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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1084325 times)
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« Reply #4200 on: Jan 24, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Women join ranks of Assad’s new paramilitary force in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 11:01 EST

At 40 years of age, Abir Ramadan joined the all-female unit of Syria’s new paramilitary force, pledging loyalty to Bashar al-Assad in the armed struggle against those seeking to topple the president.

Dressed in camouflage, she marches at a stadium in the central city of Homs, raising her fist and chanting “Allah, Suriya, Bashar wa bas” (God, Syria, Bashar — that’s it), the rallying cry of the embattled leader’s supporters.

The stadium’s entrances are guarded by women armed with Kalashnikovs, while others search cars at a checkpoint. They present themselves as “fedayat”, which in Arabic literally means those who sacrifice themselves for a cause.

“My husband encouraged me to get involved and I liked the idea. I introduced myself to the recruitment centre and was easily accepted,” explains the “fedaya” Abir, who has kept her day job as a technician in a radiology laboratory.

“Before I did not know how to handle a gun and I did not dare stay at home alone for fear of being attacked. I wanted to learn and to help. I volunteered because my country is suffering,” she says.

The first women’s unit of the National Defence Forces in Syria, founded in the central city of Homs, has 450 fighters from 18 to 50 years of age.

Nada Jahjah, a retired commander who oversees the training, says Homs was chosen “due to the tragic circumstances experienced by the city”.

“This is not a normal war, it looks nothing like the October (1973 war against Israel). It is not the enemy we knew. This time the enemy is from our family, our neighbours and neighbouring countries supplying arms and spreading fundamentalist thinking. They kill and slay Syrians. This is a savage war,” she says.

Since the outbreak of peaceful anti-regime protests in March 2011, Syrian authorities have dismissed the revolt as a foreign-funded conspiracy and referred to opposition activists and armed rebels alike as Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists.

The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP the regime has created a paramilitary force to supplement the army in its fight against the rebels.

Dubbed the “capital of the revolution” by the opposition, Homs has been at the forefront of the uprising.

It was the first to pay dearly when Assad’s war machine unleashed its firepower on rebel-held areas, retaking a large part of the city.

This industrial heartland is also a diverse centre of 1.5 million people, Sunnis, Christians and Alawites, whose sectarian fault lines have become entrenched with time.

In this charged environment, none of the combattants revealed where she lives, because pro- and anti-regime fighters use captives’ ID cards to figure out their sectarian identities.

Sunnis, who represent 80 percent of the population, largely support the revolt, while 10 percent of the population are Alawites like President Assad, and the Christians at five percent mostly back the regime.

“The training includes shooting Kalashnikovs, machineguns, handling grenades, attacking opposition checkpoints, controlling our checkpoints, conducting raids and courses on military tactics,” says commander Jahjah.

The force is voluntary and the fedayat serve four-hour shifts in the morning from or in the afternoon to permit the women to carry on with their normal profession.

Etidal Hamad, a 34-year-old government employee and mother of three girls, says while her husband also encouraged her, her primary motivation to sign up three months ago was “a desire to support the army and defend the fatherland”.

In the stadium parade that marks the end of the training, the women shout at the top of their lungs: “With our blood and our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, O Bashar!”

[Image via AFP]

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« Reply #4201 on: Jan 24, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Women in combat: Pentagon to overturn military ban

Move announced by defence secretary Leon Panetta will allow women to serve in infantry and commando units for first time

Adam Gabbatt, Thursday 24 January 2013 07.53 GMT      

Women could assume combat roles in the US army for the first time as early as this year, following a landmark decision by defense secretary Leon Panetta to lift a military ban on women serving on the frontline.

The groundbreaking move could open up hundreds of thousands of frontline positions, and could see women working in elite commando units.

One official told the Associated Press, which revealed details of the move, that military chiefs will report to the Pentagon on how to integrate women into combat roles by 15 May.

Panetta's decision was hailed as a "historic step" by one senator and could eventually open up 230,000 jobs to female military personnel. The Pentagon had previously opened around 14,500 combat positions to women in February 2012, but females were still prevented from serving in the infantry, in tank units and in commando units.

Women, although banned from serving in combat roles, have been heavily involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 12 years, serving as pilots, military police, intelligence officers and other roles attached to, if not formally part of, frontline units. By last year, around 130 women had died and 800 had been wounded since the wars began.

Panetta's decision, which will be formally announced on Thursday, will go further, opening up the possibility of women serving in those roles for the first time. While some combat roles could become available for women this year, positions in special operations forces such as US navy Seals and the army's Delta Force may take longer due to lengthier assessment periods, AP reported.

Women make up 14% of the 1.4 million active military personnel, but their participation in some aspects of military life has historically been thwarted by the 1994 direct ground combat definition and assignment rule. That rule identified five areas which it said could affect women's military service – "direct ground combat, berthing and privacy, co-location, long-range reconnaissance and special operations forces, and physically demanding tasks".

The Pentagon's 2012 decision addressed two of the five concerns – allowing women to occupy intelligence and communications jobs and fill positions close to combat zones – but many positions were still male-only.

Officials will report back by mid-May on the logistics of allowing women to fill the restricted positions, while Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

"This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation," said senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate veterans' affairs committee and a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

"From the streets of Iraqi cities to rural villages in Afghanistan, time and again women have proven capable of serving honorably and bravely.

"In fact, it's important to remember that in recent wars that lacked any true frontlines, thousands of women already spent their days in combat situations serving side-by-side with their fellow male service members."

Pressure to allow women to serve in combat positions has been growing over recent years. In November 2012, four female soldiers, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, announced that they were suing the Department of Defense over its restrictions on women serving in frontline warfare, the ACLU arguing that women had effectively been engaged on the combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan given the nature of those two wars and the changing notion of the 'frontline'.

The ACLU cautiously welcomed Panetta's decision on Wednesday.

"We are thrilled to hear Secretary Panetta's announcement today, recognizing that qualified women will have the same chance to distinguish themselves in combat as their brothers-in-arms, which they actually already have been doing with valor and distinction," said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

"But we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."
Role call

Women are banned from close-combat roles. They are allowed to support frontline operations in areas such as logistics, artillery and engineering but are excluded from joining the infantry or serving in small tactical combat arms teams which require close contact with or killing enemy face-to-face. The Ministry of Defence reviewed the policy in 2010 and concluded that women were physically and psychologically capable of the job but the impact of having mixed-gender teams were unknown and could have "far-reaching and grave consequences".

Women are permitted to take on all military roles including close combat. The policy was adopted in 1989 following a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Commission Tribunal that females should be fully integrated into all roles except service on submarines, although this restriction was later removed. In May 2006, Captain Nichola Goddard became the first woman in Canadian history to be killed while serving in a direct combat role, against the Taliban.

Women have been allowed to serve in close combat roles since 2001 following a ruling by the European Court of Justice that preventing females from occupying such positions was against gender equality principles. By 2009, the number of women in the armed forces was three times that in 2001, with an estimated 800 in combat units.

Women have been permitted in all frontline combat roles since 2011. Before, women were eligible for around 93% of roles, but were excluded from the special forces, infantry and some army artillery posts.

Cass Jones

* US-women-in-military-comb-010.jpg (37.11 KB, 460x276 - viewed 85 times.)
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« Reply #4202 on: Jan 24, 2013, 07:56 AM »

01/23/2013 03:28 PM

Cameron's Collison Course: London Takes Major Gamble with EU Referendum

By Carsten Volkery in London

David Cameron has put himself on a collision course with the rest of Europe by pledging an 'in or out' referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017. He is demanding special privileges for his country and putting Britain's partners under pressure -- it's a high-risk gamble that has angered Berlin and Paris.

Germany and France on Wednesday criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron's demands to claw back powers from the European Union and said his plan to hold an "in or out" referendum was dangerous for Britain.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Britain cannot expect just to pick and choose the aspects of membership that it likes. "Germany wants the United Kingdom to remain an active and constructive part of the European Union... But cherry picking is not an option," Westerwelle told reporters.

"Europe isn't the sum of national interests but a community with a common fate in difficult times."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: "If Britain wants to leave Europe we will roll out the red carpet for you." The tongue-in-cheek remark echoed Cameron himself, who once used the same words to invite rich Frenchmen alienated by high taxes to move to Britain.

A referendum would be "dangerous for Britain itself," said Fabius. Responding to Cameron's plan to renegotiate relations between the EU and Britain, he said Europe was like a football club. "You join the club but when you're in it you can't say: 'I'm going to play rugby now.'"

The president of the European Parliament, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, said the EU needed Britain as a full member. "Cameron's Europe a la carte isn't an option."

'It Is Time to Settle This Question About Britain And Europe'

Cameron promised on Wednesday to give Britons a straight referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union or leave, provided he wins an election in 2015. He said the vote could take place sometime between 2015 and the end of 2017, and shrugged off warnings that this could damage Britain's economic prospects and alienate its allies.

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe," Cameron said, adding that his Conservative Party would campaign for the 2015 general election promising to renegotiate Britain's EU membership.

"When we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the European Union on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."

His keynote speech had been announced for months but repeatedly postponed. He had wanted to hold it last Friday in Amsterdam, in the spirit of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who chose the Belgian city of Bruges for a 1988 speech in which she lambasted what she called "a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels."

But Cameron cancelled the trip because of the Algerian hostage crisis. In the end, he decided to eschew the European mainland and address journalists in London instead, at the UK headquarters of financial news agency Bloomberg.

That location wasn't without a certain symbolism either -- after all, Bloomberg is an institution from the world of finance, and Cameron often cites the need to defend Britain's financial sector and the City of London as the reason for his rebellion against Brussels.

In the most important speech of his career, he pledged to negotiate a "better deal" for Britain by bringing powers back from Brussels.

High-Risk Gamble

The head of the Conservative Party is playing a maximum risk game. Britain last held a referendum on membership of what was then called the European Economic Community in 1975, and no prime minister since has dared to repeat a plebiscite. No one wanted to risk Britain leaving.

Cameron's plan for a looser version of full British EU membership is based on two extremely shaky assumptions. Firstly, it depends on the EU making a treaty change in the coming months -- only then could he push through further opt-outs from the common rules. And secondly, the EU partners would have to agree to his wishes.

Both seem unlikely. The other governments don't want to reopen the 2009 Lisbon Treaty that reformed the EU's institutions. After all, it took many years to negotiate it -- and if a country demands further exceptions, the arduous discussions will have to start afresh. As a result of that reluctance, the changes to the architecture of the single currency in response to the euro crisis have so far been made without altering the treaty.

In addition, many EU leaders don't trust Cameron. They suspect his initiative stems from the age-old desire of Britain's Conservatives to weaken the EU and reduce its purpose to that of running the single market. Wednesday's reactions in Berlin, Paris and Brussels suggest he may not get what he wants.

But Cameron won't let such warnings stop him. He said his experience in dealing with the EU was that you could secure concessions if you push hard enough.

But he didn't answer the decisive question: What powers does he want to claw back? Britain isn't a member of the euro zone or the Schengen area of passport-free travel. It secured an additional opt-out on justice issues in the Lisbon Treaty.

No 'Return Ticket' for Britain

In his speech, Cameron didn't provide details of his proposed "new settlement" beyond mentioning some basic principles for a reform of the EU: an expansion of the single market, more flexible structures, less bureaucracy and a review of the EU's responsiblities. He evidently doesn't want to narrow his scope for negotiations. He doesn't want to pin himself down by making demands that he won't be able to push through. But in recent weeks he has hinted he wants to cut social benefits paid to foreign EU nationals in Britain and to cancel the EU guideline on working hours.

After he had finished the speech, the British journalists gathered in the room wanted above all to know what he would do if the EU partners refused his demands. Would he then campaign for a British exit from the EU?

Cameron evaded the question, saying: "I would argue, 'who goes into a negotiation expecting and hoping to fail'?" But he left no doubt that he sees Britain's place in the EU. "I'm not a British isolationist," he said. Of course Britain, like any other country, could seek its own way in the world. "But is that really the best future for our country?"

Cameron, like all his predecessors, doesn't want to enter the history books as the prime minister who led his country out of the EU. He warned that there wasn't a "return ticket" if Britain left the EU.

Cameron is banking on other governments helping him to convince the British. He is seeking support from traditional allies like Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. He is looking to Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular -- he referred to her several times in his speech.

It's unknown what Merkel has offered Cameron in their face-to-face meetings. But Germany's official reaction has been cool. Germany wants Britain in the EU, say government officials in Berlin -- but not at any price. It's up to the British to decide whether they can live with common rules. Germany, they say, won't be blackmailed.

Even though Britain's EU partners are opposed to a British referendum, the prospect of the vote will have the benefit of mobilizing pro-European voices that have been been drowned out by the euroskeptics in recent years.

The debate surrounding Cameron's speech has already had an noticeable impact on public opinion. Surveys suggest that given the choice between the status quo and an uncertain future outside the EU, the British may opt to stick with the devil they know.


