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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1076838 times)
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« Reply #4305 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:07 AM »

01/29/2013 02:51 PM

Anti-Gay Bill: German Foreign Minister Criticizes Russian Legislation

By Severin Weiland

Moscow is currently seeking to make "homosexual propaganda" a prosecutable offense. But in Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has warned Russia's ambassador that the new legislation could aggravate European-Russian relations.

Russia is currently seeking to ban "homosexual propaganda" throughout the country with a bill that has already been given overwhelming approval after a first reading on Friday in the Duma, the country's parliament. Previously, such legislation had only been on the books in St. Petersburg and other, mostly smaller cities.

The legislative effort has sparked outrage in Western countries, and now German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has also entered the fray. Westerwelle, who has been openly gay for years, is married to his long-time partner Michael Mronz.

On Monday afternoon, the 51-year-old foreign minister held a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Germany Vladimir Grinin at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin. A source close to the issue told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the politician, a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), addressed the new legislation with his guest. In a move unusual of diplomats, Westerwelle was reportedly very upfront about his opinion of the matter. In the discussion, he conveyed that the bill, from the German point of view, is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. He added that the legislation would aggravate European-Russian relations and would also damage Russia's image in Europe, a Foreign Ministry employee said, describing Westerwelle's position.

Westerwelle Expresses Personal Disappointment

In addition, Westerwelle said that as a friend of Russia and defender of good relations, he was personally disappointed by the development. Part of democracy, the foreign minister said, is the protection of minorities.

At the moment, it doesn't appear that it will be possible to stop Russia from passing the legislation. A strong majority in the Duma approved the first reading of the bill, with 388 members of parliament voting for it, one against it and further parliamentarians abstaining.

In Russian society, homophobia, insults, marginalization and daily attacks against gays and lesbians are all widespread and daily phenomena. The actions of government agencies across the country have also been criticized in the West, including the decision by a court in Moscow last year to ban gay pride parades in Moscow for the next 100 years, allegedly for reasons of public safety. The move came after Nikolai Alekseyev, an activist with the group GayRussia, applied for permits for 102 gay pride parades in the next 100 years.

If the new Russian law is implemented, it would not only make gay pride parades a prosecutable offense, but even something as simple as waving the rainbow flag (a gay symbol) could be punishable. On the basis of a similar local law in St. Petersberg, Alekseyev was ordered to pay a fine of €130 ($174) in May for protesting with a sign that read: "Homosexuality isn't perversion."

The bill would make promotion of public events and dissemination of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors illegal, but critics also fear that the new law could even mean that groups will not be able to distribute information about HIV and AIDS to gays and that offers of psychological counselling for gay and lesbian youth would also be banned. In proportion to Russian incomes, the fines are also steep, with those violating the law being forced to pay penalties of between €100 and €12,500, the latter representing the average annual salary in the country.


Opponents of the bill view it as a sign of new repression against minorities in the country, but President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party has defended the legislation. Sergei Dorofeyev, a member of parliament with the ruling party and the author of the bill, argued that homosexuality in modern Russia "is being propagated on a large scale" and that it represents a threat to traditional family values.

The opposition has responded with a mix of protests and sarcasm. Looking back to the Soviet era under Russian Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev, who regularly greeted leaders of the Eastern Bloc with brotherly pecks on the lips, Duma member Dmitry Gudkov recently asked: "Will Leonid Brezhnev's kiss also fall under the category of propaganda?"

The bill must go through two more readings in the Duma before it is signed into law by Russian President Putin. Still, it is unlikely to cause much outrage in Russia itself. An opinion poll taken last year by the respected Levada Center found that almost two-thirds of Russians find homosexuality to be "morally unacceptable and worth condemning." One-third viewed homosexuality as a result of "a sickness or psychological trauma," the AP reported.

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« Reply #4306 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:09 AM »

01/29/2013 06:42 PM

Calls for EU Reform: Some German Politicians Agree With Cameron

A number of politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition parties have voiced support for British Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for a reform of the EU. They say they agree with a number of points he made in his speech on Europe last week -- but are opposed to granting Britain any further exemptions from EU rules.

Chancellor Angela Merkel may have given a non-committal response to British Prime Minister David Cameron's call for EU reform and a British referendum on EU membership, but several politicians from her center-right coalition have voiced support for him.

"It would be totally wrong to react with kneejerk refusal to the intitiative of Prime Minister Cameron," said Alexander Dobrindt, the general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. "If you condemn Cameron's idea of a referendum on Europe outright, you will fan mistrust of Europe, as if Europe has to hide from the people."

Dobrindt said Cameron had addressed many points in his speech "that could really bring Europe forward." Those points included strengthening national parliaments, clawing back powers from Brussels and making EU institutions more transparent.

'There Can't Be Room for Special Rights'

The CSU itself has in the past said Germany should hold a referendum on the EU if any more powers are passed to Brussels from Berlin. But Dobrindt said he was against granting Britain further optouts from EU rules. "It's clear that in an optimized Europe there can't be room for special rights for individuals, such as a British rebate," he said.

Cameron also got backing from Bavarian Economy Minister Martin Zeil of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, junior partner in Merkel's coalition. "The British have had to undergo painful financial cuts to stabilize their state budget," he said. Referring to Southern European nations, he added: "So one can well imagine the frustration of the British when they see that other states have reacted in a far more lax way to their desolate financial situations."

Cameron had also been right to call for improvements in competitiveness, said Zeil. "The issues he addressed are quite right," said Zeil. "But the conclusion he draws from it -- namely an exit from the EU -- that's wrong."

Britain was one of the strong EU nations and should, together with countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands, be seeking solutions to the EU crisis, said Zeil. But he added that Cameron's motives were transparent: He was being driven by domestic political pressure in his threat to quit the EU. That, said Zeil, was the wrong signal.
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« Reply #4307 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:12 AM »

01/30/2013 01:16 PM

Pressure for a Deal: Berlin Opposition to Cypriot Aid Weakens

German leaders are concerned that emergency euro-zone aid to Cyprus will merely serve to help the Russian oligarchs who use the island nation as a tax haven. With pressure growing to approve a bailout deal, however, Berlin now appears to be changing its tune.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, as he has made clear several times, is no fan of providing emergency aid to struggling euro-zone member Cyprus. But pressure to reach a bailout deal has been growing in recent weeks. And now, according to an article in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berlin appears to be abandoning its resistance.

Citing unnamed government sources, the paper noted that pressure to reach a deal on Cyprus had grown from euro-zone member states, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. There is concern in Brussels and across Europe that were Cyprus to be allowed to slip into bankruptcy, it could reverse the recent progress that has been made in coming to terms with the euro crisis.

Still, the bailout is not without risks. Cyprus is in urgent need of up to €17.5 billion ($23.6 billion) in emergency financing, primarily to prop up its ailing and outsized banking sector. But a bailout of that size would be roughly equivalent to the country's annual gross domestic product and would increase the island nation's sovereign debt load to a potentially unsustainable level. The International Monetary Fund had even demanded in December that the aid package be paired with a significant debt haircut.

There have been recent indications that the final bailout price tag might ultimately be lower. For one, Nicosia has said that its banks do not need as much help as had originally been estimated. For another, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Russia will very likely take part in the bailout package, lessening the burden on Europe.

Money-Laundering Concerns

The reasons for Russian involvement and German reluctance are the same. Cypriot banks have long been a haven for Russian oligarchs looking for a low-tax location to park their riches. One of the results is a bloated banking sector with assets worth some €150 billion, vastly greater than the country's economic output. More to the point, however, are concerns in Berlin that Cyprus has been weak in battling money laundering.

Nicosia has vociferously denied charges that it doesn't do enough to combat money laundering, and has also recently agreed to closely examine potential reforms to shore up weaknesses. The country has also undertaken several reforms so as to qualify for European aid, and has not tired of pointing out that much of its troubles are the result of the Greek debt writedowns last year.

"I think the attitude will change and we will receive the financial assistance we are seeking," Cypriot Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly told the Associated Press in an interview this week. "We are not asking for a gift. We're asking for a loan on the reasonable terms which have been offered to other member states."

Parliament to Have its Say

According to Wednesday's Süddeutsche report, German Finance Minister Schäuble remains opposed to the bailout package. But he appears to be increasingly isolated in Europe. Last week, he was taken to task by European Central Bank head Mario Draghi for his contention that Cyprus was not "systemically relevant," or big enough that the country going bankrupt would seriously threaten the rest of the euro zone.

Still, Schäuble isn't the only one in Berlin with his doubts. The Cyprus bailout, once it is agreed to by European finance ministers in Brussels in the coming weeks, must also be rubber-stamped by German parliament. And that, particularly with a general election coming in September, is no longer a foregone conclusion. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats, have voiced significant skepticism of a Cyprus bailout and could see a no vote as a way to sharpen the party's extremely dull profile.

There are also several rebels in Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who are likely to vote no. Christian von Stetten, chairman of the CDU parliamentary caucus that advocates for small businesses, said he would oppose an aid package for Cyprus if it came to a vote. "Cyprus applied for aid seven months ago, and since then it has been staying afloat with payments from the Central Bank of Cyprus," Stetten told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He added that the country's actions since then have been carefully scrutinized, and that "if a majority decides to transfer money to Cyprus from the bailout fund, I wouldn't be able to understand that."

Potentially most serious, however, is that the opposition Social Democrats, struggling in their own right to attract attention from German voters, have indicated that they are no longer willing to simply follow Merkel when it comes to major euro-zone bailouts.

Talks, though, are continuing. On Thursday, Finance Minister Vassos is scheduled to travel to The Hague for talks with new Euro Group head Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Anti-money laundering measures are likely to be high on the agenda.
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« Reply #4308 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:18 AM »

01/30/2013 11:55 AM

Crime Story: The Dark World of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater

By Susanne Beyer, Benjamin Bidder, Wladimir Pyljow and Matthias Schepp

The recent acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Theater has shocked Russia and the art world. As doctors fight to save his vision, rumors are circulating that the attack was prompted by professional jealousy, a ticket-scalping racket or sex.

The man would like to be called "Andrei," which of course is a pseudonym. He was wearing a black turtleneck when he arrived at a Moscow café to speak with SPIEGEL after talking with the police.

For four hours, Andrei sat in the café and spoke breathlessly about the Bolshoi Theater as if he had to get something dreadful off his chest. He says he has dedicated his entire life to the theater. "It's our national treasure," he says, "but now its reputation is ruined." Andrei says the world-famous theater has degenerated into a "den of bandits."

Andrei's behind-the-scenes knowledge of the Bolshoi spans decades. He claims to know who took advantage of the €800 million ($1.1 billion), six-year renovation to decorate their dacha with Stalin-era vases and plates stolen from the theater. He also says he knows who earns money scalping tickets on the black market, and which dancer is an oligarch's current boy toy. He has given their names to the police, he says.

When Andrei talks about the Bolshoi, he speaks of scandals, corruption, sex and sordid business deals. But these are not the standard intrigues thriving in theaters everywhere, where battles are fought over who gets the leading role, who stages the production and who is allowed to direct the opening-night premiere. Theaters are the ideal biotope for narcissists and egomaniacs. Yet everything that Andrei recounts seems more extreme, more terrible.

The lines between permitted and not permitted, between moral and immoral, are different in Moscow than they are in Western cities. Here at the Bolshoi, it's not just art that mirrors society, but also the off-stage drama within the theater itself. The Bolshoi is a mini-cosmos, corrupt and crumbling, like the country in which it exists.

