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« Reply #4275 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:33 AM »

New photos, videos and app shed fresh light on Anne Frank’s family life

By Vanessa Thorpe, The Observer
Saturday, January 26, 2013 18:23 EST

Archive documents, photos and video footage are released to the public for the first time in digital edition of Anne’s diary

Scrapbook pictures that give a bright glimpse of Anne Frank’s life before her family went into hiding are among a wealth of unpublished material made public for Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday.

The scrapbooks, thought to have been made by her father Otto, are held in the archives of the Anne Frank Fund and their release, with rare film footage, letters and pictures, is intended to give a broader picture of the Frank family.

“Anne’s father was a keen amateur photographer, something that was more unusual at that time, and we have hundreds of images, mainly of special family occasions, but of friends too,” said Yves Kugelmann, who sits on the board of the fund.

A photo of Anne with her elder sister and parents out together in May 1941 near their home in Amsterdam is a poignant reminder of the freedom they lost, while a jaunty image of Anne, taken by her sister Margot, shows her leaning over the balcony of a block of flats and letting her hair fly. The picture was meant to include their grandmother, Rosa, but a note in the scrapbook explains that she moved out of the way at the last moment.

Original documents, diary pages and footage are all included in the first app edition of The Diary of a Young Girl, the journal written by the teenage Frank during the two years she spent concealed from the Nazis in an annexe behind a warehouse.

The content of the app is drawn from archives held in Basel, Switzerland, where Otto Frank lived after the war, and has been assembled with the help of Frank’s only surviving direct relative, Bernd Elias, known as Buddy. “I am happy to say that interest in Anna and her times is still strong, but bringing out this now is highly important for the future of her story,” Elias told the Observer. “The new material gives it a completely different outlook.”

In childhood Anne’s elder cousin, Buddy, was the object of her dreams. Inside the annexe at Prinsengracht 263 she drew a picture of the outfit that she hoped to wear one day when she went ice-skating with him. Now 87, Elias works with the Anne Frank Foundation and is still committed to explaining the relevance of his cousin’s story.

“It is a great thing that we have so much material available now for young people,” he said. “In the past there was only the diary, now there are pictures and videos. Hatred, of course, and racism are still working away all over the world. They are with us. It is so important that children learn to respect all religions and all nationalities.”

Tens of millions have read The Diary of a Young Girl since it was first published in 1947; readers of the app can now see the hiding place she shared from 6 July 1942 until 4 August 1944 with her parents, her sister, the Van Pels family and a dentist called Fritz Pfeffer.

Importantly for Kugelmann and Elias, the app also shows what was happening outside the annexe. While Helena Bonham Carter reads Anne’s diary entries, users can watch videos of those who secretly helped the threatened Jewish family, or listen to original radio news broadcasts.

“When I knew Anne, she was a girl like every other girl,” said Elias. “She was lovely and wild and we had a wonderful time playing together. But she was no real exception, although it is true that she just loved writing, even before she was in hiding. In a way, she was not somebody special, though. That was the point really.” Although Frank was “great fun”, Elias often thinks of the rest of her family too. “We know about Anne because of her writing, yet no one knows about her sister. Sometimes I can’t believe that she went then too. And I know that Otto felt that. Margot was highly intelligent and was always the best in her class. Anne was one victim of millions, and all these victims were each people with their own characters.”

Elias feels Anne’s wider importance now is as the best known Holocaust victim. “She has become an icon of that time, and now I think about her every day because of my work. I get mail sent to me almost every day and I answer them all.”

The Anne Frank Fund makes no profits and invests in education projects, so its commercial ventures are carefully chosen. Elias believes his cousin’s legacy is liable to exploitation. “I hated to see the musical. She is used sometimes for things that are not right. There were even some Anne Frank jeans at one time. Horrible ideas.”

At the same time it is “heartwarming”, Elias says, that she is read all over the world. Penguin General’s app also includes 21 video clips from the Oscar-winning documentary Anne Frank Remembered and several audio recordings, including a commentary from Miep Gies, one of those who risked her life to help Anne.

But schoolchildren will not, of course, be spared the last chapter of Frank’s story. Her time in hiding ended on a summer’s day when the Austrian Nazi SS Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer entered the annexe. Those inside were all taken away and Frank went first to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands, then on to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, where she died from typhus three months before her 16th birthday.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #4276 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:35 AM »

The Hitler home movies: How Eva Braun documented the dictator’s private life

By Robert McCrum, The Observer
Sunday, January 27, 2013 14:25 EST

Lutz Becker was born in Berlin, he says, “during the anno diabolo, 1941. Mine was the generation that was sent into a dark pit.” Meeting this survivor of the Third Reich, now in his 70s and living in Bayswater, London, it’s hard to suppress the thought that Becker, a distinguished artist and film historian, has conducted most of his life in a circle of hell.

Becker’s childhood passed in the fetid, terrifying atmosphere of Berlin’s air-raid shelters as the Allied raids intensified and the city was reduced to burning rubble. He recalls the radio announcements – “Achtung, achtung, ende ende, über Deutschland sinfe bender. Achtung, achtung” – followed by the helter-skelter rush downstairs. When the bombs fell – even far off – “the change in the air pressure was enormous, and extraordinary,” he says. “People used to bleed from the ears, the nose and the eyes. I came out deaf, with tinnitus.” Today, Becker adds, “I envy children who grow up without fear.”

When the war ended in 1945, Becker and his family found “a world in ruins. The bodies of soldiers lay in the streets. When you passed a bombed-out building you could hear the buzzing of bluebottles in the darkness. Death was still underneath the ruins,” he remembers. The devastated, malodorous aftermath of the Third Reich left a deep psychological scar. “As a child I had been forbidden to use dirty words. Now I would stand in front of the mirror in my mother’s bedroom and repeat ‘shit’ and ‘arsehole’.” He laughs at the memory. “But I was thinking of Hitler.”

In some ways, Becker has been thinking about Hitler ever since, and what the Führer did to the German people. “I was raised in a world of lies,” he declares. As the Second World War morphed into the Cold War, the terrible truth about one of the most evil regimes in history began to leak out. Poignantly, the first Germans to come to terms with the reality of the Third Reich were those children who had somehow survived the fall of Berlin – young men like Lutz Becker.

A gifted abstract German artist and film-maker, Becker discovered his vocation as an artist in the 1950s, when he also acquired a passion for film. In 1965, he won the Gropius prize for art and chose to spend it by transferring to the Slade, first coming to London in 1966 to study under William Coldstream. His contemporaries included the artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman. While researching his thesis, his troubled relationship with his childhood under the Third Reich found a new outlet. “It was in the Bundesarchiv,” Becker recalls, “that I first unearthed a photograph of Eva Braun holding a 16mm Siemens cine-camera.”

Eva Braun still exerts a strange fascination. Today, 80 years after Hitler became chancellor, Braun is both a symbol of Nordic simplicity, and also a tragic figure whose ordinariness provides a window on to the banality of evil. Postwar fascination with the Nazis means that Eva Braun still has a remarkable grip on our imagination – the little girl in the fairytale who takes us to the horror in the woods.

The woman who holds the key to the domestic face of Adolf Hitler was 17 when she was first introduced to the Führer, who was only identified as “Herr Wolff”. This blind date had been set up by Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffman, for whom Eva Braun worked as an assistant.

Hoffman, who ran a photographic studio in Munich, had been instrumental in the making of Hitler’s image. He ensured that Hitler was always seen as a determined, defiant and heroic figure, a man of iron. From the 1920s, Hoffman’s photographs were duplicated by the million in the German press, and sold as postcards to the party faithful. When Hitler’s mistress, Geli Raubal, committed suicide on 18 September 1931 in the apartment they shared in Munich, there was an urgent need to hush up a potential scandal, and give the Führer’s private life the semblance of normality. Hoffman stepped in. Eva Braun bore a striking similarity to the dead woman, and Hitler took comfort in her company after Raubal’s suicide. By the end of 1932, they had become lovers.

Braun continued to work for Hoffman, a position that enabled her to travel with Hitler’s entourage, as a photographer for the NSDAP (Nazi Party). Her relationship with the Führer was troubled. Twice, in August 1932 and May 1935, she attempted suicide. But by 1936 she was fully established as the Führer’s companion. Hitler was ambivalent about her. He wanted to present himself as a chaste hero. In Nazi ideology, men were leaders and warriors, women were housewives. So Adolf and Eva never appeared as a couple in public, and the German people were unaware of their relationship until after the war. According to Albert Speer’s memoirs, Fräulein Braun never slept in the same room as Hitler, and always had her own quarters. Speer later said, “Eva Braun will prove a great disappointment to historians.” But Speer was wrong. He had overlooked Eva’s gifts as a photographer.

Once he found the photograph of Eva with her cine-camera, Becker began to speculate about the possibility of Braun’s home movies. If there was a camera there must have been some film, and if there was film, it must have been stored somewhere. The Nazis were nothing if not meticulous record keepers. In the late 1940s there had been reports circulating of a collection of home movies. Becker had heard these stories, but had never pursued them. No one had ever confirmed where such films might be hidden, or even if they existed at all.

Now in London, Becker began to make inquiries. He searched the records of the Imperial War Museum and the National Film Archive. “In those days,” he recalls, “there was no great interest in film as historical evidence. Most historians believed that newspapers were more important than film, as testimony. But I had a very sharp need to sort out my own past.” Becker would look at anything that helped with decrypting the terrible conundrum of Nazism.

Perhaps only a child of Nazi Berlin could have felt both the need and the determination to do this. It’s hard, now, to appreciate how little was known of Hitler’s mistress in the 1950s and 60s. It was Becker’s research that would change the world’s perception of the Führer and the Aryan wife (Braun married Hitler the day before their suicide) who died at his side in the bunker.

Becker’s quest took him to the heart of a strange, postwar – predominantly American – society of Nazi obsessives: former veterans, trophy hunters, amateur cineastes and right-wing Aryan fantasists. In April 1970, Becker found himself in Phoenix, Arizona, at a gathering of film buffs, when he was introduced to a retired member of the US army unit responsible for the liberation of Hitler’s chalet at Obersalzberg in April 1945. This veteran marine told Becker that, so far as he could recall, he had indeed noticed piles of film canisters in Hitler’s mountain lair, but had not understood their significance. This material, he remembered, had been taken away by the US Signal Corps, the division of the American army responsible for the films and photographs retrieved from the ruins of the Third Reich.

Becker’s curiosity was roused. Assuming they existed, these film canisters, he reasoned, must eventually have been taken to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC. This was the home of such treasures as, for example, the original Declaration of Independence. With some anticipation, Becker trawled through the National Archive’s catalogue, but in vain. He could find nothing that answered to the description of Eva Braun’s home movies. For a while, the trail went cold but, he says, “I still had this instinct that there would be some films.”

Becker continued to pursue his career as an artist in London, but he could not shake off his reputation as the film historian of the Third Reich. In 1971, he was approached by the producer David Puttnam and Sandy Lieberson, co-founders of the documentary unit Visual Programme Systems. They asked him to act as a consultant on a documentary series about the nazification of Germany in the 1920s and 30s. With some misgivings, Becker signed on, not least because “as a private person, I could not finance my research into Eva Braun’s films”. Working for Puttnam and Lieberson, Becker now had full responsibility for researching the US National Archives in depth. He could still find no trace of Eva Braun’s fabled home movies, but at least he was in conversation with the curators who might be able to help.

Part of Becker’s problem in these early days was that his search was for 16mm footage. To the world’s film archives, 16mm film was inferior to 35mm, the regular film stock used for official propaganda. The curatorial priority for most film archives at that time was to preserve nitrate footage shot on 35mm film before it disintegrated or disappeared; 16mm film was a lesser priority. Nonetheless, on his visits to Washington, Becker did turn up new information about a National Archives vault of uncatalogued 16mm film held in an old aircraft hangar in a forgotten part of Maryland, just outside Washington DC.

One fine day, in the spring of 1972, Becker drove out of DC to this vault and began searching through a rusting and discarded heap of old film canisters. It was, apparently, a fruitless quest. Most of the material seemed to be Japanese. None of it was 16mm stock. But then, as he turned over these uncatalogued cans, he spotted something no one had noticed before – a set of cans with German labels. With rising excitement, he opened the first can and drew out a few frames of film to hold them up to the light.

Amazingly, it was colour film, and – even more astounding – there was Adolf Hitler with several senior Nazis (Albert Speer, Joseph Goebbels, Joachim von Ribbentrop), relaxing in the sunshine on the terrace of the Obersalzberg. These were indeed Eva Braun’s home movies. Here, finally, were the overlords of the Third Reich at home, and at play.

Braun’s home movies, mostly shot in Hitler’s fortified chalet in Berchtesgaden, in the Bavarian Alps, have a naive innocence. She captures in the private life of the Nazi high command what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”. In Braun’s footage, we see Hitler and his cronies relaxing on the terrace of his chalet. They drink coffee and take cakes; they joke and pose for the camera. Hitler talks to the children of his associates, or caresses his Alsatian, Blondi. The camera (in Eva Braun’s hands) approaches Hitler in rare and intimate close-up. Occasionally, when a visitor from outside the party elite appears, the camera retreats to a more respectful distance. Mostly, however, Braun’s cine-camera is among the party circle, at Hitler’s side, and at his table. Most of the footage is in colour, with an extraordinary immediacy. Braun’s films offer a remarkably unmediated view of the Nazi leadership and of Hitler himself. This was not the image presented by his propaganda team, or by Leni Riefenstahl, “Hitler’s favourite film-maker”, but the man as he actually was.

Braun’s films chart the Führer’s career up to the zenith of Nazi success, the summer of 1941. At that moment, with the eastern divisions of the Wehrmacht racing into the heart of the Soviet Union, it was reasonable to conclude, as many did, that Germany would win the war. But then came Pearl Harbor in December 1941, followed by Stalingrad and the defeat of Rommel in North Africa. Once Russia was fighting back, undefeated, and once America was committed to the Allied cause, the Third Reich was doomed, and Eva Braun ceased filming.

In the apocalyptic chaos of Hitler’s downfall, the final days in the bunker and the dramatic suicides of Adolf and Eva, Braun’s home movies, never widely known, became forgotten. Until Becker came on the scene.

“I asked for a Steenbeck [editing machine],” he recalls, “and began to watch. In my excitement, it was as if my life had a sense of purpose. I had been very angry about those Nazis. Now I could channel that anger in a positive way.”

In film-history terms, the moment Becker opened those first canisters was the equivalent of peering into the tomb of Tutankhamun. He had finally identified the treasure that many had spoken about but none had found. Adolf Hitler’s image would never be the same again.

By chance, Becker’s discovery – soon after viewed at the National Archives in Washington with great excitement – coincided with the making of one of television’s greatest documentary series, The World At War, a project produced and masterminded by Jeremy Isaacs at Thames TV in London. In keeping with the spirit of the age, the TV history of the Second World War would not just be a military history, featuring admirals, generals and air marshals. It was to include the common man and woman: Berlin housewives, London Blitz survivors, Russian peasants and Japanese civilians. Isaacs wanted not only to describe the victory of the west, but also to tell the story of how the whole planet had become engulfed in conflict.

