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« Reply #4485 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:35 AM »

February 8, 2013

Tunisians’ Anger on Display at Funeral


TUNIS — In a show of anger at Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, tens of thousands of people filled a hilly cemetery in the capital on Friday to bury Chokri Belaid, an opposition politician whose assassination this week stirred fears here and throughout the Arab world that political violence could subvert the uprisings born in Tunisia two years ago.

In bracing scenes that recalled the 2011 revolution against Tunisia’s autocratic leader — and in numbers not seen since — mourners marched for miles through a city quieted by the largest labor strike in decades, which was called in Mr. Belaid’s honor. Clashes outside the cemetery interrupted the proceedings for a time, sending tear gas and black smoke from a torched car wafting among the mourners. But the funeral remained overwhelmingly peaceful.

Mr. Belaid, a lawyer, a human-rights activist and the leader of a leftist opposition coalition, was killed by gunmen on Wednesday as he sat in his car. His fierce criticisms of Tunisia’s largest Islamist group, Ennahda — along with death threats he received from religious hard-liners known as Salafis — led his supporters and relatives to blame Islamists for his death. No one has been arrested in the killing.

Many people said that the size of the crowd, for a politician who even supporters said had a limited following, showed that anger at the Islamists was reaching deeper into Tunisian society. The funeral also provided a measure of the growing polarization between the country’s secular and religious forces, threatening Tunisia’s attempts to accommodate both camps in its coalition government.

“It has become a fight over identity,” said Arraf Dheif, a high school teacher, who said he came to the march out of a sense of national duty. He said he saw the killing of Mr. Belaid as a threat to Tunisia’s still incomplete revolution and as an insult to the demands of protesters for freedom and democracy.

“Every coward and every extremist should know that Tunisia is not just Chokri Belaid,” he said.

That the killers remained unidentified fed the sense of dread here, despite promises by the government to investigate the murder. Tunisians had prided themselves on largely avoiding the political violence that has troubled transitions in neighboring countries like Libya, where the government has been unable to reign in militias that fought Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, or interrupt a cycle of political assassinations in the city of Benghazi.

Violence has also surged in Egypt in recent weeks, leading to more than 50 deaths. On Friday, after days of calm, antigovernment protesters marched in several cities, clashing with the riot police in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and marching on the presidential palace in Cairo.

To quiet the outrage after Mr. Belaid’s killing, Tunisia’s prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, announced that the Islamist-led government would be replaced with a cabinet of technocrats who were not tied to any political party. Ennahda — Mr. Jebali’s own party — said it would oppose the move. On Friday, Mr. Jebali reiterated that he would press ahead with his plan.

“I am going down that road, hopefully with the approval of all parties,” Mr. Jebali told reporters. “We must work for the best of the country.”

On Thursday, with a political crisis brewing, the army said it would “secure” Mr. Belaid’s funeral “and ensure the protection of participants,” according to Tunisia’s state news agency.

On Friday morning, near factories in Jebel Jelloud, where Mr. Belaid grew up, soldiers guarded a street leading to a cultural center where the coffin lay in state. Hundreds marched to the site from downtown Tunis, draping themselves in the Tunisian flag, as onlookers watched from balconies. Outside, in the rain, mourners gathered, carrying signs that said, “We are all Chokri Belaid.”

“We are steadfast, like mountains,” they chanted, as a woman cried in anguish. “We do not fear assassination.”

They began to march.

Among them were lawyers attending in solidarity with their slain colleague and wearing distinctive black robes that some had embellished with Tunisia’s flag. Mr. Belaid was known as the lawyer of the poor, one said, noting that he had defended Salafists with the same vigor as his other clients.

“We hope this will be the last episode of violence,” said one lawyer, Kais Triki. “The trouble is with the political class.”

On the side of the road, Ahlem Bousserwel smoked a cigarette and cried. “We fought for our country, and we won’t let others take that away from us,” she said. “We lost one of the best men. The price we are paying is too high.”

Some knew Mr. Belaid personally, and had lost a friend. Tayeb Ayad went to primary school with Mr. Belaid in Jebel Jelloud, where he said they both learned “what poverty was like.” For others, Mr. Belaid’s funeral was a symbol, a way to vent anger at the Islamists.

The mourners filled the green hills around the cemetery, waiting for the coffin. Witnesses said the clashes outside started after young men had vandalized cars. .

At the grave site, Hamma Hammami, another veteran leftist, delivered a eulogy and a warning. “Tunisians, come together,” he shouted into a megaphone. “The revolution continues.”

Aida Alami and Farah Samti contributed reporting from Tunis, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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« Reply #4486 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Divided Syrian opposition ponders leader's offer of talks with Assad

Outrage within coalition over Moaz al-Khatib's initiative underlines dilemma for rebels still lacking practical support from US and western backers

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Friday 8 February 2013 17.14 GMT          

Bashar al-Assad, it sometimes seems, is lucky in his enemies. Controversy and bitter recriminations have been raging in their ranks since the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition (SOC), Moaz al-Khatib, dropped a bombshell by offering talks with Assad's vice-president, Farouq al-Sharaa.

And now confirmation that the White House vetoed Pentagon plans to arm the anti-Assad rebels has underlined just how hard it has been for them to translate political support from the west into practical assistance to achieve victory.

Khatib said he would negotiate with Sharaa if 160,000 prisoners were freed and passports issued for Syrians abroad. But outrage erupted because the SOC's charter states that it will not talk to the regime – except about its departure. Khatib retorted that he was expressing a personal view, but then met the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, Assad's main backers.

Now, after a flurry of tense consultations, Khatib and colleagues will meet in Cairo this weekend – with the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi – for an emergency session to clarify the position.

Others hailed last week's initiative as reflecting the wishes of Syrians desperate to end a war that has killed 60,000 people. Activists of some of the Local Co-ordination Committees have given their qualified support. So has a commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

"Khatib's offer of talks with Assad helped undermine the terrible fear of many that this struggle is existential and will continue until one side has eliminated the other," wrote Joshua Landis on the Syria Comment blog. "To many Syrians who feel that they are mere pawns caught between two clashing giants … [it] provided some hope of a kinder and saner future."

Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad mosque in Damascus, was supposed to usher in an era of unity when he became SOC president in November. The fractious Syrian National Council (SNC) was subsumed into the new body. Its performance was said by the western governments calling for Assad to go to have become more businesslike.

But the SOC is still divided into camps, like the SNC before it. "This initiative has taken us back to square one after all the efforts we made to convince the international community that the opposition was united," complained one activist. "It was handled completely unprofessionally. It was a wasted opportunity."

Kamal Labwani, an independent, warned of "betrayal" and a "fifth column" inside the opposition. "The regime understands only the language of force," he protested. But George Sabra of the SNC – the largest component of the SOC – was more nuanced: he first rejected the initiative but then softened his position, calling for unity and support for the FSA as fighters made new but probably temporary gains on the outskirts of Damascus this week.

Khatib, described as charismatic but a bad listener, is said to dislike foreign-based activists and intellectuals he considers out of touch – disparagingly known as "hotel warriors". Based in Cairo with his own loyal team, he has the support of powerful businessmen from Damascus who are alarmed by the rise of Islamist and jihadi groups in the armed opposition.

"People have criticised Khatib for naivety but there are forces telling him that this is the way to go," said commentator Malik al-Abdeh. "They tell him that if this carries on then everything they have achieved will come crashing down because of the backwoods fighters of the FSA and the jihadis who will destroy Damascus as they have large parts of Aleppo."

Others warn that Khatib's leadership, and that of the SOC, remains far more dependent on external recognition than any internal legitimacy.

The US, Britain and the EU gave Khatib's initiative a cautious welcome while insisting Assad must be held accountable for his crimes – a position that is unlikely to persuade him to step down voluntarily. Only Turkey publicly rejected it.

"We are positive but it would be useful to tie it into other diplomatic efforts," said one western official. Hopes are focusing on Khatib's visit to Moscow next month – and for a shift in Russia's stubbornly pro-Assad position at the UN.

Still, some opposition figures fear foreign pressure to cut a deal. "Lots of friendly countries or those who claim friendship for the Syrian people were waiting for this exact kind of initiative to justify their failure to deliver on military support for the revolt and the protection of civilians," warned Burhan Ghalioun, a former SNC president.

In one sense the whole dispute is a theoretical one since the official Syrian media dismissed Khatib's offer as "political manoeuvring" while Assad himself has said nothing. It still looks as if fighting, not impassioned debates and diplomatic initiatives launched in foreign capitals, will decide the course of this war as it nears its grim second anniversary.


