North Korea defiant as UN security council condemns rocket launch
Regime vows to strengthen nuclear deterrent after UN says it will take 'significant action' against further missile tests
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 January 2013 07.21 GMT
North Korea has vowed to strengthen its nuclear deterrent and other military capabilities after the United Nations security council condemned its latest rocket launch.
Analysts warned that the prospects of a third nuclear test by the regime had increased after its harsh response to the resolution, which extended sanctions against the North and expressed the council's determination to take "significant action" against further missile or nuclear tests.
North Korea says it sent a satellite into orbit in December for peaceful and scientific purposes. But the council said it breached the ban on nuclear and missile activity, because the launch technology is near-identical to that required for long-range missiles.
China, which has veto rights as a permanent member of the council, agreed to Tuesday night's resolution after sections were removed from an earlier draft. It has often blocked proposals for strengthened measures against its ally and neighbour in the past.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution "demonstrates to North Korea that there are unanimous and significant consequences for its flagrant violation of its obligations under previous resolutions".
The security council reiterated its demand that the North cease further launches and end its nuclear weapons programme in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner".
The angry response from Pyongyang's foreign ministry said the North "should counter the US hostile policy with strength, not with words" and warned it would "bolster the military capabilities for self-defence including the nuclear deterrence".
"There can be talks for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearisation of the peninsula," it added.
The statement "considerably and strongly hints at the possibility of a nuclear test", the analyst Hong Hyun-ik, of the private Sejong Institute thinktank near Seoul, told Associated Press.
The North tested nuclear devices shortly after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009, and last month the 38 North blog said analysis of satellite photos showed continued activity at a nuclear test site.
But Yang Moo-jin, of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told Reuters: "North Korea will likely take a sequenced strategy where the first stage response would be more militarily aggressive actions like another missile launch."
Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the University of Sydney, said the resolution was "not helpful".
He said: "It is just a sign of frustration. Diplomacy doesn't work, military threats simply turn it into a worse situation, and nobody is prepared to give way in this standoff."
He added: "Sticks without carrots do not work. A combination of sanctions with the prospect of engagement would be much more conducive to resolving the situation.
"North Korea does not want to abandon its nuclear programme. They have to develop it further, which means more tests … It looks like after the resolution, the nuclear test is now looming sooner rather than being postponed."
He said there were hopes that Park Geun-hye, South Korea's incoming president, would bring a "more pragmatic, less ideological and more stable" policy towards the North than that adopted by her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who ended Seoul's "sunshine policy" of engagement and aid.
But Daniel Pinkston, the north-east Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, warned that if a nuclear test went ahead, "any ideas or initiatives that she is thinking about or planning will pretty quickly become impossible".
He added: "As far as sanctions achieving the intended outcome, I don't see that happening. The people named are national heroes from the North Korean perspective."
While Rice said the resolution introduced new sanctions, others argued it had only extended previous measures, so that more government bodies and individuals – such as the space agency and the man who runs it – will have their assets frozen and face a global travel ban.
Li Baodong, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, described the resolution as "generally balanced", the state news agency Xinhua reported. He noted that measures which China believed would jeopardise normal trade had been removed.
He added: "Sanctions and resolutions alone do not work. Resolutions must be completed and supplemented by diplomatic efforts."
The six-party aid for disarmament talks stalled in 2009 and a deal with the US – which would have placed a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for food – collapsed after the North carried out an unsuccessful rocket launch in April last year.
January 22, 2013
India Warns Kashmiris to Prepare for Nuclear War
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — Indian officials are advising residents of strife-torn Kashmir to prepare for a possible nuclear war by building bombproof basements and stockpiling food and water, adding to tensions between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, after deadly cross-border skirmishes in recent weeks.
“People should construct basements where the whole family can stay for a fortnight,” read the advisory, which was published Monday in the newspaper Greater Kashmir. It comes in the midst of the worst fighting in Kashmir between India and Pakistan since a cease-fire was signed in 2003. Three Pakistani and two Indian soldiers have been killed, and one of the Indian soldiers was found without his head.
News of the mutilation infuriated Indians, with Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the lower house of Parliament, calling for India “to get at least 10 heads from their side” if the Pakistanis did not return the soldier’s head. After criticism that he was not doing enough, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India said he was reviewing ties with Pakistan. A special visa program between the two countries has been suspended, and Pakistani players in a new Indian field hockey league have been sent home.
Officials insisted that the advisory published Monday was unrelated to these developments. Yoginder Kaul, the inspector general of the Civil Defense and State Disaster Response Force, said the advisory was meant to commemorate the first anniversary of the creation of his unit.
“It has nothing to do with anything else,” Mr. Kaul said in a telephone interview. “It was a routine advisory issued on our raising day to create awareness among people.”
If so, it was remarkably ill timed. The advisory suggested that people build shelters in open spaces in front of their houses if they did not have basements because “some protection was better than no protection,” according to an article about the advisory in Greater Kashmir. Food and water should be restocked regularly, and ample candles and battery-operated lights should be included, it said.
If in the open during a nuclear attack, a person should “immediately drop to ground and remain in lying position,” the advisory said.
“Stay down after the initial shock wave, wait for the winds to die down and debris to stop falling. If blast wave does not arrive within five seconds of the flash, you were far enough from the ground zero.”
“Expect some initial disorientation,” the advisory added, “as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features.”
Abdul Qaiuum of Silikote, a village close to the dividing line on the Indian side, said in a telephone interview that neither he nor his neighbors were constructing new bunkers. “No firing is taking place,” he said. Besides, he added, “we are under two to three feet of snow in the village.”
Even after both governments embarked on efforts to improve ties after decades of war and recriminations, Kashmir remains a troubled region. India, heavily Hindu, controls the bulk of the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir, which has been at the heart of disputes between the two nations since they won independence from Britain in 1947. The land along the cease-fire Line of Control is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world.
The latest clashes started when an elderly woman on the Indian side decided to use a secret entrance into Pakistani territory so that she could see her children living on the other side, according to a report in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper. After the Indian military discovered the tunnel, it built emplacements to prevent its use.
But those emplacements violated the terms of the cease-fire with Pakistan, and Pakistani soldiers repeatedly warned their Indian counterparts to desist, which the Indians ignored.
Firing weapons across the cease-fire line is not unusual, but the beheading, which the Pakistan government denies responsibility for, added a volatile mix to the politically charged debate. Previous mutilations of soldiers’ bodies have generally been kept secret to avoid just the sort of news media firestorm that has erupted. National elections are scheduled to be held in Pakistan by May and in India by sometime in 2014.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
January 22, 2013
Japan Makes Overture to China in Islands Dispute
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — A member of Japan’s coalition government arrived in Beijing on Tuesday with a letter for the head of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, from the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to try to help calm an escalating dispute between the two countries over contested islands in the East China Sea, Japanese officials said.
Separately, the Philippines announced on Tuesday that it would formally challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea before a United Nations tribunal that oversees the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Philippines has been in a bitter argument with China since last spring, when China effectively took control of a series of rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea known in the Philippines as Scarborough Shoal and in China as Huangyan Island.
The Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, Albert del Rosario, said in Manila that China’s claim to much of the South China Sea was “unlawful.” China has “interfered with the lawful exercise by the Philippines of its rights within its legitimate maritime zones,” Mr. del Rosario said.
He emphasized that resorting to the tribunal meant that the Philippines could “present our case against China and defend our national interest and maritime domain before an independent international tribunal.” International law, he said, will be “the great equalizer.”
China drew up a map in the late 1940s that marked its territorial claims in the South China Sea — by some estimates, about 80 percent of the sea — with what it refers to as the nine-dash line. The country has consistently said it will not agree to arbitration by an international tribunal regarding counterclaims. Legal experts said that a matter brought before such a panel required negotiations, and that without China’s presence it was unlikely that a proceeding could take place.
“This is what I don’t see taking place,” said Jay L. Batongbacal, an assistant professor of law at the University of the Philippines in Manila.
A Chinese expert on the Asia-Pacific region, Su Hao of China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, agreed with that assessment.
Both China and the Philippines need to agree on arbitration for the case to proceed, Professor Su said. “The Philippines action is ineffective,” he said. “It’s making trouble out of nothing.”
Aside from China and the Philippines, three other countries in Southeast Asia — Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam — make claims to islands in the South China Sea. So does Taiwan.
China’s increasingly aggressive claims in the South China Sea, and the tensions with Japan in the East China Sea, have raised concerns in the Obama administration as Washington has indicated that it plans to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Philippines, an American ally, has felt particularly aggrieved because China has kept patrol boats in the waters around Scarborough Shoal, preventing Filipino fishermen from using their traditional fishing grounds in a lagoon there.
Washington brokered an agreement last spring that called for the Philippines and China to withdraw government vessels from the area, American officials said. But after complying, China sent surveillance ships back and stretched a cable across the mouth of the lagoon, preventing Filipino fishermen from going there, the officials said.
The Philippines plans to contest all of China’s claims in the South China Sea, not just its claims on Scarborough Shoal, Mr. del Rosario said.
In the dispute between Japan and China, it was not immediately clear whether the visiting Japanese politician — Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the New Komeito Party, which is considered less hawkish than the governing Liberal Democratic Party — would meet with top Chinese officials.
An official of the China-Japan Friendship Association, which appeared to be handling Mr. Yamaguchi’s visit, said after his arrival that the schedule for Mr. Yamaguchi during his stay in Beijing had not been made final.
Mr. Yamaguchi’s visit comes amid a drumbeat of bellicose commentary in the Chinese state-run news media about the need for China’s military to prepare for war, and criticism of Mr. Abe for trying to form alliances with China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia.
The feud over the islands, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, reached a dangerous new level nearly two weeks ago, when both Japan and China scrambled jet fighters over the East China Sea. The United States is obligated under a security treaty with Japan to defend the islands, which were handed back to Japan by Washington in 1972 as part of the return of Okinawa.
In a speech in Hong Kong on Wednesday, a former Chinese diplomat, Ruan Zongze, said China wanted a peaceful resolution of border issues.
“We are absolutely committed to peaceful resolution, peaceful dialogue,” said Dr. Ruan, a vice president at the China Institute of International Studies, a research group in Beijing that is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.
Dr. Ruan said the Chinese military remained under the control of the Communist Party. “Even if the military wants to be more aggressive, the party will push the brake,” he said in an interview before his speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 22, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of the Philippines’ argument with China over its claims in the South China Sea, and the timing of a temporary resolution brokered by the United States. The standoff and the resolution both took place last spring, not last summer.
01/23/2013 11:26 AM
EU Speech: Cameron Says Britain to Hold 'In or Out' Referendum in 2017
In a sweeping address on Britain's future role in Europe, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said his country would hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017. Without reform, he has warned, Britain may choose another path.
In his strongest warning to Europe yet, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that he planned to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union by the end of 2017.
"I don't just want a better deal for Britain," David Cameron said in his sharply critical and long-awaited speech on London's future relations with Brussels. "I want a better deal for Europe too." He went on to describe major challenges, including high debt, a lack of competitiveness and the people's diminishing trust in European institutions. The union, he argued, must urgently be reformed.
"The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change," Cameron said, "but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy."
Without reform, he warned, "the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit". With that statement, Cameron continued on to the most important point of his speech with his announcement that, if he is re-elected, he will offer the British people a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether the country should stay in the EU. He described it as a "very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether."
Cameron said his decision is based on the crisis of confidence in the European Union, saying that the people no longer feel represented. He described an acute feeling in Britain that more and more power is flowing to the EU, treaty after treaty is changing the balance of power between member states and the EU and "they were never given a say." The result of this, he said, is that "democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin." People, he warned "feel that the EU is now heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain's comfort zone."
The British leader said it is not his goal for Britain to exit the EU. "I want the European Union to be a success," he said. "And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in." Noting that Britain wanted to remain in NATO because it was in its national interest to stay, he also said that "we have more power and influence ... if we act together."
