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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082870 times)
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« Reply #4545 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:27 AM »

February 11, 2013

Zen Groups Distressed by Accusations Against Teacher


Since arriving in Los Angeles from Japan in 1962, the Buddhist teacher Joshu Sasaki, who is 105 years old, has taught thousands of Americans at his two Zen centers in the area and one in New Mexico. He has influenced thousands more enlightenment seekers through a chain of some 30 affiliated Zen centers from the Puget Sound to Princeton to Berlin. And he is known as a Buddhist teacher of Leonard Cohen, the poet and songwriter.

Mr. Sasaki has also, according to an investigation by an independent council of Buddhist leaders, released in January, groped and sexually harassed female students for decades, taking advantage of their loyalty to a famously charismatic roshi, or master.

The allegations against Mr. Sasaki have upset and obsessed Zen Buddhists across the country, who are part of a close-knit world in which many participants seem to know, or at least know of, the principal teachers.

Mr. Sasaki did not respond to requests for interviews made through Paul Karsten, a member of the board of Rinzai-ji, his main center in Los Angeles. Mr. Karsten said that Mr. Sasaki’s senior priests are conducting their own inquiry. And he cautioned that the independent council took the accounts it heard from dozens of students at face value and did not investigate any “for veracity.”

Because Mr. Sasaki has founded or sponsored so many Zen centers, and because he has the prestige of having trained in Japan, the charges that he behaved unethically — and that his supporters looked the other way — have implications for an entire way of life.

Such charges have become more frequent in Zen Buddhism. Several other teachers have been accused of misconduct recently, notably Eido Shimano, who in 2010 was asked to resign from the Zen Studies Society in Manhattan over allegations that he had sex with students. Critics and victims have pointed to a Zen culture of secrecy, patriarchy and sexism, and to the quasi-religious worship of the Zen master, who can easily abuse his status.

Disaffected students wrote letters to the board of one of Mr. Sasaki’s Zen centers as early as 1991. Yet it was only last November, when Eshu Martin, a Zen priest who studied under Mr. Sasaki from 1997 to 2008, posted a letter to, a popular Web site, that the wider Zen world noticed.

Mr. Martin, now a Zen abbot in Victoria, British Columbia, accused Mr. Sasaki of a “career of misconduct,” from “frequent and repeated non-consensual groping of female students” to “sexually coercive after-hours ‘tea’ meetings, to affairs,” as well as interfering in his students’ marriages. Soon thereafter, the independent “witnessing council” of noted Zen teachers began interviewing 25 current or former students of Mr. Sasaki.

Some former students are now speaking out, including seven interviewed for this article, and their stories provide insight into the culture of Rinzai-ji and the other places where Mr. Sasaki taught. Women say they were encouraged to believe that being touched by Mr. Sasaki was part of their Zen training.

The Zen group, or sangha, can become one’s close family, and that aspect of Zen may account for why women and men have been reluctant to speak out for so long.

Many women whom Mr. Sasaki touched were resident monks at his centers. One woman who confronted Mr. Sasaki in the 1980s found herself an outcast afterward. The woman, who asked that her name not be used to protect her privacy, said that afterward “hardly anyone in the sangha, whom I had grown up with for 20 years, would have anything to do with us.”

In the council’s report on Jan. 11, the three members wrote of “Sasaki asking women to show him their breasts, as part of ‘answering’ a koan” — a Zen riddle — “or to demonstrate ‘non-attachment.’ ”

When the report was posted to SweepingZen, Mr. Sasaki’s senior priests wrote in a post that their group “has struggled with our teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi’s sexual misconduct for a significant portion of his career in the United States” — their first such admission.

Among those who spoke to the council and for this article was Nikki Stubbs, who now lives in Vancouver, and who studied and worked at Mount Baldy, Mr. Sasaki’s Zen center 50 miles east of Los Angeles, from 2003 to 2006. During that time, she said, Mr. Sasaki would fondle her breasts during sanzen, or private meeting; he also asked her to massage his penis. She would wonder, she said, “Was this teaching?”

One monk, whom Ms. Stubbs said she told about the touching, was unsympathetic. “He believed in Roshi’s style, that sexualizing was teaching for particular women,” Ms. Stubbs said. The monk’s theory, common in Mr. Sasaki’s circle, was that such physicality could check a woman’s overly strong ego.

A former student of Mr. Sasaki’s now living in the San Francisco area, who asked that her name be withheld to protect her privacy, said that at Mount Baldy in the late 1990s, “the monks confronted Roshi and said, ‘This behavior is unacceptable and has to stop.’ ” However, she said, “nothing changed.” After a time, Mr. Sasaki used Zen teaching to justify touching her, too.

“He would say something like, ‘True love is giving yourself to everything,’ ” she explained. At Mount Baldy, the isolation could hamper one’s judgment. “It can sound trite, but you’re in this extreme state of consciousness,” she said — living at a monastery in the mountains, sitting in silence for many hours a day — “where boundaries fall away.”

Joe Marinello is a Zen teacher in Seattle who served on the board of the Zen Studies Society in New York. He has been openly critical of Mr. Shimano, the former abbot who was asked to resign from the society. Asked about teachers who say that sexual touch is an appropriate teaching technique, he was dismissive.

“In my opinion,” Mr. Marinello said in an e-mail, “it’s just their cultural and personal distortion to justify their predations.”

But in Zen Buddhism, students often overlook their teachers’ failings, participants say. Some Buddhists define their philosophy in contrast to Western religion: Buddhism, they believe, does not have Christian-style preoccupations about things like sex. And Zen exalts the relationship between a student and a teacher, who can come to seem irreplaceable.

“Outside the sexual things that happened,” the woman now in San Francisco said, “my relationship with him was one of the most important I have had with anyone.”

Several women said that Zen can foster an atmosphere of overt sexism. Jessica Kramer, a doula in Los Angeles, was Mr. Sasaki’s personal attendant in 2002. She said that he would reach into her robe and that she always resisted his advances. Surrounded almost entirely by men, she said she got very little sympathy. “I’d talk about it with people who’d say, ‘Why not just let him touch your breasts if he wants to touch your breasts?’ ”

Susanna Stewart began studying with Mr. Sasaki about 40 years ago. Within six months, she said, Mr. Sasaki began to touch her during sanzen. This sexualizing of their relationship “led to years of confusion and pain,” Ms. Stewart said, “eventually resulting in my becoming unable to practice Zen.” And when she married one of his priests, Mr. Sasaki tried to break them up, she said, even encouraging her husband to have an affair.

In 1992, Ms. Stewart’s husband disaffiliated himself and his North Carolina Zen Center from Mr. Sasaki. Years later, his wife said, he received hate mail from members of his old Zen group.

The witnessing council, which wrote the report, has no official authority. Its members belong to the American Zen Teachers Association but collected stories on their own initiative, although with a statement of support from 45 other teachers and priests. One of its authors, Grace Schireson, said that Zen Buddhists in the United States have misinterpreted a Japanese philosophy.

“Because of their long history with Zen practice, people in Japan have some skepticism about priests,” Ms. Schireson said. But in the United States many proponents have a “devotion to the guru or the teacher in a way that could repress our common sense and emotional intelligence.”

Last Thursday morning, at Rinzai-ji on Cimarron Street in Los Angeles, Bob Mammoser, a resident monk, said that Mr. Sasaki’s “health is quite frail” and that he has “basically withdrawn from any active teaching.” Mr. Mammoser said there is talk of a meeting at the center to discuss what, if any, action to take.

Mr. Mammoser said he first became aware of allegations against Mr. Sasaki in the 1980s. “There have been efforts in the past to address this with him,” Mr. Mammoser said. “Basically, they haven’t been able to go anywhere.”

He added: “What’s important and is overlooked is that, besides this aspect, Roshi was a commanding and inspiring figure using Buddhist practice to help thousands find more peace, clarity and happiness in their own lives. It seems to be the kind of thing that, you get the person as a whole, good and bad, just like you marry somebody and you get their strengths and wonderful qualities as well as their weaknesses.”

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« Reply #4546 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:34 AM »

NASA launches largest Earth observation satellite to date

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 14:30 EST

The United States launched its latest Earth observation satellite Monday atop an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, NASA said.

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite was the latest in a line of satellites used to continuously gather imagery from space of the Earth’s land surface, coastal areas and coral reefs.

“Everything is looking good, and the engine is operating normally,” a NASA announcer said after the rocket roared off its launch pad.

Once in orbit, the satellite will be turned over to the US Geological Survey.

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« Reply #4547 on: Feb 12, 2013, 08:48 AM »

In the USA...

Obama’s State of the Union address to outline ambitious second-term agenda

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
Monday, February 11, 2013 21:30

Barack Obama plans to use his state of the union speech on Tuesday to kickstart an ambitious second term-agenda with commitments to immigration reform, gun control, cuts in nuclear weapons stockpiles and, above all, the economic recovery that eluded him over the past four years.

The speech presents Obama with a rare opportunity to rally the country behind his objectives, free of the constraints of the next wave of elections. But however ambitious his plans, the president still faces the challenge of getting some of the most contentious of those past a House of Representatives under Republican control.

The White House has made it known that Obama will focus on strategies to strengthen the American middle class as a means of improving the economy.

Obama told congressional Democrats last Thursday that his state of the union address will keep job creation at the heart of that goal.

“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America. It means that we’re focused on education, and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we’ve got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we’re cultivating the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future,” the president said.

“It means that we’re going to talk about, yes, deficits and taxes, and sequesters and potential government shutdowns and debt ceiling — we’ll talk about that stuff, but all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country – a cop, or a teacher, or a construction worker, or a receptionist – that they can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved.”