February 8, 2013

A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who Helped Ignite Syria’s War


AMMAN, Jordan — In a listless border town, the teenager goes unnoticed, one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, dashing across villages and farms to land in Jordan, just five miles from home.

But this young man carries a burden — maybe an honor, too — that almost no one else shares.

He knows that he and his friends helped start it all. They ignited an uprising.

It began simply enough, inspired not so much by political activism as by teenage rebellion against authority, and boredom. He watched his cousin spray-paint the wall of a school in the city of Dara’a with a short, impish challenge to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist, about the spreading national revolts.

“It’s your turn, doctor,” the cousin wrote.

The opening episodes of the Arab uprisings are growing more distant, the memory of them clouded by fears about what the revolutions have wrought. In Egypt’s chaos, activists talk of a second revolution, and in Tunisia a political assassination this week has imperiled one of the region’s more hopeful transitions. Then there is Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled the country and the idea of the nation itself is disappearing amid cycles of sectarian bloodshed.

That war’s brutality has made it difficult to recall, let alone celebrate, the uprisings’ beginnings. After the graffiti, the teenager and his friends were arrested and tortured, setting off demonstrations that, looking back, were the first days of the civil war. Two years later, the boys remain mostly unknown, none celebrated like Mohamed Bouazizi, the fruit seller whose self-immolation started the Arab uprisings, or Khaled Said, the young man whose beating death at the hands of the Egyptian police helped start a movement for change.

Some of the boys from Dara’a are refugees, like the teenager in Jordan, now 17, who agreed, along with his father, to speak as long as his name was not revealed. They said they were protecting relatives left behind in Syria, but their reluctance also came from shame: the boy’s father had given him up to the police, to spare a second son, and the teenager informed on three of his friends to try to avoid the torture he suffered anyway.

Given all that has happened, to his family and his country, the teenager said he had no regrets. “Why should I? It’s good that it happened,” he said during a meeting arranged by other refugees from Dara’a. Speaking of Mr. Assad, he said, “We found out who he really is.”

It began with the graffiti.

The government, nervous as leaders were being toppled around the Arab world, reacted furiously to the slight, arresting the teenager and more than a dozen other boys and then torturing them for weeks.

The boy’s relatives, neighbors and hundreds of others in the city gathered for protests demanding the release of the boys. Security forces opened fire on the crowds. They calculated that zero tolerance would head off an escalation. They were wrong.

The details of the teenager’s story could not be independently corroborated, but its outlines matched accounts by a few of the other boys from Dara’a who have spoken about that period. Three former residents of the city, including two who lived in the same neighborhood as the teenager and his family, confirmed that he was among the boys arrested in March 2011.

Recounting those days, the teenager said he passed a sleepless night after his cousin’s acts of defiance. It was not just the graffiti: the cousin had set fire to a new police kiosk the same day in another act of lashing out. The teenager and his friends did not talk much about politics, but the language of dissent was everywhere on satellite television. Small protests had begun to flare in Damascus. “It was the right time,” the teenager said.

The next morning, he noticed intelligence agents at a school and had little doubt about why they were there. “We knew what we did,” he said.

Over the next few days, the police, the military and the military police roamed the city “day and night,” storming the homes of suspects. The teenager said he went into hiding. “I thought it would pass,” he said. But it did not.

When the police finally knocked on the family’s door, the officers threatened to take a different son. If the father gave up the teenager, the agents promised, he would be held for only a few days. The father complied and took his son to the local security headquarters. The boy started crying, and begging to be taken home. But the father left his son behind. “You are to blame for anything that happens to him,” his wife said when he returned home.

The abuse began as soon as the teenager arrived at a prison in the town of Suwayda, where he was beaten during his interrogations. “Are you the one who wrote it?” the interrogator asked, more a demand than a question.

The teenager said he dropped out of school when he was 8. “I don’t know how to write,” he told the interrogators for three days until, desperate for the abuse to stop, he confessed to spray-painting the phrase, though he had not. He also gave up the names of three other boys who were there that day. Within two weeks of the arrest, the father received a call to go to Dara’a Omari Mosque for a protest, in part to demand the release of the boys. About 10 people had already gathered there. The father said he and the other parents were convinced that if they did not protest, “they would have taken more children.” The demonstration grew, and soon he saw most everyone he knew in the city.

It is impossible to say how things might have turned out had the Assad government taken a more accommodating stance toward the protest. Activists from Dara’a still insist that the pressures could have been contained, compromises reached, even after years of violent repression. Any such hope quickly passed as the deaths began to mount.

“People became uncontrollable,” the father said.

Sometime after the protests in Dara’a started, the father heard that the boys would be freed. The teenager, unaware of the spreading revolt, said he was put on a minibus with other boys from Dara’a and sent home. When he arrived, his father said, “I didn’t recognize him.”

His son fled to Jordan about a year ago, where he spent his time looking for work as a day laborer, and dreaming about returning to fight the government in Syria.

About two months ago, he heard that his cousin who wrote the graffiti and somehow managed to avoid arrest had joined the rebels as a fighter — and had been killed.

Kareem Fahim reported from Amman, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon. Ranya Kadri contributed reporting from Amman.

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« Reply #4487 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:45 AM »

February 8, 2013

Seizure of Antiaircraft Missiles in Yemen Raises Fears That Iran Is Arming Rebels There


Photographs recently released by the Yemeni government suggest that an interdiction last month by the United States Navy and Yemen’s security forces seized a class of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles not publicly known to have been out of state control.

Such missiles, in the hands of militants, would pose new threats to military and commercial aviation and would mark an escalation in illegal arms trafficking in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen has asserted that the missiles were bound for rebels in the country’s northwestern frontier, and both the United States and Yemen have suggested that the shipment may have come from Iran.

The missiles were displayed this week to journalists in Yemen, along with other weapons and military equipment that the Yemeni authorities said had been seized from the Jeehan 1, a dhow that was boarded at sea on Jan. 23.

The photographs and accompanying video images are grainy, but they show either modern Chinese- or Iranian-made heat-seeking missiles in their standard packaging. The weapons are of a class known as Manpads, for man-portable air-defense systems, of which the best known example is the American-made Stinger.

Matthew Schroeder, an analyst who follows missile proliferation for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington and the Small Arms Survey in Geneva, said that while a definitive identification was not yet possible from the information released, the missiles appeared to be either QW-1M missiles from China or Misagh-2 missiles from Iran.

“If these missiles are indeed one of these systems and were bound for an armed group, this is a significant development,” he said.

Many questions remain about the seizure, which Yemen said also included small arms ammunition, ground-to-ground rockets, explosives, military-grade binoculars and more.

Neither Yemen nor the United States has fully described the boarding of the dhow, including how it was detected or the precise roles of the security services and vessels that were involved. The dhow’s shipping documents, if they exist, have also not been made public, nor has any information obtained from the vessel’s navigation devices, logbooks or charts.

The seizure follows past joint operations by Yemen and the United States, including American Navy Tomahawk missile strikes against reputed Al Qaeda encampments in 2009 about which the governments issued false or misleading statements.

Investigations by members of the Yemeni Parliament and by Amnesty International later found that in one of those attacks, many civilians had been killed by American-made BLU-97 cluster munitions. The United States has not taken responsibility for the deaths or fully acknowledged its role, raising questions about the Pentagon’s honesty and transparency regarding its security collaboration with Yemen.

The antiaircraft missiles, as shown, included missile tubes and battery units, but not the trigger assemblies, known as grip stocks, necessary to fire the weapons.

The Yemeni authorities said they believed the missiles were destined for the rebels, known as the Huthis, who control a de facto statelet in northwestern Yemen, along the Saudi border. They also have a growing following, and are widely viewed as a threat to Yemen’s efforts to build a more unified nation after the uprising and political crisis of 2011.

The Huthis fought an intermittent guerrilla war against the Yemeni government from 2004 to 2010, gaining combat experience and building up supplies, including munitions obtained from Yemen’s corrupt military. They also briefly fought the Saudi military. Yemen has a vast supply of unregulated weapons and is a hub of regional arms trading.

The Huthis are Zaydis, followers of a variant of Shiite Islam, and they make up about a quarter of Yemen’s population. That sectarian affiliation — however distant — with Iran’s mainstream Shiite population has been the basis for repeated accusations of Iranian influence over the Huthis. Iran’s support appears to be ideological rather than military, and its extent is unclear.

C. J. Chivers reported from the United States and Robert F. Worth from Washington.
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« Reply #4488 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:50 AM »

February 8, 2013

A Look at Turkey’s Past Gives Some Insight Into Its Unresolved Troubles


ISTANBUL — Two galleries in this city’s old European quarter recently opened exhibitions that showcase the political violence that convulsed the country in the 1970s. The echoes for contemporary Turkey were unmistakable.