Attacked with Acid

The latest culmination in the battles at the Bolshoi was the acid attack on Sergei Filin, the theater's 42-year-old artistic director, shortly before midnight on January 17. After a gala performance, Filin was on his way to his apartment in a 12-story building, where he lives with his second wife and two of his sons. It's a good neighborhood, expensive even by Moscow standards, with monthly rents of €30 per square meter ($3.80 per square foot). Real estate brokers promote the area by mentioning that many artists from the Bolshoi Theater live in the neighborhood.

That night, the ground was covered with snow. Filin had almost made it to his building's entrance, when someone called his name. He turned around to find a masked man with his right hand behind his back. For weeks, Filin had lived in fear of an attack. At that moment, he thought he was about to be shot.

Unknown individuals had repeatedly threatened him, and his dancers witnessed how he constantly received intimidating phone calls with only a silent caller on the other end. In mid-December, Filin even asked Anatoly Iksanov, the theater's general director, for personal protection -- but it didn't work out.

Filin tried to flee, but the masked assailant was faster. From a container the size of a water glass, he sprayed sulfuric acid in Filin's face. A parking lot attendant ran to Filin and washed the acid off with snow. But his face, eyes and scalp had already been burned.

A hospital spokeswoman says that a number of operations will be necessary to restore Filin's face and save some of his eyesight. The cornea of his right eye has been severely damaged, and his scalp has been injured. It's likely that Filin will have to wear a wig. He has probably been disfigured for life.

Sulfuric acid draws all water from the skin, leaving the tissue shriveled and scarred. The acid clouds the cornea, which develops holes.

A few days after the assault, Filin granted a brief TV interview from his hospital bed. His face was wrapped in white gauze, and only his mouth, nose and eyes were visible.

Ballet is all about beauty, and all that dancers have is their looks and their bodies. It's the tool they use to make a living. The assailant didn't want to kill Filin, who still appeared boyish despite his 42 years. Instead, he wanted to destroy him.

'The War for the Roles'

The news spread fast throughout the world of ballet and culture. Andrei Busygin, Russia's deputy culture minister, calls the crime an attack on the nation, saying: "Nothing like this has ever happened before." Officials at the Ministry of Culture say that it was not just an assault on the great artist, but "rather against the entire Bolshoi Theater and Russian culture."

The Bolshoi is the national stage. The czars had the theater built in the late 18th century, and successively rebuilt it after fires. It was meant as a monument to their glory. Under the Romanov Dynasty, the stage curtain was adorned with the golden double-headed Russian imperial eagle. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks used the prestigious building to hold party conferences, and the old curtain was replaced with a new one, decorated with a hammer and sickle. Rumor has it that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had a secret tunnel dug from the Kremlin to the Bolshoi so he could directly access his theater box. Stalin loved the opera and ballet.

Even today, the Bolshoi is home to the world's largest and most famous ballet troupe, with 240 dancers. Every dancer accepted into the Bolshoi has laid the foundation for a global career. However, the real battle -- the struggle for glory -- only begins later. Dancers have very little time to pursue a career, perhaps 20 years. It's the ballet master -- in this case, Filin, at least until the evening of the attack -- who decides which dancer will become the greatest star among the stars and which dancer will win this cut-throat battle, known as the "war for the roles" at the Bolshoi. When Filin became the company's artistic director in March 2011, he knew what lay in store for him. From then on, many of his dancers saw him as their greatest enemy.

In January 2009, his predecessor, Alexei Ratmansky, left the Bolshoi because he felt that he had been undermined by his own people: "This theater has no morals," he said shortly after the attack. "Claqueurs, ticket scalpers, half-crazy fans who'll do anything for their idols -- all of this makes the Bolshoi sick."

After Ratmansky, Gennady Yanin became the ballet company manager. He also wanted to become the artistic director, but his career at the Bolshoi was cut short by a smear campaign. In 2011, somebody uploaded photos of him online and sent the link to 3,847 recipients. The photos purportedly showed Yanin having sex with men. Homosexuality is widely frowned upon in Russia.

Filin filled the vacant post of artistic director. He was highly ambitious -- perhaps too ambitious. The Bolshoi is the most tradition-minded of the world's leading theaters. Theater directors who refuse to limit themselves to "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker," and instead dare to stage contemporary productions, are vilified by the public and many critics. Every experiment is instantly branded as an attempt to "Westernize" the Bolshoi.

Nonetheless, Filin tried to modernize the Bolshoi Ballet. In November 2011, he enlisted the American dancer David Hallberg as the first foreign soloist in the company. For 2013, Filin has also signed up two foreign choreographers, Britain's Wayne McGregor and France's Jean-Christophe Maillot.

Over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) west of Moscow, Vladimir Malakhov works as the artistic director and first soloist of the Berlin State Ballet. With a troupe of 88 dancers, this is the largest company in Germany. Malakhov trained in Moscow at the school of the Bolshoi Ballet-- and he is close friends with Filin. They had plans to attend Berlin's Tanzolymp international dance festival together in February to scout for new talent.

Less than an hour after the attack, Malakhov heard all the details in Berlin. "Are we back in the age of the Medicis," he asked "when people poisoned each other?"

Malakhov is familiar with the rumors concerning the reasons for the attack. He says that there is a "dark business" surrounding the sale of theater tickets, and he contends that life in Russia cannot be compared with life in Germany, saying: "There is no longer any sense of satisfaction in Russia." Malakhov believes that money has ruined everything -- some have too much, while others have too little.

He admits that he doesn't think the perpetrators will be found, but he hopes that God will avenge this vile act. For Malakhov, Moscow is far away and heaven is close at hand.

Three Theories Surrounding the Attack
In Moscow, Filin's greatest enemy in the company is Nikolai Tsiskaridze. The celebrated 39-year-old dancer was a contender for the job of artistic director. Tsiskaridze has reportedly accused Filin of being corrupt, and he once allegedly spoke about "having all colleagues shot to death with a machine gun."

But Tsiskaridze also has allies. In November, a group of actors and artists published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to issue an order making Tsiskaridze the artistic director of the Bolshoi. Not surprisingly, there is widespread public speculation that Tsiskaridze could be behind the assault, but he denies any involvement.

Three theories about the attack are currently making the rounds in Russia. One is that it has to do with internal power struggles and the competition for top performing roles. Another is that it has to do with sex and love. Sources at the Bolshoi say that Filin is not gay, but so good looking that both men and women have become infatuated with him. Perhaps it was an act of jealousy.

A third theory is supplied by Andrei, the insider who says he told the police that the attack must have something to do with the murky business deals surrounding the Bolshoi. Andrei told investigators how members of the company bribe theater managers to bring them along to lucrative guest performances abroad. He says that he has given the authorities detailed descriptions -- including names -- of how a large proportion of the tickets earmarked to be sold online are quietly sold off to ticket scalpers at profit margins of over 100 percent.

Andrei contends that it is virtually impossible to purchase ballet or opera tickets on the Bolshoi website three months before a performance, or shortly after online ticket sales have begun. Andrei also says that tickets are secretly passed on to other online platforms, such as, where they are sold for two to three times the standard price. The performance of the ballet classic "Spartacus" on April 26 was sold out at the end of last week on the Bolshoi website, but other online sales outlets were still offering large numbers of tickets.

"That's the mafia at work," says Andrei, "and no one dares to stop them." Every morning, the same individuals line up at the Bolshoi's three ticket counters. They are scalpers who purchase all the tickets left at the box office -- for the equivalent of between €2.50 for standing-room tickets and €224 for the best seats -- and circulate them on the black market. Before evening performances, they scalp these tickets for several times the original purchase price.

Andrei can't say whether Filin also plays a role in the ticket deals -- whether he is part of this racket or whether he wanted to crack down on it. But Andrei contends that he can't imagine the attack had nothing to do with these deals.

Sex and Stars

All pure speculation? Perhaps. But everyone in Moscow who speaks off the record about the acid attack admits that there could be a connection with these scams. Everything sounds murky and dangerous when artists, critics and officials talk about the Bolshoi.

Sex is also sold at the Bolshoi -- or at least that's what Andrei claims. What's more, these allegations have been confirmed by Anastasia Volochkova, 37, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina, who recently made waves in the media by posting revealing photos of herself online. Volochkova says she now sees her former theater "as a big brothel." She contends that every dancer, both male and female, knows that an invitation to dinner from a patron of the arts or an oligarch often includes physical exertions not limited to the realm of the arts. "Anyone who refuses to play along can kiss their career goodbye," she says. "That's what my girlfriends at the Bolshoi tell me."

Volochkova has leveled serious allegations against general director Anatoly Iksanov, who fired her in 2003. While the two were on opposite sides of a lawsuit in Moscow's courts, Iksanov allegedly sent two men to her dressing room with a bouquet of flowers. "One of them pulled a knife out of the bouquet," she says, "and impressed upon me that I would be better off withdrawing my lawsuit against Iksanov."

Volochkova says she told SPIEGEL this story because her critical comments about Bolshoi Theater managers have been censored on Russian talk shows. Instead of commenting directly on Volochkova's account, Iksanov had a spokeswoman deny the allegations.

However, Volochkova says: "I'm no longer afraid of him. If something happens to me, everyone will know who's behind it, so it would be best if Iksanov sent me some bodyguards."

Injured vanity, rumors and insinuations. Anyone who looks behind the scenes at the Bolshoi discovers a dark world of murmurs and whispers. And no one has any hope that the case of the acid attack will ever be solved.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #4309 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:20 AM »

Russian family lived in wilderness for 40 years and missed World War II

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 10:46

A family of religious refugees lived in the Siberian wilderness for 40 years completely cut off from civilization. According to an article published Monday in Smithsonian magazine, when archeologists found the Lykov family, they were on the verge of starvation and had no knowledge of major events of the last half century, including World War II.

The steep mountains and thick forests of Siberia make up the forbidding terrain known as the taiga. It is one of the most isolated and deserted places left on the planet, with winters that stretch from September to May. Its five million square miles are largely uninhabited save by bears and wolves and the occasional lonely villages, which are home to only a few thousand people. These chilly, pine-forested wastes stretch from “the furthest tip of Russia’s arctic regions as far south as Mongolia, and east from the Urals to the Pacific.”

Siberia provides Russia with much of its oil and mineral resources, but the terrain is treacherous to navigate in summer and impassable in winter. In the summer of 1978, a team of Soviet surveyors were flying over a heavily wooded valley looking for a safe place to land a crew of geologists. The sides of the valley, which was formed by a tributary of the Abakan River, were nearly vertical and almost impossibly narrow, with rows of slender pine and birch trees that tossed and swung in the downdraft from the helicopter rotor.

The pilot was looking for a place to set down when he saw something he did not expect, a clearing with man-made rows for cultivation. Some 6,000 feet up the mountainside, someone had dug a large garden. The surveyors reported back to the four scientists who were running the exploration mission that they had found signs of human habitation. The scientists were initially alarmed.

Journalist Vasily Peskov wrote in his 1990 book Lost in the Taiga that in this part of Siberia, “It is less dangerous to run across a wild animal than a stranger.”

At length, the geologists, led by scientist Galina Pismenskaya, decided that rather than wait at their temporary base, 10 miles away, they would muster an exploration party. Pismenskaya recalled that the team “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends.” But, she said, just to be sure, she packed her pistol as well.

