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« Reply #4365 on: Feb 03, 2013, 07:45 am »


IHT Rendezvous
02/02/2013 8:19 pm

From the Ashes, Tibetan Buddhism Rises in the Forbidden City

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
IHT

On a freezing Tuesday this week, dozens of special guests from China's cultural, political and business elites gathered within the blood-red walls of the Forbidden City. They were there for the opening of the newly restored Hall of Rectitude, the center of Tibetan Buddhism during China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

After a fire in 1923, the hall and about a half-dozen surrounding buildings that comprise the Buddhist architectural complex lay in ruin for nearly a century in the northwestern corner of the 8,000-room former imperial palace.

After six years of restoration funded by the Hong Kong-based China Heritage Fund, the Zhong Zheng Dian, as it's known in Chinese, is back, rebuilt from the ground up, though it won't be open to the public for at least two years according to officials at the Forbidden City's Palace Museum, the Beijing News said (in Chinese).

The opening comes at a tense time in relations between the Beijing government and people in the Tibet autonomous region. At least three more Tibetans burned themselves to death in protest of Chinese rule this week, according to a Web site run by Tibetan exiles.

This brings the number of self-immolations by Tibetans to about 90, according to overseas-based Tibet advocacy groups. Significantly, the protests are taking place outside the autonomous region in the Tibetan-populated homeland provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu, which were once relatively peaceful, said Robert Barnett, a scholar of Tibetan studies at Columbia University. This presents a "very dramatic issue for China and its strategies," Mr. Barnett said.

As I mingled in the crowd in the Forbidden City on Tuesday afternoon, I heard, once or twice, the words "Dalai Lama" spoken quietly, seriously - and one such mention turned into an impassioned discussion about "why the Dalai Lama doesn't like China," among three visitors who looked Chinese and spoke Mandarin, as they looked at Tibetan tangkas, or religious paintings, in one of the new galleries.

Officially, though, the painful state of Sino-Tibetan relations wasn't mentioned at the event, where the guests included the China-born, naturalized American Nobel laureate, Chen Ning Yang (physics, 1957); a deputy foreign minister, Cui Tiankai; and Shan Jixiang, the recently appointed head of the Palace Museum, who has big plans for the institution.

Historically and religiously, the event was deeply significant.

Much of China's claim to Tibet rests on the close relationship that existed between Beijing and Lhasa during the reign of three Qing emperors - Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong - in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's religious leader, exercised great influence on the emperors during that time, in a patron-priest relationship.

Artistically, too, it's significant: the palace's large collection of Tibetan art and artifacts, including ritual worship objects, once again have a unified home in three galleries, as well as a small research space, the Research Center for Tibetan Buddhist Heritage.

"It's like a home-coming for the artifacts," said Gerald Szeto, an architect at the Beijing-based firm of Mo Atelier Szeto, who did the interior design of the galleries. "For a hundred years the whole area was left fallow," he said.

The Palace Museum says it has about 20,000 Tibetan Buddha statues in its collection dating from the 7th to the early 20th centuries, and over 1,000 tangkas. Some were on display on Tuesday, including an intricate, highly-colored, 18th century, three-dimensional mandala of brass and enamel (above), and tangkas painted in gold.

"The art and ancient artifacts are very mysterious to the outside world because they've never been shown before," Luo Wenhua, a curator and researcher of Tibetan and Buddhist art at the museum, said in a telephone interview.

"There are written records for almost every piece in the imperial collection, including where it is from, which year it was made, and the name of donors, its history and so on," said Mr. Luo, who has in the past called for greater protection for Tibetan Buddhist history in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, here in Chinese.

"Some have very detailed information. This makes the pieces more precious, no matter what their artistic or academic value, because compared to other similar stuff in the rest of the world there are clear clues as to their identities," he said.

"It supports the study of Buddhist culture in Tibet and Mongolia, and its influence in China."

Just hours after the ceremony Tuesday, around midnight, a 18-year-old Tibetan, Sangay Tashi, set himself on fire and died in protest, Phayul.com reported.

And on Thursday, a father of two, Tsering Namgyal, 31, set himself on fire and died, it reported.

There was no indication that the deaths were connected to the event in Beijing, but the symbolism of re-opening this center of historic Tibet-Chinese relations will resonate.

Also on Tuesday, CNN broadcast an interview with the United States ambassador to China, Gary Locke, who in October traveled to affected areas of Sichuan Province, during which Mr. Locke said there were "high expectations even by the Chinese people" for China's new leader, Xi Jinping, to improve relations with Tibetans. (Read a transcript of the interview, transcribed by the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group.)

"His remarks will be welcomed by Tibetans as evidence that their grievances are being heard globally, if not yet in Beijing," said Todd Stein, director of government relations at the International Campaign for Tibet.


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« Reply #4366 on: Feb 03, 2013, 07:58 am »


Row breaks out between UK and Romania over targeting of migrants

Bucharest tells London it has 'serious concerns' over British plan to limit rights of EU accession-state citizens

Daniel Boffey in Bucharest
The Observer, Saturday 2 February 2013 19.30 GMT   
   
Britain is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Romania after making public its plan to target its citizens with measures to limit the flow of immigrants.

The east European state's foreign minister told the Observer that talk of extending restrictions on its citizens to work in the UK had caused "serious concerns". Titus Corlatean said he had received reassurances from the British foreign secretary, William Hague, that the UK would comply with its obligations under European law.

The British ambassador to Romania was asked to attend a meeting on Friday in Bucharest with the minister for Romanians abroad, Cristian David, at which the importance of discussing immigration in a "balanced and rational way" was debated.

David said: "Always when you try to keep some people out in a public campaign you have to be aware that you will make others feel uncomfortable who are already there and integrated. I expressed myself very diplomatically."

Dr Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador to the UK said: "I am worried that Romanians and Bulgarians are in the middle of a game in which they do not belong."

Transitional arrangements restricting the rights of 29 million Bulgarian and Romanian citizens from living and working in the UK will expire in January 2014. However, the coalition is being pressed by a growing number of Tory MPs and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to retain curbs amid fears of a huge influx of immigrants.

Last week it emerged that the government was considering launching a PR campaign in Romania and Bulgaria to put people off the UK. Mark Harper, the immigration minister, also raised the prospect of restricting access to the NHS for some Romanians in Britain.

Corlatean said he had been assured by "official sources" in London that such a negative advertising campaign would not be launched. However, the Observer has learned that the issue of restrictions on access to the NHS was raised at the talks on Friday, where it was agreed that the Romanian and British governments would hold further meetings on the subject.

But the minister for Romanians abroad said that he had told the ambassador that "once we accept there are people legally working in the UK I see them enjoying all the package of living". David said: "These rights come from European citizenship status. Once you are in a space, you cannot have limited rights. If you start limiting health, why not limit other public services? That will affect the freedom of movement of people in the EU space."

Bucharest said that, of the three million Romanians now working abroad, only 100,000 had moved to the UK in the past seven years, and that the vast majority have been well-integrated and valued members of British society.

Romania believes those who wanted to work abroad are already doing so. Its minister for labour, Mariana Campeanu, said that there was no reason to believe there would be large influx to the UK in 2014.

The Romanian language was Latin-based and Italy and Spain were more popular destinations and home to a million Romanian workers, she said.

Campeanu said: "I wonder what the fears are based on. There are no concrete arguments for these fears of some journalists and poiticians. I remind you that the contribution of the Romanian workers for the Olympic Games in London, especially in construction of the famous stadium where lots of the labour force was from Romania and we had a very beautiful achievement."

Corlatean, who met Hague in Brussels last week, said: "Most of the Romanians who came to UK are working hard and honestly. They are paying for social security insurance, as well as for health insurance, they are net contributors to the British health and social systems.

"There are also European rules that have to be applied by all member states.  "Our expectations are that these European rules regarding social benefits will be respected by the UK.

"We have been in close contact with our British partners and received, through the foreign secretary and the UK ambassador to Romania, repeated reassurances that the British government will fully comply with the provisions of the accession treaty of Romania and Bulgaria."

**********

Romanian protests in Revolutionary Square at Britain's immigration threat

The people of Bucharest saw UK as beacon of fairness but Whitehall's threats to bar immigrants are changing that

Daniel Boffey   
The Observer, Saturday 2 February 2013 19.29 GMT   

"The message is very simple: to face reality and draw conclusions based on facts." Mariana Campeanu, Romanian minister for labour, was in no mood to mince her words last week.

Once again, as in 2007 when her country joined the EU, her country's workers are at the centre of a debate in Britain about the threat of benefit-seeking immigrants, fuelled by comments and briefings by government ministers keen for an easy headline, and apocalyptic statistics from Migration Watch about what will happen in 2014 when restrictions on working are lifted for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Seated in her large tatty Bucharest office, in what was once the Communist Central Committee Building where Nicolae Ceausescu made his fateful speech in 1989 from a balcony looking over what would become known as Revolutionary Square, Campeanu reeled off a list of statistics and appeals to common sense: Britain is behind Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Germany as targets for her people. Those who wanted to live abroad now do so, with a million Romanians each in Italy and Spain. There are at most about 150,000 Romanians in the UK: 80,000 working in agriculture, 6,000 working as doctors or nurses and 5,000 as students. Most of the others are in construction or jobs requiring a high degree of education. A tiny, negligible number are without work.

Could we not, Campeanu implored, recall how the Romanian construction workers helped to build the Olympic stadium, a "special achievement"? Could we not see the benefits of the Romanians who had come to the UK? Why would we want to continue to make it difficult for highly intelligent young men and women to make homes there, she wondered? "I don't think it is normal that some restrictions are addressed only to Romanians and Bulgarians as long as we believe we are equal citizens in the EU," she said. "They must be against everyone, or no one."

There is trouble brewing in Revolutionary Square. Romania and Bulgaria burst into the political debate last week. Campeanu believes that it may be simply a chance for some British politicians to grab a few easy votes at a time when Europe bashing is in vogue.

It started with Tory MPs calling for the retention of a visa regime imposed in 2005 that restricts Romanians and Bulgarians to highly skilled jobs that cannot be filled by resident workers, or to seasonal agricultural work.

It escalated into reports that the UK government was considering producing negative adverts about Britain to put off migrants. Then Mark Harper, the immigration minister, raised the prospect of preventing some Romanian and Bulgarian workers from using the NHS, so that they would not be "a burden".

But these attacks on Romanian workers could not have come at a worse time, say Romania's politicians.

The country's economy is now in its fifth year of decline, according to a former prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, who brought the country into the EU. The popularity of the EU has inevitably waned since the country joined the club on 1 January 2007, when there were raucous parties in Revolutionary Square and nearby University Square. The economic crisis has not helped, of course, and if Britons have their gripes about the EU banning bent bananas, then the Romanians are irritated that they can't slaughter the family pig at Christmas and Easter in the traditional throat-slitting way.

But it is not the content of the grumbles that matters, but the very fact that they circulate. There is a growing feeling that the major EU states and the European commission are not taking Romania's needs into account. Last week the latest European commission report on Romania's integration into the EU complained about a lack of progress in fighting political corruption, in what was seen by many as a fresh blow to Romania's dignity. Most importantly, the EU has prevented the Romanian government from increasing its relatively small public debt to invest in infrastructure to try to reduce the gap between their country and the western giants. All this blocking and snubbing, Tariceanu says, is dangerous. "An economic crisis can have a very important social impact and then of course come the political tensions and conflicts and all the rest. How long will the patience of the people last?"

Talking from one of the echoing rooms of the Palace of the Parliament, built to be the former dictator's palace, Tariceanu adds that Britain's attitude will inevitably only add to the frustrations of many Romanians – including himself. "I am living with a certain disappointment," he said. "Why? Because I am looking at Great Britain as a country that is a reference for the democratic and liberal spirit.

"I know that the European project has been built around four crucial liberties: the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital. I am pretty sure the UK is very much supporting the free circulation of capital, which is not only in its own advantage but everyone's.
Key waves of UK immigration Key waves of UK immigration. Credit: Observer graphics

"But they have to reconsider their position because the free circulation of people is essential for the welfare of Britain. What is making me angry is that it is a planned government campaign against the immigrants. I was not expecting it from a country with such long traditions of democracy and freedom." The Observer has learned that such is the anger within the Romanian government at the recent rhetoric that the foreign minister, Titus Corlatean, sought and received assurances last week from his counterpart, William Hague, that the UK would live up to its treaty obligations. The UK ambassador to Romania was also, in a most diplomatic way, asked about his government's position by Cristian David, the minister for Romanians abroad, who asked for facts, figures and rational balanced discourse to rule the day on the subject. David said: "We need to communicate with our people in a balanced and rational way. If we leave an open space for media to interpret figures, it can allow another perception which can be very difficult to erase."

Former Romanian president Ion Iliescu, the first democratic leader after Ceausescu, told the Observer: "I am waiting for better understanding from Britain for the problems faced by Romania and Romanians." But the concerns and disappointment of the political classes is merely a reflection of the feelings on the streets outside their offices.

Revolutionary Square today bears little resemblance to the scene on the sunny December day in 1989 when the crowds, to the old dictator's obvious surprise, turned on him, causing his flight, capture and execution just four days later on Christmas Day. Much of the square is now a car park for those who work in the ministries of labour, interior and sanitation, among others, that are now housed within the former Communist Central Committee building.

On one of the buildings marking out the north side of the square, a banner advert for a bank bears the face of former tennis star Ilie Nastase. On the south side is a shop selling Swiss watches so expensive that the prices aren't advertised. Shuffling across the icy square itself, by a monument for those killed by the old regime, are a few disgruntled workers and students voicing, perhaps not anger at this stage, but disappointment and bitterness.

"Things are worse than ever in the EU. Nothing has changed for the better," said Sorin Sonie, 38. "I don't want to leave because I love my country, but I do think it is very unfair for the UK to try and stop people if they want to go and live there. Why us?"

Parking attendant Julien Pirvulescu, 56, said: "I think it is more about politics. I don't want to go and my three children in their 20s don't want to go. People here aren't interested in rushing off there. But it is unfair. It often is."

Vlad Niculesci, 45, who runs an English bookshop on the west side of the square, added: "There is growing anger because it is discriminatory across the board. The artist Dan Perjovschi, one of the best in Romania, has just done a drawing which is simply a picture of the union flag with all its crosses next to one big, black cross under which is written: for Romanians and Bulgarians. That sums it up."

Perjovschi, exhibiting in Helsinki, explained: "It is always an irritation when you are questioned as a nation. And when media step in, anger increases or may go out of control. Facebook is full of mockeries of Brits and some superficial 'patriotic' feelings.

"On the other hands, Romanians love the Premiership, Robbie Williams and Helen Mirren, and the visual artists are obsessed with Tate Modern. Romanians had a great respect of UK because legend says that Tony Blair contributed massively to our EU bid. Therefore the actual situation is seen as a betrayal."

The inherent danger in this growing feeling of iniquity provoked the Romanian ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, speaking from London, to warn of the risks in politicians and some parts of the media "playing a game" with the Romanian people. He told the Observer: "Sometimes tabloids, and unfortunately some politicians, try to involve this topic of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria in a political game and gamble.

"But those Romanians who wanted to work abroad have already done it. Seven years ago our population was 22 million inhabitants. Last year the census showed we have only 19 million because 3 million were already abroad. With a country of 22 million inhabitants there are only 5 million people of an economically active age in Romania, so we experience shortages and have organised job fairs in Spain and Italy to try and convince Romanians in construction to come back. We have reached the maximum export capacity.

"And in 2004, the British economy had an economic boom, which is not the case now. I do not see any real risk of a big wave of Romanians coming over."

Jinga added that it was only a demand for Romanian workers that would lead them to travel across Europe to a country whose language many were not well versed in and whose culture was so alien. He said: "The Olympic village of the last Olympic Games was built by Romanian builders, even if the construction sector was closed to Romanians. Not because they came to take British jobs but because there were not enough British builders to work and they were asked to come and they became self-employed."

Jinga said he sees the rhetoric around the immigration of Bulgarians and Romanians as pure electioneering. And he is withering about the reported plan to wage a negative advertising campaign to put Romanians off, said by sources to have now been ditched under diplomatic pressure. Jinga said: "My interpretation is that it is very connected to a political situation: some anti-European speeches and some positioning before the election so that every possible risk is closed. But there is no risk to Britain.

