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« Reply #4530 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:43 AM »

February 11, 2013

Syrian Insurgents Claim to Control Large Hydropower Dam


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian insurgents and opposition activists said Monday that rebel forces had taken control of Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam, an assertion that, if confirmed, would give them significant control over a vital reservoir and what remains of the sporadic power supplies in their war-ravaged country.

The Tabqa Dam, built more than 40 years ago with Russian help on the Euphrates River in northeast Syria’s Raqqa Province, provides electricity to areas that are both in rebel and loyalist hands, including the contested city of Aleppo, and would be the third Euphrates dam taken by the rebels, who control two smaller facilities upriver.

But the Tabqa Dam, which the government once boasted had made Syria self-sufficient in power generation, is considered a more potent weapon in the battle for allegiances in the nearly two-year-old Syria conflict. Rebel-held areas have been systematically denied electricity by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in their effort to turn the population against the insurgency.

Claims that the Tabqa Dam was now in rebel control came as a possible new confrontation was brewing between Turkey and Syria after a Syrian minivan exploded just inside Turkish territory at Cilvegozu, an important border crossing near the rebel-held Syrian town of Bab al-Hawa. The blast killed at least 13 people, including 3 Turkish civilians; wounded at least 28; and damaged at least 19 vehicles.

The Turkish fatalities were believed to be the first related to the Syrian conflict since October, when a Syrian mortar shell killed five Turks near the border-crossing town of Akcakale, Turkey, eliciting a warning of retaliation by the Turkish government.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, did not rule out a bombing or suicide attack as the cause of the Cilvegozu explosion, and said all possibilities were under investigation at the border post in southern Turkey’s Hatay Province. But Syrian rebels, who get military and financial support from Turkey, quickly blamed Mr. Assad’s government for the explosion. Turkey, which hosts nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees, has repeatedly warned Mr. Assad’s government that it would not tolerate attacks along the 550-mile border.

Reports by rebel commanders and by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said insurgents had met little resistance as they swept into the Tabqa area on Sunday, seizing the dam and setting fire to an imposing statue of President Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez, in the city of Tabqa.

The reservoir created by the dam, known as Lake Assad, is Syria’s largest and is vital for irrigating area farms and supplying drinking water to Aleppo.

The Syrian government did not confirm the insurgent claims. But videos uploaded on the Internet by insurgents appeared to corroborate they were in control of areas inside and outside the dam, although not necessarily the control room. One rebel fighter was quoted as saying the insurgents intended to divert power from the dam to rebel-held areas.

“We will cut all sources for the regime,” said the fighter, who identified himself by a first name, Nawaf.

He said that rebels also had taken control of large areas of Tabqa, including a military police barracks, an air force facility and an artillery base, seizing weapons and ammunition, and that they did not intend to damage any infrastructure.

“The Shabiha says, ‘Assad or burn the country,’ ” he said, using the term for the feared plainclothes pro-government militias. “We say, ‘We will burn Assad and keep the country.’ ”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which had a similar account of events, also said rebel fighters had seized control of three neighborhoods that housed dam workers.

“The regime forces showed no resistance, while heads of security branches escaped using helicopters through Al Tabqa military airport,” the Observatory said in a statement. “The small town embodies the diverse Syrian society, as it has residents from different sects and ethnicities. The fighters have pledges not to harm any of the citizens.”

Fighters in the operation included members of the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic militant group that has developed a reputation for its fearless attacks on Mr. Assad’s military but has emerged as a problem for the United States. The United States wants to aid the insurgency but considers Al Nusra a terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard in Beirut; Sebnem Arsu and David D. Kirkpatrick in Gaziantep, Turkey; and an employee of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria.


Syrian minister offers to meet opposition leader overseas

Ali Haidar raises prospect of free elections in response to surprise change of line by Syrian National Coalition leader

Jonathan Steele in Damascus, Monday 11 February 2013 17.12 GMT      

The Syrian government is ready to send a minister abroad for talks with Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who recently threw rebel politics into turmoil by coming out in favour of dialogue with the regime.

"I am willing to meet Mr Khatib in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue", Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, told the Guardian. His remarks were the most positive response the Syrian government has yet given to the opposition leader's surprise change of line.

Exiles and their affiliated armed groups have long said they would never talk to the regime unless Bashar al-Assad first left office. Their leader's switch has been severely criticised by some of his colleagues because the coalition's charter states it will not talk to the regime except about its departure.

In explaining the purpose of the national dialogue, Haidar raised the prospect of a genuine contest for a multiparty parliament and for the presidency when Assad's mandate runs out next year.

"The dialogue is a means to provide a mechanism for reaching free parliamentary and presidential elections. This is one of the subjects which will be discussed at the table. Such a thing could be the result of negotiations, but not a precondition," he said. "We reject a dialogue that is just to hand power from one side to another."

Assad offered talks with opposition leaders in a speech last month. But he appeared to rule out any contact with the Syrian National Coalition, which was put together under US, Turkish and Qatari pressure in Doha last summer in an attempt to unite the disparate opposition groups.

"Who do we conduct dialogue with? Those who are carrying extremist thinking and do not believe in anything except blood, killing and terrorism? Should we speak to gangs that receive their orders from abroad to reject dialogue because they believe that dialogue will foil their schemes aimed at weakening Syria?" Assad said.

Khatib's political bombshell came three weeks later, prompting debate in Syrian government circles. They also noted last week's revelations that Barack Obama rejected Pentagon and state department recommendations to arm the opposition. The US has since come out in support of Khatib's initiative, and there is speculation in Damascus that it was co-ordinated in advance with Washington.

Haidar's offer to meet the coalition leader is clearly designed to prevent Khatib's initiative from collapsing under resistance from rebel colleagues. Haidar pointed out that like other regime ministers he was banned from the EU under sanctions, but said Geneva was a possible venue for preliminary talks. "But we insist that the actual national dialogue take place on Syrian soil because it is a matter of Syrian dignity," he added.

He recognised that exiled politicians were concerned about being arrested if they returned to Syria. In announcing his shift toward negotiations, Khatib demanded the government renew the passports of all Syrians who were overseas so they ceased to be stateless. Haidar said the justice ministry had already started taking steps to cancel any proceedings against Syrians overseas.

"The ministry of the interior has agreed to relax its policies and give them all the necessary documents to return and let them in even if they don't have any. I don't want to close the door to any opposition people who have concerns. I personally invite anyone to return and guarantee their safe entry and departure, if that's what they want," Haidar said.

He made it clear the new impetus for negotiations came not just from Khatib's policy switch but from a change in the regional and international climate, as well as because of the military stalemate. "There are hardliners on both sides but 80% on each side now realise that no military victory is possible. I'm in contact by phone with some leaders of the Free Syrian Army and they used to say, 'We'll be in Damascus in a few days' time,' but today they say, 'We've found out that the international community is playing games with us and working for their own interests only so we realise we can't defeat the Syrian army,'" he said.

In spite of the Syrian government's apparent readiness to talk to representatives of the armed opposition, differences remain over the shape of any transition. Russia, the US and several other key players including Britain and France agreed in Geneva in June that one element should be the appointment of a coalition government that could include members of the opposition as well as the present government and would have "full executive powers".

When Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, saw Assad in December, the issue appeared to be a sticking point. Brahimi later told the UN security council this meant there would be no role for Assad in the transition. His remarks caused anger in Damascus, with the foreign ministry accusing him of being "flagrantly biased" and al-Watan, a pro-government newspaper, calling him "an ageing tourist".

Members of his team who are based in Damascus have been trying to discover whether he can return to Syria. Asked by the Guardian whether the Brahimi mission was dead, Haidar denied it, but accused the envoy of not being straightforward.

"In his discussions here it was Brahimi who said it was a bit early to form a government. His point was that it's not possible because there are so many factions in opposition in exile who are not yet ready to participate. Unfortunately, when he left Syria we heard something else from him," Haidar said. "There were contradictions in his statements which weakened his position of being equidistant from all Syrians. We wouldn't say his mission has completely failed but he has to regain his previous position of equidistance."

Haidar's conciliatory views confirm his reputation as a regime dove. As leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist party, a small opposition party, he was among a group published the Damascus declaration, a manifesto for democratic reform and radical political change, in 2005. Some were jailed and others went into exile. He remained in Damascus and was appointed a minister in 2011. He continues to have differences with the regime and during last year's referendum on a new constitution he appeared three times on state TV calling on voters to reject it.

Under the constitution Assad would be entitled to put himself forward for a new term next year, after two terms in office. Haidar suggested Assad should do so unless the national dialogue resulted in major changes. "Personally I have not discussed this with the president. But the current constitution does not prevent him running. As a Syrian citizen he has the right like any other citizen," he said.

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« Reply #4531 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:45 AM »

February 11, 2013

Malian and French Troops Reassert Control in Key City


GAO, Mali — French and Malian troops appeared on Monday to have reasserted control of this strategic settlement in northern Mali after a protracted firefight with Islamist extremists who infiltrated the city after being chased from it two weeks ago.

Malian troops took up position on virtually every street corner on Monday and fresh bullet holes scarred a police headquarters, testimony to Sunday’s fighting in Gao, which is at the edge of the desert and is the largest population center in the north.

The battle between Islamist militants and a force of Malian and French troops, which continued for much of Sunday afternoon, suggested that the quick French campaign against the local Al Qaeda affiliate and its allies was not over.

Overnight, a series of explosions echoed in the early hours of Monday but the cause of the blasts was not immediately clear.

Sunday’s attack by the Islamist fighters was the most serious escalation in the fighting since the French ended over six months of brutal Islamist occupation in Gao at the end of January. That victory came after a quick French bombing campaign and with barely a shot fired.

Continuous bursts of gunfire were heard around the police station, in the city’s center and in southern districts as French helicopters hovered overhead. Malian soldiers fought back against Islamists armed with AK-47 rifles as the streets cleared of residents. French troops were also patrolling the city, which has a population of about 86,000, including its surrounding areas.