As they made their way up the mountain, the Soviet team began to encounter signs of human habitation, a path, cut trees, a tiny shack filled with cut and dried potatoes. Then, Pismenskaya said, they found the cabin.

“Beside a stream there was a dwelling,” she said. “Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish—bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.”

The door of the cabin opened and a barefoot old man came out, “straight out of a fairy tale,” Pismenskaya described him as looking “frightened and very attentive.”

“Greetings, grandfather,” she said to him. “We’ve come for a visit.”

Uncertainly, and seemingly with great reluctance, the old man said that since they had traveled so far, they might as well come in.

They found five people, the old man, Karp Lykov, 81, his sons, Savin, 54 and Dmitry, 38. Karp’s two daughters, Natalia and Agaifa, were 44 and 37. Karp and his wife Akulina had fled into the taiga with their family in 1936 to escape religious persecution. The Lykovs were members of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect called the Old Believers, who had been subject to ridicule and harassment since the reign of Russia’s Peter the Great.

Living on potatoes, leaves and whatever animals Dmitry could hunt and kill, the family had survived in the wilderness, completely cut off from civilization. The two youngest, Dmitry and Agaifa, had never met anyone outside their own family.

The family had endured many hardships, including the gradual disintegration of anything made of metal they had brought with them, ultimately resulting in the loss of all cooking pots and kettles for water. They had lived, at times, on shoe leather and leaves. Akulina died of hunger in 1961 when she decided to feed her children rather than herself.

The Lykovs would accept no gifts from the visiting scientists at first except salt, which had been “true torture” to go without for 40 years, said Karp. His sons and daughters knew of a world beyond their forest, with nations and cities and wars, but these things were an abstraction. They knew nothing of World War II or the technological advances that had occurred since the 1930s.

Karp refused to believe that men had set foot on the moon, but was quick to grasp the concept of satellites because the family had observed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky.” Karp concocted a theory that mankind had invented fires like the stars that they could send up into the sky.

The younger son, Dmitry, became a favorite with the scientists. He was the first of the family to visit the Soviets’ camp downstream. He was an avid woodsman who had learned to read the taiga’s moods from day to day and season to season. He was particularly enchanted with the camp’s sawmill, which converted trees to clean boards before his very eyes, a task that took him days to do by hand.

Sadly, only three years after being introduced to outsiders, three of the Lykov children fell ill and died within days of each other. Natalia and Savin died of kidney failure in 1981, brought on by their years of inadequate nutrition. Dmitry died of pneumonia, presumably from an infection he caught from interacting with outsiders for the first time in his life.

Dmitry’s friends among the Soviets begged him to allow them to call a helicopter and have him flown to a hospital to treat his pneumonia. He refused, whispering, “We are not allowed that,” moments before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.”

Karp died in his sleep five years later in 1988. With the help of the scientists, his daughter Agaifa laid him to rest, then returned to the family’s cabin. She resisted all entreaties to join surviving relatives back in the villages at the edge of the taiga.

An oil driller named Yerofei Sedov who became close with the family wrote of leaving Agaifa on the day of her father’s funeral, “I looked back to wave at Agafia. She was standing by the river break like a statue. She wasn’t crying. She nodded, Go on, go on.’ We went another kilometer and I looked back. She was still standing there.”

Agaifa Lykov still lives by herself in the family cabin. She is now in her 70s.

[image via Wikipedia]

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« Reply #4310 on: Jan 30, 2013, 10:04 AM »

In the USA...

Senate confirms Kerry as next secretary of state

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 17:53 

The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed Senator John Kerry as the next secretary of state, approving President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton by a wide majority.

The Senate voted 94-3 in favor of Kerry, after the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination earlier in the day.

His nomination was pushed through the Senate in a matter of days, given the clear bipartisan support for the 69-year-old veteran Democratic lawmaker, who spent 28 years in the Senate.

Kerry — a senator from Massachusetts best known outside the United States for his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign — was nominated last month by Obama to take over from Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat.

He is known to have long coveted the job, but almost lost out to US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who had been seen as Obama’s first choice.

But she withdrew from consideration for the post under Republican fire over the administration’s response to the September 11 attack on a US mission in Libya that left four Americans dead.

Earlier, Kerry said he was “humbled” and gratified by the support from the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he himself chairs.

“They’ve been wonderful, they’ve been really superb,” he said of his committee colleagues, adding, “I’m very wistful about it, it’s not easy” leaving.

Clinton, 65, is expected to leave her post Friday, amid swirling speculation about whether she will run for the presidency in 2016. For now, she has said only that she is looking forward to some rest after four grueling years.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry called for “fresh thinking” as he outlined his foreign policy agenda and plans for relations with Iran, China and the Middle East.

“American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“We cannot allow the extraordinary good that we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role that we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us,” he said.

The decorated Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist has built impeccable credentials during his time in the Senate. He has sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, soothed nerves in Pakistan and visited the Gaza Strip.


Obama warns Republicans against blocking immigration reform

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 19:50 EST

Barack Obama has warned Republicans that if they attempt to block his drive towards comprehensive immigration reform he will send his own legislation to Congress and force them to vote on it.

In a speech that sounded at times more like a campaign rallying cry than a presidential address, the US president said lawmakers on Capitol Hill should move swiftly.

“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now; now is the time,” he said.

The speech underlined the game of poker he is playing with Republican leaders, particularly in the House of Representatives. If they fail to fall in line over immigration reform, he implied, they would reap the electoral consequences. “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send forward a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away,” he said.

Obama is hoping that the energy he gained from that presidential election victory 10 weeks ago will act as the fuel that will push immigration reform through the House and onto the statute books by the end of this year.

Underscoring the message, Obama delivered his keynote immigration speech at Del Sol high school in Nevada, a state whose population is more than a quarter Latino. Their overwhelming support for Obama in the presidential election last November helped him win Nevada by a comfortable six points. Republicans’ share of the Latino vote in the presidential election fell to an all-time low.

Obama did not, however, spell out any detail in his speech. Instead, he has decided to leave the heavy lifting in framing the detail of a comprehensive reform to the bipartisan group of eight senators who on Monday announced their own mission to introduce a bill to the US Senate. The four principles that the president outlined were identical to those adopted by the senators just a day earlier.

White House officials see the confluence of proposals from the administration and leading senators as a major sign that the gridlock on immigration can finally be broken. A senior administration official told reporters that the similarity of the proposals “gives us a great deal of encouragement that this is something we’re going to be able to get done and get done quickly”.

At the heart of both Obama and the senators’ plans is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants – most of whom are Latino – currently living within the US. “For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” Obama said.

The precise details of that pathway – how direct and how difficult it is – is likely to be the stuff of fraught political battles ahead. To assuage Republican opposition, Obama emphasised that undocumented immigrants would have to go “to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally”. They would have to pass a background check, pay a penalty and taxes from the moment they were granted temporary work permits, as well as learn English.

As a further fillip to the conservatives, he adopted some of the language used by Mitt Romney on the presidential campaign trail last year. He said he would continue to insist on strengthened border security, and crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

White House officials indicated that the plan was to extend the E-Verify system, that allows employers to check on the immigration status of job applicants, across the country over the next five years. Introducing a national E-Verify law was one of Romney’s main campaign pledges.

With the eight senators, who include senior Democratic figures such as Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin as well as prominent Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio, taking the lead on drafting legislation, Obama confined most of his remarks to making the case for change.

The president said that it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking of immigration as an issue of “us” versus “them”. “A lot of folks forget that most of ‘us’ used to be ‘them’. It’s really important to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else.”

He name checked the Irish, the Germans and the Scandinavians, the Poles, the Russians and Italians, the Chinese, Japanese and West Indians. “The huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one cast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks, before they were ‘us’, they were ‘them’.”

The received wisdom is that the White House must achieve an immigration reform act within the year. Once Congress enters 2014, thoughts and energies will turn to the mid-term elections and many Republican Congress members will become increasingly disinclined to risk incurring the wrath of the Tea Party by voting yes.

The calculation is that with elements included in the bill to please conservatives – notably the emphasis on border security and a federal E-Verify system – and with the threat of another rout of the Republicans in 2016 hanging over them, Congress will finally come on side. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Obama Cleverly Plants the Seeds for Possible GOP Self Destruction on Immigration Reform

By: Jason Easley
Jan. 29th, 2013

President Obama not only offered his own immigration reform plan, but he also planted the seeds for potential Republican self destruction.

The president said,

    Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years.

    So at this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging. But this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time. So it’s not as if we don’t know technically what needs to get done.

    As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform. And my hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill, because the ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats, like Ted Kennedy, and Republicans, like President George W. Bush. You don’t get that match-up very often

    So — so we know where the consensus should be. Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give-and-take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.

The president’s immigration reform proposal includes four parts, “First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.”

Since he came from the Senate to the presidency, Obama spent much of his first two years in office watching his agenda get bogged down in congressional trench warfare. The attitude of second term President Obama is completely different. He is the one telling Congress what he wants from them. If they drag their feet, or if Republicans in the House or Senate try to bog down the legislation, he is going to send his own bill to the Congress and demand a vote.

Obama wasn’t just showing leadership in his speech. He was also sowing the seeds for potential Republican self destruction. The scenario goes something like this. A group of congressional Republicans decide that they are going to kill immigration reform. They bog down the legislation in the congressional swamp of inaction that is our current legislative process. The president sends his bill to the Congress for a vote. Democrats and enough Senate Republicans come together to pass his bill. If House Republicans reject his legislation, the table is then set for Democrats to build on their support from Hispanic voters in 2014 and 2016.

The president’s is allowing the Republicans to pick their path. They can either do the right thing for the country, or they can sentence themselves to political oblivion by pandering to the immigration hardliners in their party. Obama is leaving nothing to chance. Whether Republicans realize it or not, their future as a viable national party may depend on the choices that they make on immigration reform.

President Obama has made sure that there will be a heavy political price to pay if Republicans try to obstruction immigration reform.


If Republicans Think Latinos Are Uneducated, They Should Look at Their Own Base

By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 29th, 2013

Republicans seem unaware of the composition of their base. How else can they explain this thinking, which echoes Mitt Romney’s misunderstanding of where the takers are: Republican Representative laments working on immigration reform because there’s no point in Republicans trying to woo Latinos when they are uneducated and low-skilled, “They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) scoffs at immigration reform and warns Republicans to stop trying to cater to Latinos politically because they will never vote Republican. Via Think Progress:

    “It’s amnesty that America can’t afford,” Barletta said Monday. “We have to stop people from coming in illegally. This will be a green light for anyone who wants to come to America illegally and then be granted citizenship one day.” [...]

    “I hope politics is not at the root of why we’re rushing to pass a bill. Anyone who believes that they’re going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken,” Barletta said. “The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”

This is more of the Republican propaganda that Obama is the “food stamp president” and that “all black people want are food stamps“.

Bartletta appears blissfully unaware of the largest segment of the Republican base (thanks to their southern strategy). Allow me to assist him in meeting them: Rural, uneducated whites from Southern regions. George Will explained this during the primaries as he lamented the southern strategy, “There’s also the problem that the Republican party has been, in recent years, too Southern. In the last five presidential cycles, they’ve got 79 percent of their electoral votes from the South. It’s too much.”

Jack Cafferty at CNN pointed out that most of the ten poorest states in the country are Republican. This isn’t new, but Republicans keep behaving as if they are the party of the white country club makers.

