sees itself as the political arm of Germany's working class, the headlines generated were not helpful.
Steinbrück has also accelerated the downward trend by tripping over his tongue. In addition to saying that Merkel is the beneficiary of a "female bonus," not the kind of thing that will endear him to women voters, he also complained that the chancellor's salary was too low. Combined with an early December statement that he "wouldn't buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio for only €5," it began to seem as though his own bank account was his primary focus.
Perhaps not coincidentally, a recent poll found that support for the SPD has plunged to a paltry 23 percent. In the last national elections in 2009, the SPD received 24 percent, which was a postwar low. The SPD's decline is attributable in part to the recent rise of two other left-of-center parties, the far-left Left Party and the Greens, the latter of which has established itself as a mainstream group.
It is that plunge in support which has placed so much importance on the Lower Saxony election this Sunday. Should the SPD, combined with the Greens, not unseat McAllister, there are some observers who think the center-left party might consider jettisoning Steinbrück as its general election candidate.
The SPD, however, is not the only party that is apprehensive about Sunday's poll. The FDP is hoping that Lower Saxony can provide the salve on a number of wounds created by months of low poll numbers and a handful of bitter election defeats in recent years. Until this week, that looked like nothing more than wishful thinking. The party had spent months polling below 5 percent in the state, short of the 5-percent minimum necessary for representation in state parliament. Friday's poll, however, had the party at exactly 5 percent. If the FDP gets in, Governor McAllister has a good chance at re-election. If it doesn't, he will be out of a job on Monday.
For the FDP, however, the vote is just as crucial. Its recent string of failures has taken a toll, with many in the party openly questioning the leadership of party head Philipp Rösler, who is also Merkel's economics minister. And on Friday, the attacks got even worse. Speaking to public broadcaster ARD, FDP parliamentary floor leader Rainer Brüderle said that he is in favor of moving up the party's convention, currently planned for May, at which Rösler is up for re-election. It was a clear shot across Rösler's bow, and one immediately joined by Christian Lindner, the FDP state leader in North Rhine-Westphalia and a man with significant influence in the party.
If the FDP manages to eek its way over the 5 percent hurdle on Sunday, Rösler might survive. But if it doesn't, he will almost certainly be pushed out, putting Merkel in the awkward position of facing a cabinet shuffle on the eve of national elections.
The final party whose fate hinges on Sunday's election results are the Pirates. The party, which focuses on Internet and data protection issues, spent much of the last months as the darlings of the German political scene. After its breakout performance in 2011 Berlin city-state elections, the party went on to gain seats in the parliaments of three further states. But the honeymoon would seem to have come to a decisive end. Quarrelling, chaos and an apparent lack of direction have resulted in voters screaming for the exits. Currently, the party is polling a mere 3 percent in Lower Saxony.
Schröder, for his part, was in good form in Osterholz-Scharmbeck on Wednesday. "It is time for a change!" he thundered into the hall as SPD supporters sprang to their feet in applause. Given his party's current malaise, he can only hope that the change comes quickly.
cgh -- with wire reports
January 18, 2013
New Violence in Belfast May Be About More Than the Flag
By JOHN F. BURNS
BELFAST, Northern Ireland — For more than six weeks, it has been a dismal case of back-to-the-future, a crudely sectarian upheaval that has defied all attempts at peacemaking.
The scenes recall the sectarian bitterness that infused the 30 years of virtual civil war known as the Troubles: night after night of street protests marshaled by balaclava-wearing militants, who have updated their tactics by using social media to rally mobs; death threats to prominent politicians, some of whom have fled their homes and hidden under police guard; firebombs, flagstones and rocks hurled at churches, police cars and lawmakers’ offices; protesters joined by rock-throwing boys of 8 and 9; neighborhoods sealed off for hours by the police or protesters’ barricades.
Many had hoped that the old hatreds between Northern Ireland’s two main groups — the mainly Protestant, pro-British unionists, and the mainly Roman Catholic republicans, with their commitment to a united Ireland — would recede permanently under the auspices of the Good Friday agreement. That accord was reached 15 years ago as a blueprint for the power-sharing government that now rules the province.