By late Sunday afternoon, the Islamist fighters had been encircled by French troops, according to a Gao municipal councilor, Abdheramane Oumarou. Later, Mr. Oumarou said that troops had launched a “final assault” on the town’s police station, where Islamist fighters had taken refuge, and that it appeared to have been successful.

The Islamists’ attack appeared to have begun with an attempted suicide bombing late Saturday night, when a militant on foot blew himself up at a Malian Army checkpoint outside of town, in the second such episode in two days. The bomber’s attack, which wounded a Malian soldier, was merely a ruse to allow an Islamist commando unit to enter the city, Mr. Oumarou said.

“The Malian soldiers panicked; that’s how the Mujao got into town,” Mr. Oumaro said, referring to the Islamist group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda and controlled Gao from May to January. Mr. Oumarou said that the fighters who penetrated Gao were aided by local sympathizers, and that caches of armaments had been discovered by the local authorities.

A Malian Army spokesman said that the bomber was part of a commando team of about 20 Islamist fighters who assaulted a bridge in marshland linking Gao to neighboring villages.

The spokesman, Capt. Daouda Diarra, said the bomber appeared to be of Arab ancestry. He tried to penetrate the army checkpoint, the captain said, setting off his explosives.

“It’s pretty hot in the town right now,” said the mayor, Sadou H. Diallo, who was reached by phone on Sunday afternoon. “I can’t talk now.”

Though the French appeared to be leading the fight on Sunday, primary responsibility for patrols had been handed back to the Malian Army, which is still shaky after the defeats of last month that led the French to intervene, and still plagued by the internecine squabbles that led to a gun battle at a barracks in the capital, Bamako, on Friday.

Embarrassed by the recent events, Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, apologized to the country’s foreign partners in a statement to the state news media. Mali is dependent on large-scale military assistance and other aid from overseas.

The explosion on Saturday night rocked the neighborhood. “We were very scared,” said a resident, Halimatou Touré. “There are lots of mujahedeen who come from this area,” she said. The bomber’s remains were removed in a wheelbarrow, and French armored vehicles took up positions at the checkpoint.

While Sunday’s clashes showed that the northern cities are still vulnerable to attacks from Islamists, the bulk of their force is thought to have taken refuge in the Adrar des Ifoghas, a remote mountain range near Algeria and hundreds of miles to the north of Gao. Troops from France and Chad, supported by French aircraft, are pursuing the Islamists there as well.

Peter Tinti reported from Gao, Mali, and Adam Nossiter from Dakar, Senegal
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« Reply #4532 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:47 AM »

February 11, 2013

Ruling Islamists, Under Attack, Reject Blame for Tunisia’s Woes


TUNIS — Facing public anger and internal divisions after the assassination of an opposition leader, Tunisia’s largest Islamist party, which leads a governing coalition, blamed the news media, secular elites and the remnants of the old government for its troubles.

As Tunisians fretted about the specter of political violence, the party, Ennahda, did not seem to look inward. It strongly condemned the assassination, but did not see any blame for the anger in its own actions. But others did.

Its implacable critics renewed their charge that the killing was the result of Ennahda’s conservative religious agenda. Others, including supporters of the group, said the movement’s own missteps since coming to power contributed to the public outburst after the politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down last week. The group had lost confidence, some said, by focusing on power rather than on governing.

As tens of thousands took to the streets last week and Tunisia’s divisions were laid bare, many waited to see how Ennahda would respond. Would it reach out to find common ground with some of its critics, or would it retreat to its base of support? The challenge resonates here and in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is facing even harsher questions about its rule.

Ennahda’s leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, dismissed the criticism, saying that the movement remained popular and that a majority of Tunisians were not afraid of his group. “Just a tiny part of the aristocracy,” he said.

Nevertheless, the anger amounted to a humbling setback for Ennahda, which had been in the vanguard of Islamists seeking political power after the Arab uprisings two years ago and had held up its record of building political consensus as a model. After decades of being jailed, or forced underground or into exile by authoritarian leaders, the Islamist groups’ rise to power in Egypt and Tunisia has been swift. So has the reckoning on their rule.

“They thought that governing would be easy,” said Abou Yaareb Marzouki, a philosophy professor who is close to Ennahda. “And they imagined that through governance, they will reject forced modernism,” he said, referring to what he called a policy of westernization under colonial rulers and authoritarian governments. But Ennahda and the Brotherhood had swung too far in the opposite direction, he suggested, imposing “forced easternization.”

Since the uprising against President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago, Ennahda has insisted that whatever the results of elections, it would rule with others and had no intention of imposing a conservative religious agenda. After winning a plurality in Tunisia’s first elections, the party formed a coalition with the center left.

Facing challenges that would test any government, the coalition became noted for its incompetence, failing to dent the economic crisis or reform institutions.

Ennahda was accused of coddling ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, some of whom have been tied to a string of violent episodes.

The blame intensified after the killing of Mr. Belaid, who had received death threats for his criticisms of Islamists. At his funeral on Friday, tens of thousands of mourners directed their anger at Ennahda and Mr. Ghannouchi, blaming them for fostering extremism and taunting the leader with an incendiary chant: “Slaughterer.”

Intensifying the pressure on Ennahda, the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali — a top Ennahda leader — defied his colleagues by calling for the Islamist-led cabinet to replaced by technocrats with no political affiliations. Ennahda said it was still considering whether to accept the proposal to reconstitute the government, which many people believe could quiet some of the anger.

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Ghannouchi said Tunisia’s difficulties could be “contained,” saying he was not worried that the country would devolve into violence. “The Tunisian people are known for being peaceful,” he said.

He said he was surprised at the accusations against Ennahda, which understood that its success in governing depended on stability. “These kinds of things happen in revolutions,” he said, speaking of the assassination. He avoided Mr. Belaid’s funeral to “avoid tensions,” he said, but was clearly stung by the chants against him, which he called part of a demonization campaign.

Mr. Ghannouchi said the party remained “open and accepting,” and said most people were not preoccupied with ideological conflict but with concerns like food and medicine. He blamed a “French model of secularism” for conflicts in Tunisia, and insisted that no more than 20 percent of Tunisians were opposed to Islamist rule. “The rest are against radical secularism,” he said.

Khalil al-Anani, a scholar of Middle East Studies at Durham University in England, said the Islamists shared a misconception that by securing electoral victories, they were free to act as they wished. “They replicate the policies of authoritarian regimes, and underestimate the weight of secular and liberal forces.” And they did not understand how the uprisings had changed the structures of power. “No one can claim the authority of the street in the Arab world,” he said.

Abdulbasset Belhassan, the president of the Tunis-based Arab Institute for Human Rights, said the Islamists “are facing a strategic choice — between keeping an ideological approach based on their old legacy, or entering a new era based on human rights and democracy.” “They should take a historical decision,” he said. “The revolution was not made by one party.”

Farah Samti contributed reporting.

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« Reply #4533 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:50 AM »

February 11, 2013

Militant Threats Test Role of a Pentagon Command in Africa


NIAMEY, Niger — Created five years ago to focus on training the armed forces of dozens of African nations and strengthening social, political and economic programs, the Pentagon’s Africa Command now finds itself on a more urgent mission: confronting a new generation of Islamist militants who are testing the United States’ resolve to fight terrorism without being drawn into a major conflict.

Some military and Congressional critics question whether the command is up to dealing with its dual mission, and some influential lawmakers warn that Africom, with its headquarters in Germany, is understaffed and poorly financed for challenges that include countering Al Qaeda’s fighters in Mali, Islamic extremists in Libya, drug traffickers in West Africa and armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The leader of the command, Gen. Carter F. Ham, must straddle the new and the old missions, as he demonstrated one day last month when he flew to the northern reaches of this largely desert nation to watch United States troops train Niger’s fledgling border corps in basic skills to help combat Al Qaeda’s branch in North and West Africa. Then, within hours, he was back here in the capital for an urgent secure phone call from Washington to weigh what kind of advanced military support or surveillance the Pentagon could provide a French-led operation to blunt an Islamist offensive in neighboring Mali.

“The command is searching to find the right balance between the press of current military operations and the vision of longer-term engagement, helping Africans develop greater capacity for themselves,” said Christopher W. Dell, a former United States ambassador to Angola and Zimbabwe, who is General Ham’s deputy for civil-military activities.

Africom has an annual budget of about $300 million and 2,000 employees worldwide — an operation that Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, calls “an ‘economy of force’ effort.” By comparison, the military’s Central Command, which oversees Afghanistan and the Middle East, has a yearly budget of about $800 million and 5,000 employees.

With no assigned forces in the region except for those at a base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, the command was caught napping last Sept. 11, critics contend, when it had no military forces poised to respond to the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. An independent review of the attack concluded that events had unfolded too quickly for any American forces to make a difference.

Still, controversy has dogged the command since its creation in 2008. Initial statements about its mission and scope of activity alarmed some African leaders and State Department officials, who feared that the Pentagon was trying to militarize diplomacy and development on the continent. These concerns led the command to set up its headquarters in Stuttgart.

The command’s first boss, Gen. William E. Ward, left two years ago under a cloud. Pentagon investigators later found that General Ward had lavishly overspent on official trips. He was ordered to repay the government $82,000 and was forced to retire as a lieutenant general, a one-rank demotion.

Enter General Ham, who turns 61 this week and is the rare Army officer to have risen from private to four-star commander in a 40-year career. He has led troops in northern Iraq, overseen military operations at the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and helped lead reviews into the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the fatal shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.

His combat mettle was tested almost immediately. Within days of assuming command in March 2011, General Ham was leading the initial phase of the Libya air campaign, for which he earned high marks from his civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the White House.

But the general, who will retire this spring, acknowledged in one of three interviews during his recent trip to Niger that the command’s ability to address the terrorist threat in Africa had been “mixed.”