Still, it is likely that euroskeptics in Britain and in Europe will applaud Cameron's speech. "Would Britain collapse if we left the EU? No, of course not," Cameron told the BBC last week. "You could choose a different path. The question is, what is in our national interest?"
'All This Doesn't Make Us Somehow Un-European'
Without radical reforms, he warned, Europe cannot continue. He also named five principles upon which a future EU shold be anchored: competitiveness, flexibility, power must flow back to member states, democratic accountability and fairness. If these challenges aren't addressed, he warned, "the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit."
Cameron also sought to explain the strong will of the British people when it comes to the conditions of its EU membership. "I know that the United Kingdom is sometimes seen as an argumentative and rather strong-minded member of the family of European nations," he said. "And it's true that our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation: independent, forthright, passionate in defense of our sovereignty." He also argued that the European Union is a means to an end for Britain.
"We insistently ask: how, why, to what end?" he said. "But all this doesn't make us somehow un-European."
In Brussels, Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament and a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), sharply rebuffed Cameron's criticism. In an interview with German public radio station Deutschlandfunk, he said that the reforms necessary to make the EU more effective, more transparent and leaner had failed in part because Britain had blocked them. "They are the ones who are largley responsible for the delays in Europe and also the ones pointing their fingers at Europe."
For the full text of Cameron's speech, click here.
01/22/2013 06:57 PM
An Arduous Friendship: Differences of Opinion Mark Franco-German Relations
An Analysis By Mathieu von Rohr
Though France and Germany are coming together this week to celebrate 50 years of postwar friendship, the two countries are growing further apart. Both countries are less interested in finding common ground on important issues and that attitude is preventing them from solving problems facing Europe.
It's time to stop talking about Franco-German friendship . At least that's what Bruno Le Maire believes. Le Maire, who served as France's agriculture minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and also as the state secretary in charge of European Affairs, likely knows Germany better than anyone else in France's National Assembly.
Le Maire visits Berlin regularly, speaks excellent German and considers Chancellor Angela Merkel to be a politician of "historical magnitude." Yet Le Maire feels few in France share his affinity for their country's eastern neighbor. He is worried about Franco-German relations, and has been for some time.
People in the two countries respect one another, Le Maire says, but their cultures and their political traditions are in many ways diametrically opposed. On both sides of the border, fewer and fewer people are learning the other country's language, and the two nations hold fundamentally differing views of what Europe should be. "The relationship between our two countries is a difficult one," Le Maire says. "We need to recognize that fact and take it as our starting point."
Le Maire calls for a new kind of honesty and a sober approach in interactions between France and Germany. "For decades the focus of Franco-German relations was bringing the two countries closer, creating a 'Franco-German friendship.' But that's no longer enough," Le Maire says. "We need to start from a simple acknowledgement that this relationship is not something that happens naturally. If we start from the false assumption that it will be easy, we will always be disappointed."
This week Berlin marks, with great pomp and circumstance, the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, signed by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President General Charles de Gaulle on Jan. 22, 1963. Also known as the "treaty of friendship," this historical document laid the foundation for postwar rapprochement between the two countries.
Many speeches are being given this week, both in the German parliament and elsewhere, many evocations of all that has been achieved, well-deserved praise for this historical reconciliation -- and of course there will be a degree of hypocrisy as well. Franco-German relations are certainly worthy of celebration. But the fact is that this anniversary comes at something of an inopportune time for both sides.
Ever since de Gaulle embraced Adenauer after the signing of the treaty, demonstrative displays of affection have been part and parcel of relations between France and Germany.
Yet Le Maire is not the only one who feels the talk of friendship rings a bit hollow 50 years on, given the reality of the differences of opinion between the two countries on how to approach the euro crisis. The term "Franco-German friendship" is indeed a somewhat "unfortunate" turn of phrase here, admits Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament with the Green Party who holds both German and French citizenship. More accurate, Cohn-Bendit suggests, would be to speak of a "Franco-German enmity."
French politician Jacques Delors , a former president of the European Commission, told SPIEGEL this week, "I've seen it all too often, how a German chancellor and a French president try to make the people believe there's this great friendship between them." Delors then added, "Enough with the embraces, the sauerkraut and drinking beer together. I prefer to see Merkel and Hollande publicly speak their minds."
That last point is something the two leaders have done often in recent months. In fact, Germany and France disagree on most points when it comes to solving the euro crisis or looking to Europe's future. This has been the case since well before François Hollande's election as president.
Paris doesn't understand why Berlin keeps putting on the brakes in the euro crisis, or why Merkel has rejected all proposals to collectivize a portion of the euro zone's debt and instead favors the introduction of new Europe-wide budget controls. France doesn't share Germany's faith in the formula of reducing government spending and decreasing wages, but rather believes growth and austerity can't occur simultaneously, and that in any case it would be impossible to compete with China for the lowest prices. Hollande's government considers preserving Europe's social system a more important goal.
Germany, for its part, is concerned by the limited willingness to implement reforms Hollande has demonstrated during his first months in office, and fears the French president has not fully understood the gravity of the crisis. France, meanwhile, is annoyed at how publicly the German government has expressed these concerns. The most helpful thing Berlin could do, say those close to Hollande, would be to stop publicizing those sorts of comments.
Merkel's call last year for a "political union" in Europe caught France unprepared, and Paris is still frustrated that it thus ended up on the defensive. As a result, Merkel came across as the good pro-EU European, and Hollande as the one blocking the plan, unwilling to give up any of his own powers.
Hollande's administration remains unsure whether Merkel truly believes in a political union and how exactly she envisions such a construct, or if the proposal was simply a clever political move. With so much mutual mistrust in play, it's hardly surprising that Germany and France manage to take baby steps at most, struggling their way from one hard-fought compromise to the next. In both capital cities, the mood is one of politely controlled frustration.
Still, the fact that France and Germany pursue different goals is nothing new. This was the case even with the Elysée Treaty, which Adenauer favored as a way to finally bind Germany to the West -- in other words, the United States, Britain and France -- while de Gaulle saw it as a way to create a counterbalance to the United States and the United Kingdom. Both leaders were aware they were pursuing different aims, but also that each needed the other.
Such unspoken, underlying agendas are as much a part of Franco-German relations as the grand gestures are, with the most significant of these being France's concern that Germany will once again start to dictate policy in Europe. Both sides also seek to shape the EU in their own image, and both want to implement their own economic policy traditions.
In France, well-known journalist Arnaud Leparmentier recently published a book whose last chapter is titled "Let Us Bid Goodbye to Franco-German Relations." Leparmentier describes decades of interactions between French and German leaders incapable of reaching agreements. Together, the author says, these leaders have contributed to bringing both the EU and the euro to the brink of collapse.
Not Speaking the Same Language
The relationship between these two countries "is not something that happens naturally," Le Maire says. "Our systems are entirely opposite," the politician explains. "One is a federal system, with power held by parliament, while the other is a centralist system, with the president holding power." And because there are few leading politicians in either country anymore who speak the other country's language, Le Maire continues, each side is no longer able to understand the way the other thinks.
At the same time, large blocs are forming elsewhere in the world -- in China, India and South America, for example -- that are eroding Europe's importance. Germany and France don't need sentimental rhetoric, Le Maire says -- instead they need to commit to concrete common goals, out of strategic interest: unified tax and social policies, a common labor market, a clear direction for the euro zone and better European integration. Le Maire, who presented his "Agenda 2020" for Franco-German relations in the newspaper Le Figaro this Monday, says he is waiting to hear Hollande's response to Merkel's proposed political union.
The postwar rhetoric of friendship that sometimes rings hollow nowadays is not the only problem here, nor is it the miniscule steps that seem to be the only progress the two countries are capable of making on the euro crisis. There is another problem entirely in Franco-German relations, and that is an increasing lack of interest on both sides.
A survey conducted last week in both countries suggests that the two nationalities value one another, but more than anything they think in terms of clichés: The French respect the Germans and see them as disciplined, while the Germans like the French and their way of life, but neither side shows a particular interest in the other. The days of youth exchange programs are long past, and France no longer represents the exotic coming-of-age experience for young Germans that it did for the generation that came of age in the 1960s.
In a video message last week, Merkel called on all Germans to learn French, saying that speaking the language is essential for a better understanding of Germany's neighbor. Perhaps, then, Merkel could lead by example: Whenever she meets with Hollande and no interpreters are on hand, the two communicate in broken English.
Mathieu von Rohr is SPIEGEL's Paris correspondent.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
01/23/2013 02:08 PM
The World From Berlin: 'Merkel and Hollande Seem to Get Along After All'
Tuesday's celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the German-French friendship treaty masked deep differences between the nations. But those differences have always existed, and the countries seem committed to keep on tackling them with compromises that are crucial for Europe, write German commentators.
At a grand ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany and France celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty that sealed the alliance between the two former enemies after two world wars.
The continuing festivities in Berlin are focusing on the historic rapprochement between the two nations, and on their achievements -- the European single market, the European Union itself and the euro would have been unthinkable without the Franco-German alliance, still seen as the engine driving European integration.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande stressed their common values and hailed the importance of the partnership for Europe. They said they would bridge differences on the shape of Europe's currency union and present joint proposals for deeper economic and fiscal integration before a summit of EU leaders scheduled for June.
German media commentators said the relationship remains crucial for the Continent and noted that Merkel, a conservative, and her leftist Socialist Party counterpart Hollande, appear to be getting along better now after an uneasy start last May, when newly elected Hollande vowed to reverse German-backed austerity policies.
Newspaper editorials said the speeches hailing the friendship between the two nations masked deep rifts in core areas such as the euro crisis in addition to foreign and security policy. But, the commentators added, those differences have always existed, and that European integration has always made most progress when Germany and France have been open about what divides them -- and then reached a compromise.
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Amid all the grand and in some cases moving speeches marking the German-French anniversary, one observation of real political significance stood out: the two do get on after all. The chancellor and the president have reached a significant agreement. They will work out proposals by May for a reform of the euro group, and they will present an agreed package of reforms to the European Council, the powerful EU body comprised of the 27 leaders of the EU member states, in June. That means: If Germany and France agree on a reform, then Europe will get this reform. After months of irritation and mistrust, this is the first sign that the countries will move forward with a better coordinated economic policy, with budgetary control and with efforts to boost competitiveness."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The impressive range of events and speeches befitted the significance of the day. A treaty was celebrated that was agreed 50 years ago and which put the German-French relationship on a new foundation: centuries of enmity were replaced by a friendship established in peace between two peoples whose governments cooperate ever more closely."
"The cooperation in the framework of the Élysée Treaty as a basic pillar of the policies of the two countries was never seriously called into question -- despite all the changes in the world and in Europe, which also entailed tensions in the German-French relationship."
"The coming weeks and months will show whether the words of this day will be followed with deeds, whether for example the German-French initiative can lead to the resolution of the budget dispute in the EU. The chancellor welcomed the military intervention in Mali because France was acting in the European interest there, she said. But if the conflict becomes drawn-out, Paris may soon require more material support. Germany should then be prepared for that."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"Historians would say that a further 50 years are needed to truly free both countries of the shadows of the past. But relations between France and Germany are already governed by normality. Normality means the capacity to criticize, and that happens to be sobering."
"Of course the two societies and national cultures are very different and in parts seem antagonistic, but our two countries are like communicating pipes. Friendship is a big word, however. What is meant in historical terms is the absence of hostility, enmity and war. Today we experience a form of competition which in part also means nonchalance, even indifference. To have managed that is a great historic achievement: by politicians but especially by the two peoples, who show real interest in each other."
"One day after the Élysée celebrations, David Cameron will hold his Europe speech. The skepticism of the British, their non-conformity and their liberalism were always a driving force for Europe. Nothing is final. We need a German-British axis today. From now on the focus must no longer be on the past, but on the future of the continent."