But the fragility of those hopes has been powerfully demonstrated by more than 40 days and nights of violence that were triggered by a decision to cut back on the flying of the Union Jack, Britain’s red, white and blue national flag, over the grandly pillared, neo-Classical pile City Council building in central Belfast.
By the latest count, more than 100 police officers have been injured, along with dozens of protesters and bystanders. At times, the violence has expanded to other cities, including Londonderry. Business has slumped. Police commanders, their forces overwhelmed, have assigned dozens of officers to scan hundreds of hours of closed-circuit video, looking for ringleaders.
The crisis began modestly enough. The Belfast council, its pro-British members outvoted by a coalition of republicans and a small liberal bloc, decided in early December to limit the flag flying to 18 days a year, as specified by London for all of Britain. Through the decades when the council was dominated by Protestant unionists, committed to links with Britain, the flag flew from the pinnacle of the building every day of the year.
Incongruously, perhaps, most of those 18 days do not represent landmarks in Britain’s history — Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, say, or Germany’s surrender in the Second World War — but the birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II and her family members, including the former Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, on whose 31st birthday, Jan. 9, the Belfast flag fluttered for the first time since it came down in early December. Under Britain’s strict rules about flying the national standard on public and private buildings, not even the Parliament buildings in London fly it on any but government-designated days. But the hauling down of the Belfast flag provoked a furious reaction, the most protracted period of unrest in many years in Northern Ireland.
Among pro-British loyalists, the episode was seen as part of the step-by-step erosion of the British presence, a stripping of what many of them call their identity. Other examples they invoke have also been symbolic, including moves to delete the word Ulster — an ancient designation for the northern Irish provinces commonly used by Protestants but mostly shunned by republicans — from the formal names of the province’s police force and its military reservists, and to remove the British crown emblem from the cap and shoulder badges of prison guards and other public officials.
But many of the province’s political commentators see the flag dispute as a token of something more profound and ultimately more threatening to the hopes for a permanent peace here.
They say the council’s decision on the flag, made possible by the fact that nationalists now hold 24 seats on the council, compared with 21 for the unionists, reflects the rapid growth of the Catholic population in the years since the Good Friday agreement, unsettling the long-held assumption among unionists that Protestants would constitute a permanent majority in the province.
The most recent census results, released last year, showed that 48 percent listed themselves as Protestant or brought up Protestant, down 5 percentage points from the 2001 census, while 45 percent of the population listed themselves as Catholic or brought up Catholic, a 1 percentage point rise. In Belfast, many say, Catholics are already a majority or nearly so and could form a majority across the province within a decade.
Since the Good Friday agreement specified that the province would remain part of Britain as long as a majority of the province’s people and of the population of the whole of Ireland wished it to be, the reasoning goes, Protestants who are resolved never to accept a united Ireland could be right in seeing the flag dispute as a harbinger of their worst fears.
Patricia MacBride, a Catholic whose father was killed by loyalist gunmen and who has been a leader in reconciliation efforts under the Good Friday agreement, said she had always feared that the peace process might founder when Protestants realized that the population numbers were moving against them. With the sense that power was shifting away from them, she said, the sense of betrayal among Protestants had intensified.
“There was always going to be something that triggered this upheaval,” she said. “Increasingly, they feel abandoned by the state whose agents they have been for so long.”
Strong backing for that view was evident on a recent morning in Belfast on Shankill Road, a depressingly run-down loyalist stronghold notorious as a center of sectarian ambushes, bombings and shootings during the Troubles. There the Union Jack was everywhere, atop buildings, in shop windows, in tattoos and in the hands of small children out shopping with their parents. In bars, cafes and shops, “the humiliation” of the flag issue was the center of conversation. In the winter chill, groups of men, mostly unemployed, reinforced one another’s indignation.