His grades? “Pretty good” in Somalia, where the Shabab, Islamist militants, have been dealt several setbacks in the past year. “Less good” in Libya, Mali and other parts of North and West Africa, where the United States is hunting Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a militant leader who claimed responsibility for the attack on a gas field in Algeria last month. And lacking in Nigeria, where an Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, poses a major threat.

“Frankly, the intelligence community has not focused a lot on this part of the world,” General Ham said. “But we are starting to, out of necessity.”

With the war in Afghanistan winding down, senior Pentagon officials are scrambling to address the growing threat in North and West Africa by repositioning spy satellites and shifting surveillance aircraft from other theaters, all at a time when shrinking military budgets are forcing the Obama administration to make difficult choices on where to accept more risk.

The Pentagon is preparing to establish a drone base in Niger so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and associated groups. Starting this year, the Africa Command will also send small teams from a 4,000-member brigade in Kansas to conduct nearly 100 exercises and training programs in 35 African countries.

“We’re going to see more and more demands on Africom,” Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, said in January.

As for Benghazi, General Ham said he did not request any additional forces to be on hand in the region for the anniversary of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, saying there was no specific intelligence indicating an imminent attack.

He acknowledged that “knowing what I know now would I make different decisions? Absolutely.” A special emergency force, which all combatant commands have but that the Africa Command did not until Oct. 1, now splits time between Europe and its base in Colorado. General Ham said he is drawing up plans to have other forces in Europe, West Africa or Djibouti ready to respond quickly to a crisis.

“Instead of responding in a day,” he said, “they could respond within some number of hours.”

But with the Obama administration wary of putting American boots on the ground, General Ham and his lieutenants are sticking to the philosophy “African solutions to African problems.”

“The underlying ethos remains the same: We’re not looking to be the security provider for Africa,” said Mr. Dell, General Ham’s deputy.

American training programs have not always worked. As insurgents surged across Mali’s northern desert last year, United States-trained commanders of the country’s elite army units defected at a critical time, taking troops, trucks, weapons and their newfound skills to the enemy.

A confidential internal review completed last July by the Africa Command concluded that there were critical gaps in the American training for Malian troops and senior officers.

“We’ve focused exclusively on tactical and technical,” General Ham said in a speech in January in Washington. “We didn’t spend probably the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and a military ethos that says when you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority.”

In Niger, officials reached a status-of-forces agreement in January that clears the way for greater American military involvement in the country, including the drone base.

“The U.S. should do more in the area training, equipment, land and air, and intelligence capability,” Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, said in an interview. “African countries face threats beyond their means.”

General Ham insists that the command can carry out both combat operations and its original “soft power” missions, taking cues from envoys in the region like Bisa Williams, the United States ambassador in Niamey.

Ms. Williams said the command responded to her request a year ago to help train Niger’s troops to improve relations with its citizens. The command ended other practices at her request, like financing the purchase of T-shirts urging Nigeriens to vote, money that could be better spent elsewhere, she said in an interview.

“That’s what I need from you,” Ms. Williams recalled General Ham telling her later. “I need for you to tell me if we’re tone deaf or in the wrong lane.”

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« Reply #4534 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:51 AM »

February 11, 2013

Candidates in Kenya’s First Presidential Debate Condemn Ethnic Politics


NAIROBI, Kenya — With a hotly contested, anxiously awaited presidential election only three weeks away, Kenya tried something new on Monday night: it held a debate.

Just after sunset, millions of Kenyans sat down in front of television sets or grabbed transistor radios to witness the first time presidential candidates faced off against one another in a public forum in Kenya’s nearly 50 years as an independent nation.

Kenya may be one of the most developed and powerful countries in Africa, known for its safaris and historically close to the West, but its politics have been bedeviled by corruption, impunity and bitter ethnic rivalries, often exploding into widespread violence during contested elections.

Human rights groups, intellectuals and the Kenyan media are now doing all they can — like setting up social media watchdogs and organizing presidential debates — to make sure that this time history does not repeat itself.

The two front-runners are Raila Odinga, the prime minister, who says he was cheated out of winning last time in 2007, and Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father. Mr. Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity connected to the widespread bloodshed that convulsed Kenya after the last election.

The debate, held at a school in Nairobi and moderated by Kenyan journalists, started out with a hand grenade: why are politics in Kenya so ethnically charged, and what would the eight candidates — seven men and one woman — do about it?

“Ethnicity is a disease of the elite,” Mr. Odinga said, adding that he stood for a “Kenya for all, not just for a few elite.”

Mr. Kenyatta hit a similar note.

“Tribalism is a cancer that has afflicted this country for a very long time,” he said. “It has been a source of conflict, a source of death.”

The debate then turned to the equally thorny subject of the International Criminal Court and what it would mean if Mr. Kenyatta won the presidential race. Several Western countries have already threatened to distance themselves from Mr. Kenyatta, raising the prospect that Kenya, which depends on hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid, could be partly isolated if its next president faced war crimes charges in international court.

Mr. Kenyatta, a deputy prime minister and a confident public speaker, tried to smooth over those worries, reassuring voters that he was innocent and that he could juggle defending himself at The Hague while presiding over Kenya.

But Mr. Odinga shot back: “I know it’s going to cause serious challenges to run the government by Skype from The Hague.”

The audience laughed.

Public service advertisements during the debate urged Kenyans to come together this election cycle, driving the point home with beautiful shots of Kenya’s savannas, mountaintops and azure coastline, accompanied by swelling orchestra music. One question in the second half of the debate was what the candidates would do to make sure this election was peaceful.

“Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries in the world,” said Peter Kenneth, a presidential hopeful respected for his independence but considered a long shot. “We must never try to destroy it.”
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« Reply #4535 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:53 AM »

02/11/2013 02:43 PM

Patience Runs Out: EU To Crack Down on Israeli Settlement Products

By Christoph Schult in Brussels

Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian terroritories often deceptively give their products a "Made in Israel" label. The European Union wants to move soon to end the practice and appears to be set on a collision course with the country.

The wine section on the basement floor of the Galeria Kaufhof department store in downtown Cologne has a good assortment of wines from around the world. Above the bottles, the shelves bear little tags showing the prices and flags of the countries of origin.

One cubicle has a tag showing a blue Star of David on a white background. At first glance, one might be led to believe that the wine comes from Israel. It even says "Wine of Israel" on the label. However, it requires a good bit of geographical and historical expertise to figure out the true origin of this €14.99 ($20) bottle of wine. The label says it is a 2008 "Gamla" Cabernet Sauvignon, "Produced & Bottled by Golan Heights Winery." The address provided is "12900 Katzrin, Israel."

But that address isn't in Israel. Katzrin is a settlement in the Golan Heights. Until the Six Day War of 1967, the rock plateau stretching some 60 kilometers (37 miles) belonged to Syria. The Israeli army has occupied both it and the Palestinian West Bank ever since.

The international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over these areas, and the Geneva Convention outlaws the establishment of settlements within occupied territories. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have allowed colonies to be built up within them and, today, some 650,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently confirmed what little concern the Israeli government has for respecting international law on this issue. "The days of bulldozers flattening settlements to the ground are over," he told the daily tabloid Maariv.

Israel held parliamentary elections on Jan. 22 and is now in the process of forming a new coalition government to be led by Netanyahu. Although the coalition will include the liberal parties in the political center, politicians representing settlers will also have a strong voice in the new government. This configuration is diminishing the hopes of politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington who were eager to revive the comatose Middle East peace process.

Confrontation Course

This has prompted the European Union officials to move forward with planning that will put them on a confrontation course with Israel. The main issue is settlement policies. At a meeting in December, the foreign ministers of the EU's 27 member states reiterated "their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products." In other words, they intend to prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories -- or at least as long as they are falsely labelled.

Sanctions against products from the settlements would be a major blow to the Israeli economy. Each year, the settlers export some €220 million worth of goods to Europe, whereas the comparable figure for the Palestinians is a mere €15 million. Israel has accordingly reacted very negatively to the plans in Brussels. In a response to the plans, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin argued that there are territorial disputes all over the world. "If this kind of labelling regulation is not universal, and seeks to single out one place exclusively, namely Israel," it said, "then this measure will be inherently iniquitous and discriminatory by nature, and it should be treated as such."

Such charges have not been intimidating to officials in Brussels. Employees of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU diplomatic service ushered in by the Treaty of Lisbon, recently sifted through the entire corpus of EU legislation in order to determine which directives and regulations could be cited in efforts to ban settler-made products. The list of applicable legislation, which SPIEGEL has obtained, shows that the lion's share of potentially banned products involves foodstuffs.

Difficulties in Verifying Origins

For example, European Council Regulation 1234/2007 sets rules "on specific provisions for certain agricultural products," including wine. Among the product information that must be declared is origin. But, in practice, the law is constantly violated.

Council Regulation 479/2008 stipulates who is responsible for monitoring that wine is properly labelled. Article 62 says: "The competent authorities of the Member States shall take measures to ensure that a product referred to in Article 59(1)" -- including wine and related grapevine products -- "not labelled in conformity with this Chapter is not placed on, or is withdrawn from, the market."

The red wine from the Golan Heights sold in the Galeria Kaufhof is imported to Germany by Champagner und Wein Distributionsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, a company based in the northern German state of in Schleswig-Holstein. But the state's ministry responsible for agriculture doesn't see any reason to take action. A ministry spokeswoman says that since Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has already provided a document confirming the origin of the wine, there is no deception in the matter.

The EU member states also rely on the information supplied by Israeli exporters when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It is difficult to verify precisely where an orange or olive has been harvested. Right now, one of the main things EU officials are looking into are dates that are grown by Israeli settlers in the occupied Jordan Valley.

Products from Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava are also the subject of dispute. The company produces creams and shower gels that contain minerals from the Dead Sea. The products' packaging includes the details, "Dead Sea Laboratories. Israel." In truth, the products are manufactured at the edge of the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank.