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Much has been said and written about German-French similarities. A lot of rubbish. In truth, the German-French friendship thrives on the huge differences between the two countrieis. They have always needed to make a tremendous effort to reach an agreement. And whenever the two countries mustered the will to do so, Europe made progress."
"Paris has provided an impressive reminder in recent days of how necessary it is to make this effort once again. The French military intervention in Mali doesn't just show how fundamentally the Germans and French differ in their attitude towards war, it also shows that they urgently need to agree."
"Germany and France could comfortably live side by side for many years if -- yes if! -- reality didn't get in the way. There are situations that require military intervention. The spread of terrorist organizations in the Sahel region is one of them: Anyone who doubts that should take a look at the dreadful hostage-taking in Algeria."
Europe finally needs to pool its military resources and arrive at a common military strategy, the newspaper writes. To that end, the continent needs "the political will to launch a public debate to arrive at a common approach on what is strategically necessary. If Germany and France managed this difficult task, most of the other countries of Europe could presumably join. True, such a radical plan doesn't fit in with the political reality of Europe and Germany. But who could have imagined 50 years ago that German-French reconciliation would actually work?"
In an editorial published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was produced together by that newspaper and the staff of Paris-based Le Monde, the French newspaper's editorial director and respected intellectual Sylvie Kauffmann, wrote on Monday:
"Merkel and Holland don't have any great sympathy for each other. Times are hard -- and the euro crisis has left its mark. But so what? Merkel and Holland aren't Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle; not even Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. And 2013 isn't 1963. Between those years, the world, including France and Germany, has undergone a few upheavals. The Soviet Union broke up, the Cold War ended, Germany is reunited. The deutsche mark disappeared and the euro was born. Globalization has changed the world and China has become its second biggest economic power."
"In the globalized world, Germany has greater weight than France. But in Washington or Beijing, it is not to the Franco-German pair that they look, but to the EU as a whole. And if you look at a map of the EU from afar, Germany is the biggest blot. That's the reality in 2013. Despite this, there is no substitute for the Franco-German duo, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine said -- neither in the form of a Franco-British tandem or a German-Polish one. If Europe is to advance, then Germany and France are condemned to get along with one another. They are two very different countries, but that is also the idea behind creating a treaty for their indispensable partnership because it obligates them to create the framework within they are compelled to work together."
"It may be that this partnership is sometimes difficult to maintain, but it is also undignified to exhibit these differences too publicly. In any case, the people of these countries have learned to live and work together. Sometimes they even create newspapers together."
-- David Crossland
Czech Republic: Beneš Decrees become campaign weapon
22 January 2013
Lidové noviny , Respekt, Mladá Fronta DNES
The question of the Beneš Decrees has become one of the big issues in the Czech presidential race. “Karel Schwarzenberg has fallen into the trap of nationalism,” writes Lidové noviny three days before the second round.
During a televised debate with his opponent Miloš Zeman, the Liberal-Conservative candidate said that the Decrees, which saw the Germans expelled and their belongings confiscated [after World War II], would have seen President Beneš hauled before the Hague Tribunal on war crimes, had it existed then. “This isn’t to say their former properties in the Czech Republic should be open to restitution claims,” he added, “however, this also does not mean they should not be evaluated from a moral and historical point of view.”
Zeman has responded by accusing Schwarzenberg of being a foreigner. He has accused him of having an Austrian wife whose father was a Nazi sympathiser and of “behaving like a Sudeten German”. However, Lidové noviny recalls, even Zeman, when he was prime minister, said in 2002 that “the issue of the Beneš Decrees has been consigned to the past.”
Karel Schwarzenberg has also had to face nationalist attacks from the family of outgoing President Václav Klaus, who backs Miloš Zeman. Klaus's wife, Livia, does not like the idea that the possible future first lady, Therese Schwarzenberg, speaks no Czech. And the Klaus's son, Václav Jr., has criticised Schwarzenberg’s singing of the Czech national anthem. Lidové noviny deplores the family’s statements as “a blend of nationalism, xenophobia, chauvinism and demagoguery.”
The weekly Respekt, considers the possible election of Miloš Zeman a real danger –
The fact that Miloš Zeman, with the help of the Klaus family, is pulling out the nationalist card against Karel Schwarzenberg is a tragic outcome of the first direct presidential election. [...] Miloš Zeman has brandished the flag of nationalism, and if elected president, it would merely be a matter of time before the Czech political scene hits the same bottom that other countries of Central Europe have successively scraped against,” [referring to Poland under the Kaczyński brothers, Hungary under Viktor Orbán, and Slovakia under Vladimír Mečiar and then during the first term of Robert Fico).
Opponents who accuse Karel Schwarzenberg of “not being Czech enough” could not be further from the truth writes Mladá Fronta Dnes.
His grandfather Karel V, who died young in 1914, while in the Austro-Hungarian army, had been considered one of the hopes of Czech politics. Czech history and the Czech state were the main concerns of his father, Karel VI. That romantic patriotism and preoccupation with the Czech Republic have been passed down to his son.
01/23/2013 10:21 AM
Former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin: 'We Have to Take a Chance with More Democracy'
Alexei Kudrin is seen as having good chances to succeed Dmitry Medvedev as Russian prime minister. In a SPIEGEL interview, he speaks about the need for more democracy in his country, President Putin's pragmatism and the dangers still facing the euro zone.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Kudrin, why have you described the past year as being, both politically and economically, a lost year for Russia? It sounds bitter.
Kudrin: Economic reform came to a standstill, and political reforms didn't produce the results I had hoped for. Although people can now elect governors directly once again, there are too many obstacles for candidates that are not backed by the government. But I do see one important, positive trend: A new, active civil society has developed.
SPIEGEL: But isn't it already on the wane once again? The number of people attending protests against President Vladimir Putin is declining.
Kudrin: You shouldn't base your assessment of civil society solely on the number of demonstrators. And besides, only a radical minority was calling for Putin's resignation at the first major demonstrations. The majority took to the streets because parliamentary elections were not being conducted fairly. But they recognized that a majority of the people elected Putin. Why then should Putin resign? The majority of the demonstrators didn't want the government overthrown from one day to the next. But it does want fundamental reforms.
SPIEGEL: What is the first thing that should be done?
Kudrin: Russia needs free elections. It will be a difficult and protracted process, which is something I pointed out in my speech at the mass demonstration way back in December 2011. Simply repeating the bogus parliamentary election, as some were demanding at the time, wouldn't have done much good. For the most part, it would have produced a similar outcome, because there wouldn't have been any strong, new parties yet. We have to develop new parties and pass laws that prevent election fraud. Candidates should have equal access to the media, and business owners who fund opposition parties should no longer be punished for doing so. The apparatus of state cannot be used to support a specific party. This has been so widespread until now that we even have a term for it in Russia: "administrative resources." Russia has to take a chance with more democracy.
SPIEGEL: Why didn't Putin seek a dialogue with the opposition instead of launching a series of repressive laws?
Kudrin: In the wake of obvious election fraud, I went to see him and proposed precisely such a dialogue. The time is ripe for more political competition. Putin didn't reject the idea at the time, but said that he would come back to it later on. Then he apparently weighed his options and chose a different path.
SPIEGEL: You and Putin have been friends since the 1990s and you could become prime minister if Dmitry Medvedev falls. You were also Russia's finance minister for 11 years. Is the president open to criticism from you and others?
Kudrin: He's a very good listener. He listens to all positions during meetings and then he makes his decision. Sometimes he supported me when most of the others were against me, and sometimes he didn't. Above all, Putin is pragmatic.
SPIEGEL: How successful was your attempt to mediate between Putin and the opposition?
Kudrin: I failed, but I'm glad I tried.
SPIEGEL: Last winter, you attended demonstrations for the first time. Yet you are a fiscal policy maker, a former cabinet member and many see you as something of a bureaucrat. Why did you take to the streets?
Kudrin: Because there were suddenly people streaming into the streets who thought the way I do. It wasn't just the 4,000 or 5,000 that attorney Alexey Navalny or former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov had mobilized in the past, but between 50,000 and 70,000 people. They want democratic reforms and new leaders with sound judgment. The radicals who want every change to happen immediately are deceiving themselves. They are naïve and make unrealistic demands. You have to give the Kremlin a chance to change.
SPIEGEL: The Kremlin always claims that if truly free elections were to be held, communists and nationalists would come into power.
Kudrin: Unpleasant election outcomes are certainly possible in a democracy. There are laws that are meant to prevent extremists from coming into power. But I don't want to compromise when it comes to democracy and free elections.
SPIEGEL: Do you deny that there is an undertone of nationalism in post-Soviet Russia?
Kudrin: Xenophobia is widespread. But things are more complicated than that. There is a widespread attitude that I call "imperial syndrome." A sizeable number of Russians place their country above other nations and see neighboring countries as part of our zone of influence.
SPIEGEL: The Kremlin also encourages this nationalism. For instance, it responded to an American law barring entry to the United States to corrupt Russian officials by prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Kudrin: I'm against the constant anti-Western rhetoric, even if it's only intended for domestic ears. It's detrimental to the modernization of our economy, and of course it doesn't help make Moscow a global financial center. We need more openness. However, even worldly, well-educated Russians have a problem with other countries telling us how to manage our own, internal affairs. We don't want to degenerate into a zone of influence of the West.
SPIEGEL: Medvedev, when he was still president, relieved you of your cabinet duties in September 2011 because you were opposed to higher military expenditures. Now they're rising even further.
Kudrin: Medvedev was upset that, on the day he had to announce his intention not to run for president again, I said that I didn't want to be part of a new administration under his leadership. He apparently felt that he was being exposed as a lame duck. I had asked Putin long before that to remove me from office, because I didn't want to support the military budget. But then Putin urged me to stay until the end of my term.
SPIEGEL: What is your opinion of the powerful deputy premier, Dmitry Rogozin, and others who see an increase in military spending as the key to Russia's economic resurgence, and who point to the fact that the United States spends a great deal more on defense?
Kudrin: These people have forgotten that the arms race was one of the reasons for the demise of the Soviet Union. We were producing a lot of tanks and fighter jets at the time, while people were standing in line with their ration cards. We cannot repeat that mistake. The longer we delay the implementation of economic and political reforms, the worse it will get.
SPIEGEL: Are you not exaggerating? Russia has the world's third-largest foreign currency reserves, and the economy grew by more than 3.5 percent last year.
Kudrin: If the oil price falls sharply, we will quickly realize that our cushion isn't as thick as some believe. Then either taxes will have to be increased or military and social spending cut.
SPIEGEL: Which reforms would you introduce now?
Kudrin: I would increase the retirement age, which is now 60 for men and 55 for women. We also need more investment in infrastructure, such as roads, housing, power grids and water lines. We should stop distributing social benefits with a watering can. We need more privatization and fewer government-owned companies, along with more power and tax revenues for the regions.
SPIEGEL: You sound as if you wanted to replace Medvedev right away.
Kudrin: I'm just saying what needs to be done.
SPIEGEL: Putin recently had to dismiss his defense minister because of financial irregularities.
Kudrin: Corruption isn't just limited to the government. Unfortunately, it's everywhere. Traffic policeman, teachers, doctors, even bank managers issuing loans -- they're all open to bribery.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an antidote?
Kudrin: Yes. First, all government spending must be subject to strict controls. There is still the widespread illusion that all we have to do is throw a lot of money at things -- for kindergartens, agriculture, high-tech -- and everything will be fine. But the opposite is often the case. The more money the government makes available, the greater the corruption.
SPIEGEL: Europe is currently discussing a €17.5 billion ($23.3 billion) aid package for Cyprus. What's your response to the criticism that such a bailout would primarily benefit Russian oligarchs?
Kudrin: It's exaggerated. And it distracts from the fact that Cyprus was also a convenient tax haven for companies from the West for a long time. Western companies are just as apt to use offshore models around the world as Russian companies do in Cyprus.
SPIEGEL: You have often been called the world's best finance minister. How can the euro be saved?