On a stretch of the road punctuated with memorials to Protestants killed in the Troubles and to Ulstermen who died in World War I, Paul Shaw, 33, owner of the Shankill Band Shop, boasted of doing a roaring trade during the upheaval, selling thousands of flags and other loyalist memorabilia, including DVDs of patriotic songs sung by Ulstermen on the battlefields of the Somme.
“It’s our flag, our identity; it’s been flown above City Hall every day since 1906, and it’s being stripped from us,” he said. With nods from others clustered around him, he compared the flag battle to the fighting on the Somme. “If we lose this one, we’ll have a united Ireland in 5 or 10 years, and we won’t accept it,” he said. “We’ll die to defend the flag. If we have to, we’ll go back to the graveyards and the jails.”
With no end in sight, leaders of the power-sharing government have voiced anxiety that the protests, by whipping up antagonism among Protestants, could threaten the peace process. But the top two officials in the power-sharing administration — Peter Robinson, the unionist first minister, and Martin McGuinness, the republican first deputy minister, who is Mr. Robinson’s effective coequal — vowed in the province’s assembly on Monday that their commitment to the peace agreement would not be shaken. Mr. Robinson was unsparing in his rebuke to the protesters. “You do not respect the union flag if you are using it as a weapon,” he said, adding that the protests were “a cynical cover for the real political agenda, which is to destroy the political process.”
Mr. McGuinness, a former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army, seemed eager not to draw sectarian comfort from the turmoil in the unionists’ political base.
“I do not believe for a moment that they speak for the vast majority of unionists,” he said of the flag protesters, dismissing their efforts as a crude challenge to the power-sharing arrangements “from people who do not have a mandate and speak for nobody but themselves.”
January 18, 2013
Ukraine Government Plans to Charge Ex-Premier With Murder
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MOSCOW — The government of President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine said Friday that it planned to bring murder charges against his political rival, the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in connection with the 1996 assassination of a member of Parliament.
The charges, which carry a potential sentence of life in prison if she is convicted, are the gravest accusations yet in a series of criminal prosecutions that Western governments have denounced as politically motivated and that Ms. Tymoshenko is fighting in the European Court of Human Rights.
The decision to bring a murder case against Ms. Tymoshenko was announced by Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Pshonka, at a news conference on Friday. He said that Ms. Tymoshenko, and another former prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko, paid $2.8 million to have Yevhen Scherban, who was both a lawmaker and one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, killed in a dispute over business interests.
“The material which has been assembled in the pretrial investigation shows that Tymoshenko indeed ordered the killing together with Lazarenko,” Mr. Pshonka told reporters in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
Ms. Tymoshenko has been jailed since October 2011, when she was convicted on charges of abusing her position in connection with approving a contract to purchase natural gas from Russia. She has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, complaining of judicial missteps and human rights abuses, and a decision is expected soon.
Her supporters said the murder case was an effort by the Yanukovich government to pre-empt a decision by the court, which is expected to verify numerous abuses and order Ms. Tymoshenko’s release. Even a team of American lawyers hired by the Yanukovich administration to review the case has said her legal rights were violated during trial, witnesses were blocked from testifying and she was wrongly jailed before her conviction and sentencing.
“They do not conceal that they want to hold not only the opposition leader but all of Ukraine behind bars for life,” Ms. Tymoshenko’s political party, Ukrainian United Opposition Fatherland, said in a statement on Friday evening.
“Understanding that the European Court of Human Rights will put an end to the dirty and empty tricks against Yulia Tymoshenko in the near future, Yanukovich’s associates have resorted to a deeply brazen and mendacious step,” the party said.
Ms. Tymoshenko, 52, has continued to excoriate Mr. Yanukovich from the prison hospital in eastern Ukraine where she is being held, but she has been having back problems, and one of her lawyers said her health has deteriorated sharply in recent days.
Because of her poor health and inability to appear in court, a judge on Friday suspended proceedings in a second trial against Ms. Tymoshenko, this one on tax evasion charges.
Her imprisonment sidelined her from participation in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections this fall, helping Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions expand its majority. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Yankovich’s main goal is to keep her in jail until after the 2015 presidential election, easing his path to a second five-year term.