Cameron becomes perch to the EU

Tomasz Bielecki

The growing reluctance of many Britons to the EU include Eurozone crisis aftermath. Eurozone trouble Islands reinforce the belief that European integration at the Brussels fashion design is a loser
United Kingdom joined the EU (then called EEC) in 1973, a referendum in 1975 confirmed the membership of a majority of 67 percent. votes. In British politics, European integration has been recognized not as the construction of an idealized community of civilization, but as a specific transaction brings profit to London. Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was a proponent of a common single market (what happened), and although many Britons would bring most of the European Union for a free trade area, the London pragmatically resigned to the - accompanying abolition of trade barriers - moderate political integration. Nevertheless, Eurosceptic sentiment has always been strong in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday about the specifics of the nation Islanders tied to the defense of sovereignty, what change would be as difficult as dry Channel (used, of course, the name Angielski Channel). British euroscepticism once explained the historical fear of the influence of British policy on the continent, and even the inhabitants of the former empire difficulties take to fit into the community on an equal footing. While the EU, especially in the South, is considered an advocate and guardian of the hard economic liberalism destructive welfare state in Britain is still a very strong view is that the EU is a left-wing trap for unfettered free market. Despite unprecedented warnings of the White House before Brexitem many Britons still believe that they are free to, and even they should choose between Europe and the English-speaking world.

Cameron wants more slack

Eurozone crisis has further shaken the Canary opinion about integration, and Cameron decided to use it for the purposes of the referendum. Well, in Europe several months circulate ideas thoroughly repair the EU, and especially the euro area through the reform of the EU treaties. This is where Cameron saw the opportunity to negotiate a looser rules for British membership. Since you change the treaties, the treaty also let's position in London - so you can summarize his argument. Although the British weigh words, it smells a blackmail: if you do not give me what I ask, it will be blocked any changes to the treaties.

Cameron has tested this method in December 2011, during the negotiations to amend the treaties stronger budget discipline states. No time for London wytargował any concessions, so prevented the amendment of budgetary discipline. I ended up signing a separate fiscal pact, to which the consent of the British was not necessary.

You can not rule out such a scenario the eurozone treaty renovation (ultimately eurozone reform could save in a separate treatise), but the main problem now is that Cameron that Chancellor Angela Merkel loses the desire to change the treaty, but a few months ago was the main supporter. Recent legal ruling German court in Karlsruhe seem to indicate that many eurozone reforms can make ordinary EU regulations - no change treaties and their ratification difficult.

- I agree with the President, José Manuel Barroso, that some reform treaty change is needed - but yesterday Cameron argued. This provoked a sarcastic joke in Brussels, because it's probably the first time that the British Prime Minister, nodding the head of the European Commission, which is a symbol of the EU bureaucracy. Without amending the treaties Cameron will be even harder bargain with the rest of the Union.

British exceptions

British EU treaties exempt from the obligation to pursue the eurozone and the Schengen area. Also allow previously unused British exceptions in the field of justice, together with the weakening of the European arrest warrant in the UK. Cameron thinks, however, to require the Union a veto over new rules of banking and finance (now operating principle of majority voting) which may, for example banks to impose new rules on the safety of deposits and investments. The financial sector is one of the main sectors of the economy and London complain that Brussels does not stick his nose in my business. I want to exclude small businesses from EU legislation, including in the field of law work . Tories hate the Working Time Directive, which sets limits on shifts and holidays.

Some politicians from the North of the EU has a lot of sympathy for these requests, but yesterday as protests against the opening of Pandora's box, which would be matching the EU countries only those that match the EU rules. - We would arrive to a "28-speed Europe" - commented the head of the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (added to the current 27 Croatia).

How much would cost Brexit? British net contribution to the budget of the EU is 5-6 billion a year, but that is not the main problem. Brexit may provoke a political row (or even geopolitical), and the EU fear that the British osłabiałby breach of its potential. European integration, which for several decades, creates prosperity (the current crisis does not change this assessment) and political stability would be exposed to erosion, the enormous political and financial costs, even today, can not be accurately calculated.

Against the idea to renegotiate EU membership is Cameron's coalition government - the Liberal Democrats. However, the opposition Labour (they are for membership in the EU) will have trouble to oppose the idea of ​​a referendum. - This poll can no longer be avoided - Jolyon Howorth said with the European Policy Center. It seems, therefore, that in the UK, European integration will be a key theme of the election campaign in 2015


01/23/2013 06:31 PM

Opinion: Europe's Scaredy-Cat

By Christoph Scheuermann in London

Fear drove David Cameron to promise Britain a referendum on EU membership. Fear of his party, fear of voters, and fear of the EU itself, which he neither fully understands nor has ever really been interested in. He wants Europe to be a free trade zone with beach access. He missed an opportunity on Wednesday to haul Britain back to the center of Europe.

In Britain, the golden rule of giving speeches is this: Whatever you do, don't be boring. Why did David Cameron forget that?

The British prime minister missed a great opportunity when he on Europe on Wednesday. He could have pulled his country from the periphery of the Continent back to the center. He could have proved that Britain's international clout is more important to him than getting patted on the back by his friends in the Conservative Party. He could at the very least have surprised his audience on this ice-cold Januaray day in London. But he didn't even do that.

Instead, Cameron promised a referendum on Britain's European Union membership after the next general election -- if he wins it. The referendum isn't a replacement for a true strategy on Europe. It merely represents an attempt to shake off a troublesome issue by postponing it to a later date.

The important questions still haven't been answered. What exactly does Britain expect of Europe? What laws and regulations does Cameron want to change? What parts of the treaty does he want to opt out of? And above all: How in heaven's name does Cameron propose to persuade the German chancellor, the French president and all the other European leaders that he should get to pick the raisins from the cake while everyone else gets the crumbs? Britain should remain in the EU, says Cameron, but he doesn't say under what conditions.

The essence of his speech was "yes, but."

No Values, No Vision

Cameron's vision of Europe is a free trade area with access to the beaches of the Mediterranean. Beyond that, he doesn't associate the project with a past or a future. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility and fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop. His thinking on Europe is indecisive and chained to the present. What Europe witnessed on Wednesday was a speech delivered by a politician prone to knee-jerk reactions who lacks values or a vision. He lacks gravity. Cameron floats above Europe like an astronaut.

He's isolated partly because his interest in Europe stems from fear rather than any desire to shape it. He's driven by fear of the euroskeptics in his party, of the voters, of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party and of the strange Brussels behemoth which Cameron feels threatened by because he doesn't understand it.

His party still hasn't forgiven him for failing to clinch an absolute majority in the last election. They see the coalition with the Liberal Democrats as a humiliation. The EU is their way of exacting revenge on Cameron for that. It's part of the reason why Cameron sees Europe mainly as a party political problem.

By trying to satisfy his radical backbenchers with the referendum pledge, he's launched into a game he can't win. The EU's other 26 governments won't let him opt out of parts of the existing accords because that would prompt others to demand concessions of their own. The Europe-haters in Cameron's party won't be satisfied because the leeway they want from Brussels isn't politically achievable.

What makes it all the sadder is that even though Cameron's motives are wrong, the timing of his speech is spot on. Britain has been waging a lively debate on Europe for months and one would wish that Germany and other countries showed similar passion -- though perhaps not such bitterness -- on the issue.

Europe must dare to address the fundamental questions, not despite the crisis but because of it. Cameron is right to question the growing budget of the European Commission, the EU's executive. How can one explain to the Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese that Brussels should get more money while they are being subjected to cutbacks? And Cameron is also right to point to the lack of democracy in EU decision-making.

One could almost be inclined to take the speech seriously, if one didn't know how bored and passionless Cameron has been about the European debate in the past.


January 24, 2013

Britain’s Prime Minister Defends Decision to Seek Vote on European Union


PARIS — Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain on Thursday defended his decision to seek a referendum on his country’s membership in the European Union, saying his goal was to overhaul the 27-nation bloc, not to retreat into isolation.

“This is not about turning our backs on Europe, quite the opposite,” Mr. Cameron told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s about how we make the case for a more competitive, open and flexible Europe, and secure the U.K.’s place within it.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership within five years, assuming his Conservative Party is re-elected in the next national election scheduled for 2015. The proposal met with deep skepticism elsewhere in the European Union, but Mr. Cameron’s party — which has long struggled over the question of Europe — welcomed it.

In Davos, Mr. Cameron pointedly portrayed Britain mainly as a global force, independent of the European Union, emphasizing the role of more informal international bodies like the Group of 8 nations as a forum for action. And he noted that Britain had been the first European Union nation to support France with logistical support after President François Hollande sent troops to Mali to thwart an Islamist takeover.

“We are a global nation, with global interests and global reach,” Mr. Cameron said. “If you think all this is an unashamed advert for the U.K. and U.K. business — you’re absolutely right.”

But it was in his remarks about Europe, that Mr. Cameron was most passionate.

“When you have a single currency, you move inexorably toward a banking union and forms of fiscal union and that has huge implications for countries like the U.K. who are not in the euro and never will be,” Mr. Cameron said. Rather than ignore that “the club we belong to is changing,” he said, the right approach was to “negotiate a new settlement for Europe that works for the U.K. and then let’s get fresh consent for it.”

Mr. Cameron once again laid down Britain’s line in the sand on European integration, saying: “If you mean Europe has to become a political union, if there should be a country called Europe, I don’t agree.”

“Should we show political will? Yes,” he said, adding: “But a centralized political union? Not for me, not for Britain.”

Mr. Cameron also responded to suggestions that the referendum had increased the uncertainty for investors into Britain, arguing that it was better to be open and set out a clear path so businesses “can see that we have a plan” for resolving the question.

“There is a debate under way in the U.K. about E.U. membership,” he said, adding: “The riskiest course of all would be to sit back and do nothing.”

In Britain on Thursday, Mr. Cameron’s announcement of a referendum drew a mixed response from business leaders, 56 of whom signed a letter to The Times of London endorsing his decision and saying: “We need a new relationship with the E.U., backed by democratic mandate.”

Those whose names appeared below the letter included the heads of the London Stock Exchange, the beverage giant Diageo and the engineering company Rolls-Royce.

But other business leaders and newspaper columnists said the prospect of a five-year debate about a possible British departure from the European Union introduced an element of economic uncertainty that would deter foreign investors.

The BBC quoted David Sproul, the head of accounting firm Deloitte’s operations in Britain, as saying: “The Europe debate does not create certainty.”

He added: “There is no question it will impact Britain — it will hit investment into the U.K.”

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.


01/24/2013 01:22 PM

The World from Berlin: 'It Would Be Wrong to Give Cameron the Cold Shoulder'

In their take on Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on Wednesday and his decision to hold a referendum by 2017 on Britain's future EU membership, commentators at major German papers argue that some of his reasoning isn't wrong and call for the Europe to keep Britain at the table.

As David Cameron warned Thursday against trying to "shoehorn" countries into a centralized political union, editorialists at a handful of leading German newspapers offered the British prime minister some level of support and urged other European leaders not to give him the cold shoulder.

Cameron's speech on London's future role in the European Union on Wednesday was criticized by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as an attempt to pick and choose the things Britain wants from the EU. "Cherry picking is not an option," he told reporters.

But Cameron furthered his calls for change at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. "Countries in Europe have their histories, their traditions, their institutions, want their own sovereignty, their ability to make their own choices, and to try and shoehorn countries into a centralized political union would be a great mistake for Europe, and Britain wouldn't be part of it," Cameron told CEOs and investors in his speech.

In Thursday's papers, some German commentators argue for less emotion and more pragmatism, and suggested that EU partners should take a look at what the prime minister wants.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Cameron has made his European partners a promise that has a slight whiff of blackmail to it: If the EU isn't reformed and there is no 'deal,' then Britain will be pushed to exit. Cameron doesn't want that, or for euroskeptics or enemies of Europe to clog up his country, and his European partners don't want it. Once the agitation has settled over real or meant British excursions, the country's European partners should quietly sit down and study Cameron's wish list and not just immediately discount it as cherry picking."

"Cameron's strategy may be dangerous, but his analysis isn't wrong. Euro-zone integration is getting ever deeper and that has consequences for EU countries that are not part of the common currency. In general, the competitive capacity across the EU leaves a lot to be desired. And the people are growing more and more distant from 'Europe' and its institutions. None of this can be disputed. A few things need to be settled. Is it imperative that we continue transferring more power to 'Brussels'? In what areas is it essential, indispensable in fact, that we act together? What role should national parliaments play in European policies? What's clear is what the British do and do not want: They want an internal market and cooperation between member states, but they do not want an 'ever-closer union'."

"What's nice and attractive about Europe is its diversity. But not everything can neatly fit inside the box. Nevertheless, the community (of shared destiny) needs EU regulations and institutions that formulate common ground and balance out conflicts of interest. That is laborious and not always satisfying, but a firm framework is essential. At the same time, this framework needs to reflect diverse traditions, mentalities and goals. In other words: It can't work without flexibility. Europe's trick is to find a way of combining that flexibility with commitment. Pragmatic British and other skeptics should be able to warm others to that idea."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Cameron is in no way alone in his analysis of the changes that are coming for the EU, which one cannot address as being 'business as usual.' The overdue plans to stabilize the euro zone bring with them a deepening of the EU that also will have wide-reaching consequences for the countries not belonging to the euro. Those need to be not just discussed, but also most likely negotiated. It is not anti-European when the British prime minister brings these up. It is also not anti-European of Cameron to point out the threatened competitiveness of the EU and to blame, among other things, the 'sclerotic' state of management in Brussels -- the overboard rules and regulations that hinder many creative forces, not just in commerce."

"And it is not at all anti-European of him to note the insidious democratic deficit and the lack of trust in the citizens in the EU and its institutions. That has undermined a lot of what European integration was actually meant to achieve."

"Great Britain is approaching the EU question in a 'practical' not emotional way, Cameron says. That would do us all some good."