The biggest strengths for the Republican Party according to CNN exit polling from the 2012 election are those who support the Tea Party (not exactly known for being educated about the issues) and born again Christians. More high school graduates voted for Obama. By a slim margin (remember this is exit polling) more who attended college voted for Obama over Romney. More college graduates voted for Romney than Obama, but more post-graduates voted for Obama over Romney. The Washington Post’s exit polling concurs.

In 2008, the National Journal warned, “The GOP’s focus on social, cultural, and religious issues cost its candidates dearly among upscale voters.”

Clearly the Republican Party doesn’t own education any more than they own Hispanics.

Furthermore, a 2009 New York Times map revealed that the top ten counties in food stamp usage were all located in red states. 70% of all food stamp recipients are white. Low-skilled takers? Yes, Barletta, meet your base. The only difference is their skin color.

Barletta is just another Republican who believes what he hears on Fox News and reads on Breitbart; he’s operating as an elected official under misleading information.

In case you missed it, the Republican Party is now the party of snobby elites who look down on low-skilled workers. If you don’t have a high school diploma, you’re a taker and you won’t vote Republican. That this is coming from the party that resents public education and is actively trying to defund it, from the party whose last presidential candidate wanted to defund the Department of Education, should be a warning bell. This is the party that recently tried to fool America into cutting taxes for millionaires by throwing 300,000 kids off food stamps.

Somehow the Republican base takes great comfort in sneering at the brown-skinned takers, even as they collect their food stamps and Medicare. They hyperventilate with misspelled signs about “Socilism” when they don’t even know what it is, support a party chasing their adolescence by worshipping a Russian fiction author and are being fed propaganda by a channel whose biggest shareholder outside of the Murdock family is a Saudi Prince, but none of this will never cause them a moment of confusion or self-doubt.

The truth is that you don’t need a formal education to know when you’re being duped. You don’t need a formal education to be smart. But you can’t think clearly if you’re operating under a fictional set of beliefs being force fed to you by a propaganda machine. Thus we have the failure of education evident in representatives like Barletta.

Also, Republicans overlook the fact that smart people know when they’re being conned by a cynical party, using them as a punching bag in order to stoke the resentments of their less than bright base.

The Party of Takers points their fingers at The Other Guy once again. Sneering contempt for the win. If Barletta thinks Latinos are uneducated takers, he really needs to get out and meet his own base.


Immigration reform requires Republican reform

By: Black Liberal Boomer
Jan. 29th, 2013

Bitter old white male that he is, even Sen. John McCain knows immigration reform is not an option. You can either try and grow more fingers to plug up the cracks in the dike or you can learn how to swim.

Once again the Republicans are being forced to take a look in the mirror provided by attendance records at their 2012 Republican National Convention (and 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and…), where the only way the cameras could make it look like there were more than a handful of non-white people in the audience was to keep showing the same meager handful of darker skinned folks over and over and over again. Some not-quite-so-bright Republicans feel the best way to attack this issue is to just keep on gerrymandering. Just keep carvin up those districts. No doubt it is that same dim bulb crowd who thinks it’s a smart idea to try and change the rules of the Electoral College so maybe they don’t get beat up so bad in 2016. Voter suppression didn’t quite yield the desired result in 2012 so let’s just try another form of suppression and see how that turns out, right guys?

Those who are slightly more enlightened and whose political IQ at least reaches the three-digit range have come to understand that America does not look like the Republican Party. At all. And so if Republicans want to continue to lead a national political party that has a shot at remaining relevant for the next generation – hell, for this  generation - then it kinda makes sense to begin addressing issues that matter to these folks. And by ‘these folks’ I mean Americans. Denial is not a viable forward-looking strategy. And it’s better to be a little late to the party than to miss it altogether – or to be celebrating in the wrong house down the street.


The Gun sickness that is the United States .......

Republican lawmaker’s bill mandates NRA gun training for Missouri first graders

By David Edwards
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 9:09 EST

A Republican state senator in Missouri has introduced a bill that would require all first grade students to take a gun course provided by the National Rifle Association.

State Sen. Dan Brown on Tuesday told the Senate General Laws Committee that his bill bringing the NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program to every elementary school was an effort to teach children how to react if they encounter an unsecured firearm. Brown had first introduced the bill one day before 20 students were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Some Missouri schools already use the NRA program, but Brown aims to make it a universal requirement.

“I hate mandates as much as anyone, but some concerns and conditions rise to the level of needing a mandate,” he explained to the committee.

The bill would also require that teachers take eight hours of training on how to respond to armed school intruders. Thanks to a grant from the NRA, the student training would be provided to the state at no cost. However, training the teachers was expected to cost around $16 million.

Democratic state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said that she would be willing to support the bill, but wanted an exemption for her district.

“I think we should be teaching kids to read, write and do math,” Nasheed said.


15-year-old girl who performed at Obama inauguration gunned down in Chicago

By David Edwards
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:30 EST

A 15-year-old girl was killed on the South Side of Chicago on Tuesday, just a week after she performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Hadiya Pendleton was hanging out at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park near her high school at around 2:30 p.m., “when someone jumped a fence, ran up to them, and opened fire,” according to WBBM-TV.

Pendleton was taken to University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital where she died an hour later from a gunshot wound to her back. A 16-year-old boy was also wounded in the attack.

Chicago police said that many of those in the park were gang members, but Pendleton had no known gang affiliations.

The girl was majorette and a volleyball player, friends told The Chicago Tribune. She had performed at inaugural events in Washington, D.C. last week with the King College Prep band and drill team.

As of Tuesday evening, police had no suspects in the shooting. The 4400 or 4500 blocks of South Oakenwald Avenue, where the shooting occurred, was considered to be a low-crime area. No serious crimes had been reported there between Dec. 19 and Jan. 20.

“It’s a great neighborhood,” Roxanne Hubbard resident Roxanne Hubbard explained to the Tribune. “Nothing like this has happened since I’ve been here.”

Bonita O’Bannion told WBBM-TV that she was shaken after hearing at least six gun shots during the Tuesday shooting.

“There has to be an end to it,” O’Bannion said. “It’s just too much. The children cannot go to school. They’re in fear.”

Click to watch:


January 29, 2013

Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can’t Stem Fatal Shots


CHICAGO — Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.

And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.

To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey,” said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. To gun control proponents, the struggles here underscore the opposite — a need for strict, uniform national gun laws to eliminate the current patchwork of state and local rules that allow guns to flow into this city from outside.

“Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, one among a group of pastors here who have marched and gathered signatures for an end to so much shooting. “Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or, better yet, national.”

Chicago’s experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws — local and state — make it difficult to police violations. And though many describe the local and state gun laws here as relatively stringent, penalties for violating them — from jail time to fines — have not proven as severe as they are in some other places, reducing the incentive to comply.

Lately, the police say they are discovering far more guns on the streets of Chicago than in the nation’s two more populous cities, Los Angeles and New York. They seized 7,400 guns here in crimes or unpermitted uses last year (compared with 3,285 in New York City), and have confiscated 574 guns just since Jan. 1 — 124 of them last week alone.

More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits.

Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major American cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement. In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago’s, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois. Philadelphia, like cities in many states, is limited in writing gun measures that go beyond those set by Pennsylvania law. Some city officials there have chafed under what they see as relatively lax state controls.

In Chicago, the rules for owning a handgun — rewritten after the outright ban was deemed too restrictive in 2010 — sound arduous. Owners must seek a Chicago firearms permit, which requires firearms training, a background check and a state-mandated firearm owner’s identification card, which requires a different background review for felonies and mental illness. To prevent straw buyers from selling or giving their weapons to people who would not meet the restrictions — girlfriends buying guns for gang members is a common problem, the police here say — the city requires permitted gun owners to report their weapons lost, sold or stolen.

Still, for all the regulations, the reality here looks different. Some 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit, but nearly that many illicit weapons were confiscated from the city’s streets during last year alone. Chicago officials say Illinois has no requirement, comparable to Chicago’s, that gun owners immediately report their lost or stolen weapons to deter straw buyers. Consequently those outside the city can, in the words of one city official, carry guns to gang members in the city with “zero accountability.”

And a relatively common sentence in state court for gun possession for offenders without other felonies is one year in prison, which really may mean a penalty of six months, said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, who said such punishments failed to serve as a significant enough deterrent for seasoned criminals who may see a modest prison stint as the price of doing business.

“The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets,” Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said in an interview, later adding, “Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don’t exist.”

In the weeks since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, has introduced a countywide provision requiring gun owners beyond the city limits to report lost or stolen guns, though a first offense would result simply in a $1,000 fine. In the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pressed for increased penalties for those who violate the city’s gun ordinance by failing to report their guns missing or possessing an assault weapon.

“Our gun strategy is only as strong as it is comprehensive, and it is constantly being undermined by events and occurrences happening outside the city — gun shows in surrounding counties, weak gun laws in neighboring states like Indiana and the inability to track purchasing,” Mr. Emanuel said. “This must change.”

State lawmakers, too, are soon expected to weigh new state provisions like an assault weapons ban, as Chicago already has. But the fate of the proposals is uncertain in a state with wide-open farming and hunting territory downstate.

“It’s going to be a fight,” said State Representative Jack D. Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, 60 miles outside Chicago. Complicating matters, an appellate court in December struck down the state’s ban on carrying guns in public, saying that a complete ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional. Illinois is seeking a review of the ruling, even as state lawmakers have been given a matter of months to contemplate conditions under which guns could be allowed in public.

Many here say that even the strictest, most punitive gun laws would not alone be an answer to this city’s violence. “Poverty, race, guns and drugs — you’ve got to deal with all these issues, but you’ve got to start somewhere” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was arrested in 2007 while protesting outside Chuck’s Gun Shop, the suburban store long known as a supplier of weapons that make their way to Chicago.

At the store, a clerk said the business followed all pertinent federal, state and local laws, then declined to be interviewed further. Among seized guns that had moved from purchase to the streets of Chicago in a year’s time or less, nearly 20 percent came from Chuck’s, the analysis found. Other guns arrived here that rapidly from gun shops in other parts of this state, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa and more.

“Chicago is not an island,” said David Spielfogel, senior adviser to Mr. Emanuel. “We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”

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« Reply #4311 on: Jan 31, 2013, 07:34 AM »

HRW condemns Russia’s ‘worst post-Soviet crackdown’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 31, 2013 7:15 EST

Human Rights Watch on Thursday condemned the Russian authorities under President Vladimir Putin for unleashing the toughest crackdown against civil society since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“The Kremlin in 2012 unleashed the worst political crackdown in Russia’s post-Soviet history,” the New-York based rights watchdog said in an English-language statement released in Moscow accompanying the release of its annual world report.

“This (2012) has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory,” the rights group quoted Hugh Williamson, its Europe and Central Asia director as saying.

“Russia’s civil society is standing strong but with the space around it shrinking rapidly, it needs support now more than ever.”

After returning to the Kremlin for a third term despite unprecedented protests against his 13-year rule, Putin signed off on a raft of laws in what critics saw as a bid to quash dissent.

The new legislation re-criminalised slander, raised fines for misdemeanours at opposition protests and forced non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding to carry a “foreign agent” tag in a move seen as a throwback to Soviet times.


Russia pulls out of decade-old drug control agreement with U.S.