The president flagged up other priorities, too. He intends to push for some form of gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, although he recognised such measures will be limited.

“We’ve got to be mindful about steps we can take to end the cycle of gun violence in this country. And we should do so recognising that, again, there are regional differences here and we should respect those. Guns mean something different for somebody who grew up on a farm in a rural community than somebody who grew up in an inner city, and they’re different realities and we have to respect them,” he said.

“But what we know is: the majority of responsible gun owners recognise we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children, or 100 more of our children, or 1,000 more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion, and that there are some common-sense steps that we can take and build a consensus around. And we cannot shy away from taking those steps.”

The New York Times reported on Monday that Obama will also use his speech to press for drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world after he won the agreement of the US military that the American stockpile can be cut by about a third.

Obama told Democratic members of Congress that he will be “pushing hard” for early immigration reform.

“Obviously economic growth is a priority. But making sure that we’re opening up opportunity for everybody is also important. And that’s why immigration reform is so critical. I said this is going to be a top priority and an early priority of my administration. I am heartened to see Republicans and Democrats starting to be in a serious conversation about getting this done,” he said.

“Now is the time. I recognise that the politics aren’t always easy. There are regional variations. I understand that in some places this may end up being a tough issue.”

The president has sought to placate voters hostile to immigration reform with a pledge that strong border security, more severe penalties for companies hiring undocumented immigrants, and a requirement for those who have been working illegally to pay back taxes will be a key component of any new law. But Obama added that it was important to give millions of people living in the US without the necessary authorisation a path to legal residence.

Obama hopes to exploit the shifting Republican attitude to immigration as the GOP attempts to win back Hispanic voters driven away by hostile legalisation and rhetoric.

Tellingly, the Republicans have chosen Senator Marco Rubio, a migrant from Cuba who has been critical of his party’s position on immigration, to give the rebuttal speech to Obama in English and Spanish.

But Larry Sabato, the director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Obama still faces the reality of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Sabato noted that President George W Bush recognised the need for immigration reform but was unable to carry it through.

“It’s always been the details that have sunk immigration reform,” he said. “In theory, just about everybody agreed that something needed to be done, and then the details took over. It really is a problem and you’re about to see this again. If we get any reform at all, it’s not going to be of a comprehensive nature.”

Sabato said that is reflective of a wider problem for the president.

However powerful Obama’s speech, he still faces a House of Representatives under Republican control.

“There are certain political realities that can never be changed.

“What’s done on election night is done. You will not remove for the next two years the Republican majority in the House, and probably not for the rest of the decade. Therefore, Obama would have to employ magic words to change the basic reality which is going to keep him from getting a great deal of his agenda accomplished in the second term,” he said.

“What he can do in a speech like this is to continue to energise his base so that they will support executive actions, independent executive actions, whether they’re executive orders, whether they’re decisions about foreign policy. He can encourage certain trends in society, for example the increasing support for gay rights. That he can encourage with rhetoric but in terms of what he can do with the legislature, this state of the union address will prove virtually useless.”

There is an attempt my some members of Congress to overcome the entrenched partisan divide. About 40, who have united as a group organising themselves as “No Labels Problem Solvers”, will wear badges to the state of the nation speech declaring: “Stop Fighting, Start Fixing”. © Guardian News and Media 2013


February 11, 2013

Watching Obama for Signs of Change


WASHINGTON — On Tuesday night, the president will address the nation and Congress on the state of the union. But many will watch as well for signs of the state of Barack Obama.

Inside the White House and out, advisers and associates have noted subtle but palpable changes in Mr. Obama since his re-election. “He even carries himself a little bit differently,” said one confidant who, like others, asked not to be identified discussing the president. He is relaxed, more voluble and even more confident than usual, these people say, freer to drop profanities or dismiss others’ ideas — enough that even some supporters fear the potential for hubris.

A man who attended a meeting in December between Mr. Obama and business executives was struck by the contrast with a tense and perfunctory session months before the president was re-elected. “To say he was a different person is too strong, but he was someone who has won a second term and isn’t going to run again,” said the man, a Republican. “This was a relaxed, engaged president who very genuinely wanted to connect.”

As the president prepares to outline his second-term agenda, it is clear from these personal accounts as well as his public acts, like his bold Inaugural Address, that he has shown an assertiveness, self-possession, even cockiness that contrasts with the caution, compromise and reserve that he showed for much of his first term.

What is not so clear is whether Mr. Obama can parlay this commanding self-assurance — borne of re-election, hard lessons learned and Republicans’ disarray — into victories as he tries to turn Washington away from its obsession with deficit-cutting to a broader progressive agenda. Or will he overreach, alienate some Americans and cement the partisan divide he once promised to bridge?

Mr. Obama is said to be aware of the risks, though among his remaining aides it is not plain who might confront him at any danger signs. And Democrats say that the president, like many of them, believes Republicans are more vulnerable to overstepping politically by obstructing his agenda.

So far Mr. Obama has carried the day. Even before his swearing-in, he had staked battle lines on taxing the wealthy and raising the federal debt limit and gave little ground, forcing Republicans to retreat. On Tuesday night, in the House chamber, he will be in their faces, setting the agenda on immigration and gun safety — issues that were unthinkable only two years ago, when Republicans had just triumphed in midterm elections — and defining a debt-reduction strategy that not only cuts spending but also raises revenues to allow government investments in programs for the middle class and small businesses.

“Obama is feeling his oats,” said Donald A. Baer, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and now the chief executive of the communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

“I think he probably believes he was cautious and hemmed in by one thing or another in the first term, and he’s decided he’s going to do more of what he really wants and be who he really is in the second term,” Mr. Baer said.

With the crisis that defined his first term behind him, and the economy growing, if slowly, the legacy-minded Mr. Obama seems almost liberated at being given more time for unfinished business like immigration and climate change, and new issues like gun safety, say those who have met with him.

Perhaps most altered is his approach toward Republicans. Mr. Obama largely bypassed them when Democrats controlled Congress, and then sought compromise once Republicans won control of the House, only to have the emboldened party refuse most deal-making with him.

Now the president is defining a third stage in the relationship: He has the upper hand after voters chose his vision of government’s role and responsibilities over the opposition’s, and he is extending it on his terms. He is counting on Republicans to join hands when they see issues — like immigration — where cooperation is in their party’s own political interest.

But in responding, Republicans are weakened by postelection divisions. Indeed, they again will have two responses to the State of the Union address — the official one by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and another from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the Tea Party designee.

Republicans are left hoping that Mr. Obama, like second-term presidents before him, will somehow stumble and lose leverage with time. They take heart that the party without the White House typically gains Congressional seats in midterm elections, as Republicans did in 2010. But after two years running the House, they and their agenda are far less popular going into 2014.

“Within the limitations of a still-polarized electorate, Obama is in surprisingly strong shape with the electorate,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “People generally like the more assertive approach to leadership — it feels like he is more in charge and in command, which is what people want from a president.”

Republicans hardly see it that way.

“Since the election, he’s pursued, in my estimation, a strategy that has been intentionally polarizing,” said Peter Wehner, formerly a senior policy adviser to President George W. Bush, now a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center. “What I’ll be interested in is if the State of the Union speech is simply the latest link in President Obama’s polarizing chain, or whether it signals a new interest in working with Republicans.”

While polls consistently show that Mr. Obama’s positions are more popular than Republicans’, that is not true in many of the Republicans’ districts and states. House conservatives have already shown that they will not always support legislation from their own leader, Speaker John A. Boehner, let alone from a president their constituents dislike.

And as Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Democrats last week at a legislative retreat, even some Democrats from swing districts and states will oppose him on gun regulations and a path to citizenship for people who came here illegally.

He also confided to the Democrats his awareness of the balance to be struck between command and compromise.

“It’s important not to read too much into any particular political victory,” the president said. Then he added, “It’s also important for us to feel confident and bold about the values we care about and what we stand for.”


Members of Congress invite victims of gun violence to State of the Union address

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 17:37 EST

Joining the White House in its demand for tougher gun laws, two dozen US lawmakers will host gun violence victims and relatives Tuesday at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

First Lady Michelle Obama will help lead the way, with aides confirming that the parents of Chicago shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton will join her for the speech.

Pendleton was a teenage high school band majorette who performed at Obama’s January inauguration just days before she was gunned down in Chicago.

Democratic congressman Ron Barber will host his predecessor in the House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a mass shooting two years ago in her Arizona district.

Republican Senator John McCain will host Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly.

In an emotional return to Congress, Giffords attended Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech one day before retiring from the House to focus on her recovery.

“Mark and I will be there again tomorrow night, because this is a critical moment in time for legislation to reduce gun violence in the United States,” Giffords said in a statement Monday, when she appeared in a debut TV ad for her new group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, which seeks to prevent gun violence.

At least 23 members of the US House, including Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, will also host gun violence victims or their relatives.

The guests will include Natalie Hammond, a teacher who was shot three times by a gunman who massacred 20 schoolchildren and six adults last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

She joins congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s guest, Police Chief John Aresta of Malverne, New York, whose uncle was killed, along with McCarthy’s husband, in a 1993 mass shooting on a Long Island train.

House Democrats including Mike Thompson, chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, last week unveiled a package of possible gun control legislation which largely mirrored proposals put forward by Obama in the wake of Newtown.

One lawmaker took his message in a different direction.

Republican Steve Stockman said his guest at Obama’s speech would be none other than Ted Nugent, the aging rocker and controversial gun advocate.