"It is up to the British government to decide on what sort of campaign you want to promote for your country. If you ask me as a person who spent the last five years here and is very honestly in love with this country, I would not do it. In Romania we would never do a negative campaign about Romania saying to foreigners, 'Don't come, it's rubbish.' If you want to do it, it is up to you. It would be a pity."

Either way, it would seem that the British government now has its work cut out to make things right with the people in and around Revolutionary Square.



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« Reply #4367 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:01 am »


Rachida Dati: the former Sarkozy 'babe' who aims to become mayor of Paris

The former justice minister, who condemns big spending on cultural projects and says she will give Paris back to the Parisians, admits she is an admirer of Boris Johnson

Kim Willsher paris
The Observer, Sunday 3 February 2013      

Rachida Dati's career has had some spectacular ups and downs, but she has never made any secret of her ambition for high office. Now that drive is being directed towards one of France's most prestigious jobs, mayor of Paris, a post viewed as a good springboard to becoming president.

Last week in an interview with the Observer, Dati, 47, spoke of her admiration for London's mayor, Boris Johnson, and outlined her vision for the French city of light. Johnson, she said, had "modernised" the British capital and given it renewed international prestige.

"He thinks globally about Greater London, even though the city is 1,500 square kilometres, while Paris is only 150 square kilometres and we are thinking small. In Paris, things are seen in terms of arrondissement by arrondissement. We don't have a global vision of the city, of a Grande Paris."

The Paris of recent years, and by that she means the 12-year tenure of Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë, has been one of negativity, division and exclusion, she says. "Here we have west Paris against east Paris, poor Paris against rich Paris. Nobody ever gets all the mayors together and says, now what can we do for Paris as a whole? There are 25,000 children waiting for places in a creche and yet city hall spends €1bn (£870m) redesigning Les Halles; there are 200,000 needing homes, and they close the roads along the Seine to traffic at a cost of some €40m. Money is spent on elitist cultural projects while there are housing estates like the back end of the world where people are trapped in highrise flats because the lifts don't work.

"More than €1bn is spent on a tramway round Paris, but nothing is done to improve overcrowding on the Metro, which is used by most Parisians. Politics is about choices, but there's no logic in any of this."

She adds: "Paris has become so expensive that only the very rich and the very poor in local authority housing can afford to live here. It's a deliberate policy of exclusion."

Dati wants to end what she sees as "cultural elitism" and a two-class Paris, build affordable housing to entice back the middle classes and make the provision of creches, social clubs and sports facilities a requirement for all new construction projects. "It's about giving Paris back to Parisians", as she puts it.

Asked how she will fund her programme, Dati gives a dismissive wave of the hand. "Paris is a rich city. Taxes have increased, but life has not improved for Parisians. We are not getting value for money."

The former justice minister – who juggles being a Euro MP, mayor of the chic 7th arrondissement of Paris, and France's most famous single mother to a four-year-old daughter whose paternity is at the centre of a court battle – is one of three women who are said to want the mayor's job.

She is squaring up for a serious battle. The one-time "Sarkozette", the patronising tag attached to former president Nicolas Sarkozy's female ministers and a Gallic form of Blair's Babes, has been a scrapper all her life.

Punching some considerable way above her weight has its roots in her background. It might seem patronising to point out that Dati is the daughter of an illiterate north African immigrant labourer, were it not for the fact that she is doing the pointing out.

This particular political scrap, however, is set to be bloody. Among the other possible candidates is another former Sarkozette and minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

The rightwing UMP, already bitterly riven by an unresolved leadership crisis, is anxious to avoid yet another damaging internecine tussle, but Dati has no intention of giving way. "It's complicated," she admits, sitting in her grand mayoral office. "The leadership battle has left scars and the party would no doubt prefer not to have a primary election for a candidate."

Dati is dismissive of her party rival, Kosciusko-Morizet, 40, known by her initials NKM, and even more scathing about the third woman candidate, Socialist Anne Hildalgo, Delanoë's appointed successor and the current poll favourite. "She's never been elected, but she's the designated heir, that says it all," Dati splutters with scorn.

Like Boris Johnson, Dati has faced criticism that, as a member of her country's political elite, she has no clue how the less privileged she aims to represent live. Posing in Chanel and Dior for Paris Match after she was named justice minister did not help.

She says such barbs are meaningless. "I know all of Paris, from the well-off arrondissements to the poor. I visit all areas, I will campaign in all areas, and if I am elected I will represent all Parisians," she insists.

If she wins the 2014 mayoral vote, Dati will almost certainly look across the Channel for ideas. The elegant Frenchwoman cites Johnson's efforts to tackle crime, improvements in London's public transport, and the increase in security cameras as meriting her particular approval.

Asked if she has met Johnson, however, Dati replies with a baffling non sequitur. "Well, you know, I liked Jack Straw very much." She pauses: "In terms of appearance Boris Johnson might be regarded as fantasque [whimsical, bizarre].

"But Monsieur Johnson was elected by the people of London, and the people of London are not stupid," she says.

If Dati does succeed in becoming the first female mayor of Paris, and Dati often gets what she wants, it will also be more proof, if proof is needed, of just how determined a scrapper she really is.

She is certainly up for a fight. "I have been built on challenge, defiance, resistance and, yes, defeat. I have put in lots of work and lots of fighting. Everything was against me: my social background, my origins, the fact that I'm a woman. But I have shown a great capacity to resist and overcome," she says.

"Nobody can push me aside, eliminate me. I am too resistant."


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« Reply #4368 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:04 am »


Cyprus faces bailout row over fears of 'haircuts' for investors – and savers

IMF's radical proposals to reduce the size of Nicosia's funding needs could spark panic in other countries struggling to maintain public confidence in their banks

John Hooper in Nicosia
The Observer, Sunday 3 February 2013   

Eurozone finance ministers are expected to delay a bailout for the Mediterranean island state of Cyprus tomorrow as its prospective lenders continued to wrangle over terms that some fear could spark panic in other vulnerable member states.

Irate bondholders took to the streets of Nicosia last week after Cyprus's finance minister, Vassos Shiarly, warned that local people who had invested in bank debt face losses as part of the proposed deal. Shiarly said in The Hague on Thursday: "Provisions have been made [for a writedown] – unfortunately, for junior bondholders, a very unhappy situation."

This represented a victory for the International Monetary Fund – one of the "troika" of likely rescuers along with the European commission and the European Central Bank – which is known to fear that Cyprus could need so much funding that its debts would become unsustainable if bank investors were not forced to take losses.

The Greek-Cypriot controlled south of the divided island got into trouble because of its ties with Greece. Its banks lost more than €4bn (£3.4bn) when Cyprus's president, Demetris Christofias, agreed to a "haircut" of Greek sovereign bondholders without seeking exemption for his island.

Shiarly told the Observer the move added 25% to Cyprus's debts overnight. No other member state had taken on more than an extra 1%. "We're accepting these losses. We're not asking for a gift from our partners. We're asking for this understanding of our excessive solidarity in 2011."

The Cyprus government needs cash for its public finances. But the banks need more – up to €10.3bn, according to leaks from a provisional assessment by US investment firm Pimco, commissioned by the troika and Greek-Cypriot officials.

Fiona Mullen of Nicosia-based consultancy Sapienta Economics estimates that, by 2016, that would inflate Cyprus's debts to more than 140% of its annual GDP. The eurozone has ruled out further Greek-style writedowns for holders of eurozone government bonds on the grounds that they weaken the banks of other member states. In any case, they would drain capital from the very Cypriot banks that so desperately need recapitalising.

To reduce the size of the bailout, therefore, the IMF has argued behind the scenes for haircuts not just for holders of bank debt, but for savers too – a prospect that appals EU and ECB officials, who fear it could frighten account-holders in parts of the eurozone where confidence in the banking system is still low.

This is where first the Russians, then the Germans, enter an already crowded picture. According to Mullen, Russian deposits in the Greek-Cypriot banking system account for between €8bn and €15bn of the €70bn total.

The central bank reckons the figure is lower, but no one denies that Russians have a big stake, and not everyone would be sorry to see those funds raided, perhaps by enforcing the haircut only on deposits of more than €100,000, which are not covered by a deposit guarantee scheme.

A report by the German foreign intelligence service, leaked to the press last year, concluded that much of the Russian cash in Cyprus was put there by tax dodgers and money launderers. This was a gift for Germany's opposition parties, seeking a way to distance themselves from Chancellor Angela Merkel's eurozone policies. Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel said last month he could not imagine German taxpayers bailing out Cypriot banks, whose business model depends on abetting tax fraud.

Cypriot officials admit they have used low taxes to attract business, but argue that Cyprus's array of more than 40 double taxation treaties (DTTs) means it is no tax haven. "A tax haven is, by definition, a country that refuses to sign DTTs," said one.

Mullen says: "If Russians invest, even in Russia, they will often structure it through Cyprus. But the assumption that everything that comes out of Russia is dirty I find almost racist."

Several ways of reducing the size of Cyprus's bailout are being explored. Merkel favours privatisations, which could raise €2bn. Greece was forced to put public assets, from airports to casinos, up for sale to help reduce the size of the rescue package it needed.

Christofias has flatly rejected the idea of privatisations, but he is not standing in the general election on 17 February. His likely successor is centre-right candidate Nicos Anastasiades, who backs asset sales.

Russia could help out in at least two ways. One is by joining the other lenders in the bailout. It would not be the first time a country outside the eurozone had taken part in a rescue: Britain chipped in around £7bn for the £77bn bailout of Ireland in 2010.

But on 18 January, Russia's first deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, said niet: "We need to be very frugal at the moment, very conservative. I don't want to provide any money for Cyprus."

Russia is more likely to agree to spread the repayment of €2.5bn it lent to Cyprus two years ago. "We are hopeful," said Shiarly after talks with Moscow. "It sounded as if they were seriously considering it."

Making the bailout repayable over a long period would make sense: huge gas deposits found off Cyprus should bring in revenue equal to twice the annual output of the Greek-Cypriot economy. Shiarly said discussions with the troika had not taken into account the gas reserves, but that, given time, Cyprus could repay a bailout.

"And the smell of gas makes us feel even more confident," he said.


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« Reply #4369 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:06 am »

February 2, 2013

Spanish Leader Pledges Transparency Amid Corruption Inquiry

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

MADRID — Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain pledged on Saturday to provide “complete transparency” about his own financial assets and those of other politicians in his party to refute what he described as “apocryphal” documents showing that he and others had received regular payouts from a secret parallel account maintained by the party.

In a televised address, Mr. Rajoy said he regretted the damage that the corruption allegations had caused to his image — as well as to the image of his governing Popular Party and Spain as a whole — at a time of economic and social hardship. But he predicted that “this is as far as it will go,” adding, “This party will defend itself.”

Mr. Rajoy also insisted that his party had no connection to the $29 million amassed in Swiss bank accounts by a former party treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, who has been at the heart of the widening corruption scandal. His party, Mr. Rajoy said, “never gave orders to open accounts in a foreign country.”

The prime minister said he would publish online his own tax returns this week. As to the financial rectitude of his colleagues, Mr. Rajoy said “all our tax contributions have been made within the strictest legality over all these years.”

Analysts, however, said Mr. Rajoy’s forceful defense on Saturday was to be expected and was unlikely to contain a spreading graft scandal on which the courts have yet to rule.

“The earthquake will continue because more damaging information is likely to come out, and the only way to put an end to such a scandal is to have a clear court ruling, which sadly in this country could take years,” said Antonio Argandoña, a professor of economics and business ethics at the I.E.S.E. Business School in Barcelona.

Mr. Rajoy was speaking at an extraordinary meeting of his party’s executive committee that he convened after El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, on Thursday published what it said were excerpts from the party’s parallel financial accounts, showing payments to leading party members above their official salaries.

According to the newspaper, the money came from corporate “donations,” particularly from construction companies. Mr. Rajoy’s name first appeared in the ledgers in 1997, shown as receiving sums averaging $34,000 a year through 2008, El País said.

After the newspaper report, Spain’s attorney general, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, said the judiciary was considering incorporating the parallel bookkeeping evidence into an investigation into possible kickbacks received by conservative politicians.

While financial pressures have recently eased in Spain, the country remains stuck in a recession that has pushed the unemployment rate above 25 percent.

“Mr. Rajoy needs this scandal like he needs a hole in the head,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a consultancy based in London that assesses sovereign debt risk.

“This comes at a critical time for the Rajoy government, just as market sentiment towards Spain is improving and foreign capital is trickling back,” Mr. Spiro added. “If this scandal had broken last June, when Spain announced its request for banking aid, the fallout would already have been far more severe.”

Still, the scandal has come as another blow to Spaniards who have had to tighten their household budgets under Mr. Rajoy’s austerity program. Mr. Rajoy recognized this on Saturday. “We cannot give to Spaniards, of whom we are asking sacrifices, the impression that we are not at the highest level of ethical rigor and scrupulous integrity,” he said.

Protesters gathered Friday night in front of the Popular Party’s headquarters in Madrid, and garbage containers were set on fire. A petition started on the activist Web site Change.org, demanding Mr. Rajoy’s resignation, had collected more than 600,000 signatures by Saturday morning — one of several such online initiatives pushing for a political overhaul.

Such public pressure could determine whether Spain finally makes much-needed changes to the financing of political parties and the administration of public affairs, said Mr. Argandoña, the business ethics professor. “You cannot really expect politicians to cut the branches of the tree on which they sit,” he said.

Indeed, even as the finances of Mr. Rajoy and his governing party have come under scrutiny, Spain’s other main parties are themselves mired in fraud scandals of their own, turning the political debate into a mudslinging competition between conservative and Socialist politicians.

About 300 Spanish politicians from across the political spectrum have been indicted or charged in corruption investigations since 2008 when Spain’s property bubble burst. Few, however, have been sentenced so far.

But adding to the pressure on Mr. Rajoy’s government, on Friday the Spanish police’s financial crime unit released documents said to show that Ana Mato, the health minister, and her husband, Jesús Sepúlveda, a conservative town mayor, had a decade ago been given several airplane tickets, hotel rooms and other gifts by a company that has been at the heart of a lengthy kickback investigation. Ms. Mato, however, defended her “absolute innocence” at the party meeting on Saturday, adding that there was “nothing new” in a police report that related to facts that had already been reviewed by Spanish courts in 2009.
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« Reply #4370 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:09 am »

February 2, 2013

Iceland, Fervent Prosecutor of Bankers, Sees Meager Returns

By ANDREW HIGGINS
IHT

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — As chief of police in a tiny fishing town for 11 years, Olafur Hauksson developed what he thought was a basic understanding of the criminal mind. The typical lawbreaker, he said, recalling his many encounters with small-time criminals, “clearly knows that he crossed the line” and generally sees “the difference between right and wrong.”

Today, the burly, 48-year-old former policeman is struggling with a very different sort of suspect. Reassigned to Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, to lead what has become one of the world’s most sweeping investigation into the bankers whose actions contributed to the global financial crisis in 2008, Mr. Hauksson now faces suspects who “are not aware of when they crossed the line” and “defend their actions every step of the way.”

With the global economy still struggling to recover from the financial maelstrom five years ago, governments around the world have been criticized for largely failing to punish the bankers who were responsible for the calamity. But even here in Iceland, a country of just 320,000 that has gone after financiers with far more vigor than the United States and other countries hit by the crisis, obtaining criminal convictions has proved devilishly difficult.

Public hostility toward bankers is so strong in Iceland that “it is easier to say you are dealing drugs than to say you’re a banker,” said Thorvaldur Sigurjonsson, the former head of trading for Kaupthing, a once high-flying bank that crumbled. He has been called in for questioning by Mr. Hauksson’s office but has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Yet, in the four years since the Icelandic Parliament passed a law ordering the appointment of an unnamed special prosecutor to investigate those blamed for the country’s spectacular meltdown in 2008, only a handful of bankers have been convicted.

Ministers in a left-leaning coalition government elected after the crash agree that the wheels of justice have ground slowly, but they call for patience, explaining that the process must follow the law, not vengeful passions.

“We are not going after people just to satisfy public anger,” said Steingrimur J. Sigfusson, Iceland’s minister of industry, a former finance minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement that is part of the governing coalition.