Becker, meanwhile, was discovering the limits to the public’s appetite for the home life of Adolf Hitler. Taking the best of the Eva Braun footage, the documentary he worked on for Puttnam, entitled Swastika, was premiered at the Cannes Film festival in May 1973. The audience was outraged, booing and whistling at the screen, with cries of “Assassins!” The presentation of the Führer as a friendly uncle, a petit bourgeois figure in a suit and tie, popping in and out of a family gathering, was intolerable. The iron-clad image of Hitler so carefully shaped by Heinrich Hoffman still exerted a fierce grip on the public imagination.

The production team for The World At War soon heard about Becker’s material, and wove it into the series in a manner less contentious than in Swastika. Now British and American television audiences could have a new perspective on the Third Reich and its leaders. Initial outrage softened into a more mature understanding. It became easier to come to terms with the horrors of the past if its demonic protagonists were seen not as monsters but as ordinary – sinister emissaries from humanity’s dark side, but recognisably human.

Becker is still tormented by the first reactions to Eva Braun’s films. “I was punished for puncturing a negative myth. People saw something that was banal in action, and banal in its colour.” He believes that many had become comfortable with the carefully composed, black-and-white propaganda images of the Nazis. “People hate it when you tinker with their mythologies,” he says. Over a generation, however, perceptions have changed.

Today, Becker’s research, inspired by the need to make peace with the past, has, paradoxically, had the effect of historicising it. There were many equally evil 20th-century regimes – Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot – but none of these exert quite the same cultural and psychological charge as Nazism. Becker himself finds it painful to review Braun’s home movies. He says, looking back, he has learned “to develop a sense of responsibility, and to see that [my research] could not be a howling triumph, but at best an armistice. I was able to see the ghosts of the past put into the history books. The Nazis were no longer spooking my psyche. My journey was over.”

Taylor Downing’s book, The World At War, is published by BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, priced £14.99. To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #4277 on: Jan 28, 2013, 09:01 AM »

In the USA...


Republicans Decide the Solution to Their Problems is to Screw America with a Smile

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Jan. 27th, 2013

Most people would be inclined to agree that being assaulted by a criminal with a smile on their face is still being assaulted, especially if the assailant has a history of attacking them at every opportunity. Whether an attacker is smiling or scowling, the damage they inflict is still painful, and even semi-intelligent human beings would avoid any situation that might give the assailant another chance to inflict harm on them or their loved ones. Politicians learn early on to smile regardless if they are proposing legislation that helps or harms their constituents, and it does not take long for the public to learn that it is the politician’s record and position on issues that matters and not whether they present themselves and their agenda in a friendly manner or with a smile on their face. Republicans have not proposed one idea over the past decade, or longer, that benefits the population, and in fact have been purveyors of pain and suffering for Americans far removed from the wealthiest 1% of income earners and fundamentalist Christian fanatics. After three days of meeting to plot strategies to continue inflicting damage on the American people, the Republican National Committee decided that if they present detrimental legislation with a smile on the faces, their harmful agenda will be embraced by Americans.

The message coming from the 2013 RNC Winter meeting in Charlotte this week is that substantive policy changes are not the answer to garner support from voters because Republican leaders insist there was nothing wrong with their message that lost them the 2012 election, it was how and who delivered the messages of doom. The consensus among GOP leaders is that Americans want to be assaulted by Republicans; they just want them to smile as they implement Draconian spending cuts, lower taxes for the rich, anti-women legislation, and religious edicts straight out of the Old Testament. Republican leadership is so out of touch with the American people, and so stuck on their ideologically backward agenda, that one member said “We can stand by our timeless principles and articulate them in ways that are modern, relevant to our time and relatable to the majority of voters.” They then unanimously approved a resolution by voice vote calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood despite a majority of Americans oppose defunding the organization.

There are myriad problems endemic to Republican policies, but primarily they do not comprehend that their agenda and policies are contrary to the will of the people, and they are only interested in serving voters who agree with their platform. New Hampshire chairman Wayne MacDonald said party leaders need to be firm and assertive without being mean-spirited, and asserted that no-one thinks the Republican Party has to change any platform planks because “this party wants to serve everybody that believes in our principles,” and it informs what pundits and political observers have known for some time; Republicans do not want, or intend, to serve all Americans; only those who agree with their policies.

One of the RNC  winter meetings’ attendees, recently elected North Carolina Governor, Pat McCrory, believes the party must reorient itself away from Washington and focus on experimenting with new policy approaches in the states, and Republicans have gone beyond the experimental stage. In two states, Kansas and Louisiana, the Republican governors proposed raising taxes on the poor while cutting taxes for the rich that Republicans in Congress like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor have proposed over the course of the past year that certainly did not help Republicans in the last election. During the 2012 election, President Obama ran on raising taxes on the rich and giving 98% of Americans a tax cut, and yet according to Republicans, they “have the right policy but do a terrible job conveying it,” so their tactic to better transmit their “tax-the-poor” policy is implementing it in the states, with a smile, so the public will accept them with open arms.

One of the subjects discussed at the RNC meeting was reaching out to minorities and young people in a more “friendly” way, and RNC chairman, Reince Priebus said, “When it comes to young people, when it comes to African-Americans and Hispanics, we really have done an incredible job over the last few years,” and “actually our principles are more conducive to minorities than the Democrats.” However, the results of the election told a different story as African Americans, young people, and Hispanics overwhelmingly supported the President and Democrats, and to correct that, Republicans intend on “communicating with them in the proper forums, and explaining the values to them.” It may prove difficult to explain to minorities, young people, and any American that slashing safety nets, education funding, and raising their taxes to benefit corporations and the wealthy, is good for the people, and certainly not the values most Americans hold regardless if they are minorities, young, or old.

Republicans in Congress and states did not need the RNC to confirm their dystopian policies and extremist agenda is “just fine” and what the people really want. Republicans started off the 113th Congress with a personhood bill to ban contraception, competing bills to defund Planned Parenthood, and some of the harshest anti-abortion bills that are all the rage in Republican-controlled states in spite of a poll signifying support for keeping Roe v. Wade’s access to legal abortion in place; no amount of “smiling” will change public opinion.

If the RNC is dysfunctional enough to think Americans will embrace their extreme positions on raising taxes on the poor, slashing social safety nets, rigging elections, and assaulting Social Security and Medicare just because they smile as they wreak havoc on the people, they are in greater danger of self-annihilation than they could possibly imagine. That Republicans even entertain the notion that explaining their dangerous ideology with a friendly demeanor will sway voters to embrace fascism, theocracy, and Draconian austerity is another indication the GOP will forge ahead at their peril, and smile their way into political oblivion.

***********

Obama: GOP ‘punished on Fox News’ and by Limbaugh for working with Democrats

By Samantha Kimmey
RawStory
Sunday, January 27, 2013 17:42 EST

The New Republic interviewed President Obama earlier this month, discussing his new term in office, gun control, the media’s role in partisan politics, LGBT rights, and the civil war in Syria.

In a discussion of gun control, Obama said he wanted to ensure that the legislative strategy was combined “with a broad-based communications and outreach strategy to get people engaged and involved, so that it’s not Washington over here and the rest of America over there.”

But he took a jab at House Republicans on the matter of gun control, essentially claiming that their opinions aren’t truly representative of the American public. “The House Republican majority is made up mostly of members who are in sharply gerrymandered districts that are very safely Republican and may not feel compelled to pay attention to broad-based public opinion, because what they’re really concerned about is the opinions of their specific Republican constituencies.”

On same-sex marriage, he said that the GOP appeared to be splitting on the issue, with some beginning to embrace progress while others remain “deeply opposed,” a division that “will play itself out over years.”

As far as partisan gridlock is concerned, a seemingly never-ending problem on Capitol Hill today, he pointed to the media as a catalyst. In fact, he specifically claiming that GOP members of Congress are “punished on Fox News and by Rush Limbaugh” for cooperating with Democrats.

He added that he felt “left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word.”

“Nobody gets on TV saying, ‘I agree with my colleague from the other party.’ People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things,” he said.

Yet he does not believe that there is an “equivalence” between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the issue of compromise. While he admitted that lobbying and money was a problem on both sides of the aisle, Democrats are ultimately willing to compromise while “we haven’t seen the same kind of attitude on the other side,” he argued.

**************

January 27, 2013

Obama Focuses on Status Quo, Not Left, in Battle With G.O.P.

By JOHN HARWOOD
NYT

WASHINGTON — For all the talk that President Obama has shifted leftward, much of his early second-term energy seeks simply to preserve the status quo.

Mr. Obama’s Inaugural Address last week celebrated the role of “collective action” in creating conditions for a modern economy, expanding individual opportunity and assisting the poor. He rejected Republican arguments that government benefits create “a nation of takers.”

That partisan gibe was telling. He defended two programs, Medicare and Medicaid, begun nearly a half-century ago, and a third, Social Security, that dates from the Great Depression. The federal welfare commitments that Mr. Obama praised in observing that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable” also date back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time.

Yet all those benefits are in the cross-fire of the president’s continuing fiscal battle with Republicans in Congress. That is not because of a shift in philosophy by Mr. Obama or his party, but rather because of the looming cost of the retirements of baby boomers and of the persistent ideological boldness of partisan foes.

Mr. Obama expanded the scope of federal obligations during his first term through short-term stimulus programs and the new health care law. Encouraged by his second popular-vote majority in November and hardened by his confrontations with Republicans over the past two years, he has taken a feistier stance toward his adversaries.

None of the president’s economic initiatives, however, represent a departure for Mr. Obama himself, or for his party. If President Bill Clinton set out to build a “bridge to the 21st century,” said Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the New Democrat Network, Mr. Obama is walking across it.

John D. Podesta, an Obama adviser who served as chief of staff in the Clinton White House, called the president’s second-term economic agenda “consistent with where he’s been, consistent with where Clinton was.”

Indeed, since World War II both parties have accepted a substantial measure of federal activism “as American as apple pie,” said Kenneth Baer, a former Obama budget aide.

Mr. Obama’s problem is that postwar America could afford more pie than a post-baby-boomer America will be able to. And in the era of the Tea Party, Republicans have proved increasingly willing to challenge once-settled assumptions about Washington’s role.

In another political moment, Mr. Obama’s attempt to preserve old governing assumptions might be labeled conservative. But Republicans, even after shifting tactics in the wake of a bracing November defeat, say he will have to fight nonstop to advance his agenda.

“His entire second term on fiscal issues is going to be essentially defensive,” said Representative Tom Cole, a veteran Republican from Oklahoma. “He’s trying to defend not just the New Deal legacy, but also Obamacare.”

Mr. Cole added, “The problem he has is, those programs can’t be defended in their current forms.”

But Republicans also have not made their case for the “structural reforms” that they say have been made urgent by trillion-dollar deficits. In fact, they have failed to do so repeatedly.

In the 1990s, Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attempt to rein in Medicare and Medicaid spending helped Mr. Clinton win a second term. President George W. Bush, after adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2003, could not persuade a Republican Congress to pass his plan for a partial privatization of Social Security.

In last year’s campaign, the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, backed a plan to overhaul Medicare through spending limits on each beneficiary. But their plan pushed such savings 10 years into the future, while they attacked Mr. Obama for having cut Medicare spending to help finance the health care law.

When it comes to Republicans pushing for structural changes in benefit programs, “the record there is not good,” said Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House aide. And the Republican argument will not soon get easier to make.

Mr. Obama acknowledges the need for some cuts in entitlement spending, but he campaigned successfully on higher taxes for affluent Americans as an alternative to the deep cuts that Republicans want. By refusing to negotiate this month over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, Mr. Obama forced Republican leaders to set that cudgel aside without accepting the spending cuts they previously insisted on.

To swing rank-and-file Republicans behind that capitulation, House leaders promised that Mr. Ryan’s new budget plan this spring would eliminate the budget deficit within 10 years. Doing so, however, will almost certainly require limiting Medicare spending much sooner than 10 years from now — a step that Mr. Wehner said “I’m not sure I’d recommend,” because it could bring more political pain.

Yet fiscal pressure on the White House will not let up even if Mr. Obama marshals public opinion against that budget. Absent a negotiated deal to reduce spending, Mr. Cole said, Republicans say they will let $1 trillion in 10-year across-the-board budget cuts take effect under the “sequestration” provision both parties agreed to in 2011. That would squeeze defense and domestic government functions alike.

A deal remains possible. In earlier, unsuccessful talks with Republicans, Mr. Obama embraced what Mr. Podesta calls “sensible reforms” to major entitlement programs, including reduced spending for affluent beneficiaries and more modest inflation adjustments.

Not even liberal advocates hold out much hope for new expansions in the government’s economic role, or crackdowns on the United States’ trading partners, or stimulus spending to reduce unemployment — notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s second-inaugural swagger.

Upon hearing Mr. Obama’s address, “I was troubled by the assumption that the economy’s in recovery, when for most Americans the recovery hasn’t started,” said Robert L. Borosage, a co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future.

“He spoke to the progressive coalition,” Mr. Borosage added. But in some ways, he said, the speech “sounded like it came from the Clinton years.”

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January 28, 2013

Senators Offer a Bipartisan Blueprint for Immigration

By JULIA PRESTON
NYT

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that would hinge on progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire.

The senators were able to reach a deal by incorporating the Democrats’ insistence on a single comprehensive bill that would not deny eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, with Republican demands that strong border and interior enforcement had to be clearly in place before Congress could consider legal status for illegal immigrants.

Their blueprint, set to be unveiled on Monday, will allow them to stake out their position one day before President Obama outlines his immigration proposals in a speech on Tuesday in Las Vegas, in the opening moves of what lawmakers expect will be a protracted and contentious debate in Congress this year.

Lawmakers said they were optimistic that the political mood had changed since a similar effort collapsed in acrimony in 2010. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and one of the negotiators, said he saw “a new appreciation” among Republicans of the need for an overhaul.

“Look at the last election,” Mr. McCain said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours.” The senator also said he had seen “significant improvements” in border enforcement, although “we’ve still got a ways to go.”

He added, “We can’t go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status.”

According to a five-page draft of the plan obtained by The New York Times on Sunday, the eight senators — including Mr. McCain; Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York; and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina — have agreed to address the failings of the immigration system in one comprehensive measure, rather than in smaller pieces, and to offer a “tough, fair and practical road map” that would eventually lead to a chance at citizenship for nearly all of the immigrants here illegally.

“We on the Democratic side have said that we are flexible and we want to get a bill,” Mr. Schumer told reporters in New York on Sunday. “But there’s a bottom line, and that’s a path to citizenship for the 11 or so million people who qualify. We’ve made great, great progress with our Republican colleagues.”

Under the senators’ plan, most illegal immigrants would be able to apply to become permanent residents — a crucial first step toward citizenship — but only after certain border enforcement measures had been accomplished.

Among the plan’s new proposals is the creation of a commission of governors, law enforcement officials and community leaders from border states that would assess when border security measures had been completed. A proposal would also require that an exit system be in place for tracking departures of foreigners who entered the country through airports or seaports, before any illegal immigrants could start on a path to citizenship.

The lawmakers intend for their proposals to frame the debate in the Senate, which is expected to take up immigration this spring, ahead of the House of Representatives. Compared with an immigration blueprint from 2011 that White House officials have said is the basis for the president’s position, the senators’ proposals appear to include tougher enforcement and a less direct path for illegal immigrants than Mr. Obama is considering.

In a parallel effort, a separate group of four senators will introduce a bill this week dealing with another thorny issue that is likely to be addressed in a comprehensive measure: visas for legal immigrants with advanced skills in technology and science. The bill, written primarily by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a Republican, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democrat, would nearly double the number of temporary visas, known as an H-1B, available each year to highly skilled immigrants. It would also free up more permanent resident visas, known as green cards, so those immigrants could eventually settle in the United States and go on to become citizens.