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 18:43 EST

The United States on Wednesday criticized what it described as Russia’s “self-defeating” decision to pull out of a decade-old drug control agreement.

“We are seeking more clarification from the Russian government at the moment with regard to what they see this covering. We obviously regret this decision,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Russian government published a decree from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying Moscow had informed Washington it was withdrawing because the deal “does not address today’s realities and has exhausted its potential.”

Moscow said it lacked the money to fight drugs when it struck the deal in September 2002 at a time of warming relations that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The statement implied that Russia — whose economy grew in the past 10 years on the back of high global energy prices — was now sufficiently rich to tackle the fight against drugs on its own.

Nuland said the decision to end the program which had committed some $2 million for law enforcement training had come out of the blue, and Washington had only been informed of its this week.

It is the third bilateral accord ripped up by Moscow in recent months — after the Russian government shut down the USAID aid agency offices last year and also banned adoptions of Russian children by US families.

“I think from our perspective, this is also self-defeating because most of the work we were doing under this agreement was also involved in training Russians, training them on trafficking in persons, interdiction, training them on implementation of the mutual legal assistance treaty that we have,” Nuland told journalists.

Washington and Moscow have a “range of challenging issues,” she acknowledged.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that when we do work together, when we can cooperate, whether it’s bilaterally or whether it’s in the international realm, it helps both of us, and it’s in our mutual interest.”

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« Reply #4312 on: Jan 31, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Israeli warplanes carry out air strike on Syria

Attack confirmed by Syrian regime comes after Israel aired suspicions of weapons convoys heading to Lebanon

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Thursday 31 January 2013   

Israeli warplanes have attacked a target close to the Syrian-Lebanese border following several days of heightened warnings from government officials over Syria's stockpiles of weapons.

Syrian state television said that military command had confirmed a "scientific research centre" north-west of Damascus was struck at dawn on Wednesday, causing damage. Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack on the site, which was engaged in "raising the level of resistance and self-defence".

Earlier, diplomatic and security sources were cited in media reports as saying a convoy of trucks had been struck close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. The Israeli Defence Forces said it had no comment.

Lebanese media claimed that a dozen IDF fighter planes had flown sorties over Lebanon's airspace from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning.

A Lebanese army statement, quoted by local news agencies, said: "Four Israeli planes entered Lebanese airspace at 4.30pm on Tuesday. They were replaced four hours later by another group of planes, which overflew southern Lebanon until 2am, and a third mission took over, finally leaving at 7.55am on Wednesday morning." The IDF also declined to comment on these reports.

It was also reported that the IDF's intelligence chief, Major-General Aiv Kochavi, arrived in Washington on Tuesday for private talks with the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Martin Dempsey, at the Pentagon.

Israel has publicly warned that it would take military action to prevent the Syrian regime's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or "global jihadists" fighting inside Syria. Israeli military intelligence is said to be monitoring the area round the clock via satellite for possible convoys carrying weapons.

Hezbollah is also believed to have extensive stockpiles of conventional weapons in warehouses inside Syria. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nazrallah, "wants to remove everything from Syrian soil to Lebanon", said Amnon Sofrin, a former head of intelligence in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Israel, he added, was "looking very carefully at convoys heading from Syria to Lebanon".

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was reported earlier this week to be conducting intense security consultations on the possible response to the movement of weapons.

The deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, told Army Radio on Sunday: "If there is a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organisations. We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah's hands."

Israel's concern over the civil war in Syria has mounted over recent months as Bashar al-Assad's regime has come closer to collapse and fighting has bordered on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Although Israel has been technically at war with Syria since 1967, the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since Israel occupied it almost 46 years ago.

But Israel fears that the implosion of the Assad regime could herald an Islamist Syria, which could seek to reignite hostilities with its neighbour.

Alex Fishman, defence analyst for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote earlier this week: "In the light of Assad's increasingly unsteady status, Hezbollah figures have understood that [its stockpiles of conventional] weapons cannot remain there. And as soon as these weapons reach Lebanon, they are swallowed up in secret underground stockpiles. Looking for them will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

"If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon, Israel will probably not hesitate – and will attack."

According to Sofrin, the Israeli military would be more inclined to deploy "specialist skilled units" on the ground to secure depots of chemical weapons, rather than use air strikes, which risked dispersing chemicals over a wide area. But any such operation would be complicated and risky, he added.

Israel's primary concern was to prevent Hezbollah acquiring chemical warheads that it could mount on existing missiles, he said.

Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting Syria was "increasingly coming apart". He added: "The reality is developing apace. In the east, north and south, everything is in ferment, and we must be prepared: strong and determined in the face of all possible developments."

In the past few months, errant shells from fighting in Syria have landed in the Golan Heights, prompting Israel to lodge formal complaints with the United Nations. In November, Israeli forces fired tank shells at Syrian artillery units, causing casualties, over two consecutive days after a mortar shell landed close to an Israeli army post.

Netanyahu recently announced plans to build a steel security fence along the armistice line in the Golan Heights, similar to the one constructed on the Israel-Egypt border.


January 31, 2013

Israeli Airstrike in Syria Targets Arms Convoy, U.S. Says


JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes carried out a strike deep inside Syrian territory on Wednesday, American officials reported, saying they believed the target was a convoy carrying sophisticated antiaircraft weaponry on the outskirts of Damascus that was intended for the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.

Highlighting the diplomatic and regional stakes, the attack prompted both Russia and Hezbollah to offer support in varying degrees on Thursday for President Bashar al-Assad.

The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Israel had notified the United States about the attack, which the Syrian government condemned as an act of “arrogance and aggression.” Israel’s move demonstrated its determination to ensure that Hezbollah — its arch foe in the north — is unable to take advantage of the chaos in Syria to bolster its arsenal significantly.

The predawn strike was the first time in more than five years that Israel’s air force had attacked a target in Syria. While there was no expectation that the beleaguered Syrian government had an interest in retaliating, the strike raised concerns that the Syrian civil war had continued to spread beyond its border.

In a statement, the Syrian military denied that a convoy had been struck. It said the attack had hit a scientific research facility in the Damascus suburbs that was used to improve Syria’s defenses, and called the attack “a flagrant breach of Syrian sovereignty and airspace.”

Israeli officials would not confirm the airstrike, a common tactic here. But it came after days of intense security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the possible movement of chemical and other weapons around Syria, and warnings that Jerusalem would take action to thwart any possible transfers to Hezbollah.

Thousands of Israelis have crowded gas-mask distribution centers over the last two days. On Sunday, Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defense system in the north, near Haifa, which was heavily bombed during the 2006 war with Lebanon.

Syria and Israel are technically in a state of war but have long maintained an uneasy peace along their decades-old armistice line. Israel has mostly watched warily and tried to stay out of Syria’s raging civil war, fearful of provoking a wider confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah. In November, however, after several mortars fell on Israel’s side of the border, its tanks struck a Syrian artillery unit.

Several analysts said that despite the increased tensions, they thought the likelihood of retaliation for the airstrike was relatively low.

“It is necessary and correct to prepare for deterioration — that scenario exists,” Danny Yatom, a former chief of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told Ynet, a news Web site. “But in my assessment, there will not be a reaction, because neither Hezbollah nor the Syrians have an interest in retaliating.”

Syria’s President Assad, “is deep in his own troubles,” Mr. Yatom said, “and Hezbollah is making a great effort to assist him, in parallel with its efforts to obtain weapons, so they won’t want to broaden the circle of fighting.”

In the United States, the State Department and Defense Department would not comment on reports of the strike.

Russia, which has carried out a vigorous diplomatic battle to deter foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict for more than a year, issued a statement of concern early on Thursday, describing the strikes as “an attack by Israel’s air force on objects in Syria, near Damascus.”

“If this information is confirmed, this is an unprovoked attack on the territory of a sovereign nation, which blatantly violates the U.N. charter and is unacceptable and unjustified whatever its motives,” said a statement posted on the Web site of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Moscow said it would take immediate steps to clarify what had happened, and reiterated its longstanding insistence on a political solution and “the unacceptability of any kind of external intervention.”

In Beirut, the militant Hezbollah group condemned the attack in more forthright terms and offered support. “Hezbollah expresses its full solidarity with Syria’s leadership, army and people,” it said in a statement.

The episode illustrated how the escalating violence in Syria, which has already killed more than 60,000, is drawing in neighboring states and threatening to destabilize the region further.

Iran has firmly allied itself with Mr. Assad, sending personnel from its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force to Syria and ferrying military equipment to Syria through Iraqi airspace.

Hezbollah, which plays a decisive role in Lebanese politics and has supported Mr. Assad during the uprising by providing training and logistical support to his forces, has long relied on Syria as both a source of weapons and a conduit for weapons flowing from Iran. Some analysts think Hezbollah may be trying to stock up on weapons in case Mr. Assad falls and is replaced by a leadership that is hostile to the militia.

One American official said the trucks targeted on Wednesday were believed to have been carrying sophisticated SA-17 antiaircraft weapons. Hezbollah’s possession of such weapons would be a serious worry for the Israeli government, said Matthew Levitt, a former intelligence official who is at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Israel is able to fly reconnaissance flights over Lebanon with impunity right now,” Mr. Levitt said. “This could cut into its ability to conduct aerial intelligence. The passing along of weapons to Hezbollah by the regime is a real concern.”

While some analysts said the Assad government might be providing the weapons to Hezbollah as a reward for its support, others were skeptical that Syria would relinquish such a sophisticated system.

Hezbollah has boasted that it has replenished and increased its weapons stocks since the 2006 war with Israel. During that war, Israeli bombardments destroyed some of its arms, and other missiles were used in a barrage that killed Israelis as far south as Haifa and that drove residents of northern Israel into shelters.

The Syrian statement, carried by state television, said an unidentified number of Israeli jets flying below radar had hit the research facility in the Jimraya district, killing two people and causing “huge material damage.” It cast the attack as “another addition to the history of Israeli occupation, aggression and criminality against Arabs and Muslims.”

“The Syrian government points out to the international community that this Israeli arrogance and aggression is dangerous for Syrian sovereignty,” the statement said, “and stresses that such criminal acts will not weaken Syria’s role nor will discourage Syrians from continuing to support resistance movements and just Arab causes, particularly the Palestinian issue.”

The Lebanese Army said in a statement on Wednesday that Israeli warplanes had carried out two sorties, circling over Lebanon for hours on Tuesday and before dawn on Wednesday, but made no mention of any attacks.

Israel has long maintained a policy of silence on pre-emptive military strikes. In October, officials refused to discuss an accusation by Sudan that Israeli airstrikes had destroyed a weapons factory in Khartoum, its capital. Israel also never admitted to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007; Syria kept mum about that attack, too, and the ambiguity allowed the event to pass without Damascus feeling pressure to retaliate.

Amnon Sofrin, a retired brigadier general and former Israeli intelligence officer, told reporters here on Wednesday that Hezbollah, which is known to have been storing some of its more advanced weapons in Syria, was now eager to move everything it could to Lebanon. He said Israel was carefully watching for convoys transferring weapons systems from Syria to Lebanon.

Israel has made it clear that if the Syrian government loses control over its chemical weapons or transfers them to Hezbollah, Israel will feel compelled to act. Avi Dichter, the minister for the home front, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that options to prevent Syria from using or transferring the weapons included deterrence and “attempts to hit the stockpiles.”