Hordur Torfa, a popular singer-songwriter who helped organize protests that forced the previous conservative government to resign, acknowledged that “people are getting impatient” but said they needed to accept that “this is not the French Revolution. I don’t believe in taking bankers out and hanging them or shooting them.”

Others are less patient. “The whole process is far too slow,” said Thorarinn Einarsson, a left-wing activist. “It only shows that ‘banksters’ can get away with doing whatever they want.”

Mr. Hauksson, the special prosecutor, said he was frustrated by the slow pace but thought it vital that his office scrupulously follow legal procedure. “Revenge is not something we want as our main driver in this process. Our work must be proper today and be seen as proper in the future,” he said.

Part of the difficulty in prosecuting bankers, he said, is that the law is often unclear on what constitutes a criminal offense in high finance. “Greed is not a crime,” he noted. “But the question is: where does greed lead?”

Mr. Hauksson said it was often easy to show that bankers violated their own internal rules for lending and other activities, but “as in all cases involving theft or fraud, the most difficult thing is proving intent.”

And there are the bankers themselves. Those who have been brought in for questioning often bristle at being asked to account for their actions. “They are not used to being questioned. These people are not used to finding themselves in this situation,” Mr. Hauksson said. They also hire expensive lawyers.

The special prosecutor’s office initially had only five staff members but now has more than 100 investigators, lawyers and financial experts, and it has relocated to a big new office. It has opened about 100 cases, with more than 120 people now under investigation for possible crimes relating to an Icelandic financial sector that grew so big it dwarfed the rest of the economy.

To help ease Mr. Hauksson’s task, legislators amended the law to allow investigators easy access to confidential bank information, something that previously required a court order.

Parliament also voted to put the country’s prime minister at the time of the banking debacle on trial for negligence before a special tribunal. (A proposal to try his cabinet failed.) Mr. Hauksson was not involved in the case against the former leader, Geir H. Haarde, who last year was found guilty of failing to keep ministers properly informed about the 2008 crisis but was acquitted on more serious charges that could have resulted in a prison sentence.

Meanwhile, an investigative commission appointed by Parliament first reported to it in April 2010 and later published a nine-volume account of the financial crash, including a study of what philosophers charged with investigating ethical issues behind the crisis called a “moral void” at the heart of Icelandic finance.

Vilhjalmur Arnason, a philosophy professor at Iceland University who worked on the study, described the exercise as “very important for reasons of justice and for reconciliation” in a society traumatized by a crash so severe that it threatened to capsize the country. But, he added, bankers alone were not responsible, as “the whole society was so intoxicated” by values that put profit ahead of morality, the law and even common sense.

After the crash, the new government pushed to restructure the failed banks, purging their former management and owners and prodding them to write off a big chunk of their loans to homeowners burdened with big mortgages. The government declined to bail out foreign bondholders, who lost about $85 billion. Iceland now has a growing economy.

But it is not entirely clear that Iceland deserves its reputation as a warrior against Wall Street orthodoxy. In time, Iceland won praise from the International Monetary Fund for sharp cuts in spending and tax increases that slashed the government’s deficit and helped put the country back on an even keel.

Certainly Iceland, in contrast to the United States and most other countries, has pursued not only little-known financiers but also many of the country’s biggest names in banking and business. “We have been aiming at the upper levels rather than the lower levels,” Mr. Hauksson said.

His biggest scalp so far is that of Larus Welding, the former chief executive of Glitnir, one of the trio of banks that failed in 2008. Mr. Welding and a second former Glitnir executive were found guilty of fraud over a $70 million loan to a company that owned shares in the bank.

Mr. Welding, who is now standing trial in a second case along with one of the country’s most prominent business tycoons, Jon Asgeir Johannesson, was sentenced in December to nine months in prison, six of which were suspended.

The light sentence enraged many Icelanders, but, Mr. Hauksson said, “the important thing is that we got a conviction.” By contrast in Ireland, which put taxpayers on the hook for tens of billions of dollars owed by failed banks, the former chief of the failed Anglo Irish Bank has been charged with financial irregularities but so far no senior bank executive has yet been found guilty of a crime.

Prosecuting bankers was never going to be easy, particularly in a country like Iceland, which is so small that nearly everybody in the capital has a friend or family member who worked at one time in finance. When Iceland’s Justice Ministry first advertised for applicants for the new post of special prosecutor, nobody responded.

Mr. Hauksson, an outsider with no network of friends and relatives in Reykjavik, was then urged to apply during a second attempt to fill the post and was given the job.

“I thought this was something that had to be looked into,” Mr. Hauksson said. “If we prosecute small cases we also have to look into big cases.” But, he added, this risks “opening up a Pandora’s box” that can escalate even relatively simple cases “into something very big.”

The high stakes have also left some investigators vulnerable to temptation: two former members of Mr. Hauksson’s staff were placed under criminal investigation last year for selling confidential information for 30 million Icelandic krona (around $233,000) to the administrator of a bankrupt company who was trying to locate missing assets.

That episode has not dented Iceland’s heroic image among antibanker campaigners abroad. Mr. Sigfusson, the minister of industry, said he was regularly invited to speak on how Iceland dealt with its banking crisis. Iceland, he said, has “no magic solution” but has managed to push through unpopular cuts in spending in part because it managed to curb public anger by pushing for the prosecution of its bankers.

Today, Iceland’s bankers are both mocked for their recklessness during the boom years and reviled for pushing the country to the brink of economic ruin.

Mr. Sigurjonsson, the former Kaupthing banker, said a “big umbrella of suspicion” has opened up over anybody who worked in finance and unfairly stigmatized “highly educated and very able people who can lend a hand in resurrecting the country.”

He said he was shocked recently when he heard the young daughter of a friend, also a former banker, ask, “Daddy, why are bankers all criminals?”


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« Reply #4371 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:15 am »

'Idle No More' and colonial Canada: Activists call to reenvision Canada's relations with its indigenous people.

Al Jazerra
30 Jan 2013 12:06

Canada's colonial reality is now in the spotlight, as Idle No More protests voice the struggles of indigenous people against sustained political and economic oppression.

Thousands are joining historic actions to call for fundamental changes in Canada's relations to aboriginal people.

Central to Idle No More are longstanding indigenous demands for justice around land rights, economic resources and self-determination that rest at the heart of both Canada's history and future.

Winter hunger strike

Idle No More protests first took place across Canada to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2012.

Early the next morning Chief Theresa Spence, from Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, began a hunger strike in a tepee on Victoria Island, just minutes away from Canada's Parliament in Ottawa.

After surviving on only broth and medicinal tea for over six weeks, Chief Spence ended the political fast after inspiring major protests across Canada and parallel hunger strikes in support.

Chief Spence was hospitalised hours after the strike ended, spending a day and a half under medical supervision for dehydration and deterioration resulting from 44 days without food.

Politics surrounding aboriginal struggles in Canada are different after the historic action by Chief Spence, a catalyst for the ongoing Idle No More grassroots movement.

Canada's major opposition parties in Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have co-signed a joint declaration in response, outlining "the need for fundamental change in the relationship of First Nations and the Crown", a text nearly unimaginable prior to Idle No More.

Key to the declaration is the symbolic mention of the Crown, also highlighted by Chief Spence during the hunger strike in calls to include the Governor General, the representative of the British Crown in Canada, in any talks on aboriginal-Canada relations. A demand pointing clearly to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a colonial document of persisting importance, commonly referenced in indigenous land struggles and legal negotiations, that forbids the colonial settlement of territories or utilisation of resources without the clear consent of aboriginal peoples.

Today, the historic importance of Chief Spence's hunger strike is clear, as political energy around Idle No More builds. Another national day of action involved more than 30 cities in Canada yesterday, including a rally outside Parliament in Ottawa.

Still the Conservative government refuses to engage directly with Idle No More, instead holding discordant talkswith officials from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), a political body strongly tied to the Canadian state, not historically involved in aboriginal protest movements.
Indigenous activist group Idle No More has launched fresh protests in Canada recently [Al Jazeera/Thien V]

"Decision-making in the name of the AFN is not designed for fighting government, but merely consulting with government," writes Arthur Manuel, spokesperson for Defenders of the Land network from the Secwepemc Nation, openly critiquing talks with the Conservative government until clear conditions on respecting treaty rights are outlined.

"There is basically a fundamental change that Harper must make before 'engaging' with Harper could be useful," continues Manuel. "The Harper government does not recognise Aboriginal and Treaty Rights on the ground. Indigenous Peoples believe in Aboriginal and Treaty Rights on the ground. That is the fundamental difference."

Canada's broken treaties

Beyond contemporary extremes in inequality for aboriginal peoples in Canada, increasingly labelled "Canadian apartheid", Idle No More actions sound the alarm on questions of colonial injustice that reach to the political depths of Canada's existence and national character.

Today, most of Canada falls under signed treaties, agreements between First Nations and Canadian settler society, outlining bilateral obligations in regards to political relations and land rights. "In places where treaties are in effect, every building, business, road, government, or other activity is made possible by a treaty," outlines a recent post on The Media Coop.

Central to the Idle No More movement is a call for all Canadians to respect treaty rights, highlighting the constant refusal to acknowledge treaty obligations by successive Canadian governments over the past century.

 Indigenous movement gains momentum

"The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreement meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources," outlines the Idle No More manifesto. "Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonisation which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing."

Beyond treaty areas, large sections of Canada's north and the majority of British Columbia remain unceded indigenous territories, lands where no signed treaty is in effect. Legally speaking Canadian society exists in colonial limbo on these lands, outside the framework of both Canadian and indigenous law, areas including major urban centres like Vancouver.

Despite this legal reality, Canadian political and economic power rigorously avoids recognising the fundamentally colonial character to large territories in Canada, that today can be understood as Canadian settlements in occupied indigenous lands.

Idle No More vs conservative Canada

Key to the political energy around Idle No More today in Canada is a growing political alliance against the conservative government.

Aboriginal activists lead Idle No More, but the movement also involves voices for environmental justice, while receiving active support from a broad spectrum of Canadian society critical toward the policies of the current conservative government.

Recently in Quebec, l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), the face of the 2012 Montreal student uprising against austerity-driven tuition fee hikes, issued a strong declaration supporting the Idle No More movement.

"Last year the streets of Quebec vibrated to the rhythm of hundreds of thousands of marching feet, as our student strike against an increase in university tuition fees blossomed into the political awakening of a society," writes ASSÉ.

"Today, malls and public squares and railways across Canada are vibrating to another rhythm, the drum beat of a surging and inspiring movement of Indigenous peoples, for cultural renewal, for land rights, for environmental protection, and for decolonisation."

In Canada, Idle No More is building creative political space to openly challenge controversial Conservative policies, including key provisions in the government's recent omnibus federal budget bill C-45.

Including changes to Canada's Indian Act, toward easing regulations on the commercial leasing of reservation lands, that will, if implemented, equal the further erosion First Nations territory within Canada's borderlines.

On Canada's Navigation Protection Act, the Conservative bill includes changes to allow for more rapid confirmations on industrial development projects over waterways, namely power and pipe lines.

Altercations that erase earlier requirements for major development projects to not damage or destroy navigable waterways in Canada. Idle No More outlines that these changes will "remove protection for 99.9 percent of lakes and rivers in Canada".

Also the Conservative bill aims to limit Canada's Environmental Assessment Act, in relation to major "developments", like pipeline extensions to Canada's oil sands industry, limitations that cut down space for indigenous people to play a meaningful role in defining the future of their historic homelands.

"Idle No More revolves around Indigenous ways of knowing rooted in Indigenous sovereignty to protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations," outlines an official movement text.

"The conservative government bills beginning with Bill C-45 threaten Treaties and this Indigenous vision of sovereignty. The goal of the movement is education and to revitalise Indigenous peoples through awareness and empowerment. This message has been heard around the world and the world is watching how Canada responds to the message sent by many Idle No More supporters."

Apartheid economics

Recent changes to Canadian law, introduced by the Conservative government, in relation to aboriginal rights, are directly rooted in Canada's growing economic dependence on natural resources.

Today, Canada's economy is often highlighted as an example of relative stability amidst global financial turmoil.

"The Canadian economy is still performing relatively well, despite the challenges in Europe and elsewhere," outlines a major Canadian bank official, "we're continuing to see demand in interest for the resource sectors in Canada, both mining and oil and gas."

Today, Conservative politicians openly claim that Canada has "weathered the storm" of global financial crisis, very often pointing to the strong "energy sector", while never addressing the intensely colonial dimensions to Canadian economics.

Canada's major mining and oil and gas sectors are largely wired to totally ignore and undercut previously signed treaty agreements and Canada's international legal obligations to aboriginal people.

In Attawapiskat First Nation, Chief Spence declared a state of emergency in 2011, to draw focus to serious poverty on the isolated reserve, where many families live in wooden sheds, without running water or adequate insulation to face Canada's northern winter winds. Only 90km away from Attawapiskat is Victor Diamond Mine, operated by De Beers, that according to reports is extracting around 600,000 carats of diamonds per year.

"Great riches are being taken from our land for the benefit of a few, including the government of Canada and Ontario, who receive large royalty payments, while we receive so little," outlines Chief Spence in a 2011 speech.

Today the annual median income for aboriginal people is 30 percent lower than the Canadian average, according to recent national census data.

In reality the development of extraordinary mineral and energy wealth on First Nations territories, has done little to address the intense poverty and political marginalisation for the majority of aboriginal people.

Idle No More sounds an alarm on this colonial reality, accurately highlighting Canada's relative economic success as dependent on harvesting land and resources on indigenous territories without meaningful consultation, consent or remittance.

Decolonising Canada

Central to understanding this current winter unrest, sparked by Idle No More, are the urgent calls to revise Canada-aboriginal relations against the backdrop of persisting colonial injustice.

"It's high time for Canada to scrap discriminatory approaches dating back to colonial times and begin to respect the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples under Canadian and international law," outlines Amnesty International in a recent statement on Idle No More.

Canada's political landscape now faces an alarm on colonial questions commonly evaded in the halls of power.

Idle No More presents an incredible opening to collectively reenvision Canada, to finally address Canada's unjust past and present policies toward aboriginal people. A call to collectively explore a new social contract, rooted in indigenous traditions and contemporary conceptions of social justice, that can unravel the violent colonial roots to current economic modes that are destroying mother earth.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal based community activist, musician and writer.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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« Reply #4372 on: Feb 03, 2013, 08:39 am »

In the USA...

February 2, 2013

Backstage Glimpses of Clinton as Dogged Diplomat, Win or Lose

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK LANDLER
NYT

WASHINGTON — Last summer, as the fighting in Syria raged and questions about the United States’ inaction grew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conferred privately with David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A. The two officials were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.

The idea was to vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons. The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus presented the proposal to the White House, according to administration officials. But with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed.

A year earlier, she had better luck with the White House. Overcoming the administration’s skeptics, she persuaded Mr. Obama to open relations with the military rulers in Myanmar, a reclusive dictatorship eager to emerge from decades of isolation.

As she leaves the State Department, the simplest yardstick for measuring Mrs. Clinton’s legacy has been her tireless travels: 112 countries, nearly a million miles, 401 days on the road. Historians will point to how she expanded the State Department’s agenda to embrace issues like gender violence and the use of social media in diplomacy.

“We do need a new architecture for this new world: more Frank Gehry than formal Greek,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech last week that served as both a valedictory and a reminder of why she remained the nation’s most potent political figure aside from Mr. Obama.

And yet, interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials also paint a more complex picture: of a dogged diplomat and a sometimes frustrated figure who prized her role as team player, but whose instincts were often more activist than those of a White House that has kept a tight grip on foreign policy.

The disclosures about Mrs. Clinton’s behind-the-scenes role in Syria and Myanmar — one a setback, the other a success — offer a window into her time as a member of Mr. Obama’s cabinet. They may also be a guide to her thinking as she ponders a future run for the presidency with favorability ratings that are the highest of her career, even after her last months at the State Department were marred by the deadly attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya.

“Secretary Clinton has dramatically changed the face of U.S. foreign policy globally for the good,” said Richard L. Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. “But I wish she had been unleashed more by the White House.”

In an administration often faulted for its timidity abroad, “Clinton wanted to lead from the front, not from behind,” said Vali R. Nasr, a former State Department adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan who is now the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Mrs. Clinton made her first official trip to Asia, a choice that spoke to her diplomatic ambitions as well as her recognition from the start that many big-ticket foreign policy issues in the Obama administration — Iraq, Iran and peacemaking in the Middle East — would be controlled by the White House or the Pentagon.