In a sign of the rapidly changing mood in Washington on immigration, the two groups of senators and the White House have been vying in recent days to see who would unveil their proposals first.

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat who was one of those negotiating the comprehensive principles, said the senators finally agreed that any legislation should include a pathway to citizenship.

“First of all, Americans support it, in poll after poll,” said Mr. Menendez, who was interviewed along with Mr. McCain by Martha Raddatz on Sunday. “Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, also joined the group of eight senators in recent weeks and endorsed its principles.

Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who is a fast-rising figure in his party, had insisted on including the exit tracking system as one of the triggers for opening the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Mr. Rubio cited estimates that as many as 40 percent of immigrants in the country illegally had overstayed their visas.

Mr. Rubio also insisted that any immigrants who gained legal status under the legislation would “be required to go to the back of the line” behind other immigrants who applied to come through legal channels.

Under the senators’ proposal, border security would be immediately strengthened with new technology, including aerial drones, for border patrol agents, while the Department of Homeland Security would work to expand the exit control system. The United States currently has some exit controls to track departures of foreigners at most airports and seaports, but it does not track exits by land.

At the same time, immigrants here illegally would “simultaneously” be required “to register with the government.” After passing background checks and paying back taxes and fines, those immigrants would receive a “probationary legal status” that would allow them to live and work legally in the United States. Immigrants with that status would not be eligible for most federal public benefits.

The senators also called for a mandatory nationwide program to verify the legal status of new hires, although the details of whether that would include some form of identity card remained vague.

The senators would require that “our proposed enforcement measures be complete before any immigrant on probationary status can earn a green card,” according to the draft principles. The group also includes Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, both Democrats, and another Republican, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The proposals would offer major exemptions from the requirements for citizenship to young immigrants here illegally who came to United States as children, giving them a faster path to become Americans.

Immigrant farmworkers would also be given a separate and faster path to citizenship, according to the principles.

Still ahead are difficult negotiations over how long immigrants who gain provisional status would have to wait before they could become citizens. Mr. Rubio’s ideas are for a far longer and less direct pathway than Democrats would like. The senators also anticipate a fight over how to bring in low-wage workers in the future. Many labor organizations are skeptical of the temporary guest worker programs that employers favor, and the principles are vague on that point.

Considerable resistance remains among Republicans in the House of Representatives to granting any kind of legal status to illegal immigrants.

Mr. Rubio was also a sponsor of the bill to offer more visas to highly educated technology workers, along with Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. Senator Klobuchar, also a sponsor, said on Sunday that she expected the bill would become part of the comprehensive measure the other senators were preparing.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 28, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the host who interviewed Senators Robert Menendez and John McCain on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on ABC. It was Martha Raddatz, not Mr. Stephanopoulos.

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January 27, 2013

U.S. Reassures an Impatient Europe on Trade

By JACK EWING
NYT

DAVOS, Switzerland — President Barack Obama is committed to reaching an agreement to smooth trade with the European Union, the United States’ top negotiator has said, but only if it is constructed in a way that would overcome objections from farm groups and that could win congressional approval.

In an interview Saturday in Davos, Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, responded to European leaders who in the past week renewed their calls for a U.S.-Europe deal to dismantle tariffs and other barriers, which they badly want as a way of stimulating their ailing economies.

At the World Economic Forum, David Cameron, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, were among a host of leaders and business people pleading for a pact that would eliminate tariffs as well as regulations that impede trade. Even without changes, the United States and Europe between them already have the world’s largest trading market.

On both sides of the Atlantic, proponents of a deal have expressed frustration about the delaying of an official report by a U.S.-European working group that would set the stage for formal talks. The delay has fed the widespread perception that Mr. Obama does not care that much about a trade pact or, for that matter, about Europe in general.

“We greatly value the trans-Atlantic relationship,” Mr. Kirk said at a hotel in Davos. “We have devoted an extraordinary amount of time” to a possible trade agreement, he said. But the administration wants to make sure objections from farmers and other constituencies are addressed first, he said. Otherwise, officials might spend years negotiating an agreement only for Congress to reject it.

“If we do this, we want there to be a bridge to somewhere and we want to get there on one tank of gas,” Mr. Kirk said. He declined to predict when formal talks might begin.

Trade had been one of the main topics of discussion at the World Economic Forum, which concluded Saturday. There were signs of progress toward a trade accord, which, if it proved durable, could provide a riposte to the eternal criticism of the elite event: that the annual Davos forum is just an expensive cocktail party where little of substance is ever accomplished.

While it is true that Davos is rarely the venue for concrete agreements, the event attracts a diverse international crowd in an informal setting. It can be a place where political and business leaders work toward consensus on difficult issues like trade. That may have been the case in the past week, some of the people involved said.

“I’m carefully optimistic we will kick off negotiations this year,” Alexander Stubb, the Finnish minister for foreign affairs and trade, said after a panel on trade issues at the forum Saturday. “It’s going in the right direction.”

Noting that trade ministers from more than 20 nations were in town, Mr. Kirk said: “It’s a great opportunity to touch base with a number of them bilaterally. This saves me a trip to nine other countries.”

“Everybody criticizes Davos until they come,” Mr. Kirk said.

Friction-free commerce between the United States and Europe could create jobs and add an estimated $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy, Mr. Kirk said. European political leaders fervently want a deal to help their anemic economies grow. There is also strong support from business groups on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Half a dozen senior leaders in Europe are ready to move forward,” Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview in Davos on Thursday. He said that a deal could be concluded within 18 months if both sides set their minds to it.

But others are skeptical, noting that Europe and the United States have been talking on and off about a trade deal for years. While U.S. companies like General Electric have expressed strong support for an agreement, progress has always been stymied by objections from interest groups, particularly over agricultural issues. Some Europeans, for example, object to imports of U.S. food containing genetically modified plants.

“I was surprised to hear all the speakers saying it will happen in the next two years,” said Maximilian Zimmerer, chief financial officer of Allianz, a German insurance company. “What about the last 10 years?”

Mr. Kirk declined to go into detail about what specific issues might be delaying a report by what is known as a High Level Working Group, which he leads along with Karel De Gucht, the E.U. trade commissioner. A favorable recommendation by the group would set in motion the process of negotiating a comprehensive agreement.

But Mr. Kirk noted that members of Congress with farmers as constituents far outnumbered those whose districts included big companies like Boeing or Apple that would benefit from a trade deal. “Agriculture tends to be a challenging issue,” he said.

That is partly because American farmers are already on the lighter side of the trade scale. The European Union exports far more farm products to the United States than vice versa: 14.6 billion euros, or $19.7 billion, versus 8.2 billion euros, according to E.U. figures for 2011, the most recent available.

Mr. Kirk has announced plans to leave his post as trade representative next month, and Mr. Obama has not named his successor. But Mr. Kirk said that his departure would not impede progress toward a deal.

Mr. Kirk and others say the biggest benefits of a trade pact would come from eliminating regulatory barriers. For example, while both the United States and Europe have strict requirements on auto safety and emissions, the rules are different.

Harmonizing the regulations would free carmakers like Audi from having to make costly changes in headlights, exhaust systems and other components in order to export them to the United States.

Synchronizing regulations is much more complicated than eliminating tariffs. But, Mr. Kirk said, “These are all problems that are solvable.”

Some trade experts argue that even bigger benefits could come simply from streamlining official procedures involved when goods move across borders. The longer a product sits on a dock waiting for customs clearance, the greater the cost to companies and consumers.

A study by the World Bank and the consulting firm Bain & Co., published at the World Economic Forum last week, estimated that trade could increase by 15 percent if goods moved across borders more efficiently. Such changes also raise fewer political issues.

“We’re talking about removing waste,” Mark Gottfredson, a partner at Bain, said in Davos. “Everybody can agree on that.”

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January 27, 2013

An Oil Boom Takes a Toll on Health Care

By JOHN ELIGON
NYT

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — The patients come with burns from hot water, with hands and fingers crushed by steel tongs, with injuries from chains that have whipsawed them off their feet. Ambulances carry mangled, bloodied bodies from accidents on roads packed with trucks and heavy-footed drivers.

The furious pace of oil exploration that has made North Dakota one of the healthiest economies in the country has had the opposite effect on the region’s health care providers. Swamped by uninsured laborers flocking to dangerous jobs, medical facilities in the area are sinking under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy.

The problems have been acute at McKenzie County Hospital here. Largely because of unpaid bills, the hospital’s debt has climbed more than 2,000 percent over the past four years to $1.2 million, according to Daniel Kelly, the hospital’s chief executive. Just three years ago, Mr. Kelly added, the hospital averaged 100 emergency room visits per month; last year, that average shot up to 400.

Over all, ambulance calls in the region increased by about 59 percent from 2006 to 2011, according to Thomas R. Nehring, the director of emergency medical services for the North Dakota Health Department. The number of traumatic injuries reported in the oil patch increased 200 percent from 2007 through the first half of last year, he said.

The 12 medical facilities in western North Dakota saw their combined debt rise by 46 percent over the course of the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, according to Darrold Bertsch, the president of the state’s Rural Health Association.

Hospitals cannot simply refuse to treat people or raise their rates. Expenses at those 12 facilities increased by 15 percent, Mr. Bertsch added, and nine of them experienced operating losses. Costs are rising to hire and retain service staff members, as hospitals compete with fast food restaurants that pay wages of about $20 an hour.

“Plain and simple, those kinds of things are not sustainable,” he said.

Many of the new patients are transient men without health insurance or a permanent address in the area. In one of the biggest drivers of the hospital debt, patients give inaccurate contact information; when the time comes to collect payment, the patients cannot be found. McKenzie County Hospital has invested in new software that will help verify the information patients give on the spot.

Mr. Kelly has pushed for the state, which has a surplus of more than $1 billion, to allocate money intended for the oil region specifically to health care facilities in the area. He has also asked for the state to grant low-interest loans so hospitals can borrow money for facility improvements and for the governor to convene a task force to study health care issues in the oil patch.

Aides to Gov. Jack Dalrymple say he is taking steps to bolster medical training in the state, proposing to spend $68 million on a new medical school building at the University of North Dakota and $6 million to expand the nursing program at Lake Region State College. Mr. Dalrymple, a Republican, has also increased Medicaid financing for the state’s rural hospitals.

“Health care is certainly one of those areas that was targeted early on as we’ve seen growth out west,” said Jeffrey L. Zent, a spokesman for the governor.

Public utility numbers suggest that the population of Watford City has more than quadrupled to 6,500 over the past two years, Mr. Kelly said. In nearby Williston, considered the heart of the oil boom, the population, including temporary workers, has swelled to 25,000 to 33,000 from fewer than 15,000 in 2010, according to a study by North Dakota State University.

The huge population growth has produced new communities virtually overnight, creating logistical problems that affect the quality of medical care.

After a recent emergency call, Kelly Weathers, who has worked as a paramedic in the region for nearly 25 years, drove in circles with his team for about 15 minutes, searching for the address where they had been sent to treat a man who had hurt his back falling off a piece of equipment. But they could not find the street because a sign had not yet been erected. Eventually, a colleague of the injured man met the ambulance at the highway and escorted them to the site.

Mr. Weathers, who works for the Mountrail County Health Center in Stanley, said that in the past, “all the volunteers, they didn’t go by street signs.”

“It was like, ‘The corner store, third house to the north of that,’ ” he said. “So now, if you give them ‘62nd Avenue,’ they go, ‘Where’s that at?’ ”

Charles Quinn, 43, of Mississippi, has been working in the region for eight months repairing 18-wheelers. He said his job has its dangers because he often works under the trucks while they are running.

“It’s all kind of dangerous,” he said of the jobs in the oil patch. “There’s a lot more accidents around you because you got more people around you working.”

The cramped housing camps where many oil workers live can add to health issues. On a recent afternoon at McKenzie County Hospital, a man limped into the emergency room complaining about a dry, red patch of skin on his leg. Dr. Gary Ramage, the hospital’s sole full-time physician, said it was a bite from a brown recluse spider, which had most likely nested under the trailer where the man lives.

Since the oil industry started growing rapidly in the region, Dr. Ramage said, he has had to treat many more sexually transmitted diseases. Chlamydia rates in McKenzie County roughly doubled from 2010 to 2011.

With little money to spend, hospitals are struggling to finance sorely needed improvements and hire additional medical providers. McKenzie, which is six decades old, is a one-story brick building and has one room for emergencies. (A makeshift second emergency room was created from one of the inpatient rooms.) In a building across the street that houses a clinic, a narrow hallway with dark carpet is crowded with file drawers lining the walls.

Hospital executives are hoping to get the local government to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase so they can build a $55 million medical facility that would triple the size of the clinic, expand the emergency room, maintain the 24-bed hospital and increase space for other outpatient services like physical therapy. They have also spent the past year trying to hire two new doctors. Recruiting medical professionals to the area has long been a problem.

“Let’s be honest,” Mr. Kelly said. “People think they have to move to Siberia if they move to North Dakota.”

But for now, Dr. Ramage, a gregarious Canadian who has worked here for 18 years, is left shouldering much of the load. Before the oil boom started a few years back, Dr. Ramage covered both the clinic and the emergency room. Now he mostly works at the clinic, while the hospital hires roving physicians to cover the emergency room. He is well known in the community, and people call him at home when they are sick. But now, he does not know many of the patients he sees.

“My work is no longer small-town work,” he said. “My work has now been transformed from that of a small family practitioner to basically an E.R. doc.”
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« Reply #4278 on: Jan 29, 2013, 07:29 AM »


Egypt's armed forces chief warns unrest could cause collapse of state

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's comments spark fears military might once again intervene in day-to-day governance of Egypt

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 January 2013 12.31 GMT   

In an ominous warning, the head of Egypt's armed forces has said that continuing civil unrest may soon cause the collapse of the Egyptian state.

Parts of Egypt are in turmoil following five days of rioting in which 52 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured after protests against President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and police brutality turned violent. The unrest comes two years after the start of the 2011 revolution that toppled the former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's comments have sparked fears that the military might once again intervene in the day-to-day governance of Egypt, a country effectively ruled for most of the past century by army officers.

Writing on the army's Facebook page, Sisi said: "The continuation of the struggle of the different political forces … over the management of state affairs could lead to the collapse of state."

Sisi, who was appointed by Morsi last year and is also the country's defence minister, said the army would remain a "solid and cohesive block" on which the state could rely.

Controversially, the country's new constitution solidifies the army's judicial independence. It was also asked to help restore order on the streets of Port Said this week, prompting reminders of Mubarak-era state governance.

The military has, however, taken more of a backseat role since Sisi replaced General Hussein Tantawi as head of the armed forces last year. It still controls large parts of the Egyptian economy, but is felt in some quarters to be content for the time being with getting its own house in order.

Asked by the Guardian whether he feared military intervention should the unrest continue, Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "No. I know enough about the way President Morsi removed General Tantawi to not be worried."

On a street near Tahrir Square, protesters against the Muslim Brotherhood said they did not fear a military intervention, arguing that either regime was undesirable.

"If the army comes, we will still be on the street," said Mina Remond, a 20-year-old student standing near clashes between police and demonstrators on the banks of the Nile.