“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama,” said Stockman on Monday.

Nugent drew the attention of the US Secret Service last April when he warned at a National Rifle Association meeting that he would end up “dead or in jail” if Obama was reelected.

Stockman last month threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Obama over the president’s use of executive privilege to tighten gun laws, but ultimately backed off the threat.


Nugent invited to State of the Union after column about ‘ebonic mumbo-jumbo’

By David Edwards
Monday, February 11, 2013 15:14 EST

The conservative rocker who said that he would be “dead or in jail” if President Barack Obama was re-elected has been invited to attend Tuesday’s annual State of the Union address.

In a statement provided to Politico on Monday, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) said that Ted Nugent would be attending Obama’s speech to Congress as his guest.

“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama,” Stockman said. “After the Address I’m sure Ted will have plenty to say.”

Earlier this year, Stockman threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings if the president used executive actions to limit gun rights.

“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” he said in a statement

While Nugent doesn’t have the power to impeach the commander in chief, he has suggested that his “buddies” would be willing to start a new American Revolution if the Obama administration attempted to “re-implement the tyranny of King George” with gun control.

Last year, he told National Rifle Association members that “I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year” if the president was re-elected. He has also called Obama a “piece of shit” who should “suck on my machine gun.”

The Secret Service eventually interviewed The Motor City Madman and determined he wasn’t a threat to the president.

While recalling his meeting with the Secret Service to CBS News, Nugent seemed to lose control of his temper and told reporter Jeff Glor that he would “suck your fucking dick” and then “fuck” a female producer.

Most recently, Nugent wrote that civil rights leaders and other “liberals are two-faced hypocrites” for giving the president a pass on a program that allows the United States government to target American citizens overseas with drones strikes.

“Jesse Jackson and Al Not-So-Sharpton would be lisping their ebonic mumbo-jumbo that the policy and the president are racist and bigoted,” he opined in a World Net Daily column. “They would organize protest marches in front of the White House, where they would burn effigies of the president.”

Nugent has until April to make good on his promise to be “dead on in jail by this time next year.”

Update (3:44 p.m. ET): Nugent told The New York Times that he would “demilitarize” himself by refraining from bringing a firearm to the president’s speech, according to Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters.


Kerry seeks to unblock $700 million in aid for Palestinians

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 20:50 EST

Secretary of State John Kerry is working to try to free up almost $700 million in aid for the Palestinians which has been held up in Congress, a top US official said Monday.

“The secretary feels extremely strongly that it is time now to get this support to the Palestinian Authority,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The department was working with Congress “to get appropriated money released for the Palestinian Authority because we think it’s very, very important that they remain effective in supporting the needs of the Palestinian people.”

Some $495.7 million was set aside for the Palestinian Authority in the fiscal year 2012 which ended on October 1, while another $200 million for this fiscal year was notified to Congress last week.

The money is earmarked for specific things in the Palestinian budget such as security as well as administrative costs.

However, an additional $100 million has been released, but can only be used on narcotics and law enforcement.

The Palestinian Authority is facing its worst economic crisis in years, in part because of a failure by donors to deliver pledged funds. But its finances were plunged further into chaos after president Mahmud Abbas won upgraded UN observer status at the UN General Assembly.

Israel, which strongly opposed the move along with the United States, said it was suspending monthly transfers of the tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the wake of the decision.

It did, however, transfer $100 million in a one-off payment in late January.

Nuland said Kerry had been very active on the issue of the Palestinian aid with Congress since he took over as secretary of state on February 1.


Environmentalists plan massive rally to spur action on climate change

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 20:52 EST

Activists are stepping up pressure on US President Barack Obama to issue concrete plans to battle climate change, with a major rally planned in Washington following his annual address to Congress.

More than 100 groups are planning what they hope will be the largest rally in the United States on climate change, with organizers saying that tens of thousands will descend on the National Mall Sunday with buses from 28 states.

The demonstration comes after the United States last year experienced record high temperatures, extensive drought and the devastation of superstorm Sandy which some have linked to changing climate patterns.

Advocacy groups urged Obama to lay out specific proposals Tuesday in his annual State of the Union speech. Obama spoke forcefully, albeit in general terms, on fighting climate change during his inaugural speech last month.

“We can no longer afford to wait to respond to the threat of climate change,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of organized labor and environmental organizations.

“We can no longer wait to fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The systems we rely on every day are not prepared to deal with the impacts of these events,” Foster told reporters on a conference call.

The BlueGreen Alliance and like-minded groups called for Obama to focus on measures including reducing carbon pollution from power plants, rebuilding the US water system and investing in alternative forms of transit.

Separately, the Center for Biological Diversity called for more ambitious steps, such as having the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) setting a national cap on pollution of greenhouse gases which are blamed for rising temperatures.

Obama has relied increasingly on executive authority in fighting climate change due to stiff resistance from the rival Republican Party, many of whose members question conclusions of mainstream scientists on greenhouse gases.

A proposal to set up a “cap-and-trade” system that restricts carbon emissions across the United States died in the Senate in 2010.


Sen. Cantwell rips GOP over Violence Against Women Act: This is about life or death

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, February 11, 2013 18:42 EST

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on Monday spoke out against a Republican proposal to eliminate protections for Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Cantwell noted that Native American women experience domestic violence and sexual assault at a rate far above the national average.

“However, less than 50 percent of the domestic violence cases in Indian country are prosecuted because of a gap in our legal system,” she explained on the Senate floor. “This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about a debate on what is a good way to win votes somewhere in America. This is about the life or death of women who need a better system to help prosecute those who are committing serious crimes against them.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-TX) introduced an amendment to the bill that would remove the tribal provisions from the bill. Republicans have objected to allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American individuals for domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land. Coburn said the provision endangered civil liberties because tribal courts are not bound by the U.S. Constitution.

Cantwell denied the tribal provisions would violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. She noted the U.S. Department of Justice would partner with tribal courts and non-tribal Americans would have the ability to appeal their case to a federal court. The legislation also specifically prohibits tribal courts from violating Americans’ rights.

“I’m not sure what my colleagues are referring to,” she said. “But these safeguards were built into the system because this is such an egregious problem that we have to fix.”

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube, below:
« Last Edit: Feb 12, 2013, 08:56 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #4548 on: Feb 13, 2013, 07:40 AM »

02/13/2013 12:32 PM

Gauging the Nuclear Threat: 'We Can Greatly Diminish the Risk'

North Korea has become a nuclear power, Iran is close and Pakistan and India already have the bomb. Is it just a question of time before they get used? In an interview, disarmament advocate Dick Nunn explains how the worst can still be prevented.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Senator Nunn, North Korea has just conducted its third nuclear test. Seismic data indicate the explosion was far more powerful than the previous ones. The test came only weeks after North Korea successfully tested a long-range missile. Has the United States' strategy of containing Pyongyang failed? And if so, does Washington have to reconsider military action?

Nunn: The steady progress made by North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs is deeply concerning. The US cannot solve this problem alone. However, in order to take steps that could fundamentally affect the North Korean leadership and its decision-making, we need to work even more closely with our allies in the region who feel this threat acutely. I would urge China, in particular, to intensify its leadership role in helping to solve this crisis.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Right now there are more than 17,000 nuclear weapons worldwide. The number of nuclear armed countries is increasing, the technology is spreading. Is it only a matter of time until a nuclear weapon is detonated in a city again?

Nunn: Some people think we will see a nuclear explosion in Europe or the United States within the next 10 years. Will it happen? Sure, it's possible. But I think we can greatly diminish that risk. The only way you can do that is through cooperation, and it has to be global.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But negotiations on nuclear arms reductions have been going on for decades. Why has it been so difficult to make any progress?

Nunn: There is a pervasive mistrust that grew out of the Cold War and still continues today -- even though there are a lot more mutual interests between Europe, Russia and the United States than ever before. But the way we organize things today, it takes years to negotiate. By the time you get a result, the technology has far outrun the policy. So we have to start a dynamic, sustainable type of policy deliberations that can catch up with technology.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If we were incapable of establishing such a dialogue when the world was still bipolar, how can we hope to do so in today's world? Now, we have a nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India, an Iran that is on its way to building the bomb and a North Korea bent on developing intercontinental nuclear missiles. How can we find common ground with countries whose interests differ so radically?

Nunn: I don't think we can tackle all that at one time. The beginning point has to be the Euro-Atlantic community. It's very hard for Europe, the US and Russia to have much influence on the growing problems elsewhere in the world unless we have our own backyard in a more stable and cooperative atmosphere. And right now, we don't.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In addition to North Korea, the Iran problem seems to be worsening as well. President Obama has made it very clear that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But what if Iran doesn't play along? Most military experts believe that air strikes against Iran's nuclear installations would at best delay Tehran's nuclear program for a few years.

Nunn: The Iranians know that if they develop nuclear weapons, they will be in tremendous jeopardy from military capabilities of their neighbors and of the United States. I am not predicting what will happen in 2013, but I do think it is a crucial year. I hope we can make it clear to the Iranians that we do not object to them having peaceful use of nuclear power. But when they enrich Uranium to a 20 percent level, people think they are going for the bomb. Their uranium enrichment program is a real danger.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It seems that sooner or later, Iran and North Korea will develop nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. Some experts even argue it would be naïve to believe otherwise.