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"David Cameron has spoken, but Europe isn't trembling. Why not? For the British prime minister, it was mostly about quieting the euroskeptics in his own party. And a lot of water will flow through the Thames before a referendum in four to five years. Who knows who will be in 10 Downing Street then. And even if the British go to the polls in 2017, it is not a foregone conclusion that they will vote 'no.' When the going gets tough, they have always been a reasonable people."

"The statement currently heard in Brussels that Britain needs Europe more than Europe needs Britain is foolish and dangerous. Because without the United Kingdom, Europe would have less esteem in the world, not more. It is in the interest of the Germans and the French, especially, to not just pull the British along, but to instead bring them to the center of the debate over Europe. Because the reality in Europe is such that the opinions over what is the right path to take are divergent across the EU."

"Cameron expects a lot from the EU, but he also acknowledged being a European. It would be wrong to give him the cold shoulder."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"It was above all a speech aimed at domestic politics. The anxiety it has caused in other EU countries has therefore been exaggerated. Cameron avoided naming the concrete demands, other than abandoning the EU's working time directive, against which the success of his new negotiations would have to be measured. And although it was rumored before his speech that he would insist on a new EU treaty, instead he plans to push through his goals in negotiations with other member countries if necessary."

"That gives him a lot of room for maneuver. It doesn't prevent the possibility that some powers will be returned from Brussels to London, an eventuality that also wouldn't cause the EU to break up. It strengthens the chance for Cameron to sell his strategy as a success, and for him to strongly support a 'yes' on the referendum, assuming he is still in office when it happens."

Offering a populist take on the UK developments, the tabloid Bild offers eight reasons why the EU doesn't need the British:

"… because they drink stale beer +++ because they drive on the wrong side of the road. +++ because they consider black pudding, Marmite and vinegar and chips to be delicacies +++ because their electrical plugs are different from those on the Continent +++ because they don't use the metric system +++ because Germany's currywurst (sausage) tastes better than fish and chips +++ because they have greater debts than Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland together +++ because even without your bagpipes, we will still have plenty of idiots in Brussels."

-- Daryl Lindsey and Mary Beth Warner, with wires.

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« Reply #4203 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Latvia: Russia's playground for business, politics – and crime

Mystery of missing tycoon shows how Russian influence is growing again in small Baltic nation

Luke Harding in Jurmala, Latvia, Wednesday 23 January 2013 16.18 GMT   

The Russian tycoon Leonid Rozhetskin was last seen alive in the pretty seaside town of Jurmala, on the Baltic coast of Latvia. That was five years ago. Detectives found ominous clues inside his villa, including blood on the floor, but no body.

Then last summer police discovered human remains 25 miles away in a forest. Inside a pocket was Rozhetskin's credit card. So far officials have been unable to say for sure that the corpse is that of the missing multi-millionaire.

The presumed murder is a vivid example of how Latvia – a small Baltic nation of 2 million people on the doorstep of Russia – has become a playground for Russian interests: business, political and, above all, criminal. Or often, as in the Rozhetskin case, all three. Like many rich Russians he had numerous enemies. The Guardian has even been told the name of the hitman who allegedly killed him.

Two decades after Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union, joining the EU and Nato in 2004, Russian influence is growing again.

It is most visible in Jurmala, the picturesque resort of pine forests and wooden dachas from where Rozhetskin is thought to have disappeared. Every summer Russia's fashionable super-rich gather here for the New Wave pop festival. They meet, socialise and party. A table in the VIP lounge of the town's concert hall costs £25,000. It is joked that their combined wealth exceeds Latvia's budget.

The guests are a who's who of Vladimir Putin's Russia – oligarchs, Duma MPs, crooners and spies. Two years ago Roman Abramovich dropped by and went for a walk in the sand dunes. Other summer visitors include Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman. Also there last year was Vladimir Pronichev, deputy director of Russia's powerful FSB spy agency, and the man responsible for guarding the country's borders.

According to Leonid Jakobson, an investigative journalist based in the capital, Riga, Jurmala also attracts another clientele: the Russian mafia.

Last year a Russian businessman, Nikolai Kirillov, was shot dead while returning from the beach with a 24-year-old female companion. There was a theory he was involved in smuggling. As is often the case, nobody was caught.

In 2010 Vyaschaslav Shestakov, a Russian alleged to be a gangster, moved to Jurmala. He was said to be an emissary of the mobster Aslan Usoyan, also known as Grandpa Hasan, who was gunned down last week while leaving his favourite Moscow restaurant. Last month the Latvian authorities banned Shestakov from the country, and from the rest of the EU.

"Jurmala isn't really a music festival. You don't need to go to Latvia to listen to Russian pop stars. You can do that in Russia," Jakobson said. "In reality Jurmala is an important moment. The Russian mafia and Russian government are together in one place. They discuss common problems, global problems and how to move money through the Baltics."

Some including Jakobson believe the Kremlin's agenda in Latvia is to slowly reverse the country's strategic direction from pro-west to pro-Moscow. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and, arguably, Georgia have all recently returned to Russia's geo-political fold following unsuccessful revolutions.

Latvia has the biggest proportion of ethnic Russians of the three post-Soviet Baltic states, accounting for about 25% of Latvia's population. Some 37% speak Russian as a first language, the highest figure for any EU country. The charming capital Riga is effectively bilingual, with Russian and Latvian spoken on its art nouveau streets.

There is also growing evidence the country has become a haven for dubious Russian money.

In a report last week the European commission praised Latvia's post-2008 economic recovery. But it said the authorities had not done enough to stop Latvia's banking system being used for "complex economic, financial, money laundering, and tax evasion crimes".

In recent months wealthy Russians have abandoned Cyprus, which is seeking an EU bailout, and moved their company registrations to Latvia.

Half of all money now invested in Latvia – $10bn – comes from non-resident depositors. Most live in Russia and former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The US state department has expressed concern that this reliance on outside money creates a "systemic money-laundering risk".

"Latvia seems to be the first point of call for money launderers to get their cash into the EU," said Tom Mayne, of the campaign group Global Witness. "Once you get money into the EU there are close relations between EU banks, and you can move it around easily. Latvia is one of the main hubs. It's a point of weakness."

Latvian financial regulators say they have introduced tough measures to clamp down on money-laundering and suspicious transactions. They say Latvia, with its large financial services industry, is not the only European country that does business with Russia. "The EU is still buying gas from Russia. We are part of the west," said Kristaps Zakulis, the head of Latvia's bank regulator, FKTK.

But many see evidence of Russian soft power at work. Jakobson's investigative website has made him plenty of enemies. Last year unknown assailants attacked him in the stairwell of his home, slashing his face with a knife.

He had also published emails that allegedly showed Russia's foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, had secretly financed the 2009 municipal election campaign of Nils Ušakovs, now Riga's mayor. Ušakovs does not dispute the authenticity of the emails but police interrogated the journalist for two days over their possible theft.

Ušakovs, a young and energetic former journalist, is ethnic Russian. He leads the Harmony Centre, a five-party coalition that predominantly enjoys support from Latvia's ethnic Russian voter base. Latvia's harsh post-2008 austerity programme may have delighted the IMF, but it has alienated many. The populist Harmony Centre could well play a role in a future national coalition government.

Ethnic Latvians view the party's rise with concern, seeing it as a proxy for Moscow's business and political interests. The party has fuelled suspicion by signing a co-operation agreement with Putin's United Russia party.

Moscow, meanwhile, has staged military exercises on Latvia's border, while the ultra-nationalist Duma MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky has called on Russia to annex the parts of eastern Latvia dominated by ethnic Russians.

EU diplomats in Riga confirm that Russian intelligence agencies in Latvia are highly active. "They have successfully penetrated Russian elites in this country," one said.

Boris Karpichkov, a Latvian former KGB agent now based in Britain, said Latvia's geographical position, bridging Russia and the west, made it an ideal entry point for Russian espionage, smuggling and laundering of criminal proceeds. He said: "Latvia is in the centre of the three Baltic states. Russia's security services use Latvia like a trampoline, to send their people to Europe and the US." Russian spies with Latvian passports can travel undetected across the EU, he said.

The Kremlin has also sought to bolster its influence via Latvia's Russian language press. An anonymous offshore company owns many newspaper titles; their real owner is suspected to be a pro-Kremlin businessman. All portray Putin favourably. Pro-Putin Russian state television is widely viewed; Russia has also distributed history textbooks to schools that portray Latvia's post-1944 Soviet occupation as "liberation".

Valeri Belokon, a Latvian banking tycoon, former owner of a Russian-language newspaper, and president of Blackpool FC, said Moscow was undoubtedly trying to return Latvia to its sphere of influence. "Unfortunately it's true. I'm afraid of all this Russian capital. Capital is influence. Latvia is an open country. And I'm not against tourism or business. But the danger for a small country is that we become dependent on Russia. We definitely have to defend ourselves."

Many of the apartments in Jurmala are Russian-owned. Buying property in Latvia entitles the owner to residency. This allows visa free travel across the EU. Even the Russian ambassador to Latvia lives here, in an imposing yellow and white mansion next to the sea.

Many ethnic Latvians despise the Jurmala festival. Local businesses, by contrast, welcome it.

From her home in the US, Rozhetskin's mother has accused Russian agents of murdering her son. The tycoon had fallen out with the Kremlin before his death, and was embroiled in business disputes with Russia's then communications minister and other well-connected oligarchs.

One tantalising version suggests Rozhetskin faked his own death, and is alive and well in the US living under a false name. Either way his house, next to Jurmala's cemetery, was eerily empty last week. There was no sign its owner will return any time soon.

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« Reply #4204 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:12 AM »

January 23, 2013

Rape Trial Challenges a Jam in India’s Justice System


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 sums up 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 laying the groundwork for sweeping changes in India’s judiciary system remains very much an open question. The police say 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 kill 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. The news media and outsiders have been barred from the courtroom and from reporting on the day-to-day proceedings, which is common in rape trials in India.

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 only 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 president 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,” wrote India’s chief justice, Altamas Kabir, who in early January called for more fast-track courts 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 are often reluctant to investigate rape and sexual assault allegations, the courts are badly backed up. More than 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 rate 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 proceedings be stopped, saying she could not bear to relive the crime 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 like the fatal assault in Delhi 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.

On Wednesday, a panel of legal experts formed in response to the protests over the New Delhi rape submitted a 650-page report suggesting, among other things, that stalking and voyeurism be punished by jail terms. Still, the report said poor governance, not poor legislation, was responsible for the shoddy justice delivered to women in India.

Adding more judges in India is a difficult and haphazard process, 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 companion, 29, 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 acted quickly after the attack was reported, in part because of the media attention. They 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 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 her internal organs.

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 cases, he said in an interview. He often juggles six or seven a day, he said.

Defenses mounted by the five accused will vary, their lawyers and others involved with the trial said. Two of the men, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have offered to turn state’s witness, 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 lawyers say the judge, Yogesh Khanna, is considered balanced and is known for trying to avoid unnecessary delays.

He will be tested. The rowdy, sometimes violent protests that shook Delhi included angry knots of citizens demanding hangings, even before the victim died. A hurried trial, followed by a knee-jerk death penalty verdict, would be a mistake, many say.

Reporting was contributed by Sruthi Gottipati, Niharika Mandhana and Malavika Vyawahare from New Delhi, and by Minu Ittyipe from Kochi, India.


January 23, 2013

Urging Action, Report on Brutal Rape Condemns India’s Treatment of Women


NEW DELHI — Women in India face systemic discrimination and are regularly confronted with sexual harassment and violence, even as the police often fail to provide protection and the government has failed to enforce laws and policies intended to safeguard women’s rights, according to a scathing special report released on Wednesday.

The government report, drafted in response to the deadly gang rape of a young woman last month in New Delhi, amounted to a broad and damning indictment of the treatment of women by India’s democratic institutions. It also was intended as a call to action: the three-person commission, led by a former chief justice of India’s Supreme Court, challenged Parliament to act swiftly on its recommendations.

“We have submitted the report in 29 days,” the retired chief justice, J.S. Verma, said during a nationally televised news conference, noting that the commissioners worked quickly in order to present their findings before Parliament next meets in February. “If we are able to do it in half the time available, the government, with its might and resources, should also act fast.”

The commission recommended a number of far-reaching changes. Among them were requiring police officers to register every case of reported rape; punishing crimes like stalking and voyeurism with prison terms; changing the humiliating medical examinations endured by rape victims; re-examining every appointed state police chief in the country; cracking down on extralegal village councils, known as khap panchayats, which often issue edicts against women; and making new legal requirements so it is much more difficult for people charged with criminal offenses to hold political office.

India does not lack adequate laws on sexual violence or gender bias, the commissioners found, but rather lacks the political and bureaucratic will to enforce them.

“Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment eroding the rule of law, and not the want of needed legislation,” the report said.

India’s government has often proved immutable to calls for progressive reform. Over the years, different commissions have issued recommendations on a variety of subjects, only to see their reports gather dust. Indeed, even a major 2006 Supreme Court ruling calling for significant changes in policing remains largely stalled, with its recommendations far from being put in place.

But public outrage over the brutal Dec. 16 gang rape of a young woman on a private bus moving through New Delhi has remained fierce, prompting political leaders to promise swift action. The trial of the five adult defendants in the case is expected to begin as soon as Thursday in a new fast-track court. Moreover, many lawmakers have promised legislative changes to address shortcomings in policing and gender bias.

“Women must enjoy freedom,” said Leila Seth, herself a former Supreme Court justice and one of the commission’s three members, speaking at the news conference. “The state must practice equality.”