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Egypt's transition to democracy put in doubt as 'militias' add to polarisation

With Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood distrusted by secularists, order and political life is breaking down in Egypt

Ian Black, Middle East editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 January 2013 20.02 GMT          

Hopes for a swift end to Egypt's impasse faded on Monday as opposition leaders rebuffed a call by President Mohamed Morsi for a "national dialogue" amid violence that cast a long shadow over the second anniversary of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak.

Fifty dead, hundreds of arrests, curfews and a state of emergency in three provinces were stark reminders of the volatile standoff between Morsi's Islamist and conservative supporters and secularists, liberals, left-wingers and Copts.

Extreme polarisation is the hallmark of a transition whose outcome remains unclear. Police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Cairo's Qasr al-Nil bridge on Monday was a case of deja vu – exactly two years to the day since the coercive power of the Egyptian state first seemed to have been lost when the headquarters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic party was burned down.

Continuing distrust of the powers-that-be was starkly evident in weekend fighting in Port Said, a battle-hardened city where violence erupted as relatives tried to storm a prison housing 22 football fans who were sentenced to death over last year's stadium stampede disaster.

It is a measure of just how bad things are that even before an angry Morsi spoke to the nation on Sunday he was taunted that as the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in last summer's presidential race he had pledged never to impose a state of emergency. The Brotherhood, in turn, blamed the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) for "chaos and thuggery" – ignoring the substance of its complaints since Morsi took office last summer vowing grandly to rule "for all Egyptians".

No surprise, then, that the NSF's Mohamed ElBaradei so quickly dismissed Morsi's dialogue call as "unserious". Unless Morsi agreed to a national unity government and a commission to amend the constitution then the next presidential elections due in 2016 should be brought forward, he said.

Morsi was always going to face objections to the narrowness of his victory and mistrust of the Brotherhood – the legacy of its Islamist ideology and decades of being forced to operate in a semi-underground manner. But the row over the new constitution, his sweeping presidential decrees, generally poor performance and a disastrous economic situation have used up what little credit he had at the start.

"Down the path of the Muslim Brotherhood's unilateralism, plus incompetence, lies instability," was the pithy conclusion of the political scientist Michael Wahid Hanna. "This approach simply can't work during what is still a time of transition."

But the opposition is under fire too, accused of incoherence and opportunism. Hinting at a readiness to boycott the next parliamentary elections when polls show steadily declining support for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party looks simply self-destructive.

Alarmingly, there are signs in this febrile atmosphere of a proliferation of "militias", whether the anarchist Black Bloc or Salafi activists with roots in the once-terrorist Gama'a Islamiyya. "Ultra" football fans may just represent themselves but their confidence attests to a breakdown of order as well as the fragmentation of political life. It will be worrying if too many Egyptians come to believe that it is simpler or easier to decide their country's future in street battles than by voting.

Pessimists fear an unstoppable dynamic that generates repression, chaos and instability – each side feeding on the other's excesses and miscalculations.

But there are more benign scenarios too. "Consensus, for all the hurdles it must overcome, remains the most likely way out," predicted Steve Negus on the Arabist blog. "For all its political polarisation, Egypt still has a genuine abhorrence for violence that makes a civil war unlikely – for now. The experience with one dictatorship means that the country may be reluctant to go back to another, and this makes a coup unlikely – for now."

There is no guarantee that things will stay that way. "Every year in which the protests continue, traffic is paralysed, the pound devalues, and voters shake their heads at the flames and bodies on their television screen increases a public desire for some resolution, any resolution, at whatever cost," Negus wrote.

"More widespread violence or a return to military rule, currently barely imaginable, may become real possibilities. This spectre, the more likely it becomes, will bring Egypt's factions to work together to rebuild state authority. They still have some time."

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/28/2013 05:57 PM

Radical Past: Former Associate Calls Morsi a 'Master of Disguise'

By Dieter Bednarz and Volkhard Windfuhr in Cairo

Is Mohammed Morsi a peacebroker or a virulent anti-Semite? A former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has known Morsi for 13 years, believes that behind the Egyptian president's veneer of goodwill towards Israel lies a deep-seated hatred.

Mohammed Morsi can be very sympathetic, even toward Jews, as evidenced by an extremely friendly letter the Egyptian president sent to Israel last October. The president had personally written the letter of accreditation, for his new ambassador in Tel Aviv, to his counterpart Shimon Peres, whom he addressed as a "Dear Friend." In the letter, Morsi clearly invoked the "good relations" that "fortunately exist between our countries," and pledged to "preserve and strengthen" them.

The government in Jerusalem had not expected such warm words from a president who had emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. Unsure whether they were perhaps the victims of a forgery, the Israelis published the letter. But Cairo confirmed that it was indeed genuine, and Jerusalem reacted with relief. The Jewish state had lost a reliable partner with the ouster of Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, and now there was hope that perhaps Morsi would not confirm all of Israel's fears.

But the Egyptian president, who is visiting Berlin this week and will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, a champion of Israel, appears to be a man with two faces. He is conciliatory as Egypt's leader, saying that he wants to be the "president of all Egyptians," even though only about a quarter of the country's 50 million eligible voters voted for him. And, of course, he insists that his country will fulfill all of its obligations from the Mubarak era, including both the peace treaty with Israel and a policy of close cooperation with the United States.

In mid-January, however, Western diplomats and politicians saw a very different Mohammed Morsi, a man filled with hate for the "Zionist entity," the term Islamists use for the Jewish state. An almost three-year-old video, published by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), depicts an Islamist who is practically foaming at the mouth, as he rants about the Israelis in an interview with an Arab network. Speaking in a deep and firm voice, he calls them "bloodsuckers" and "warmongers," and says that there can be no peace with these "descendants of apes and pigs."

It was apparently more than just a regrettable moment of madness for Morsi, claims a prominent former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, he says, the current president served as general inspector of the Muslim Brotherhood for years, which put him in charge of the group's online service. That service includes quotes about Israelis and Jews that testify to the same hatred as the lapses in the video.

Despite outrage internationally and at the White House over the video, Morsi was unperturbed by the furor over his remarks. In the end, his spokesman said that Morsi's words had been taken out of context, but offered no further explanation or apology. When SPIEGEL reporters appeared at the presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis last week after having received approval for an interview with Morsi, they were turned away.

All a Pretense

To comprehend the Egyptian president and grasp how the Muslim Brotherhood shapes its members, it helps to speak with men who knew Morsi during his time with the Islamist organization -- and who also have the courage to speak openly about the group. Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, 38, talks about how dangerous this can be. Last October, after he had spoken about quitting the Brotherhood to Egyptian newspapers and in TV appearances, masked men opened fire on Sharnoubi's car with submachine guns.

For Sharnoubi, a lanky man, keeping a constant eye out for suspicious characters has become second nature. He takes a cautious look around as he walks into the Café Riche in downtown Cairo, and when he sits down, he makes sure that he has a good view of the entire establishment. He orders tea, rolls himself a cigarette and then tells the story of his time with the Muslim Brotherhood and the current president, to whom he derisively refers as "doctor."

When they first met in 2000, both men were already successful. Sharnoubi, the son of an imam in the Nile delta, joined the Brotherhood at 13. He eventually advanced within the regimented organization to become a member of its information committee. Morsi, for his part, had made it into the Egyptian parliament. Because members of the Muslim Brotherhood were not allowed to run for political office under Mubarak, Morsi masqueraded as an "independent." The two men had had "a lot of contact with each other" to further their goal of spreading the Brotherhood's message as widely as possible, says Sharnoubi.

For information expert Sharnoubi, Morsi was "a typical man from the country, a fellah with peasant origins who quickly integrated himself into the machine." At the time, claims Sharnoubi, Morsi was "downright submissive to the Brotherhood's leadership." Morsi was apparently completely opposed to the Brotherhood becoming more open, as Sharnoubi had advocated. "He fought against any internal democratization."

It seemed "inconceivable" to Sharnoubi that Morsi's group would one day assume power in Egypt. In fact, he says, he would have "found it even less likely" that Morsi, a modest member of parliament, would become president. Even in the highest government position, Morsi cannot have shed the Brotherhood's mission like an old suit, says Sharnoubi. "A man like Morsi, with such deep convictions, can't do that. If we hear anything else from him, it'll be a pretense." He explains that Morsi owes his survival under autocrat Mubarak to this "talent for assimilation," and that he is a "master of disguise."

'Any Cooperation with Israel is a Serious Sin'
There is too much at stake now, says Sharnoubi. There are the aid payments from Europe and the United States, which Egypt's ailing economy urgently needs. And Morsi himself also needs the West's goodwill. If there is a "power struggle with democratically minded forces," he says, the president will depend on intercession from Washington, Brussels and Berlin.

Sharnoubi wasn't surprised by the Morsi hate video. "Agitation against the Israelis is in keeping with the way Morsi thinks. For the Morsi I know, any cooperation with Israel is a serious sin, a crime." Morsi's choice of words is also nothing new, says Sharnoubi. As proof, he opens his black laptop and shows us evidence of the former Muslim Brotherhood member's true sentiments.

Indeed, the video gaffes do not appear to be a one-time occurrence. In 2004 Morsi, then a member of the Egyptian parliament, allegedly raged against the "descendants of apes and pigs," saying that there could be "no peace" with them. The remarks were made at a time when Israeli soldiers had accidentally shot and killed three Egyptian police officers. The source of the quote can hardly be suspected of incorrectly quoting fellow Brotherhood members: Ichwan Online, the Islamist organization's website.

Few people are as familiar with the contents of that website as Sharnoubi, who was the its editor-in-chief until 2011. The current president became the general inspector of the organization in 2007, says Sharnoubi. In this capacity, Morsi would have been partly responsible for the anti-Jewish propaganda on the website, which featured the "banner of jihad" at the time and saw "Jews and Zionists as archenemies." The threats are attributed to the undisputed leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badi. According to the website, Badi's creed is: "Resistance is the only solution against Zionist-American arrogance and tyranny."

It was under the editorship of Sharnoubi, who stresses that he condemns the "Israeli government's settlement policy," that Morsi gave a self-promoting interview in May 2009. Referring to the Israelis, the current president said: "They all have the same nature. They are equally shaped by shrewdness, deception and hate." He added that their only objectives are "killing, aggression and subjugation."

Former fellow Muslim Brotherhood member Sharnoubi expects "no words of regret, at least not sincere ones," for his offensive remarks in the scandalous film. Anti-Israeli rhetoric, he says, is a "cornerstone of the Brotherhood's ideology."

Sharnoubi assumes that cordial moves like the letter to Peres have only one goal: "To secure and expand the dominance of the Brotherhood." Only recently, the president issued a decree that gave him absolute powers, and Morsi currently controls all three branches of government. "He has secured more power than his predecessor Mubarak ever had."

Sharnoubi's vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is horrifying. "They will infiltrate all areas of our society: government offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and the military. They will eliminate their enemies."

Isn't he exaggerating?

"Not in the least," says Sharnoubi, noting that the Brotherhood is already infiltrating the security apparatus. "The Brotherhood will never give up its power without a fight."

When he leaves the café, Sharnoubi looks toward Tahrir Square, where there is no end to the turmoil. Last Friday, once again, there was rioting and there were clashes between Morsi opponents and the police, and some were killed or injured. For Sharnoubi, this is "merely a small foretaste of an imminent popular uprising."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan



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« Reply #4279 on: Jan 29, 2013, 07:45 AM »


Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts

Fleeing Islamist insurgents burnt two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached, says mayor

Luke Harding in Sévaré
The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013 17.07 GMT      

Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town's mayor, in an incident he described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage.

Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor's office and an MP's residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.

French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said.

"It's true. They have burned the manuscripts," Cissé said in a phone interview from Mali's capital, Bamako. "They also burned down several buildings. There was one guy who was celebrating in the street and they killed him."

He added: "This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north."

On Monday French army officers said French-led forces had entered Timbuktu and secured the town without a shot being fired. A team of French paratroopers crept into the town by moonlight, advancing from the airport, they said. Residents took to the streets to celebrate.

The manuscripts were held in two separate locations: an ageing library and a new South African-funded research centre, the Ahmad Babu Institute, less than a mile away. Completed in 2009 and named after a 17th-century Timbuktu scholar, the centre used state-of-the-art techniques to study and conserve the crumbling scrolls.

Both buildings were burned down, according to the mayor, who said the information came from an informer who had just left the town. Asked whether any of the manuscripts might have survived, Cissé replied: "I don't know."

The manuscripts had survived for centuries in Timbuktu, on the remote south-west fringe of the Sahara desert. They were hidden in wooden trunks, buried in boxes under the sand and in caves. When French colonial rule ended in 1960, Timbuktu residents held preserved manuscripts in 60-80 private libraries.

The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women's rights. The oldest dated from 1204.

Seydou Traoré, who has worked at the Ahmed Baba Institute since 2003, and fled shortly before the rebels arrived, said only a fraction of the manuscripts had been digitised. "They cover geography, history and religion. We had one in Turkish. We don't know what it said."

He said the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that "black Africa" had only an oral history. "You just need to look at the manuscripts to realise how wrong this is."

Some of the most fascinating scrolls included an ancient history of west Africa, the Tarikh al-Soudan, letters of recommendation for the intrepid 19th-century German explorer Heinrich Barth, and a text dealing with erectile dysfunction.

A large number dated from Timbuktu's intellectual heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries, Traoré said. By the late 1500s the town, north of the Niger river, was a wealthy and successful trading centre, attracting scholars and curious travellers from across the Middle East. Some brought books to sell.

Typically, manuscripts were not numbered, Traoré said, but repeated the last word of a previous page on each new one. Scholars had painstakingly numbered several of the manuscripts, but not all, under the direction of an international team of experts.

Mali government forces that had been guarding Timbuktu left the town in late March, as Islamist fighters advanced rapidly across the north. Fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – the group responsible for the attack on the Algerian gas facility – then swept in and seized the town, pushing out rival militia groups including secular Tuareg nationalists.

Traoré told the Guardian that he decided to leave Timbuktu in January 2012 amid ominous reports of shootings in the area, and after the kidnapping of three European tourists from a Timbuktu hotel. A fourth tourist, a German, resisted and was shot dead. Months later AQIM arrived, he said.

Four or five rebels had been sleeping in the institute, which had comparatively luxurious facilities for staff, he said. As well as the manuscripts, the fighters destroyed almost all of the 333 Sufi shrines dotted around Timbuktu, believing them to be idolatrous. They smashed a civic statue of a man sitting on a winged horse. "They were the masters of the place," Traoré said.

Other residents who fled Timbuktu said the fighters adorned the town with their black flag. Written on it in Arabic were the words "God is great". The rebels enforced their own brutal and arbitrary version of Islam, residents said, with offenders flogged for talking to women and other supposed crimes. The floggings took place in the square outside the 15th-century Sankoré mosque, a Unesco world heritage site.

"They weren't religious men. They were criminals," said Maha Madu, a Timbuktu boatman, now in the Niger river town of Mopti. Madu said the fighters grew enraged if residents wore trousers down to their ankles, which they believed to be western and decadent. He alleged that some fighters kidnapped and raped local women, keeping them as virtual sex slaves. "They were hypocrites. They told us they couldn't smoke. But they smoked themselves," he said.

The rebels took several other towns south of Timbuktu, he said, including nearby Diré. If the rebels spotted a boat flying the Malian national flag, they ripped the flag off and replaced it with their own black one, he said.