In Afghanistan, several officials said, Mrs. Clinton hungered for a success on the order of the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War. But when her special representative, Richard C. Holbrooke, who had negotiated that agreement, fell out of favor with the White House and later died, those dreams died with him.

Then came the Arab awakening, a strategic surprise that eclipsed America’s shift to focusing on Asia, and it plunged Mrs. Clinton into a maelstrom. It tested her loyalty to longtime allies like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and reinforced her conviction that anger at decades of stagnation, fueled by social media, would sweep aside the old order in the Arab world.

After Britain and France argued for intervening to defend Libya’s rebels against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mrs. Clinton played an important role in mobilizing a broad international coalition and persuading the White House to join the NATO-led operation.

But it was Syria that proved to be the most difficult test. As that country descended into civil war, the administration provided humanitarian aid to the growing flood of refugees, pushed for sanctions and sought to organize the political opposition. The United States lagged France, Britain and Persian Gulf states in recognizing that opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syria people, but by December, Mr. Obama had taken that step.

Still, rebel fighters were clamoring for weapons and training. The White House has been reluctant to arm them for fear that it would draw the United States into the conflict and raise the risk of the weapons falling into the wrong hands. Rebel extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda had faced no such constraints in securing weapons from their backers.

When Mr. Petraeus was the commander of forces in Iraq and then-Senator Clinton was serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee and preparing for her 2008 presidential bid, she had all but called him a liar for trumpeting the military gains of the troop increase ordered by President Bush. But serving together in the Obama administration, they were allies when it came to Syria, as well as on the debate over how many troops to send to Afghanistan at the beginning of the administration.

Mr. Petraeus had a background in training foreign forces from his years in Iraq, and his C.I.A. job put him in charge of covert operations. The Americans already had experience in providing nonlethal assistance to some of the rebels.

The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed and Mrs. Clinton supported called for vetting rebels and establishing and arming a group of fighters with the assistance of some neighboring states. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was said by some officials to be sympathetic to the idea. Mr. Petraeus and a spokesman for Mr. Panetta declined to comment.

Wary of becoming entangled in the Syria crisis, the White House pushed back, and Mrs. Clinton backed off. Some administration officials expected the issue to be joined again after the election. But when Mr. Petraeus resigned because of an extramarital affair and Mrs. Clinton suffered a concussion, missing weeks of work, the issue was shelved.

In an interview last week, Mrs. Clinton declined to comment on her role in the arms debate and emphasized other steps the United States had taken. “We have worked assiduously, first to create some kind of legitimate opposition,” she said. “We have been the architect and main mover of very tough sanctions against Assad.”

She added: “Having said all that, Assad is still killing. The opposition is increasingly being represented by Al Qaeda extremist elements.” She also said that the opposition was getting messages from the ungoverned areas in Pakistan where some of the Qaeda leadership was believed to be hiding — a development she called “deeply distressing.”

If Syria and Benghazi were low points for Mrs. Clinton, then the diplomatic opening to the military government in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was perhaps the biggest highlight. There, too, she initially met resistance from the White House and Pentagon, as well as the prospect of opposition from the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a stalwart supporter of Myanmar’s prodemocracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Once she secured Mr. McConnell’s acquiescence, Mrs. Clinton sent her assistant secretary for East Asian affairs, Kurt M. Campbell, to meet the generals. When he returned, persuaded that Myanmar was poised for change, Mrs. Clinton convened a full review of whether to ease American sanctions and establish diplomatic ties.

White House aides remained wary about rewarding a repressive government. So Mrs. Clinton, in effect, made an end run, seeking out Mr. Obama directly and persuading him to send her on a historic visit to Myanmar in December 2011.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said. “The president basically said, ‘Look, I’m behind you on this.’ ”

While Myanmar’s progress has not been without bumps, things have progressed enough that Mrs. Clinton accompanied Mr. Obama on his own visit last fall. And it was not the only bold move of Mrs. Clinton’s focus on Asia. In July 2010, she provoked a sulfurous reaction from China when she announced that the United States had an interest in helping to resolve territorial disputes between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea.

“There had been a lot of rhetoric about the pivot to Asia, but here was an issue where more U.S. engagement meant a lot to the region,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

And yet Mrs. Clinton’s involvement has done little to quell the tensions. China feuded recently with the Philippines over a rocky shoal claimed by both countries, and farther north, in the East China Sea, it is enmeshed in a dispute with Japan over islands.

Mrs. Clinton insisted that her involvement had put China on notice that it could not brush off international legal norms in pursuing its maritime claims. “There’s still going to be belligerence, and there’s going to be a lot of very hot rhetoric,” she said. “But I think we’ve helped support a strong case for the kind of framework we believe in.”

The fruits of Mrs. Clinton’s work were evident last year in the fraught, but ultimately successful, negotiation over Chen Guangcheng, the dissident who sought refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. When an initial deal fell apart, she said, she passed a note to China’s senior foreign policy official, Dai Bingguo, that said, “You and I need to talk.”

Huddling in a small room, she persuaded Mr. Dai to order his deputies to go back to the table with her team. “It was incredibly intense,” she said, in an observation that could apply to so many of her days as secretary of state, “but I was always confident.”

*********

February 02, 2013 05:00 PM

Weekly Address: 'We Can't Just Cut Our Way to Prosperity'

By Diane Sweet
RawStory

President Obama used his weekly address to call for a balanced approach to the federal budget. Citing a recent falloff in economic growth attributed to inaction in Washington, Obama called for investments in education and infrastructure and lowering the cost of programs like Medicare -- without passing the expense on to seniors -- as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. He said that “2013 can be a year of solid growth, more jobs, and higher wages. But that will only happen if we put a stop to self-inflicted wounds in Washington.”

"We all agree that it’s critical to cut unnecessary spending. But we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work today. It could slow down our recovery. It could weaken our economy. And it could cost us jobs – now, and in the future."

    "What we need instead is a balanced approach; an approach that says let’s cut what we can’t afford but let’s make the investments we can’t afford to live without. Investments in education and infrastructure, research and development – the things that will help America compete for the best jobs and new industries."

    "Already, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to reduce our deficits by $2.5 trillion. That’s a good start. But to get the rest of the way, we need a balanced set of reforms."

    "For example, we need to lower the cost of health care in programs like Medicare that are the biggest drivers of our deficit, without just passing the burden off to seniors. And these reforms must go hand-in-hand with eliminating excess spending in our tax code, so that the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations can’t take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans."

    "2013 can be a year of solid growth, more jobs, and higher wages. But that will only happen if we put a stop to self-inflicted wounds in Washington. Everyone in Washington needs to focus not on politics but on what’s right for the country; on what’s right for you and your families. That’s how we’ll get our economy growing faster. That’s how we’ll strengthen our middle class. And that’s how we’ll build a country that rewards the effort and determination of every single American."

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P_3WDJe5QY&feature=player_embedded

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February 2, 2013

In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn’t Better ... It’s Brutal

By CATHERINE RAMPELL
NYT

Young graduates are in debt, out of work and on their parents’ couches. People in their 30s and 40s can’t afford to buy homes or have children. Retirees are earning near-zero interest on their savings.

In the current listless economy, every generation has a claim to having been most injured. But the Labor Department’s latest jobs snapshot and other recent data reports present a strong case for crowning baby boomers as the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath.

These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.

Their retirement savings and home values fell sharply at the worst possible time: just before they needed to cash out. They are supporting both aged parents and unemployed young-adult children, earning them the inauspicious nickname “Generation Squeeze.”

New research suggests that they may die sooner, because their health, income security and mental well-being were battered by recession at a crucial time in their lives. A recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

“If I break my wrist, I lose my house,” said Susan Zimmerman, 62, a freelance writer in Cleveland, of the distress that a medical emergency would wreak upon her finances and her quality of life. None of the three part-time jobs she has cobbled together pay benefits, and she says she is counting the days until she becomes eligible for Medicare.

In the meantime, Ms. Zimmerman has fashioned her own regimen of home remedies — including eating blue cheese instead of taking penicillin and consuming plenty of orange juice, red wine, coffee and whatever else the latest longevity studies recommend — to maintain her health, which she must do if she wants to continue paying the bills.

“I will probably be working until I’m 100,” she said.

As common as that sentiment is, the job market has been especially unkind to older workers.

Unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are far lower than those for young people, who are recently out of school, with fewer skills and a shorter work history. But once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding another one. Over the last year, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers, according to the Labor Department’s jobs report released on Friday.

The lengthy process is partly because older workers are more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, like manufacturing. Compared with the rest of the population, older people are also more likely to own their own homes and be less mobile than renters, who can move to new job markets.

Older workers are more likely to have a disability of some sort, perhaps limiting the range of jobs that offer realistic choices. They may also be less inclined, at least initially, to take jobs that pay far less than their old positions.

Displaced boomers also believe they are victims of age discrimination, because employers can easily find a young, energetic worker who will accept lower pay and who can potentially stick around for decades rather than a few years.

“When you’re older, they just see gray hair and they write you off,” said Arynita Armstrong, 60, of Willis, Tex. She has been looking for work for five years since losing her job at a mortgage company. “They’re afraid to hire you, because they think you’re a health risk. You know, you might make their premiums go up. They think it’ll cost more money to invest in training you than it’s worth it because you might retire in five years.

“Not that they say any of this to your face,” she added.

When older workers do find re-employment, the compensation is usually not up to the level of their previous jobs, according to data from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

In a survey by the center of older workers who were laid off during the recession, just one in six had found another job, and half of that group had accepted pay cuts. Fourteen percent of the re-employed said the pay in their new job was less than half what they earned in their previous job.

“I just say to myself: ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’ ” said John Agati, 56, of Norwalk, Conn., whose last full-time job, as a merchandise buyer and product developer, ended four years ago when his employer went out of business.

That position paid $90,000, and his résumé lists stints at companies like American Express, Disney and USA Networks. Since being laid off, though, he has worked a series of part-time, low-wage, temporary positions, including selling shoes at Lord & Taylor and making sales calls for a limo company.

The last few years have taken a toll not only on his family’s finances, but also on his feelings of self-worth.

“You just get sad,” Mr. Agati said. “I see people getting up in the morning, going out to their careers and going home. I just wish I was doing that. Some people don’t like their jobs, or they have problems with their jobs, but at least they’re working. I just wish I was in their shoes.”

He said he cannot afford to go back to school, as many younger people without jobs have done. Even if he could afford it, economists say it is unclear whether older workers like him benefit much from more education.

“It just doesn’t make sense to offer retraining for people 55 and older,” said Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “Discrimination by age, long-term unemployment, the fact that they’re now at the end of the hiring queue, the lack of time horizon just does not make it sensible to invest in them.”

Many displaced older workers are taking this message to heart and leaving the labor force entirely.

The share of older people applying for Social Security early spiked during the recession as people sought whatever income they could find. The penalty they will pay is permanent, as retirees who take benefits at age 62 — as Ms. Zimmerman did, to help make her mortgage payments — will receive 30 percent less in each month’s check for the rest of their lives than they would if they had waited until full retirement age (66 for those born after 1942).

Those not yet eligible for Social Security are increasingly applying for another, comparable kind of income support that often goes to people who expect never to work again: disability benefits. More than one in eight people in their late 50s is now on some form of federal disability insurance program, according to Mark Duggan, chairman of the department of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The very oldest Americans, of course, were battered by some of the same ill winds that tormented those now nearing retirement, but at least the most senior were cushioned by a more readily available social safety net. More important, in a statistical twist, they may have actually benefited from the financial crisis in the most fundamental way: prolonged lives.

Death rates for people over 65 have historically fallen during recessions, according to a November 2011 study by economists at the University of California, Davis. Why? The researchers argue that weak job markets push more workers into accepting relatively undesirable work at nursing homes, leading to better care for residents.

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February 2, 2013

Colorado Communities Take On Fight Against Energy Land Leases

By JACK HEALY
NYT

PAONIA, Colo. — For a glimpse into the complications of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, follow a curling mountain road through the aspens and into central Colorado’s North Fork Valley, where billboards promote “gently grown” fruits and farmers sell fresh milk and raw honey from pay-what-you-can donation boxes.

Here, amid dozens of organic farms, orchards and ranches, the federal government is opening up thousands of acres of public land for oil and gas drilling, part of its largest energy lease sale in Colorado since Mr. Obama took office.

In all, leases for 114,932 acres of federal land across Colorado are being auctioned off next month — a tiny piece of what Mr. Obama lauded during last year’s campaign as a historic effort to increase domestic natural-gas production. Those holes have to be drilled somewhere, and the move to lease public lands in this valley has stirred a fierce debate, one that has aligned Republican residents more closely to the government’s plans than Democrats.

Coloradans in solidly red cities west of here are the ones who have written letters to the government supporting the lease sale, saying it will bring jobs and tax revenues. In Paonia, where political lines are more evenly split, residents have come out overwhelmingly against the idea of drilling, saying it threatens a new economy rooted in tourism, wineries and organic peaches.

“It’s just this land-grab, rape-and-pillage mentality,” said Landon Deane, who raises 80 cows on a ranch that sits near several federal parcels being put up for lease. Because of the quirks of mineral ownership in the West, which can divide ownership of land and the minerals under it, one parcel up for bid sits directly below Ms. Deane’s fields, where she has recently been thinking of sowing hops for organic beer.

“All it takes is one spill, and we’re toast,” she said.

Paonia takes its environmental debates seriously — so much so that in 2003, someone upset over insecticide spraying set off a bomb in the headquarters of the town’s Mosquito Control District (no one was hurt).

For years, activists in town raged against the century-old coal mines located about 10 miles up the road, before eventually reaching a détente with the industry, which provides hundreds of jobs in the valley. Paonia is also home to an award-winning community radio station and the High Country News, a nonprofit newspaper that covers land and environmental issues across the West.

Last week, the forces of government and upset citizens collided like two weather fronts in a packed, stifling town meeting.

Officials from the Bureau of Land Management explained the situation: Under 90-year-old laws, companies and people can nominate public lands for drilling, and the government is obliged to auction them off after months of review and public comment. The officials explained that they had removed some of the most sensitive and contentious pieces of land from consideration and that they were still reviewing which parcels to lease, but said the auction was happening.

About 200 residents sat on the floor, lined the walls and spilled into the hallway, jeering and hooting as officials insisted — sometimes patiently, sometimes brusquely — that hydraulic fracturing was safe, and that there would be little environmental impact on the valley. They applauded as town council members pressed federal officials on drilling’s effect on the town’s air, water and economy — eliciting responses that were as unsatisfactory to the crowd as a bushel of mealy peaches.

“I can’t guarantee you there won’t be a spill,” Lonny Bagley, the land management agency’s deputy state director for energy and minerals, told the audience. “I can’t guarantee there won’t be a blowout.”

Paonia’s mayor, Neal Schwieterman pressed officials on why they had used a 30-year-old resource plan to evaluate whether drilling would mesh with the valley’s lifestyle and growing tourism economy. Why not delay any lease sale, he asked, until the bureau could write a new blueprint for land management in the area?

“People would like it if we said, ‘O.K., we’re just going to stop,’ ” Helen M. Hankins, the bureau’s state director, told the crowd. “We really don’t have that luxury.”

She added: “It’s not the kind of world everybody would like to see.”

Real estate and tourism groups have also spoken against the leases, saying that gas rigs and a torrent of new truck traffic would drive away second-home buyers and hurt a tourist trade that has sprung up from almost nothing in the last 15 to 20 years. Proposed gas leases near Dinosaur National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park were met with howls of protest, and the Bureau of Land Management changed or withdrew several of the parcels from the sale because they were on steep slopes or had qualities of wilderness lands.

Sitting quietly in the crowd was Bruce Bertram, who monitors oil and gas activity here in Delta County on behalf of the county commissioners. There have been 27 wells drilled in the county over the last decade, and only one on federal land. Like it or not, he said, drilling was already at the doorstep to the valley.

“Some of the folks aren’t making a good judgment about what’s good and bad,” he said. “There’s a built-in distrust of government and business. And that permeates through the whole area.”