The commission, with Justice Verma as chairman, was created last month by India’s Home Ministry and charged with making recommendations to improve laws dealing with sexual violence. Justice Verma said that public interest was extremely high and that the commission received more than 80,000 suggestions. He praised the youthful protesters whose demonstrations over the rape case created mounting pressure on the government.

Rather than focusing on narrow changes in criminal law, the commission’s sweeping report goes beyond the issue of rape to assess widespread discrimination against women, societal biases against daughters, workplace sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, the trafficking of women and children and the deep-rooted problems with Indian policing.

In particular, the commission said that many states still needed to comply with the 2006 Supreme Court ruling, which, among other mandates, called for eliminating political influence over police departments, notably in the appointment of police chiefs. Moreover, the commission called on the police to prevent stalking and other harassment on public transportation and urged the construction of separate facilities inside police precincts for women and improved officer training for investigating sex crimes.

But, most of all, the commission urged what it called holistic changes, including nationwide education campaigns on gender equity and related issues.

Indeed, blame was not affixed solely on the Indian state. Justice Verma said the Dec. 16 rape case also exposed a shameful public apathy, noting that many motorists drove past the half-naked victim and her beaten male friend after the suspects had dumped them on the side of a busy highway.

“The nation has to account for the tears of millions of women,” the report concluded.
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« Reply #4205 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:13 AM »

More than 100 children die of measles in Pakistan in 19 days

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:41 EST

More than 100 children have died of measles in Pakistan this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday, calling it “an alarming outbreak.”

“Some 103 Pakistani children have died from Jan 1 to Jan 19 this year because of the post-measles complications such as pneumonia, post-measles encephalitis and diarrhoea,” WHO spokeswoman Maryam Yunus told AFP.

Sixty-three of the cases occurred in the southern province of Sindh, which was hit by severe flooding in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

More than 300 Pakistani children died of measles in 2012, a staggering increase on the previous twelve months and a result of three consecutive years of flooding, officials said.

The WHO said 64 children died of measles in Pakistan in 2011, 28 of them in Sindh. It was not immediately able to provide statistics for earlier years.

The UN body said most of the cases occurred between October and December in northern parts of Sindh, but was unable to provide a breakdown.

The UN body said 33 children died in southwestern Baluchistan province, which is plagued by separatist insurgency and sectarian strife.

The most populous Punjab province reported seven children’s deaths. Half of a total of 2,447 cases were reported from Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital.

“It is certainly an alarming situation …It is an outbreak,” said Yunus.

She said WHO and UNICEF provided a combined 4.4 million doses of measles vaccines since last year to target the children in Sindh’s flood affected areas.

A senior health ministry official confirmed the WHO figures.

“We can’t dispute the figures. Our own teams have similar reports,” he said.

“Something must have gone wrong…we are weighing where have we gone wrong,” he said.

WHO spokeswoman said a key factor behind more deaths in Sindh was malnourishment, particularly in the flood affected districts.

The ministry official said the number of deaths in January are already “a record high”.

Children under nine months are not eligible for the vaccine.

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« Reply #4206 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Antibiotic-resistant diseases pose ‘apocalyptic’ threat, top expert says

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 20:11 EST

Britain’s most senior medical adviser has warned MPs that the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, pandemic flu or major coastal flooding.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said the threat from infections that are resistant to frontline antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.

She described what she called an “apocalyptic scenario” where people going for simple operations in 20 years’ time die of routine infections “because we have run out of antibiotics”.

The register was established in 2008 to advise the public and businesses on national emergencies that Britain could face in the next five years. The highest priority risks on the latest register include a deadly flu outbreak, catastrophic terrorist attacks, and major flooding on the scale of 1953, the last occasion on which a national emergency was declared in the UK.

Speaking to MPs on the Commons science and technology committee, Davies said she would ask the Cabinet Office to add antibiotic resistance to the national risk register in the light of an annual report on infectious disease she will publish in March.

Davies declined to elaborate on the report, but said its publication would coincide with a government strategy to promote more responsible use of antibiotics among doctors and the clinical professions. “We need to get our act together in this country,” she told the committee.

The issue of drug resistance is as old as antibiotics themselves, and arises when drugs knock out susceptible infections, leaving hardier, resilient strains behind. The survivors then multiply, and over time can become unstoppable with frontline medicines. Some of the best known are so-called hospital superbugs such as MRSA that are at the root of outbreaks among patients.

“In the past, most people haven’t worried because we’ve always had new antibiotics to turn to,” said Alan Johnson, consultant clinical scientist at the Health Protection Agency. “What has changed is that the development pipeline is running dry. We don’t have new antibiotics that we can rely on in the immediate future or in the longer term.”

Changes in modern medicine have exacerbated the problem by making patients more susceptible to infections. For example, cancer treatments weaken the immune system, and the use of catheters increases the chances of bugs entering the bloodstream.

“We are becoming increasingly reliant on antibiotics in a whole range of areas of medicine. If we don’t have new antibiotics to deal with the problems of resistance we see, we are going to be in serious trouble,” Johnson added.

The supply of new antibiotics has dried up for several reasons, but a major one is that drugs companies see greater profits in medicines that treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, which patients must take for years or even decades. “There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics,” Davies told the MPs.

She has met senior officials at the World Health Organisation and her counterparts in other countries to develop a strategy to tackle antibiotic resistance globally.

Drug resistance is emerging in diseases across the board. Davies said 80% of gonorrhea was now resistant to the frontline antibiotic tetracycline, and infections were rising in young and middle-aged people. Multi-drug resistant TB was also a major threat, she said.

Another worrying trend is the rise in infections that are resistant to powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which doctors rely on to tackle the most serious infections. Resistant bugs carry a gene variant that allows them to destroy the drug. What concerns some scientists is that the gene variant can spread freely between different kinds of bacteria, said Johnson.

Bacteria resistant to carbapenems were first detected in the UK in 2003, when three cases were reported. The numbers remained low until 2007, but have since leapt to 333 in 2010, with 217 cases in the first six months of 2011, according to the latest figures from the HPA. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #4207 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:17 AM »

01/23/2013 06:56 PM

SPIEGEL Blog: Surrogate Mother (Not Yet) Sought for Neanderthal

An interview published last week by SPIEGEL with American genetic scientist George Church has sparked frenetic media speculation about a supposed plan to bring the Neanderthal back from the dead. Church feels his remarks were mistranslated, but it was other media outlets that twisted his words.

"Wanted: Surrogate Mother For Neanderthal," screamed an article in the Berliner Kurier tabloid in the German capital on Tuesday, complete with an image of a grinning, bearded caveman. Britain's Independent seemed positively creeped out by a Harvard professor who wanted to bring such beings back to life as some kind of "Palaeolithic Park." Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph implored: "Spare Neanderthals This Modern Freak Show."

Media and websites around the world -- in Britain, Italy, Poland, Greece, Hungary, Russia, South Korea and Turkey -- expressed interest in the idea of resurrecting the Neanderthal. By Wednesday morning, more than 600 sources on Google News had reported the story, with all citing SPIEGEL as their source. What happened?

The source of the net furore was an interview SPIEGEL conducted
with George Church. The Harvard University genetic researcher then provided an explanation to the Boston Herald for the sudden media fever. He blamed it on a translation error. He said it had been incorrectly reported that he was looking for a surrogate mother to carry a Neanderthal clone.

But the issue isn't that simple. The sudden interest in the Neanderthal, our human cousin, may tell us a little bit about the diffuse fear of overly ambitious genetic researchers. But it tells us even more about the laws of tabloid journalism.

In this case, the entire brouhaha had nothing to do with any incorrect translation. And it is important to us to communicate this because we make a significant effort to ensure that our stories are correctly translated when they appear on our English-language website. Occasionally mistakes slip through -- as is inevitable with any site that relies heavily on translation -- but when they do we are quick to correct them.

In addition, we sent Church an English version of our interview the week before it went to print for authorization. This provided him with an opportunity to change any formulations that may have caused any room for misinterpretation.

A Storm of Coverage

It should quickly be obvious to anyone following the hype over the Neanderthal surrogate mother closely that the storm of coverage didn't break out until a week after the interview was published. Last Friday, we posted the interview, which we had requested from George Church because we had been fascinated by his latest book. The title alone, "Regenisis," seemed promising.

And Church didn't disappoint in his interview. He laid out the great future he believes the still relatively young research field of "synthetic biology" will have. Regardless whether he was discussing the cloning of humans, the genetic optimization of Homo sapiens, the manipulation of the genetic code of all life forms or the re-creation of the Neanderthal, nothing was treated as taboo in his interview. In other words, it offered plenty of fodder for both controversy and thrilling entertainment.

The interview first appeared in the German-language print edition of SPIEGEL on Monday, Jan. 14, and the raft of outraged reader letters reflected the intense interest the interview generated. Church has always presented himself as a bold and argumentative visionary who won't hesitate to consider anything that might be scientifically feasible.

Initially, few media outlets picked up the story. Nor did that change after we posted a short article focusing primarily on Church's remarks on the potential for resurrecting the Neanderthal on SPIEGEL ONLINE in German. The hype machine only got going after we posted the English translation of the interview on SPIEGEL ONLINE.

It was only then that the story was given the decisive spin -- by other media outlets. Early tweets on the interview, may have helped to set the tone, like one person who tweeted: "My life's new ambition: Mate with a Neanderthal woman." A short time later, the first journalist stumbled across the interview's emotive word: "surrogate." That's when headlines like the one that appeared in the Daily Mail -- "Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby" -- were born. Subsequent tweets are already discussing the possibility of a film being made of the story.

The question of whether a surrogate mother could be used for a possible future Neanderthal clone does in fact pop up in the interview. In the question, we cite a passage in Church's book in which he writes that, "a whole Neanderthal creature itself could be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp -- or by an extremely adventurous female human."

No Want Ad Implied

It would have to be clear to anyone who gives that passage in the interview a critical read -- and the same applies to both the German and English versions -- that it is in no way intended as some kind of want or personal ad. Church didn't mean it that way and we didn't understand it to mean that either. Really, what Church was explaining is that he considers the rebirth of the Neanderthal to be technically possible. He also explains the steps that would be necessary to get there. The last step, someday, would be the search for a surrogate mother. He also says that he believes the chances are good that he might experience the birth of the first Neanderthal clone within his lifetime. We thought that statement alone was a bit of a reach, particularly given that Church is 58 years old today.

We're sorry that Church, who provided us with such fascinating insights into his research, has now become the victim of media hype. In the course of the past two decades, he told the Boston Herald, he has done perhaps 500 interviews about his research and this is the first one to spiral out of control quite like this.

What's perhaps most bizarre about the entire media hysteria over Church's interview is that potential surrogate mothers are now contacting the geneticist. His concern -- at least if things get to that stage -- that he will have difficulty finding potential surrogate mothers appears to be unfounded.

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« Reply #4208 on: Jan 24, 2013, 08:48 AM »

In the USA...

Rig the Vote: Republicans Push for Soviet Style Elections Where the Loser Wins

By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 23rd, 2013

Bob Shrum, Professor of Public Policy at NYU and Daily Beast contributor, was on the Ed Show discussing how Republicans are trying to gerrymander the Presidency when he announced that Republicans want to “Institutionalize a system where the loser wins… Soviet style election.”

Ed Schultz started the segment off explaining that Republicans are trying to rig the next election, “Republicans in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan want to change the way they award electoral votes. They aren’t trying to improve the system, they only want to change the electoral process for some people….”

Republicans aren’t trying to change red states like Kansas. Oh, no. Kansas is fine, thank you very much. Republicans want to change the rules in these blue states currently controlled by Republicans:Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Under their new rules,Republicans would have gotten an extra 45 electoral votes for Mitt Romney.

Bob Shrum summed it up as a felonious assault on elections, “What’s going on here is a felonious assault on free elections. It’s an attempt to gerrymander the presidency. If you think about it, you could argue that the Republicans haven’t won the presidency on the up and up since 1988.”

Yes, he went there. He continued, “They stole 2000, when they stole Florida with the complicity of the Supreme Court. In 2004, they engaged in massive voter suppression. People in Ohio had to wait 8-10 hours to vote and tens of thousands of them couldn’t wait 8-10 hours. They tried it again in 2012 and they lost. They can’t win the presidency so what they want to do is institutionalize a system where the loser wins… This is a kind of Soviet style elections.”

Not only did Bob Shrum just admit on national TV that Republicans stole 2000 and most likely 2004 (this is something not mentioned by MSM, but the facts are the facts), but he also likened Republican elections to Soviet style elections.

Republicans know they can’t win without cheating and disenfranchsing large groups of the electorate. At some point, it might be easier if they just changed their policies in order to actually attract real voters. Obviously they don’t feel that would pay off or they would do it.

The real question Americans should be asking themselves is just what is the huge payoff that makes Republicans so willing to risk continuing to lose elections and having to resort to cheating to win? We know their Southern Strategy is on its last legs, and has marginalized them to a regional party. But what exactly was the Southern Strategy meant to hide? That is the real question.


Maddow warns GOP’s presidential vote rigging plan ‘is gathering steam’

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:38 EST

Following up on her Tuesday segment, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explained how Virginia Republicans planned to set up the presidential election system in favor of the GOP.

“We have been documenting over the last few days what appears to be a coordinated effort by Republicans in a number of key states to change the rules for electing a president,” she said. “To change the rules so essentially Democrats running for president cannot win.”