The precise fate of the manuscripts was difficult to verify. All phone communication with Timbuktu was cut off. The town was said to be without electricity, water or fuel. According to Traoré, who was in contact with friends there until two weeks ago, many of the rebels left town following France's military intervention.

He added: "My friend [in Timbuktu] told me they were diminishing in number. He doesn't know where they went. But he said they were trying to hide their cars by painting and disguising them with mud."

The recapture of Timbuktu is another success for the French military, which has now secured two out of three of Mali's key rebel-held sites, including the city of Gao on Saturday. The French have yet to reach the third, Kidal. Local Tuareg militia leaders said on Monday they had taken control of Kidal after the abrupt departure of the Islamist fighters who ran the town.
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'It's an absolute tragedy'

Essop Pahad, who was chairman of the Timbuktu manuscripts projectfor the South African government, said: "I'm absolutely devastated, as everybody else should be. I can't imagine how anybody, whatever their political or ideological leanings, could destroy some of the most precious heritage of our continent. They could not be in their right minds.

"The manuscripts gave you such a fantastic feeling of the history of this continent. They made you proud to be African. Especially in a context where you're told that Africa has no history because of colonialism and all that. Some are in private hands but the fact is these have been destroyed and it's an absolute tragedy."

He added: "It's one of our greatest cultural treasure houses. It's also one of the great treasure houses of Islamic history. The writings are so forward-looking on marriage, on trade, on all sorts of things. If the libraries are destroyed then a very important part of African and world history are gone. I'm so terribly upset at hearing what's happened. I can't think of anything more terrible."

Riason Naidoo, who directed the Timbuktu manuscripts project, said he is still awaiting confirmation of the extent of the damage. "It would be a catastrophe if the reports are true," he said. "I just hope certain parts of the building are unharmed and the manuscripts are safe."

The then South African president, Thabo Mbeki, was inspired by the "intellectual treasure" while visiting Timbuktu in 2001, and initiated a joint project between the two countries. He attended the opening of the Ahmad Babu Institute in 2009. A spokeswoman for the Thabo Mbeki Foundation said on Monday: "We haven't yet heard anything concrete as to what the real story is, so at the moment we can't really comment. We're getting mixed stories."

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Destruction of Timbuktu manuscripts is an offence against the whole of Africa

This was an assault on world heritage comparable with the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001

Jonathan Jones   
The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013 17.32 GMT          

The reported destruction of two important manuscript collections by Islamist rebels as they fled Timbuktu is an offence to the whole of Africa and its universally important cultural heritage. Like their systematic destruction of 300 Sufi saints' shrines while they held Timbuktu at their mercy, it is an assault on world heritage comparable with the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001.

The literary heritage of Timbuktu dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries when the gold-rich kingdoms of Mali and Songhai traded across the Sahara with the Mediterranean world. It took two months for merchant caravans to cross the desert, and while gold and slaves went north, books were going south.

In his Description of Africa, published in 1550, the traveller Leo Africanus marvels that in the bustling markets of Timbuktu, under the towers of its majestic mosques, the richest traders were booksellers.

They were selling manuscripts by Arab scholars on everything from astronomy and arithmetic to Islamic law, as well as mystical texts on Sufism, the otherworldly, saintly style of faith that the al-Qaida-affiliated Ansar Dine finds so offensive.

This legacy of Arab learning that goes back to the great scientists and mathematicians who preserved the classical Greek heritage in the early middle ages is richly represented in the manuscripts of Timbuktu – but not necessarily in its original form. For scribes copied and recopied books in this city that loved leaning, creating a legacy of works transcribed in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as earlier.

They also wrote down their own history and laws, chronicling the families of Timbuktu and preserving the poetry and stories of north Africa – at least, that is what seems to have lain in the many manuscripts of Timbuktu's lost legacy that were just starting to be properly conserved when this terrible religious vandalism plagued the city.

When European empires scrambled for Africa in the 19th century the continent was seen as illiterate and lacking in history, memory, or literature. Its art was seen as "primitive", partly because it lacked a written art history.

Timbuktu is a palimpsest in the sand that proves otherwise. Libraries like the Ahmed Baba institute were rescuing Africa's history from oblivion. Timbuktu is Africa's city of books and learning that disproved racist myths about the continent. That luminous inheritance is what the Islamists have destroyed.

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UK troops to be sent to Mali, Downing Street confirms

Defence secretary outlines British assistance in urgent statement to Commons after Tory MP raises concerns

Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt   
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 January 2013 12.06 GMT      

A major increase in the UK commitment to help French and African forces in Mali and the region has been confirmed by Downing Street and the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, in an urgent statement to the House of Commons.

Amid concerns on the Tory benches that Britain is being drawn into a conflict without an exit strategy, the government said that 200 UK troops would train an African regional force outside Mali, with up to 40 more on an EU training mission inside the country. A further 70 RAF personnel will oversee the use of a Sentinel surveillance, to be based in Senegal with 70 supporting crew and technical staff, and 20 will staff a C-17 transport plane for a further three months.

Britain has offered a roll-on, roll-off ferry to help transport French armour to Mali by sea, landing on the African coast. Britain is also offering air-to-air refuelling capacity to operate outside the UK, but based in Britain. It is possible the US will provide air-to-air refuelling.

Hammond outlined the British assistance in an urgent question to the Commons, which was granted by the speaker, John Bercow, after a request by the Tory MP John Baron.

The defence secretary said: "I can assure the house that we will not allow UK personnel to deploy on any mission until we are satisfied that adequate force protection arrangements are in place."

Britain is to offer £3m to help the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) to uphold a UN security council resolution on Mali. A further £2m will be donated to a second UN fund to build political stability inside Mali.

Hammond said: "The UK is also prepared to offer up to 200 personnel to provide training to troops from anglophone west African countries contributing to AFISMA, though the numbers required will be dependent on the requirements of the AFISMA contributing nations."

Baron raised concerns about the growing mission. "It is quite clear that British involvement is deepening in Mali and the wider region. I don't think there is any dispute that it is in everyone's interests that we do not allow legitimate government to fail, particularly when faced with extremists."

Baron, who said he opposed the military action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, added: "I do fear one can be drawn into ever-deepening conflicts. Afghanistan illustrated in particular the danger of being sucked into larger deployments. The mission changed from defeating al-Qaida to nation building and the mission morphed into something much larger."

British sources stressed again that the UK would have no combat role in Mali, but disclosed for the first time that Britain had offered to run with the French a combined joint logistics headquarters inside Mali. The UK made the offer at a meeting in Paris on Monday attended by the prime minister's national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch. The offer was rejected by the French at this stage as unnecessary, but shows the scale of the UK preparedness to help its closest military ally in Europe.

The offer of 200 troops to train members of the AFISMA regional force is being made by the UK deputy national security adviser at a meeting in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.

The prime minister's spokesman stressed the UK military assistance was to "work out the appropriate support to regional forces". No timetable was given for the length of the UK commitment. "We will do what we can to help the French mission and to contribute to a regionalised approach," he added.

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January 28, 2013

With Timbuktu Retaken, France Signals It Plans to Pull Back in Mali

By LYDIA POLGREEN and SCOTT SAYARE
IHT

SEGOU, Mali — French paratroopers arrived in the ancient desert oasis of Timbuktu on Monday, securing its airport and main roads as thousands of residents poured out of its narrow, mud-walled streets to greet French and Malian troops, waving the two countries’ flags, with whoops, cheers and shouts.

“Timbuktu has fallen,” said the city’s mayor, Halle Ousmane Cissé, in a telephone interview from the capital, Bamako, where he has been in exile since the Islamist militants took over the city 10 months ago. He said he planned to return to his city on Tuesday.

The rapid advance to Timbuktu, a day after French and African troops took firm control of the former rebel stronghold of Gao, may spell the beginning of the end of France’s major involvement in the conflict here.

The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was a little more cautious than the mayor in his assessment of the situation in Timbuktu on Monday evening, saying on television station TF1: “French and Malian forces are liberating the city. It’s not completely finished, but it’s well on its way.”

The French president, François Hollande, suggested on Monday that French troops might soon stop their northward advance, leaving it to African soldiers to pursue the militants into their redoubts in the desert north. “We are winning this battle,” Mr. Hollande said in televised remarks. “When I say, ‘We,’ this is the Malian army, this is the Africans, supported by the French.”

He continued, “Now, the Africans can take over.”

Mr. Hollande said that the difficult task of flushing militants from the vast empty stretches of Mali’s arid northern countryside was the job of African troops. “They’re the ones who will go into the area of the north, which we know is the most difficult because the terrorists are hidden there and can still lead operations that are extremely dangerous for neighboring countries and for Mali,” he said.

Finding these fighters, who have long been accustomed to hiding out in remote areas, has been tough for French troops, who have sophisticated tracking equipment and surveillance drones, said Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman, noting that the fighters often travel in civilian vehicles.

African troops have been trickling into Mali over the last few days from neighboring states, part of what is expected to be a 5,000-member force intended to restore the northern half of the country to government control.

A European Union mission to train several thousand Malian soldiers has yet to begin, however, and any extensive combat operations led by African troops are not expected until August or September, after the brief rainy season.

Television footage from Timbuktu captured scenes of jubilation as thousands of people drove cars, trucks and motorbikes through the streets, honking their horns.

But there were concerns about the fate of Timbuktu’s trove of historical treasures. Mr. Cissé said someone had burned books at one of the most important libraries in a city famous for its thousands of well-preserved handwritten manuscripts dating as far back as the 13th century.

The city’s libraries, along with its mud architecture and the tombs of hundreds of Sufi saints, have made it one of the most important historical sites in Africa. Islamists were said to have smashed many of the city’s tombs, saying that the ancient practice of venerating saints was un-Islamic.

Mr. Cissé said he was told about the fire, which took place three days ago, by a city employee who left Timbuktu on Sunday and was able to call him. The phone lines to the city have been down for more than a week.

Other scars of the Islamist occupation were readily visible.

“Timbuktu was built on Islam and Islamic law will prevail here,” read a slogan scrawled on city walls, according to Agence France-Presse.

French airstrikes had preceded the ground operation and French troops met no resistance, said Colonel Burkhard. The militants who had been controlling the city appeared to have fled northward.

French and Malian forces have begun to take control of the city, he said, but there are concerns that fighters remain hidden among the civilian population.

“I will indeed refrain from saying, today, that there’s no one left in Timbuktu,” Colonel Burkhard said.

To the east, the city of Gao is now under the full control of French and African troops, he said, with a contingent of 450 Malian soldiers joined by 40 soldiers from Niger and 40 from Chad. French special forces killed about 15 fighters in what were described as brief but intense firefights when they arrived just south of the city late Friday night, and perhaps 10 more militants on Sunday night on the city’s outskirts.

French aircraft were not responsible for aerial strikes reported in recent days in the northern city of Kidal, Colonel Burkhard said. In a statement, the secular Tuareg nationalist rebel group that started the conflict in January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, claimed that it was in control of Kidal. The group was quickly overtaken in its fight to control northern Mali by Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda.

At least one American refueling aircraft was involved in a mission with French forces on Sunday night, Colonel Burkhard said.

France has two objectives in Mali, Mr. Le Drian said — to halt a militant advance toward the south and to seize control of population centers in the north — and both have been achieved. “The mission has been fulfilled,” he said.

French officials speak regularly of an additional objective: restoring Mali’s “territorial integrity,” but no one has concluded that the goal has been reached.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Segou, Mali, and Scott Sayare from Paris. Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris, Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington, and Alan Cowell from London.




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« Reply #4280 on: Jan 29, 2013, 07:53 AM »

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01/28/2013 04:20 PM

'Darker Sides': The Vast Islamist Sanctuary of 'Sahelistan'

By Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Jan Puhl and Thilo Thielke

France is advancing quickly against the Islamists in northern Mali, having already made it to Timbuktu. But the Sahel offers a vast sanctuary for the extremists, complete with training camps, lawlessness and plenty of ways to make money.

There is an old church in the Niger River town of Diabaly. It was built in the days when Mali was still a colony known as French Sudan. The stone cross on the gable of the church had never bothered anyone since the French left 50 years ago and Mali became independent, even though some 90 percent of Malians are Muslim.

Now, what is left of the cross lies scattered on the ground. For the Islamists who overran Diabaly two weeks ago, bringing down the stone symbol was worth a bazooka round. They also smashed the altar and toppled wooden statuettes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

But their reign of terror in Diabaly lasted only a few days -- until the French returned. Acting on orders of French President François Hollande, French troops fired on the Islamists' pickup trucks from the air, striking them one at a time with apparent surgical precision. According to local residents, not a single civilian died in the airstrikes.

By Tuesday morning, the last of the extremist fighters had disappeared into the bush, fleeing on foot in small groups, likely headed north.

The church has been declared off-limits, for fear that it may have been booby-trapped by the Islamists. But the colonel in charge of the French troops in the area, a muscular man with close-cropped hair, says proudly: "Diabaly is safe again."

France's advance northward continued through the weekend, with the military announcing they had seized control of both Gao and, on Monday morning, Timbuktu. Just as they had in Diabaly, the Islamists melted away in front of the advancing force. But they will not disappear entirely.

Larger than All of Europe

Northern Mali is just one part of the vast hinterland in which the Islamists can hide. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius refers to the rocky and sandy desert, spanning 7,500 kilometers (about 4,700 miles) from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east, as "Sahelistan." The Sahel zone is larger than all of Europe and so impassable that no power in the world can fully control it. The French have deployed all of 2,400 troops to the region, the Germans have contributed two transport planes.

Sahelistan is the new front in the global fight against violent Islamists. Should other countries -- Germany or Britain, for example -- join the French with ground troops, it is quite possible that the West will become just as entrenched there as it has in the other front against global terror: Afghanistan.

The Sahel zone is a lawless region. It begins in the southern part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, where the power of the Arab countries begins to fade, and where the already weak sub-Saharan countries like Mali, Niger and Chad were never able to gain a foothold. It is a no-man's land honeycombed with smugglers' roads and drug routes, an El Dorado for the lawless and fanatics.

The war has become increasingly brutal. Although an Islamist faction from Kidal in northern Mali announced on Wednesday that it was willing to negotiate, there was also news of atrocities committed by the Malian army, which reportedly killed at least 30 people as it advanced northward. Eyewitnesses say that people were shot to death at the bus terminal in the central Malian town of Sévaré. An army lieutenant made no secret of his hatred for the insurgents, saying: "They were Islamists. We're killing them. If we don't they will kill us."

After the Arab spring and the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, many hoped that terrorism could finally be drawing to a close. But even former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi once predicted that chaos and holy war would erupt if he were toppled. "Bin Laden's people would take over the country," Gadhafi said.

Now it is becoming apparent that his prophecy applies to even larger swathes of the desert. The crisis in northern Mali and the ensuing bloodbath at the natural gas plant in Algeria are only two indications. In northern Niger, Islamists are targeting white foreigners, hoping to kidnap them and extort ransom money. In northern Nigeria, fighters with the Islamist sect Boko Haram attacked yet another town last week. They shot and killed 18 people, including a number of hunters who had been selling game there, and then disappeared again. Muslims consider the flesh of bush animals to be impure.

'One of the Darker Sides'

On Sept. 11 of last year, Islamists murdered US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three embassy employees in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Last Thursday, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands withdrew their citizens from Libya, fearing new attacks.

In Sudan's embattled Darfur region, militias hired by the Islamist junta were harassing the local population until recently. And in Somalia, Kenyan and Ugandan soldiers are trying to drive back the fundamentalist Al-Shabaab militants.

Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group referred to it as "one of the darker sides of the Arab uprisings," in a recent conversation with the New York Times. "Their peaceful nature may have damaged al-Qaida and its allies ideologically, but logistically, in terms of the new porousness of borders, the expansion of ungoverned areas, the proliferation of weapons, the disorganization of police and security services in all these countries -- it's been a real boon to jihadists."

Islamism in the Sahel zone is backward and modern at the same time, ideologically rigid and perversely pragmatic. In Timbuktu, fanatics are cutting off the hands and heads of criminals, and yet the Islamists have become wealthy by taking over the cocaine and weapons business, as well as human trafficking operations.

Sahelistan's new masters are forging alliances with local insurgents and internationally operating jihadists. In Mali, they took over the unrecognized state of Azawad, formed after a Tuareg rebellion in April 2012 -- a relatively easy task, after many Tuareg switched sides and joined the ranks of the Islamists. Ansar Dine, the largest Islamist group with its roughly 1,500 fighters, consists largely of Tuareg tribesmen.

After Islamists had captured the Malian city of Gao in June 2012, journalist Malick Aliou Maïga observed delegations of bearded men going to see the new rulers almost daily. "They were supporters from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Qatar. They were bringing money."

Cynical Political Opportunist

Al-Qaida and its splinter groups in Sahelistan are no longer under the command of a charismatic leader like Osama bin Laden. Instead, they have many commanders, including ruthless fighters like Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is held responsible for the attack at the In Amenas natural gas plant, the largest terrorist incident since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In Mali, there is Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, a cynical political opportunist.

These people pose an enormous threat in West Africa. Neighboring countries like Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have only recently emerged from civil wars and could plunge back into chaos at any time. It stands to reason that members of the West African economic community ECOWAS were the first to join France by deploying troops to Mali, beginning with a contingent of 1,750 soldiers.

General Carter Ham, commander of the US Army's Africa Command, told the Telegraph that the "growing linkage, network collaboration, organization and synchronization" among the various terrorist groups in the region is what "poses the greatest threat to regional stability and ultimately to Europe."

Only one border separates Mali's extremists from the Mediterranean, the 1,376-kilometer border between Mali and Algeria. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 75, still controls Algeria with an iron fist. Nevertheless, Algeria is the birthplace of Salafism in the Maghreb region, the radical Muslim school of thought that many extremist groups, including Al-Qaida, invoke today.

In the late 1980s, the regime permitted the first Islamist party in the region, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). When the FIS seemed headed for victory in the 1991 elections, there was a military coup. The FIS then went underground and fought a brutal war of terror against Algiers that claimed up to 200,000 lives.

The combatants who became radicalized at the time include Abdelmalek Droukdel, born in northern Algeria in 1970. As an adolescent, Droukdel joined the mujahedin and fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Upon his return, Droukdel and others formed the "Salafist Group for Call and Combat," which is now called "Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM). The group has long since moved beyond its original goal of overthrowing the government in Algiers. Instead, its leaders dream of establishing a caliphate across all of Sahelistan.

Not Particularly Successful

Droukdel's fiercest adversary is the Algerian intelligence chief, Mohammed Mediène, trained by the KGB in the former Soviet Union. He has headed the fight against the Islamists for years and takes an unrelenting approach that categorically excludes negotiating with terrorists.

Mediène is a difficult partner for the West. He was likely the one responsible for ordering the Algerian army to storm the natural gas plant in the desert in the week before last. Algerian special forces opened fire on the terrorists, despite the risk to the lives of hundreds of hostages. The assault ended in the deaths of about 40 foreign hostages.

In the other countries of the Sahel zone, however, regular military forces tend to be on the losing end against Islamist insurgents. A year ago, the Ansar Dine extremists overran the Malian army within only a few weeks. The troops in the region are all as weak and corrupt as the countries that deploy them. They are poorly equipped and the soldiers suffer from poor morale, partly because the men must often wait months for their pay.

The US is seeking to arm the countries in the region to combat the threat from the desert with a secret US government program called "Creek Sand." Washington has stationed small aircraft in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and at various other strategically important locations in the region. The Pilatus PC-12 aircraft are unarmed but filled with state-of-the-art surveillance technology. The information they gather as they fly over the desert is meant to help local military leaders in the hunt for terrorists, but the program has not been particularly successful thus far.

Whether brutal military action, such as that which took place in Algeria, will deter Islamists is also disputed. The countries of Sahelistan are among the poorest in the world, and the region is regularly plagued by famine. "A young person from there has no chance of leading a good life," says deposed Malian President Amadou Touré.

'You Don't Even Recognize Them'

The terrorists, on the other hand, are comparatively well off, offering young men a monthly salary of about €90 ($121). Each recruit also receives a Kalashnikov, daily meals and a modicum of power over the rest of the population.

Shortly after recruitment, the new fighters are sent to training camps called Katibas, many of them in northern Mali and along the eastern border with Mauritania. In addition to receiving training with machine guns and hand grenades, the recruits also study the Koran. "You don't even recognize them when they come back from there," says a Tuareg tribesman in Bamako.

Experts say that the Islamist fighters in Mali are generally better equipped and better fed than government soldiers. They have rocket-propelled grenades, SA-7 rockets and other modern weaponry. Their main weapons are the poor man's tanks known as "technicals" -- pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the bed, and bags of ammunition hanging off the sides for the fighters on foot.

After the collapse of the Libyan regime, most of the weapons and ammunition were stolen from Gadhafi's weapons stores, mostly by the dictator's former Tuareg mercenaries. Fresh supplies of ordnance aren't a problem either, now that Africa's Islamists are hoarding many millions of dollars.

A little over three years ago, Malian police officers made a strange discovery in northern Mali: a Boeing 727, parked in the middle of the desert, without seats but apparently equipped for carrying cargo. It was found that the plane was registered in Guinea-Bissau and had taken off from Venezuela.

The find confirmed the authorities' fears that South American cocaine cartels are sending large quantities of drugs to West Africa, sometimes using aircraft. Gangs that cooperate with the Islamists then take the drugs to the Mediterranean region. The business is said to have generated billions in profits.

'Throats Are Slit Like Chickens'

Kidnappings are the Islamists' second financing mainstay. "Many Western countries pay enormous sums to jihadists," scoffs Omar Ould Hamaha, an Islamist commander who feels so safe in the western Sahara that he can sometimes even be reached by phone. Experts estimate that AQIM has raked in €100 million in ransom money in recent years.

About half of the kidnappings have ended violently. Boko Haram terrorists murdered a German engineer in northern Nigeria a year ago, and French engineers are often targeted. France depends on Niger for uranium and the state-owned nuclear conglomerate Areva is mining there on a large scale. It's impossible to completely protect Areva's employees. Two years ago, kidnappers even ventured into the dusty Nigerien capital Niamey, where they kidnapped two Frenchmen from a restaurant.

For the victims, being kidnapped usually marks the beginning of an ordeal lasting months or even years. To shake off pursuers, the Islamists constantly move their hostages across hundreds of kilometers of desert, either in the beds of their pickup trucks or in marches that can last weeks. Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler titled his book about his time in the hands of extremists "A Season in Hell."

Fowler was released in April 2009, after 130 days in captivity. Ottawa denies having paid ransom money. The Frenchmen kidnapped in Niamey, however, died when a French special forces unit tried to liberate them. "At the slightest sign of an attack, the prisoners throats are slit like chickens," says Islamist leader Hamaha.

At least seven European hostages are currently waiting somewhere in the desert to be rescued -- at least that's what security forces hope. Islamists have threatened to kill them all, as revenge for the air strikes France has now launched in Mali.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #4281 on: Jan 29, 2013, 07:59 AM »

January 28, 2013

Libya Denies Plans of Quick Trial and Execution for Qaddafi Spy Chief

By MARLISE SIMONS
IHT

PARIS — Lawyers for the Libyan government on Monday said that Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, is expected to be tried by a civilian court in Libya in May at the earliest and will not face a summary trial and execution in the coming days as claimed by his defense lawyer.

In a filing to the International Criminal Court, where Mr. Senussi is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity, the lawyers said that the government was planning to put him on trial together with other senior officials of the former government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, including the colonel’s son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi.

The international court had ordered Libya to report by Monday what its intentions were regarding Mr. Senussi.

The request by the court was issued last Thursday after Mr. Senussi’s court-appointed lawyer had sent urgent letters to the judges, and to the British Foreign Office, saying that his client had been tortured and would face a military court and swift execution in Libya.

As one of Colonel Qaddafi’s closest lieutenants for decades, Mr. Senussi has been a subject of great interest to American, British, French and Libyan investigators because he is believed to hold important information about the bombing of an American and a French passenger jet as well as many killings and disappearances in Libya.

A diplomat familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, said that American and French investigators had been allowed to interrogate him in Mauritania, where he was arrested last year. Mauritania has since extradited him to Libya.

But Libya’s present rulers still appear to be divided about how to prosecute Mr. Senussi, one of the most notorious captives of the former government that was overthrown by the Libyan revolution more than a year ago.

In their filing to the court on Monday, the lawyers dispelled any notion that Libya would hand him over to The Hague, where the court is based. But who will try him at home is apparently still in doubt. The Libyan filing said that although an earlier plan had called for Mr. Senussi him to be prosecuted in a military trial, “this no longer appears to be the case.” But, it added, “a final decision has yet to be made.”

The filing also said there was no chance of an imminent trial, let alone a “summary execution.” It said the defense had made “sensationalist claims without a shred of evidence.”

Ben Emmerson, who acts as Mr. Senussi’s court-appointed lawyer, said in an e-mail that a secret military trial was still possible.

“The position is quite simple,” Mr. Emmerson wrote. “Libya is obliged to hand Mr. al-Senussi to The Hague immediately. Instead, they ‘bought’ him for $200 million from Mauritania, and have held him hostage ever since.” Referring to the court, he added, “I would expect the I.C.C. to treat these submissions with the skepticism they deserve.”
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« Reply #4282 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:03 AM »

January 28, 2013

Israeli Secularists Appear to Find Their Voice

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

JERUSALEM — Speaking to a group of ultra-Orthodox men shortly before he officially entered politics, Yair Lapid, a proudly secular talk-show host, declared that in a century-long competition to define Israel’s character, “we lost and you won.”

“Not only in terms of numbers,” Mr. Lapid said in late 2011 at a college for religious students, but also in politics “and as a consumer force and in the streets and in the culture and in the educational system — you won in all these places.”

Now, Mr. Lapid’s stunning success in last week’s election, in which his new Yesh Atid became Israel’s second largest party, is being viewed by many voters, activists and analysts here as a victory for the secular mainstream in the intensifying identity battle gripping the country.

The catchphrase of Mr. Lapid’s populist campaign, and now a core principle of the negotiations to create Israel’s next governing coalition, is “sharing the burden.” That refers directly to lifting the widespread draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, integrating them into the work force, and shifting the balance of who pays taxes and who receives government aid. But it is also code for a broader sociological shift, a call to push back against the ultra-Orthodox minority’s outsize influence in the public sphere, including efforts to gender-segregate buses, sidewalks and stores in their neighborhoods and strict rabbinical controls on marriage, divorce, conversion and adoption statewide.

“All of a sudden there was a change in seculars in Israel — they see themselves also as a sector that needs to fight for themselves,” said Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, a group founded in 2009 that advocates for equality and religious pluralism. “People say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see myself as part of a society where women cannot sit in the front of the bus.’ People don’t want to be part of such an extreme society.”

Shmuel Jakobovits, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who runs the Torah Institute of Contemporary Issues in Jerusalem, said he, too, sees the election as about far more than how many yeshiva students should be drafted.

“The community is growing, and it’s perceived as a potential threat to the character of the rest of the country,” Rabbi Jakobovits said. “The underlying issue is that there’s an ideological contest over the soul of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”

In a survey of Israeli Jews last summer conducted for another pro-pluralism group, Hiddush, 47 percent identified the religious-secular divide as the most acute in society, more than twice as high as the next ranked choice of politics, at 19 percent, followed by rich and poor, at 15 percent. In a separate Hiddush poll the week before the election, 67 percent said a party’s position on matters of religion and state — including the draft and civil marriage — would influence their vote.

“There are elements in the making of a Kulturkampf,” said Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who runs Hiddush, using the 19th-century German term for culture war. “These issues have a way of coming out and messing up solidarity, messing up politics. It’s time to deal with them in a way that is a root canal; that’s what’s necessary.”

The ultra-Orthodox, known here as Haredim, now make up nearly 10 percent of the Jewish population, up from 6 percent a decade ago. But their concentration in some Jerusalem neighborhoods and certain cities around the country — often helped by huge, subsidized housing projects geared to their large families — has led many less-religious Jews to flee from what they call Haredization.

Clashes have increased along with the population shift. Buses have stopped running advertisements depicting people because portraits of women were constantly vandalized. Religious soldiers have boycotted military ceremonies where women sing. Those who drive on the Sabbath are sometimes harassed. And in late 2011, an international uproar was set off when a group of Haredi men spit at an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl on her way to school, calling her a prostitute because her clothing was seen as not modest enough.

“I am so tired of the ultra-Orthodox,” Merav Basher, 39, said to explain her vote for Yesh Atid, Hebrew for There is a Future. “I wanted to make sure to give them as little power as possible.”

Ms. Basher lives in Modiin, a city halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where there was a recent flare-up with a neighboring Haredi community over access to public parks. Mr. Lapid received 27 percent of the vote there. He did even better in well-to-do Tel Aviv suburbs like Hod Hasharon, Kfar Shmaryahu and Savion, leading many to describe Yesh Atid as a “white tribe” of upper-class descendants of Eastern European Jews.

“If there’s one thing Israelis hate, it’s to be a frier,” said David Tal, 50, a tour guide from Modiin, using a slang Hebrew term for “sucker.” “The Haredim have become an issue which makes people feel like suckers, and Lapid connected to that.”

Mr. Lapid, 49, is hardly the first politician to galvanize the secular middle class into a voting bloc. His father, Yosef Lapid, known as Tommy, did so a decade ago with the Shinnui Party. But the elder Mr. Lapid “was much more militant and much more aggressive,” said Benjamin Brown, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University, citing cartoons he thought bordered on anti-Semitic and slogans suggesting Haredim were “the source of all evil in our society.”

The younger Mr. Lapid, in contrast, recruited two Orthodox rabbis to his slate for Parliament, and he talks about uniting Israel’s tribes. “Definitely the music is different,” said Professor Brown, who is also a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. “Maybe it really reflects a difference in essence. I’m not sure.”

The first test will be the issue of the draft. The Supreme Court last spring invalidated a law exempting thousands of yeshiva students from serving, but the government has so far failed to come up with a plan for integrating them.

Mr. Lapid, who won 19 of Parliament’s 120 seats and has emerged as a power broker in the negotiations to form a new government, wants to cut the exemptions to a few hundred and impose sanctions on those who do not serve. He also wants to require more math, science and English in Haredi schools.

But there is staunch opposition from the ultra-Orthodox, who have been part of nearly every coalition since 1977, gaining leverage as their numbers have grown, to 16 lawmakers in the current government from 10 in 1992. Last week, two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, won 18 seats combined, which their leaders have pointed out is one shy of Mr. Lapid’s showing.

“If they try to compel the Haredim,” Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism told the Israeli newspaper Maariv, “then we are heading toward a deep rift.”