Nunn: I'm not quite that pessimistic. We need a dialogue with the Iranians, and it is going to take both carrots and sticks. We employed very tough economic sanctions, and they are having an effect. But we also have to give the Iranians an idea of what the economic and cooperative possibilities would be if they did give up their quest for a nuclear weapon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After the Cold War, there were five recognized nuclear powers, now we have nine. If Iran gets the bomb, we could end up with nuclear arms in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Is there still hope to stop the spread of nuclear weapons?

Nunn: Look, just five years ago, 40 countries had weapons-usable nuclear materials. Now there are only 28 left. And a number of nations have given up their nuclear weapons entirely, like Kazakhstan, Belarus or Ukraine. Others like South Korea or Brazil could have developed nuclear weapons, but did not do so. So it's not all bleak. Of course, you have some big avalanches threatening to come down the mountain, with Iran and North Korea. But when you look at the avalanches that have missed us so far, there is something to be grateful for.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Given the spread of nuclear know-how and materials, some argue that the most likely reason that we have not seen a terrorist nuclear attack is that somehow the terrorists did not want to.

Nunn: I would give our efforts a little more credit than that. I think if terrorists had nuclear materials and found people to put a bomb together -- both of which are possible -- we would already have seen a nuclear explosion. But we have literally thousands of people around the world working their tails off and making a lot of sacrifices to contain nuclear materials. I particularly would like to compliment the Russians on this. In times of great economic distress, many of them could have made an awful lot of money if they had sold their expertise. Instead, they are dedicated to safeguarding, securing and in many cases destroying not only nuclear, but also chemical and biological materials.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In his 2009 address in Prague, President Obama said: "The threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up." In the same address, he outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Do you think this will ever be possible to achieve?

Nunn: I don't think that within a certain amount of time we can get rid of all nuclear weapons. But I do believe that, step by step, we could get others to join us. I call it going up the mountain. We can get to the top eventually, but we have to get to base camp first. Right now, we are in the valley. So we have a long way to go, but maybe our children or our grandchildren will see the top of the mountain.

Interview conducted by Markus Becker


02/13/2013 01:39 PM

The World from Berlin: 'China Alone Can Pressure North Korea'

North Korea's nuclear test has been widely condemned by international leaders, who are calling for tough action against the country. But German commentators say past strategies have failed and it's time for China to step up to the challenge.

North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un signaled his willingness to develop the country's military capabilities on Tuesday with the explosion of a nuclear device . It was the third time that the country has conducted nuclear tests, and the first for the country's young leader.

The international communinity immediately voiced outrage over North Korea's provocative show of force and vowed action. In a statement issued Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the tests "deplorable," saying that they are "a clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions."

After an emergency closed-door session the council issued a non-binding statement approved by all 15 member states condemning the tests. "In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the UN Security Council will begin work immediately on appropriate measures in a Security Council resolution," Kim Sung-hwan, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, which holds the rotating presidency of the council for February, told reporters Tuesday.

As the UN decides on new measures, the United States, Germany and other nations are calling for more sanctions against North Korea. China, however, has previously weakened sanctions against its neighbor because the countries are important strategic partners. Though China has also condemned North Korea's latest tests, it hasn't signaled a change in policy.

But on Wednesday, German commentators say that sanctions and other existing measures are not doing much to deter North Korea from its nuclear ambitions, and suggest taking a different approach.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The regime in North Korea would gladly be described as unpredictable. That's not true, at least not any more. The country has actually become rather predictable in its provocations, which above all serve one goal: to demonstrate the power of the ruling Kim clan to the world. North Korea's regime does not act unpredictably. It acts irresponsibly."

"As predictable as this nuclear test was, the reaction was also to be expected. Governments around the world are indignant, including the country's friends in Beijing. The US is demanding a sharpening of existing sanctions in the UN Security Council, which further condemned North Korea in a new resolution. After some hesitation China also approved it. Fundamentally the response to the latest nuclear test was not different from the second one. In reality the test has changed little regarding the region's status quo and geo-strategy with regards to the US."

"Still the tests are highly dangerous. They show that the young Kim is prepared to take big risks…. And the nuclear program has another dark side of proliferation because North Korea is a weapon's exporter…. What would prevent a player such as the dictator in Pyongyang from selling knowledge and even material to Iran or other nations?"

"In reality there is no satisfactory answer to this question. The only ones with a chance of success of finding an answer are the Chinese."

"Meanwhile, Chinese calculations appear to be shifting. A government newspaper in Beijing spoke of the 'high price' that North Korea will pay in the case of nuclear tests. One does not know how the government in Pyongyang will actually react to pressure from Beijing. But now is the time to try it out. The Chinese must take responsibility for its irresponsible neighbor. And they must do it now."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"North Korean policy adheres to its very own logic. Whereas most countries these days do their best to avoid escalating conflicts, Pyongyang does exactly the opposite. It tries to benefit by fanning the flames of dispute. By doing so, the country sets boundaries that cannot be shifted by way of negotiation. And because North Korea is excellent at appraising its negotiating partners -- such as during the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program -- it believes itself to be rather safe. An attack from the US, for example, is a virtual impossibility, making a provocation of Washington hazard-free."

"No matter how the international community ultimately reacts to the nuclear test, North Korea has already achieved one of its goals: It is now at the very top of the international agenda. Were it to abandon its nuclear program, it would lose importance. And the country's leadership would lose prestige among the North Korean populace. For this reason alone, one must exclude the possibility that international efforts at nuclear disarmament in North Korea will succeed."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"North Korea is not to be influenced with sanctions. South Korea, Japan and western countries also don't have much by way of sanctions to use in the dealings with North Korea. Pyongyang has always sent the signal that it would rather its population goes hungry than give in to outside pressure. As a result, sanctions imposed up until now have largely been ineffective. Thus, since the beginning of the millennium, many western countries have tried the politics of engagement. That has been equally ineffective."

"China alone can exert real pressure on North Korea. North Korea's survival depends on oil shipments and help from its neighbor…. China's reaction to the test will show whether Beijing's new leader Xi Jinping will only use verbal criticism and symbolic sanctions against Pyongyang or whether it is prepared to take really painful steps."

"With the detonation on Tuesday, Kim has therefore not only tested the nuclear abilities of his regime, but also Xi's politics with North Korea, and with it North Korea's future wiggle room with regards to Beijing."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Barack Obama and the EU stand at a crossroads. Forty years ago the US convinced South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil to give up their nuclear programs. With regards to North Korea, that is not working anymore. A nonproliferation treaty hangs in the balance and sanctions are shaky. Iran could be the next country to test a bomb…. Atomic knowledge, however, can not be starved or bombed away."

"Outside of the nonproliferation treaty Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States freely gave up their planned or operational nuclear weapons. For them political realities were important, namely that these countries were safer without the bomb than with it. That could also be the path in the case of North Korea or Iran. It's a path, however, that is rocky and extremely complicated. Talks and unending patience are requirements for that path, and at the same time, they are the only chance."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"In reality [despite UN sanctions] little has changed. In no way has the country, which has been surviving for decades from foreign help, been brought to its knees. Why?"

"The answer is simple: North Korea's neighbors could abandon the country. But they don't want to. China naturally doesn't want a collapse of North Korea. By now China is less concerned about this for ideological reasons, but rather because it has no interest in a united Korea that the Americans could use to advance on its borders. The South Koreans have studied German reunification in great detail and have come to the clear conclusion that unification was too expensive. The Japanese, in turn, don't want a strong Korea as international competition. It is bitter enough for them that Samsung is competitive with the iPhone and not a Japanese manufacturer. The Russians, for their part, don't want unrest in their backyard. All that remains are the Americans, who ended the Korean War with Korea's division and for whom a united Korea could be delayed gratification. However, just because Americans want something, doesn't mean that it will happen. Kim naturally knows that, and therefore has playing room in negotiations. Why should it be any different now under these circumstances?"

-- Renuka Rayasam


February 12, 2013

A Secretive Country Gives Experts Few Clues to Judge Its Nuclear Program


As scientists and world leaders scrambled Tuesday to judge the importance of North Korea’s claim that it had detonated a third nuclear bomb, the main thing that quickly became evident is how little is known about the country’s increasingly advanced atomic and missile programs.

Even the best news about the test — that it was small by world standards — could have a dangerous downside if the North’s statement that it is learning to miniaturize bombs is true. That technology, which is extremely difficult to master, is crucial to being able to load a weapon atop a long-range missile that might one day reach as far as the United States mainland.

“We don’t know enough to nail it, but we can’t rule out that they’ve done something dangerous” Ray E. Kidder, a scientist who pioneered early nuclear warhead designs at the Livermore weapons lab in California, said of the underground test.

As is usual with tests by the secretive North, it was not even clear if the underground test was nuclear, rather than conventional bomb blasts meant to mimic an underground nuclear test. Experts assume it was nuclear partly from the shape of its seismic signal and because the blast was at the same mountainous site as two earlier nuclear tests.

It also remains unclear whether the North used plutonium or enriched uranium to fuel the bomb. American officials believed that the country’s last two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, used plutonium, and they fear a switch to uranium will allow the country a faster and harder-to-detect path to a bigger arsenal. While scientists are actively hunting for the airborne markers of a uranium test, it is not certain that gases needed to make that judgment escaped the test site.

Scientists said the relatively small size of Tuesday’s blast calmed, at least temporarily, their worst fears: that the North’s recent references to more powerful hydrogen bombs indicated the possibility that it might have at least enough technology to try to test one. Those bombs, nicknamed city-busters, are roughly 1,000 times stronger than atom bombs, and if the North were to get them it would represent an enormous leap in its known abilities. The first American hydrogen bomb to be tested caused the Pacific island of Elugelab to vanish.