The company refused to answer detailed legal questions. "Ahava works in coordination with the German authorities, the European Commission and under the law," the company stated, tersely. But the apparent calm was feigned. Ahava immediately informed the Israeli Embassy in Berlin about SPIEGEL's reporting.

The German importer of Ahava products is based in Wiesbaden, so any control of its products is the responsibility of the city, which is the state capital of Hesse. In a written response to a query from SPIEGEL, the city's consumer protection department wrote that because the company's headquarters is officially located within the recognized borders of the state of Israel, "nothing misleading can be detected."

Countries Turn Blind Eye to Imports

But officials at the EU in Brussels have a different view. Under EU Regulation 2005/29, a trader is considered to be conducting misleading actions when it presents material information "in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner." The European Commission considers such practices to be "misleading omissions". Officials in Brussels have come to the conclusion that controllers in many EU member states are simply turning a blind eye to products originating from Israeli settlements.

A SPIEGEL review of all 27 EU national governments confirmed this suspicion. The simple question of whether or not products from settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights "come from Israel" generated highly varied answers. Britain, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain and Cyprus all answered the question with a clear "no". These countries consider products with the labels "Product of Israel" or "Made in Israel" to be misleading. A spokesperson with the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wrote that, "Items imported into the UK from Israeli settlements, such as those in the West Bank, can't lawfully be labelled as products of Israel."

Other EU countries expressed uncertainty. Given the country's difficult history, officials in Germany are taking pains to avoid anything that might evoke any kind of historical associations with the Nazis' campaigns to prevent people from buying products from Jews. German government officials are urging the European Commission to provide "guidance assistance on the implementation of EU law in relation to a consistency with EU law and correct labelling."

A number of EU countries see no problem whatsoever with the labelling. They point out that sales are legal as soon as customs officials have approved the products. However, the only thing that customs officials check is whether or not the products fall under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. If they do, then importers are not required to pay an import tariff.

The Galeria Kaufhof department store chain also sees no reason to act. The company argues it is the sole responsibility of suppliers to ensure proper labelling. The company also spoke to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin before answering a question from this SPIEGEL reporter. "Suppliers and the embassy were able to give us credible assurances that their actions are legal," a company spokesman wrote.

He also added that "Galeria Kaufhof, like the majority of the people, wish the Middle East peace."

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« Reply #4536 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:54 AM »

February 12, 2013

Iran Converts Enriched Uranium to Reactor Fuel, Reports Say


PARIS — As it prepares for two sets of negotiations with outsiders on its disputed nuclear program, Iran said on Tuesday that it was converting some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel, the state news agency IRNA reported, potentially limiting the expansion of stockpiles that the West fears could be used for weapons.

Iranian officials are to meet on Wednesday in Tehran with Herman Nackaerts, the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, who has been pressing for access to a restricted military area at Parchin, 20 miles south of Tehran. International inspectors suspect the site may have been used for testing bomb triggers.

Later this month, Iranian negotiators are to meet in Kazakhstan with representatives of six powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — for a further round in a series of long-running and inconclusive talks about curbing Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Western countries suspect that Tehran is seeking to acquire the technology to make nuclear weapons, but Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes like the creation of reactor fuel for civilian use.

At a news conference on Tuesday in Tehran, Ramin Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, was asked to comment on a news report that Iranian scientists had converted some uranium enriched to 20 percent purity into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The spokesman said the “work is being done” and details had been sent to the I.A.E.A., which is based in Vienna.

Iran’s nuclear program came under added scrutiny on Tuesday after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test since many intelligence officials believe the two countries share nuclear knowledge, though so far there is no hard evidence to substantiate that belief.

Reuters quoted Mr. Mehmanparast as saying: “We think we need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons.” While all countries should be allowed to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, he said, “all weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms need to be destroyed.”

Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is believed by Western negotiators and international inspectors to be of far lower purity than is required to make nuclear weapons. But, diplomats in Vienna said on Tuesday, enriched uranium converted into reactor fuel is more difficult to enrich to a higher degree of purity. “It’s a step away from weaponization,” one diplomat said, speaking in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

Some analysts argue that, by slowing the growth of its stockpile, Tehran could delay the moment when it acquires sufficient 20 percent enriched uranium to trigger a response by Israel, which has signaled readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

The likely outcomes of the forthcoming sets of negotiations remain unclear.

Mr. Mehmanparast, the Iranian spokesman, said the talks with the I.A.E.A. team in Tehran on Wednesday had “bright” prospects if the I.A.E.A. negotiators recognized Iran’s rights, IRNA said.

But Yukiya Amano, the director general of the I.A.E.A., said Monday that “the outlook is not bright” for obtaining permission to visit the Parchin site. Mr. Amano’s remarks contrasted with a more optimistic tone from the agency less than a month ago, when his deputy, Mr. Nackaerts, expressed hope that the negotiations on Wednesday would agree an inspection plan.
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« Reply #4537 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Burma offers visas to journalists

Reporters will be able to work in Burma for up to a year under new regulations aimed at ensuring wider press freedom

Kate Hodal in Rangoon, Monday 11 February 2013 18.29 GMT      

Foreign reporters will soon be able to work for up to a year in Burma on short and long-term journalist visas after new regulations were introduced aimed at ensuring wider press freedom.

The new rules are intended to give local and foreign reporters greater access to government officials and will come into effect around mid-April, deputy minister for information and presidential spokesman U Ye Htut said told the Guardian.

"In the past, the government issued journalist visas to try to control the journalist's movements," he said. "Now we are issuing the visa to allow the journalist access to the ministries … If he wants to interview a government official but doesn't have a journalist visa, he may not get access [to the official]."

The move, which means reporters will no longer have to fly in using tourist visas or file under pseudonyms, follows the recent dismantling of some, but not all, of Burma's draconian censorship laws and the seeming removal of most foreign journalists from the country's blacklists.

It also follows training sessions overseen by Unesco and local media late last year aimed at teaching government ministers how to deal with the press, U Ye Htut said.

"In the past, many journalists would enter Myanmar [Burma] with tourist visas, so if [government officials] made the mistake of talking with journalists, they would lose their job. That is why they are very careful, and sometimes very reluctant, to talk with foreign journalists," he explained.

Each ministry now has its own spokesperson to deal with media inquiries, as ordered by President Thein Sein. A former general who came to power in 2011, Thein Sein has initiated extensive political and economic reforms in a country formerly ruled for five decades by a military junta, which kept the news highly censored and the ministers tight-lipped.

The new media regulations will require journalists to submit a CV and letter of recommendation from their media outlet for official approval. If granted, reporters will be issued with free press cards, as well as visas for the period of time they intend to work in Burma. Journalists travelling in and out of the country could be granted multi-entry visas of between three and six months, the minister said, while visas of up to one year will be given to those intending to open a foreign news bureau.

Reporters who enter the country on tourist visas after the new rules come into effect and choose to report will not be penalised for doing so unofficially, U Ye Htut said, though they may have difficulty securing official interviews.

He added that local reporters will be granted their own press cards through the Independent Press Council around April as well.

Rights groups gave the news a cautious welcome, warning that it was still not known how visa criteria would be assessed, or whether journalists would be allowed to criticise the government and report freely.

"This could be a positive development towards greater media freedom in Burma because in the past, ministers and military officials would never speak with foreign journalists," said the Committee to Protect Journalists' south-east Asian representative, Shawn Crispin.

"But we have some journalists here in Bangkok who were allowed [into Burma] last year and reported somewhat critically, and now they are seeing long delays in the processing of their next journalist visas, some for two or three months already."

Another unknown was whether the country's new media censorship guidelines – released in August last year – would also apply to foreign journalists living and working in Burma, said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch. They include regulations that "the state, and economic policies of the state, will not be negatively criticised", among others.

Local and foreign journalists reporting about Burma may also have been the target of a recent mass email hack by "state-sponsored attackers", although it is not yet clear who or where those attackers may be. The email hacks follow a series of cyberattacks on various Burmese media outlets, including weekly journal The Voice and the Eleven media group, although the government's own website was also targeted three times last week, the Myanmar Times reported.

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« Reply #4538 on: Feb 12, 2013, 07:57 AM »

Bangladesh approves law to execute convicted war criminals

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 17:24 EST

Bangladesh’s cabinet approved on Monday changes to war crime laws to ensure opposition leaders on trial for alleged atrocities during the nation’s 1971 independence war can be swiftly executed if convicted.

The move came amid huge demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people in Dhaka for the past seven days calling for quick executions of the 10 alleged war criminals currently being tried on such charges as genocide and rape.

Two others have already been convicted.

The demonstrations began after the war crimes tribunal last week handed a life sentence to a leader of the largest Islamic party — a term critics condemned as too lenient.

The demonstrators include students, bloggers, academics and journalists.

Cabinet secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, approved the changes, allowing the state and victims to contest the life term for Abdul Quader Molla of the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

The cabinet also set a 60-day limit for the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division to dispose of appeals, Bhuiyan said, meaning someone getting a maximum death sentence can be hanged this year.

“Previously there were no rules on disposing of an appeal at the Appellate Division,” he told reporters.

Bangladesh’s legal system is notoriously slow with the judiciary overwhelmed by millions of cases — meaning some take years to be heard.

“Now, a new rule has been added under which an appeal (against a war crime verdict) must be disposed of within 45 days. If not possible… the Appellate division will get another 15 days. The total is 60 days,” Bhuiyan said.

The parliament “will pass the law within a few days”, he said.

The war court, called the International Crimes Tribunal despite having no international oversight, last month sentenced a fugitive Islamic TV preacher to death for murder during the 1971 war.

Last Tuesday, Molla, Jamaat’s fourth-highest ranked leader, who was accused of mass murder, became the first opposition leader to be sentenced.

Eight other Jamaat officials, including its head and deputy head and two senior officials of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are also being tried by the tribunal. Most of the cases are at an advanced stage.

Both Jamaat and BNP have labelled the cases “show trials” aimed at barring the leaders from upcoming polls. International rights groups have questioned the proceedings.