Beyond the draft, Mr. Lapid’s party platform said it would “work to promote” civil marriage, including for same-sex couples, and “rectify inequality in family laws.” On his Facebook page, Mr. Lapid wrote that “as far as women’s exclusion is concerned there can be no compromise or negotiation.”

In the speech to the ultra-Orthodox at Ono Academic College, Mr. Lapid spoke pointedly about overhauling the draft and the core curriculum, but also called for a sort of détente.

“I realize you don’t want your kids to play with my kids in the public playground, and I try very hard not to take offense,” he said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t find a way to live next door to each other without my having to fear that you’ll proselytize my kids, and without you having to fear that I’ll corrupt your kids.”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Modiin, Israel, and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.

*********

January 29, 2013

Israel Set to Boycott U.N. Rights Review

By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
IHT

GENEVA — Israel appeared likely on Tuesday to become the first country to boycott a United Nations review of its human rights practices, rejecting attempts by the United States and others to persuade it to participate. Israel’s mission to the United Nations informally notified the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month that it did not intend to take part in a hearing under the Council’s Universal Periodic Review, a process in which all 193 member states have previously participated. Israel has not clarified formally whether it will attend but its action triggered intense behind-the-scenes discussions to persuade it to reconsider and to determine the council’s response to the unprecedented situation that will arise if it does not.

"We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation," the United States ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said last week.

Diplomats in Geneva believe the council will likely adopt a resolution giving the body’s president, Remigiusz Henczel of Poland, time to try to persuade Israel to take part in the review later this year. But they say but there have been differences between Islamic countries and other council members over how much time and latitude to allow. Efforts to persuade Israel to reconsider have been complicated by its recent elections and the process now under way to form a new coalition government.

Israel’s decision reflects its longstanding frustration with the council’s perceived anti-Israeli bias, diplomats said. Over half the resolutions passed by the council since it started work in 2006 have targeted Israel, which is also the only country to feature as a standing item on the council’s agenda.

Despite these tensions, Israel, until last year, had preferred to work with the council and in December 2008 participated in the council’s review of its human rights record. Last May, however, Israel informed the council it had decided to disengage from what it called “a political tool and convenient platform, cynically used to advance certain political aims, to bash and demonize Israel.”

Council members, however, are anxious to preserve the universal and collaborative characteristics of its review process which has provided a platform to scrutinize and discuss the situation of human rights in even the most closed and repressive regimes.

"The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed," Ambassador Donahoe said in her comments.


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« Reply #4283 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:08 AM »

Saudi authorities order shops to erect sex-segregation walls

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 28, 2013 15:35 EST

Saudi authorities have ordered shops employing both men and women to build separation walls to enforce the strict segregation laws of the ultra-conservative kingdom, local press reported Monday.

The order that was issued by labour minister Adel Faqih also had the stamp of Abdullatif al-Sheikh, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, commonly known as Mutawa and religious police, several dailies reported.

It stipulated that a separation barrier, not shorter than 1.6 metres (over five feet), should be erected to divide working men and women.

Authorities in June 2011 told lingerie shops to replace their salesmen, mostly Asian, with Saudi saleswomen. This directive was later extended to cosmetic outlets.

Saudi women have long complained they feel uncomfortable having to buy lingerie from men and would prefer female sales assistants.

In December, the head of the religious police strongly criticised the labour ministry, claiming that saleswomen do not have a proper working environment and that some have been harassed.

The labour ministry had said the decision to employ women at lingerie shops should create some 44,000 jobs for Saudi women, among whom unemployment is more than 30 percent, according to official figures.

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« Reply #4284 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:10 AM »

January 28, 2013

U.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa

By ERIC SCHMITT
IHT

WASHINGTON — The United States military is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.

For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.

The move is an indication of the priority Africa has become in American antiterrorism efforts. The United States military has a limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in the country of Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, where French and Malian troops are now battling Qaeda-backed fighters who control the northern part of Mali.

A new drone base in northwest Africa would join a constellation of small airstrips in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones or turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft.

If the base is approved, the most likely location for it would be in Niger, a largely desert nation on the eastern border of Mali. The American military’s Africa Command, or Africom, is also discussing options for the base with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, officials said.

The immediate impetus for a drone base in the region is to provide surveillance assistance to the French-led operation in Mali. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one American military official said Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

A handful of unarmed Predator drones would carry out surveillance missions in the region and fill a desperate need for more detailed information on a range of regional threats, including militants in Mali and the unabated flow of fighters and weapons from Libya. American military commanders and intelligence analysts complain that such information has been sorely lacking.

The Africa Command’s plan still needs approval from the Pentagon and eventually from the White House, as well as from officials in Niger. American military officials said that they were still working out some details, and that no final decision had been made. But in Niger on Monday, the two countries reached a status-of-forces agreement that clears the way for greater American military involvement in the country and provides legal protection to American troops there, including any who might deploy to a new drone base.

The plan could face resistance from some in the White House who are wary of committing any additional American forces to a fight against a poorly understood web of extremist groups in North Africa.

If approved, the base could ultimately have as many as 300 United States military and contractor personnel, but it would probably begin with far fewer people than that, military officials said.

Some Africa specialists expressed concern that setting up a drone base in Niger or in a neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance missions, could alienate local people who may associate the distinctive aircraft with deadly attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Officials from Niger did not respond to e-mails over the weekend about the plan, but its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has expressed a willingness to establish what he called in a recent interview “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.”

“What’s happening in northern Mali is a big concern for us because what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us,” Mr. Issoufou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital, on Jan. 10, the day before French troops swept into Mali to blunt the militant advance.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Africa Command, who visited Niger this month to discuss expanding the country’s security cooperation with the United States, declined to comment on the proposed drone base, saying in an e-mail that the subject was “too operational for me to confirm or deny.”

Discussions about the drone base come at a time when the French operation in Mali and a militant attack on a remote gas field in the Algerian desert that left at least 37 foreign hostages, including 3 Americans, dead have thrown a spotlight on Al Qaeda’s franchise in the region, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and forced Western governments and their allies in the region to accelerate efforts to combat it.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, there was “an effort to establish a beachhead for terrorism, a joining together of terrorist organizations.”

According to current and former American government officials, as well as classified government cables made public by the group WikiLeaks, the surveillance missions flown by American turboprop planes in northern Mali have had only a limited effect.

Flown mainly from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the missions have faced stiff challenges as militant leaders have taken greater precautions in using electronic communications and have taken more care not to disclose delicate information that could be monitored, like their precise locations.

General Ham said in an interview on his visit to Niger that it had been difficult for American intelligence agencies to collect consistent, reliable intelligence about what was going on in northern Mali, as well as in other largely ungoverned parts of the sub-Saharan region.

“It’s tough to penetrate,” he said. “It’s tough to get access for platforms that can collect. It’s an extraordinarily tough environment for human intelligence, not just ours but the neighboring countries as well.”

The State Department has been extraordinarily wary of allowing drones to operate in the region, fearful of criticism that the United States is trying to militarize parts of Africa as it steps up its campaign to hunt down Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia, as well as those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

American drones regularly conduct surveillance flights over Somalia and occasionally launch airstrikes against people suspected of being members of the Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda. General Ham, who will be retiring from his command this spring after nearly 40 years in the Army, has been warning that the United States needs more and better surveillance tools in Africa to track the growing threats there.

“Without operating locations on the continent, I.S.R. capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering U.S. security,” General Ham said in a statement to the House Armed Services Committee last March. “Given the vast geographic space and diversity in threats, the command requires increased I.S.R. assets to adequately address the security challenges on the continent.”
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« Reply #4285 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:12 AM »


Iran launches a monkey into space – and fires warning about its ambitions

Tehran claims monkey is safe and well after 250km trip into space but animal rights activists hit out at 'cruel' treatment

Saeed Kamali Dehghan   
The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013 21.39 GMT   

Iran joined the international dash for space in earnest on Monday when it claimed to have successfully launched a live monkey into space in an Iranian-built space capsule.

Iranian media reported (video) that the country's space agency had sent the creature 75 miles (120 km) above the Earth in a Kavoshgar rocket capsule named Pishgam (Pioneer). Though the report has yet to be independently verified, officials said the capsule had returned intact and the monkey was still alive after its sub-orbital experience.

"The explorer rocket … returned to the Earth after reaching the desired speed and altitude, and the living creature (a monkey) was retrieved and found alive," the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Iran's English-language state television, Press TV, showed images of a grey-tufted monkey strapped into a chair the size of an infant's car seat before being placed into the capsule. The site of the rocket launch was not given.

Within minutes of the news breaking, the monkey's picture circulated online and drew comparisons with the 1940s and 1950s heyday of the space race, when animals were heroes of the competing US and Soviet Union programmes.

In 1948, US scientists sent a rhesus monkey called Albert I to a height of 83 miles but the creature, the first animal on board a rocket, died before returning to Earth. The Soviet Union sent dogs into orbit by way of retaliation.

The Iranian launch was part of anniversary celebrations of the 1979 revolution, which are held for a period of two weeks in early February. Iran often flaunts its technological and scientific advances at this time of the year.

Iran's defence minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, described the launch as a "big step for our experts and scientists". He said it was merely the initial phase of a broader Iranian plan to send humans into space by 2020.

"This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism," Vahidi was quoted by Fars as saying. "The launch of Kavoshgar and its retrieval is the first step towards sending humans into space in the next phase."

Hamid Fazeli, director of the country's space agency, said a monkey was chosen because of its biological similarities with humans.

Earlier attempts by Iranian scientists to fire monkeys into space have failed, but in February 2010 an Iranian research rocket, Kavoshgar 3 (Explorer 3), carried a mouse, two turtles and several worms into space.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at the time that the launch showed Iran "could defeat the [west's] domination" in the battle of technology. As Ahmadinejad took office for his first term in 2005, Iran stepped up its space programme and it has since launched satellites into orbit, including its first indigenous satellite, Omid (Hope), in 2009.

Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said the launch was not a surprise because Iranian authorities had previously signalled their intentions.

"It appears that a modified artillery rocket was used to launch the poor monkey straight up into space and return to earth in a capsule slowed by a parachute," he told the Guardian. "Space in this instance is defined as about 100km altitude. The 100km threshold is a common one, as this is where the atmosphere is said to be negligible."

He added: "The rocket employed for this mission appears to be from either a Zelzal or Fateh-110 artillery rocket. When used for military purposes, the maximum range when carrying a roughly 500kg payload is 200 to 250km, though Iran often claims a 300km range. If launched straight up, it should achieve an altitude of 120km or more, depending on the mass of the capsule containing the monkey.

"Strategically, no new military or strategic capability has been established or demonstrated by Iran with this launch," Elleman said. He added: "This is at least Iran's second attempt, though the first one was not acknowledged publicly, so I assume the inaugural launch attempt did not go well. Nonetheless, Iran has an ambitious space exploration programme that includes the goal of placing a human in space in the next five or so years and a human-inhabited orbital capsule by the end of the decade. Today's achievement is one step toward the goal, albeit a small one."

Following the news on Monday, the animals rights group Peta said it was appalled by the photographs: "Iran is repeating the wasteful and cruel mistakes that marked the darkest days of the space race."

A Peta statement added: "We are appalled by photos of a visibly terrified monkey crudely strapped into a restraint device in which he was allegedly launched into space by the Iranian Space Agency. Monkeys are highly intelligent, sensitive animals who not only are traumatised by the violence and noise of a launch and landing, but also suffer when caged in a laboratory before and – if they survive – after a flight."

At a time when financial stringency due to western sanctions and threats of war looms over the Islamic republic, Iranian rulers are also exploiting the launch to demonstrate that international pressure has not prevented Tehran from making technological progress, especially in its disputed space and missile programmes.

US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland neither confirmed whether the monkey had been sent into space or if a launch had taken place at all.

At a daily press briefing on Monday, she told journalists that if the reports were true, the development would represent a "serious concern". The state department believes any such space mission would violate UN security council resolution 1929, whose text bars Iran from "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology."

A senior Iranian military commander also announced that a new missile would be unveiled shortly as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Iran's missile programme has suffered many setbacks in recent years because of a series of explosions at military bases. In November 2011, a blast at a missile base 30 miles away from Tehran, killed Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was described as the "architect" of the country's missile programme.

Western powers fear Iran's space programme could have military dimensions.

Western governments fear that Iranian scientists might be simultaneously working on missile and nuclear programmes aimed at producing nuclear warheads. Iran denies the allegations and says its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, such as producing medical isotopes.

Iran's nuclear programme has also suffered blows from the assassination of its nuclear scientists and a series of cyber-attacks. Tehran's leaders have remained defiant of six UN security council resolutions calling on them to halt enrichment of uranium and they have refused to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency over their nuclear programme.

Nuclear talks between Tehran and the west have currently reached a stalemate with no clear date scheduled for the next round of talks. A spokesperson for the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, complained on Monday that Tehran had rejected a proposal to meet at the end of January. Iran says it has fully cooperated. Initial talks are under way to determine a date in February.
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« Reply #4286 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Guatemala ex-dictator to be tried for genocide

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 28, 2013 18:08 EST

A judge in Guatemala on Monday ordered the trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide in the killings of more than 1,750 indigenous people during his 1982-83 regime.

The 86-year-old Rios Montt sat stoically as Judge Miguel Galvez ordered the opening of a trial “for the crimes of genocide” and crimes against humanity, while relatives of victims lit firecrackers outside the Supreme Court.

The landmark decision marks the first time that genocide proceedings have been brought in the Central American country over the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead, according to the UN.

Rios Montt, who has been under house arrest for a year, is accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 1,750 indigenous Ixil Maya people in Quiche department during his time in power.

“There are serious bases on which to put him on oral and public trial for his alleged participation in the crimes attributed to him,” Galvez said in a small courtroom packed with relatives of victims and rights activists as well as retired soldiers who back Rios Montt.

Human Rights Watch called the decision to prosecute Rios Montt a “major step forward for accountability in Guatemala.”

“The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm,” said the group’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco.

The judge also decided to open a genocide trial against retired general Jose Rodriguez, a former member of the military leadership who arrived in court in a wheelchair.

Galvez told the two former military officers to appear at a hearing on January 31 for the presentation of evidence. The composition of the tribunal would be decided at a later date.

Until then, Rios Montt will remain under house arrest while Rodriguez will stay at a military hospital where he has been treated for his failing health.

Rios Montt is known for his “scorched earth” campaign against people the government claimed were leftist rebels but were often in fact members of indigenous Maya communities who were not involved in the conflict.

His attorneys argued that Rios Montt, who came to power in a coup in 1982, was never aware of the massacres committed by the army.

“They want to stick something to Rios Montt that he never did,” said his lawyer, Danilo Rodriguez, who happens to be a former guerrilla.

Another attorney for Rios Montt, Francisco Palomo, told reporters the defense team would appeal Galvez’s decision.

“We will be presenting an appeal. We are not afraid of facing a trial, as long as it is a fair one… not a lynch mob,” said Palomo.

Dressed in a gray suit, the former general arrived on time for the hearing. Upon his entry into the courtroom, a small group of retired military men saluted him.

Outside the courthouse in the center of Guatemala City, a group of relatives of victims set up a makeshift altar, where they placed flowers and other offerings, and burned incense.

Indigenous Maya communities make up a majority of the population in rural Guatemala.