Republican lawmakers in the state are advancing legislation to replace the current winner-takes-all system with one that allocates electoral college votes based on the winner of each congressional district. The bill would ensure Republican presidents pick up electoral college votes from rural, conservative districts. Combined with the latest gerrymandered electoral maps that were pushed through the state Senate, the proposed changes would virtually guarantee that Republican presidents obtain a majority of electoral votes from the state, even if they receive less votes.

“If the system Virginia Republicans are pushing now had been in place in 2012, Barack Obama still would have received 150,000 more votes than Mitt Romney in Virginia, but the electoral college vote in Virginia would have been 4 votes for Barack Obama and 9 votes for Mitt Romney,” Maddow explained. “I wonder why they want to make that change?”

“The action today in Virginia is the first of its kind in the nation,” she continued. “What we have been covering is Republicans making noises about doing this across the country wherever they can. We’ve been covering Democrats bracing for the prospect of moves like this all across the country, not just in Virginia, but in Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania. And in Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a bill in committee. But Virginia is the first state to actually get on with it and start moving it forward. This is a big story, and it is gathering steam.”


January 23, 2013

Redistricting in Virginia Hurts Blacks, Democrats Say


On Monday, one of Virginia’s state senators attended the inauguration: Henry L. Marsh III, a longtime civil rights lawyer, who played hooky to witness a milestone for an African-American president.

The same day, Republicans back in the state capital, Richmond, took advantage of his absence to win a party-line vote, 20 to 19, to redraw electoral maps in a way that Democrats say dilute African-Americans’ voting strength.

The move not only has Democrats howling about a power grab, it has also been criticized by Virginia’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor.

Redrawing districts to favor the party in power is hardly new in Virginia, or elsewhere. Democrats redrew the state map in 2011 when they held the majority in the Senate, although their efforts to achieve electoral gains were less than successful: they lost control of the chamber later that year.

Republican senators say the new map increases the number of Senate districts in Virginia with black majorities to six from five and is necessary to shield the state from lawsuits under federal civil rights law. But Democrats are furious that the map also dilutes the party’s power by removing blacks from as many as a dozen districts; and under the guise of bowing to the Voting Rights Act, they say, it would pack blacks in fewer districts over all.

“This was nothing more than what I call plantation politics,” said Senator Donald McEachin, the chairman of the Democratic caucus.

The issue has reintroduced partisan rancor in the State Senate, which is evenly split, 20 to 20, between the parties. Many Virginia lawmakers had hoped to avoid conflict after last year’s divisions over a bill requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortions cast a harsh light on the state nationally.

One displeased official is Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, who needs Democratic support as he seeks to enact ambitious proposals on transportation and education in his last year in office. “This is not an issue that I advocated,” Mr. McDonnell told reporters on Tuesday. “I certainly don’t think that’s a good way to do business.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling also opposed his party’s move. “He is concerned that it could create a hyperpartisan atmosphere,” said Mr. Bolling’s spokeswoman, Ibbie Hedrick.

Republicans who pushed through the map said it was needed to right historic wrongs. Although 19 percent of Virginia’s population is black, according to the census, and President Obama carried the state twice, only 5 of the 40 state senators are black. All represent districts drawn with black majorities in 1991. Since then, no other district has sent an African-American to the Senate.

The leader of the new effort, Senator John C. Watkins, said that in creating a sixth district in Southern Virginia with a black majority, the state would be protected from litigation under the Voting Rights Act. “No one can dispute that racially polarized voting is present in Virginia,” Mr. Watkins said on the Senate floor on Monday, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

Senator Richard L. Saslaw, the Democratic minority leader, used an expletive to describe Republican concerns for black voters. He said Republicans blocked efforts in 2011 to create a new Congressional district with a high percentage of blacks.

Mr. Saslaw, who is known for not holding back, said that on the Senate floor he compared the Republican move to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Both Republicans and Democrats, he said, have traditionally agreed to map districts in the back room to protect incumbents.

“When I did the redistricting I went to every single Republican, except four or five, and gave them the districts they wanted,” he said of the effort he led in 2011. By contrast, he said, the new map “guts about a dozen of our senators.”

Democrats say the extensive changes passed by Republicans, which are now before the legislature’s lower chamber, the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a supermajority, violate the state’s Constitution. They foresee a lengthy court fight if the map is adopted. Before then, however, it must get past the governor, not a sure bet at all.

As for Mr. Marsh, who missed the vote, he rejected any notion that Republicans were acting in African-Americans’ interests. He called the plan “shameful.”


Hillary Clinton Eats the Republican Party for Lunch at Benghazi Hearing

By: Jason Easley
Jan. 23rd, 2013

Senate Republicans found themselves absolutely dominated by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at today’s Benghazi hearing. Sec. Clinton didn’t just testify. She owned the room.

Here is Sec. Clinton smacking down tea party Sen. Ron Johnson’s Fox News talking points about “misleading” of the country over whether or not the Benghazi attack was caused by protesters or terrorists.

Clinton answered Johnson’s attempt to try to drum up a scandal for the White House sternly and directly, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make! It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. Now honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has process I understand going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective, less important today, looking backwards as to deciding why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.”

Later, John McCain broke out his usual grandstanding for the television cameras and tried to blame the administration for the lack of security and military assistance in Libya, and he was slapped with some facts by Sec. Clinton.

Clinton replied to McCain, “With respect to helping the Libyans, and that also goes to the question Sen. Rubio asked, we will provide a list of everything we were doing and were attempting to do, but I will also tell you that since March 2011 congressional holds have been placed for many months for aid to Libya. We’ve had frequent congressional complaints. Why are we doing anything for Libya? It is a wealthy country. It has oil. Disagreement from some sources that we should have never been part of any UN mission in Libya. Currently, the House has holds on bilateral security assistance, on other kinds of support, for anti-terrorism assistance. So we gotta get our act together between the administration and the congress.”

This is the hearing that Republicans have been waiting for, and so far Sec. Clinton has absolutely eaten them alive. They have failed in their goal of pinning the failure of leadership badge on her in order to damage any potential 2016 presidential candidacy, and they have failed to turn this into the broader White House scandal that they so desperately crave.

As a former senator, Sec. Clinton understands the egos and grandstanding associated with these types of hearings. At times she looked flat out bored while Republicans droned on and on with their Fox News talking points and hints of conspiracies.

Sec. Clinton took responsibility for what happened, but also was very moving as she shed tears while talking about standing beside President Obama and watching flag draped caskets being carried off the plane. In a roomful of raging Senate egos, Hillary Clinton ran the show. The GOP’s past (McCain) and their future (Rubio) were no match for Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton looked like a president at this hearing. She was head and shoulders above her questioners. The scary thought for the Republican Party is that she did this to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They’re supposed to be the smart Republicans. Things could get even uglier for GOP when she testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Click to watch:


Republican Gov Jindal Cuts Hospice for Medicaid Patients

By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 23rd, 2013

Republican Governor Bobby Jindal announced Tuesday that he was cutting Medicaid services for Louisiana’s dying poor, among other services getting the ax. No more hospice, starting February 1st. The terminally ill will no longer have hospice assistance.

Ironically, the only other state to try this was Arizona, and they found it too expensive in the end. Arizona ended up reinstating hospice. KPLCTV reported:

    Louisiana will become one of only two states to eliminate Medicaid hospice. Arizona was in that mix, but has already reinstituted it because it costs more. “You’re going to pick them up and bring them to the emergency room, to the hospital, which costs considerably more than the $140/day paid for by the state for the Medicaid program,” said Phelps.

    State Senator Dan “Blade” Morrish says state cuts were a must to balance the budget, but the Medicaid hospice plan needs to be looked at again. “There comes a time in budget cuts when there is a line that you just can’t cross anymore,” he said, “and I think we’ve reached that with the hospice issue.”

Perhaps facing such a budget problem, it might have been wise for Jindal to rehink his plan of killing revenue by getting rid of both personal and corporate state income taxes. Not to worry, he’s going to offset the lost revenue with sales taxes, which hit the poor and middle class far more than they do the wealthy.

Bobby Jindal has been privatizing public hospitals in Louisiana, another plan that has been proven to cost more money because once you get profit involved, things tend to cost more while accountability goes down. Jindal claims he needs to do this because Congress cut Louisiana’s Medicaid budget.

In fact, it wasn’t “Congress”, it was House Republicans, and they were actually asking for twice as much to be cut from Lousiana’s Medicaid budget. “The House GOP proposed targeting roughly $1.3 billion in FMAP Medicaid funds for Louisiana.” Republicans are blaming a typo from Senator Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) 2010 efforts to address FMAP (Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage)funds which resulted in $4 billion more in funding than they anticipated.

At any rate, Louisiana’s dying will no longer have the comfort and assistance of hospice. Death Panels, anyone?


January 23, 2013

Democrats in Senate Confront Doubts at Home on Gun Laws


BECKLEY, W.Va. — Talk of stricter gun control has stirred up a lot of unease here, a place where hunters vie for top prize (a 26-inch LED television) in the Big Buck Photo Contest, and ads for a gun-simulator game ask, “Feel like shooting something today?”

But before Senator Joe Manchin III invited a group of 15 businessmen and community leaders to lunch last week to discuss the topic, he had only a vague idea of how anxious many of his supporters were.

“How many of you all believe that there is a movement to take away the Second Amendment?” he asked.

About half the hands in the room went up.

Despite his best attempts to reassure them — “I see no movement, no talk, no bills, no nothing” — they remained skeptical. “We give up our rights one piece at a time,” a banker named Charlie Houck told the senator.

If there is a path to new gun laws, it has to come through West Virginia and a dozen other states with Democratic senators like Mr. Manchin who are confronting galvanized constituencies that view any effort to tighten gun laws as an infringement.

As Congress considers what, if any, laws to change, Mr. Manchin has become a barometer among his colleagues, testing just how far they might be able to go without angering voters.

On Thursday a group of Democratic senators led by Dianne Feinstein of California plans to introduce a bill that would outlaw more than 100 different assault weapons, setting up what promises to be a fraught and divisive debate over gun control in Congress in the coming weeks. But a number of centrist lawmakers like Mr. Manchin have already thrown the measure’s fate into question, saying that all they are willing to support for now is a stronger background check system.

As a hunter with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, Mr. Manchin gave advocates for new weapons laws reason for optimism after he said last month that gun firepower and magazine capacity might need to be limited.

But now, Mr. Manchin, who affirmed his support for gun rights by running a campaign commercial in 2010 showing him firing a rifle into an environmental bill, says he is not so sure. One of his local offices has been picketed, and even some of his most thoughtful supporters are cautioning him that stronger background checks are about all the gun control they can stomach.

And on the afternoon the 15 residents met with Mr. Manchin in the conference room of a local arts center, they told him that going after guns and ammunition capacity would be much like banning box cutters after the Sept. 11 attacks, or limiting whiskey and six-pack sales to cure alcoholism.

“It takes about a second and a half to change a clip,” said Frank Jezioro, a former special agent with the Office of Naval Intelligence and now director of the state Division of Natural Resources.

Mr. Jezioro likened gunmen in mass shootings to suicide bombers: they will always find a way. “A guy can walk through this door right here with your Beretta five-shot automatic, and cut the barrel off at 16 inches, and put five double-ought buckshots in there and kill everybody in here in a matter of seconds,” he said. “And you don’t have to aim it.”

As it happened, there were at least two guns in the room. One was on the hip of a Beckley police detective who was invited to the lunch, the other at the side of the West Virginia state trooper who stood guard at the door.

Others at the lunch said that laws did little to help even the most violent societies. “Mexico, for instance, has got some of the strictest gun control laws in North America,” said Rick Johnson, the owner of a river expedition company. “They’ll put you in jail for a bullet in Mexico. And look how well it’s worked.”

“I can take my A.R.,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to his assault rifle, “load it, put one in the chamber and throw it up on this table, and the only way it’s going to hurt anybody is if I miss and hit someone in the head. The gun doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s the person pulling the trigger.”

After talking with the group for nearly two hours, Mr. Manchin left the meeting saying he was not at all comfortable with supporting the assault weapons ban favored by many of his colleagues in Congress.

“I’m not there,” he said, adding that he was leaning toward strengthening screening gun purchases instead. “I’m definitely more inclined to be very supportive of background checks.”

Mr. Manchin is just the beginning of gun control advocates’ worries. Of far greater concern are Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014. Those include senators like Max Baucus of Montana, who was awarded an A+ rating from the N.R.A. Mr. Baucus has worded his comments on the subject carefully, bracketing them with gun rights-friendly language, like saying the “culture of violence” needs to be seriously examined along with any changes to the law.

There is Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who has said flatly that he would not support a new assault weapons ban, and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, who initially came out in support of the ban but has been more circumspect recently, saying in an interview last week that he would want to see the language of any such legislation first.

“I think for some of my colleagues, that’s a tougher debate,” Mr. Udall said of outlawing any individual weapons.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, one of the Senate’s most reliable liberals, has not said definitively whether he would vote for the ban, instead signaling only his support for “the principle” of one.

For some, there is something else to consider in addition to voters who are fervently supportive of Second Amendment rights: jobs. North Carolina is where the rifle-maker Remington has its headquarters. One of the state’s senators, Kay Hagan, is a Democrat also up for re-election next year.

Another is Senator Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, who said she had been hearing from all corners of the state on the issue, including police chiefs, mothers with young children and people whose jobs are tied to local gunmakers like Sturm, Ruger & Company and Sig Sauer.