January 18, 2013
German Priests Carried Out Sexual Abuse for Years
By MELISSA EDDY
BERLIN — A report about child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, based on victim accounts and released by the church this week, showed that priests carefully planned their assaults and frequently abused the same children repeatedly for years.
The report, compiled from information collected from victims and other witnesses who called a hot line run by the church from 2010 until the end of last year, includes the ages of the victims, the locations of the assaults and the repercussions they have suffered since. The accounts were provided in 8,500 calls to the hot line; they are not representative of abuse cases over all and cannot be individually verified. The church said the report contained information from 1,824 people, of whom 1,165 described themselves as victims.
Germany’s bishops have vowed a thorough and impartial investigation into the abuse. Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, who is looking into abuse cases for the German Bishops’ Conference, told reporters after the report was released on Thursday that it served as an example of that intention.
“I found particularly devastating the perpetrators’ lies to their under-aged victims that their actions were an expression of a loving bond with God,” he said Thursday. Claudia Adams, who said she was assaulted as a child in a preschool run by the church in a village near Trier, works through her trauma by blogging about the abuse scandal. The priest who abused her “told me that I was now ‘closer to God,’ ” she said in a telephone interview on Friday from her home near Trier.
The church’s credibility regarding its commitment to an impartial investigation suffered a fresh blow last week when the bishops canceled an independent study into the abuse scandal amid allegations by the independent investigator, Christian Pfeiffer, that the church was censoring information.
The church insists that it remains committed to carrying out the independent study once a new investigator can be found. Even if the church should produce a report, observers note that it will be a challenge to undo the damage caused by Mr. Pfeiffer’s allegations. “It’s not even about the damage to their image so much as it is to their trustworthiness,” said Andreas Holzem, a professor of church history at Tübingen University.
Many of the victims said their call to the hot line was the first time they had told anyone about assaults that took place decades ago, most between 1950 and 1980, the report said. Many callers broke down in the middle of their stories and, overcome by emotion, simply hung up the phone, it said. Those who told their stories painted a picture of priests who preyed on emotionally vulnerable children, building up their trust and then assaulting them, repeatedly, over a period of several years.
The reported assaults were clustered largely in the country’s heavily Roman Catholic regions along the Rhine River to the west and throughout the south, including Pope Benedict XVI’s home state, Bavaria.
Germans were further outraged by reports this week that two Roman Catholic hospitals in Cologne had refused to carry out a gynecological examination on a 25-year-old suspected rape victim. An emergency doctor who had helped the woman told the newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that the hospitals cited ethical objections to advise women on unwanted pregnancies and on steps that can be taken to prevent them, like the morning-after pill. The Archdiocese of Cologne denied that the church refuses to treat rape victims. The hospitals blamed a “misunderstanding” and said the matter was under investigation.
Latin American women face widespread violence: study
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 18, 2013 16:09 EST
More than half of Bolivian women have suffered domestic violence, according to a report out Thursday that found such abuse widespread in Latin America, with partners usually the perpetrators.
In seven of the 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries surveyed by the Pan American Health Organization, more than one in four women reported having experienced such brutality in their lifetimes.
At 17 percent, women in the Dominican Republic reported the lowest level of domestic violence. It was followed by its neighbor Haiti, the poorest country in the region, with 19 percent.
PAHO pointed to social and cultural norms that support violence against women in the region, including that “there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten” and “a man has a right to assert power over a woman and is considered socially superior.”
It also found that physical violence is considered an “acceptable way” to resolve conflict in a relationship and that sexual activity — including rape — is a “marker of masculinity.”
Even when looking at just a 12-month period, rather than an entire lifetime, the report found that more than a quarter of women — 25.5 percent — in Bolivia reported physical or sexual violence in 2008.
The lowest ratio, at 7.7 percent, was in El Salvador (2008) and Jamaica (2008-2009).
In up to 82 percent of cases, women suffered physical injuries, ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones, miscarriages and burns.