The life term for the Jamaat-e-Islami party leader triggered nationwide protests with Jamaat rejecting the verdict and its supporters clashing with police, resulting in at least four deaths.

The government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the nine-month war in which it says three million people were killed, many by pro-Pakistani militia whose members allegedly included Jamaat officials.

Mujibur Rahman, the father of the current prime minister, had planned to put alleged war criminals on trial before his assassination in a coup in 1975 — which Hasina says was masterminded by war criminals.
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« Reply #4539 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:01 AM »

02/12/2013 12:11 PM

YouTube Neo-Nazis: The Far Right Updates Its Online Image

By Sarah Mühlberger

Right-wing extremists in Germany are copying the methods of the leftist protest culture. Wearing masks like those of activists with the group "Anonymous," they are organizing flash mobs and posting rousing videos online to attract young new supporters.

The audience had already sat down for a scheduled event on the "Intercultural Weeks" program in Frankfurt, when suddenly three men in white masks with a boom box stormed into the lobby of the municipal library. They danced through the rows to techno music, holding up banners reading: "Blast Away Multiculturalism."

The appearance on Oct. 30 lasted less than a minute before a security guard escorted the troublemakers out of the room.

A video of the event has since created a sensation. The clip by the right-wing activists, who call themselves Identitäre Bewegung Deutschland, or the "German Identity Movement," has been viewed online more than 21,000 times. More than 30 local groups affiliated with the previously unknown movement have since established pages on Facebook, from Stuttgart in the south to Essen in the west and East Frisia in the north.

A new generation of right-wing extremists is trying its hand at an image makeover, emulating the methods of the leftist protest culture. In addition to the "Identity Movement," authorities are focusing on another group called the Die Unsterblichen, or "The Immortals." Their approach is always the same: The activists put on white masks similar to the ones used by people identified with the Internet collective "Anonymous," hold up banners and stage a torchlight procession through a city at night. Then a short film with a dramatic soundtrack and right-wing slogans is placed online.

The method turns a local campaign that hardly attracted any notice into a theatrical clip capable of drawing nationwide attention. Seemingly harmless hoodies and techno music replace the combat boots and shaved-head aesthetic of earlier neo-Nazi generations. But the slogans are often the same.

Clever Editing

"The dangerous thing about it is the symbolic seizure of power on the street," says Johannes Radke, who co-wrote a book called "New Nazis" with Toralf Staud. "The Nazis use it to send a clear message: There are many of us, we are militant and we can turn up everywhere and at any time."

The pioneer of this new form of political action was the right-wing extremist group Wiederstandsbewegung in Südbrandenburg, or "Resistance Movement in South Brandenburg," which also used the name "The Immortals" and was banned by the Interior Ministry in the eastern state of Brandenburg last July. At the time, more than 260 law enforcement officers searched 27 apartments, including that of Marcel F. from the town of Lübbenau near Berlin. The suspect, an "active neo-Nazi for years," the Brandenburg domestic intelligence agency wrote in 2011, was the group's "central actor and generator of ideas."

Despite the Brandenburg ban and investigations in other German states, there have been recurrent torchlight processions since then. In fact, there have been several dozen across Germany, according to authorities, including events in Halberstadt in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, in Donaueschingen in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, in the northeastern port city of Rostock and in Hamburg's Harburg neighborhood.

Skillful camera work, the choice of narrow streets and clever editing often create the impression that there is an entire army of militant torchbearers, even though the real count is usually between 50 and 100, and sometimes even as small as 10. But once they are on the Internet, the videos can generate tens of thousands of clicks and enthusiastic comments.

In the past, apolitical groups used the flash mob approach to organize surprising performances in public. But now right-wing extremists have adopted the method for their purposes, usually making the arrangements secretly through internal distribution lists and text messages. If a supporter reveals the plans on Facebook, for example, the event is cancelled. In this way, the right-wing extremists avoid protests by leftists and bans by the authorities. The conspiratorial nature of these events also has its allure, enhancing the experience for participants.

Appealing to a Young Audience

The people behind the masks are often potentially violent members of the right-wing extremist community. Prominent neo-Nazi figures are also believed to be involved in the "Identity Movement," which is primarily a virtual alliance. The logo -- a stylized version of the Greek letter lambda in black against a yellow background -- and the slogan "We Are the Good Ones" have a high recognition value in the right-wing extremist community, as do the white masks worn by "The Immortals."

Members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and its youth organization, the Young National Democrats (JN), are now enthusiastically discussing ways to use image and activism more effectively. The old-school members of the far right have a favorable opinion of "The Immortals" and the "Identity Movement" because they are able to appeal to an especially young audience, including people who had little connection to radical right-wing ideas in the past. As head of the Brandenburg state intelligence agency Winfriede Schreiber concedes: "This form of action has already taken on a life of its own."

"The Immortals" main website operates on foreign servers. The site was revised in January and now offers the option of downloading flyers, together with concrete recommendations on specific action to take. Anna Groß of the initiative views the online presence of the group with concern. "The community is becoming more action-oriented and therefore also more militant," even if it sometimes takes pains to make its appearances seem harmless so as to obfuscate its true intentions, she says.

Take, for example, the person in a bear costume who was seen strolling through the northern city of Hannover, approaching unsuspecting immigrants, shaking their hands and saying goodbye with a friendly wave. He seemed harmless enough, until a video of the scene was posted on the Internet, complete with cheerful background music, which included a devious script describing the "deportation bear's" xenophobic intentions.

All the same, two of the bear costumes have now been confiscated, and the police launched an investigation of the suspected culprits. Their organization, neo-Nazi group "A Better Hannover," was banned.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4540 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:02 AM »

EU budget: An austerity budget cooked in German-British sauce

11 February 2013
Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Die Welt, El País

For the European press, the budget adopted by the bloc on February 8 marks a contraction of Europe’s ambitions and tilts the balance of power within the EU.

According to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, the outcome of the most recent EU summit is proof of “a substantial shift in the balance of power in Europe”, with France, once the most influential country of the Union, “finding itself on the defensive”. The daily stresses that this is a completely new trend —

    The Union will head towards the free trade zone dreamt of by the British and supported by the Germans rather than the ‘solidarity-driven federal structure’ wanted by Paris.- […] Surprisingly, a rather exotic alliance was created by France, Italy, Spain and Poland in defence of financial transfers, [resulting in] a clash between the rich North of the Union and the poor South and East […] However, there is no doubt that by imposing cuts Germany has shown its economic strength. Berlin’s dictate will be even harsher, while abundant transfers from Brussels may turn out to be only a nice memory if the Franco-Spanish-Italian-Polish club fails to improve its competitiveness.

In Germany, Die Welt believes that there is always “too much of the old Europe in this compromise” and criticises those who believe in a “European human right that guarantees that money will flow in from somewhere else.” It also advises the German government to ease back on its historical partnership with France —

    Seldom before has Germany been such a heavyweight in the balance of power in Europe, one that by staying open to all sides remains compatible with all. Indeed, German interests overlap more often with London than they do with those of Paris.

In contrast, El País writes, “Europe is determined to treat pneumonia as if it were a simple cold [...] and has come up with a skimpy deal” that “commits to austerity – and the scissors – for the next decade.” The daily continues —

    Five years into the crisis, European budgets serve as a kind of compass for the European project. The EU seems distracted: it is moving along between the old and the new regimes while the old order is still standing and the new order has not yet been firmly established. In the midst of these doldrums, Berlin (supported by London) is increasing its power, and a withdrawal back towards the national or intergovernmental levels is emerging.
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« Reply #4541 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:03 AM »

EU budget: The European Union has been paralysed

11 February 2013
Les Echos Paris   

A EU without a vision of the future, turned in on itself, divided, deaf and blind to the world it lives in: this is the face of Europe emerging in the wake of the “impoverished” budget agreement hammered out by the 27 on February 8.
Nicolas Barré

The draft EU budget that has been adopted is, dare we say it, impoverished. The text confirms the lack of economic ambition and vision of the bloc at a time when we find ourselves in direct competition with the continental countries such as the United States, China and India.

Those countries pursue strategies that aim for excellence in certain sectors and that promote their champions, springboarding off their vast domestic markets to conquer the world. The draft EU budget does exactly the opposite: the future projects that could serve as a support for a European industrial strategy have been massacred. They represent just a fraction of the direct subsidies paid into agriculture and a little over a tenth of the total budget.

In contrast, we are rolling over past policies almost word for word, without asking whether they still have any relevance. And so we will continue to spend more than a third of the package over the next seven years on regional aid for countries in eastern and southern Europe.

But does Greece really need more money to build roads and roundabouts? Tensions within the eurozone have shown that these grant policies have failed because they are not conditional on verifiable and verified progress in governance, transparency and competition.
Sabotaging the general European interest

The crisis, the rapid transformation of the world economy and the extraordinary evolution of global power relations should have inspired a surge in Europe: a union against an America that is getting back on its feet, a union facing a conquering China, a union in a world in union where capital and talent are more mobile than ever before.

It was the economic crisis and terrible challenges of the 1930s that forged the federal U.S. government, whose budget climbed from 3.4 per cent of GDP in 1930 to 10 per cent by the end of the decade. History will record that Europe in crisis took the opposite path, as its budget shrank to 1 per cent of GDP. Challenges: immense. Ambition: zero.

We must draw political lessons from this mess. The budget debate has been taken hostage by one country, the United Kingdom, which may not even be part of the union tomorrow. David Cameron came to sabotage the general European interest, and he succeeded. Duly noted. In this case, though, let’s follow this through to its logical conclusion: if the strategic thinking is not done at the eurozone level, the bloc will be doomed to impotence.

To get to that level, though, relations with Germany must be repaired. That is another lesson from the drama in Brussels: the Paris-Berlin axis is no longer responsive. Let’s just ask ourselves a question: seen from Beijing or Washington, is the European paralysis really such bad news?
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« Reply #4542 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:06 AM »

02/11/2013 12:17 PM

Calls for Cheap Euro: ECB Caught in Currency-War Crossfire

By Martin Hesse and Anne Seith

Central banks around the world are trying to cheapen their currencies in order to boost their economies. This is making the euro more expensive and endangering the recovery of Europe's stricken economies. But the European Central Bank is resisting growing calls to join in the currency war.