Kudrin: Russia hopes that the euro zone will come to grips with its problems. But Europe isn't doing enough to achieve that end. Deficits in countries like Greece are still too high. Spain is also in a serious trouble. Both countries are effectively bankrupt. Greece and Spain cannot service their debts on their own. The European Central Bank (ECB) helps them by buying up government bonds.
SPIEGEL: Is that the right approach to solving the crisis?
Kudrin: The ECB is merely buying time, but at this rate the situation will only get worse. The European Union must proceed more decisively to reduce debt loads.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be preferable to just write off the debt or a portion thereof?
Kudrin: I think that's a possibility if something is done to cushion the creditor banks. It would certainly be a step away from the precipice and toward stabilization of the markets.
SPIEGEL: Was introducing the euro the right thing to do in the first place?
Kudrin: Of course. I was very enthusiastic at the time. However, we can see today that not everything was well thought-out. The rules to prevent debt were not enforced strictly enough. Productivity is too low in some countries.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the euro zone will fall apart?
Kudrin: It can't be ruled out. The financial and economic crisis can quickly turn into a political crisis. People in the West are not prepared to drastically reduce their standard of living. At least Russia managed to do so peacefully in the 1990s. I'm not sure that this will succeed in Europe. The Europeans are living beyond their means. The social welfare state is not sustainable in its current form.
SPIEGEL: Does that also apply to Germany?
Kudrin: I'm afraid so, no matter how well Germany is doing today. Let's say the euro crisis costs Germany €100 billion a year. What will the Germans do if that number increases by another €50 billion? A strong fiscal union is needed to save and protect the euro. Are the German people prepared to allow some commissioners in Brussels to decide on their government spending and taxes?
SPIEGEL: Do you think a German withdrawal from the euro zone is conceivable?
Kudrin: Yes. Every solution will be expensive for Germany, whether it's saving the euro or withdrawing from the euro. Your country has yet to face that difficult political decision.
Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
« Last Edit: Jan 23, 2013, 08:19 am by Rad »
January 22, 2013
Prosecutors Call for Investigation on Greek Deficit
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — Greek prosecutors called on Tuesday for a criminal inquiry into the actions of the head of Elstat, the country’s statistical authority, and two of his subordinates over claims that they overstated the country’s budget deficit figures, forcing it to swallow unnecessarily harsh austerity measures.
The agency head, Andreas Georgiou, a veteran of nearly two decades at the International Monetary Fund, first came under scrutiny in the fall of 2011, when a former Elstat employee, Zoe Georganta, asserted that Mr. Georgiou had inflated the agency’s official figure for Greece’s 2009 budget deficit, saying it amounted to more than 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, the statistics chief said that some members of Elstat’s board represented vested interests that did not want the full extent of Greece’s dire finances to come to light. “We were faced with significant pressures through the board not to revise the deficit upwards on account of fully applying European Union rules, but to minimize it,” he said.
Greece’s governing coalition, headed by the conservative New Democracy party, has lately undertaken a campaign to stamp out lawlessness and corruption, in part to impress its European creditors that it is serious about dealing with the country’s deep-seated problems. However, critics contend that it is doing so by attacking a series of straw men while ignoring criminality and tax evasion among the business, professional and political elites that have run the country for decades.
This month, for example, the police raided a squatter house in Athens that had been occupied by leftists and a few anarchists for more than 20 years, even though the violence that had plagued the city for years had subsided in recent months. The opposition said that, far from a crackdown on lawlessness, the raid incited a new wave of violence and was, at base, intended to distract attention from a scandal that threatens to disclose rampant tax evasion by the wealthy and well connected.
The Greek financial crisis erupted in 2009, when an incoming Socialist government announced that the budget deficit was 12.4 percent of gross domestic product, more than twice the previous estimate of the former government, headed by New Democracy. To date, neither the Socialists nor New Democracy has prosecuted any officials responsible for the understatement of the deficit.
It was about a year ago that prosecutors first summoned Mr. Georgiou, following the assertions by Ms. Georganta that Elstat had inflated the deficit beyond the 12.4 percent figure. They further called upon Parliament to consider whether the former Socialist prime minister, George Papandreou, and the former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, should be investigated for their roles in expanding the deficit beyond 12.4 percent. A parliamentary committee last year found no wrongdoing by the politicians, vaguely highlighting instead “a lack of institutional knowledge of the euro zone.”
Since then Mr. Papaconstantinou, who appointed Mr. Georgiou as chief of the statistics service in June 2010, has been ensnarled in the tax evasion scandal, accused of removing names of family members from a list of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts that may have been used to avoid taxes.
01/22/2013 01:48 PM
Generational Change: A New, Less Powerful Euro Group Head
By Carsten Volkery
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem has been appointed as the new head of the Euro Group, where he is expected to lead with a different style than his predecessor. The politician is considered a tough reformer, but his message of fostering growth is likely to be welcomed in Southern Europe.
It takes a while before it is Jeroen Dijsselbloem's turn to speak. Outgoing Euro Group head Jean-Claude Juncker is clearly taking great pleasure in tormenting the waiting journalists. At a Monday evening press conference following a meeting of European finance ministers, Juncker first holds forth on the decisions reached by euro-zone finance ministers. He then turns over the floor to European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn, who turns things over to Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro-zone bailout fund.
All three offer their congratulations to Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, on having been chosen as Juncker's successor on Monday. But at first, he is left to merely laugh politely as Rehn stumbles over his unfamiliar name.
When it is finally the newcomer's turn at the microphone, he says: "Maybe it would be easier if I said a few words. You have never heard me speak at all." The 46-year-old member of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), analogous to the Social Democrats, then says that it is a great honor to succeed Juncker. He intones that 2013 will be a decisive year for the European common currency. He adds that something must be done to boost growth and combat unemployment. Periodically, he glances at the prepared statement before him.
The generational change on Monday evening was obvious to all with Juncker and Dijsselbloem, the old and the new, sitting side-by-side. The one, a self-confident veteran of the Brussels scene who witnessed the birth of the euro, a man who Regling praised as "one of the greatest and truest Europeans." The other, an unknown newcomer who only became finance minister in his home country three months ago. The difference between the two could hardly be greater.
"He is much younger than I am," joked Juncker. "We look different and we have different styles. But just as I am, he is a convinced European."
Still, the choice of Dijsselbloem to lead the Euro Group, the name given to gatherings of the 17 euro-zone finance ministers, was not uncontroversial. Indeed, he wasn't even elected unanimously by his 16 colleagues. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici managed to overcome his concerns, noting that Dijsselbloem was the only candidate and thus the best candidate. But Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos chose not to vote for the Dutchman.
When asked about the lack of consensus, Dijsselbloem said that he is sorry that it was "not a completely unanimous decision," adding that de Guindos did not provide an explanation for his no vote. The Spanish minister did, however, say that he hoped they would work well together nonetheless, Dijsselbloem added.
The reason for the doubts can be found in the euro zone's north-south divide. The common currency area's Mediterranean members are unhappy that almost all key euro-zone posts are held by countries that enjoy triple-A credit ratings from the ratings agencies. The European Stability Mechanism, Europe's €700 billion currency backstop, is headed up by Regling, a German. Thomas Wieser of Austria heads up the Euro Working Group. Monetary Affairs Commissioner Rehn is from Finland. And now, the Euro Group head is from the Netherlands.
The only exception is European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who is from Italy. But that isn't enough to alter the widespread impression that it is the Triple-A countries, Germany first and foremost, that determine euro-zone policy. Nor should it be. Berlin, after all, insisted that Juncker's successor come from a country with the highest credit rating. Dijsselbloem, who has proven to be a reformer and budgetary hawk at home, fit well into the profile.
'Solidarity Is at the Top'
The challenges facing him, however, are large. Like Juncker before him, he will be faced with striking a delicate balance between the differing interests of euro-zone members. He took his first, diplomatic steps in that direction during the Monday evening press conference, warning against dividing the euro zone into those countries with the highest rating and those without. In answer to a question from an Italian journalist, he offered a reminder that he was a Social Democrat. "Solidarity is at the very top of my priority list," he said.
Even his announcement that he would do more to promote growth in Europe could be seen as a gesture to France, Italy and other countries struggling with a poor economy. But he was quick to add that he sees healthy state finances as a precondition for sustainable growth. It was the first of what promises to be many balancing acts between French President François Hollande's demands for growth and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's preference for budgetary discipline.
Still, it seems unlikely, given his lack of experience relative to Juncker, that he will play as big a role on the European stage as his predecessor. Juncker also had the additional advantage that, as Luxembourg's prime minister, he was always present at European Union summit meetings.
But Dijsselbloem does have one significant advantage going for him: He is reserved. In contrast to the loquacious Juncker, who would occasionally move markets with ill-timed utterances, the Dutch finance minister would appear to have a large degree of self discipline. It was a characteristic which served him well on Monday as he gracefully dodged questions about the bailout package for Cyprus and aid for banks in Ireland.
He also wouldn't comment on whether the euro exchange rate was too low or too high, Dijsselbloem added. It was a small barb aimed at his predecessor, and it hit its mark. Juncker, who had just made headlines with such comments, quickly protested. He had been misquoted, he said.
January 22, 2013
For Rape Victims in India, Police Are Often Part of the Problem
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — Not long after telling the police that she had been raped, a woman from South Delhi looked out her apartment window and saw the man who had attacked her laughing with an officer who had given him a ride back from the police station.
“That officer then came over and asked me why I wanted to file a complaint,” the 30-year-old mother of two said in a recent interview. “He said I would be ridiculed unless I agreed to settle things without an investigation.”
After months of intimidation from her rapist and indifference from the police, she got a politically powerful acquaintance to intervene, and her rapist was finally arrested. A court case is under way.
A far more prominent case, the brutal gang rape on a bus in New Delhi last month, and the later death of the victim, has led to an anguished re-examination in India of many of the nation’s age-old attitudes toward violence against women. But even as India grapples with the polarizing issue, a powerful force stands in the way of any fundamental change: a police force that is corrupt, easily susceptible to political interference, heavily male and woefully understaffed.
“If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police,” said Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer based in New Delhi.
In many rape cases, the police spend more time seeking reconciliation between the attacker and the victim than investigating the facts. Over all, experts say, the police are poorly organized to deal with serious crimes, particularly those against women.
Pay is poor and opportunities for advancement are rare, leaving many police officers dependent on bribes to support their families. People without money or political connections are often ignored.
In the latest official move to deter further such attacks, the Delhi police announced late last week that constables would be stationed nightly at 300 bus stops around the city. The problem with this plan is that many women say the presence of police officers makes them feel less safe, not more.
The treatment of women by the police is such a concern that laws now forbid officers to arrest or even bring women in for questioning during nighttime hours. In case after case, the police have used their powers to deliver abused women into the hands of their abusers.
Police reforms have been proposed for decades, but few have been put in place, because many of them involve making officers less susceptible to political meddling — something politicians have little incentive to seek.
Of all the problems affecting the police, many women’s advocates point to cultural tradition as the most intractable.
Even as India has undergone an economic upheaval that has brought millions of women out of the home and into urban workplaces, a profound attachment to female sexual virtue remains deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. The foundational texts of Indian culture — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, ancient Sanskrit epics — both revolve around the communal outrage that results from insults to a good woman’s modesty.
“A woman’s body as the site of cultural purity is the predominant theme in the epics,” said Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of international studies at Brown University. “And dishonoring a woman is equal to dishonoring a family and even a culture.”
As a result, the police and village elders often see their first duty after a rape as protecting a woman’s modesty and a family’s honor, instead of giving her justice.
On Dec. 26, an 18-year-old Punjabi woman committed suicide after police officers refused for five weeks to arrest the men who were suspected of gang raping her and instead pressed her to marry one of the men. So many Indian women end up marrying their rapists that the police often squander the first hours and days after a woman reports a rape seeking just such a resolution, said Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“That first crucial day is almost always lost,” he said.