“Clearly they’re going to be concerned about restrictions, because it’s going to affect the sales they do,” Ms. Shaheen said. “But it seems to me there are places where we can come to an agreement.”

Those areas of agreement, she said, are the need for stronger background checks and better mental health care, not weapons bans.

Even before people on opposite sides of the gun control question start debating the merits of new laws, there are vast cultural divides that threaten to stand in the way of any compromise. In West Virginia, Mr. Manchin’s constituents shook their heads at the mere mention of the term assault weapon, which they consider pejorative.

“Do you know where that phrase came from?” said Roger Wilson, a river tour operator and an amateur gun historian. Its origin, he said, came from Hitler, who named a new German weapon Sturmgewehr, literally “storm rifle,” which in English became “assault rifle.”

During the lunch, Mr. Manchin shared a recent conversation he had with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Obama administration’s point person on gun control.

“I said, ‘Mr. Vice President, with all due respect, I don’t know how many people who truly believe that you would fight to protect their rights.’ ”

The senator added, “That’s what we’re dealing with.”


Proposed Missouri Law Would Throw Federal Agents in Prison Over Guns

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jan. 18th, 2013

Second Amendment GunSarah Jones wrote here the other day about the unconstitutional responses of Republicans who claim Obama  is violating the Constitution.  She was addressing the case of Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi. Leave it to the old Confederacy. If you think a person is violating the Constitution, you don’t violate the constitution yourself as a remedy and expect anyone to take you seriously.

But perhaps Republicans are way past concerning themselves with being taken seriously. The Constitution is the law of the land – it stands head and shoulders above state law. Yet unhinged Republicans think they can legislate in their states to ignore the Constitution -while crowing about Obama ignoring the Constitution.

This makes no sense at all. But as I said, they’re unhinged. And Bryant isn’t alone. In Missouri, State Representative Casey Guernsey has introduced  the Missouri 2nd Amendment Preservation Act. House Bill 170 (HB170). HB170 has 61 co-sponsors, which is kind of surprising but kind of not, because what HB170 does is nullify the Constitution in response to Obama issuing perfectly constitutional executive orders.

Former Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey told a stunned Sean Hannity Wednesday that Obama’s executive orders so far have been, if distasteful, perfectly legal. This is not something Republicans tell themselves in order to feel better. This is where they plug their ears and do what they want to do anyway: ignore federal law and the Constitution.

Yes. HB170 outlaws federal law and therefore federal agents and employees who “enforces or attempts to enforce” federal laws pertaining to firearms and ammunition.

The bill states, in part:

    Any official, agent, or employee of the federal government who enforces or attempts to enforce any act, order, law, statute, rule, or regulation of the federal government upon a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is owned or manufactured commercially or privately in the state of Missouri and that remains exclusively within the borders of the state of Missouri shall be guilty of a class D felony.

A class D felony in Missouri carries a prison sentence of up to 4 years.

The Constitution begs to differ. As Sarah Jones pointed out, the Supremacy Clause Article IV, clause 2:

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Ignoring this uncongenial fact, the Missouri bill also states that,

    Any federal law, rule, regulation, or order created or effective on or after January 1, 2013 shall be unenforceable in the state of Missouri if the law, rule, regulation, or order attempts to:

    (1) Ban or restrict ownership of a semi-automatic firearm or any magazine of a firearm; or

    (2) Require any firearm, magazine, or other firearm accessory to be registered in any manner.

So stock up on those rocket launchers, modern sons of Dixie. If the Feds come asking you about them, we’ll throw them in prison where they belong!

You can’t get much more warped than thinking outlawing the Constitution is somehow going to save the Constitution. But hey, they’re Republicans. You can’t have high expectations of the post-Goldwater GOP.

Remember when I said yesterday that the only two amendments Republicans approve of are the Second and Tenth? Yeah…about that. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, “Tenth Amendment Center national communications director, Mike Maharrey summed up the sentiment”:

    When you’ve got people like Feinstein talking about major bans and Biden telling us that all they need is an executive order, you know these folks are willing to go all the way. So, it’s good to see these folks in Missouri go all the way as well, all the way in support the 2nd Amendment without any ifs, ands, or butts. The feds have absolutely zero constitutional authority to make any laws over personal firearms. Period.

That’s funny. Really. None of these people were complaining when George H.W. Bush issued an executive order concerning gun control in 1989.  His son, George W. Bush, issues executive orders all over the place and ignored every law he wanted to simply because he said he could, and not a Republican complained.

But of course, those guys were Republicans. And white. Obama, they’re quick to point out, is not.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, always happy to advance the cause of rebellion and insurrection, “The bill was introduced on January 15, 2013 and read for the first time in the House. It has yet to be assigned to a committee. But, with 61 co-sponsors, strong grassroots pressure will help get this bill moving forward.”

Oh, and they have more good news for the unhinged:

    Sources close to the Tenth Amendment Center tell us to expect a number of other states considering similar legislation in the coming weeks.

That’s hardly a surprise. We haven’t seen conservatives so riled up since they were told they had to free their slaves.


January 23, 2013

Bipartisan Filibuster Deal Is Taking Shape in the Senate


WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are nearing an agreement on new limits to the filibuster, an effort to speed action in the often-clogged chamber by prohibiting senators from using a common tactic to slow the legislative process.

Lawmakers and aides said the new rules, which both sides were preparing to announce on Thursday, would end the use of a procedural tactic that forces the majority party — Democrats currently — to marshal 60 votes to even bring a bill to the floor, sometimes killing it before it ever gets debated.

The practice of blocking a procedural step known as a motion to proceed, which must be cleared before a bill can advance to the Senate floor, has been used repeatedly and with increasing frequency by Republicans, who have been in the minority since 2007. In return for agreement, Republicans wrested a major concession from the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who has guaranteed that he will allow Republicans to offer two amendments.

The changes will surely disappoint reformers who were pushing for more sweeping revisions to rein in the filibuster, once a rarely used legislative tool. It will not include, for instance, a requirement that senators be present on the Senate floor when they want to block a bill from coming to a vote, continuing the practice of allowing them to filibuster in absentia. And opponents would still have the opportunity to filibuster a final vote on any legislation, thwarting its passage without 60 votes.

Though Mr. Reid has threatened to use his majority to push through changes if Republicans do not compromise, veteran lawmakers in both parties have historically been reluctant to force drastic changes in Senate rules, fearing they could boomerang on them if they return to the minority.

Senate negotiators continued to work out the final parameters of a compromise Wednesday, but members of both parties said the general framework of a deal was close to being finished. Remaining sticking points included how the filibuster could be applied to the president’s judicial nominations.

Some Senators expressed relief that they finally appeared headed toward a resolution on one of the main issues that helped make the last Congress, the 112th, unproductive and inefficient.

“I think this would be a real boost towards ending the gridlock which has bedeviled us,” said Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

“The unique thing about the Senate is we’re supposed to debate — frequently and at length. And we’re supposed to be deliberative,” he added. “It’s been allowed, I believe, to decline in that regard.”

Mr. Levin echoed a sentiment that has been increasingly common among members of both parties: because of arcane parliamentary rules exploited by both parties, senators are not able to do the work they were elected to carry out.

Democrats have long complained that Republican obstruction has kept even the most routine measures from being dealt with in a timely manner. The number of times a motion for cloture has been filed — a procedure that begins a vote to end a filibuster — in the 112th Congress was 115. In the 111th Congress it was 137, more than double the number from when Democrats were in the minority during the early 2000s.

In turn, Republicans say they have been forced to block bills because of Mr. Reid’s refusal to allow amendments on bills once they reach the floor, and his insistence that bills often bypass the committee process, tactics that prevent them from having much of a meaningful role in shaping legislation.

“It’s important for us as Republicans to be able to offer amendments,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who worked on a bipartisan filibuster compromise along with Mr. Levin and Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, all Democrats, and the Republicans Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona.

Added Mr. Barrasso: “I hope we’re more functional. I want the body to function.”

Democrats said Thursday that it appeared likely the deal would include one key provision to help accelerate the standard daylong waiting period between the time a successful vote to end a filibuster is taken and the final vote on the bill occurs. Currently senators can trigger that waiting period without even being in Washington.

But Mr. Levin said Wednesday that Mr. Reid would now require that senators actually be present and make the case on the floor.

“Reid believes this strongly,” Mr. Levin said. “You want to filibuster, you’re going to have to come here and do it.”


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« Reply #4209 on: Jan 25, 2013, 06:51 AM »

North Korea threatens to attack South Korea

Pyongyang says if Seoul joins new round of tightened UN sanctions over rocket launch it amounts to a 'declaration of war'

Reuters in Seoul, Friday 25 January 2013 10.07 GMT   

North Korea has threatened to attack South Korea if Seoul joins a new round of tightened UN sanctions, as Washington unveils more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang's rocket launch last month.

In a third day of fiery rhetoric, North Korea directed its verbal onslaught at its neighbour on Friday, saying: "'Sanctions' mean a war and a declaration of war against us".

The reclusive country this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear programme and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the UN security council censured it for a long-range missile launch in December and expanded existing sanctions.

"If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the UN 'sanctions', the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will take strong physical counter-measures against it," North Korea's committee for the peaceful reunification of Korea said, referring to its neighbour.

The committee is Pyongyang's front for dealings with Seoul.

On Thursday, the US placed economic sanctions on two North Korean bank officials and a Hong Kong trading company that it accused of supporting Pyongyang's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading, was blacklisted by the United Nations on Wednesday.

Seoul has said it will look at whether there are any further sanctions it can implement alongside the US, but said the focus for now is to follow security council resolutions.

The resolution said the council "deplores the violations" by North Korea of its previous resolutions, which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests and from importing materials and technology for those programmes. It does not impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.

The US had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch with a security council resolution that imposed new sanctions against Pyongyang, but China rejected that option. Beijing agreed to UN sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

North Korea's rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world since Kim Jong-un took over as leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011.

On Thursday, North Korea said it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test, directing its ire at the US, a country it called its "sworn enemy".

The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said the comments were worrying.

"We are very concerned with North Korea's continuing provocative behaviour," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "We are fully prepared … to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family."

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental US, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 6,200 miles (10,000km), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

Seoul and others who have been closely observing activities at North Korea's known nuclear test grounds believe Pyongyang is technically ready to go ahead with its third atomic trial and is awaiting the political decision of its leader.

North Korea's committee also declared on Friday that a landmark agreement it signed with South Korea in 1992 on eliminating nuclear weapons from the peninsula was invalid, repeating its long-standing accusation that Seoul was colluding with Washington.

The foreign ministry of China, North Korea's sole remaining major diplomatic and economic benefactor, repeated its call for calm on the peninsula at its daily briefing on Friday.

"The current situation on the Korea peninsula is complicated and sensitive," spokesman Hong Lei said. "We hope all relevant parties can see the big picture, maintain calm and restraint, further maintain contact and dialogue, and improve relations, while not taking actions to further complicate and escalate the situation."

But unusually prickly comments in Chinese state media on Friday hinted at Beijing's exasperation.

"It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China's efforts," said the Global Times in an editorial, a sister publication of the official People's Daily. "Just let North Korea be 'angry' … China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it's not the end of the world if there's trouble there. This should be the baseline of China's position."


North Korea: Pyongyang plans nuclear test 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
The Guardian, Friday 25 January 2013   

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.


North Korea's game of nuclear brinkmanship

Ice age is not coming to an end under its young leader, but its nuclear threats will test Beijing's patience to the limit

The Guardian, Thursday 24 January 2013 21.24 GMT   

Just as we were lulled into a false sense of security about North Korea, congratulating Kim Jong-un on a surprisingly good first year in power, we are jolted back to reality and to what is now a very familiar script: North Korea launches a long-range rocket; the United Nations condemns it; Pyongyang threatens to carry out a third nuclear test and declares it is all aimed against its sworn enemy, the US. Yesterday's blood-curdling statement from the country's powerful national defence commission was back to "songun" or military-first policy with a vengeance. The ice age is not coming to an end under a younger leader who has shown signs of interest in economic reform. Or at least not as swiftly as some imagined.

In truth, those neighbours have noticed the preparations for a nuclear test for some time. The rapid sequence of events this week surely comes as little surprise. North Korea has got several points to prove. The first two warheads it tested were made of plutonium and as it has limited stocks of this, there was an argument that the more tests they conducted the quicker the threat would disappear. If, however, it is found that the next detonation comes from weapons grade uranium, it will mean that North Korea now possesses a sophisticated enrichment programme. All this bids up the price of peace and makes denuclearisation an ever-distant dream. North Korea also wants Washington to sit up and take notice. It has never been happy with the US's strategic patience.

Nevertheless, from Kim Jong-un's view, a third nuclear test is a high-stakes gamble. It tests Beijing's patience to the limits, giving it very little option but to go along with a new round of UN security council mandated sanctions. China has already agreed to support tougher sanctions in the event of a further rocket launch or nuclear test. Building up its missile and nuclear strength boosts the young leader's domestic standing – but only up to a point. China has its own territorial agenda and trade relations in the East China Sea, and an unstable and destabilising regime in North Korea is not part of it. Containment, yes. Anything more, no.

Washington and Beijing need to come to a consensus about North Korea. There will never be an agreement, but there can be a series of co-ordinated military understandings in the event of another security incident on the peninsula. Both countries need to address the mounting risks of the instability of North Korea spilling across its borders. Both have large expatriate populations in South Korea – 130,000 US citizens and 670,000 from China. It is neither in Washington's nor Beijing's interest to lose control. Just reminding the North Korean leadership of that fact would be a salutary corrective.