On one wall are rows of old newspapers that chronicled through blaring headlines and grainy photographs the bloody street fighting and chaotic demonstrations that culminated in a military coup in 1980.

“Socialist revolution can only be achieved in Turkey through armed victory,” is how one newspaper of the time described the aims of a radical left-wing group that promised to use “revolutionary terror” and “urban chaos” to realize Marxist rule.

That bloody past burst violently into the present with last week’s suicide bombing of the American Embassy in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Initially assumed by many to be the work of Islamic extremists, the attack was quickly traced by the authorities to a man who sneaked into the country by boat from a Greek island in the Aegean Sea and was linked to a homegrown left-wing extremist group whose roots lie in the tumult of the ’70s.

As such, the bombing — even though it struck an American target and was motivated in part by American policy in the Middle East — revealed more about modern Turkey, its violent past and potential for instability than it did about the United States’ campaign against terrorism.

“This was no Benghazi,” wrote Ross Wilson, a former American ambassador to Turkey, in an online column for the Atlantic Council, referring to last year’s attack by Islamic extremists on a diplomatic outpost in Libya that resulted in the death of the American ambassador and three others.

For Turkey, the attack was an unpleasant reminder that despite a decade of reforms under the current ruling party, which is rooted in political Islam and headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has yet to fully emerge from its dark past. Coming at a time when Turkey, with its prosperous economy and political stability, is trying to present itself as a model for countries convulsed by the Arab Spring revolutions, the attack served for many Turks as a reminder of the work left to put their own house in order.

“I think what people have forgotten, because of what happened here in the last 10 years, was how violent Turkish politics used to be,” said Gerald Knaus, of the European Stability Initiative, a policy research organization based in Istanbul. “In the last 10 years Turkey tried to emerge from this period of political violence and confront the skeletons in its closet. But we’ve forgotten how many skeletons there were.”

The attack also underscored how Turkey’s rulers sometimes use those skeletons to justify a growing crackdown on dissent, particularly with a campaign against the news media that has Turkey as the world’s leading jailer of journalists — more even than China or Iran.

“If the activist who blew himself up today had possessed a press card, they would have called him a journalist,” Mr. Erdogan said in comments broadcast on Turkish television shortly after the bombing last week that were immediately condemned by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

Before the attack, Turkish security forces rounded up nearly 100 people accused of ties to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front, the organization the perpetrator belonged to, among them journalists, lawyers, even members of a rock band. The arrests were condemned by human rights groups as another example of Turkey’s broad use of antiterrorism laws to crack down on domestic opponents, particularly journalists and human rights lawyers, with no links to violent activities.

“Turkey’s overbroad antiterrorism laws have been used against an ever-widening circle of people charged for nonviolent political activities and the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a report condemning many of the arrests.

Efkan Bolac, a member of the Contemporary Lawyers Association, was detained in that roundup but was released for lack of evidence.

“A lawyer doesn’t become a rapist if he represents one, or a drug dealer if he represents one,” Mr. Bolac said. “They claim we are members of a terror group, but how is that possible when we spend our entire time at courthouses?”

This week the American ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., said the F.B.I. was investigating the attack and suggested that the Justice Department might prosecute the group that carried out the bombing.

Yet the attack seemed out of another time and carried a whiff of cold-war-era intrigue, when links between the C.I.A. and Turkey were central to efforts by the United States to counter Soviet influence in the region. It also upended the conventional narrative about modern terrorism. “You’d think 10 years after the war on terror things would be clearer rather than more obfuscated,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.

In his column in The Hurriyet Daily News, Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security specialist at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara, likened the attack to a “cold-war-style proxy war” that he speculated was the work of Syria, given the historical links between the group and Syrian intelligence. His observation was reminiscent of the paranoia of a bygone era. At one of the art galleries here, newspapers chronicled the 1977 May Day celebration in Istanbul, when leftist groups gathered for a demonstration that turned bloody.

“This attack is a provocation that links all the way to the C.I.A.,” one headline shrieked.

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.
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« Reply #4489 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:51 AM »

February 9, 2013

India Executes Man Tied to 2001 Attack on Parliament


MUMBAI — India hanged a man on Saturday who had been convicted of involvement in the 2001 attack on Parliament that killed nine people.

The hanging of Afzal Guru, a 43-year-old militant with the group Jaish-e-Mohammad, came more than a decade after the Dec. 13, 2001, suicide attack on India’s Parliament in which five gunmen opened fire, killing nine people, including security officials and a journalist. The execution drew protests from human rights groups concerned about the growing use of capital punishment in such cases.

Mr. Guru was convicted of conspiracy in the plot and sentenced to death by a special court in 2002. In 2004, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death sentence.

After the execution, clashes broke out in Mr. Guru’s hometown Sopore, in the northern part of the Kashmir, and police and paramilitary units were called to restore order. Days before the execution, President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected a mercy plea by Mr. Guru’s wife, according to reports from The Press Trust of India, paving the way for Mr. Guru’s hanging in the Tihar Jail complex, officials said.

The clashes in Mr. Guru’s hometown after his death came despite the region in Kashmir being placed under strict curfew in the anticipation of trouble from separatist leaders, according to reports. Authorities in the Srinagar asked citizens to remain indoors. They also closed the national highway for one day.

Omar Abdullah, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, appealed for peace and calm.

“I understand there is certain degree of angst and there are some people who would like to take advantage of the situation,” Mr. Abdullah said. “I appeal to the people to allow us to get through this with peace and not to restore to violent protests.”

Congress Party officials said that the execution was a sign that India would not tolerate acts of terror.

“Anybody committing any acts of terror will be punished,” a Congress Party spokesman, Rashid Alvi, said. “People of our country and government have zero tolerance for terrorism.”

But the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party criticized the government’s delay in carrying out the execution.

“The attack on the Indian Parliament happened in 2001, that is 12 years ago, which was an attack on India,” the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said.

On Nov. 21, 2012, India hanged Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, ending an eight-year moratorium on the death penalty and drawing criticism from rights groups, which they reiterated Saturday.

“The hanging of Afzal Guru, following closely behind the hanging of Ajmal Kasab in November, shows a very worrying trend by the Indian government,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.”
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« Reply #4490 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:53 AM »

February 7, 2013, 1:38 pm

U.S. and Allies Conduct Drills in Persian Gulf, a Signal to Iran


Deterring Iran is a delicate balance of diplomacy, sanctions and military muscle-flexing, all intended to send a strong signal - without proving so provocative that the region is pushed toward war. One piece of the effort - halting the proliferation of illicit weapons - got a practice run in the Persian Gulf this week.

Although the exercise did not explicitly name an adversary, geography certainly pointed to Iran, as well as to militants of Al Qaeda still operating in the region. The exercise, which ended Thursday, included a headquarters simulation to test the policy-making and coordination among the American military and two dozen nations that joined, as well as an extensive component of military drills at sea, in the air and on land.

Pentagon officials do not hide the fact that halting suspected smugglers, and boarding their vessels and inspecting them, is in some ways easier than knitting together a coalition of countries to operate under the decade-old Proliferation Security Initiative.

While there may be quiet agreement that Iran is a threat to regional stability, many nations - especially Iran's neighbors - want to avoid any appearance of belligerence that might make relations even worse. In fact, several of the countries in this week's exercise declined to officially confirm their participation.

That alliance cohesion problem is not new. When the Proliferation Security Initiative was begun by the administration of President George W. Bush, South Korea initially refused to join, for fear of angering North Korea. The government in Seoul eventually reversed the decision, and South Korea is among the nonproliferation program's current members, a number that has expanded to 102 nations from the original 11.

Separate from this current multinational exercise, American and Yemeni officials disclosed last week that a joint operation had interdicted a boat carrying a large load of explosives and weapons, including shoulder-launched antiaircraft weapons. Intelligence indicated that the shipment came from Iran and was destined for Houthi insurgent militants inside Yemen.

Even before the proliferation exercise ended this week, the American military's Central Command announced the scheduling of another exercise to practice mine countermeasures and maritime security in waters of the Middle East. Those skills would be necessary if Iran tried to close the Strait of Hormuz. More than 20 nations will participate in the exercise, set to begin in May.

But budget difficulties in Washington may make sustaining a large American military presence in the region more difficult. The Pentagon announced this week that, temporarily at least, there would be only one aircraft carrier strike group on patrol in the region, down from the usual two. The reason: the Defense Department needs to save money.
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« Reply #4491 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:57 AM »

02/08/2013 08:08 PM

Drones and Democracy: A Legal Question, But also One of Policy

A Commentary By Eugene R. Fidell

The leak this week of a Justice Department memo justifying targeted drone killings of Americans abroad has opened President Obama to criticism and drawn comparisons to the Bush administration's notorious "torture memos." The document isn't on the same scale, but Congress should continue asking tough questions.