“Everything will have ramifications,” Mr. Dichter said. “The stockpiles are not always in places where operative thinking is possible. It could be that hitting the stockpiles will also mean hitting people. Israel has no intention of hitting residents of Syria.”

Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard, Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; Ellen Barry from Moscow; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Rick Gladstone from New York; and Alan Cowell from London


Israel silent over Syria strike claims

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 31, 2013 7:39 EST

Israel was on Thursday tightlipped over Syrian claims it had bombed a military site near Damascus, while stressing that any transfer of advanced weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah would cross a red line.

Israeli officials and the military refused to confirm or deny any involvement in the alleged attack and had no comment on separate reports from security sources that its warplanes had struck a weapons convoy along the Syria-Lebanon border.

The Syrian army said an Israeli strike, which took place early on Wednesday, had targeted a “scientific research centre” near Damascus, with local residents telling AFP it was a non-conventional weapons research centre.

Israel has frequently warned that if Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would be a casus belli.

But it has also raised the alarm over long-range Scud missiles or other advanced weaponry, such as anti-aircraft systems and surface-to-surface missiles, being transferred to the Lebanese militia.

The strike made headlines across the Israeli press on Thursday, with officials and commentators quick to stress that Israel would never allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a close ally of both Syria and Iran.

“The best thing that Israel has been hoping for for a long time is that the West will take control of these weapons,” said Tzahi HaNegbi, an MP from the ruling Likud party, who is known as a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“But the world is not ready to take such a decision as it did in Libya or Iraq, so Israel finds itself facing a dilemma which we alone can resolve,” he told army radio, indicating that Israel was left with no choice but to take preventative action.

“Israel has always said that if sophisticated weapons coming from Iran, North Korea and Russia fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would cross a red line,” he said.

“Israel cannot accept that advanced weapons fall into the hands of terrorist organisations,” he stressed.

Dan Harel, a former deputy chief-of-staff in the Israeli military, said that if Hezbollah or other militant groups got their hands on such weaponry, it would change the strategic balance of force in the region.

“We are not ready to accept that Hezbollah changes the balance of force,” he told army radio.

“We have said it many times in the past. If Israel did do what is claimed, it was to maintain the military balance with Hezbollah,” he said.


Russia condemns Israeli air strike on Syria

Russian foreign ministry says reported attack would violate UN charter and can not be justified

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies, Thursday 31 January 2013 08.33 GMT   

Russia says it is very concerned about reports of an Israeli air attack inside Syria near Damascus and any such action would amount to unacceptable military interference.

"If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Syrian state television said that military command had confirmed a "scientific research centre" north-west of Damascus was struck at dawn on Wednesday, causing damage. Two people were killed and five wounded in the attack on the site, it said, which was engaged in "raising the level of resistance and self-defence".

US officials quoted in the New York Times said they believed the target was a convoy carrying sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry and Israel had notified Washington of the attack.

Earlier, diplomatic and security sources were cited in media reports as saying a convoy of trucks had been struck close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. The Israeli Defence Forces said it had no comment.
Israel Syria airstrike

Lebanese media claimed that a dozen IDF fighter planes had flown sorties over Lebanon's airspace from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning.

A Lebanese army statement, quoted by local news agencies, said: "Four Israeli planes entered Lebanese airspace at 4.30pm on Tuesday. They were replaced four hours later by another group of planes, which overflew southern Lebanon until 2am, and a third mission took over, finally leaving at 7.55am on Wednesday morning." The IDF also declined to comment on these reports.

It was also reported that the IDF's intelligence chief, Major-General Aiv Kochavi, arrived in Washington on Tuesday for private talks with the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Martin Dempsey, at the Pentagon.

Israel has publicly warned that it would take military action to prevent the Syrian regime's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or "global jihadists" fighting inside Syria. Israeli military intelligence is said to be monitoring the area round the clock via satellite for possible convoys carrying weapons.

Hezbollah is also believed to have extensive stockpiles of conventional weapons in warehouses inside Syria. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nazrallah, "wants to remove everything from Syrian soil to Lebanon", said Amnon Sofrin, a former head of intelligence in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Israel, he added, was "looking very carefully at convoys heading from Syria to Lebanon".

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was reported earlier this week to be conducting intense security consultations on the possible response to the movement of weapons.

The deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, told Army Radio on Sunday: "If there is a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organisations. We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah's hands."

Israel's concern over the civil war in Syria has mounted over recent months as Bashar al-Assad's regime has come closer to collapse and fighting has bordered on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Although Israel has been technically at war with Syria since 1967, the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since Israel occupied it almost 46 years ago.

But Israel fears that the implosion of the Assad regime could herald an Islamist Syria, which could seek to reignite hostilities with its neighbour.

Alex Fishman, defence analyst for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote earlier this week: "In the light of Assad's increasingly unsteady status, Hezbollah figures have understood that [its stockpiles of conventional] weapons cannot remain there. And as soon as these weapons reach Lebanon, they are swallowed up in secret underground stockpiles. Looking for them will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

"If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon, Israel will probably not hesitate – and will attack."

According to Sofrin, the Israeli military would be more inclined to deploy "specialist skilled units" on the ground to secure depots of chemical weapons, rather than use air strikes, which risked dispersing chemicals over a wide area. But any such operation would be complicated and risky, he added.

Israel's primary concern was to prevent Hezbollah acquiring chemical warheads that it could mount on existing missiles, he said.

Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting Syria was "increasingly coming apart". He added: "The reality is developing apace. In the east, north and south, everything is in ferment, and we must be prepared: strong and determined in the face of all possible developments."

In the past few months, errant shells from fighting in Syria have landed in the Golan Heights, prompting Israel to lodge formal complaints with the United Nations. In November, Israeli forces fired tank shells at Syrian artillery units, causing casualties, over two consecutive days after a mortar shell landed close to an Israeli army post.

Netanyahu recently announced plans to build a steel security fence along the armistice line in the Golan Heights, similar to the one constructed on the Israel-Egypt border.

Sources told Reuters on Wednesday that Israeli warplanes had bombed a convoy near Syria's border with Lebanon, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in what some called a warning to Damascus not to arm Israel's Lebanese enemy.

Syrian state television accused Israel of bombing a military research centre at Jamraya, between Damascus and the nearby border. Syrian rebels disputed that, saying their forces had attacked the site.

Russia has been trying to shield Assad from international pressure to end the civil war against opposition forces that has ravaged the country over 22 months and killed an estimated 60,000 people. Moscow has repeatedly spoken against any foreign interference in Syria, especially military action


Medvedev: Assad's chances of retaining power in Syria are shrinking

Russian prime minister suggests Syrian president's days could be numbered, according to interview transcript

Reuters in Moscow, Sunday 27 January 2013 16.49 GMT   

The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has said Bashar al-Assad's chances of retaining power in Syria are getting "smaller and smaller" every day, according to the transcript of an interview with CNN released by Medvedev's office.

His remarks were the most vocal Russian statement that Assad's days could be numbered. But he reiterated calls for talks between the government and its foes and repeated Moscow's position that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces.

"I think that with every day, every week and every month the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "But I repeat, again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, not any other country.

"The task for the United States, the Europeans and regional powers … is to sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed like [the late former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like [Egypt's] Hosni Mubarak."

Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.

Moscow has blocked three UN security council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed, which has killed more than 60,000 people. But Russia has also distanced itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

Medvedev made some of Russia's harshest criticisms of Assad to date, placing equal blame for the escalation into a civil war on "the leadership of the country and the irreconcilable opposition". He also said Assad was far too slow to implement promised political reforms.

"He should have done everything much faster, attracting part of the moderate opposition, which was ready to sit at the table with him, to his side," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "This was his significant mistake, and possibly a fatal one."

The wording of the interview suggested it was not just Assad's grip on power that was under threat, but his life. Medvedev's remark about the chances of his "preservation" diminishing came when he was asked whether Assad could survive.

Russia has repeatedly called on western and Arab nations to put more pressure on Assad's foes to seek a negotiated solution, but Medvedev acknowledged that Moscow's influence on the Syrian president was limited.

"I have personally called Assad several times and said: conduct reforms, hold negotiations," said Medvedev, who was Russia's president until last May. "In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian leadership is not ready for this.

"But on the other hand, by no means should a situation be allowed in which the current political elite is swept away by armed actions, because then the civil war will last for decades," he said.

Russia has given frequent indications it is preparing for Assad's possible exit, while continuing to insist he must not be forced out by foreign powers.

Russia sells arms to Syria and uses a naval facility on the Mediterranean coast that is its only military base outside the former Soviet Union.

But analysts say its policy is driven mainly by the desire of the president, Vladimir Putin, to prevent the United States from using military force or support from the UN security council to bring down governments it opposes.

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« Reply #4313 on: Jan 31, 2013, 07:55 AM »

Israel must withdraw all settlers or face ICC, says UN report

UN Human Rights Council says Israel is in violation of Geneva convention and should face international criminal court

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Thursday 31 January 2013 12.58 GMT   

Israel must withdraw all settlers from the West Bank or potentially face a case at the international criminal court (ICC) for serious violations of international law, says a report by a United Nations agency that was immediately dismissed in Jerusalem as "counterproductive and unfortunate".

All settlement activity in occupied territory must cease "without preconditions" and Israel "must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers", said the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Israel, it said, was in violation of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention, which forbids the transfer of civilian populations to occupied territory.

The settlements were "leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination," it said.

The UNHRC report broadly restated international consensus on the illegality of Israeli settlements. But its conclusions are likely to bolster the Palestinians following their admission last November to the UN as a non-member state, which potentially gives them recourse to the ICC.

"The Rome statute establishes the international criminal court's jurisdiction over the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory," said the UNHRC report .

It added: "Ratification of the statute by Palestine may lead to accountability for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law and justice for victims."

In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said: "Counterproductive measures – such as the report before us – will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The human rights council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that."

Israel refused to co-operate with UNHRC investigators over the report, barring them from access to the West Bank. Investigators conducted more than 50 interviews in Jordan with Palestinians about the impact of settlements, the confiscation of and damage to land, and violent attacks by settlers.

Earlier this week, Israel became the first country to refuse to participate in a "universal periodic review" of the human rights records of the UN's 193 member states, conducted by the UNHRC.

Palestinian and Israeli human rights group said Israel's boycott of the review set a "dangerous precedent … that could be followed by other states refusing to engage with the UN in order to avoid critical appraisals".

The UNHRC rescheduled the review for later in the year in order to give Israel time to reconsider its stance.

Israel also refused to co-operate with a UN investigation, headed by Richard Goldstone, into the three-week war in 2008-09, and it has refused entry to Israel to Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, since his appointment in 2008.

According to the UNHRC's report on settlements, Israel has established around 250 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, home to more than half a million Israeli citizens.

The settlements impede Palestinian access to water resources and agricultural lands, it said.

Following the Palestinians' upgrade to non-member state status, the Israeli government announced a fresh wave of settlement-building, including the development of a highly sensitive swath of land east of Jerusalem known as E1. Palestinians and most international diplomats say construction on E1 will effectively close off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and impede a territorially contiguous Palestinian state.

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« Reply #4314 on: Jan 31, 2013, 07:59 AM »

January 30, 2013

Pressing Mali Effort, French Forces Enter Rebel Stronghold


TIMBUKTU, Mali — The streets were largely empty here late Wednesday except for the husks of burned-out vehicles and a small group of jumpy Malian soldiers manning a military checkpoint, one of whom accidentally fired his weapon into the ground as he checked documents.