What emerged most clearly Tuesday from sensitive global networks that measure faint rumbles in the earth was that the underground blast was most likely larger than North Korea’s past explosions. In Vienna, the preparatory commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which runs a global seismic network, said the blast measured 5.0 in seismic magnitude. The United States Geological Survey put its own estimate at 5.1 in magnitude.

Nuclear experts said the magnitude of the blast equaled an atomic blast of about 6,000 tons of high explosive, or six kilotons. The first test by Pyongyang is thought to have packed less than a kiloton of power and was considered a partial failure by the West. The state’s 2009 blast was judged by American intelligence officials to have a power of two kilotons, though some experts outside the government say it might have been as large as this week’s test.

In any case, said Paul Richards, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., it was “a serious explosion.”

Still, even the largest estimates are small by world standards. The first three nuclear tests of China, for instance, were measured at 22 kilotons, 35 kilotons and 250 kilotons.

North Korea’s tests “are limited in explosive power compared with most previous ones,” said Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, and the author of “Racing for the Bomb,” a biography of Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s military leader. Determining whether the test was fueled by plutonium or uranium is critical because North Korea in 2007 shut down its reactor that made plutonium, prompting analysts to conclude that its supplies of the rare element are now running low. Intelligence officials estimated it had enough fuel for 6 to 10 bombs.

But in 2010, the state revealed what appears to be a fairly advanced program to enrich uranium, which in theory could fuel many bombs since experts believe that North Korea has rich uranium deposits.

Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico who has repeatedly visited North Korea and learned details of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, has suggested that North Korea may be ready to switch to a pure uranium approach, in part because it might have a blueprint for a miniaturized uranium warhead.

He said the North’s leadership might have obtained the blueprint from A. Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear expert, a blueprint of the type he gave Libya for a uranium bomb. It is well known that North Korea obtained its centrifuge design for uranium enrichment from Dr. Khan, and many experts say the Pakistani expert may have thrown in the warhead blueprint as a sweetener.

Analysts say the uranium approach may also offer North Korea the allure of a new secrecy. Centrifuge plants are much easier to hide than reactors.

Finding out whether the bomb was fueled by plutonium, uranium or a mix of the two materials could take some time or might never happen, analysts say.

Not all underground tests leak their explosive residues into the atmosphere or surrounding waters, and some say tests of the size of Tuesday’s blast are probably strong enough to seal any cracks in the rocks.

“If we get samples, I’m sure we’ll learn a lot about it,” Jay C. Davis, a nuclear scientist who helped found a federal effort to improve such analyses, said in an interview.

But if no bomb residue leaks, he added, the nature of the fuel that North Korea used for its third blast may remain a mystery.


February 12, 2013

New Leader Sees Gains From Test


By announcing the detonation of a nuclear device, Kim Jong-un, the young leader of North Korea, seemed to be attempting to raise his status as a worthy leader at home and as a foe to be taken seriously among the countries his government considers its enemies.

Mr. Kim — believed to be in his late 20s when he took over the militaristic government after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011 — has recently emphasized a better living standard for his long-suffering people, generating hopes that he might lead the country out of its isolation. But at the same time, he has shown himself to be his father’s son, launching a long-range rocket in December and threatening more missile and nuclear tests in the face of sanctions.

With the test Tuesday, Mr. Kim appeared to have chosen his path for now, and analysts said there were good reasons for that.

“Now is a particularly opportune time for Kim Jong-un to reset his relations with the powers in the region,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “Pyongyang will calculate that after a decent interval of three or four months, its adversaries will return to negotiations, possibly with bigger blandishments in tow.”

North Korea’s attempts to unsettle the region started in December, when the government successfully launched the long-range rocket, putting a satellite into orbit, the first for the impoverished country. That prompted the United Nations to tighten sanctions and even led China, its sole major protector at the United Nations Security Council, to support the sanctions and chide the government.

But the satellite success also appeared to have emboldened Mr. Kim.

“He seems intent on pushing what he may see as his advantage, both domestically and internationally,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Brookings Institution. “Regardless of warnings from China, it is clear that Kim is not paying serious heed to more cautionary voices. This is someone who seems intent on conveying that he is running the show.”

North Korea’s nuclear and rocket programs represent the biggest achievements Mr. Kim can show to his people to prove his leadership and to legitimize the dynastic rule of his family as a significant national holiday approaches, the birthday of his father, on Saturday.

Hours before Tuesday’s test, North Korea’s state-run news media reported a decision by the powerful Politburo of its governing Workers’ Party to demand the launching of more long-range rockets, which Washington considers a cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea has recently declared that there will be no more talks on “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” though it said it was interested in discussing “a peace treaty” with Washington, a longstanding goal. North Korea’s recent provocations led analysts to believe that its missile programs were more than a bargaining chip aimed at Washington. Rather, they were deeply tied with its survival strategy.

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« Reply #4549 on: Feb 13, 2013, 07:43 AM »

02/12/2013 03:44 PM

Timbuktu after the Liberation: Malians Fear Return of Islamists

By Mathieu von Rohr and Thilo Thielke

The French have successfully liberated Timbuktu, but they also intend to withdraw soon. Locals are now sharing their stories about the period of brutal Islamist control, but also their worries that the reign of terror could soon return.

The unit forms behind Colonel Paul Gèze, as French elite troops march into position at the Timbuktu airport. The French flag flutters in the wind under a blazing sun. But it's one of the last musters in the legendary desert city. The first armored vehicles are already heading in the direction of Niger.

The French combat force, Groupement tactique interarmes, which captured Timbuktu in a surprise attack about two weeks ago, is now withdrawing. The 500-man unit is to be redeployed in the direction of Gao, leaving only a small military outpost behind in Timbuktu.

Colonel Gèze, a muscular man with an angular face, set up his headquarters in a camouflage tent across from the runway. Following the airstrikes by the French Air Force, his men entered Timbuktu without meeting any resistance. It was almost too simple. The colonel still feels a little uneasy about their speedy victory.

'The Islamists Have to Be Hiding'

Gèze can't say how many people were killed in the air strikes. His soldiers didn't take any prisoners, either. Still, even though the jihadists have left Timbuktu, Gèze hasn't defeated them. Perhaps they have gone to Mauritania or Algeria. The officer shrugs his shoulders. "We're keeping our eyes and ears peeled and are questioning our informants," he says. "The Islamists have to be hiding out somewhere."

It's a strange war that the French are waging in Mali. In a single stroke, it transformed the international community's image of French President François Hollande from a that of a president perceived by many to be a ditherer to one who has become a decisive military leader.

In a veritable blitzkrieg, his troops liberated the large cities in the north from Islamist control. "Several hundred" fighters were killed, claims French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. But apparently most of the enemy combatants have simply withdrawn, and the people living in the liberated areas now fear the nightmare could soon begin all over again.

For domestic political reasons, the French want to withdraw quickly from Mali. There are currently close to 4,000 French troops in the country, 1,500 more than originally announced. Last Tuesday evening, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the troops would leave the country "starting in March." Defense Minister Le Drian qualified his statement, saying that French forces would begin withdrawing "in a few weeks."

Paris has asked the United Nations Security Council to deploy peacekeepers. The UN could also coordinate the deployment of units with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whose troops are already arriving in Mali, where the fighting isn't over by a long shot. Le Drian admitted that there were skirmishes between Islamist fighters and French soldiers in Gao, a city the French had already captured, on Tuesday. He also said French troops had encountered enemy combatants while on patrol in areas surrounding the captured cities.

Months Under Sharia Law

Salaka Djické also fears the bearded Islamist men. They must still be out there somewhere in the desert, she says. Since the French have been patrolling the city, she has begun wearing makeup again, the way she used to, as well as jewelry, including a necklace with an amulet, a bracelet and earrings.

Under the Islamists, she was only allowed to leave the house in a veil, she was prohibited from listening to music and, worse yet, she couldn't be seen with a man in public. For 10 months that were seemingly endless for locals like Djické, the religious extremists applied their strict laws.

After the defeat of Malian government troops in April 2012, an alliance of three Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), introduced sharia law in northern Mali. There are still white metal signs everywhere in the city that read: "The city of Timbuktu is built on Islam, and only Islamic law applies in it."

Throughout the months of Islamist rule, Djické, 26, was determined not to attract attention. She was having an affair with a married man. They managed to be apart for a few weeks, but then they began to meet in secret. Djické almost paid for their recklessness with her life.

On this day, she is sitting in her mud hut, surrounded by the clamor of her siblings. Eight people live in the small building. Djické bakes flatbreads in an outdoor oven that she can sell at the market. "When my boyfriend picked me up one evening at around 10 p.m.," she recalls, "two jihadists in white robes rushed up to me and grabbed me." Djické says she screamed at the top of her lungs, knowing that the penalty for having an affair with a married man was death.

But she was unable to free herself from the self-appointed religious police, who threw her into a cell and kept her locked up for two days. Then a light-skinned man who only spoke Arabic pronounced a sentence that he apparently considered to be lenient: Djické was sentenced to 95 lashes, to be executed with an elastic stick covered with camel leather.

Timbuktu's Treasure

A few streets away from Djické's house, a man with snow-white hair is squatting on the ground as he brushes away the dust from stacks of ancient manuscripts. Sioli Igouma Kounta, 70, runs one of the many private libraries for which Timbuktu is famous. There are 1,475 manuscripts under his care, Kounta says proudly. "Some are from the 12th and 13th centuries. They are Timbuktu's treasure."