It's no secret that many who supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 election have been disappointed in his failure to make a cleaner break from his predecessor's policies. The leak this week of a 16-page US Justice Department document -- an unclassified abridgement of a long, detailed 2010 memorandum produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- will likely cause this criticism to grow. Though Obama has directed the Justice Department to release the longer documents to the Congressional Inteligence Committees, there are apparently no plans -- at least so far -- to make them public. Congressional pressure may change this.

The leaked "white paper" outlines legal arguments for using drone aircraft to target and kill American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists. Without ever naming him, it refers to drone attacks like the one that led to the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who joined al-Qaida and was killed in a CIA drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

Some may find it tempting to argue that this document -- or the OLC memorandum on which it rests -- is the Obama administration equivalent of OLC's notorious "torture memos," drawn up during the administration of George W. Bush, in which torture was perversely classified as such only if it led to death, organ failure or lasting injury.

The recently leaked document is completely different, and any suggestion that this administration is simply a clone of Bush-Cheney is nonsense. Torture is now forbidden, in fact as well as in law -- even if no one from the CIA has been prosecuted for it. Still, it is fair to be concerned about where this administration, headed by a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, stands in the controversy over drone attacks.

To be sure, the document is marvelously abstract, and it assesses the use of drones to kill US citizens in the dry language of a law review, applying case law and constitutional provisions as if all that were at issue were a traffic stop. It also applies international laws of war.

But disturbing questions remain, both as to just what standards the executive branch will apply to drone attacks aimed at US citizens and, perhaps even more significantly, whether mere legality is the end of the discussion or only the beginning.

'An Imminent Threat'

The document concludes that a US citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or an "associated force" may lawfully be targeted if three conditions are met.

    First, an informed, high-level official of the US government must have determined that the targeted person "poses an imminent threat of violent attack" against the US.
    Second, capture must not be feasible, and the US must continue to monitor the individual to see if capture becomes feasible.
    Third, the operation must be conducted in a manner consistent with international Laws of War principles, which stipulate necessity, distinction between combatants and innocent civilians, proportionality, and the avoidance of unnecessary suffering.

At first blush, this sounds like a suitably high standard to meet for bringing about the violent death of a citizen. On closer inspection, it is like Swiss cheese. The fact that it has become known only as a result of a leak does little to engender public confidence. Moreover, the underlying OLC memorandum remains secret. Obama has asked that it be released to lawmakers, but there's no indication it will enter the public record.

The real issue is whether the standards and decisional process regarding drone attacks are lawful and, equally if not more importantly, whether they are good policy. These are not the same thing.

From a legal perspective, the "white paper" leaves a host of questions up in the air and takes positions that may not approach the extravagant claims of the Bush administration but still confer disturbingly broad power on the executive branch. For example, what is the authority for the drone program when directed at US citizens? The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), on which the war in Afghanistan was based, was not a blank check.

As broad as the AUMF was, Congress nonetheless insisted, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, on limiting it to people and groups who were responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington and those who assisted or supported them. It is not a global warrant for actions against terrorist leaders. Congress may be willing to enact a new authorization that is broader, but before it considers taking that step, it must insist that OLC's position be made available to the public. Then Congress must decide whether the program comports with its view of how hostilities should be conducted.

Grave Questions

Another grave question raised by the leaked document is how one defines a violent attack to be "imminent." International law permits countries in limited circumstances to take preemptive action against individuals in other countries, including their own citizens. But what kind of evidence would prove an impending attack? Beyond solid intelligence from a reliable informant such as a mole or a captured co-conspirator, or intercepted mobile phone or Internet communications, what would it take? The "white paper" doesn't say, speaking instead of how terrorist warfare does not consist of a massive, cross-border attack but rather a "drawn out, patient, sporadic pattern of attacks." If that is the focus, then "imminence" is a meaningless concept: The sky's the limit under such a test.

And who decides on a drone attack? The "white paper" says only that it must be an official who is both "informed" and "high-level." What does it mean to be "informed" and how high-ranking must that official be? The president or vice president? A cabinet officer? A general or admiral? A White House staff member? The "white paper" sheds no light on this. From the available information about the Navy SEALS operation in which Osama Bin Laden was killed, we know that President Obama gave the approval in that case, but was he personally the decision maker in the Awlaki case? Where the lives of US citizens are at issue, and especially in the absence of any judicial review, only the commander-in-chief must be allowed to make such decisions.

Finally, there is the question of how to define that capture is unfeasible. Is it unfeasible merely when a potential effort to capture the targeted person would put US personnel at risk? When doing so would require a sizable commitment, rather than just a few soldiers? When an effort to capture would be more awkward politically for the authorities in the country where the targeted individual is found? Congress ought to ask these questions. Maybe it will be satisfied with the answers, but there at least ought to be answers when the life of a US citizen -- yes, even a disloyal one -- is potentially at stake.

Let's not kid ourselves. The Obama administration is no clone of the Bush administration, and saying it is serves no purpose. Nonetheless, both the fact that only through a leak has the "white paper" become public and the content of the document itself indicate that expansive views of executive power remain. Since the courts have refused to weigh in on the issue of drone attacks, only Congress, which, after all, has the constitutional power to declare war, can rein in the executive branch. It ought to, and it ought to consider not merely whether drone attacks on malevolent US citizens overseas are constitutional, but also whether they are right as a matter of policy.

Military law expert Eugene R. Fidell, 67, is a lecturer at Yale University and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. His courses include a seminar on the legal issues surrounding the Guantanamo prison camp.


02/08/2013 02:26 PM

Germany's Drone Conundrum: 'New Wars' Demand New Mindsets

A Commentary by Thomas Darnstaedt

Germany's government recently announced plans to do a 180-degree policy shift by deploying armed drones in combat. It argues that remote-controlled killing machines are no different than any other weapons, but experts say the "new wars" have completely different -- and revolutionary -- rules.

Germans should finally give it a rest and stop all the worried talk about how their military plans to use armed drones in combat. After all, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière has spoken, and it's apparently no big deal. "In ethical terms," he says, "a weapon should always be viewed neutrally."

But this comment alone is reason enough to further scrutinize the issue. Franz Josef Strauss, de Maizière's evilest predecessor at the Defense Ministry, said weapons aren't evil, just their use -- and even then only sometimes. That was in the 1950s, when Strauss was trying to equip the new Bundeswehr, Germany's postwar military, with nuclear weapons.

The Basic Law, as Germany's constitution is called, allows Germans to cite reasons of conscious in refusing to take up arms for the country, thereby respecting their opposition to weapons on ethical grounds. In fact, the very first section of the constitution's very first article says respecting "human dignity" is "inviolable" and elevates it to the status of the supreme "duty of all state authority."

The question is: Can a country with a constitution like Germany's justify the acquisition of remote-controlled killing machines? The quick shooters among experts in the international laws on warfare aren't at all troubled by the issue. Of course, they argue, one could employ armed drones in situations that are problematic in terms of international law. But that doesn't mean one has to. For example, using these weapons against terrorists would violate international law if the targets weren't directly involved in an act of war -- just as it's the case when it comes to using any other weapon. So, the dominant mindset in the Defense Ministry asks, why should people find drones so particularly objectionable?

However, pacifists aren't the only ones warning about the killer machines. It's also critical observers of modern, so-called "asymmetric warfare." These days wars are hardly ever fought between sovereign states, they argue. Instead they are waged at an almost subcutaneous level -- through assaults and other acts of terror carried out by individuals acting either of their own accord or with government control. Indeed, this change has altered the very meaning of the term "weapon."

Changing the Rules of the Game

As long as they were part of an organized legal order of war, weapons were used in regrettably violent, yet still legitimate conflicts between those who held the state's monopoly on the use of force. Accordingly, there was a codification of rules holding that weapons of war could only be used against representatives of the opposite side that were both uniformed and armed. The "enemy" in such a conflict bore the name of a country. The war was thought about in terms of a battle between nations rather than a hunt for humans. Likewise, at the domestic level, having armed agents go after private individuals was viewed as a task solely reserved for the police. People who committed or planned an evil act were called "criminals" rather than "combatants."

To the horror of international law experts, drawing such differences has been almost impossible ever since US President George W. Bush declared his "War on Terror" just days after the 9/11 attacks. The hunt for terrorists is a hunt for individuals, for well-organized criminals. Whether in Pakistan or Yemen, the hunt is waged by soldiers bearing weapons of war.