Billionaire investor George Soros and French President François Hollande, a Socialist, are in agreement: The world is on the verge of a currency war, and it threatens to destroy Europe.

The Europeans should finally enter the fray and do battle with all their might, says Soros, who made some of his fortune by betting against the British pound. "Europe is an outsider," the 82-year-old recently said at the Davos World Economic Forum. He blamed the European Central Bank (ECB), which he called the last representative of an outdated central bank policy.

Hollande doesn't put it as clearly, but he means the same thing. "A currency zone must have an exchange rate policy, or it will end up with an exchange rate that doesn't correspond to the actual state of its economy," the Socialist told the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week.

These remarks were intended for Mario Draghi, the president of the Frankfurt-based ECB. Hollande's message is that he should protect the euro's exchange rate. The central bank chief is coming under increasing pressure because he can't quite bring himself to embrace the concept of quantitative easing, the latest fashion in the world of finance. It involves central bankers engaging in the large-scale purchase of bonds issued by their governments and other securities, thereby injecting huge sums of money into the financial system. In this way, they hope to stimulate the domestic economy and keep their own currencies cheap, thereby strengthening exports. Soros believes that this is the only way countries can grow out of their large debts.

But a country that artificially pushes down its exchange rate is obtaining competitive advantages at the expense of others. And if they manipulate their own currencies, all sides will end up losing out.

Japan has taken the most aggressive approach so far. Under pressure from the newly-elected government, Masaaki Shirakawa, the governor of the Bank of Japan, has announced plans to buy up unlimited amounts of government bonds and securities in the future. The country is in the process of "boldly rebuilding" monetary policy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared. Indeed, the Japanese yen has lost 12 percent of its value against the dollar in the last two months.

The US central bank, the Federal Reserve Bank, has also been printing money to a previously unimaginable extent since the financial crisis. Calling its efforts QE 1 and QE 2, the Fed has pumped more than a trillion dollars into the US economy.

For years, China has defended its currency by pegging the exchange rate to the dollar, and the Swiss National Bank now only permits appreciation of the franc up to a certain limit, because investors have viewed the Swiss currency as one of the last safe currencies since the outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

A "tsunami" of cheap money is rolling across the world, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said more than a year ago. The consequences are disastrous for emerging economics like Brazil, because their currencies steadily appreciating in world markets.

But Europe too could end up as one of the big losers. Since the euro crisis has abated a little, the exchange rate for the common currency has appreciated, which could thwart an economic recovery in the continent's crisis-stricken countries. Efforts to make the French economy more competitive could also be in vain, Hollande warns.

But how should Europe defend itself? In theory, central banks are supposed to fight inflation. But the more money they print, the less it will eventually be worth -- a painful experience that Germany, in particular, had to make in the last century. For this reason, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann issued an especially vociferous warning against a "politicization" of exchange rates and "alarming violations."

ECB President Draghi doesn't want to take part in the global depreciation race either. True, the ECB repeatedly launched programs to buy up government bonds during the euro crisis, to Weidmann's dismay. But they seem tiny by international comparison, and apparently Draghi has no intention to go any further. He sees no reason for a change of course, he says, "just because other central banks are changing."

On the other hand, someone standing in the middle of a battlefield eventually has to defend himself. "Otherwise the euro exchange rate would explode," says Jörg Krämer, chief economist at the major German bank Commerzbank. But if the conflicts escalate, there can only be losers, he added. "We would experience an international devaluation race," Krämer warns. "This would invariably go hand in hand with constantly rising inflation rates and a damaged global economy."

There is probably only one solution to the problem: an international peace treaty between the generals in this new war, the international central bankers.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4543 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:08 AM »

China overtakes US in world trade

Combined total for imports and exports of Chinese goods hits $3.87tn, edging past the US for the first time

Phillip Inman, economics correspondent, Monday 11 February 2013 12.47 GMT      

China has become the world's biggest trading nation in goods, ending the post-war dominance of the US, according to official figures.

China's customs administration said the combined total for imports and exports in Chinese goods reached $3.87tn (£2.4tn) in 2012, edging past the $3.82tn trade in goods registed by the US commerce department.

The landmark total for Chinese trade indicates the extent of Beijing's dependence on the rest of the world to generate jobs and income compared with a US economy that remains twice the size, and more self-contained. The US economy is worth $15tn compared with the $7.3tn Chinese economy.

The US not only has a large internal market for goods, but also dominates the trade in services. US total trade amounted to $4.93tn in 2012, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) with a surplus of $195.3bn.

But like most western nations, the US deficit in the trade of goods weighs heavily and is only expected to get larger.

The deficit in goods was more than $700bn compared with China's 2012 trade surplus, measured in goods, which totalled $231.1bn.

Jim O'Neill, head of asset management at Goldman Sachs, said the huge market for western goods would disrupt regional trading blocs as China becomes the most important commercial partner for some countries. Germany may export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to France, he told Bloomberg.

"For so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner," he said. "At this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe."
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Pope Benedict XVI's shock resignation breaks '600-year taboo'

Pope Benedict, whose eight-year rule was characterised by theological conservatism and what critics said was complicity in the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, blames health problems

Lizzy Davies and John Hooper   
The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013 21.10 GMT     

Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic church on Monday as he announced his intention to carry out the first papal resignation in almost 600 years, prompting shock from even his closest confidants and acerbic judgment from critics of his eight year-long reign.

In an address read out in Latin before a group of cardinals in the Apostolic Palace, the 85-year-old pontiff said he had decided that, due to his "advanced age" and deteriorating strengths, he would be stepping down as head of the Catholic church on 28 February.

"The pope has just broken a taboo by breaking with several centuries of practice," Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, told journalists, hailing the move as a "liberating act for the future".

The dramatic move – almost entirely unexpected – paves the way for a successor to be chosen by Easter. Whoever is named the next pope by a conclave next month will inherit a church struggling with many of the same controversies that blighted Benedict's papacy, from clerical sex abuse to fears over inadequate money laundering controls.

Benedict said he had taken the decision to resign "with full freedom" and great awareness of the "seriousness of this act". In order to fulfil the role of pope, he said, "both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me".

A Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, insisted the pope had "no current illness that would influence his decision". The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said he had made up his mind nearly a year ago after trips to Mexico and Cuba in March left him tired. His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, told reporters: "Age is weighing on him. My brother would like more rest at this age."

The German, who in 2005 was the oldest man to be elected pope in almost 300 years, will now become the first pope to resign his position since Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to have done so voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294.

Fears that a papal resignation could cause a schism in the church are generally thought to have deterred previous popes from stepping down, but Lombardi insisted there would be "no risk" of this happening as canon law specifies that a former pope has no right to govern.

Around the world, leaders expressed surprise and sorrow at Benedict's departure. David Cameron said the outgoing pope had "worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See", while Barack Obama said in a statement that he had "appreciated our work together over these last four years".

The leader of England and Wales' Roman Catholics was not given warning of the resignation. "Pope Benedict's announcement today has shocked and surprised everyone," said the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster.

Nichols, who described the pope's decision to stand down as one of "great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action", said Benedict recognised both the challenges facing the church and the "strength of body and mind" required to deal with them. "I salute his courage and his decision," he said "I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers."

Glowing tributes, however, were not ubiquitous. Victims of the sex and child abuse scandals that erupted under Benedict's papacy either accused him of being directly complicit in a conspiracy to cover up the thousands of cases that have come to light over the past three years, or of failing to stand up to reactionary elements in the church who were resolved to keep the scandals under wraps.

Norbert Denef, from north Germany, who was abused as a boy by his local priest for six years and was later offered €25,000 (then £17,000) by his diocesan bishop to keep quiet, said: "We won't miss this pope."

In and around the Vatican, the view was unsurprisingly more positive.

Luke Doyle, a seminarian from Kansas studying at the American College in Rome, said he was saddened by the news. But, he added: "This decision by the holy father fills me with admiration for him, and a deeper respect."

Once he stands down, Benedict will be taken to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat near Rome, and will subsequently live in a cloistered monastery. In his statement he said he wanted to "devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer".

His departure will set in chain the process designed to choose his successor from those candidates who are deemed papabile, or suitable for the papacy. Unlike some previous occasions, there are no obvious frontrunners, but Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, are thought to be among the most plausible candidates.

Benedict will not himself vote in the conclave, in which all cardinals under the age of 80 will take part.

But his conservative theological influence is expected to make itself felt through the decisions of those cardinals – a large number of whom were picked by the outgoing pontiff.


02/11/2013 07:57 PM

Church in Crisis: Pope Benedict Polarized More Than Unified

A Commentary by Peter Wensierski

Germany celebrated when Joseph Ratzinger was chosen pope in 2005. Eight years later, however, many are glad to see him go. He was a deeply polarizing figure in his native country and blocked the Catholic Church from launching a badly needed renewal.

Ever since his appointment in April 2005, Benedict XVI has been a divisive figure. The euphoria over the election of a Bavarian pope that first swept Germany has long since receded. With all due respect to the first pope to voluntarily step down in hundreds of years: In the eight years he held office, the pope did more to polarize than to unify Catholics in his country of birth.

Benedict XVI never managed to grow beyond his former self, the conservative professor of theology Joseph Ratzinger. The pope did not build bridges as a Pontifex Maximus should. Here in Germany, his election led to an increasing split within the Church. On the one side were the disappointed advocates of long-overdue reform. On the other were the fundamentalists, the upholders of tradition and self-appointed guardians of the faith who wanted to turn the clock back to before the Second Vatican Council and sought salvation in an authoritarian and hierarchical Church of the past.