Delays are endemic and courts are backlogged. Of the more than 600 rapes reported in New Delhi last year — far below the actual number of such attacks, experts say — only one person has been convicted so far. In a vicious circle, police ineffectiveness leads many women to consent to marriage, but such marriages, sometimes reached after the police have gone to the effort to pursue a case, discourage adequate police investigations.
Suman Nalwa, a deputy commissioner in Delhi’s police force, said that changing the mind-set of the constables, many of them from small villages outside of New Delhi, “is a tough process. You cannot do it at the snap of a finger.”
At the same time, Indian police officers are few and poorly paid, and that makes them easily susceptible to corruption. India has just 1,585,117 officers to protect 1.2 billion people, or about 130 officers per 100,000 people, the second lowest among 50 countries ranked by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Only Uganda fared worse; many nations have more than twice India’s ratio of police officers to population.
More than 80 percent of India’s police officers are constables who cannot investigate crimes or issue fines; most are assigned to paramilitary forces that do little traditional police work. Just 5 percent of police officers are women, though the government recently announced it would hire more female officers in Delhi.
“That the Indian police are performing poorly is beyond doubt,” said Arvind Verma, a professor of criminal justice at Indiana University, an expert on the Indian police and a consultant to the government. “The common experience is that the personnel are rude, indifferent, abusive, threatening and extortionist.”
An impermeable police hierarchy is another problem. Top leaders are taken from the Indian Police Service, an elite core of bureaucrats who never serve in front-line positions. It is all but impossible for a beat cop to rise to the top, making for a wide disconnect between police officers and their leaders.
Salaries are abysmal, about $100 per month for constables. Police stations often lack toilets and heat. Many low-level officers pay recruitment bribes of a year’s salary to get their jobs, so demanding payments on everything from routine traffic violations to major crimes becomes a way of life. Such behavior saps public trust, worsening security.
“It is an unfortunate reality that police are not trusted in this country,” said Nirmal K. Singh, a former joint director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Another important reason for that lack of trust is frequent political interference. Officers have few civil service protections, and politicians can transfer or punish police leaders at will.
Conspiracies between the police and politicians are common.
Hundreds of people have been killed in police shootings with political overtones, and blatantly political arrests occur frequently. Two women living near Mumbai were arrested recently for a Facebook post that politely questioned the deference given a deceased political leader. A professor in Kolkata was arrested after forwarding a political cartoon by e-mail, and a farmer in West Bengal was arrested after he asked a tough question of the state’s chief minister at a political rally.
For the woman in South Delhi who said the police had refused to take her rape complaint seriously, politicization of the police means justice is available only to the well connected.
When her rapist threatened her 12-year-old daughter, she turned to her brother to call a high-ranking politician. Belatedly, the police sprang into action.
Asked about the case, a police supervisor said he would check on details, but had not responded further by Tuesday.
“During that whole time, I lived in fear of my husband being killed or my kids being kidnapped, because I knew the police wouldn’t help if that happened,” the woman said. “I have no faith in the police. If you have money or connections, you can get justice. If you don’t, forget it.”
Reporting was contributed by Niharika Mandhana, Malavika Vyawahare and Jim Yardley in New Delhi.
January 23, 2013
Rape Trial Challenges a Jam in India’s Justice System
By HEATHER TIMMONS
NEW DELHI — For Sonia Gandhi, India’s most powerful politician, the 23-year-old victim of the fatal gang rape last month “embodied the spirit of an aspirational India.”
“We will ensure,” Ms. Gandhi pledged in a nationally broadcast speech on Sunday, “that she will not have died in vain.”
Ms. Gandhi’s vow encapsulates the challenges facing the Indian judicial system. In a South Delhi courtroom on Thursday, arguments are scheduled to begin in a trial for five men accused in the rape, which galvanized the nation and captured the attention of the world. The trial will take place in a “fast track” court for crimes against women that was set up in response to public furor over the assault.
But whether the trial can treat the defendants fairly and provide justice for the victim and her family while also laying the groundwork for sweeping changes in India’s judiciary system remains very much an open question. Police allege that the rape was a premeditated and vicious attack in which the five men and a teenager, who is being tried separately, raped the victim one by one and then tried to murder her and destroy evidence to cover up the crime. The men are charged with robbery, gang rape and murder, and could be sentenced to death by hanging if found guilty.
All five will plead not guilty, their lawyers said.
Rare in its reported savagery, the Dec. 16 rape on a moving bus in South Delhi propelled thousands of Indians into the streets to protest. They were outraged over not just the attack but also what many women describe as a pattern of harassment, assault and ill treatment that keeps them bound to a second-tier citizenship even as many increasingly educated and urbanized women are advancing in the workplace. It is a country, they note, where Ms. Gandhi is chairwoman of the governing Congress Party, yet hundreds of millions of other women are still trapped in a web of traditional strictures.
The government, by some measures, has responded forcefully. The rape “has left an indelible mark and shaken the conscience of the nation,” India’s chief justice, Altamas Kabir, wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to India’s state high courts, urging them to set up fast-track courts for crimes against women similar to South Delhi’s. These cases need to be dealt with “expeditiously,” he wrote, to curb what he described as a “sharp increase” in violence against women. Already, several states have established such courts, and many others are expected to follow suit.
Even though the police investigate only a small number of rape and sexual assault allegations, the courts are badly backed up. Over 95,000 rape cases were awaiting trial in India at the beginning of 2011, according to government figures, but just 16 percent of them were resolved by the end of the year. Of the cases that go to trial, about 26 percent yield a conviction, half the rates in the United States or Britain. Women’s rights activists say the process often yields more trauma for the victim than punishment for the guilty.
In one extreme example, legal proceedings against dozens of men charged with the rape of a teenage girl in Kerala in 1995 are still under way. In August 2011, the victim, now in her 30s, asked that the court proceedings be stopped, saying she could not bear to relive the incidents yet again. The Kerala High Court refused, and the victim is expected to appear in court as a witness in February.
But creating a fast-track system to deal with rape cases highlights the shortcomings of the entire Indian judicial system, critics say, and may even add to the problem.
“Grotesque as this case has been,” said Rebecca John, a New Delhi criminal lawyer with 25 years of experience, “there have been many other grotesque examples.” By creating five fast-track courts for crimes against women, and pulling in judges to preside in them, the government has only increased the burden on other courts, she said.
If included in a United Nations study of 2008 data from 65 nations, India’s ratio of 14 judges per million people would have been the fourth-lowest, besting only Guatemala, Nicaragua and Kenya.
“The Indian judicial system tends to work pretty well, when the process is set in motion,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The flaws lie in the delays” in getting cases heard, she said.
This week, a three-member panel of legal experts that formed in response to the protests over the Delhi rape is expected to present suggestions for how the justice system can be improved.
Adding more judges in India is a difficult, haphazard process, however, since it is handled individually by states. “There are various issues that lead to posts of judges not being filled, ranging from budgetary constraints, to the lack of qualified candidates, to just apathy,” said Mrinal Satish, an associate professor at the National Law University in New Delhi.
While some see the Delhi trial as a model for handling crimes against women, it is different in many ways from most cases, lawyers and women’s activists said.
Unusually, there is a witness to the attack. The woman’s 29-year-old companion told the police what he remembered, but he was unconscious for some of the assault after being beaten with a metal rod that was also used against the woman, who died in a Singapore hospital from her injuries.
Second, the police moved quickly after the attack was reported, in part because of the media attention. They have collected DNA evidence linking the five defendants to the attack, the prosecutor in the case said, including blood and semen found on their clothing, on the victim and in the bus.
The attack was also particularly brutal. Bite marks were discovered all over the woman, according to evidence cited in a court document. She was tortured with an iron rod inserted into her vagina and rectum. At one point, according to the police, one of the suspects pulled out some of the woman’s internal organs. She bled profusely and lost consciousness.
The trial will pit an eclectic group of defense lawyers, one of whom has courted controversy by alleging publicly that the rape was the victim’s fault, against one of Delhi’s most trusted public prosecutors, who also happens to be one of the most overworked.
Rajiv Mohan, the prosecutor, is handling about 150 other cases, he said in an interview. He often juggles six or seven cases a day, he said.
Defenses mounted by the five accused will vary, according to interviews with their lawyers and others involved with the trial. Two of the men, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have offered to turn state’s witnesses, the police said.
A. P. Singh, a lawyer who represents Mr. Sharma and another defendant, Akshay Thakur, said Mr. Sharma was not on the bus when the attack occurred. M. L. Sharma, a lawyer who has publicly stated that “respectable” women do not get raped, is petitioning the Supreme Court to move the case out of Delhi, arguing that his single-named client, Mukesh, will not get a fair trial because of the intense publicity.
Veteran Delhi lawyers say the judge, Yogesh Khanna, is considered balanced, known for trying to avoid unnecessary delays.
He will be tested. The rowdy, sometimes violent protests that shook Delhi in the days after reports of the attack became public included angry knots of citizens demanding that the men be hanged, even before the victim died. A hurried trial, followed by a knee-jerk death penalty verdict, would be a mistake, many say.
With this case, said Pinki Virani, an activist and author, “only the short-term optics are being addressed, not the permanent outcomes.”
Reporting was contributed by Sruthi Gottipati, Niharika Mandhana and Malavika Vyawahare from New Delhi, and Minu Ittyipe from Cochin, India.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 22, 2013, 11:36 am
Supreme Court to Consider Moving Delhi Gang Rape Trial on Wednesday
By NIHARIKA MANDHANA
The Supreme Court has delayed until Wednesday a hearing on a petition to move the gang rape trial from New Delhi.
The petition by Manohar Lal Sharma, who represents one of the defendants, Mukesh Singh, was scheduled to be heard Tuesday but was deferred to Wednesday because the court did not have sufficient time to take it up.
Mr. Sharma said in an interview that he was convinced his client would not get a fair trial in Delhi, given the "unprecedented" public pressure and media scrutiny surrounding the case.
"Let us not forget that the accused also have rights in this country," said Mr. Sharma. "How can they get a fair trial when every single person wants to see them hanged?"
Over a month after a 23-year-old woman was gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi, outrage over the crime and demands for justice for the victim have continued unabated.
Pressure from protesters and unrelenting attention by the media have resulted in quick police and legal action: five men and one juvenile were arrested in a week; a detailed charge sheet, including DNA results and matches, was filed in 18 days, and a fast track court was established to hear the case.
The defendants' lawyers say the atmosphere in the capital is too emotionally charged to give their clients a fair trial. Mr. Sharma said the trial should be moved far away from Delhi, suggesting small southern Indian cities like Coimbatore.
The trial court is scheduled Thursday to hear arguments on the charges against the five men, which include gang rape, murder, robbery and destruction of evidence, after which hearings will take place daily.
Fresh confusion emerged in the Supreme Court on Tuesday after V.K. Anand, the lawyer for Ram Singh, another defendant, claimed he had been appointed by Mukesh Singh to replace Mr. Sharma as his lawyer.
Mr. Sharma said he continues to be Mukesh Singh's lawyer and accused Mr. Anand of seeking publicity.
Morocco to axe law allowing rapists to go free if they marry their victim
Women's rights groups welcome change in penal code after suicide of 16-year-old who was forced to marry her alleged rapist
Associated Press in Morocco
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 January 2013 12.47 GMT
Nearly a year after Morocco was shocked by the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her alleged rapist, the government has announced plans to change the penal code to outlaw the traditional practice.
Women's rights activists on Tuesday welcomed the announcement by the justice minister, Mustapha Ramid, but said it was only a first step in reforming a penal code that does not do enough to stop violence against women in the north African kingdom.
A paragraph in Article 475 of the penal code allows those convicted of corruption or kidnapping of a minor to go free if they marry their victim. The practice was encouraged by judges to spare family shame.
Last March, 16-year-old Amina al-Filali poisoned herself to get out of a seven-month-old abusive marriage to a 23-year-old she said had raped her.