The most confusing part about mixing up a manhunt for criminals and a war are its "legal" consequences: In civilized countries that respect the human dignity of their opponents, criminals are detained before a trial rather than executed without one. Turning what used to be a collective enemy into an individual, into an opponent with a particular name, has also had an effect on where war is waged. Deadly weapons are no longer used only within the territory of states that have been attacked or are defending themselves. Instead, they are used wherever the target resides, no matter where in the world.

This has effects on how nations get along with and relate to each other. The "new wars," as they have been dubbed by prominent German political scientist Herfried Münkler, could very well usher in the demise of the political order of sovereign states that has been in place since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. But what could replace it? A global police state?

The armed, unmanned aircraft is the weapon of the new war. It permits the use of dependably deadly force against individuals once their location has been determined. The enemy of the officers who work with this weapon isn't called North Korea or Somalia. It is Osama bin Laden -- or anyone for that matter. There are no longer any battlefields in the hunt. There's no longer anywhere on the planet where a person can imagine that he or she is safe from being found by a drone remotely controlled by German military officers and, if necessary, pre-emptively liquidated.

In all of this, one can also not exclude the possibility that one of de Maizière's new killing machines will execute a suspected terrorist fighter right outside the defense minister's own front door. Indeed, Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, has ruled that the Bundeswehr can also employ its weapons in German territory under exceptional circumstances entailing a worst-case scenario. Thus, in the age of the new war, the German constitution's guaranteed respect for human dignity appears to be no longer "inviolable" -- or at least not always.

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« Reply #4492 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:02 AM »

EU budget cut is the perfect result, at the most fortunate time, for Cameron

Prime minister will get a warm reception from Tory MPs when he reports on securing his aim of a first cut in the Brussels budget

Nicholas Watt in Brussels
The Guardian, Friday 8 February 2013 19.08 GMT   

Fuelled by copious cups of coffee from a brand-new Nespresso machine, David Cameron chalked up a Brussels first as he debuted at an all-night EU summit.

Looking mildly tired after 25 and a half hours on the go – with a two-hour "freshening up" break at 10am on Friday – the prime minister hailed his achievement in negotiating the first ever cut in an EU budget.

"The British public can be proud that we have cut the seven-year credit-card limit for the EU for the first time ever," he said before travelling home for dinner with his wife, Sam.

Cameron will receive a warm, and possibly rapturous, reception from Tory MPs on Monday when he reports back on his success in securing his aim of a cut or a real-terms freeze in the EU's near-€1tn (£845bn) budget. While his red, and puffy cheeks showed signs of a gruelling Brussels experience, it is difficult to imagine a better outcome or more fortunate timing for the prime minister.

Weeks after he was warned that he was marginalising Britain in the EU by outlining plans for a referendum by the end of 2017, Cameron has shown that Britain can shape events. He believes the summit shows the wisdom of his three fundamental calculations about the EU: that Britain should never underestimate its ability to be a major player in the EU, . It should also not be frightened of laying down red lines not to be crossed, though it helps not to refer to them in that way.

Cameron's final, and most important, calculation holds that the key player in EU negotiations is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

If she is pushed too far, Merkel will bite, as she did in December 2011 when she drew up the eurozone fiscal compact treaty outside the EU after Cameron wielded a veto. But if she believes that Cameron's demands are reasonable, then she will work constructively with him as she did over the EU budget.

Cameron might, however, like to bear in mind the thinking of Merkel's officials in the run-up to the first budget summit in November. Berlin was quite prepared to see Cameron isolated to show Merkel's displeasure as she awaited his speech on the EU, which she feared would be unremittingly hostile. In the end, Merkel worked closely with Cameron in November for one very simple reason: she agreed with his call for restraint.

The German chancellor is keen to co-operate with Cameron at a tactical level – if she agrees with him – and at a broader strategic level to maintain the UK as an influential member of the EU as a counterweight to the protectionist French. But Merkel's support should never be taken for granted.

The prime minister will therefore need to calibrate his negotiating stances with care when he embarks on the much more delicate and complex task of repatriating EU powers, as he promised in his Bloomberg speech on the EU.
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« Reply #4493 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:04 AM »

Venezuela devalues currency for first time since 2010

Widely forecast devaluation expected to push up prices in import-reliant economy

Associated Press in Caracas, Friday 8 February 2013 21.18 GMT   

Venezuela's government announced on Friday that is devaluing the country's currency, a change expected to push up prices in the heavily import-reliant economy.

Officials said the fixed exchange rate is changing from 4.30 bolivars to the dollar to 6.30 bolivars to the dollar.

The devaluation had been widely expected by analysts in recent months. It was the first devaluation to be announced by President Hugo Chávez's government since 2010.

Planning and finance minister Jorge Giordani said the new rate takes effect immediately, though the old rate would still be allowed for some transactions that were already approved by the state currency agency.

Venezuela's government has had strict currency exchange controls since 2003 and maintains a fixed, government-set exchange rate.

Under the currency controls, people and businesses must apply to a government currency agency to receive dollars at the official rate to import goods, pay for travel or cover other obligations.

While those controls have restricted the amounts of dollars available at the official rate, an illegal black market has flourished and the value of the bolivar has recently been eroding. In black market trading, dollars have recently been selling for more than four times the official exchange rate of 4.30 bolivars to the dollar.

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« Reply #4494 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:05 AM »

Economists: China needs full-scale reform to address inequality

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 8, 2013 16:04 EST

China’s stated aim to narrow the income gulf between its sports-car driving elite and vast numbers who still live in poverty will need radical political and economic changes to work, say economists.

Long-delayed “proposals on the distribution of income” were announced this week ahead of Sunday’s Lunar New Year, as hundreds of millions working in cities returned to their rural homes, many without running water or heating.

Beijing promised to improve the lives of these rural migrant workers, who are denied equal access to health, education and housing services in cities under a half-century old system of residency permits known as “hukou”.

“Migrant workers from rural areas will be assisted to register as citizens and entitled to all basic public services in the cities,” according to the measures quoted by the official Xinhua news agency.

But the aspirational document was generally short of concrete steps.

Tax reductions will be “promoted” for low- and middle-income earners, it said, and the government will “target” reducing the number of people living on less than $1 a day by around 80 million by 2015.

In 2011 Xinhua said 150 million Chinese live on less than that, a stark contrast to the country’s image as the world’s manufacturing heartland, the holder of its biggest foreign exchange reserves and a motor of global recovery.

The extent of inequality in China, particularly between urban and rural areas, saw authorities refuse to publish the country’s Gini coefficient, a commonly used measure of inequality, for more than 10 years.

In December a research centre which operates under China’s central bank said its Gini coefficient stood at 0.61, one of the highest in the world. A Gini figure of zero represents perfect equality of income and 1 total inequality.

Last month China’s government said the figure was 0.47, higher than the United States, and above the 0.4 figure widely cited as a “danger level” for social discontent.

Research centre director Gan Li questioned the official statistic, arguing that the government “has not published the percentage of people who refused to answer” and “the richer they are, the more likely they are to refuse to answer”.

Like other economists, Gan believes the authorities underestimate the incomes of the wealthy, who hide a significant portion of their earnings.

China has seen an explosion in its luxury goods market — which grew 56 percent last year — as Western makers of products from designer handbags to yachts and supercars pile in.

The boom casts doubt on government statistics saying the top 10 percent of earners had an average annual income of 59,000 yuan ($9,500) in 2011, economist Wang Xiaolu said recently in Caijing, a respected economics journal.

“Solving the income distribution issue requires full-scale reform,” he wrote on his blog.

Aware of the growing resentment against the rich and endemic corruption, the Communist Party is urging officials to be frugal, pledging strict controls on government spending on banquets, car purchases and overseas travel.

But many observers say that fundamental tax reforms are essential to create more equal income distribution.

China should introduce a national property tax and inheritance tax, economist Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology told AFP.

The government plan said only that property tax, which some cities have been experimenting with, will be extended, and inheritance tax will be introduced “at the appropriate time”.

Local governments derive much of their income from land sales, leading to many farmers being evicted from their land and compensated below market rates.

The newly released plan says that farmers will be “guaranteed proceeds” from land sales, but Hu called for greater changes to China’s system of property rights, where all land is officially owned by the state or rural collectives.

“Farmers should be able to develop or sell their land, which is their collective property,” he said.

Mao Yushi, a guru of economic liberalisation in China, called for reforms to the financial system, where firms with close connections to the state receive the vast majority of bank loans, leaving small-business owners short of capital.

“The princelings can go to the bank and get money just on the strength of their status and get rich on this basis,” he said, referring to the children of members of the communist elite.