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« Reply #4287 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:19 AM »


Czech Republic: Miloš Zeman, president of an unhappy country

28 January 2013
Presseurop
Lidové noviny , Hospodářské Noviny
 28 January 2013

It is “the return of Zeman,” announces Lidové noviny. Eleven years after leaving the post of Prime Minister, Miloš Zeman has become the third president of the Czech Republic since the Velvet Revolution. Winning out over Karel Schwarzenberg with 54.8 per cent of the vote, he will be sworn in on March 8.

It was “the candidate of the disatisifed voters” who won, writes the daily, describing “an atmosphere of disgust and fear of the future.” Miloš Zeman will have a difficult task, the newspaper adds: “To reunite a society split by a campaign full of heated emotions.” “The new president has been elected against the will of a large part of the intellectual, political and economic elite,” notes LN, adding that he must now prepare for an “uneasy coexistence” with Petr Necas' centre-right coalition which is behind the austerity policy.

“The Czechs have not crept out of their own shadow and have chosen to return to the past,” writes a regretful Lidové noviny. “But who would have thought six months ago that Karel Schwarzenberg, with all of his handicaps, could become such a strong opponent of Zeman?” The ambition of the new president to call “early elections could give Schwarzenberg a new opportunity: to become prime minister.”

“Miloš Zeman’s come-back has been more than comfortable: straight to Prague Castle, with the support of 2.7 million voters,” writes Hospodářské noviny. However, “it’s crazy to hope that Miloš Zeman will be a non-confrontational president who brings people together and elevates the political culture, because he is an unpredictable and arrogant politician. His campaign against Karel Schwarzenberg was full of lies, insults and dubious practices.” (...)

Worse yet, deplores the business daily, is the “string of advisors who are coming back with him: Miroslav Šlouf [former communist and political lobbyist close to the Russian oil company LUKOIL] and other shady characters who created the environment so conducive to corruption in the 1990s.”

For Europe, “Zeman will be a president of reconciliation,” notes Lidové noviny. After Václav Klaus, known for his euroscepticism, European politicians can breathe a sign of relief, the daily adds, noting that Zeman, considered a euro-federalist, has been congratulated by Martin Schulz, Social Democratic President of the European Parliament.


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« Reply #4288 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:25 AM »

Greenland: Left warns against China's Arctic dreams   

China seeks not only to Greenland in search of raw materials. The goal is to gain a foothold in the strategically important Arctic, says Liberal Claus Hjort Frederiksen.

By Elisabeth Arnsdorf Haslund and Peter Burhøi
Berlingske Barometer
28th January 2013, 22:30

Behind the story

During research for a background story about China's interest in Greenland, examined Berlingske political party position. In an interview with Liberal Claus Hjort Frederiksen, where Hjort Frederiksen prompted wide to the Liberal Party's position on a number of issues with regard to Greenland mining adventure, it was clear that the Liberals are skeptical about Chinese dominance in the Arctic.

The interview has been developed with expert sources in the form of a security policy expert as well as a China-know. The goal here is to put into perspective Claus Hjort Frederiksen's opinions.

Berlingske Barometer
28th January 2013, 22:30

It is not just about bad Chinese wages when Left-chairman Lars Lokke Rasmussen speak for a timeout in the case of the controversial Greenland storskalalov, which opens the door to cheap Chinese labor in Greenland mines and therefore is a cornerstone of the Greenland mining adventure. It's about power politics.

Liberal Claus Hjort Frederiksen believes that China's goal of mining in Greenland in particular, is to ensure a unique bastion in the Arctic, as the Chinese have been working on for several years. Mining is the means, not the goal.

"There is a far more geopolitical interest. They may be interested in getting a bastion in the Arctic. That's it, the political struggle going on at the moment, "says Claus Hjort Frederiksen.

He believes that the Chinese have both the economy and the patience to secure influence in the polar region.

"The Arctic region has in recent years been far more political focus, and discussing the strategic importance of the Arctic. I am very concerned by the idea that you give the Chinese access to Greenland. Besides the Chinese have much money, they operate with long-term perspectives. They operate not with the perspectives of industry in Europe and the U.S.. It should not return in the coming years. For them 100 years nothing. And if they see strategic interests in building some bastions in Greenland, it is money or return requirements are not a barrier, "says Claus Hjort Frederiksen.

Do you think that we can come into conflict with some of our allies on this matter?

"I have not heard how Americans and Canadians react to this. But I can imagine that they look with some concern on what is going on here with the prospect of getting thousands of Chinese people close to their borders. "

Social Democrats Greenland spokesman Flemming Møller Mortensen, wondering Liberal current skepticism, which were not aired, when the party was in government and handled questions about Greenland. According to him, it is necessary to respect the autonomy law, and S has full confidence in the decisions that are taken in Greenland.

"And so it is important to pay attention to all agree that the strategic and security policy is a matter for the commonwealth. Here you have started a very close cooperation, "said the rapporteur.
Natural resources and new transport routes

According to several experts, there is no doubt that China's interest in Greenland covers much more than single investment, although they are in the billions. A presence in Greenland - and cooperation with Greenland and Denmark - could be a way to influence throughout the Arctic region, such as China burning desire. It's about access to natural resources, but also on access to international transport routes in the area, which is crucial for an export nation like China, explains Professor Xing Li of the Department of Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University.

"Good relations with Greenland and Denmark can be useful and strategically important for China," he says and points out that Denmark is not only cards for China, which also tend relations with, for example Iceland, where they have built one of the largest embassies .

Kristian Soby Kristensen, including research in Arctic Security at the Centre for Military Studies at the University, agrees: "When it comes to a potentially important area, then great powers interested, not only to earn money but also to influence political developments in area, "he said.

Current pending a political conflict over the Arctic Council and the availability of the observer. It has China requested but include Canada opposes.

"There is an expectation that as the region becomes more important, the Arctic Council also become more important, so try non-Arctic countries to break into, not to be entitled to vote, but to follow the agenda, obtain information and early be able to influence decisions, "says Kristian Soby Kristensen.
Interest in the Arctic leads to espionage

Intelligence services in Denmark is obviously preoccupied with the great political struggle for Greenland and the Arctic. PET chief Jakob Scharf said in the fall Berlingske that foreign powers espionage in Denmark mainly revolves around the interest in the Arctic. And in the most recent risk assessment underlines the Defence Intelligence Service (FE), the great powers interest in Greenland raw materials and access to the Arctic will intensify in the coming years.

The current situation requires attention, but do not worry, believes Professor Xing Li from Aalborg University.

»Danish politicians should on the one hand be very aware of China's interest and understanding of the Chinese rationales, but on the other hand they should not demonize China. They should send a clear message to China that if they want to interact with Greenland, it is necessary transparency and certain standards, "he said.

Parliament will soon consider a special law that makes it possible to realize the Greenland storskalalov under the Danish Aliens Act. At the same time the next time convened a series of consultations in parliament - and in a parliamentary debate in February, the Left also ask Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) account for such Government's position on "the future of Greenland my activities."


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« Reply #4289 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:28 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/29/2013 12:05 PM

SPIEGEL Interview with Tony Blair: 'Leaving Europe Would Be Very Bad for Britain'

British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to hold a referendum on his country's future in the European Union. His predecessor Tony Blair tells SPIEGEL why that is extremely risky and says it ignores the benefits EU membership has brought to Britain.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Blair, Prime Minister David Cameron would like to achieve better conditions for the United Kingdom in the European Union and has announced a referendum on the UK's membership for 2017. What concessions should Europe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel make?

Blair: I wouldn't look at it like concessions at all. The part of David Cameron's speech I completely agree with is where he talks about the need for reform and change in Europe. This is clear and right. Europe's got a huge competitive challenge, and it's a case that successive British prime ministers have made, including myself. Chancellor Merkel would be an ally on these questions. The part of Cameron's speech that is a problem is not the bit about Europe, it is the point about the British relationship with Europe. I have difficulties with the notion that we commit now to putting a referendum question with an out option. We put into play the issue of whether Britain exits the European Union. That's a quite separate and different question from whether Europe reforms or not.

SPIEGEL: Isn't that a very convenient position for Britain to be in? Every time Cameron is dissatisfied with Europe, he can threaten to leave the club.

Blair: Yes, but if you believe as I believe that Britain leaving Europe would be very bad for Britain, then it's a threat that is to do yourself damage. In circumstances where you have only one member state against you, you risk that people say, well, go ahead and leave. The vital question here is whether this is about the direction of the 27 or is it one versus 26. We in Britain should play an important part in shaping this new Europe. What happens in these discussions during the euro-zone crisis is dramatically important to my country as well as to your country. We should play our full part in that, and we should do that without putting in jeopardy our fundamental membership of the European Union. The likelihood is that David Cameron will put forward the case for certain reforms, he will probably get certain agreed, he will not get all agreed, which would not be surprising in my experience in European negotiations. Where does that leave you? Does that leave you then only with the out option? It is not good for Britain, never mind if it's good for Europe, for us to question our membership in the EU -- and then leave that question hanging there for what could be four or five years.

SPIEGEL: How should Europe react?

Blair: I think Europe should react by dealing with the reform case on its merits. When Cameron talks about the need for reform, he'll have a lot of support in that. The euro-zone crisis in many ways has exposed the need for reform; it hasn't actually created it, that need for reform was there anyway. Whether you're talking about pensions in Italy or labor market reform in Spain -- these are changes that in any event should happen. So I'm sure the rest of Europe will deal with this, but I don't think it will give us additional negotiating strength to say, well, if you don't give us what we want, we're off. You've got to be very careful with this argument, because Europe will resent it.

SPIEGEL: Still, there's a lively debate going on in Britain about the European Union, the likes of which Merkel and other EU leaders wouldn't dare start in their own home countries.

Blair: Yes, and that debate will go on. Whether the political leaders have it or not, the people have it. China has three times the population of the whole of the European Union, and will have the biggest economy in the world. If Britain wants weight today, we need Europe. The rationale for Europe in the 21st century is stronger than it has ever been. It is essentially about power, not about peace anymore. We won't fight each other if we don't have Europe, but we will be weaker, less powerful, with less influence. This is about the collective weight adding to and supporting our national interest. It's not about substituting Europe for your nation.

SPIEGEL: Has Europe been too preoccupied with itself in the past?

Blair: I think it is bound to be preoccupied with itself right now. The problem for Europe is very, very simple: For reasons of globalization, demography, and technology, all developed countries will have to change radically. The social model of Europe has got to reform if Europe is to remain competitive. That doesn't mean abandoning the values of the social model, but it means recognizing that the world around us has changed and we have to change with it. The issue now is to recognize that Europe is going to exist in a completely different economic and geopolitical context. It's not a left-right-issue. It's not about ideology. It's about an understanding of how fast and how much the world has changed and how we have to change to keep up with it.

SPIEGEL: Such an argument makes a British EU exit seem even stranger.

Blair: We get from Europe what we can't get on our own anymore. We're simply not big enough, but neither is Germany. Indonesia, which in time will become a very powerful country, is easily three times the size of Germany. This is the world we live in today, never mind India, Brazil and Russia. Europe gives us the ability as a medium sized country to play a big size role.

SPIEGEL: Where is the sudden pressure for Britain to leave the EU coming from?

Blair: I don't think there is some great desire on the part of the British people to leave Europe. There is a very strong and very vocal minority however. Basically, it's an old fashioned form of nationalism. That's what the UK Independence Party is, and it carries with it a very old fashioned set of attitudes and arguments. It's like similar to other the fringe movements all over Europe and indeed America with the Tea Party. But in the end it cannot and should not determine the country's policy.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that pro-Europeans in Britain have argued with enough passion in favor of EU membership?

Blair: One of the great myths is that the pro-Europeans do not speak up in Britain. We do!

SPIEGEL: It doesn't seem to make much of an impact.

Blair: I made a speech, Peter Mandelson made speeches, Lord Heseltine made speeches, Ken Clarke did as well. The problem in the UK is, however, a very sizeable and weighty media with anti-European positions and it is very strong and makes it quite hard.

SPIEGEL: How, then, do you get your point across?

Blair: Look, the thing most people in Britain wake up in the morning thinking about is not the European Union. It's jobs, living standards, it's mortgages, crime, health, education. So if you make a statement as dramatic as the prime minister, saying "I give you the chance to leave the European Union," you'll get a lot of publicity. A speech about Europe doesn't really make it to the front pages.

SPIEGEL: Is your Labour Party now on the defensive?

Blair: Well, that depends on whether it's sensible to do leave the EU. Why would we want to raise a question mark over our membership of the European Union? Why would we do that now? Labour should argue unequivocally for Britain to stay, it will help the party to build bridges to the business community, which is important. The sensible thing to do is to argue the case for change inside Europe, build up alliances to achieve that and stay with the biggest political union and the largest business and commercial market in the world. Why would we want to be part of the debate but say, we might leave, by the way? I don't think you get more leverage by threatening to leave.

SPIEGEL: Why has Britain retreated from the European Union so far in recent years?

Blair: If there is one advantage to this debate that has been started, I think it will make people stop and think a little. Everyone gets irritated with Europe. Its institutions are difficult to deal with, it has lots of rules that irritate people. Europe is an extraordinary imaginative creation that is still in the making. Get Germans, Italians, Spanish and British talking about Europe, they'll complain as much as they praise. That's life. It doesn't mean that we should walk away from the whole thing.

SPIEGEL: Did Cameron speak for those many citizens of Europe who are fed up with Brussels?

Blair: I imagine that people on the streets in Athens, Rome or Madrid would be totally opposed to some of the changes Cameron will want to make. The problem that Europe has is that the concept of the single currency with the single market is a perfectly sensible concept. But I'm afraid in its execution there was not the proper alignment of the political desire to have a single currency with the economic decisions necessary to make it work. And that misalignment is what we are now dealing with. And we've got to deal with it in circumstances of enormous difficulty in a crisis. But I keep saying to people about Europe, you've got to take the long view. Right now, possibly for the next few years, Europe is going to face a period of great uncertainty. The measures that the European Central Bank has taken have given us some breathing space in terms of liquidity, which is why the bond yields have come down. But that didn't solve the solvency problem or the growth problem. So I still think Europe faces a great deal of challenges. But in the long term Europe will come to its feet because of the underlying rationale for it. It's the reason why there is the ASEAN Group, the African Union, Latin American countries coming together. Regional groupings make sense today. Europe should decide what it really wants to do and then focus on doing it.

SPIEGEL: Is Europe good at doing that?

Blair: No, it's not. Which is why the EU does cause irritation, anger and disagreement. But that doesn't mean that the basic idea is wrong. What Europe should do is set some very clear and very focused ambitions.

SPIEGEL: For instance?

Blair: (The focus should be on) jobs, the economy, and making sure you drive through the single market in a way that allows proper subsidiarity. Making sure that we're gaining the most competitive advantage the single market could give us. In energy policy, there are enormous things we can do, around grid systems for example. Likewise immigration and crime should be about controlling our borders, controlling immigration properly and fighting crime properly. Too often, they end up a bureaucratic mess. In common foreign policy and defence there is a massive amount Europe could do if it put its mind to it. For France to go and do Mali on its own is really tough for the French. If you had a strong common and defence policy, we could do so much more.

SPIEGEL: How do you think the referendum will turn out when it is finally held?

Blair: In the end, I believe, there is a solid majority for staying in the EU. You know, referendums are notoriously unpredictable instruments of democratic will. That's why it's not sensible to have them unless you are compelled to. What governments should do is govern.

Interview conducted by Christoph Scheuermann


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