Her parents and a judge had pushed the marriage to protect family honour. The incident prompted calls for the law to be changed.
The traditional practice can be found across the Middle East and also in countries including India and Afghanistan, where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock is a huge stain on the honour of the family or tribe.
While the age of marriage in Morocco is officially 18, judges routinely approve much younger unions in this deeply traditional country of 32 million with high illiteracy and poverty.
"Changing this article is a good thing but it doesn't meet all of our demands," said Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. "The penal code has to be totally reformed because it contains many provisions that discriminate against women and doesn't protect women against violence."
She singled out in particular outmoded parts of the law that distinguish between "rape resulting in deflowering and just plain rape". The new article proposed on Monday, for example, gives a 10-year penalty for consensual sex following the corruption of a minor but doubles the sentence if the sex results in "deflowering".
Fouzia Assouli, president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, echoed Ryadi's concerns, explaining that the code only penalises violence against women from a moral standpoint "and not because it is just violence".
"The law doesn't recognise certain forms of violence against women, such as conjugal rape, while it still penalises other normal behaviour like sex outside of marriage between adults," she added.
Recent government statistics reported that 50% of attacks against women take place within conjugal relations.
The change to the penal code has been a long time in coming and follows nearly a year of the Islamist-dominated government balking at reforming the law.
The justice ministry at the time argued that al-Filali had not been raped and the sex, which took place when she was 15, had been consensual.
The prime minister later argued in front of parliament that the marriage provision in the article was, in any case, rarely used.
"In 550 cases of the corruption of minors between 2009 and 2010, only seven were married under Article 475 of the penal code, the rest were pursued by justice," Abdelilah Benkirane said on 24 December.
While Morocco updated its family code in 2004, a comprehensive law combating violence against women has been languishing in parliament for the past eight years.
The social development minister, Bassima Hakkaoui, the sole female minister in cabinet, said in September she would try to get the law passed.
Cat lovers pounce on campaign to save New Zealand's birds
Gareth Morgan provokes anger after urging cat owners to neuter their 'killer ball of fluff' to save country's bird population
Associated Press in Wellington
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 January 2013 08.40 GMT
Gareth Morgan has a simple dream: a New Zealand free of cats. But the environmentalist's latest anti-feline campaign has triggered a backlash.
Morgan has called on fellow Kiwis to make their current pet cat their last in a bold attempt to save the country's native birds. He set up a website, Cats To Go, which includes an image of a kitten with devil's horns under the heading: "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer".
He does not recommended owners euthanise their cats: "Not necessarily, but that is an option," he admits, but rather neuter them and not replace them when they die. The economist and well-known businessman also suggests cats remain indoors and local governments make registration mandatory.
But Morgan's campaign is not proving popular in a country that boasts one of the highest cat-ownership rates in the world. "I say to Gareth Morgan, butt out of our lives," Bob Kerridge, president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said on the television show Campbell Live. "Don't deprive us of the beautiful companionship that a cat can provide individually and as a family."
For thousands of years, New Zealand's birds flourished with no predators. Some species, such as the kiwi, even became flightless. But the arrival of mankind and its introduction of predators, including cats, dogs and rodents, has wiped out some native species and endangered many others.
"Imagine a New Zealand teeming with native wildlife; penguins on the beach, kiwis roaming about in your garden," Morgan says on his website. "Imagine hearing birdsong in our cities."
But many New Zealanders are against the campaign. On Tuesday 70% of visitors to his site voted against making their current cat their last.
The science remains unclear. Some argue that cats may actually help native birds by reducing the population of rodents, which sometimes feed on bird eggs.
Morgan's personal blog has a separate campaign to raise $1m to eradicate mice from the remote Antipodes Islands, where the rodents are the only predators.
A 2011 survey by the New Zealand Companion Animal Council found 48% of households in New Zealand owned at least one cat, a significantly higher proportion than in other developed nations. The poll put the total cat population at 1.4m.
In the US, 33% of households own at least one cat, amounting to 86m domestic cats, according to a 2012 survey by the American Pet Products Association.
North Korea plans nuclear test and says rocket programme is targeted at US
Long-range rockets and proposed 'high-level nuclear test' are targeted at 'arch-enemy of the Korean people', Pyongyang says
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 January 2013 13.05 GMT
North Korea has responded to tighter UN sanctions with a threat to conduct another nuclear test the regime said would target its greatest enemy, the US.
The country's powerful national defence commission poured scorn on Tuesday's UN security council resolution condemning the launch last month of a long-range rocket, and the decision to expand sanctions against the already impoverished state.
The North insists the launch was part of its peaceful space programme, but the US and its allies believe the purpose was to test its ballistic missile technology.
On Thursday, the regime appeared to confirm those suspicions when it said its rocket programme had a second, military purpose: to target and strike the US.
The commission, North Korea's most powerful military body, said the rocket launches would continue and warned the country would conduct a third, "high-level" nuclear test.
"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will carry out, are targeted at the United States, the arch-enemy of the Korean people," the commission said in a statement carried by the official Central Korean News Agency. "Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words."
The statement did not say when the test, which would be the first under the current leader, Kim Jong-un, would take place. Analysts said it could happen in mid-February, just before South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, is sworn into office and the North marks the birthday of its previous leader, Kim Jong-il.
Daniel Pinkston, deputy director of the International Crisis Group's north Asia programme, said Pyongyang's justification for its weapons programme had always been "dealing with the imperialist Americans". He added: "It's serious and I would expect them to do a nuclear and more missile tests."
North Korea conducted its previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, soon after the UN imposed sanctions in response to rocket launches. Any progress the North makes in its missile and nuclear programmes is a cause for concern, although it is thought to be some way off having the ability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a reliable long-range missile.
North Korea has enough plutonium to build between four and eight nuclear weapons, according to Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist who visited the country's main Yongbyon nuclear complex in 2010. Other reports suggest the country has enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads.
The previous year, the regime said it would begin enriching uranium, giving it another means of building a nuclear arsenal.
It is not clear what the defence commission meant by "high level", but there is speculation the next test could involve a uranium, rather than plutonium, device. That would signal that the regime's scientists have mastered the complicated process of producing highly enriched uranium.
The threat coincided with a visit to South Korea by the US's special envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, who called on Pyongyang to abandon plans for the test.
"Whether North Korea tests or not, it's up to North Korea," Davies said. "We hope they don't do it, we call on them not to do it. It would be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it. This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."
China, the North's only diplomatic ally and its biggest trading partner, is likely to have angered Pyongyang by backing this week's UN resolution. China's foreign ministry on Thursday called on all parties in the region to "refrain from action that might escalate the situation".
"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing.
Scholar Wang Junsheng, an expert on Korean issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times newspaper: "By passing the resolution China was warning North Korea … and by blocking more sanctions China was telling North Korea to return to the right track, the six-party talks."
Wi Yong-seop, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said the North could conduct a test "at any time if its leadership decides to go ahead".
Experts in the US recently said the North's main nuclear test site had been repaired after recent heavy rain, adding that preparations for a test could take just two weeks.
Mali rebel splinter group says it is ready for talks
One wing of Ansar Dine group forms new faction - which says it is willing to fight former comrades-in-arms
Peter Beaumont and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 January 2013 11.32 GMT
Ansar Dine, the Tuareg-dominated Malian Islamist group under pressure from the escalating French-led military assault in the country, has split in two, according to reports.
Former fighters, once loyal to its leader Iyad ag Ghali, have said they are prepared both to negotiate and also fight their one-time comrades.
The fracturing of Ansar Dine – if confirmed – would be a significant blow to the confederation of Islamist groups who seized Mali's north last year.
According to some reports former members of the Tuareg separatist MNLA had also joined the new group named the Islamic Movement for Azawad which is being led by Algabass Ag Intallah.
The group insisted on Wednesday that it was composed entirely of Malians and was seeking an "inclusive political" dialogue to bring its conflict with Bamoko to an end. It added that it rejected terrorism and extremism.
The fighters of Ansar Dine have long been seen by those who have been seeking a negotiated end to the Malian crisis as most vulnerable to being split away from their allies in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
Ag Intallah is an important tribal leader from one of the Tuareg noble clans whose power base is around Kidal about 1,500km north of the capital Bamoko.
He had been sent to represent Ansar Dine in negotiations in Burkina Faso along where, it appears, he was persuaded to change sides.
According to France's RFI he has been joined in the dissident group by Ansar Dine's former spokesman Mohamed Ag Arib.
According to RFI the new group is seeking a cessation of hostilities in the region around Kidal and Menaka, formerly controlled by Ansar Dine.
Other areas, including the cities of Gao and Timbukto, are held by by AQIM and MUJAO.
"We want to wage our war and not that of AQIM," said Ag Intallah, referring to al-Qaida's north African wing which has been at the heart of the takeover of the vast desert north by Malian and foreign Islamist fighters.
"There has to be a ceasefire so there can be talks," he said, speaking from the town of Kidal, a Tuareg stronghold in north-east Mali seized by Ansar Dine last year. "The aim is to speak about the situation in the north."
He said the new group, which would be based in Kidal, had been in touch with mediators in Burkina Faso and Algerian authorities. He said rebel demands would be for a broad autonomy rather than independence for the north.
Ansar Dine had formed a loose alliance with AQIM and MUJWA, to impose sharia law in what comprises a desert and mountain area the size of Texas.
It was not immediately possible to confirm how many fighters would leave the ranks of Ansar Dine to join the new group.
International negotiators have long sought to prize apart the Islamist alliance by offering talks to Ansar Dine and Tuareg separatists, on the condition that they broke with AQIM. Ag Intallah was a senior Ansar Dine negotiator in talks last year.
But preliminary negotiations broke down last month after Ansar Dine called off a ceasefire, amid reports of splits between moderates seeking a political solution and radicals with deep links to al-Qaida.
Ag Intallah would not give a figure for his supporters, as he said a list was still being drawn up, but he said most Malians in the ranks of Ansar Dine had joined his faction.
Estimates for the total number of Islamist fighters in Mali vary but do not exceed roughly 3,000.
Ag Intallah said some members of the Tuareg separatist MNLA movement, which has fought AQIM in the north, had also joined his group.
A spokesman for the MNLA was not immediately available for comment.
The emergence of a new "moderate wing" of Ansar Dine has come as it was reported that a column of Chadian soldiers had been despatched towards Gao, and as the joint French and West African effort to reclaim the countries north was gaining pace.
Mali: French hunt fugitive rebels after seizing Diabaly from Islamists
Number of African troops in country reaches 1,000, as search continues for jihadists rumoured to have gone into hiding
Afua Hirsch in Bamako and Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Monday 21 January 2013 20.12 GMT
French and Malian troops took control of the contested town of Diabaly in the west of Mali on Monday morning as the international presence in the country was bolstered by the arrival of a US cargo plane and more international African troops, bringing the number contributed by west African nations and Chad to 1,000.
About 200 French infantrymen supported by six combat helicopters and reconnaissance planes were reportedly scouring the town in central Mali and surrounding woodland for remaining Islamists, following repeated reports that rebels were trying to hide rather than leave the area.
Locals, some of whom came out of their homes to welcome the French and Malian forces, said the jihadists had fled Diabaly after French warplanes bombarded their positions on Thursday.
The battle for Diabaly, a small town in the Segou region of Mali, 250 miles north of the capital, Bamako, and significantly further south than previously Islamist-held territory, has become key politically in the battle for control of the country.
The Guardian saw a column of about a dozen heavily armoured French tanks advancing on Diabaly on Sunday evening, moving east in the direction of Markala, where the French and Malian military control a key bridge across the river Niger.
Malian army officers warned, however, that some of the population remained loyal to the Islamist fighters, some of whom were said to have taken refuge in forests around the town to wait for reinforcements.
Meanwhile, an American military plane arrived in Bamako on Monday afternoon, broadening the international scope of the conflict. The aircraft will be used to transport the French military, a US military official said.