“The two-tier society of rich and poor is everywhere. The distinctive characteristic of China is people who have special powers and bully others.”
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« Reply #4495 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:09 AM »

February 8, 2013

Demonstrators Attack Allies of Georgian President, Injuring at Least 5


TBILISI, Georgia — An angry crowd attacked allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili outside the site for an annual address to the nation on Friday, as Georgia’s five-month-old power-sharing experiment deteriorated into open conflict.

A mob surged toward Gigi Ugulava, the mayor of Tbilisi, as the police looked on, unable or unwilling to control a crowd that had taken shape hours earlier and vowed to prevent Mr. Saakashvili from entering. At least five lawmakers from the president’s party were reported injured in the brawl.

Mr. Saakashvili’s party, which had dominated Georgian politics for nine years, lost a parliamentary election last year to an opposition coalition, Georgian Dream. It was the first constitutional transfer of power in this country with a long history of civil unrest, and Western leaders hailed it as a breakthrough for the post-Soviet region.

But that moment quickly soured. Since Mr. Saakashvili’s presidential term does not end until October, he must serve alongside Bidzina Ivanishvili, the prime minister, who loathes and distrusts him. The new government has cut Mr. Saakashvili down to size, stripping him of his private plane and reducing his household budget, but the president retains the right to dissolve the government and call for new parliamentary elections, levers his opponents fear he will use.

Friday’s confrontation began when lawmakers from Mr. Ivanishvili’s coalition canceled Mr. Saakashvili’s address to the nation, which is traditionally delivered in the Parliament chamber.

Mr. Saakashvili, defiant, said he would deliver the speech at the national library in Tbilisi. By midday Friday, several hundred protesters — many of them prisoners newly freed by an amnesty that the president had opposed — had gathered outside the building, seething with anger.

One of them, Giorgi Gorelashvili, 57, said he had served two years after he was convicted of spying for Russia.

“He has no right to make speeches, and we will not allow him in,” he said. “Saakashvili is not the president anymore.”

When Mr. Saakashvili’s central allies arrived, 10 minutes before the speech was to begin, protesters began pelting them with eggs. The library’s front door had been decorated with brooms, in a grim reference to a prison abuse scandal last fall, which featured video of a man being sodomized with a broom. Two men repeatedly punched Chiora Taktakishvili, who served as a campaign spokeswoman for Mr. Saakashvili’s party, leaving her dazed and with blood running from one nostril.

The fracas ended after about 10 minutes when Mr. Saakashvili’s allies left. Each side has blamed the other for provoking violence. David Usupashvili, the speaker of Parliament, described it to reporters outside as “another spectacle and provocation of Saakashvili, which the protesters unfortunately succumbed to,” the Interfax news agency reported.

Among those who had already entered the building when the brawl began were diplomats who had come at Mr. Saakashvili’s invitation, like the United States ambassador, Richard Norland.

“There are certain basic principles in democracy, and no matter how strongly you feel about an issue or how much you feel you’ve been wronged, there is no excuse for using violence, for punching parliamentarians as they go in to hear a speech by the president,” Mr. Norland told reporters outside. He warned of reports that crowds were moving toward Mr. Saakashvili’s palace.

Mr. Saakashvili made no effort to get into the library. Instead, he invited his loyalists and the assembled diplomats to hear his address two hours later in the president’s palace.

At a fruit stand near the site of the brawl, people crowded around a small television to watch coverage of the melee and discuss what had happened and who was to blame.

“The only thing left for us, ordinary people, is to pray for peace to return,” Aleksandr Makharashvili, 45, said. “I am afraid there is no way they will be able to shake hands of each other after this.”

Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.

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« Reply #4496 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:10 AM »

February 8, 2013

Wave of Arson Attacks in Brazil Is Tied to Reports of Inmate Abuse


RIO DE JANEIRO — A wave of arson attacks is spreading across a state in southern Brazil, largely targeting police installations, public buses and even the homes of prison officials in a region that has traditionally ranked among the country’s safest.

Since the end of January, there have been about 80 attacks in more than 20 cities throughout Santa Catarina, a relatively prosperous state of 6.3 million people, raising concerns about what appears to be an inability by the authorities to halt them. While much of Brazil is distracted by the annual celebrations around Carnival, which got under way on Friday, the arson attacks have continued, with local officials describing them as a violent reaction to reports of inmate abuse in Santa Catarina’s prisons.

The attacks began after video images surfaced from closed-circuit recordings of events at a prison in the city of Joinville on Jan. 18. In the video, prison guards are shown to have marched dozens of inmates into a closed area, forcing them to crouch into a fetal position before firing rubber bullets at their backs and targeting some with what appears to be pepper spray.

“Prisoners decided to orchestrate the attacks to call the attention of the population and authorities to issues of management of the prison system,” said Col. Nazareno Marcineiro, the commander of Santa Catarina’s military police.

More broadly, the attacks have opened a window into fears around Brazil related to overcrowding and abuses in prisons. Security analysts are also unnerved that a criminal organization operating within Santa Catarina’s prisons appears to have guided the attacks, much as a prison-based gang organized a traumatic uprising in São Paulo State in 2006. During that surge of violence, police headquarters, buses and public buildings were attacked over the course of several days, paralyzing Brazil’s largest city and leaving about 115 people dead.

Inmates in many of Brazil’s prisons often have access to mobile phones and laptop computers, allowing them to coordinate actions outside the prison walls, despite efforts by the authorities to curb the use of these technologies. A spike in targeted killings of police officers in São Paulo in 2012 was attributed to the resurgence of the First Capital Command, a group operating from São Paulo’s prisons.

The arson attacks in Santa Catarina come after a wave of similar violence in the state in November 2012. In both cases, Brazilian news reports have connected the attacks to a prison-based organization called Primeiro Grupo Catarinense, or First Santa Catarina Group, which resembles, in name at least, its larger counterpart in São Paulo.

Lawyers who have interviewed prisoners about the abuse allegations corroborated the reports about the group, commonly called the P.G.C. Cynthia Maria Pinto da Luz, the president of the Human Rights Commission of the Joinville Bar Association, said the current round of attacks was “directly linked to the command of the P.G.C.” and the festering anger inside prisons over the failure to improve conditions.

Santa Catarina, whose beaches are a popular vacation spot for Brazilians and tourists from Argentina and Uruguay, is going ahead with its Carnival celebrations despite the violence. Nevertheless, the attacks are focusing scrutiny on Santa Catarina’s public security policies; the police there have fatally shot at least one suspect in the attacks this month and have arrested more than a dozen suspects. At least one person, a 19-year-old cook, was badly burned in one of the attacks, in a bus set on fire in the city of Florianópolis.

At the same time, Santa Catarina’s prison officials have been put on the defensive. Bruno Renato Teixeira, a federal human rights official, said that Santa Catarina had one of the worst records of inmate abuse claims among Brazil’s states, and that its prisons were about 70 percent over the capacity for which they were built.

Leandro Lima, the director of Santa Catarina’s prison system, said that 14 guards were removed from their duties in connection with the video from the Joinville prison. Still, he told reporters that the causes of the latest attacks were “more complex” than the images captured of guards firing rubber bullets at squatting inmates.

Prison guards in Santa Catarina, however, have said that the authorities overseeing the system are trying to shift responsibility to guards even though prisons are increasingly overcrowded and understaffed. “The government has to put the blame on somebody,” said Wolney Chucre, a union leader among Santa Catarina’s prison guards.

Taylor Barnes contributed reporting.
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« Reply #4497 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Bolshoi acid attack: police treating some theatre staff as suspects

Three weeks after attack on Sergei Filin, police turn focus on Bolshoi employees as star dancer tells of plot to blacken his name

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Friday 8 February 2013 15.09 GMT   

For nearly three weeks, the main action at the Bolshoi theatre has been happening far from its famous stage, as dancers and directors exchange heated accusations about who is behind the brutal acid attack on its ballet troupe's director, Sergei Filin.

Now, police have begun to treat several employees and dancers as suspects, according to an "informed source in Moscow's law enforcement agencies" cited by the Interfax news agency.

"Evidence is now being collected," the source said, providing no further details.

The unprecedented attack against Filin has lifted the veil on the bitter rivalries and personality clashes inside the country's most renowned theatre. Filin immediately linked the attack to his work as artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet.

The 42-year-old former dancer is in Germany receiving treatment aimed at restoring his eyesight. He was released from a Moscow hospital on Monday after undergoing several operations on his eyes and face, which were left with third degree burns after a masked attacker accosted him with sulphuric acid outside his home on 17 January.

Since the attack, the key players in the Bolshoi drama have approached the incident with theatrical flair, giving incendiary interviews and trading accusations almost daily. On one side stands Filin, backed by the Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Iksanov. On the other is Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a principal dancer and celebrity backed by hordes of adoring fans. He has been a longtime critic of the theatre's leadership and had been a contender for Filin's position.