Even if the land is leased out for drilling, months and years of red tape and public review lie between drillers and the gas-rich rock underneath the tree-covered ridgelines and rolling mesas. Less than one-tenth of the federal lands here in western Colorado leased out for drilling have been developed.

During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney criticized Mr. Obama’s policies for leading to a drop in drilling on public lands, saying that government regulations had made it too slow and cumbersome for companies to get permits.

But much of the decline in Colorado has been because of rock-bottom natural-gas prices — which fell in part because of abundant new supplies — and a boom in oil drilling on private lands in northern Colorado and western North Dakota. In Colorado, the public acres leased out for energy production have fallen, from 97,232 in 2009 to just 4,393 in 2011 and 64,435 last year. Now, with natural gas prices so low, it is an open question whether any energy companies will risk the money and resources to drill in the valley.

But if next month’s lease sale is a sign of a turn in the industry, small farmers like Wayne Talmage worry about the future of a place nicknamed “The American Provence.” It has been 40 years since Mr. Talmage — a philosophy student — left behind academia to move here to start White Buffalo Farm, which grows organic peaches, apples and pie cherries. One afternoon, as he helped a friend pull crates of cider apples out of cold storage, he pointed to ridgelines towering above his property, where gas wells could one day sit.

“We’re unbelievably blessed by this place here,” he said. “We could be unblessed really quickly.”

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February 2, 2013

Top G.O.P. Donors Seek Greater Say in Senate Races

By JEFF ZELENY
NYT

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.

The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

The effort would put a new twist on the Republican-vs.-Republican warfare that has consumed the party’s primary races in recent years. In effect, the establishment is taking steps to fight back against Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations that have wielded significant influence in backing candidates who ultimately lost seats to Democrats in the general election.

The first test of the group’s effort to influence primary races could come here in Iowa, where some Republicans are already worrying about who will run for the seat being vacated by Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat. It is the first open Senate seat in Iowa since 1974, and Republicans are fearful of squandering a rare opportunity.

The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.

The project is being waged with last year’s Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin’s comment that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was “something God intended.”

As Republicans rebuild from losing the White House race and seats in the House and Senate last year, party leaders and strategists are placing a heightened focus on taking control of the Senate next year. Republicans must pick up six seats to win a majority.

Representative Steve King, a six-term Iowa Republican, could be among the earliest targets of the Conservative Victory Project. He said he had not decided whether he would run for the Senate, but the leaders of the project in Washington are not waiting to try to steer him away from the race.

The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.

“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”

Mr. King has compiled a record of incendiary statements during his time in Congress, including comparing illegal immigrants to dogs and likening Capitol Hill maintenance workers to “Stasi troops” after they were ordered to install environmentally friendly light bulbs. But he rejected the suggestion that his voting record or previous remarks would keep him from winning if he decided to run for the Senate.

“This is a decision for Iowans to make and should not be guided by some political staffers in Washington,” Mr. King said in an interview, pointing out that he won his Congressional race last year even though President Obama easily defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa. “The last election, they said I couldn’t win that, either, and the entire machine was against me.”

The Conservative Victory Project will be a super PAC operating independently of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It will disclose the names of donors and raise money separately from American Crossroads, officials said, because some donors were uncomfortable about aggressively weighing in on Republican-vs.-Republican fights.

“It is a delicate and sensitive undertaking,” Mr. Law said. “Our approach will be to institutionalize the Buckley rule: Support the most conservative candidate who can win.”

But by imposing the rule of the conservative leader William F. Buckley, the group could run afoul of Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” to not speak ill of a fellow Republican.

In Iowa, Cory Adams, the chairman of the Story County Republican Party, said the criticism aimed at Mr. King was unfair and misdirected. He warned of resistance from conservative activists if outside groups tried to interfere in the Senate race.

“If he wants to run for the Senate, he should be allowed to run,” Mr. Adams said of Mr. King, whose Congressional district includes Story County. “The more people get to know him, the more they will like him.”

The retirement announcements last month from Mr. Harkin and Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, have created wide-open Senate races that are expected to attract several prospective candidates. The Conservative Victory Project is working to build a consensus with other groups on candidates who have the strongest chance of winning.

Grover Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform, a fiscally conservative advocacy group that plays a role in Republican primary races, said he welcomed a pragmatic sense of discipline in recruiting candidates. But he said it was incorrect to suggest that candidates backed by Tea Party groups were the only ones to lose, pointing to establishment Republicans in North Dakota and Montana who also lost their races last year.

“People are imagining a problem that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Norquist said. “We’ve had people challenge the establishment guy and do swimmingly.”

Sue Everhart, the head of the Georgia Republican Party, said she did not object to outside intervention. But because open Senate seats do not come along very often, she said,“we have six congressmen who want the job,” which could create a messy and divisive primary regardless of the efforts to control the race.

“The primary has to sort itself out in Georgia,” Ms. Everhart said. “That’s what primaries are for. But we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. This is going to be a very important election, and it’s paramount that Georgia keeps its Senate seat in Republican hands.”

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February 2, 2013

Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions

By ALAN SCHWARZ
NYT

VIRGINIA BEACH — Every morning on her way to work, Kathy Fee holds her breath as she drives past the squat brick building that houses Dominion Psychiatric Associates.

It was there that her son, Richard, visited a doctor and received prescriptions for Adderall, an amphetamine-based medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It was in the parking lot that she insisted to Richard that he did not have A.D.H.D., not as a child and not now as a 24-year-old college graduate, and that he was getting dangerously addicted to the medication. It was inside the building that her husband, Rick, implored Richard’s doctor to stop prescribing him Adderall, warning, “You’re going to kill him.”

It was where, after becoming violently delusional and spending a week in a psychiatric hospital in 2011, Richard met with his doctor and received prescriptions for 90 more days of Adderall. He hanged himself in his bedroom closet two weeks after they expired.

The story of Richard Fee, an athletic, personable college class president and aspiring medical student, highlights widespread failings in the system through which five million Americans take medication for A.D.H.D., doctors and other experts said.

Medications like Adderall can markedly improve the lives of children and others with the disorder. But the tunnel-like focus the medicines provide has led growing numbers of teenagers and young adults to fake symptoms to obtain steady prescriptions for highly addictive medications that carry serious psychological dangers. These efforts are facilitated by a segment of doctors who skip established diagnostic procedures, renew prescriptions reflexively and spend too little time with patients to accurately monitor side effects.

Richard Fee’s experience included it all. Conversations with friends and family members and a review of detailed medical records depict an intelligent and articulate young man lying to doctor after doctor, physicians issuing hasty diagnoses, and psychiatrists continuing to prescribe medication — even increasing dosages — despite evidence of his growing addiction and psychiatric breakdown.

Very few people who misuse stimulants devolve into psychotic or suicidal addicts. But even one of Richard’s own physicians, Dr. Charles Parker, characterized his case as a virtual textbook for ways that A.D.H.D. practices can fail patients, particularly young adults. “We have a significant travesty being done in this country with how the diagnosis is being made and the meds are being administered,” said Dr. Parker, a psychiatrist in Virginia Beach. “I think it’s an abnegation of trust. The public needs to say this is totally unacceptable and walk out.”

Young adults are by far the fastest-growing segment of people taking A.D.H.D medications. Nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for the condition were written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, two and a half times the 5.6 million just four years before, according to the data company I.M.S. Health. While this rise is generally attributed to the maturing of adolescents who have A.D.H.D. into young adults — combined with a greater recognition of adult A.D.H.D. in general — many experts caution that savvy college graduates, freed of parental oversight, can legally and easily obtain stimulant prescriptions from obliging doctors.

“Any step along the way, someone could have helped him — they were just handing out drugs,” said Richard’s father. Emphasizing that he had no intention of bringing legal action against any of the doctors involved, Mr. Fee said: “People have to know that kids are out there getting these drugs and getting addicted to them. And doctors are helping them do it.”

“...when he was in elementary school he fidgeted, daydreamed and got A’s. he has been an A-B student until mid college when he became scattered and he wandered while reading He never had to study. Presently without medication, his mind thinks most of the time, he procrastinated, he multitasks not finishing in a timely manner.”

Dr. Waldo M. Ellison

Richard Fee initial evaluation

Feb. 5, 2010

Richard began acting strangely soon after moving back home in late 2009, his parents said. He stayed up for days at a time, went from gregarious to grumpy and back, and scrawled compulsively in notebooks. His father, while trying to add Richard to his health insurance policy, learned that he was taking Vyvanse for A.D.H.D.

Richard explained to him that he had been having trouble concentrating while studying for medical school entrance exams the previous year and that he had seen a doctor and received a diagnosis. His father reacted with surprise. Richard had never shown any A.D.H.D. symptoms his entire life, from nursery school through high school, when he was awarded a full academic scholarship to Greensboro College in North Carolina. Mr. Fee also expressed concerns about the safety of his son’s taking daily amphetamines for a condition he might not have.

“The doctor wouldn’t give me anything that’s bad for me,” Mr. Fee recalled his son saying that day. “I’m not buying it on the street corner.”

Richard’s first experience with A.D.H.D. pills, like so many others’, had come in college. Friends said he was a typical undergraduate user — when he needed to finish a paper or cram for exams, one Adderall capsule would jolt him with focus and purpose for six to eight hours, repeat as necessary.

So many fellow students had prescriptions or stashes to share, friends of Richard recalled in interviews, that guessing where he got his was futile. He was popular enough on campus — he was sophomore class president and played first base on the baseball team — that they doubted he even had to pay the typical $5 or $10 per pill.

“He would just procrastinate, wait till the last minute and then take a pill to study for tests,” said Ryan Sykes, a friend. “It got to the point where he’d say he couldn’t get anything done if he didn’t have the Adderall.”

Various studies have estimated that 8 percent to 35 percent of college students take stimulant pills to enhance school performance. Few students realize that giving or accepting even one Adderall pill from a friend with a prescription is a federal crime. Adderall and its stimulant siblings are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II drugs, in the same category as cocaine, because of their highly addictive properties.

“It’s incredibly nonchalant,” Chris Hewitt, a friend of Richard, said of students’ attitudes to the drug. “It’s: ‘Anyone have any Adderall? I want to study tonight,’ ” said Mr. Hewitt, now an elementary school teacher in Greensboro.

After graduating with honors in 2008 with a degree in biology, Richard planned to apply to medical schools and stayed in Greensboro to study for the entrance exams. He remembered how Adderall had helped him concentrate so well as an undergraduate, friends said, and he made an appointment at the nearby Triad Psychiatric and Counseling Center.

According to records obtained by Richard’s parents after his death, a nurse practitioner at Triad detailed his unremarkable medical and psychiatric history before recording his complaints about “organization, memory, attention to detail.” She characterized his speech as “clear,” his thought process “goal directed” and his concentration “attentive.”

Richard filled out an 18-question survey on which he rated various symptoms on a 0-to-3 scale. His total score of 29 led the nurse practitioner to make a diagnosis of “A.D.H.D., inattentive-type” — a type of A.D.H.D. without hyperactivity. She recommended Vyvanse, 30 milligrams a day, for three weeks.

Phone and fax requests to Triad officials for comment were not returned.

Some doctors worry that A.D.H.D. questionnaires, designed to assist and standardize the gathering of a patient’s symptoms, are being used as a shortcut to diagnosis. C. Keith Conners, a longtime child psychologist who developed a popular scale similar to the one used with Richard, said in an interview that scales like his “have reinforced this tendency for quick and dirty practice.”

Dr. Conners, an emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, emphasized that a detailed life history must be taken and other sources of information — such as a parent, teacher or friend — must be pursued to learn the nuances of a patient’s difficulties and to rule out other maladies before making a proper diagnosis of A.D.H.D. Other doctors interviewed said they would not prescribe medications on a patient’s first visit, specifically to deter the faking of symptoms.

According to his parents, Richard had no psychiatric history, or even suspicion of problems, through college. None of his dozen high school and college acquaintances interviewed for this article said he had ever shown or mentioned behaviors related to A.D.H.D. — certainly not the “losing things” and “difficulty awaiting turn” he reported on the Triad questionnaire — suggesting that he probably faked or at least exaggerated his symptoms to get his diagnosis.

That is neither uncommon nor difficult, said David Berry, a professor and researcher at the University of Kentucky. He is a co-author of a 2010 study that compared two groups of college students — those with diagnoses of A.D.H.D. and others who were asked to fake symptoms — to see whether standard symptom questionnaires could tell them apart. They were indistinguishable.

“With college students,” Dr. Berry said in an interview, “it’s clear that it doesn’t take much information for someone who wants to feign A.D.H.D. to do so.”

Richard Fee filled his prescription for Vyvanse within hours at a local Rite Aid. He returned to see the nurse three weeks later and reported excellent concentration: “reading books — read 10!” her notes indicate. She increased his dose to 50 milligrams a day. Three weeks later, after Richard left a message for her asking for the dose to go up to 60, which is on the high end of normal adult doses, she wrote on his chart, “Okay rewrite.”

Richard filled that prescription later that afternoon. It was his third month’s worth of medication in 43 days.

“The patient is a 23-year-old Caucasian male who presents for refill of vyvanse — recently started on this while in NC b/c of lack of motivation/ loss of drive. Has moved here and wants refill”

Dr. Robert M. Woodard

Notes on Richard Fee

Nov. 11, 2009

Richard scored too low on the MCAT in 2009 to qualify for a top medical school. Although he had started taking Vyvanse for its jolts of focus and purpose, their side effects began to take hold. His sleep patterns increasingly scrambled and his mood darkening, he moved back in with his parents in Virginia Beach and sought a local physician to renew his prescriptions.

A friend recommended a family physician, Dr. Robert M. Woodard. Dr. Woodard heard Richard describe how well Vyvanse was working for his A.D.H.D., made a diagnosis of “other malaise and fatigue” and renewed his prescription for one month. He suggested that Richard thereafter see a trained psychiatrist at Dominion Psychiatric Associates — only a five-minute walk from the Fees’ house.

With eight psychiatrists and almost 20 therapists on staff, Dominion Psychiatric is one of the better-known practices in Virginia Beach, residents said. One of its better-known doctors is Dr. Waldo M. Ellison, a practicing psychiatrist since 1974.

In interviews, some patients and parents of patients of Dr. Ellison’s described him as very quick to identify A.D.H.D. and prescribe medication for it. Sandy Paxson of nearby Norfolk said she took her 15-year-old son to see Dr. Ellison for anxiety in 2008; within a few minutes, Mrs. Paxson recalled, Dr. Ellison said her son had A.D.H.D. and prescribed him Adderall.

“My son said: ‘I love the way this makes me feel. It helps me focus for school, but it’s not getting rid of my anxiety, and that’s what I need,’ ” Mrs. Paxson recalled. “So we went back to Dr. Ellison and told him that it wasn’t working properly, what else could he give us, and he basically told me that I was wrong. He basically told me that I was incorrect.”

Dr. Ellison met with Richard in his office for the first time on Feb. 5, 2010. He took a medical history, heard Richard’s complaints regarding concentration, noted how he was drumming his fingers and made a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. with “moderate symptoms or difficulty functioning.” Dominion Psychiatric records of that visit do not mention the use of any A.D.H.D. symptom questionnaire to identify particular areas of difficulty or strategies for treatment.

As the 47-minute session ended, Dr. Ellison prescribed a common starting dose of Adderall: 30 milligrams daily for 21 days. Eight days later, while Richard still had 13 pills remaining, his prescription was renewed for 30 more days at 50 milligrams.

Through the remainder of 2010, in appointments with Dr. Ellison that usually lasted under five minutes, Richard returned for refills of Adderall. Records indicate that he received only what was consistently coded as “pharmacologic management” — the official term for quick appraisals of medication effects — and none of the more conventional talk-based therapy that experts generally consider an important component of A.D.H.D. treatment.

His Adderall prescriptions were always for the fast-acting variety, rather than the extended-release formula that is less prone to abuse.

“PATIENT DOING WELL WITH THE MEDICATION, IS CALM, FOCUSED AND ON TASK, AND WILL RETURN TO OFFICE IN 3 MONTHS”

Dr. Waldo M. Ellison

Notes on Richard Fee

Dec. 11, 2010

Regardless of what he might have told his doctor, Richard Fee was anything but well or calm during his first year back home, his father said.