Lost Trust

Some in Germany are already speaking of a schism within the Conference of Bishops. During his years in office, Pope Benedict boosted the reactionary wing of the Catholic community, with its frequently obscure splinter groups, more than his predecessor did -- be it with his approaches to the ultra-conservative Pius Brothers, his scolding of renegade theologians or his fondness for the Traditional Mass. His efforts to address the abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church all over the world were too little, too late. Neither in the United States, Ireland nor Germany did he and his bishops manage to regain the trust subsequently lost.

Under a German pope, no less, the Church's reputation arrived at an all-time low in Germany in early 2013. According to a study conducted by the Sinus Institute, even the most loyal Catholics don't trust their own bishops. Once hailed as a sophisticate, the head of the Church morphed into a leader who lurched on the international stage from one unfortunate mishap to another. Even close friends and former colleagues have said that a man like Joseph Ratzinger is not cut out to head a community of a billion people.

For those Catholics in Germany who couldn't abide criticism of Benedict XVI's course, the pope was a powerful ally. Those who secretly tested the adherence of Catholic hospitals to official liturgy, those who clandestinely recorded the sermons of priests in Germany to trip them up, those who sought to cast aspersions on a theology professor in Rome -- these self-proclaimed guardians of belief always sent their denunciations directly to Benedict and his secretary, Georg Gänswein. They knew that consequences for those they accused of wrongdoing would be prompt.

Reshuffling the Cards

Benedict's resignation, however, now reshuffles the cards. Power structures could shift as a result, however slightly, when a new pope, possibly even one from another continent, blesses the world from St. Peter's Basilica this Easter. It is a prospect that fills many leading Catholics in Germany with hope, others with fear.

The pope, though, has taken some steps to ensure that his political legacy will continue in Rome -- particularly through his appointment of former Regensburg Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller. As the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Müller is a rough and ready guarantee of strict orthodoxy on central Vatican positions. And just a short time ago, Benedict elevated his private secretary, Georg Gänswein, to the status of bishop. The fetching Gänswein, who has even graced the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, is now being floated as a possibility for leading a bishopric in Germany -- possibly as the successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the powerful conservative leader of the Cologne diocese.

Yet with all due respect to the surprising decision made by an ailing and weak 85-year-old man, many in Germany have long yearned for an end to the Ratzinger era, no matter who might succeed him. It remains to be seen whether German bishops will have more confidence than before to follow a more independent path. But there will certainly be more room for risk taking.

Indeed, Benedict's resignation offers the Catholic Church in Germany a new chance to free itself from torpor created by this paternalistic pope and to perhaps finally find a way to begin resolving the deep crisis facing German Catholics.


02/11/2013 05:35 PM

Diminishing Strength: Weakness and Vatican Intrigues Plagued Pope

By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Rome

Benedict XVI has claimed failing health for his decision to step down from the papacy. But ongoing power struggles and intrigue in the Vatican likely also played a role. The search for a successor could prove challenging.

When the news came out at noon on Monday that Pope Benedict XVI would step down at precisely 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, it came as a surprise to more than just the Catholic faithful and priests around the world. "It was a bolt out of the blue," said Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals.

World leaders were also initially speechless over the development. "That would be striking news," Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said in response to a reporter's question earlier in the day, before asking for time to look into the question on his own. Later, on behalf of the government, he would express "respect for the decision" and for Benedict's "life's work." Even the pope's own broadcaster, Radio Vatican, was so taken by surprise that it mixed up the date and said the pope had stepped down on Friday. "We're no longer pope," a German public radio host said -- a play on the mass-circulation daily Bild, which proudly declared on its cover, "We're the pope," when news emerged in 2005 that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. Though somewhat flippant, the remark reflects the feelings of many in Germany.

Resignation in Latin

Eighty-five year old Pope Benedict XVI found his own unique way of announcing his decision to step down. During the canonization of 800 martyrs and the founders of two congregations, he announced to his "dear brothers" in Latin, "the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

In today's world, he added, "subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith … strength of mind and body are necessary." But it was strength "which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me." Benedict had already mentioned the possibility in the past that he might one day step down for health reasons.

The Pope 'Suffered Greatly'

But it seems likely that the move also came out of the realization that he no longer had complete control of the church. During the so-called "Vatileaks" affair last year, secret documents and letters were smuggled out of the Vatican over a period of months. They bore witness to intrigue and a shocking power struggle among top Catholic cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI has been unable to put a stop to it. Nor was he able to reform the Vatican Bank following a series of obscure deals apparently aimed at money laundering.

The pope has "suffered greatly under certain elements that come with the office," Max Seckler, a long-time friend of Ratzinger's, told the German news agency DPA. "It is difficult to imagine the degree of intrigue that is present in Rome." Seckler, 85, said that he has wondered for years how much longer his friend could stand the strain.

But Benedict, who holds a Ph.D. in theology, has also had difficulties addressing other issues facing the church. He has proven unable to adequately deal with the seemingly unending series of sex abuse scandals that has shaken Catholic institutions around Europe and the world in recent years. Furthermore, his hard-line stance on faith has done little to slow down the widening cleft between today's believers and the Vatican. Huge numbers have left the church in recent years, particularly in well-off dioceses in Europe and the United States as Rome has become increasingly inflexible in its orthodoxy under Ratzinger's leadership.

A Succesor By Easter

As such, powerful detractors of Pope Benedict XVI have long since begun preparing for the next papal election. It is, for the moment, difficult to see who might be the top candidates; there is no obvious successor. There are reactionary, conservative and liberal wings in the Catholic Church, along with the geographical alliances that define Vatican leadership. There are the Spanish-Latin American cardinals, for example as well as those from the US, who have become increasingly powerful in recent years. And, of course, there are the Italians, who could have the advantage after two straight popes from outside the Catholic Church's home after centuries of Italian pontiffs. Within these circles, furthermore, there are widely differing stances on where the church should stand on the several questions it currently faces.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi hopes that a new pope can be chosen by Easter, at the very end of March. Prior to that, cardinals from around the world must make their way to Rome for the "conclave," which denotes the period during which church leaders will not be allowed to leave the Vatican until they have chosen a successor for Benedict XVI.

Lombardi seemed to hint at just how difficult that search might be in his noon comments, mentioning the "great problems the church faces today." Lombardi added that the pope did not expect that a schism would result from his decision to step down -- hardly the kind of statement that will resole doubts about the crisis now facing a deeply fractious church leadership.


Pope Benedict XVI has resigned – what happens next?

Strict rules surround conclave of cardinals who will elect next leader of world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Monday 11 February 2013 13.08 GMT   

When Pope Benedict resigns on 28 February he will leave the office vacant and the process to choose a new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will begin.

Without the customary mourning period that follows the death of a pontiff, a meeting of the cardinals to elect his successor, called a conclave, could begin by mid-March.

The word comes from the Latin cum clave ("with key") and refers to the fact that the Roman Catholic church's most senior prelates used to be locked in the Sistine Chapel and adjoining buildings. The idea was to make them as uncomfortable as possible to force a choice.

It first took hold in Viterbo, a town in central Italy that was the site of several papal elections in the middle ages at times when Rome itself was judged to be too turbulent.

In 1271 the cardinals had spent 33 months failing to make up their minds, largely for political reasons, when the people of Viterbo lost patience. They persuaded the local authorities to lock the cardinals in a fortress, cut their food rations and remove the roof of the fortress to expose them to the elements.

The cardinals soon chose Gregory X, who, three years later, introduced new rules for the election of popes, including one that said the cardinals had to meet in seclusion on a gradually reduced diet until they were living off bread and water. His successor was elected in a day; the next pope in seven.

Until the election of Benedict in 2005, a conclave was something to be approached with as much dread as reverence. The mainly elderly cardinals were lodged in a walled-off space within the Apostolic Palace, divided into small, bare rooms.

Since the introduction of rules approved in 1996 by his predecessor, John Paul II, the cardinal-electors have been given comfortable accommodation in a new guesthouse within the Vatican, a sizeable complex of 108 suites and 23 single rooms, all with private bathrooms. The prelates will travel by bus to and from the Sistine Chapel, where the voting takes place beneath Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment.

The conclave that chose Benedict began on 18 April 2005 and ended the following day after four ballots. But not all cardinals take part in a conclave. Anyone who has been nominated in pectore – anonymously, so as to protect them from reprisals or for some other reason – is excluded. So are the many cardinals who are over 80.

By the time the conclave begins, there is likely to be at least some consensus over the leading contenders. But Catholics believe that, once behind the shut doors of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals are guided to their decision by God directly in the guise of the Holy Spirit. Anything becomes possible.

Certainly, there have been some remarkable shocks in the 2,000 years of the papacy, few more unexpected than the election of Karol Wojtyla as John Paul II in 1978. Joseph Ratzinger, however, went into conclave a favourite from which he emerged as Benedict XVI.

The cardinal-electors are forbidden to exchange messages of any kind with the outside world for the duration of the conclave. A dominant concern of John Paul's 1996 edict, Universi Dominici Gregis (The Shepherd of the Lord's Whole Flock) was to ensure deliberations remained secret, even after they had reached a decision. Anyone in Vatican City who should happen to meet one of the cardinal-electors during the election is forbidden to engage in conversation of any sort with the cardinal.

Universi Dominici Gregis also stipulates "careful and stringent checks" must be made to ensure no audiovisual equipment has been secretly installed in or around the Sistine Chapel "for recording and transmission to the outside".

Ballot slips are customarily burnt in a stove whose chimney extended through a window of the Sistine Chapel. When there was no result, straw was mixed with the ballots to produce thick, black smoke as a signal to those waiting outside. Sometimes, the difference between black and white smoke has been difficult to discern.

In 1958, when John XXIII was elected, Vatican Radio's reporters got it wrong and told the world a pope had been chosen a day before the decision was reached.