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« Reply #4210 on: Jan 25, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Originally published Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:40 PM

French fight complications in Mali

The Malian army, which France sought to bolster with its action, has been accused of committing abuses, particularly against the Tuareg ethnic group, some of whose members started the March rebellion that has divided the West African nation.

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Edward Cody
The Washington Post


When France entered the world’s newest war against terrorism, French officials boldly declared that the ragtag radical Islamists they planned to oust from northern Mali would scatter in the face of a modern fighting force.

Two weeks later, reality has sunk in. Even as they bombard Islamist targets, the French troops are facing a military landscape far more complicated than it appeared at the outset, raising questions about France’s long-term goals.

With no clear exit strategy, the French are encountering a variety of problems: Mali’s interim government is weak, its military is disorganized and a long-promised African-intervention force is far from ready.

Even as French troops worry about killing civilians, it is unclear who the civilians are and where their sympathies lie. Ethnic, religious and regional rivalries — as well as old and unsettled vendettas — also are posing obstacles.

The Malian army, which France sought to bolster with its action, has been accused of committing abuses, particularly against the Tuareg ethnic group, some of whose members started the March rebellion that has divided the West African nation. That could erode popular support for the military intervention here and in France, and it could complicate France’s ability to recruit secular Tuareg militias to battle the Islamists.

On Thursday, a new Tuareg militia emerged as Ansar Dine, one of three groups fighting in Mali, split. The new group, led by Tuareg leader Alghabass Ag Intalla, calls itself the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and says it is ready to negotiate.

French soldiers also could get caught in the middle of growing tensions between the lighter-skinned Tuaregs, who are from the north, and black Malians from the south, who run the government and the military.

“It’s hard for the foreigners to know who is helping the Islamists and who are not,” said Demba Diarra, 82, a tribal leader in a town near Diabaly. “It’s so complicated.”

France decided to intervene in its former colony after the Islamic fighters, who seized the northern half of Mali nine months ago, suddenly decided to push farther south, triggering fears the Islamists could seize the rest of the country. The potential outcome was “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. France also acted because it has some 6,000 citizens in Mali, a former French colony.

Already, French forces have faced immense difficulties in dislodging the Islamist fighters from two central Malian towns, Konna and Diabaly. In both cases, senior French and Malian officials explained away the problems by saying they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

But community leaders and residents in Diabaly and surrounding areas offer a more complex portrait of the obstacles faced by France, including Islamist sympathizers and enemies of Mali’s military.

The concerns arise as the first criticisms of French President François Hollande’s decision to send troops have emerged in Paris, a rupture in what had been unanimous endorsement. Although polls still show 65 to 75 percent support for the move, the political sniping has betrayed doubts about the length of France’s involvement.

Jean-François Copé, the conservative opposition’s pugnacious leader, was the first off the blocks. In a National Assembly debate, he said he and his opposition colleagues were worried to see France “so alone” on the ground despite plans for a Pan-African force and promises of training by European Union military officers.

France’s strategy was — and officially remains — to secure Bamako, Mali’s capital, and the southern third of the country, and then hold back on the ground while African troops, backed by French air power, recapture the Islamist-controlled northern cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, French officials said. But that has become a more difficult and longer-term proposition. The African force, they acknowledged, is far from ready to assume its planned role.

About 1,000 African soldiers from five countries have been sent to Mali, out of the more than 3,000 planned, according to the French Defense Ministry. Their European Union trainers are nowhere to be seen except on the drawing board.

Against that background, specialists in Paris have begun to suggest French forces should push northward and secure the region’s main cities rather than sit idle on the new front line waiting for the Africans. But after the cities, the question would become: What about the countryside?

“The fear of a new Afghanistan is haunting people’s minds,” wrote Yves Thréard this week in Le Figaro newspaper.

Konna was recaptured only last weekend, despite 10 days of bombing. Similarly, a column of French armored-personnel carriers entered the city of Diabaly, which was captured by the jihadists three days after the military intervention began, only Monday.

“The war against the Islamists is not at all easy, and there’s a very small part of the population which is helping their cause,” said Lt. Col. Seydou Sogoba, the Malian force commander in Niono. “That is what is making the fight against them tough.”

What happened in Diabaly last week shows how old animosities, religious divides and the unpopularity of Mali’s military could haunt the French in the weeks and months ahead.

Malian soldiers in the desert town stopped a truck coming from neighboring Mauritania carrying 17 preachers, all members of Dawa, a nonviolent Islamic sect. The soldiers sprayed bullets into the vehicle, killing all but one of the unarmed preachers, according to residents and human-rights activists.

Residents say the deaths were one reason the jihadists targeted the town.

“Some people say it was a kind of revenge for the Dawa preachers killed by the army,” said Adbullahi Dagnon, the interim tribal chief of Diabaly.

Some residents voiced support for the jihadists.

“They didn’t do anything wrong to the population,” said Sisogo Khailoou, standing near a house were the jihadists had kept weapons and ammunition. “They just came here to rob the bank and take the army’s stuff.”

The Tuaregs would be vital to helping the French navigate the vast and inhospitable desert terrain of the north, gather intelligence and gain the support of local populations. But many in the Malian military have not forgotten that Tuareg fighters, who had just returned from Libya with an ample stock of weapons and pickup trucks, had pushed the army out of northern Mali.

“You can’t trust someone who is fighting against you,” Cpl. Mamadou Kone, a Malian soldier in Diabaly, said of the Tuaregs.


January 24, 2013

Mali Army, Riding U.S. Hopes, Is Proving No Match for Militants


DIABALY, Mali — At first, the battle went well.

Boubacar Yattara, a 25-year-old Malian soldier, fed the heavy machine gun atop an armored vehicle. His unit fired on a truck full of Islamist militants, destroying it. He radioed for reinforcements, but his commanding officer had bad news. His fellow soldiers had already fallen back, beating a hasty retreat.

So Mr. Yattara did what other soldiers had done as the fighting intensified: He stripped off his uniform, waded through an irrigation canal and melted into the town’s civilian population.

“They abandoned us,” Mr. Yattara said of the other soldiers, speaking from the hospital bed where he was being treated for a concussion. “We barely escaped with our lives.”

In many ways, the battle for Diabaly was over before it even began, the latest in a long string of humiliating defeats for an army that the United States once hoped would be a model for fighting Islamic extremism in one of the most forbidding regions of the world. Instead, it is a weak, dysfunctional force that is as much a cause of Mali’s crisis as a potential part of the solution.

Beyond fleeing in the heat of battle, hundreds of Malian soldiers, including commanders of elite units trained by the United States, defected to the rebels who swept across the desert last year, according to senior Malian military officials. Then an American-trained captain toppled the democratically elected government in a coup, creating a chaos that allowed half the country to fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

Now that same Malian Army, which the United Nations expected to be rebuilt over many months of training, has been thrust into the fight once again after a sudden militant surge this month — though it is no better prepared than it was before. Indeed, diplomats in the capital, Bamako, and at the United Nations say that if French warplanes and troops had not joined the effort, the Islamist fighters would have overrun the entire country.

“We thought the army would protect us,” said Gaoussou Keita, a 57-year-old radio repairman in Diabaly, who spent nearly a week hiding from militants who occupied his hometown this month. “But they simply ran away.”

Worse than that, human rights groups say, Malian soldiers have been accused of atrocities in recent weeks, including summary executions of at least 11 people suspected of being insurgents.

“These acts of reprisal combined with the extreme tension between communities constitute an explosive cocktail that makes one fear the worst,” said Souhayr Belhassen, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights, in a statement.

The army has abused its own soldiers as well, a reflection of the bitter divisions that have often kept the army more focused on its critics and internal rivals than on the militants controlling the nation’s north. According to Human Rights Watch, defiant soldiers have been beaten and forced at gunpoint to perform anal sex on one another.

Instilling a respect for human rights and international law was supposed to be a cornerstone of the training for Malian forces, according to the United Nations Security Council resolution that passed in December. Suddenly, the unexpected Islamist advance and the French intervention inverted those tortuously negotiated plans — forcing some Malian units to fight right away while others wait for training later.

But the army’s frequent defeats and spotty human rights record have rekindled longstanding doubts about whether it can — or perhaps even should — be left to hold on to the gains French troops have made.

“Given that the Malian Army is internally divided, lacks the capacity to effectively project force, has been implicated in human rights abuses, and is very small,” said a report by the Congressional Research Service this month, “it is uncertain whether Malian forces will be able to effectively follow up on French military strikes by securing and holding territory.”

So far 1,600 troops from Nigeria, Togo, Niger and Benin have arrived in Mali to form part of an African-led force to drive back the militants and ultimately recapture the northern half of the country. But many more are expected, and it will take months to begin retooling Mali’s ragtag army to the point that it can play any major role in the fight to chase militants from the north, analysts say.

In the meantime, many Malians, who have watched their government and country be thrown into turmoil since the army coup last year, have grown frustrated at the military’s failure to stop the militant threat.

“Without the help of the French,” said Diabaly’s mayor, Oumar Diakite, the Islamists fighters “would still be here. They would have gone all the way to Bamako.”

Mr. Yattara’s account of the battle for Diabaly helps illustrate some of the myriad troubles plaguing Mali’s army. Assigned with reloading the heavy machine gun atop an armored vehicle based in this central Malian town, Mr. Yattara had long complained to the chief of matériel that his weapon was unfit for service.

“It was wobbling on the top of the vehicle and not firing effectively,” Mr. Yattara said. “But they ignored me. I fixed it as much as I could with some stones to weigh down the gun.”

On the day the Islamists arrived, Mr. Yattara’s vehicle was sent to a forward position, placed between two others in a string of defenders designed to protect Diabaly.

The weapon on the first vehicle failed, so the soldiers fled, Mr. Yattara said. They begged for reinforcements, but the rest of the soldiers had already retreated. Eventually he ran out of ammunition, too, and decided he had to flee as well, suffering the concussion when a bullet hit his helmet.

“Our commanders don’t listen to us, they don’t support us,” Mr. Yattara said bitterly. “It is complete chaos.”

For years, the United States worked closely with Mali’s military as part of a more than $500 million counterterrorism program to train and equip armies across the Sahara to combat militants. With only about 7,000 people in its military and other security forces, and just a handful of working helicopters and airplanes, Mali had acknowledged how daunting a task it was to defend its vast desert borders and drive out growing numbers of Islamist militants, including those aligned with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

So the Malians eagerly agreed five years ago to join a multiyear partnership between the State and Defense Departments that also included Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. It was the most ambitious American counterterrorism effort ever in the region.

American Special Forces provided Malian infantry troops with training in marksmanship, border patrol, ambush drills and other skills. The program also offered Malian forces their first opportunity to train with more capable armies from neighbors like Senegal, a trend toward regional cooperation that budget-conscious American policy makers and military officials sought to promote.

But no one seemed to anticipate the sudden influx of heavily armed, battle-hardened fighters returning from Libya after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They reinvigorated a longstanding rebellion in the north, spurring as many as 1,600 Malian soldiers to defect, according to one senior Malian military official.

The remaining Malian forces were routed so thoroughly that troops overthrew the government in Bamako in frustration. As a result of the coup, the American military suspended aid and training to the Malian military.

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the training and equipping of the Malian forces failed to keep pace with the growing threat from increasingly powerful Islamist extremists.

“We provided training and equipment for many years now, but in relatively modest quantities,” Amanda Dory, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for Africa, told a Senate hearing last month. “I don’t think that level of resourcing was commensurate with the threat.”

Indeed, Malian commanders say that they simply do not have the equipment or training to face the Islamist militants in battle.

“We are a poor country,” said Col. Seydou Sogoba, leader of the troops in Diabaly. “No African country can face this kind of threat alone. This is an international war that is being fought in Mali. We have done what we can. Now others need to come and help us.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, Neil MacFarqhuar from the United Nations, and Scott Sayare from Paris.


January 24, 2013

France Is Increasing Security at Sites in Niger and at Home


PARIS — France gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, and much of the uranium used for fuel is mined in Niger by Areva, the French nuclear company.

But with French forces now in the forefront of fighting Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali and Islamist Web sites full of new threats against France, Paris is sending special forces and more equipment to help protect Areva’s production sites at Arlit and Imouraren in Niger, according to the magazine Le Point, which first reported the news.

In September 2010, seven workers for Areva and a construction company, Vinci, including five French citizens, a person from Togo and another from Madagascar, were kidnapped in Arlit by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Three, including a Frenchwoman who was ill, were released in February 2011 after negotiations, but four French citizens are still being held.

France has enhanced security at home as well, where the Mali engagement was quickly followed by a ramping up of the police and army presence at government buildings, prominent tourist sites, and subway and railway stations. Armed French soldiers in uniform are patrolling inside the subway, riding trains and watching main streets like the Champs-Élysées.

Security has also been tightened around President François Hollande, a Socialist who came into office last May vowing to reduce the symbolism of an imperial presidency. For instance, he gave up the large presidential Citroën C6 for a smaller Citroën DS5 diesel hybrid. But now he is again riding in a C6, an armored one, which officials say was already part of the presidential fleet and not a new purchase.