Blowing through a month’s worth of Adderall in a few weeks, Richard stayed up all night reading and scribbling in notebooks, occasionally climbing out of his bedroom window and on to the roof to converse with the moon and stars. When the pills ran out, he would sleep for 48 hours straight and not leave his room for 72. He got so hot during the day that he walked around the house with ice packs around his neck — and in frigid weather, he would cool off by jumping into the 52-degree backyard pool.

As Richard lost a series of jobs and tensions in the house ran higher — particularly when talk turned to his Adderall — Rick and Kathy Fee continued to research the side effects of A.D.H.D. medication. They learned that stimulants are exceptionally successful at mollifying the impulsivity and distractibility that characterize classic A.D.H.D., but that they can cause insomnia, increased blood pressure and elevated body temperature. Food and Drug Administration warnings on packaging also note “high potential for abuse,” as well as psychiatric side effects such as aggression, hallucinations and paranoia.

A 2006 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence claimed that about 10 percent of adolescents and young adults who misused A.D.H.D. stimulants became addicted to them. Even proper, doctor-supervised use of the medications can trigger psychotic behavior or suicidal thoughts in about 1 in 400 patients, according to a 2006 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry. So while a vast majority of stimulant users will not experience psychosis — and a doctor may never encounter it in decades of careful practice — the sheer volume of prescriptions leads to thousands of cases every year, experts acknowledged.

When Mrs. Fee noticed Richard putting tape over his computer’s camera, he told her that people were spying on him. (He put tape on his fingers, too, to avoid leaving fingerprints.) He cut himself out of family pictures, talked to the television and became increasingly violent when agitated.

In late December, Mr. Fee drove to Dominion Psychiatric and asked to see Dr. Ellison, who explained that federal privacy laws forbade any discussion of an adult patient, even with the patient’s father. Mr. Fee said he had tried unsuccessfully to detail Richard’s bizarre behavior, assuming that Richard had not shared such details with his doctor.

“I can’t talk to you,” Mr. Fee recalled Dr. Ellison telling him. “I did this one time with another family, sat down and talked with them, and I ended up getting sued. I can’t talk with you unless your son comes with you.”

Mr. Fee said he had turned to leave but distinctly recalls warning Dr. Ellison, “You keep giving Adderall to my son, you’re going to kill him.”

Dr. Ellison declined repeated requests for comment on Richard Fee’s case. His office records, like those of other doctors involved, were obtained by Mr. Fee under Virginia and federal law, which allow the legal representative of a deceased patient to obtain medical records as if he were the patient himself.

As 2011 began, the Fees persuaded Richard to see a psychologist, Scott W. Sautter, whose records note Richard’s delusions, paranoia and “severe and pervasive mental disorder.” Dr. Sautter recommended that Adderall either be stopped or be paired with a sleep aid “if not medically contraindicated.”

Mr. Fee did not trust his son to share this report with Dr. Ellison, so he drove back to Dominion Psychiatric and, he recalled, was told by a receptionist that he could leave the information with her. Mr. Fee said he had demanded to put it in Dr. Ellison’s hands himself and threatened to break down his door in order to do so.

Mr. Fee said that Dr. Ellison had then come out, read the report and, appreciating the gravity of the situation, spoken with him about Richard for 45 minutes. They scheduled an appointment for the entire family.

“meeting with parents — concern with ‘metaphoric’ speaking that appears to be outside the realm of appropriated one to one conversation. Richard says he does it on purpose — to me some of it sounds like pre-psychotic thinking.”

Dr. Waldo M. Ellison

Notes on Richard Fee

Feb. 23, 2011

Dr. Ellison stopped Richard Fee’s prescription — he wrote “no Adderall for now” on his chart and the next day refused Richard’s phone request for more. Instead he prescribed Abilify and Seroquel, antipsychotics for schizophrenia that do not provide the bursts of focus and purpose that stimulants do. Richard became enraged, his parents recalled. He tried to back up over his father in the Dominion Psychiatric parking lot and threatened to burn the house down. At home, he took a baseball bat from the garage, smashed flower pots and screamed, “You’re taking my medicine!”

Richard disappeared for a few weeks. He returned to the house when he learned of his grandmother’s death, the Fees said.

The morning after the funeral, Richard walked down Potters Road to what became a nine-minute visit with Dr. Ellison. He left with two prescriptions: one for Abilify, and another for 50 milligrams a day of Adderall.

According to Mr. Fee, Richard later told him that he had lied to Dr. Ellison — he told the doctor he was feeling great, life was back on track and he had found a job in Greensboro that he would lose without Adderall. Dr. Ellison’s notes do not say why he agreed to start Adderall again.

Richard’s delusions and mood swings only got worse, his parents said. They would lock their bedroom door when they went to sleep because of his unpredictable rages. “We were scared of our own son,” Mr. Fee said. Richard would blow through his monthly prescriptions in 10 to 15 days and then go through hideous withdrawals. A friend said that he would occasionally get Richard some extra pills during the worst of it, but that “it wasn’t enough because he would take four or five at a time.”

One night during an argument, after Richard became particularly threatening and pushed him over a chair, Mr. Fee called the police. They arrested Richard for domestic violence. The episode persuaded Richard to see another local psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Parker.

Mrs. Fee said she attended Richard’s initial consultation on June 3 with Dr. Parker’s clinician, Renee Strelitz, and emphasized his abuse of Adderall. Richard “kept giving me dirty looks,” Mrs. Fee recalled. She said she had later left a detailed message on Ms. Strelitz’s voice mail, urging her and Dr. Parker not to prescribe stimulants under any circumstances when Richard came in the next day.

Dr. Parker met with Richard alone. The doctor noted depression, anxiety and suicidal ideas. He wrote “no meds” with a box around it — an indication, he explained later, that he was aware of the parents’ concerns regarding A.D.H.D. stimulants.

Dr. Parker wrote three 30-day prescriptions: Clonidine (a sleep aid), Venlafaxine (an antidepressant) and Adderall, 60 milligrams a day.

In an interview last November, Dr. Parker said he did not recall the details of Richard’s case but reviewed his notes and tried to recreate his mind-set during that appointment. He said he must have trusted Richard’s assertions that medication was not an issue, and must have figured that his parents were just philosophically anti-medication. Dr. Parker recalled that he had been reassured by Richard’s intelligent discussions of the ins and outs of stimulants and his desire to pursue medicine himself.

“He was smart and he was quick and he had A’s and B’s and wanted to go to medical school — and he had all the deportment of a guy that had the potential to do that,” Dr. Parker said. “He didn’t seem like he was a drug person at all, but rather a person that was misunderstood, really desirous of becoming a physician. He was very slick and smooth. He convinced me there was a benefit.”

Mrs. Fee was outraged. Over the next several days, she recalled, she repeatedly spoke with Ms. Strelitz over the phone to detail Richard’s continued abuse of the medication (she found nine pills gone after 48 hours) and hand-delivered Dr. Sautter’s appraisal of his recent psychosis. Dr. Parker confirmed that he had received this information.

Richard next saw Dr. Parker on June 27. Mrs. Fee drove him to the clinic and waited in the parking lot. Soon afterward, Richard returned and asked to head to the pharmacy to fill a prescription. Dr. Parker had raised his Adderall to 80 milligrams a day.

Dr. Parker recalled that the appointment had been a 15-minute “med check” that left little time for careful assessment of any Adderall addiction. Once again, Dr. Parker said, he must have believed Richard’s assertions that he needed additional medicine more than the family’s pleas that it be stopped.

“He was pitching me very well — I was asking him very specific questions, and he was very good at telling me the answers in a very specific way,” Dr. Parker recalled. He added later, “I do feel partially responsible for what happened to this kid.”

“Paranoid and psychotic ... thinking that the computer is spying on him. He has also been receiving messages from stars at night and he is unable to be talked to in a reasonable fashion ... The patient denies any mental health problems ... fairly high risk for suicide.”

Dr. John Riedler

Admission note for Richard Fee

Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center

July 8, 2011

The 911 operator answered the call and heard a young man screaming on the other end. His parents would not give him his pills. With the man’s language scattered and increasingly threatening, the police were sent to the home of Rick and Kathy Fee.

The Fees told officers that Richard was addicted to Adderall, and that after he had received his most recent prescription, they allowed him to fill it through his mother’s insurance plan on the condition that they hold it and dispense it appropriately. Richard was now demanding his next day’s pills early.

Richard denied his addiction and threats. So the police, noting that Richard was an adult, instructed the Fees to give him the bottle. They said they would comply only if he left the house for good. Officers escorted Richard off the property.

A few hours later Richard called his parents, threatening to stab himself in the head with a knife. The police found him and took him to the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.

Described as “paranoid and psychotic” by the admitting physician, Dr. John Riedler, Richard spent one week in the hospital denying that he had any psychiatric or addiction issues. He was placed on two medications: Seroquel and the antidepressant Wellbutrin, no stimulants. In his discharge report, Dr. Riedler noted that Richard had stabilized but remained severely depressed and dependent on both amphetamines and marijuana, which he would smoke in part to counter the buzz of Adderall and the depression from withdrawal.

(Marijuana is known to increase the risk for schizophrenia, psychosis and memory problems, but Richard had smoked pot in high school and college with no such effects, several friends recalled. If that was the case, “in all likelihood the stimulants were the primary issue here,” said Dr. Wesley Boyd, a psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Boston and Cambridge Health Alliance who specializes in adolescent substance abuse.)

Unwelcome at home after his discharge from the psychiatric hospital, Richard stayed in cheap motels for a few weeks. His Adderall prescription from Dr. Parker expired on July 26, leaving him eligible for a renewal. He phoned the office of Dr. Ellison, who had not seen him in four months.

“moved out of the house — doesn’t feel paranoid or delusional. Hasn’t been on meds for a while — working with a friend wiring houses rto 3 months — doesn’t feel he needs the abilify or seroquel for sleep.”

Dr. Waldo M. Ellison

Notes on Richard Fee

July 25, 2011

The 2:15 p.m. appointment went better than Richard could have hoped. He told Dr. Ellison that the pre-psychotic and metaphoric thinking back in March had receded, and that all that remained was his A.D.H.D. He said nothing of his visits to Dr. Parker, his recent prescriptions or his week in the psychiatric hospital.

At 2:21 p.m., according to Dr. Ellison’s records, he prescribed Richard 30 days’ worth of Adderall at 50 milligrams a day. He also gave him prescriptions postdated for Aug. 23 and Sept. 21, presumably to allow him to get pills into late October without the need for follow-up appointments. (Virginia state law forbids the dispensation of 90 days of a controlled substance at one time, but does allow doctors to write two 30-day prescriptions in advance.)

Virginia is one of 43 states with a formal Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, an online database that lets doctors check a patient’s one-year prescription history, partly to see if he or she is getting medication elsewhere. Although pharmacies are required to enter all prescriptions for controlled substances into the system, Virginia law does not require doctors to consult it.

Dr. Ellison’s notes suggest that he did not check the program before issuing the three prescriptions to Richard, who filled the first within hours.

The next morning, during a scheduled appoi


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« Reply #4373 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:11 am »


Delhi gang-rape accused divided phones and cash from victims, say prosecutors

Indian police say sharing of property indicates crime was not 'spur of moment', as five defendants await fast-track trial

Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 February 2013 11.16 GMT   

Delhi gang rape accused arrive at Saket district court
The Delhi gang rape accused are driven to Saket district court last month. Officials will rely on DNA evidence to prove the charges. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty

The men accused of raping and killing a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and assaulting her male friend in Delhi in December divided phones, money and even shoes taken from their victims after dumping the pair by a roadside, a court in the Indian capital will hear this week.

The attack provoked outrage in India and widespread protests calling for legal and policing reforms as well as a shift in cultural attitudes.

Five defendants aged between 19 and 34 formally entered pleas of not guilty to charges of murder and rape last weekend. If convicted they are likely to face execution. A sixth individual, aged 17 at the time of the crime, will face separate proceedings.

The Indian government issued directives last weekend tightening the laws on sexual crimes and implementing other recommendations of a judicial commission set up in the aftermath of the attack. Penalties for sexual assault stopping short of rape and for a range of other crimes have been increased. Previously, serious sexual harassment was treated as a relatively minor crime and few offenders were prosecuted.

The new measures have been welcomed by some campaigners, though many say they do not go far enough. "These are piecemeal. We need something comprehensive that tackles the root of the problem," said Vrinda Grover, a senior lawyer and activist. Ministers say the directive is an emergency measure and further legislation will be introduced in parliament as soon as possible.
delhi gang rape friend interview Mourners pay tribute to the victim at a makeshift shrine in Delhi. Photograph: Louis Dowse/Demotix/Corbis

The specially established "fast-track" court in south Delhi where hearings on the December attack are taking place will begin hearing prosecution evidence on Tuesday. The police have prepared a 600-page dossier and will call dozens of witnesses. Lawyers for the men told the Guardian that a fair trial was "impossible".

Prosecution documents seen by the Guardian describe in detail the attack, which took place in a moving bus on busy public roads in the capital. The victim and her 28-year-old friend were returning from a cinema in a shopping centre when they boarded the bus after being offered a ride home at about 8.30 on a Sunday evening.

The assault began within minutes and lasted an hour before the pair were dumped, naked and bleeding heavily, on a roadside near the international airport. The woman had suffered massive internal injuries from an iron bar used by the accused, the documents claim. She died in a clinic in Singapore two weeks later.

MK Sharma, representing one of the accused, has said several of the men were tortured by police and in prison, and any statements they have given to the police are "worthless". Other defence lawyers say their clients have been wrongly identified. "It is not simply a case of innocent until proven guilty but is there even any evidence to bring a case at all," Sharma said.

Police officials have said they will rely on DNA evidence to prove the charges and the possession by the accused of the victims' property. According to the prosecution documents, one of the accused kept a ring and a mobile phone taken from the woman during the attack; a second kept the more expensive phone stolen from her friend as well as his shoes; a third took a watch and cash worth 1,000 rupees (£12); the 17-year-old received a bank card and 1,100 rupees (£13.20), the documents claim.

Police officials say the sharing of the property indicates the crime was "not spur of the moment". One said several of the men were in the habit of taking the bus for "joyrides" on Sunday evenings, during which they would entice people aboard and then rob them. The money would then be used to pick up roadside sex workers.

The dossier indicates the police recovered one of the victims' bank cards from the bus in which the assault is alleged to have occurred, which was parked close to the homes of the accused. One, the alleged ringleader who drove the bus for a living, was found by officers sitting in the vehicle two days after the attack. There was evidence that its interior had been recently washed though bloodstains and other traces remained. Sharma said the evidence had been planted.

The Indian government was heavily criticised for its slow response to the crime and police handling of demonstrations in the centre of Delhi calling for better policing and legal reforms. In response, a former chief justice was asked to compile a list of measures to stem the rising tide of sex crime in India. He handed in his report last month after receiving tens of thousands of suggestions from the public.

In addition to the new definitions and greater punishments for sexual harassment, new offences have been introduced to cover crimes such as stalking. However, the government rejected advice that marital rape be outlawed, judicial immunity for members of the armed forces serving in some areas be ended and that members of parliament charged with rape and other serious crimes be forced to resign, which has disappointed many.
March against rape in New Delhi, India Hundreds of anti-rape demonstrators march in New Delhi in January. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/EPA

"To combat sexual violence you need accountability at all levels. But the citadels of impunity are all intact," Grover said. Other campaigners point out that tightening laws has little effect when implementation on the ground is patchy.

The Delhi incident led to broad introspection in India about how women are treated in a society where a transition from traditional conservative social attitudes is generating great tensions. For several weeks, incidents of rapes, which once would rarely have been reported, received prominent coverage. In recent days, however, the level of coverage has dropped off.

The trial is expected to last about a month.

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

Delhi gang-rape suspect faces maximum three-year jail term

Indian teenager accused of taking part in murder of 23-year-old student to be tried as juvenile, panel rules

Reuters in New Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 January 2013 14.10 GMT   

An Indian teenager accused of taking part in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi will be tried as a juvenile, and so face a maximum of three years in prison if convicted, a special panel has ruled.

The ruling shocked the victim's father as he watched the television news. "A sudden current ran through my body in disbelief. I can't believe this," he told Reuters. "How can they declare him a minor? Do they not see what they did?"

The teenager has not yet been formally charged because police were hoping he would be declared an adult so they could include him in the main trial of his five co-accused.