The Islamist militants who had held this fabled city for nearly a year were chased away by the continuing French military offensive, but they left behind signs, in English and French, declaring Timbuktu an Islamic enclave that enforced Shariah law.

To the northeast, in Kidal, the last major stronghold held by the militants, French troops seized control of the airport, but a sandstorm prevented them from moving farther into the city, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of France told members of Parliament in Paris on Wednesday.

Additional troops were later airlifted in, and African support troops also arrived from the south, Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman, said. As was the case in the seizure of Timbuktu, French soldiers met no resistance in Kidal, Colonel Burkhard said. The militants who had occupied the city pulled back into the mountainous regions of Mali’s far north, near the Algerian border, Mr. Le Drian said at a news conference.

Tuareg fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or M.N.L.A., a secular militant group calling for independence for northern Mali, claimed Tuesday that they were in control of Kidal. The Tuaregs of the M.N.L.A. joined with Islamist fighters to seize the north last year, but have since broken with them and have indicated a willingness to fight against them alongside the French.

They remain opposed, however, to the presence in northern Mali of Malian forces, commanded from Bamako. The arrival of French forces in Kidal — along with reports of pillaging and attacks against Arab residents of Gao and Timbuktu after the French had freed the cities from rebel control — raised the specter of an explosion of ethnic tensions in the country.

Given those concerns, Malian soldiers will not be tasked with taking control of Kidal, at least not to begin with, French officials said. Chadian soldiers are on their way to the city from Niamey, the capital of neighboring Niger, Colonel Burkhard said. France has insisted that African forces will take control of military operations in Mali once the major population centers of the north have been taken back, as is now the case.

France called upon the Malian authorities in Bamako to open “discussions” with groups in the country’s north, including “nonterrorist armed groups that recognize the integrity of Mali,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, said Wednesday. Colonel Burkhard, the military spokesman, called upon Tuareg separatists to set aside their demands for independence.

“Now the Tuaregs need to find a solution other than the holdup they want to do,” he said.

Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, flew to Algiers on Thursday for talks with Algerian leaders that endorsed what he described as a new “security partnership” between the two governments in the wake of the hostage-taking and bloodshed at the gas field at In Amenas by militants protesting the French intervention in Mali.

Officials said the trip reflected the new priority Mr. Cameron had given to forging ties across North Africa — and with other Western governments — in a bid to counter the threat of Qaeda-linked groups between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Timbuktu, and Scott Sayare from Paris. John F. Burns and Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.


France backs plan for UN peacekeeping force in Mali

Defence minister says France would play role in UN force as troops capture airport in last rebel-held town

Reuters in Paris, Thursday 31 January 2013 12.05 GMT   

The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has backed the idea of sending a United Nations peacekeeping force into Mali, saying France would play a role in any such plan.

The UN security council is to begin discussing the possibility of deploying UN troops in the stricken west African nation, envoys said. It had previously been uncomfortable with the idea before France's recent military intervention.

The French military on Wednesday took control of the airport in Kidal, the last town held by al-Qaida-linked rebels, and is planning to quickly hand over to a larger African force, whose task will be to root out insurgents in their mountain redoubts.

UN envoys have said sending in a peacekeeping force would offer clear advantages over an African-led force, as it would be easier to monitor human rights compliance and the United Nations could choose which national contingents to use in the force.

"This development is extremely positive and I want this initiative to be carried through," Le Drian said on France Inter radio, adding that France would "obviously play its role".

French has deployed some 4,500 troops in a three-week ground and air offensive, aimed at breaking Islamists' 10-month hold on towns in northern Mali.

After taking back the major Saharan towns of Gao and Timbuktu at the weekend, troops are still stuck at the airport in Kidal, where bad weather is preventing them from entering the town, Le Drian confirmed.

Many are now warning of the risk of ethnic reprisals as displaced black Malians take up arms to return to their liberated towns.

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« Reply #4315 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:04 AM »

David Cameron arrives in Libya on surprise visit

Prime minister promises UK help for new democracy and meets revolutionaries in Tripoli walkabout

Patrick Wintour in Tripoli, Thursday 31 January 2013 12.12 GMT   

David Cameron has arrived for a surprise one-day visit to Tripoli in Libya despite recent threats to the British embassy and consulates.

He flew from Algiers in a personal statement of support for the Arab spring and the new Libyan government, which is struggling to assert its authority against militias and lack of resources.

He promised to do more to help the country, which has battled to develop a functioning democracy after decades of dictatorship.

He was due to meet the recently appointed prime minister, Ali Zaidan, who is trying to construct a government of national unity and disband the militias that dominate the country.

In a sign of his concern for civil order, Cameron on his arrival at the airport travelled in a heavily armed 16-vehicle convoy to visit a sprawling police training college outside Tripoli. Greeted by a band replete with bagpipes, he received strong applause and shouts of "God is great" when he pledged: "In building a new Libya you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom. We will stand with you every step of the way."

Urging the recruits – arraigned in front of him in a sunlit courtyard – to stick to their job, he said: "There is no real freedom, no real democracy, no real chance of prosperity without proper security. There is no real freedom without honour and honesty," adding: "The most important pledge you make is to uphold the law and fight corruption."

Amid tight security he then walked through Tripoli's main square, Martyr Square, the site of the start of the revolution against Muammar Gaddafi nearly two years ago. He met some of the young revolutionaries that led the uprising, as well as bemused locals.

The prime minister met Mervat, who photographed some of the abuses during the revolution. She is working for the ministry of missing persons and martyrs. He also met Abdul-Rahman, who has Libyan-UK dual nationality and was the co-founder of the Libyan Youth forum.

Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi with the then French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, in September 2011 in the wake of Gaddafi's fall, receiving a hero's welcome. The Nato-sanctioned no-fly zone operated by France and UK cleared the way for the uprising. This second visit has been planned for months and is designed to show the prime minister is willing to tackle the consequences of the revolution he helped spawn.

In a sign of deterioration in the country, the Foreign Office has warned in recent days of threats to the British embassy in Tripoli and advised Britons to leave Benghazi because of a threat of attack. The same warning was issued to German and Dutch citizens.

There is a growing fear that Libya is becoming an incubator of turmoil, with weapons flooding the streets and jihadi militants ready to disrupt civil order. The central government has little authority beyond Tripoli.

One militia, Ansar al-Sharia, is believed to have been behind the 11 September attack on the US consulate in the city that killed four Americans including the ambassador. Security and government officials have been victims of a wave of assassinations.

Critics of the Anglo-French intervention, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, claim that those who backed the removal of Gaddafi had not thought sufficiently about the aftermath.

British officials acknowledge that the Libyan government badly needs help to shore up its authority as an administration, including a functioning civil police and integrated army. Many militias operating in cities are only willing to join the Libyan National Army as a unit, and the government has done little to disband them.

There are well over 1,000 armed groups in the country. There is also concern that the Libyan revolution is destabilising the wider region. After Gaddafi fell many Tuareg fighters loyal to the former dictator fled the country, returning to Mali, and have been central to the initial collapse of the Mali government in the north. Cameron freely admits the removal of dictators can reveal hidden fractures in society, but says the only answer is a mixture of openness and effective government. In his talks with the government he will promise to stand by the Libyans and to improve governance, including a package on policing and defence aid.
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« Reply #4316 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Niger ready to host U.S. drone base

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 18:40

Niger said Wednesday it was ready to host a base for US drones monitoring movements by Al-Qaeda-linked groups currently based in northern Mali.

“If Niger has an opportunity to receive support in the shape of aircraft or drones to monitor suspicious movements from Mali, we will not turn our nose up at it,” Defence Minister Karidjo Mahamadou told AFP.

He added however that he was not aware of any formal deal allowing the deployment of US drones on Niger’s soil.

A US official said Monday that the Pentagon was planning to station drones in the region — most likely in Niger — to bolster surveillance of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies.

Washington has expressed fears that AQIM, one of the groups that seized control of northern Mali 10 months ago, was expanding its ambit in the region and turning into a global security threat.

France launched a military operation in its former colony on January and has already recaptured the north’s main cities. It hopes to hand over to a multinational African force which has yet to fully deploy.

US President Barack Obama’s administration has provided transport planes to help ferry French weapons and troops and offered to share intelligence with Paris from surveillance aircraft, including reportedly unmanned Global Hawk spy planes.

The United States and Niger signed a status of forces agreement Monday, which will provide legal safeguards for any American forces in the country. The Pentagon secures such agreement for base arrangements or troop deployments.

AQIM fighters have been crossing northern Mali’s desert borders with Mauritania, Algeria and Niger with ease to run what is believed to be a lucrative drug and migrant smuggling operation to Europe.

They are well-trained, have abundant weaponry and hold several Western hostages but are heavily reliant on fuel for their movements in the vast Sahelian expanse.
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« Reply #4317 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:12 AM »

01/31/2013 01:38 PM

The World from Berlin: 'We Should Take Morsi at His Word'

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi paid a whistle-stop visit to Berlin on Wednesday to drum up foreign investment and convince Europe of his democratic credentials. The German media felt he sent a mixed message but believe he should be given the benefit of the doubt -- at least for now.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi came in for some heavy criticism on his one-day trip to Berlin, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking him to task over his past comments describing Jews as "the descendants of apes and pigs," and impressing upon him the need for dialogue with his political opponents.

But in the evening, he did some plain-speaking of his own. "The West has supported Arab dictatorships in the name of the war on terror," he said at an event hosted by the Körber Foundation. "That was hard for the people on the other side." Now, Germany and Egypt should be on an equal footing in their relations, he said. It was a speech that showed him at his best -- Egypt's first democratically elected president exuding confidence and pride.

It was followed by an interview with SPIEGEL Editor-in-Chief Georg Mascolo, whose first question referred to Morsi's anti-Semitic slurs. Morsi responded by saying that it was the fifth time he'd been asked about the matter in the course of the day and used the query as a springboard to speak about the right of the Palestinian people to their own state and to point to Israel's perceived human rights abuses.

Changing Tack

Morsi presented himself as a self-assured statesman, leader of the most populous country in the Arab world, and seemed to direct his comments more to the Egyptian people back home than to his listeners in Berlin (English video can be watched here). He resorted to taking nationalist, anti-Israeli stance on the international stage as a way of boosting his standing on his home soil, where the beleaguered economy and a bloody crackdown on widespread protests have left him with dwindling public support.

But when he was pressed on recent developments in Egypt by Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Morsi denied responsibility and passed the buck to what he called "remnants of the old regime."

It was a different message from the one he sent at his joint press conference with Chancellor Merkel earlier in the day. Then, he stressed his commitment to leading his country towards democracy, the rule of law, religious freedom and a separation of church and state.

German editorialists on Thursday noted President Morsi's doublespeak, but were in broad agreement that Berlin should accept the Egyptian leader's promise to push ahead with democratic reform.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"First she commemorated the victims of the National Socialists on Wednesday (during a ceremony in parliament), then she received Egyptian President Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who, a few years ago when he had no need to rein himself him, publicly ranted against Jews and Israel. Merkel must have felt decidedly torn on Wednesday. Anyone, indeed, might feel torn over developments in Egypt. Not all the protesters against the -- democratically-elected -- leadership are truly interested in democracy ... but there is no denying that in terms of rule of law, human rights and religious freedom, there has been no progress. Morsi is not celebrated in Egypt as a figure of hope but as an Islamist with an agenda. But we should take him at his word when he tells Angela Merkel that Egypt will become a democratic state and that he is interested in reform. If he means it, he will be able to find partners in Berlin."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Egyptian President demonstrated chutzpah when he left Egypt for a few hours, a huge business delegation in tow, to drum up state support and investment in Germany. He must be aware that the assumption in this country is that economic and political freedom go hand in hand, and that human rights are not just window-dressing. Perhaps he embarked on the trip because he knows that a stable Egypt that is not threatening Israel means a lot to Germany and the rest of the world."