Despite the abuse, between 28 percent and 64 percent of victims did not speak to anyone or seek help, according to the 156-page report, titled “Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The analysis of more than 180,000 women also showed that women who were beaten in childhood reported violence at the hands of their partners as adults at higher rates than those who were not hit when they were young.
“In addition to violating basic human rights, violence against women has serious consequences for the health of women and their children and impacts heavily on health services and health workers in the region,” said PAHO Director Mirta Roses.
In all countries except Paraguay, women said a partner’s drunkenness or drug use was the most common trigger for violence. The second most commonly cited cause was jealousy.
PAHO, which is based in Washington, warned that violence against women has consequences across generations, with violence against women and against children often taking place in the same household.
“When women experience violence, their children suffer,” it said.
“Growing evidence suggests that when children witness or suffer violence directly, they may be at increased risk of becoming aggressors or victims in adulthood.”
The report said that children living in households where women were subject to violence were at significantly greater risk of being punished with hitting, beating, spanking or slapping.
Countries participating in the study included Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. Data was culled from national surveys conducted between 2003 and 2009.
Accused gang rape attackers go to fast-track court in India
By Jason Burke, The Guardian
Friday, January 18, 2013 9:05 EST
Trial of five men accused of Delhi bus attack to open on Monday
The trial of the five men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a young woman will open on Monday in a special fast-track court in Delhi, an Indian magistrate has ordered.
The brutal attack on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student last month led to widespread protests across the country as well as an unprecedented debate about cultural attitudes to women in India.
In the aftermath of the attack, the government, widely criticised for its slow response and for turning riot police on protestors demanding better protection for women, has introduced a number of measures including five fast-track courts in the capital to deal swiftly with crimes against women. Other projects of police and legal reform are still under consideration.
The courts are aimed at avoiding the delays, incompetence and corruption that plague much of India’s legal system and are particularly common in cases of sexual abuse. Though it was never likely that graft would undermine such a high-profile trial, other cases involving similar offenses have collapsed when witnesses have been intimidated.
Namrita Aggarwal, the magistrate at the south Delhi court where pre-trial hearings have been heard, completed the formalities for sending the case to a fast-track court on Thursday afternoon. Five men will appear in the court in Monday. Aged between 18 and 35, they include a bus driver, a part-time gym instructor, a cleaner and a fruitseller.
A sixth suspect in the attack claims to be a juvenile. Reported to be 17, his case is being handled separately. There have been loud public calls for him to face the death penalty with the other accused.
Lawyers for the five adults detained two days after the attack have claimed that police “tortured” them, including beating them to force them to confess to the crime, which occurred on 16 December. Such abuse is endemic in India and legal experts described the claims were “credible”.The police say the men are linked by DNA evidence to the crime.
VK Anand, a lawyer for one defendants, said on Thursday he would try to get the rape trial moved from Delhi since he did not believe his client would get a fair hearing in the capital. The case has revealed deep cultural tensions within India, setting conservatives who often blame Western influences for such incidents against campaigners for greater rights for women.
Police say the victim and a male friend, going home from an evening movie, had boarded a bus going in south-west Delhi at around 9pm.
Witness statements seen by the Guardian indicate that the men set up a trap for unsuspecting “customers” with several posing as passengers to entice possible targets for robbery or worse.
The attackers beat the man and took turns raping the woman and penetrated her repeatedly with a metal bar, causing massive internal injuries, police said. During the attack the bus was driven through a series of police checkpoints without incident, police said.
The victims were eventually dumped on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The attack focused attention on the little discussed issue of sexual violence in a country where women are still often regarded as second-class citizens. Victims are often blamed for sexual attacks, by their families or authorities, and the shame of rape keeps many women from reporting attacks.
Since the gang rape, though, sexual violence has become front-page news nearly every day across India, with demands that the government do more to protect women and prosecute those that attack them.
The Times of India reported the case of an 11-year-old abducted from a bus stop in the north-western state of Rajasthan and repeatedly raped by six men. After repeated operations she is still “fighting for her life” in hospital, the newspaper said.
© Guardian News and Media 2013