"US Air Force C-17 aircraft operating under the control of US Africa Command began airlifting French army personnel and equipment to Bamako, Mali, from Istres, France, at the request of the French government," said the official. "The airlift mission will continue over the next several days."
The deployment of the US aircraft adds to a lengthening list of western countries involved in the conflict in Mali, alongside French air and ground troops. The UK, Denmark, Canada and the US have all contributed logistical support for an unspecified time period.
"I anticipate that for western countries, this will be a long-term commitment," said Sahel expert Dr Berny Sèbe from the University of Birmingham. "There is a huge amount of work to do in rebuilding Mali and creating the conditions of stability that will bring the country back to democracy."
The arrival of the US plane in Mali comes as regional African body Ecowas said African troops would complete their deployment in Mali by the end of the month and then carry the main burden of fighting Islamist rebels who have controlled northern Mali since April.
"There are troops from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin and Togo already on the ground; they are urgently setting up the mission in Mali," said Ecowas spokesman Abdel Fatau Musah. "Chad also has some troops already in the country, and the rest are coming. The whole deployment is scheduled to be completed by 29 January."
Musah, speaking to the Guardian by phone, said almost all European countries had agreed to help fund the African military intervention, which is expected to last for months or even years. "The EU in particular has already promised an initial amount of around €550m (£463m). The US and many other countries have also decided to contribute," he said.
"The initial period for the African deployment under the UN security council resolution was one year. How much longer than that ... depends upon the situation on the ground. If they are not able to complete within that time, it will be extended."
Under the terms of the security council resolution passed last month, the African force is expected to play a leading role in trying to push the rebels further into the desert terrain in northern Mali. The French and Malian ground forces have so far focused on towns further south.
Diabaly is one of several towns, including Konna and Douentza, brought back under government control by French and Malian soldiers, although journalists were still banned from the towns and phone lines remained cut, making communication with people inside impossible.
01/23/2013 04:06 PM
Elections in Israel: Netanyahu Wins Election But Emerges Weaker
By Julia Amalia Heyer in Tel Aviv
The slogan of Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign had been "a strong leader for a strong nation," but on Tuesday he suffered a major setback. With significant gains in the center-left, the incumbent right-wing Israeli leader could have trouble building a stable government.
The polls had barely closed and initial projections were trickling in when Benjamin Netanyahu took to Facebook to announce that the people had decided that he should remain Israel's prime minister. "The elections are now behind us, and many complex challenges are before us," he wrote, thanking voters.
His social media commentary was a blatant effort to put a positive spin on what is essentially a defeat. King Bibi, as he has been dubbed by the media, has lost his election gamble. Netanyahu's campaign slogan had been "a strong leader for a strong nation," but instead he suffered a setback. Now he is in a weaker position as he works to build a coalition to govern the country.
Netanyahu called for early elections expecting an easy victory that would cement his power for years, he recently suggested privately. Instead the results have put him in a bind.
Netanyahu linked his party to the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party of his former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, on the suggestion of American political strategist and spin doctor Arthur Finkelstein. The strategic alliance fell far below expectations and Netanyahu overestimated his potential. In 2009, the two parties garnered 42 seats, but this time around they only have around 30 in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem.
After this latest election night, there will be less talk about the Finkelstein-ization of Israeli politics. Netanyahu is now paying the price for a campaign that wasn't really conducted as one. He had merely seized upon the election as an opportunity to shower himself with self-adulation. During the campaign, Likud and coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu presented no political platforms. Instead, the parties ceaselessly repeated the jingle that "our strength is in our unity," as if that alone would be enough to bring in the votes.
But voters apparently had another thing in mind. They have overturned the political certainties of the past years, which many believed were carved in stone. The certainty of the continued existence of two political blocs, for example, with the incumbent conservative-religious right on one side and the centrist and leftist parties on the other. "That pattern is broken," writes Haaretz commentator Ari Shavit.
The biggest surprise of this election, which wasn't even supposed to have any, is the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party led by Yair Lapid, which is firmly grounded in the center of Israeli politics. His success completely stunned pollsters. Lapid -- a prominent former television talk show host and columnist who is a wealthy, self-made man -- received almost three times as many parliamentary seats as surveys had projected.
The some 20 seats his party has won now put him securely in the position of the second-strongest political force in the Knesset, even though not a single candidate on his party list has ever held a seat in parliament before. The party will most likely now tip the balance in any coalition-building talks.
The party's message of change, at least, appears to have become self-fulfilling. It is the middle class, in particular, that Lapid is seeking to represent -- and he wants to ensure that burdens are equally shared throughout society. "We will not be part of a government that will not enlist the ultra-Orthodox in the military and get them into the job market," Lapid says. The livelihoods of the ultra-Orthodox, called the Haredim, who often have the largest families and many children, are, with few exceptions, heavily subsidized by the state.
Anything Is Possible
Lapid has made additional conditions for his party's entry into government. He is prepared, he says, to work side by side with Netanyahu, but refuses to be some kind of popular fig leaf for an ultra-right religious government. He has little sympathy for its clientele of settlers, ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalists.
Among Lapid's other requirements is the stipulation that Netanyahu also include another party from the center-left spectrum in a coalition. But that could be tough given that Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich has rejected this option from the beginning. What's more, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the new Hatnuah (The Movement) party would be difficult for Netanyahu to accept as a coalition partner. Lapid also says that he refuses to be a part of any government that would be unwilling to negotiate with the Palestinians.
Either way, it won't be Lapid's conditions alone that make it difficult for Netanyahu to forge a stable coalition government. The only thing that looks certain at this point is that Netanyahu will ultimately be given the task of forming one.
Even together with the so-called natural coalition partners in his current government -- the ultra-Orthodox Shas and ultra nationalist, pro-settlement Jewish Home parties -- Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance, which had been the largest faction in the Knesset until this election, won't have enough seats to achieve a comfortable majority. Election experts say that even the highly unlikely option of a center-left-Orthodox government can't be ruled out.
Of course, one person would almost certainly be excluded from such a government: Netanyahu.
Israel election result hands rising star Yair Lapid a pivotal role
Former journalist whose party won second largest share of seats is courted by both Binyamin Netanyahu and Shelly Yachimovich
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 January 2013 17.26 GMT
Yair Lapid, the celebrity journalist turned politician who shook the Israeli political landscape with an unexpectedly strong showing in Tuesday's election, was last night being intensively courted by parties on both right and left who are desperate to snare him for their camp.
Lapid, whose party came second, winning 19 of 120 parliamentary seats, was the target of competing appeals by Binyamin Netanyahu, who – although weakened – is expected to form another coalition government, and Shelly Yachimovich, who is likely to be leader of the opposition.
Lapid's pivotal role followed a poor result for Netanyahu's rightwing alliance, which secured 31 seats, down from a previous total of 42. In a blow to the incumbent prime minister, a sizeable proportion of former supporters are believed to have switched allegiance to Lapid, who entered politics only a year ago.
Netanyahu is considering complex options for the next coalition government, the inevitable outcome of Israel's electoral system of proportional representation. He telephoned Lapid shortly after exit polls accurately predicted the result of the election, telling him: "We have the opportunity to do great things together."
Further conversations between the pair took place in private, but one of the main issues for negotiation was thought to be an end to the exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service. The mantra of "sharing the burden" was central to Lapid's election campaign.
A statement from Netanyahu on Wednesday signalled a shift in his priorities, in order to tick the boxes of Lapid's political platform. "The Israeli public wants me to continue leading the country and it wants me to build a coalition that would create three major changes domestically: more equal distribution of the national burden [military service], affordable housing, and change in the system of government," he said.
During his first term, Netanyahu focused on security issues, with the Iranian nuclear programme at the top of his list of priorities.
Yachimovich, leader of the Labour party, urged Lapid to join an alternative centre-left camp, which could try to form a coalition government or be a robust opposition to another rightwing-religious government.
After congratulating Lapid on his "remarkable achievement", she told reporters: "I urge him not to join a Netanyahu-led government and not take part in the middle-class calamity which will happen the day after he is sworn in. Should he choose the other way – I'll stand by him and assist." She intended to do all in her power to "take advantage of the political possibility opened yesterday to form a coalition of moderate, social, peace advocate and centrist forces without Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister".
If this was not possible, she would remain in opposition. "This will be a strong, aggressive and biting opposition and we'll do all we can to prevent Netanyahu from imposing the socially unbearable hell he's planning if he manages to form a government."
Support for Lapid accelerated in the final days of the election campaign, during which opinion polls are banned. The final surveys, published last Friday, forecast around 12 seats for Lapid's Yesh Atid party while advising that almost one in five voters was undecided.
As well as attracting disillusioned former Netanyahu voters, Lapid appears to have capitalised on the wave of anger felt in Israel in the past two years over the high cost of living, especially for young families.
Massive "social justice" protests swept the country 18 months ago, culminating in almost half a million people taking to the streets in September 2011.
"In the winter of 2013 the biggest protest of all was held. There were not half a million people there as there were in the summer of 2011; rather, it was millions of people," wrote Yael Paz-Melamed in Ma'ariv. "The silent majority in Israel, the people who work, pay taxes, go to the army, serve in reserve duty, and especially those who chose to live here freely – they got off of the couch, filled the ballot boxes and took back the power they deserve."
The White House said its relations with Israel would not change regardless of the result, but called for a resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Spokesman Jay Carney pushed back on the notion that Barack Obama and Netanyahu need to recalibrate their relationship. "No leader has met more often with or spent more time on the phone with President Obama than prime minister Netanyahu. That relationship is strong, and it is a relationship that allows for a free and open discussion of ideas and positions," Carney said.
One of Israel's most respected commentators, Nahum Barnea, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth: "The lesson [of the election] must begin at the protest movement of the summer of 2011. By the time autumn arrived, the tents on the streets had been dismantled, the general sense was that the protest was dead and buried. That wasn't the case. The seeds had been sown. They were waiting for the rain in order to sprout, and the rain came … The feeling of disgust with the political game rules did not die: it only increased further. It went beyond Facebook posts and influenced not only the younger generation in the big cities, but other age groups and other sectors of the society."
Can Netanyahu survive Israel's middle-class revolt?
The election has given Israel a new kingmaker in Yair Lapid. But Binyamin Netanyahu is a master of survival
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 January 2013 18.04 GMT
Israeli voters delivered a painful blow to Binyamin Netanyahu in Tuesday's election, and halted the country's worrying drift to the far right. The incumbent prime minister is likely to keep his job but his political bloc failed to put the expansion of West Bank settlements on top of the national agenda, and to sacrifice civil rights in favour of majority rule.
The election's rising star, Yair Lapid, positioned himself as Israel's new kingmaker and will be the key player in the next governing coalition. Lapid promised his voters one thing: normality – to live in Israel as if you're living in western Europe or North America, with a government that worries about education, housing and economic opportunity, rather than Iran's nuclear programme or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Midway through his recent four-year term "Bibi", the supposed master politician, lost touch with the Israeli public. Lacking a rival who could challenge his power, he behaved like a monopolist, ignoring the customers. Viewing himself as the saviour of the Jewish people from the wrath of Iran's atomic bombs – as the Israeli reincarnation of his hero, Winston Churchill – Netanyahu behaved like the king of Judea. He stayed on this message during the campaign, which showed his image under the hollow slogan "A strong prime minister for a strong Israel", but failed to draft a platform. Rather than engaging the public, Netanyahu made a deal with Avigdor Lieberman, his then foreign minister, to merge their parties for the election. This sealed his victory, but further alienated the voters.
The public wasn't satisfied with Netanyahu's attitude, and in the summer of 2011 sent a powerful warning sign to the prime minister. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched in the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities in an unprecedented middle-class revolt against the rising cost of living, and of property in particular.
Netanyahu responded by appointing a committee and burying the issue, while arranging a prisoner exchange with Hamas, which brought Gilad Shalit back home from captivity in Gaza. The gambit propelled his popularity for a while, but failed to address the protest's underlying causes.