Mr. Hollande also made a point of trying to open revered spaces to the public, announcing that beginning in October, the beautiful gardens of the Élysée, the presidential palace, would be open to the public on the last Sunday of every month. But on Wednesday the government said that because of the new security situation, the gardens would not be open this Sunday. It did not say when they would be reopened.
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« Reply #4211 on: Jan 25, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Foreign Office: Britons should leave Benghazi immediately

Statement strongly urges departure from Libyan city in response to a 'specific and imminent threat to westerners'

Ian Black, Middle East editor and Chris Stephen in Tripoli
The Guardian, Friday 25 January 2013   

British nationals have been urged by the Foreign Office to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi immediately in response to a "specific and imminent threat to westerners". Germany's government issued a similar warning to its citizens on Thursday.

No details were given by the UK of the nature of the threat, likely to have been issued in response to intelligence information about the security situation. But security sources in Libya said an attack was expected on an oil or gas facility.

The warnings follow last week's hostage crisis in Algeria as well as the French intervention in Mali and underlines continuing international concern about the ability of the government in Tripoli to maintain security in the aftermath of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, which began in Benghazi nearly two years ago.

Tripoli was angered by the announcement. "Nothing justifies this reaction," protested Libya's deputy interior minister, Abdullah Massoud, who expressed "astonishment" at the UK statement.

But in a possible sign of impending trouble, the border crossing to Egypt was closed to all but Egyptians two days ago in an apparent attempt to keep westerners out of eastern Libya. US drones have been deployed amid speculation about a possible attack by jihadists or possible action against them.

Benghazi was the scene last September of an assault on the US consulate in which the US ambassador to Libya was killed along with three other Americans. Last summer the British ambassador escaped unharmed when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at his car.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the Libyans had the "willingness but not [the] capacity" to provide security for diplomats in Benghazi. The attack was blamed on a jihadi-type group called Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have links across the Maghreb region.

David Cameron's national security adviser, Kim Darroch, was in Tripoli on Wednesday for talks with the prime minister, Ali Zidan and two other ministers on UK-Libyan security collaboration.

Since last September the Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Benghazi and all areas of Libya with the exception of Tripoli, Zuwara, Az-Zawiya, Al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian border.

Thursday's statement said: "We are now aware of a specific and imminent threat to westerners in Benghazi, and urge any British nationals who remain there against our advice to leave immediately. We have updated our travel advice to reflect this."

It added: "Following French military intervention in Mali, there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting western interests in the region. We advise vigilance." The Netherlands said that it has discouraged "all travel and stays" in the Benghazi region but has not told its citizens to leave the area. Tension has been high in Benghazi since December, when a Libyan government operation which received support from a US military aircraft arrested a number of men suspected of assassinating the city's police chief.

Gun battles and attacks on police stations have continued sporadically.

Zidan said last week that he was considering imposing a nighttime curfew on the city.

In response to the Algerian attack, Libya's army chief of staff, Youssef Mangoush, has taken personal charge of security at Libya's oil and gas installations.

Adel Mansouri, principal of the International School of Benghazi, told the Associated Press that British and other foreign nationals were warned two days ago about a possible threat to westerners.

He said the teachers were given the option of leaving but decided to stay. Saleh Gawdat, a Benghazi lawmaker, said French doctors who were working in the city's hospitals have left and that the French cultural centre has closed amid fears of potential retaliation over the French-led military intervention in Mali.

British Airways said it would continue operating its three weekly flights between London's Heathrow airport and Tripoli.


Australians warned to leave Benghazi immediately

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 24, 2013 21:52

Australia on Friday joined three European nations in urging its citizens to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi due to a “specific, imminent threat to Westerners” linked to French action in Mali.

The advice followed similar warnings from governments in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, which sparked an angry response from Libya’s government. Tripoli said there was “no new intelligence” to justify such concerns.

But Australia’s department of foreign affairs said: “We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi. All Australians in Benghazi should leave immediately.

“There is a risk of retaliatory attacks against Western targets in Libya following the French intervention in the conflict in Mali in January 2013,” it said in an updated travel advice.

“A number of militant groups are known to operate in Libya and some may seek to target Western interests.”

Only two Australians are registered as being in Benghazi and just 22 in Libya, said the department.

The alert came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to Congress this week about the September attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya.

It also comes as French troops battle Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, amid rising concern about Islamist extremism across north Africa after last week’s bloody attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria.

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« Reply #4212 on: Jan 25, 2013, 07:09 AM »

January 24, 2013

Loyalists to Dominate Jordan’s New Parliament


AMMAN, Jordan — The new 150-seat Parliament here will include members arrested just days before the elections on charges of vote-buying, and a cast of government loyalists will dominate a body long seen by Jordanians as being as corrupt as it is inept.

Members of previous rubber-stamp Parliaments and tribal figures who run patronage networks aided by their ties to Jordan’s authorities were also among the parliamentary winners announced Thursday by Jordan’s election commission. It was the first vote here since the start of the Arab uprisings.

And while other seats went to leftist and Islamist opposition figures, the elections — part of a package of changes offered by King Abdullah II — seemed unlikely to quell the simmering discontent that has posed a challenge to the his rule.

To the growing protest movement, the country’s weak legislators have come to symbolize the divisive policies of the government and the reluctance of Jordan’s rulers to yield power.

“There’s no chance of success for the Parliament,” said Zaki Saad, the leader of the political bureau of the largest opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and which boycotted the election.

The Islamist group had objected to election rules that it and many independent observers said underrepresented urban districts and gave an advantage to rural areas where the government has strong support. “The rules of the game have not changed,” Mr. Saad said. “We expected this result.”

But international observers who monitored the elections noted improvements over previous votes, which were widely seen as rigged.

The American-financed National Democratic Institute, which sent 50 observers to monitor the vote, said a number of changes, including preprinted ballots and improved procedures for processing voters, would instill a measure of confidence in a system viewed with cynicism.

It also noted, though, what it called “systemic distortions,” saying the elections remained “profoundly local contests where candidates are elected as service providers and representatives of parochial interests, rather than national legislators able to hold the executive branch to account or propose laws.”

Hassan Barari, a Jordanian political analyst, said only a few of the new lawmakers could be considered truly independent, noting that some of the Islamists who won seats belonged to a party with close ties to the government.

The latest charges of vote-buying and victories by lawmakers who had “symbiotic” relationships with the government would further erode trust, he said. “It’s not that it’s all the same faces,” he said. “It’s similar faces.”
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« Reply #4213 on: Jan 25, 2013, 07:11 AM »

January 24, 2013

With All Votes in, Netanyahu Assesses the Damage


JERUSALEM — The final ballots in Israel’s national elections were tallied on Thursday, giving a right-wing religious party one more seat in Parliament than had been expected and the Arab-dominated parties one fewer. But the results also sustained the political shift that weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and left him scrambling to form a stable coalition.

The last votes counted, mostly those of active-duty soldiers, gave the right-wing and religious factions that make up Mr. Netanyahu’s current coalition a one-seat majority. But the prime minister has indicated that he wants to form a broader government, partnering first with Yair Lapid, the leader of the new, centrist Yesh Atid party, whose second-place finish stunned Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid, who together control 50 of Parliament’s 120 seats, met for two and a half hours on Thursday in Jerusalem and “discussed the challenges facing the nation and the ways to deal with them,” according to a statement from Mr. Lapid’s party.

Most analysts expect them to build a majority of at least 64 seats by adding Habayit Hayehudi, or Jewish Home, the rightist faction whose total grew to 12 seats from 11 with the soldiers’ votes, and Kadima, another centrist party, which has two seats.

It remains unclear whether Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister whose new party, Hatnua, garnered six seats in the election, or the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, with 11 seats, would join the coalition, since they have fundamental disagreements with Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid — whose name means There Is a Future.

One thing that seems clear, though, is that the three Arab-dominated parties, which had 10 seats combined before the vote and 11 seats after it (instead of the 12 seats that initial results had projected), will be left out in the cold. They have never been part of any Israeli government, and on Wednesday Mr. Lapid went out of his way to say that he would not ally himself with politicians like Hanin Zoabi, who was arrested in the 2010 flotilla protesting Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Mr. Lapid previously said he loathed Ms. Zoabi.

About 56 percent of Arab voters cast ballots on Tuesday, according to the Israeli news media, a stronger showing than had been widely predicted. It was thought that frustration with the performance of Arab lawmakers and a call to boycott the elections in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians might depress turnout among Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens to below 50 percent; instead it rose a bit from the 53 percent in 2009.

“It’s always a tension,” said Diana Buttu, an Arab-Israeli lawyer and analyst. “People do not want to legitimate Israel as a Jewish state on the macro level, but then on the micro level, they look at their personal concerns and think maybe it would be better to have someone representing us.”

Ahmad Tibi, who has served in Parliament since 1999 and was re-elected Tuesday, called the election “a missed opportunity,” according to Ynet, an Israeli news site. If 10 percent more Arabs had voted, he was quoted as saying, “we could have toppled the right’s rule” and ousted Mr. Netanyahu.

Arab citizens may now face renewed pressure to do national service in lieu of joining the military, something many Arab community leaders virulently oppose. One of Mr. Lapid’s signature issues is to end the widespread draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs; those who did not serve would probably be ineligible for housing and education subsidies.

“In other words, rights would no longer be automatically given to citizens, but would have to be earned,” Nadim Nashif, leader of an Arab youth program in Haifa called Baladna, wrote in an e-mail to supporters on Thursday. “This sets a dangerous precedent which would facilitate the further erosion of Palestinian civil rights in Israel.”

Ms. Buttu said that in reality, it would make little difference if Arabs turned out in droves, since there are such fundamental differences between their elected leaders and the rest of the Parliament. “Even if they got 20 seats, there will never be a coalition formed with them,” she said. “They’ll never be part of the system, because the system is defined as a Jewish state.”
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January 25, 2013

Chinese Leader Eases Tone in Meeting With Japan Envoy


BEIJING — China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, offered Japan a conciliatory tone during a meeting with a senior Japanese politician Friday, an apparent effort to reduce the escalating tensions between the two countries over islands in the East China Sea.

In some of his first remarks on China’s foreign policy since becoming Secretary General of the Communist Party, Mr. Xi told the Japanese lawmaker, Natsuo Yamaguchi, that “the Chinese government remains committed to China-Japan relations,” according to an account provided by China’s Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Xi urged both sides to “look at the larger picture,” and “push relations forward,” the Foreign Ministry said, language markedly more restrained than the combative exhortations from defense officials and state-run media since the dispute over the islands erupted four months ago.

The encounter between Mr. Xi and Mr. Yamaguchi, in the Great Hall of the People, came after China and Japan have sent surveillance ships to the East China Sea on an almost daily basis in the last several months. Recently, both sides have scrambled fighter jets in what Washington considers a dangerous escalation of the dispute over islands known as the Diaoyu in China, and Senkaku in Japan.

In their meeting Friday, Mr. Yamaguchi, the head of the junior party in Japan’s new coalition government, delivered a letter to Mr. Xi from Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, that urged high-level talks between Tokyo and Beijing, the Japanese press reported.

In a statement after meeting Mr. Xi, Mr. Yamaguchi also expressed moderation. “We would like to improve our future relations,” he said. “We believe Mr. Xi’s intent to seriously consider high-level talks reflects his desire for improved relations.”

The New Komeito party, headed by Mr. Yamaguchi, has had longstanding ties with China, and is generally looked upon favorably in China. In the Japanese political context, the party is considered pro-China. Its electoral base comes from a Buddhist organization.

Mounting nationalism in both countries has fanned the tensions that hark back to the long history of conflict between China and Japan, and bitter memories from World War II, when Japan occupied China.

The Obama administration, worried about a collision in the sea or in the air that could lead to confrontation, has asked both sides to cool the situation. At the same time, Washington has made clear that the mutual defense treaty between Japan and the United States covers an attack on the islands, which could lead to American military involvement.

In a striking backward glance to the opening of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972, Mr. Xi said that “like the older generation of leaders, we should show a sense of national and historical responsibility and political wisdom, overcome the difficulties in bilateral relations and push relations forward.”

Mr. Xi was clearly referring to the 1972 milestone in Chinese-Japanese relations when Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, after talks with his Japanese counterpart, Kakuei Tanaka, said that the two countries should shelve the dispute on the islands to be resolved at another time. Japan has said it never agreed to Mr. Zhou’s proposal.

Indeed, Japan insists that there is no need for negotiations over the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands because from Japan’s point of view the islands belong to Japan. The islands were returned to Japan by the United States in 1972 as part of the agreement that transferred Okinawa to Japan from American administration.

Before meeting with Mr. Xi, Mr. Yamaguchi met with an array of senior Chinese officials in Beijing Thursday, including Wang Jiarui, the head of the International Liaison Department of the party’s Central Committee, an important figure in China’s foreign policy making apparatus. Mr. Wang, like Mr. Xi, also suggested putting off resolution of the islands dispute to a later date, the Japanese press reported.

The dispute over the islands featured in the election campaign of Mr. Abe, who vowed that he would not stand by as China chipped away at Japan’s sovereignty over the islands.

The conciliatory tone Friday between China and Japan did not necessarily presage an immediate thaw in the dispute.

Instead, the new tone appeared to comport with recent remarks by Chinese diplomats that the islands dispute needed to be managed, a stance that contrasts with the barrage of belligerent statements against Japan by Chinese military experts, and the state-run media.

China continued this week to make claims to the islands at the United Nations.

In a submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, China argued the islands belong to China based on the geological composition of the continental shelf between the Chinese mainland and the disputed islands.

The U.N. said it would consider taking up the matter. The Japanese government told the United Nations that the submission should be rejected.

Reporting was contributed by Makiko Inoue in Tokyo, and research was contributed by Bree Feng in Beijing.
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