The Russian press immediately turned to the rivalry between the two men in speculating what could have prompted the brutal assault.

In television interviews, some from his hospital bed, Filin has said he knows who was responsible for the attack, but has refused to name names. Iksanov has repeatedly pointed the finger at Tsiskaridze – if not for carrying out the attack, at least for creating an "atmosphere" that allowed it to happen.

Tsiskaridze has denied being involved. Speaking to the BBC in an interview that aired on Friday, he went one step further and wondered if Filin was attacked at all.

"If this, God forbid, really was acid, you wouldn't be able to show your face for months," Tsiskaridze told the BBC. "I don't know what the substance was, but it's clear that it wasn't what they claim."

Filin left hospital on Monday wearing dark glasses, his face exposed but framed in a white bandage.

Tsiskaridze speculated that the attack and its attendant publicity could have been part of a set-up designed to blacken his name.

"If you look at all the specially commissioned TV shows that have been hinting at my involvement, it looks like a campaign against me," Tsiskaridze said. "This isn't against Sergei Filin, it's against me."

Tsiskaridze has long had a contentious relationship with the theatre's management. He has publicly denounced favouritism inside the Bolshoi and likened the result of the theatre's recent major renovation to a "Turkish hotel". He has accused the management of trying to push him out.

"It's like 1937, the days of Stalin – they're constantly organising meetings against me, they're trying to force staff to sign letters condemning me," he told the BBC.

The attack on Filin has had its effect on the theatre. Last week, the Bolshoi postponed its premiere of a new version of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring by British choreographer Wayne McGregor, one of the most eagerly awaited new productions in its repertoire.

"The Bolshoi management and the stage team led by Wayne McGregor have taken a joint decision to postpone The Rite of Spring as Sergei Filin is undergoing treatment," the Bolshoi said in a statement. It said it would announce new dates once Filin was back at work.

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« Reply #4498 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:14 AM »

'Hitler's Pope' revealed as a secret friend to Holocaust victims

Pope Pius XII helped Jewish refugees to hide from the Nazis, claims new book

Dalya Alberge   
The Observer, Saturday 9 February 2013 12.06 GMT   

Pius XII has long been vilified as "Hitler's pope", accused of failing publicly to condemn the genocide of Europe's Jews. Now a British author has unearthed extensive material that Vatican insiders believe will restore his reputation, revealing the part that he played in saving lives and opposing nazism. Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before.

The Pope's Jews, which will be published next month, details how Pius gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe's convents and monasteries. He oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects.

Thomas shows, for example, that priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. More than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics and a network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. The pope appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy.

During and immediately after the war, the pope was considered a Jewish saviour. Jewish leaders – such as Jerusalem's chief rabbi in 1944 – said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates "are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour". Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him "a Jew lover".

However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet antagonism towards the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler's Pope, a book by John Cornwell.

However, as the Vatican's ambassador in Germany before the war, the future pope contributed to the damning 1937 encyclical of Pius XI, With Burning Anxiety, and, as Pius XII he made condemnatory speeches that were widely interpreted at the time – including by Jewish leaders and newspapers – as clear condemnations of Hitler's racial policies. Due to the Vatican's traditionally diplomatic language, the accusation that Pius XII did not speak out has festered.

Professor Ronald J Rychlak, the author of Hitler, the War and the Pope, said: "Gordon Thomas has found primary sources … He has tracked down family members, original documentation and established what really was a universal perception prior to the 1960s. He's shown what the people at the time – victims, rescuers and villains – all knew: that Pius XII was a great supporter of the victims of the Holocaust."

Asked why the Vatican had not made the new material available until now or, where stories were known, disseminated them more widely,Thomas said: "The church thinks across centuries. If there's a dispute for 50 years, so what?"

William Doino, a Vatican historian, described Thomas's research as "unique and groundbreaking". He spoke of the book's new insight, for example, into Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest: "Everybody has always praised [O'Flaherty] because he helped Jews and escaped POWs. They made a movie about him, The Scarlet and the Black, with Gregory Peck. However, they always say he was acting on his own authority and that Pius was either aloof or not giving him anything. Gordon has spoken extensively with O'Flaherty's family, who gave him private correspondence and told him that O'Flaherty said that everything was with Pius XII's co-operation."

The book also tells the story of Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young Jewish doctor who was able to work in a Vatican hospital, inventing a fictitious deadly disease that deterred Germans from entering. Dozens of fake patients were taught to cough convincingly.

Thomas interviewed Sacerdoti's cousin, who recalled that as a child she was one of those patients – "feeling there was nothing wrong with her, yet having to cough regularly in the ward".

The Vatican is so excited by The Pope's Jews that it is supporting a feature documentary film being planned by a British producer who has bought the rights to it.

Allen Jewhurst, who has produced documentaries for BBC TV's Panorama, said that, with more than a billion Catholics worldwide, interest in the story is huge. After a meeting with two cardinals at the Vatican, he and Thomas now hope to get exclusive access to the archives. "This will, hopefully, be a definitive film," said Jewhurst.

Thomas, who also wrote the book Voyage of the Damned, about Jewish refugees, recalled: "The Vatican people said, 'How wonderful, the truth out at last'."

"The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis" is published by The Robson Press on 7 March

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« Reply #4499 on: Feb 09, 2013, 08:28 AM »

In the USA...

February 8, 2013

Debating a Court to Vet Drone Strikes


WASHINGTON — Since 1978, a secret court in Washington has approved national security eavesdropping on American soil — operations that for decades had been conducted based on presidential authority alone.

Now, in response to broad dissatisfaction with the hidden bureaucracy directing lethal drone strikes, there is an interest in applying the model of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court — created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge — to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects.

“We’ve gone from people scoffing at this to it becoming a fit subject for polite conversation,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas. He said court approval for adding names to a counterterrorism kill list — at least for American citizens abroad — “is no longer beyond the realm of political possibility.”

A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, Al Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.

“People in Washington need to wake up and realize the legal foundations are crumbling by the day,” Mr. Chesney said. That realization seemed evident at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as C.I.A. director, which became a raucous forum for complaints about the expansion of counterterrorist strikes and the procedures for deciding who should die.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, was one of those who complained that he could not get the administration to even list the countries where lethal strikes had been carried out. Among Republicans, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said he thought that killing had become a dubious substitute for capture. A program that began in the shadows was dragged for the first time into the spotlight of Congressional debate.

Today, with Al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan hugely diminished and Osama bin Laden dead, the terrorist threat is far more diffuse than it was a decade ago. Most drone-fired missiles now kill not high-level terrorists plotting to attack the United States, but a mixed bag of midlevel militants and foot soldiers whose focus is often more on the Pakistani or Yemeni authorities than on the United States. And since a September 2011 drone strike deliberately killed an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen, the legal and moral rationale for such strikes has been hotly debated.

Even if they are glad Mr. Awlaki is dead, many Americans are uneasy that a president can use secret evidence to label a citizen a terrorist and order his execution without a trial or judge’s ruling. Hence the idea of court oversight for targeted killing, which on Thursday, unexpectedly, got serious discussion from senators and Mr. Brennan.

First, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she would review proposals for establishing such a court. Her remark got a strong second from Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent.

“Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,” he said.

Mr. Brennan then made a striking disclosure: The Obama administration had held internal talks on the feasibility of such a court. “I think it’s certainly worthy of discussion,” Mr. Brennan said. “What’s that appropriate balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branch responsibilities in this area?”

An administration official who spoke of the White House deliberations on the condition of anonymity said President Obama had asked his security and legal advisers a year ago “to see how you could have an independent review” of planned strikes. “That includes possible judicial review.”

“People on the national security staff and the legal side took a hard look at it, and the discussions are still going on,” the official said. “There are a lot of complexities. You’d need legislation and probably a new judicial body.”

The FISA court was created by Congress in 1978 after revelations of widespread eavesdropping on Americans by the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation convinced Congress that the executive branch had proved incapable of properly policing itself.

Eleven judges from around the country sit on the court, but one is on duty at a time, hearing cases in a special high-security courtroom added to Washington’s federal courthouse in 2009. In 2011, according to the most recent statistics, the court approved 1,745 orders for electronic surveillance or physical searches, rejecting none outright but altering 30.

A drone court would have the same appeal, bringing in an independent arbiter. But it is likely there would be serious limitations to its jurisdiction. Most experts say judges do not have the alacrity or expertise to rule on a frantic call from the C.I.A. every time a terrorism suspect is in its sights. A better approach would be to have the court rule on whether the government had enough evidence against a suspect to place him on the kill list.