According to legend, the Tuareg once named the oasis city on the edge of the Sahara and on the banks of the Niger River "Tin buktu," or "woman with a large navel." In the 12th century, caravans that carried gold and slaves from the heart of Africa to the north came together in Timbuktu. The caravanserai turned into an important trading city, and beginning in the 15th century Timbuktu developed into a center of knowledge. Several museums and a university were established, and Koran schools and libraries were built. Their manuscripts are part of the world's cultural heritage today.

It's unclear how many of those manuscripts still exist. Malian historian Abdoulaye Cissé estimates that it could be "hundreds of thousands."

"When the Islamists came, they called together all dignitaries," says Kounta. "They were carrying assault rifles. They told us that we were practicing a false faith." After that, Kounta took his most valuable manuscripts and buried them in the desert to save the documents from the religious extremists, who refused to tolerate anything but the Koran in the city.

'They Turned Up Like Ghosts'

The Islamists controlled Timbuktu. If someone was caught with a cigarette, he was thrown into jail. They cut off the hands of thieves, and even listening to music was forbidden.

"They turned up like ghosts," says Kounta. "They spoke foreign languages: English, Arabic and French. The Malian Islamists only arrived two weeks later." And then the Tuareg, their own neighbors, suddenly went from house to house, says Kounta, poking around and stealing money. "Some of them were worse than the jihadists."

One day, when the imam went to the market square to buy some bread, he saw a young woman sitting on a chair, her body bent forward at the waist. It was 10 a.m. on a January day, the sun was already high in the sky, and a crowd had gathered. "Men with guns forced us to watch," says Kounta.

The camel leather stick slapped against Djické's back 95 times, spattering her blood. Some in the crowd wept and averted their gaze. With a population of about 55,000, many people in Timbuktu know each other. "I didn't lose consciousness," says Djické. "I felt everything." When her skin had been beaten into ribbons, a brother took her to her mud house, which she almost never left again until the French arrived.

A Cain-against-Abel Struggle
"After the French had flown their first air strikes and the Islamists' headquarters on the outskirts of the city was in ruins, we saw a large fire burning in the middle of the night at the Ahmed Baba Institute," says Kounta. "We knew that now they were burning our books."

Kounta pokes around in the pile of ashes in the institute's inner courtyard. More than 30,000 historic documents had been stored there, and about 2,000 likely went up in flames that night before the Islamists left. "They're still someplace nearby," says Kounta, his voice betraying his feeling of fear. "The desert is large."

Radouane Ag Joudou, a 52-year-old blacksmith, has a small shop near a mosque. He's a member of the Tuareg, the lighter-skinned ethnic group inhabiting the deserts of northern Mali, who are referred to as redskins by the dark-skinned Songhai ethnic group. The two groups have been rivals for centuries, embroiled in archaic conflicts pitting nomadic against sedentary tribes, herders against farmers, lighter-skinned against darker-skinned people, in a Cain-against-Abel struggle.

The Tuareg were the ones who rebelled against the central government in Bamako in early 2012. Many defected to the Islamists and helped to pave the way for them. Now, many blacks in Timbuktu feel that all Tuareg are collaborators. When the Islamists disappeared into the desert, many Arabs and Tuareg went with them, fearing reprisals from their former neighbors.

But this only made them more suspect. Almost all Arab-owned businesses in Timbuktu have since been looted, and an entire block was destroyed. Ag Joudou is the sole Tuareg who has decided to remain in Timbuktu. "I have eight children and I was born here, so where should I go?" he asks. Two Songhai friends give him a reassuring nod. "I hope that they will leave me in peace, because I haven't done anything to anyone."

Uncertain Future

Everyone knows that the terrorists are gone, but not dead. ECOWAS peacekeepers are expected to replace the French when they withdraw, but no one has any real confidence in them, and even less so in the Malian army.

It is also unclear how quickly the ECOWAS troops, of which there will be up to 6,000, can advance into Mali. It is, however, certain that their presence will hardly be sufficient to bring lasting peace to the region. Mali's problems go far beyond driving out the terrorists. The conflict between the population in the south and the Tuareg in the north -- where people feel neglected by the central government and some make a living smuggling drugs -- is of course unresolved.

The problem can only be eliminated "by a more equitable distribution of power in the country," writes French Islam expert Olivier Roy. He argues that occupying the territory isn't the way to defeat al-Qaida, and that to deprive the Islamists of the bulk of their influence, one has to approach the groups that support the terrorists -- and give them a good reason to stop doing it. But that, Roy argues, requires negotiating with the Tuareg instead of branding them all as terrorists.

That's one reason Roy believes the Europeans will likely have to serve as mediators in Mali in the long term.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4550 on: Feb 13, 2013, 07:49 AM »

February 12, 2013

Syrian Rebels Say They Have Seized a Military Airfield and Its Warplanes


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian insurgents seized control of a northern military airfield on Tuesday and captured usable warplanes for the first time in the nearly two-year-old conflict, according to rebels and activist groups. The development, if confirmed, would represent the second strategic setback for President Bashar al-Assad’s government this week.

The reported seizure of Al Jarrah airfield in Aleppo Province, which was corroborated by rebel video clips uploaded on the Internet, came a day after insurgent fighters announced that they had taken control of Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam, which supplies power to areas held by Mr. Assad’s security forces and by the insurgent Free Syrian Army and affiliated rebel groups. Whoever controls that dam, situated on the Euphrates River in northeast Raqqa Province, theoretically has the ability to deny electricity to significant areas held by the other side.

It was far from clear whether the insurgency’s claimed military gains signaled a bigger turn in the conflict, but some political analysts said they believed that the claims were credible and noteworthy. “Combined with capturing the dam, it’s another sign that Assad’s power is degrading but not yet finished,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

There were unconfirmed reports late Tuesday of a mass defection by 40 members of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division and the Republican Guard, two of the best-trained and most loyal elements of Mr. Assad’s military, drawn largely from his Alawite minority that runs the country and is responsible for protecting him.

The Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad activist group, publicized a video posted on YouTube by the supposed defectors, 15 of whom joined the Free Syrian Army. If confirmed, the defection suggested that the inner core of Mr. Assad’s security apparatus may be starting to corrode.

The developments coincided with a sharply higher estimate of total casualties in the conflict — nearly 70,000 — from the top human rights official at the United Nations, Navi Pillay, in a report to the Security Council, which has been deadlocked on how to deal with Syria. Less than two months ago, Ms. Pillay said more than 60,000 had died in Syria since the uprising against Mr. Assad began in March 2011.

She exhorted the Security Council to take action, saying, “We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain with a network of contacts inside Syria, said the Syrian Air Force had responded to the Jarrah seizure by bombarding it, presumably to destroy or incapacitate the planes there. The group said in a Facebook post that the rebels had “taken control of tens of military jets,” mostly Soviet-era MIG-17s and Sukhoi L-39 jet fighters. “This is considered the first instance of rebels acquiring fighter jets,” the group said.

More than 40 Syrian soldiers were captured by the rebels, with an unspecified number of others killed and wounded, the group said, and the rebels confiscated ammunition and machine guns.

The triumphal video clips posted on YouTube by the Jarrah attackers included one showing rebels inside the facility, with a background voice yelling: “Allahu akbar, our spoils are planes! You pigs of Bashar!”

Another video shows a line of jet fighters parked in the open near a runway, most apparently intact but at least one crumpled.

By late Tuesday it was unclear if any planes of the Jarrah-based fleet had suffered damage, either in the two-day siege by the insurgents to capture the airfield, or in the Syrian Air Force’s response. Syria’s official SANA news agency, in its daily report on insurgent fighting, said the army had inflicted “heavy losses upon terrorists in several provinces,” but said nothing about the Jarrah airfield.

Earlier instances of rebel seizures of military airfields have been met with ferocious reprisal bombings by Mr. Assad’s military, which would rather destroy the planes and other weaponry than lose them to the rebels.

Syrian forces also have fired Scud missiles at suspected insurgent positions, according to opposition activists and Western intelligence officials. But the Scuds, not known for their precision, have hit civilians as well. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of anti-Assad groups, reported on Tuesday that three Scuds had landed in Barouda, a small village in Raqqa Province, destroying at least one house.

The addition of aircraft to the rebel arsenal is a potentially significant military development if any of the pilots who have defected to the insurgency are capable of flying them. Until now, Mr. Assad has been able to contain or repel insurgent gains in many parts of the country because of his side’s overwhelming air power.

But even if rebel pilots can start fighting the Syrian Air Force in the sky, they remain heavily outgunned, a reality that some fighters acknowledged on Tuesday in Skype interviews after news of the Jarrah airfield capture.

“It is very hard to use these warplanes because the regime has radars and long-distance rockets, unless it is a suicidal attack,” said the fighter, who identified himself only by his first name, Saado.

Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hania Mourtada and Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut.
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« Reply #4551 on: Feb 13, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Egyptian women protest sexual violence: ‘A woman’s voice is a revolution’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 17:24 EST

Egyptian protesters took to the street again on Tuesday to demand an end to sexual violence, as campaigns against the repeated attacks in central Cairo pick up steam.

“A woman’s voice is a revolution,” the protesters — both men and women– shouted, brandishing large flags of female Egyptian icons.

Tuesday’s protest is the latest in a series of action demanding an end to the culture of impunity, following harrowing reports of mob attacks in and around Tahrir Square.

The attacks are “a weapon in the ongoing political fight,” said Mayar Abdel Aziz, blaming “opponents of freedom” for being behind them.

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but recently the violent nature and frequency of the attacks have raised the alarm.

“We used to be passive and not ask for our rights,” before the revolution, Abdel Aziz told AFP.