He has no lawyer, and his account of what happened on 16 December is unknown.

Lawyers for the five accused men said they would plead not guilty. One of them had accused police of torturing him, his lawyer said.

The panel's decision on the youth is likely to infuriate many people, among them protesters, some police and political leaders, who have called for the age at which people can be tried as adults to be lowered to 16 from 18.

A government committee examining changes to sexual crime laws last week ruled out such a move.

Police allege that the 17-year-old and five men gang raped and severely beat the student on a moving bus in the capital before dumping her and a male friend in the road. The woman was so badly injured that she died of massive organ failure in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.

The case has sparked national debate about rampant crime against women, with the president, Pranab Mukherjee, making an unusual call in a televised state-of-the nation address on Friday for the country to "reset its moral compass".

A juvenile board, comprising a magistrate and two child welfare activists, said it accepted school records showing the juvenile, who may not be identified, as having been born on 4 June 1995. It said a bone density test to determine his age would not be necessary.

Suspecting that he is older than 17, police said they could appeal against the board's ruling, although there was no immediate plan to do so.

The victim's younger brother said: "This is wrong. We need the bone test to determine the accused's real age. Certificates can be forged." The teenager, who attended the hearing, will now stand trial before the juvenile board. If convicted, he will be sent to a juvenile detention centre.

Lawyers for his five fellow accused presented arguments for the first time at a separate pre-trial hearing that will determine what charges the five men will face when the case eventually goes to trial.

Outside the wood-panelled courtroom, dozens of policemen armed with lathi bamboo canes jostled with reporters waiting to get a glimpse of the five accused. The men, wearing grey woollen caps and scarves to hide their faces, were led by the hand as police guided them into the room.

In India, all rape cases are held in closed court to protect the identity of the victim. This rule is being enforced in the Delhi gang-rape case even though the victim's family has already said relatives are not opposed to her being identified.



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« Reply #4374 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:15 am »

Originally published Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 3:44 AM  

Israel suggests responsibility for Syria airstrike

By DAVID RISING AND JOSEF FEDERMAN
Associated Press

MUNICH —

Israel's defense minister strongly signaled Sunday that his country was behind an airstrike in Syria last week, telling a high profile security conference that Israeli threats to take pre-emptive action against its enemies are not empty. "We mean it," Ehud Barak declared.

Israel has not officially confirmed its planes attacked a site near Damascus, targeting ground-to-air missiles apparently heading for Lebanon, but its intentions have been beyond dispute. During the 22 months of civil war in Syria, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that high-end weapons could fall into the hands of enemy Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militants.

For years, Israel has been charging that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran have been arming Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006.

U.S. officials say the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Deployed in Lebanon, they could have limited Israel's ability to gather intelligence on its enemies from the air.

Over the weekend, Syrian TV broadcast video of the Wednesday attack site for the first time, showing destroyed vehicles and a damaged building identified as a scientific research center. The U.S. officials said the airstrike hit both the building and the convoy.

Turkey, which seeks the ouster of Assad and supports the opposition that is fighting against his regime, harshly criticized Israel regarding the airstrike in Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that Israel engaged in "state terror" and he suggested that its allies have nurtured wrongdoing on the part of the Jewish state.

"Those who have from the very beginning looked in the wrong direction and who have nourished and raised Israel like a spoiled child should always expect such things from Israel," Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying.

Erdogan, who also criticized Iran for supporting Syria, is a frequent critic of Israel, a former ally of Turkey. Relations hit a low in 2010 when Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, and nine activists on board were killed. Both sides accused each other of initiating the violence.

In his comments Sunday in Munich, Barak came close to confirming that his country was behind the airstrike.

"I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago," Barak told the gathering of top diplomats and defense officials from around the world.

Then he went on to say, "I keep telling frankly that we said - and that's proof when we said something we mean it - we say that we don't think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon." He spoke in heavily accented English.

In Syria, Assad said during a meeting with a top Iranian official that his country would confront any aggression, his first comment on the airstrike.

"Syria, with the awareness of its people, the might of its army and its adherence to the path of resistance, is able to face the current challenges and confront any aggression that might target the Syrian people," Assad was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.

He made the remarks during a meeting with Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's National Security Council. Iran is Syria's closest regional ally. Jalili, on a three-day visit to Syria, has pledged Tehran's continued support for Assad's regime.

Jalili, who also serves as his country's top nuclear negotiator, condemned the Israeli raid, stressing that it has proven the "aggressive nature of Israel and its threat of the region's security and stability."

The chief of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards said Sunday that Tehran also hopes Syria will strike back against Israel.

Syrian opposition leaders and rebels have criticized Assad for not responding to the airstrike, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to the Jewish state.

The Syrian defense minister, Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, said Israel attacked the center because rebels were unable to capture it. Al-Freij called the rebels Israel's "tools." He told the state TV, "The heroic Syrian Arab Army, that proved to the world that it is a strong army and a trained army, will not be defeated."

Ahmad Ramadan, an opposition leader, said Syria's claim that the rebels are cooperating with Israel "is an attempt by the regime to cover its weakness in defending the country against foreign aggression." He spoke by telephone from Turkey.

While Israel has remained officially silent on the airstrike, there seemed little doubt that Israel carried it out, especially given the confirmation from the U.S., its close ally.

Israel has a powerful air force equipped with U.S.-made warplanes and has a history of carrying out air raids on hostile territory. In recent years, Israel has been blamed for an air raid in Syria in 2007 that apparently struck an unfinished nuclear reactor and an arms convoy in Sudan believed to be delivering weapons to Hamas.

Israel has not confirmed either raid, but military officials routinely talk about a "policy of prevention" meant to disrupt the flow of arms to its enemies.

In the days preceding the airstrike, the Israeli warnings were heightened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a series of dire comments about the threat posed by Syria's weapons.

Israel considers any transfer of these advanced weapons to be unacceptable "game changers" that would change the balance of power in the region.

Israel has grown increasingly jittery as the Arab Spring has swept through the Middle East, bringing with it a rise of hostile Islamist elements. While Assad is a bitter enemy, Israel's northern front with Syria has remained quiet for most of the past 40 years.

If Assad is toppled, the threat of al-Qaida forces operating along Israel's frontier with Syria would pose a new and unpredictable threat. Israel has been racing to reinforce its fences along its northern frontiers with Lebanon and Syria.

In addition, Israel fears that its archenemy Iran, the close ally of Syria and Hezbollah, is moving closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

Israeli leaders have vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms, making veiled threats to use force if international diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Israeli defense officials tried to play down Barak's comments, saying that he was voicing a general policy that Israel is ready to defend its interests and not discussing a specific incident. They also noted that he was not speaking in his native Hebrew.

Even so, it seemed that Barak, a former prime minister, military chief of staff and regular participant on the world stage, was sending a message that Israel's warnings are not hollow and that further military action should not be ruled out.

"There is a real danger now that seriously problematic weapons will reach Hezbollah, and Israel is trying to prevent this," said Reuven Pedatzur, a defense analyst at Tel Aviv University. He said the threat has reached the point "where weapons are actually being loaded on trucks and sent on their way. That is new."

Pedatzur said the decision by Syria to try to move weapons to Lebanon could indicate that Assad's days are numbered. Assad may fear that he won't be able to secure the weapons for much longer, or may be under pressure from Iran to transfer the arms to Hezbollah before he is toppled.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in mid-2006 that ended in a stalemate, and Israeli military planners believe it is just a matter of time before another war breaks out.

Israel says Hezbollah has already restocked its arsenal with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, and that obtaining chemical weapons or the advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles would severely hinder Israel's ability to operate in Lebanon.

In Beirut, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying that six Israeli warplanes flew over different areas of the country on Sunday.

----

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed.

***********

February 3, 2013

Israeli Strike Into Syria Said to Damage Research Site

By DAVID E. SANGER, ERIC SCHMITT and JODI RUDOREN.
IHT

WASHINGTON — The Israeli attack last week on a Syrian convoy of antiaircraft weapons appears to have damaged the country’s main research center for work on biological and chemical weapons, according to American officials who are sorting through intelligence reports.

While the main target of the attack on Wednesday seems to have been SA-17 missiles and their launchers — which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon — video shown on Syrian television backs up assertions that the research center north of Damascus also suffered moderate damage.

That complex, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, has been the target of American and Western sanctions for more than a decade because of intelligence suggesting that it was the training site for engineers who worked on chemical and biological weaponry.

A senior United States military official, asked about reports that the research center had been targeted, said that any damage was likely “due to the bombs which targeted the vehicles” carrying the antiaircraft weapons, and from “the secondary explosions from the missiles.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence reports, said that “the Israelis had a small strike package,” meaning that a relatively few fighter aircraft slipped past Syria’s air defenses and that targeting both the missiles and the research center “would risk doing just a little damage to either.”

“They clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks,” the official said.

There is still much that is not known about the attack, and there have been contradictory descriptions of it since it was carried out. Initial reports suggested that the antiaircraft missiles were hit near the Lebanese border. Subsequent reports, both in Time magazine and the Israeli press, suggest there were multiple attacks conducted at roughly the same time.

The Israelis had been silent on the issue until Sunday, when Ehud Barak, the departing Israeli defense minister, gave the first indirect confirmation of the attack at a security conference in Munich. While Mr. Barak said he could not “add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria,” a moment later he referred to the events as “another proof that when we say something we mean it.”

“We say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon, to Hezbollah, from Syria when Assad falls,” Mr. Barak told fellow defense ministers and other officials, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Mr. Assad also made his first public comment on the airstrike, saying on Sunday that Syria would confront any aggression against his country, according to The Associated Press.

The ease with which Israeli planes reached the Syrian capital appeared to send a message both to Mr. Assad and, indirectly, to Iran.

Israel has said that if it saw chemical weapons on the move, it would act to stop them. By hitting the research center, part of a military complex that is supposed to be protected by Russian-made antiaircraft defenses, Israel made it clear it was willing to risk direct intervention to keep weapons and missiles out of Hezbollah’s hands.

Israel has done so before, in September 2007, when it destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was under construction with North Korean help. The facility hit last week was also believed to be a center for study on nuclear issues, officials say.

But there are reasons to doubt whether the antiaircraft equipment was truly heading to Hezbollah. Outside experts like Ruslan R. Aliyev, an analyst with the Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technologies, a defense research group in Moscow, said the SA-17’s were too sophisticated for Hezbollah to use and would be easily detected. He also said such a transfer would alienate Russia and make it impossible for Moscow to sustain its support for Mr. Assad’s government.

The strike last week also appeared to be a signal to the Iranians that Israel would be willing to conduct a similar attack on aboveground nuclear facilities if it seemed that Iran was near achieving nuclear weapons capability. But Iran would be a far harder target — much farther away from Israel, much better defended, and with facilities much more difficult to damage.

The nuclear enrichment center that worries Israel and Western governments the most is nearly 300 feet under a mountain outside Qum, largely invulnerable to the weapons that Israel seemed to have used in last week’s raid.

Mr. Netanyahu himself spoke about Iran rather than Syria on Sunday as he reiterated his call for a broad “national unity government” to “unite the public at a decisive time in our history.”

“The supreme mission that a national unity government will face is stopping Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, according to a release from his office. “This is all the more complicated because Iran has equipped itself with new centrifuges that shorten the enrichment time. We cannot countenance this process.” He was referring to an Iranian announcement last week that it was about to install a new generation of uranium enrichment equipment.

But if Mr. Netanyahu’s long-term objective is Iran, his immediate problem is Syria. And the research center thought to have been damaged has been on the radar of the United States and Israel for decades.

According to information compiled by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which analyzes the facilities of countries seeking unconventional weapons, the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which is portrayed by Syria as an independent study organization, has operated closely with the Syrian military for 40 years.

In 2005, the center was placed on a Treasury Department list that prohibited Americans from doing business with the organization; two years later, the Treasury froze any assets of the organization and its subsidiaries. In announcing that order, Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the time, said that the research organization and its subsidiaries “develop nonconventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them.”

Intelligence officials also believe that the center has links to North Korea, a source of much of Syria’s missile technology.

Assessing the damage to the facility is difficult. Cellphone videos shot by Syrian rebels show burning buildings at what is described at the research center, but the damage seen on those videos is somewhat light.

Dany Shoham, a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies who is an expert on unconventional weapons, said the Syrian center’s “efforts concentrated first of all in upgrading chemical and biological war agents and, second, upgrading dispersal and delivery systems for those agents.”

“It’s a very large compound,” Dr. Shoham said. “You can imagine that it’s the principal facility of the whole Syrian Army that is responsible for developing, testing, upgrading, pilot production of a vast variety of weapons.”

Amir Rapaport, editor and publisher of the magazine Israel Defense, said that the video broadcast Saturday on Syrian television showed an armored vehicle that seemed to belong to the SA-8 missile system. He suggested that the Syrians may have put the SA-8s at the scene after the fact because they had promised the Russians not to transfer newer SA-17s to Lebanon.

David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem. Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Munich.

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« Reply #4375 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:20 am »


Hopes of Syria talks rise as 5,000 die in a month

Assad backers Iran and Russia speak to opposition as January toll reported amid worsening refugee crisis

Julian Borger in Munich
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 February 2013 22.07 GMT   

Almost 5,000 people were killed in Syria in January alone, according to new figures reported on Sunday which underscored the escalation of hostilities in a country thousands are fleeing every day.

The latest death toll – the second-worst month in the two-year conflict – was reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a dissident group whose casualty estimates have been consistently confirmed by the UN. Its director, Rami Abdulrahman, said his researchers had recorded the deaths of 4,851 people in January, of whom 1,030 were members of the Syrian regular security forces while 3,305 were civilians or rebel irregulars.

The dismal figures – which come amid a growing refugee crisis in the border camps which are overrun with people fleeing the conflict – underlined the urgent need to find some form of diplomatic breakthrough. At the weekend, for the first time, the foreign ministers from Russia and Iran, the Assad regime's closest international supporters, met the Syrian opposition leader, Moaz al-Khatib, in a rare sign of diplomatic progress.

Following Khatib's offer to hold preliminary talks with the regime, conditional upon the release of political prisoners, the discussions at a global security conference in Munich raised hopes that a way could be found around the deadlock in the UN security council.

After his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, the Syrian opposition leader said: "Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed."

The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran would hold further meetings with Khatib. He called for the formation of a joint transitional government to include members of the regime and the opposition, under UN supervision, leading to elections and a new constitution.

However, there was no sign of a breakthrough over the sticking point that has divided the security council and prevented Syrian peace talks: the fate of the president, Bashar al-Assad.

Lavrov told the Munich conference: "The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of Assad is the single biggest reason for the continuing tragedy in Syria."

Salehi was less specific. He made no mention of Assad, but he said: "If you ask for the government to stand down before negotiations, who do you negotiate with?"

On Saturday, the US vice president gave his full support to the opposition stance that Assad has so much blood on his hands he could not be part of a transition government. Joe Biden said the White House was "convinced that President Assad, a tyrant hell-bent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead Syrian people and he must go".

Moscow has become increasingly isolated in its backing for Assad. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, told the security council last week that the implication of an agreement of major powers last year in Geneva was that Assad should have no part in the transition process.

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, ridiculed the idea that the Syrian leader should remain in power to oversee a transition, .

"It's easy to say the opposition should sit down with him now after 60,000 people have been killed," Davutoglu said. "If they held an election in his presence who would guarantee the security of the opposition? There should be an election, but first someone should be [held] responsible for all the killing."

The Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jaber al-Thani, said repeated attempts to organise talks between Assad and the opposition in the early months of the Syrian uprising had failed because of "the intransigence of the regime".

"I have no doubt Assad will leave, because he cannot stay with so much blood on his hands," he said. He also criticised Israel for its air strikes in Syria last week, which he said would "add fuel to the fire".

In the first direct comment by an Israeli official on Tuesday's air strikes, Ehud Barak, the outgoing defence minister and deputy prime minister, appeared to confirm widespread reports that it was targeted at anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"What happened in Syria several days ago … that's proof that when we said something we mean it, we say that we don't think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon," Barak told the Munich conference.

Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday that his military was capable of confronting any "aggression" that targeted the country, in his first remarks since the Israeli strike.