Who will be the next pope? The contenders for Vatican's top job

Two cardinals from Africa, a Canadian and an Italian are among those being tipped to succeed Pope Benedict XVI

Sam Jones and Afua Hirsch   
The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013 17.21 GMT   

With Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, speculation about who might succeed him when the conclave meets in March has begun. Any baptised Roman Catholic male is eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378. Among those who have been mentioned as potential successors are the following:

Cardinal Peter Turkson

A TV star, "people's person" and a "wonderful" priest, the Ghanaian cardinal emerging as a strong favourite for the papacy is described by colleagues in glowing terms. Peter Turkson, who is president of the Vatican's pontifical council for justice and peace, was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003 after serving for almost 30 years as an ordained priest.

Turkson was born on 11 October 1948 in Nsuta-Wassaw, a mining hub in Ghana's western region, to a Methodist mother and a Catholic father. He studied and taught in New York and Rome before being ordained to the priesthood in 1975. In 1992 he was appointed archbishop of Cape Coast, the former colonial capital of Ghana and a key diocese.

As archbishop, Turkson was known for his human touch, colleagues said. "We love him," said Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, the metropolitan archbishop of Accra, who was made archbishop in Ghana at the same time as Turkson and has known him since school. "For Ghanaians he was our first cardinal, and to be made cardinal in his 50s was a big feather in our cap. Since then he has shown himself to be a church leader and a young cardinal breaking new ground."

The Rev Stephen Domelevo, from the Ghana Catholic communication office, said: "Cardinal Turkson is a wonderful person, very down to earth and humble. He lived in a simple way, and he was someone people felt very comfortable with. He is excellent at communicating scripture in a way that people really understand. He speaks many local languages – as well as European languages – and uses jokes and humour to really portray messages to people. He has that human touch."

Turkson speaks his native Ghanaian language, Fante, as well as other Ghanaian languages and English, French, Italian, German and Hebrew, as well as understanding Latin and Greek. "Cardinal Turkson likes to be able to joke with people in their own languages," said Domelevo. "It would not surprise us in Ghana if he were to be the next pope. He has what it takes. It would really be a gift to the church."

Turkson's popularity in west Africa has been boosted by his regular television appearances, particularly a weekly broadcast every Saturday morning on the state channel Ghana TV. He has maintained strong ties with his native country while carrying out his duties in the Vatican. "Cardinal Turkson has kept up his links with Ghana," said Palmer-Buckle. "He comes home as and when his duties allow. He has served as chairman of the national peace council, he has been on the board of our university – he is a very Ghanaian cardinal."

However, Turkson has not been immune to controversy. He sparked outcry last year when he screened a YouTube film at an international meeting of bishops featuring alarmist predictions at the rise of Islam in Europe. The clip, titled Muslim Demographics, included claims such as: "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."

Benedict XVI also attracted the ire of Muslims after a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, his former university, in which he used a quotation to suggest that contributions made by the prophet Muhammad were "only evil and inhuman". Ghana, whose population is roughly 63% Christian – including around 11% Catholic – and 16% Muslim, is known for its relative tolerance and peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians.

Colleagues in Ghana voiced approval for Turkson's stance on social matters, but said he would be unlikely to take the church in a radical direction on contentious issues such as abortion and contraception. In the past Turkson has not ruled out the use of condoms but advocated abstinence and fidelity, and treatment for HIV-infected people above spending and promoting the use of contraception.

"In matters of scripture and morality, no leader of the church comes to change anything," said Palmer-Buckle. "But in pastoral matters, that is where the church has been much improved. When dealing with homosexual activity, it is morally wrong. The truth must be spoken but it must be spoken with compassion."

Cardinal Marc Ouellet

As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees the handing out of mitres, the multilingual Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet is one of the most powerful men in the Vatican. The 68-year-old former archbishop of Quebec, who was appointed to the third most important job in the Vatican three years ago, has the power to make or break careers. His position makes him a natural candidate for the papacy, although he was careful to downplay any talk of promotion when he was chosen to lead the congregation in July 2010. "I'm surprised to be today in this position," he said at the time. "And I don't think that I will become a pope someday, I don't think so."

Born in Quebec in 1944, Ouellet studied at Laval University, the Grand Séminaire de Montréal and the Université de Montréal before being ordained in May 1968. He has spent many years living and teaching in Colombia, which would make him an attractive figure to Latin American Catholics should one of their number again be passed over as pontiff. He was ordained as bishop by John Paul II and is seen as a close ally of Benedict XVI.

Despite his reputation as a traditionalist, in 2007, Ouellet issued an open apology for the church's pre-1960s attitudes, saying they had contributed to "anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals" in Quebec. Three years later, however, he caused outrage after telling an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that aborting a pregnancy was a "moral crime", even in rape cases.

Cardinal Francis Arinze

Francis Arinze, who was born in Eziowelle, Nigeria, on 1 November 1932, has long been touted as a possible pope. Although his parents worshipped Ibo deities, Arinze – one of seven children – was sent to an Irish missionary school and soon set his heart on becoming a priest.

He was ordained in 1958 and went on to teach liturgy, logic and basic philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary at Enugu in south-eastern Nigeria and study at the Institute of Pedagogy in London. He was 32 when he was consecrated bishop on August 1965, and became archbishop two years later. Arinze witnessed the horrors of conflict first-hand during the civil war between Nigeria and Biafran secessionists, and was later asked by John Paul II to lead what is now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which is responsible for managing the Vatican's relationships with other faiths.

His ability to get on with those outside the Vatican has been widely praised, with one colleague remarking of his charm: "The beautiful thing about the cardinal is that he can say the hardest thing with a smile on his face and not offend people." However, even the great communicator is sometimes unable to read his audience. During an appearance at Georgetown University in Washington almost a decade ago, he was booed for equating homosexuality with adultery and divorce, and claiming such sins mocked the family.

John Paul II made him cardinal in May 1985, cementing his rapid rise through the Roman Catholic ranks. He was hotly tipped to be the first African in 1,500 years to sit on the throne of St Peter in 2005, but was beaten to the post by Cardinal Ratzinger.

Cardinal Angelo Scola

The election of Angelo Scola as Benedict XVI's successor would delight Italians keen to see one of their own back on the papal throne after Polish and German popes. Scola, the son of a truck driver, was born on 7 November 1941 in Lombardy. Ordained in 1970, he holds doctorates in philosophy and theology and was professor of theological anthropology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He was appointed bishop of Grosseto in 1991, patriarch of Venice in 2002, archbishop of Milan in 2002, and proclaimed cardinal a year later.

In spite of his place at the top of the Vatican hierarchy and his academic pedigree, he has urged the church to do more to appeal to the modern world, arguing it needs to build on the second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which proved a landmark moment in Roman Catholic history. An ardent believer in the church's role at the centre of society, Scola has publicly bemoaned its inability to clearly communicate its message on matters such as marriage.

"One reason for the misunderstanding is that we Christians often propose this moralistically instead of giving reasons, instead of convincing," he said in 2005. "This is a weakness of ours."


Next pope's in-tray: five key issues for the Catholic church

With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intention to step down, we look at the pressing matters awaiting his successor

Sam Jones, Monday 11 February 2013 14.19 GMT   

Pope Benedict XVI appeared to signal a break with traditional teaching on the use of condoms almost three years ago when he said the use of condoms was acceptable "in certain cases". If, for example, a male prostitute used a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection, he said, that could be considered "a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants". The example, however, was carefully chosen: by deploying it, the pope avoided the issue of birth control and made no mention of condom use in heterosexual relationships.

The Vatican later clarified the remarks, stressing that the pope has "not reformed or changed the church's teaching" on the matter.

His spokesman added: "The pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a 'first step on the road to a more human sexuality', rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others."

In 2009, during his first trip to Africa as pope, Benedict provoked outrage after declaring that condoms were not the answer to the continent's fight against HIV and Aids – and could make the problem worse.

Speaking to journalists on his flight, the pontiff said the condition was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems". His successor will have to decide whether this remains the position of the church.

Sexual abuse within the church

The horrific sexual abuse scandals that have erupted in the US and Europe and haunted so much of his papacy are far from resolved. Although he has spoken of the church's "shame" over what he termed the "unspeakable crimes" committed by paedophile priests and apologised to victims, many critics feel the Vatican was – and still is – far too slow, too reluctant and too secretive when it comes to acknowledging and investigating sexual abuse.

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage

Despite long ago condemning physical and verbal violence against gay people as deplorable and something deserving of "condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs", the pope made it clear that he had no intention of departing from the church's teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage. In his final Christmas message, he said modern attitudes to sexuality and moves to promote same-sex marriage constituted an attack "on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child".


Pope Benedict's decision to give a top job to a cardinal who believes terminations to be wrong even in rape cases spoke volumes about the Vatican's enduring opposition to abortion. In 2010, he appointed Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, a position often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican as its holder is responsible for drawing up shortlists of future bishops. Earlier the same year, Ouellet told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime" even in rape cases. Ouellet is now tipped as a possible successor as pope.


The pope addressed the issue of women's place in the church during an address in Rome in 2007, saying: "Jesus chose 12 men as fathers of the new Israel, 'to be with Him and to be sent out to proclaim the message', but … among the disciples many women were also chosen. They played an active role within the context of Jesus's mission." In April last year, he delivered a fierce rebuke to "disobedient" Roman Catholics who had challenged church teaching on topics including women's ordination and priestly celibacy. "Is disobedience a path of renewal for the church?" he asked rhetorically, during a sermon in St Peter's on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows. He went on to point out that the Vatican's views on women priests were "definitive" and that the existing ban on them formed part of the church's "divine constitution".


Three centuries of popes – interactive

Pope Benedict XVI, who has announced his resignation, is the 20th leader of the Catholic church since Clement XII took the papal office in 1730. In all, there have been 265 popes since Saint Peter, who is regarded as the first and the founder of Catholicism

click to watch:

* Pope Benedict XV1a.jpg (78.02 KB, 600x400 - viewed 94 times.)

* Pope-Benedict-XVI-010.jpg (16.34 KB, 460x276 - viewed 98 times.)
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