The protesters are also furious over statements from members of the upper house of parliament which blamed the women for inviting attack.

“Women sometimes cause rape upon themselves by putting themselves in a position which makes them subject to rape,” said Salafi deputy Adel Afifi, quoted by local media.

Last week, rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a statement urging President Mohamed Morsi to take action to put an end to the attacks.

“Horrific, violent attacks on women including rape in the vicinity of Tahrir Square demonstrate that it’s now crucial President Morsi takes drastic steps to end this culture of impunity and gender-based discrimination, and for all political leaders to speak out,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

At the Cairo protest, women spoke of the “systematic” nature of the attacks.

“We have always experienced harassment (in Egypt). But the new thing is that the violence has become systematic,” said Asmaa Ali who runs a group to combat the problem.

“Harassment is a polite word. We need to call it sexual attack. It has even reached gang rape in Tahrir Square,” she told AFP.

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« Reply #4552 on: Feb 13, 2013, 07:59 AM »

Israel partially lifts media gag on 'Prisoner X'

Move comes after global coverage of case of top-secret detainee, said to be Mossad agent, who died in Israeli prison

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Alison Rourke in Sydney, Wednesday 13 February 2013 09.33 GMT   

The Israeli authorities have partially lifted a gag order concerning a man known as "Prisoner X", following widespread international coverage of the case of the top-secret detainee who hanged himself in a high-security prison in Israel. The prisoner was revealed to be an Australian citizen.

According to Israel Radio, domestic media outlets were permitted to quote foreign reports on Prisoner X but not publish or broadcast original material.

The secret detainee was identified by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as Ben Zygier, from Melbourne, who it said had become an agent for the Mossad, Israel's spy agency. Zygier – also known as Ben Alon and Ben Allen – was reported to have been locked in solitary confinement under conditions of strict secrecy in 2010, and hanged himself in his cell later that year. ABC did not disclose the reason for his detention.

The allegations were reported on international news websites, but the Israeli media was forbidden from publishing or broadcasting details. Editors were called by the Israeli prime minister's office to an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon, at which their co-operation with the government and the withholding of sensitive information was demanded. Gag orders and military censorship are common in Israel.

Until the partial lifting of the gag order, the media were restricted to reporting questions asked under privilege in the Israeli parliament, which elicited no information beyond a statement by the justice minister that the matter should be examined.

In a front-page comment piece, Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote: "Instead of hushing up the blunder, [gag orders] merely shine a spotlight on it. But [Mossad chief Tamir] Pardo and the others believe that if they just apply a little more pressure, the door will remain shut. In the meantime, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are awash with people forwarding the information, sharing links to foreign websites, expressing opinions – and utterly ignoring those who are making pathetic attempts to turn back the clock to a time before WikiLeaks, and before bloggers who don't give two hoots about the censor."

In the aftermath of the revelations, Australia's department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT) has launched a review into how diplomats handled the case of Prisoner X.

The review was announced after it became known that department officials had been made aware in 2010 that Zygier was being held in jail in Israel, but had not passed on the information.

"DFAT had [originally] advised that it was unaware of Mr Allen's detention in Israel," a spokesman said. "DFAT has now advised that some officers of the department were made aware of Mr Allen's detention at the time in 2010 by another Australian agency."

Earlier, the foreign minister, Bob Carr, had said consul officials were not aware of Zygier's circumstances until his parents asked for help in repatriating his body to Australia. Under normal circumstances, foreign embassies are usually advised if one of their nationals is being held in prison.

The leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, said she would pursue the case. "According to press reports, Prisoner X was a dual citizen whose body was returned to Melbourne under suspicious circumstances. Minister Carr must pursue this matter with the Israeli government as a matter of urgency," Milne said in a statement.

Zygier's family have declined to speak to the media.

According to ABC, Zygier was 34 at the time of his death in Ayalon prison. He was married to an Israeli woman, Maya, with whom he had two children. It is unknown whether they still live in Israel or have moved abroad.

A former colleague, Patrick Durkin, who trained as a lawyer with Zygier, wrote of his fond memories of the alleged Mossad spy in the Australian Financial Review. "I remember drinking with Ben one night in 2001 when he recounted his famous story about taking a bullet in the posterior during his military service in Israel which he served shortly before joining our group. He described in vivid detail serving on the front-line and backtracking across war-torn countryside while gun-fire peppered the ground.

"He was extremely proud of his time in the military … I remember passionately debating the finer points of the Israeli-Palestine conflict with Ben who was obviously deeply engaged with the issue."


Israel's 'Prisoner X' was Australian Mossad agent, documentary claims

Israel has never acknowledged prisoner's existence and has gone to extraordinary lengths to stifle media coverage of case

Peter Beaumont   
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 February 2013   
Like the fictional Man in the Iron Mask, Israel's infamous "Prisoner X" was allegedly held in solitary confinement in conditions of such strict secrecy that even his own jailers were told neither his name nor the crime he had allegedly committed.

The man's identity became the subject of intense speculation when he was reportedly found hanged in his cell in 2010, but the prisoner's existence has never been officially acknowledged by Israel's government, which has gone to extraordinary lengths to stifle media coverage of the case. Now, however, new evidence has been uncovered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that strongly suggests Prisoner X was an Australian citizen, Ben Zygier, whom it described a Mossad agent.

Although there has been no intimation of the accusations against Zygier, commentators have suggested it could only suggest the most serious kind of security case, perhaps involving treason.

In the immediate aftermath of ABC's claims, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli prime minister's office had called "an emergency meeting of the Editors Committee … to ask its members to co-operate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency".

Later in the day the gagging orders were explicitly linked to the claims about the dead Australian by several Israeli MPs who also raised questions about the affair during a debate in the Knesset.

Asked by an Arab MP about "reports [of the suicide of] an Australian citizen who was in Israeli custody under a different identity", the justice minister, Yaakov Ne'eman, replied: "I cannot answer these questions because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into."

A second MP, Dov Henin, asked: "Are there people in prisons whose incarceration is kept secret? What are the supervision mechanisms on this kind of imprisonment? What are the possibilities for parliamentary supervision on such incarcerations? How can the public be critical in this situation?"

A new documentary screened this week for ABC's Foreign Correspondent programme claims Zygier used the name Ben Alon or Ben Allen after moving to Israel. He was secretly imprisoned in Ayalon prison in Ramla in the wing built to accommodate Yigal Amir, the assassin of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, ABC reported.

The 34-year-old was married to an Israeli woman and was the father of two young children. He had reportedly spent a number of months in the cell before his death.

Zygier's father Geoffrey, a prominent leader of the Melbourne Jewish community, apparently refused to speak to the programme makers.

The only comparable case that has come to light was Israel's secret imprisonment for more than 10 years of the KGB spy Marcus Klingberg after he was tried under a false identity.

Australia's department of foreign affairs and trade (Dfat) on Wednesday launched a review into how its diplomats handled the case.

The review, to be conducted by the department's secretary, Peter Varghese, was announced after it became known that certain department officers had been made aware in 2010 that Zygier was being held in jail in Israel but did not pass the information on.

"Dfat had [originally] advised that it was unaware of Mr Allen's detention in Israel," a department spokesman said. "Dfat has now advised that some officers of the department were made aware of Mr Allen's detention at the time in 2010 by another Australian agency."

Earlier the foreign minister, Bob Carr, had said consul officials were not aware of the man's circumstances until his parents asked for help in bringing his body back to Australia. Under normal circumstances foreign embassies are advised if one of their nationals is being held in prison.

The case of Prisoner X first came to international attention in a flurry of stories in 2010. Coverage talked about the existence of an unidentified man being held in conditions of absolute secrecy for an undisclosed crime, which prompted a media guessing-game over his identity, with some speculating he was an Iranian general.

According to accounts at the time, even his guards were not aware of the prisoner's identity or the crime he had allegedly committed.

Debate over the existence of Prisoner X was shortlived, however, with the story disappearing from the Haaretz website.

Speculation that the Israeli government had imposed a media blackout prompted Dan Yakir, the chief legal counsel with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, to write to the country's attorney general and demand that the "blackout be eliminated".

On Monday Haaretz printed a heavily pixellated image of what it said was the original document enforcing a reporting ban.

The existence of the blackout appeared to be confirmed by the call for a reporting ban in the immediate aftermath of the Australian report.

According to ABC, circumstantial evidence for its identification of Zygier was provided by the repatriation of his body to Melbourne from Tel Aviv a week after Prisoner X was allegedly found hanged in his cell.

The programme claimed that Zygier had a second passport in the name of Ben Allen at the time of the repatriation of his body.

Commenting on ABC's disclosures, the Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, said he was concerned by the claims. "Those allegations certainly do trouble me," he said.

"It's never been raised with me. I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened to Mr Allen and about what their view of it is. The difficulty is I'm advised we've had no contact with his family [and] there's been no request for consular assistance during the period it's alleged he was in prison.

"Even if Prisoner X has now been identified, his crime remains a mystery although it has been widely speculated that it would have involved treachery to warrant such extreme measures."

Details of one of two gagging orders acquired by the Israeli government have been disclosed to the Guardian .

Israel first sought to prevent reporting of the case in an injunction it sought in March 2010. A second "clarifying order" was issued by Judge Hila Gerstel of the central district court, making clear that the reporting ban referred to all Israeli media and preventing any discussion of the man who had been referred to variously as "Prisoner X", "Mr X" or "cell 15 in Ayalon prison".

The court's involvement on two different occasions suggests some kind of judicial oversight of the case, but neither the man's identity nor the charges he was facing were made clear.