The protesters did not seek to oust Netanyahu. They wanted an improved, more attentive, more compassionate Bibi. And they brought to the fore two journalists-turned-politicians: Shelly Yachimovich, who won the Labour party chairmanship, and Lapid, who formed a new centrist party, Yesh Atid (There Is a Future). The two former television celebrities argued that they understand the public mind better than the old guard of Netanyahu and his ilk. In their analysis, Israelis couldn't care less about the Palestinian issue and the settlements. Instead they crave economic security and better education.
In his weekly newspaper column – which was the most widely read in Israel – and his talk shows, Lapid defined the Israeli mainstream and became its voice. His agenda is full of apparent contradictions: nationalist and admiring the military but seeing Israel as part of the west and its culture. Secular and seeking to break the ultra-orthodox educational autonomy, draft exemption and political power, but respecting Jewish tradition. Supporting the two-state solution, but mistrusting the Palestinian leadership. Identifying with the middle class "slaves" while driving a luxury car. Putting education on top, without having even a high-school diploma.
Between both newcomers, Yachimovich had an early edge over Lapid. But he ran an exemplary campaign, careful not to lose steam over useless fights or to alienate his supporters – while Yachimovich turned her back on her party's peace legacy in a futile effort to win voters from the right. Lapid's achievement is all the more remarkable considering his zero military or political experience. He simply gave his voters what they wanted to hear.
Which raises the key question in the wake of Tuesday's result: can you really live in Tel Aviv and feel like it's Berlin, with no occupation and settlements barely 20 minutes away? Can Israel isolate itself behind wire and concrete and fix its education and welfare, as if the Palestinians don't exist? It sounds good in a campaign, but disconnected from real life. And therefore Lapid's test will be in his ability to pull Netanyahu towards a moderate foreign policy, and not to accept empty pledges of constitutional and social reform in return for sustaining Likud.
Coalition talks are the endgame of Israeli elections, and the political rookie Lapid now awaits a tough poker game with the master of survival, Netanyahu.
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January 23, 2013
Netanyahu-Obama Ties May Thaw After Israel Election
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — For President Obama, whose relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has often resembled that of a couple trapped in a loveless marriage, the last three months must have offered some grim satisfaction.
In November, Mr. Obama won re-election over Mitt Romney, who had been the not-so-subtle favorite of Mr. Netanyahu. Then on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu stumbled in his own re-election bid, with his Likud Party holding enough seats in Parliament to keep him in office but falling far short of expectations in the face of surging centrist voters.
Still, there was no crowing at the White House, at least in public, as the returns flowed in from Israel. Administration officials on Wednesday were reluctant to comment on how Mr. Netanyahu’s setback may affect his relations with Mr. Obama, especially since the Israeli leader has not yet begun the work of cobbling together a governing coalition.
As they sifted through the implications, analysts said there was more than vindication for Mr. Obama in Israel’s new political landscape.
Mr. Netanyahu’s weakened position could set the stage for, if not a “reset,” to use the administration’s well-worn phrase, then an improvement in his ties with the president.
If, as some analysts expect, Mr. Netanyahu seeks to put together a center-right coalition that includes Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party won 19 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, it could sand away the roughest edges of Mr. Netanyahu’s existing right-wing coalition.
Mr. Lapid could push a new government in directions that would ease longstanding sources of tension with Mr. Obama. For example, he is more interested in creating jobs and providing housing than in expanding construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a recurring source of friction between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.
With Ehud Barak, a hawkish former general, leaving the Defense Ministry, Mr. Netanyahu may be under less pressure to consider a unilateral strike on Iran over its nuclear program. That would be a relief to the White House, which has had to plead with the Israelis for patience while it pursues a last-ditch diplomatic effort with Tehran.
“A weaker Bibi heading a government with some centrists was the best outcome the White House could have hoped for,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East negotiator, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “It gives them a better chance to avoid war with the Iranian mullahs and preserve the chance of a peace with the Palestinians.”
The most optimistic outcome, Mr. Miller said, would be a kind of “odd couple” relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, in which they retain their differences over issues like settlements, but learn to manage them more skillfully.
That would be no small step, given the mutual suspicion that has suffused their relationship. White House officials alternately fumed and rolled their eyes during the presidential campaign when Mr. Netanyahu appeared to tilt toward Mr. Romney, inviting him to dinner at his home during the Republican candidate’s visit to Jerusalem last July.
Mr. Obama, members of the Likud Party believe, returned the favor during the Israeli election when Jeffrey Goldberg, an American journalist who writes frequently about Israel, reported that the president had disparaged Mr. Netanyahu after the Israeli government announced plans for settlements in a contested area of the West Bank known as E1.
Mr. Goldberg quoted Mr. Obama as saying repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” The White House did not confirm or deny Mr. Obama’s comments.
But days before the election, Mr. Netanyahu shot back that “only Israeli citizens will be the ones who determine who faithfully represents the vital interests of Israel” — a vivid reminder of his chilly relationship with the leader of Israel’s most important ally.
While in the past Israeli leaders — including Mr. Netanyahu himself during a previous stint as prime minister — have been punished by Israeli voters for mismanaging their relationships with American presidents, analysts were reluctant to attribute too much of his troubles to Mr. Obama, given the complexities of an election that surprised even the experts.
Still, as Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, put it, “the Israeli public cares about the relationship, and it didn’t help that he mishandled it, and there was a reminder of how badly he mishandled it on the eve of the election.”
Among the intriguing questions, Mr. Indyk said, is whether Mr. Lapid would insist on concessions for joining a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu, like a freeze in settlement construction. While Mr. Lapid’s party has put its emphasis on concerns like jobs and housing, taking a stand on settlements would signal a shift from the right’s agenda.
Almost no one predicts that a new Israeli government will suddenly allow Mr. Obama to rekindle his first-term goal of a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Mr. Lapid’s party did not score its victory by pushing to revive long-moribund peace talks. The political climate on both sides remains hostile to such an effort.
Nor, after the frustrations of his first term, does Mr. Obama appear any more likely to invest heavily in Middle East peacemaking. The president scarcely mentions the subject these days.
While Mr. Indyk said that Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, would make a game effort to preserve the two-state solution, he is no more likely to achieve a breakthrough than Mrs. Clinton did.
Mr. Miller, now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said he had rarely seen a relationship as persistently dysfunctional as that between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. A resounding Netanyahu victory would only have exacerbated those strains.
Now, though, in the wake of his deflating victory, Mr. Netanyahu may have the chance to mend fences, Mr. Miller said.
“The good news for Bibi, if he manages to put it together, is that a broader government would ease tensions and make the next four years much less rocky,” he said. “Netanyahu will be able to preside over a much more functional relationship with the United States.”
January 23, 2013
Despite Boycott, More Than Half of Voters Are Said to Turn Out in Jordan Election
By KAREEM FAHIM
MULEIH, Jordan — Two years ago, Mohamed al-Snaid organized laborers to demonstrate against poor working conditions, helping to start a movement that spread throughout the country and gave voice to a festering anger that has shaken the rule of King Abdullah II.
On Wednesday, Mr. Snaid took on a very different role, as a candidate in Jordan’s first parliamentary elections since the start of the unrest. He ran despite a boycott of the election by the many members of the protest movement, Hirak, who regard the vote as a public relations exercise by the king and who say that previous Parliaments were weak and unrepresentative.
Standing outside a polling station, Mr. Snaid said that after debating whether to join the boycott, he decided that the best place to fight corruption and economic inequality was from inside the system. Besides, the king asked personally.
“He told us to participate to help him with reform,” Mr. Snaid said.
The lines were short, especially in Amman, the capital, but officials said early results showed that 56 percent of the 2.3 million voters who registered turned out, despite the boycott. There were numerous reports of vote-buying but no immediate signs of widespread fraud, which would itself represent a change from charges of interference leveled against the Jordanian authorities in recent parliamentary elections.
In the most serious challenge to the credibility of the elections, the country’s main opposition group, the Islamic Action Front, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, has joined the boycott, increasing the chances that the election will be followed by more unrest. The group’s leaders have argued that the election law is flawed and underrepresents cities, where most Jordanians live — and where the Brotherhood counts on support, including among Jordanians of Palestinian descent, a majority of the nation’s population.
Jordanians approached the polls with trepidation on Wednesday, with some saying that the appearance of so many former members of Parliament on the ballot gave them little faith that the election would provide meaningful change. King Abdullah, a crucial American ally, has insisted that amendments to the election law and other changes would help usher in a new era of pluralism, although many here see him as relying on the vote to fend off the anger in the streets.
“We don’t want old faces. We tried that,” said Khalid Hammad, 28, a lawyer who voted in Amman, in support of a friend, a fellow lawyer who was a first-time candidate. Mr. Hammad said that previous Parliaments had been derided for failing to fight corruption or to grapple with demands for social justice
“We are worried,” he said. “We can help Jordan not go the same way as Syria and Egypt.”
In all, 1,425 candidates were running for 150 seats, up from 120, in the lower house — an election law modification that was intended to quiet complaints about a system that rewarded local power brokers. They were often members of powerful tribes rather than national parties. But the Brotherhood and other opposition groups complained that the new law did not go far enough.
At polling stations, voters seemed to be reverting to patterns that had enfeebled Parliament in the past: ignoring issues while voting for friends, relatives or members of their tribe. And the ballot included several candidates who were arrested on bribery charges in the days before the election.
Mohammad Abuarisheh contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 23, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of seats in the lower house of Parliament. There are 150, not 120.
January 23, 2013
Inquiry Ordered in Death of Prosecutor Who Investigated Pakistani Premier
By DECLAN WALSH
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s top judge on Wednesday ordered a judicial investigation into the death of a state prosecutor who had been building corruption charges against the prime minister.
The prosecutor, Kamran Faisal, was found dead on Friday at his government lodgings in Islamabad, hanging from the ceiling. Although the initial autopsy determined that Mr. Faisal had committed suicide, his family and some colleagues said they suspected foul play.
A media storm erupted after it emerged that Mr. Faisal had been one of several prosecutors investigating accusations that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had taken kickbacks during his tenure as minister for water and power between 2008 and 2011.
On Wednesday, the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who last week ordered the arrest of Mr. Ashraf over corruption accusations, entered the fray in a characteristically forceful manner. In ordering the inquiry, Mr. Chaudhry described Mr. Faisal’s death as “shocking” and added his voice to fears that the official investigation could be compromised by powerful politicians.
Citing statements submitted to the court by Mr. Faisal’s relatives, Chief Justice Chaudhry said they were “not expecting free, fair and honest investigation because of the involvement of highly influential political and executive authorities of the country.”
The Supreme Court’s intervention was the latest shot in a long-running battle between Chief Justice Chaudhry and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court’s hands-on approach has attracted criticism from legal experts who accuse Chief Justice Chaudhry of undermining the normal judicial process.
“The court is encouraging investigations from the top down rather than from the bottom up,” said Asma Jahangir, the country’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “And if that happens, there can be no appeal. Nobody can challenge the Supreme Court.”
Since last year, the court has repeatedly challenged Mr. Zardari’s authority through court cases; in June it forced the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, to resign. The order to arrest Mr. Ashraf last week, which as yet has led to no action, was based on accusations that Mr. Ashraf and 15 other former and current officials took substantial kickbacks in relation to power plants built during his tenure as minister.
But the court has been frustrated, in part, by the government’s anticorruption body, the National Accountability Bureau. Last Thursday, Chief Justice Chaudhry grew visibly angry after the body’s leader, Fasih Bokhari, said during a hearing that he lacked sufficient evidence to arrest Ms. Ashraf.
A day later, Mr. Faisal was found dead at a government hostel, setting off fierce speculation about the manner of his death and lending the controversy a sulfurous new dimension. Mr. Faisal’s father has rejected the possibility of suicide, while colleagues at the National Accountability Bureau have testified that he was suffering from “mental stress” and “psychological issues” at the time of his death.