But if the court’s jurisdiction extended to every foreign terrorism suspect, even some proponents believe, it might infringe on the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief. Senator King, for instance, said he thought the court would pass constitutional muster only if it were limited to cases involving American citizens.

With such limits, however, a drone court would not address many of the most pressing concerns, including decisions on which foreign militants should be targeted; how to avoid civilian deaths; and how to provide more public information about strike rules and procedures.

“In terms of the politics and the optics, aren’t you in the same position that you are now?” said William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University. “It’s still secret. The target wouldn’t be represented. It’s a mechanism that wouldn’t satisfy critics or advance the due process cause much.”

Indeed, Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, said that a drone court would be a step backward, and that extradition and criminal prosecution of suspected terrorists was a better answer. “I strongly agree that judicial review is crucial,” she said. “But judicial review in a new secret court is both unnecessary and un-American.”

Nor are judges clamoring to take up the challenge. At an American Bar Association meeting in November, a retired FISA judge, James Robertson, rejected the idea that judges should approve “death warrants.”

“My answer is, that’s not the business of judges,” Mr. Robertson said, “to decide without an adversary party to sign a death warrant for somebody.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.


US ‘evaluating’ next steps in Syria conflict but avoids discussing arms support

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 8, 2013 22:59 EST

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is exploring ways to end Syria’s increasingly bloody conflict as the White House defended its refusal to arm rebels there.

The decision not to arm rebels was apparently a divisive one in President Barack Obama’s first term, with several top officials urging more strident action to tip the military balance on the ground against the Damascus regime.

Kerry, speaking at his first press conference since taking over as the top US diplomat, steered clear of saying whether the United States would reconsider arming the rebels now, as the bloody conflict rages through its 22nd month.

Some 60,000 people have died since demonstrators first took to the streets almost two years ago to protest President Bashar al-Assad, as the conflict has escalated into a civil war that has displaced some three million people.

It was revealed this week that the White House had rejected secret plans drawn up last summer by Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and former CIA chief, General David Petraeus, to arm the Syrian opposition.

“It is a very complicated and very dangerous situation,” warned Kerry, who only took over as America’s top diplomat late last Friday.

“There’s too much killing and there’s too much violence and we obviously want to try to find a way forward,” he said, adding that everybody in the administration was “deeply distressed” by the continued violence in Syria.

“We are evaluating now, we are taking a look at what steps, if any, diplomatic particularly, might be able to be taken in an effort to reduce that violence and deal with that situation.”

So far the United States is the largest single donor of aid, having pledged some $365 million to help the Syrian opposition and refugees. Some 760,000 people have fled the country and another 2.5 million are internally displaced.

But, wary of pouring more weapons into a volatile conflict, Washington has so far refused to arm the Syrian opposition, limiting itself to non-lethal support such as communications equipment.

News that other senior cabinet members, including Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, had supported the Clinton-Petraeus plan, further fuelled the notion of major differences over what to do about Syria.

Kerry said he was not aware of what decisions had been made before he took over as secretary of state a week ago, stressing he was focused on the future.

The White House meanwhile defended its decision to reject the plan to arm the Syrian opposition.

Spokesman Jay Carney said the US priority was to ensure that weapons provided by Americans did not end up in the wrong hands and create more danger for “the US, the Syrian people or for Israel.”

Analysts say however that had the US administration pressed ahead with the proposals to arm the rebels several months ago, the situation in Syria today might be very different.

“I firmly believe you have to change the military balance on the ground even for a political solution. The fact is that this regime, and Assad, is not going to do himself out of a job,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Qatar-based Brookings Doha Center, told AFP.

“If the decision had been taken last summer, we may well be in a situation by which the Free Syrian Army and the more professional elements could have become much more capable themselves by now in organizing the resistance.”

Now a strong “disillusionment” is setting in among the opposition, many of whom had been primed to expect a lifting of the US arms ban.

“Everyone’s conflicted, these are tough decisions. But sometimes you have to make the tough decisions,” Shaikh added.

Obama told the New Republic magazine last month he constantly wrestled with issues of where and when America should intervene.

“In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? … What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons?”

“Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can.”


White House issues doomsday survey of sequestration impacts

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 8, 2013 19:06 EST

The White House warned Friday that billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts set to kick in on March 1 were a “blunt” instrument that could wreak deep damage to the already fragile US economy.

In the latest and most vehement warning over the impending cuts to domestic and defense spending — known as the “sequester” — officials painted a grim picture, as Democrats and Republicans squabbled over who was most to blame.

The White House issued a doom-laden survey of sequestration impacts, saying 10,000 teacher jobs were at risk, food inspections could stop, 373,000 mental health patients would lose treatment and prosecutors could be furloughed.

The FBI would have 1,000 fewer officers, small business loans would be cut by $540 million, and around 600,000 women and children could lose government-funded emergency nutrition, according to the White House.

President Barack Obama meanwhile warned that sequestration would hit US military readiness, saying “there is no reason for that to happen.”

“Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a severe impact on our military preparedness,” he said.

The US military says it may have to skip the Paris air show this year for the first time because of the cuts, and the Navy has already halted the deployment of the aircraft carrier Harry S Truman to the Gulf.

The sequester was agreed by the president and Congress to be so punishing that it would force Washington’s warring political factions to forge an agreement on a way to cut the US budget deficit.

But amid partisan gridlock, no agreement on cutting the deficit has been reached and cuts due in March will slash defense spending by $55 billion and non-defense discretionary spending by $27 billion this year.

The White House said Friday that the cuts would amount to nine percent of spending for non defense programs and 13 percent for defense.

The Bipartisan Policy Center has said that a million jobs will be lost by the end of next year caused by a slowdown brought on by the cuts.

“Sequester is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic priorities and the economy,” said Danny Werfel, the federal controller of the Office of Management and Budget.

“It does not represent a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction.”

Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, warned that the sequester would also have long-term economic impacts.

“We got a tiny bit of a preview of what that might look like in the fourth quarter GDP numbers, where GDP contracted because of a large contraction in defense spending that was, at least in part, due just to fears about the sequester before it even started to hit,” he said.

The Commerce Department reported at the end of January that the US economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Republicans shared the White House view that the sequester cuts could be devastating, but said Obama was not serious about alleviating the problem.

They also complained that the president, who succeeded in implementing his 2012 campaign promise of raising taxes on the rich during the “fiscal cliff” showdown in December, was not now prepared to countenance cuts to spending.

“We’ve twice passed legislation to replace (the sequester) with common sense cuts and reforms,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

“We’re glad they’re laying out the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, but the question remains: what are they willing to do to prevent it?”

Obama has proposed a stop gap solution of tax reforms that would raise revenues partly by closing loopholes which benefit the wealthy and also include targeted spending cuts, to give Congress more time to reach a deficit deal.

But Republicans reject any deal that will mean more tax hikes.

Republicans also tried to pin the blame for the sequester on the president, debuting the hashtag #Obamaquester on Twitter, and renewing their charge that the device was the president’s idea.

Obama aides argue that since both chambers of Congress voted to endorse the sequester, and the president signed it into law, both sides share blame.

“The notion much propounded by the spin doctors on the Republican side that the sequester is somehow something that the White House or the President alone wanted or desired is a fanciful confection,” said Obama spokesman Jay Carney.

“I understand that it’s a convenient bit of spin but it’s also a lot of baloney.”


Affordable Care Act’s ‘donut hole’ fix saves seniors $5.7 billion

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, February 8, 2013 12:15 EST

The Affordable Care Act’s prescription for the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare Part D has saved America’s disabled and elderly $5.7 billion on prescription drugs since being implemented, according to a report published Thursday (PDF) by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The patch in the law works by gradually closing the gap in coverage some Medicare recipients face when buying prescription drugs. The new law took effect in 2010 by sending a one-time check to people who reached the coverage gap, and drug prices were significantly discounted for people in the “donut hole” by 2011.

About 6.1 million seniors felt the initial round of benefits, the report adds. Average savings per person should add up to about $5,000 in 2022, although an estimate predicts some could see savings over $18,000.

A chart included in the report also shows how drug prices will drop as discount percentages increase for generic and brand-name pharmaceutical products, stopping at 75 percent discount for both in 2020, when the law will be fully implemented and the coverage gap eliminated entirely.

Taken together, the five states to see the most benefit from the Affordable Care Act’s “donout hole” fix were California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas, which saved a total of $1.97 billion since 2010, data shows. Average discounts per person in those states ranged from $609 to $753.

Data on money saved through Medicare comes just two months after health care think tank The Commonwealth Fund published a study that found the Affordable Care Act saved consumers $1.5 billion in 2011 alone by forcing insurers to refund money that customers overpaid for health coverage. That study placed Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and South Carolina as receiving the lion’s share of savings.
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