The Syrian Observatory's estimate of the total number of dead from almost two years of conflict is 51,167. That is below the UN estimate of 60,000, but the Observatory's methodology is more conservative, requiring confirmation of the names of the dead. Of that total, 3,717 of the war's victims were children and 2,144 were women.


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« Reply #4376 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:25 am »


French forces in Mali launch air strikes on Islamist camps

Planes have bombarded extremist camps and arms and fuel depots, French military says, as first aid convoy arrives

Associated Press in Gossi, Mali, and Paris
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 February 2013 20.40 GMT   

French aircraft struck Islamic militant training camps and arms depots around Kidal and Tessalit in Mali's far north, defence officials said on Sunday, as the first convoy of food, fuel and parts to eastern Mali headed across the country.

The strikes also hit arms and fuel depots from Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, according to army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard. "It was an important aerial operation to the north of the town Kidal and in the Tessalit region where we targeted logistical depots and Islamist training camps ... some 20 sites," said Burkhard. He said 30 planes were used in the operation , including Mirage and Rafale jets.

Although troops have succeeded in ousting the rebels from the three main northern cities they occupied, the aerial operation highlights the fact that the French still see militants in the northern area near the border with Algeria as a threat. "Here, there are still various Islamist groups like the MUJAO [Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa] and Ansar Dine," he said.

As the first supply convoy for the eastern town of Gao since the conflict began neared its destination, crowds thronged the roads screaming, "Vive la France!" and old men in long flowing robes on bicycles waved as soldiers passed by. Even camels grazing in acacia trees perked up as the three-mile-long, 62-vehicle convoy lumbered by.

Still about 120 miles south-west of Gao on Sunday, it proceeded slowly because of concerns about landmines between Gossi and Gao. Four Malian soldiers died last week when one exploded, and two others have been found in the vicinity since, said a Lieutenant Emmanuel, who gave only his first name in keeping with French military protocolone officer. The convoy, carrying food, fuel and spare parts for the French military for 800 miles, underlines the logistical difficulties facing the mission in Mali.

"The distances are very long. In Afghanistan we could do it in a day. Now, it's eight days round trip here," said Emmanuel. The convoy is bringing a 15-day supply, he said.

Still, the successes of the operation were seen alongside the small villages where signs of life were returning to normal, and where there was no visible presence of the Islamic rebels who imposed harsh rule for months.

The approach of the convoy and the use of aerial assaults come three weeks after France unilaterally launched its military intervention – and, significantly, just hours after President François Hollande left Mali soil.

On Saturday he visited Timbuktu to a liberator's welcome. Thousands of people stood elbow to elbow behind a perimeter line, hoisting the homemade French flags they had prepared for Hollande's arrival in the northern desert city that French troops liberated last week after 10 months of control by al-Qaida-linked groups.

He then flew to Bamako, the capital, where he spoke before boarding a plane back to Paris. He stressed the successes of the French intervention, but warned that threats of extremism will continue.

"Terrorism has been rejected. It has been chased, but not yet beaten," Hollande said.

France has said it eventually wants to hand over responsibility for the mission to the Malian army and other African counterparts. But, once the country's thousands of troops, fighter planes and helicopters leave, Mali's weak army and soldiers from neighbouring countries may be hard pressed to retain control of northern Mali's cities if the Islamic extremists attempt a comeback from their desert hideouts.

In an interview with the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, Malian minister of foreign affairs Hubert Tieman Coulibaly expressed the government's hope that the French military operation will carry on until the Islamists have no more weapons left.

"Faced with seasoned fighters whose arsenal must be destroyed, we wish the mission to continue," Coulibaly said. "Especially given how important the aerial dimension is."

*********

Blair: fight against al-Qaida could last a generation

Former PM likens battle to struggle against communism and warns that cost of standing aside would be far greater

Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 February 2013 11.33 GMT   

The west's fight against al-Qaida is like the battle against revolutionary communism, says Tony Blair, who warns that it could last for a generation.

The former prime minister said on Sunday that Britain was right to send troops to support the French effort in Mali to put down a terrorist attempt to overthrow the country's government.

David Cameron faced difficult decisions to fight terrorism, Blair said, but warned the cost of standing aside would be far greater.

Britain at least had to try to "shape" events in the Middle East, he added, telling the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that in Syria there was already a danger the more extreme elements of the opposition forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime would take over.

Blair said: "I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are. Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.

"If we engage with this, not just militarily but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater."

He added: "We always want in the west, quite naturally, to go in and go out, and think there is a clean result. It's not going to happen like that. We now know that. It is going to be long and difficult and messy.

"My point is very simple though: if you don't intervene and let it happen, it is also going to be long, difficult and messy, and possibly a lot worse. It's a very difficult decision.

"We are certainly talking about a generation. I think a better way to look at it is like the fight the west had over a long period of time with revolutionary communism.

"It will happen in many different theatres, it will happen in many different ways but the truth is that you have no option but to confront it, to try over time to defeat it."



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« Reply #4377 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:29 am »

February 3, 2013

As Extremists Invaded, Timbuktu Hid Artifacts of a Golden Age

By LYDIA POLGREEN
NYT

TIMBUKTU, Mali — When the moment of danger came, Ali Imam Ben Essayouti knew just what to do. The delicate, unbound parchment manuscripts in the 14th-century mosque he leads had already survived hundreds of years in the storied city of Timbuktu. He was not about to allow its latest invaders, Tuareg nationalist rebels and Islamic extremists from across the region, to destroy them now.

So he gingerly bundled the 8,000 volumes in sackcloth, carefully stacked them in crates, then quietly moved them to a bunker in an undisclosed location.

“These manuscripts, they are not just for us in Timbuktu,” Mr. Essayouti said. “They belong to all of humanity. It is our duty to save them.”

The residents of Timbuktu suffered grievously under Islamic militant rule. Almost all of life’s pleasures, even the seemingly innocent ones like listening to music and dancing, were forbidden. With the arrival of French and Malian troops here on Jan. 28, life is slowly returning to normal.

But the city’s rich historical patrimony suffered terrible losses. Timbuktu is known as the City of 333 Saints, a reference to the Sufi preachers and scholars who are venerated by Muslims here. The Islamic rebels destroyed several earthen tombs of those saints, claiming such shrines were forbidden.

During their hasty departure from the city last weekend, the fighters struck another parting blow, setting fire to dozens of ancient manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute, the city’s biggest and most important library.

Irina Bokova, the director general of Unesco, accompanied President François Hollande of France on his visit here on Saturday to get a firsthand look at the damage the city’s cultural artifacts had sustained. She said that plans are already being made to rebuild the tombs of the saints.

“We are going to reconstruct the mausoleums as soon as possible,” Ms. Bokova said. “We have the plans, we have the ability to do it. We think this is important for the future of the Malian people, their dignity and their pride.”

In modern times Timbuktu has become a synonym for a remote place. But the city thrived for centuries at the crossroads of the region’s two great highways: the caravan route across the Sahara passed right by its narrow warren of streets, bringing salt, spices and cloth from the north, and the Niger River brought gold and slaves from West Africa. Traders brought books, and the city’s scribes earned their living by copying them out by hand. These manuscripts cover a vast range of human knowledge — Islamic philosophy and law, of course, but medicine, botany and astronomy as well.

“You will find all forms of knowledge in these manuscripts,” Mr. Essayouti said. “Every topic under the sun.”

Beyond their physical presence, Timbuktu’s artifacts are a priceless reminder that sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of deep intellectual endeavor, and that some of that history is written down, not just transmitted orally down the generations.

“This is the record of the golden ages of the Malian empire,” Ms. Bokova said. “If you let this disappear, it would be a crime against all of humanity.”

The cultural artifacts in Timbuktu — whose population of around 50,000 has shrunk with the latest troubles — have faced many dangers over the centuries. Harsh climate, termites and the ravages of time have taken a toll, along with repeated invasions — by the Songhai emperors, nomadic bandits, Moroccan princes and France. Yet many of the antiquities have endured.

“It is a miracle that these things have survived so long,” Mr. Essayouti said.

Their survival is a testament to the habit of Timbuktu’s families of hiding away their valuable relics whenever danger is near, burying them deep in the desert.

Konaté Alpha’s family has had a collection of about 3,000 manuscripts for generations, and when the Islamist rebels arrived Mr. Alpha called a family meeting.

“We need to find a way to safeguard these manuscripts,” he told his brothers and his father.

He was intimately familiar with the many nooks and crannies in which the city’s residents have long hid their treasured manuscripts. While expanding the family’s compound a decade ago, he found a trove of manuscripts hidden inside a wall.

“The previous owners had hidden them so well they forgot them,” he said with a shrug.

He took his family’s collection and hid it well. He declined to say where.

“We hid them, that is all I will say,” he said.

The manuscripts have been at the center of a broad international effort to preserve the fragile history of Timbuktu. The governments of South Africa and France, along with the Ford Foundation and others, have spent millions to build a new library to house the largest and most important collection of manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute.

When the Tuareg rebels first arrived in Timbuktu in April, they looted and burned many government buildings, and the institute’s interim director, Abdoulaye Cissé, worried that the institute’s sleek new library building would become a target.

But when the Islamist rebels arrived a few days later, the library’s officials explained to them that the library was an Islamic institution worthy of their protection.

“One of the Islamist leaders gave his mobile phone number to the guard and told him, ‘If anyone bothers you, call me and I will be here,’ ” he said.

But library officials began to worry that the Islamists would discover that the library received financing from the United States, so in August they decided to move almost the entire collection, Mr. Cissé said.

“We moved them little by little to avoid rousing suspicion,” Mr. Cissé said. They were sent to Mopti, then on to Bamako, the capital, for safekeeping.

It turned out the worries were not unwarranted. In the chaotic final days of the Islamist occupation, all that changed. A group of militants stormed the library as they were fleeing and set fire to whatever they could find.

Fortunately, they got their hands on only a tiny portion of the library’s collection.

“They managed to find less than 5 percent,” he said. “Thank God they were not able to find anything else.”

None of the city’s libraries are in a hurry to return their collections from their hiding places, even though Timbuktu is back under government control. French forces are now stationed in Gao, Timbuktu and outside the town of Kidal, in the north, and airstrikes continue against the militants near the border with Algeria. The fighters have been chased away from major towns, but no one is sure whether they will come back.

“We will keep our manuscripts safely hidden until we are sure the situation is safe,” Mr. Alpha said. “When that will be we cannot say.”

Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.

Click to watch a slide show of these artifacts: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/02/03/world/africa/20130204-timbuktu.html?ref=africa


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« Reply #4378 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:31 am »

Kerry and Palestinian leader agree to meet and promote peace

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 3, 2013 18:08 EST

Newly sworn-in US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday and said they should meet on peace efforts, a presidential spokesman said.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that the two discussed “the necessity to hold meetings in the near future to talk about a number of issues which help maintain the peace process.”

According to Wafa, Kerry assured Abbas that “US President Barack Obama cares about the peace process and supports efforts related to it,” and that the US administration was aware of the Palestinians’ current financial crisis.

It was the first high-level contact between Obama’s new administration and the Palestinian government.

Kerry met with Abbas several times while serving as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Last week, in his confirmation hearings, Kerry hinted of new proposals to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, stalled for more than two years.

“We need to try to find a way forward, and I happen to believe that there is a way forward,” he said.

“But I also believe that if we can’t be successful that the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment.”

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have theoretically committed themselves to the goal of a “two-state solution,” living side-by-side within agreed borders.

The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations while Jewish settlement building continues on their land. Israel says it will not enter talks while the Palestinians lay down pre-conditions.


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« Reply #4379 on: Feb 04, 2013, 07:36 am »


Israeli and Palestinian textbooks omit borders

Schoolchildren grow up believing one homeland does not include the other as majority of maps erase dividing lines

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 4 February 2013   

The vast majority of maps in Palestinian and Israeli schoolbooks omit the existence of the other entity, leading to children growing up with "an internal representation of their homeland, in which one does not include the other", according to the lead author of a three-year study.

Only 4% of maps in Palestinian textbooks show the green line, which separates Palestinian territory from Israel, or label the area west of it as "Israel". Almost six out of 10 maps depict no borders, and another third include the green line but make no reference to Israel.

In Israeli textbooks, 76% of maps show no boundaries between Palestinian territories and Israel, and Palestinian areas are not labelled. "Since these maps are generally presented as maps of Israel, the absence of borders between Israel and Palestine can be seen as implying that the Palestinian areas are part of the state of Israel," says the report, Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the "Other" in Israeli and Palestinian School Books.

"It's almost comical. The idea of maps is to represent reality; here it represents fantasy," Bruce Wexler, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, who led the study, told the Guardian. However, claims by both sides that they are demonised by the other were unfounded. "Types of extreme demonising or dehumanising characterisations of 'the other' are absent from all the textbooks," he said.

The study, commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, and funded and reviewed by the US state department, examined 3,000 texts, illustrations and maps in books used in Palestinian, Israeli state and Israeli ultra-Orthodox schools. All data was sent to Yale for analysis. The study was "transparent, open, collaborative, rigorous and scientific," said Wexler, and produced four main findings:

• Dehumanising or demonising is rare in both Palestinian and Israeli books.

• Both Israeli and Palestinian books present "unilateral national narratives" that show the other as an enemy.

• Information about the other's religions, culture, economic and daily activities is inadequate or absent.

• Negative bias in presentation of the other is significantly more pronounced in Israeli ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian school books than Israeli state books.

More than 90% of Palestinian children study textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority. Among Israeli Jewish children, a majority attend state secular or state religious schools, with a significant minority attending ultra-Orthodox schools, which produce their own textbooks. Arabic books used in Israeli Arab schools, which are produced by the Israeli ministry of education, were not included in the study.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have both been accused of teaching violence and hatred, demonising the other, or using excessively negative depictions in children's education. In fact, this is extremely rare, according to the study. It found six examples in 9,964 pages of Palestinian textbooks "that were rated as portraying the other in extreme negative ways other than as the enemy, and none of these six were general dehumanising characterisations of personal traits of Jews or Israelis".

However, there was evidence of selective presentation of historical events to reinforce national narratives. "All the textbooks provide a unilateral national narrative that relentlessly describes the other as an enemy out to destroy or dominate the self," said Wexler. "They present the self almost uniformly in positive terms, motivated only by self-defence and the pursuit of peace. They fail to describe information about the other's history, culture or religions, the type of information that would humanise."

"That is not a surprise to anyone who has studied textbooks in societies in conflict. Everywhere there are societies in conflict, the textbooks present a unilateral national narrative of this sort. The facts presented and the incidents described in the textbooks are not false, they're just selected from a unilateral perspective."

The books also fail to provide information about the other community. "In this conflict, perhaps more than many others, this lack of recognition of the other's legitimate presence is a central obstacle to the respect and tolerance necessary for peace," the report says. "It's hard to imagine Israelis and Palestinians living in peace without their children learning more about the religion of the other."

In general, according to Wexler, "Israeli state school books present a less negative portrayal of the other, a more self-critical portrayal of themselves and provide more information about the other than the Palestinian books or the Israeli ultra-Orthodox books."

The study recommends Israeli and Palestinian ministries of education review the content of their textbooks. "Education makes a difference in shaping expectations, it influences the way [people] view the world, said Wexler. "You do not want to keep creating more and more obstacles [to peace] by training children in such a way that it obstructs the peace process."
Textbook examples

"Israel is a young country and surrounded by enemies: Syria, Egypt, Jordan. And on every side... enemy states are hatching plots that are only waiting for the right time to be carried out. Like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves is Israel among the Arab states" - Israeli ultra-Orthodox textbook

"The Palestinian war [in 1948] ended with a disaster of which history had not seen the like, and Zionist gangs usurped Palestine and displaced its people from their cities, villages, land and houses, and founded the state of Israel... The tragedy was exacerbated with the Zionist entity's occupation of what remains of Palestine... most Palestinians are still living under the yoke of the Occupation, and others are living lives of displacement and loss" - Palestinian textbook

[In relation to the founding of Israel] "The Arabs denied the right of the Jews to settle in the Land of Israel... With this claim, the Arabs completely ignore the historic connection of the Jews with the Land of Israel... They adopted the claim that the Jews are not a nation and Judaism is merely a religion, and hence the Jews have no right to territories. On the other hand, the Arabs are a nation and thus, according to their claim, the Land of Israel belongs to them" - Israeli state textbook


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