"The fortunate aspect of this unfortunate situation is that Germany and the rest of the West can turn the tables on him.... He knows that he must rely on aid from open societies. When he states in Berlin that Egypt will become a democracy that allows freedom of opinion and dissent, when he says that he wants to further the process of democratization (whatever that might mean to him), when he says that he accepts Judaism as a religion -- when he, in other words, makes concessions to the West, it is most certainly a calculated move. But he should be taken at his word. The aid he desperately needs can be tied to conditions. It would be good if German economic leaders -- who in the past have shown an appreciation for autocratic rulers as long as they keep the peace -- could cact in unison in this respect. Freedom is not negotiable.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Merkel and Morsi's joint press conference unfolded as expected. Morsi promised to press ahead with the process of democratization ... and he also stressed that declaring a state of emergency in cities along the Suez Canal was a temporary measure. In short, Morsi paid a lot of lip service to democracy."

"Merkel, meanwhile, refrained from too much finger-wagging. Which was just as well, since she no doubt remembers that for three decades, Germany supported the Egyptian dictatorship in the name of stability. Or she was bearing in mind the healthy present state of relations with Saudi Arabia, where the legal system is based on Sharia."

"At any rate, the Chancellor did not make the mistake of taking sides in the domestic unrest currently sweeping Egypt. The Egyptian people need to decide among themselves which path they want to take. But Merkel did urge Morsi to seek dialogue with democratic forces -- a sensible move. For Egypt, this is the only way ahead at the moment."

-- Jane Paulick


January 31, 2013

Egypt Rivals Hold Rare Meeting and Call for Dialogue


CAIRO — In a rare gathering organized by young Egyptian revolutionaries, the country’s rival political groups held extraordinary talks Thursday after days of political chaos and urged continued dialogue to counter widespread violence.

But a statement after the gathering of prominent secular opponents of President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist allies made no direct reference to a call on Wednesday by some of Mr. Morsi’s critics for the creation of a government of national unity.

The talks were held under the chairmanship of the country’s leading Muslim cleric, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb of Al Azhar mosque and university, one of the highest seats of learning in the Muslim world.

A national dialogue, the cleric said, “in which all the components of the Egyptian society  participate without any exclusion” was “the only means to resolve any problems or disagreements.”

He urged the participants to “commit to peaceful competition for power and the peaceful rotation of power” and to prohibit “all types of violence and coercion to achieve goals, demands and policies.”

Television footage from encounter showed some of the country’s main political rivals sitting down across a table, news reports said.

Facing dire warnings from the military about the country’s growing chaos, Egyptian opposition leaders from both secular-leaning and Islamist groups banded together for the first time on Wednesday to urge President Morsi to form a national unity government to halt the violence that has led to dozens of deaths over the past week.

Those who attended the talks on Thursday included Mohamed ElBaradei, a former United Nations diplomat and prominent figure in the secular opposition, and Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister in the Mubarak era and a onetime head of the Arab League.

For the first time since the formation of the secular opposition bloc, they sat with leading Islamists including Saad al-Katatni, the head of Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

After the meeting, Mr. ElBaradei told reporters: “We come out of this meeting with a type of optimism. Each of us will do what we can, with good will, to build trust again among the factions of the Egyptian nation,” Reuters reported.

Even before the gathering, though, Mr. Morsi rejected the idea of unity government during a visit to Germany, where he said a new administration would be formed only after parliamentary elections in April.

“In Egypt there is a stable government working day and night in the interest of all Egyptians,” Mr. Morsi said after meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Still, the opposition’s gamble offered the first recent indication that the nation’s political leaders were searching for common ground and a way out of the chaos. Egypt’s largest secular-leaning opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, joined a hard-line Islamist group, the Nour party, which had been allied with the president and his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in calling for a new government.

The political maneuvers came a day after Egypt’s defense chief warned of “the collapse of the state” if the country’s quarreling political forces did not reconcile. The statement, by Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, was a stark reminder that Mr. Morsi’s authority had been weakened after days of protests led him to declare a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal when the police lost control.

Egyptians have reacted with growing frustration to the political feuding in Cairo, the sense of lawlessness and the deteriorating economy. Many have warned that the standoff — between a weak and often intractable opposition movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has grown increasingly dismissive of its critics — could lead to even worse political violence. Days of street clashes have intensified those fears.

As he left for Germany, Mr. Morsi abruptly backed down from some of the emergency measures he had imposed — and which the public had already ignored — saying that he would leave it to the provincial authorities to set their own curfews. On Wednesday, all three cities on the Suez Canal reduced curfews to just a few hours early in the morning.

The visit to Germany further highlighted Mr. Morsi’s troubles. The president, who had scheduled the visit before the protests started, was forced to cut it short, and he canceled a trip to France. At several public appearances, Mr. Morsi appeared defensive while describing the situation in Egypt. He attributed much of the violence to remnants of Egypt’s deposed government, or so-called infiltrators, including a little-known group that the Egyptian authorities have turned into a scapegoat and called a national security threat.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor declared that the group, which calls itself the Black Bloc, was a terrorist organization and issued warrants for its members’ arrests. Five people were detained on Wednesday, state news media reported.

If the president hoped to leave Egypt in search of a friendlier audience, he did not find it in Germany. Mr. Morsi was asked repeatedly over the course of several appearances — at least five times by his count — about anti-Semitic statements he had made in 2010 in which he spoke of nurturing “our children and our grandchildren on hatred” of Jews and called Zionists “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs.”

In his first public response since the comments surfaced, Mr. Morsi said that they had been taken out of context and that he was “not against Judaism as a religion” but had been condemning Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

“Children in Egypt grow up watching blood being shed,” he said before speaking at length about events that he said he had witnessed as a teenager when Israeli airstrikes killed Egyptian civilians at a school and a factory. Mr. Morsi did not apologize for the slurs.

In Berlin, Mr. Morsi also met with the economic minister, Philipp Rösler, and representatives of German businesses. Germany is Egypt’s third most important trading partner, and Mr. Morsi is relying on investment and aid from Germany to rescue the teetering Egyptian economy.

Ms. Merkel made it clear that Berlin would continue its support of Egypt’s transition to democracy only if Mr. Morsi’s government upheld certain ideals. “One thing that is important for us is that the channels of dialogue are always open,” she said.

On Wednesday, Mr. ElBaradei, the former United Nations diplomat who is the coordinator of the National Salvation Front, said the group was calling for a dialogue with the government, reversing its refusal to sit down with Mr. Morsi.

In a Twitter post, Mr. ElBaradei called for a meeting with the president and the defense and interior ministers — highlighting the perception that Mr. Morsi did not speak for central pillars of the sprawling Egyptian bureaucracy. Mr. ElBaradei also asked that members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis join the talks.

“Stopping the violence is the priority,” Mr. ElBaradei wrote, adding conditions for the talks that included a commitment to a new cabinet and the creation of a committee to amend Egypt’s recently ratified Constitution.

In a sign of the ways that the crisis is redrawing Egypt’s political landscape, Al Nour, the Salafi party, announced that it was joining the call for a unity government. The Salafis, considered the strongest political force in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood, have fractured politically in recent months, creating a crack in the Islamist front that dominated the last parliamentary elections.

In announcing a tentative agreement with the secular opposition groups, Al Nour’s leader, Younis Makhyoun, seemed to endorse further erosion of the Brotherhood’s political supremacy. Among other aims, the tentative agreement called for “prohibiting the domination of a single faction over political life.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo, Nicholas Kulish from Berlin, and Alan Cowell from London. Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.

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« Reply #4318 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:15 AM »

January 29, 2013

Japan’s Leader Expresses Willingness to Meet Chinese Counterparts


TOKYO — Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said that he is willing to meet with Chinese leaders to cool tensions in an emotional island dispute, asserting that the two countries should not let the disagreement further damage their huge economic relationship.

“There might be a need to re-establish the relationship, starting with a summit,” Mr. Abe said late Tuesday on a television talk show, referring to the fraying of ties between Tokyo and Beijing over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. While he reiterated his position that there was “no room for negotiations” over Japan’s control of the islands, Mr. Abe said the two countries, which have Asia’s largest economies, should rebuild what he called a “strategic partnership of mutual benefit,” according to comments reported on Wednesday by Kyodo News.

The apparent olive branch comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by Japan in the last week aimed at ratcheting down an increasingly heated standoff in which both nations scrambled fighter jets this month, prompting a debate in Japan over whether its planes should fire warning shots. Tensions over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, date back decades and flared anew last year when the Japanese government decided to buy three of the islands, igniting violent protests against Japanese businesses in China.

To defuse tensions, a Japanese delegation led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and including leading lawmakers from Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party met in Beijing on Monday with Tang Jiaxuan, a former Chinese foreign minister with ties to Japan. That visit followed a meeting on Friday that the Chinese head of state, Xi Jinping, held with Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of a small Buddhist party that is a junior partner in Mr. Abe’s governing coalition.

After that meeting, Mr. Yamaguchi, of the New Komeito Party, told reporters that he had delivered a letter from Mr. Abe to the Chinese leader, though he did not disclose the letter’s contents. He also said that he suggested to Mr. Xi that the two nations hold a summit meeting, to which the Chinese leader replied that he would “seriously consider” the idea.

But Mr. Xi seemed on Monday to cast cold water onto hopes of a quick resolution to the dispute, saying that he would not bargain over China’s territorial interests, though he did not specifically mention the island chain.

The diplomatic maneuvering underscores the emotions in both nations. In China, the islands are seen as the last unreturned piece of Chinese territory seized during the building of Japan’s empire more than a century ago, and thus a sign that Japan remains unrepentant. To many Japanese, the islands have become emblematic of the broader challenge that their nation, long Asia’s strongest power, faces from the emergence of an increasingly powerful China seemingly bent on settling old scores.

Many Japanese officials now say they think China — by sending government ships and aircraft near the islands almost daily — has embarked on a long-term strategy aimed at pressing Japan to admit that a territorial dispute exists, and then eventually to agree to some form of joint stewardship, if not conceding the islands to China altogether.

In a show of American support for its longtime ally, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Jan. 20 that the United States opposed unilateral actions to try to undermine Japanese control of the islands. Beijing responded angrily, urging her to watch her words.
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« Reply #4319 on: Jan 31, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Romania: ‘European Commission demands Romania counter judiciary intimidation’

31 January 2013
România libera, 31 January 2013

The European Commission’s latest report on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania’s justice system, established to pave the way for the country’s inclusion in the Schengen Area, has concluded that the government in Bucharest has fulfilled seven of the 10 recommandations contained in the previous report. However, it also notes that, although the rule of the constitution has been restored, “commitments on the independence of the justice system have not been implemented.”

In particular, the Commission has highlighted pressure on state institutions, a lack of respect for the independence of the judiciary, intimidation and even "media harassment" of judges, and has demanded safeguards to guarantee the existence of a free and pluralistic media.
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