Bill van Esveld, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the case raised serious questions about fundamental prisoners' rights including lack of due process, what information was given to the man's family and rights of consular access under international treaty obligations.

"We only know the absolute bare bones of this case. We know that there was some kind of gagging order and it would be almost unheard of to involve a judge to silence a story that had no basis in truth.

"The main concern is over the fact that a person cannot simply be disappeared. That is against the norms of international law. That person's family needs to know what has happened to them. They have to be able to have access to a defence attorney and their government needs to be informed to permit consular access."

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« Reply #4553 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:02 AM »

February 12, 2013

Two Years After Revolt, Libya Faces a Host of Problems


PARIS — Nearly two years after a revolt that ousted and killed the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s weak government is struggling to control its borders, stop the smuggling of weapons and manage regional militias that have refused to disarm, according to the conclusions of an international meeting on Libyan security here on Tuesday.

Countries that supported the Libyan rebels came to the conference at the Foreign Ministry to show their support and concern, especially after continuing violence from militant groups around Benghazi, where the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in September, and amid evidence that the several dozen militants who attacked an Algerian natural gas plant last month came from Libya.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, emphasized the problem of border security. The Algerian gas plant is jointly run by BP; Sonatrach, the Algerian national oil company; and Statoil of Norway, and at least 4 of the 37 foreign workers killed were from Britain, which is among the countries that have offered to provide training to the security forces of the central government.

“It is important of course that Libya is able to secure its borders,” Mr. Hague told reporters, “that it is able to make sure that there aren’t ungoverned spaces, particularly in the south of Libya, that militias can be demobilized.”

The Libyan foreign minister, Mohamed Abdelaziz, acknowledged that significant problems remained in Libya, but he rejected the idea of foreign forces helping to control the borders. He said that a European Union training force would help, but that Libya would continue to focus on integrating former fighters into a regular security force. “Democracy will not be instituted by the Libyans alone,” Mr. Abdelaziz said at a news conference.

He later told Reuters that he had received pledges from France, Britain, Turkey and other countries to provide technical support and equipment, but that more needed to be done to secure his country’s frontier.

Libya announced on Monday that it would shut its borders entirely with Tunisia and Egypt around Sunday’s anniversary of the Libyan revolution for security reasons. The ban will run from midnight on Thursday through Saturday.

The NATO forces that aided Libya’s rebels have been criticized for not doing more to help seal Libya’s borders, though Westerners argue that Libya’s government has regularly refused to allow significant numbers of foreign forces to operate inside the country. But Colonel Qaddafi was a lavish purchaser of weapons, and unknown amounts of them have been smuggled out of Libya to the surrounding region — including Egypt, Gaza, Syria and Mali.

Islamist militants who were approaching the capital of Mali, prompting a quick French military intervention a month ago, were largely armed with weapons from Libyan stockpiles, and some Libyan trucks with large weapons mounted on the back were recently seen in Gaza, apparently smuggled through tunnels from Egypt. Rebels fighting the Syrian government have also had access to Libyan weapons.

The attack by militants on the American diplomatic post in Benghazi last September remains a hot topic in Washington, with key Republican senators pressing the Obama administration to explain more of what happened in the period before the death of Ambassador Stevens.
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« Reply #4554 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:04 AM »

February 12, 2013

Politics in Bangladesh Jolted by Daily Demonstrations


NEW DELHI — Huge daily demonstrations in the heart of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, are upending the nation’s politics and illustrating how heavily the country’s bloody past still weighs on its present. Thousands of protesters, most of them college students and other young people, demonstrated again on Tuesday, fueled by broad public anger over a recent ruling by the country’s special war crimes tribunal that they say was too lenient.

Though the protests have been peaceful, a gunfight erupted in another part of Dhaka on Tuesday when followers of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic political party, vandalized vehicles and clashed with the police. Earlier in the day, the Bangladeshi government had rejected a request by Jamaat leaders to stage a counterprotest against the youth demonstrations.

For more than two years, the Bangladeshi government has been prosecuting defendants accused of atrocities during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. On Feb. 5, the special tribunal hearing the cases convicted Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, now a leader of the Jamaat party, on charges of rape and mass murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Within hours of the verdict, protesters gathered at Shahbagh, a major intersection in the center of the capital near Dhaka University. Their message was loud and clear: they thought the life sentence was too lenient, possibly the result of a political deal, and they demanded that Mr. Mollah be sentenced to death. Protesters waved torches and banners and chanted slogans like “Joy Bangla.”

“We were really surprised” at the large turnout the first day, said Imran H. Sarkar, one of the organizers. “But young people were very concerned.” Last weekend, the crowds swelled to 200,000 or more by some estimates.

Protests and strikes, common in Dhaka, are often coordinated and organized by political parties. But the Shahbagh protests, as the demonstrations over the verdict have come to be known, were organized by bloggers and have attracted poets, artists, social activists and untold numbers of other citizens. Related protests are being held in other cities.

The protesters have directed their ire at Jamaat-e-Islami, which has been accused of opposing independence and collaborating with Pakistani forces during the 1971 war, charges the party has denied. At the Shahbagh protests, thousands of people pledged to boycott the Jamaat party and its related businesses, and a delegation of protest leaders presented the Bangladeshi Parliament with a list of demands, including that laws be changed so that Mr. Mollah’s life sentence can be appealed.

Political analysts in Bangladesh say the youth demonstrations reflect broad public disenchantment with the usual style of Bangladeshi politics. Debapriya Bhattacharya, a Bangladeshi economist and former United Nations diplomat, said the demands for tough sentencing reflected a broader public desire for closure on the 1971 war, in which rapes and assaults of women were common and an estimated three million people were killed.

“There is a general understanding among the people that they want justice in the case,” said Mr. Bhattacharya, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Dialogue, a leading research institute in Dhaka. “And somehow, at the end of the day here, justice is about capital punishment.”

The protests, he said, are entwined with a rising patriotism among many young Bangladeshis, who are proud of their country’s progress even as they often distrust the established political parties. “This is something different and something new,” Mr. Bhattacharya said of the protests. “This is the rise of a new social force that can change the political calculus in the country.”

The Awami League, the political party leading the national government, now faces political pressure from opposing directions. The Shahbagh protesters are complaining that the recent verdict is too lenient, while opposition parties, including the Jamaat party, have accused the government of manipulating the tribunal to ensure convictions of their leaders.

One justice has resigned from the tribunal over irregularities in its work. Before its verdict on Feb. 5, Jamaat and other opposition parties staged huge protests against the tribunal’s proceedings; they sought to renew those protests on Tuesday, but the government denied their request. Tensions are expected to remain high as the tribunal issues more verdicts in coming weeks.

The scattered violence on Tuesday occurred about a mile from the Shahbagh protest site. Followers of Jamaat and members of its youth wing were photographed smashing vehicles and clashing with security officers. Officials say that the Jamaat followers opened fire with machine guns and that the police responded with rubber bullets.

Bangladeshi news media reported that at least 10 people were injured by the rubber bullets, and that members of the Jamaat youth wing were seen firing weapons and throwing fire bombs.

Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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« Reply #4555 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:05 AM »

February 13, 2013

Thai Soldiers Repel Attack in Big Setback to Insurgents


BANGKOK — Thai soldiers repelled an attack on a military outpost early Wednesday, killing at least 16 gunmen in what appeared to be a significant setback for ethnic insurgent groups leading a bloody uprising now in its ninth year.

Col. Pramote Promin, the spokesman of the army’s southern command, said the army had been expecting the attack after being tipped off by villagers and “former insurgents fed up with the violence.”

“This helped us to be fully prepared,” Colonel Pramote said.

Thai authorities said that one of the men killed in the attack, Maroso Jantarawadee, was an important leader of the insurgency.

Srisompob Jitpiromsri, the associate dean at Prince of Songkla University in the southern city of Pattani and one of the foremost experts on the insurgency, described Wednesday’s failed insurgent attack as a “tactical defeat” for them.

“This operation failed but that doesn’t mean they will fail in the long term,” Mr. Srisompob said. “They will try again and again.”

About 50 insurgents, who wore ballistic vests and military-style uniforms and had military assault weapons, attacked the outpost soon after midnight Wednesday, Colonel Pramote said. The attack lasted 20 minutes and those not killed fled into the jungles, some leaving trails of blood. Thai authorities declared a curfew in the area and said they were checking hospitals and clinics for the injured attackers.

Colonel Promote said no Thai soldiers were wounded or killed in the attack. “All the soldiers are safe,” he said.

Thailand’s southern insurgency, one of Asia’s most deadly and intractable ethnic conflicts, has left more than 5,000 people dead since the upswing of violence in 2004.

The precise motives of the insurgents remained unclear but centered on longstanding resentment by Malay Muslims toward the majority Thai Buddhists in the country.

Insurgents often target symbols of the Thai state, including the police, soldiers, government officials and teachers.

More than 150 teachers have been killed since 2004 and many schools have been burned. A school near the site of Wednesday’s attack was set afire just before dawn.

Thai authorities said Mr. Maroso, the insurgent leader killed in the attack, was a suspect in the killing of a teacher on Jan. 23.

Mr. Srisompob of Prince of Songkla University said there were two competing trends in the three violence-wracked provinces.

The insurgents are picking higher profile targets, including conducting an attack on a shopping mall last year in the city of Hat Yai that killed 5 people and injured 354, including many Malaysian tourists.

The number of overall attacks increased last year, according to data compiled by Mr. Srisompob. At the same time Mr. Srisompob said he saw impatience escalating with the insurgency among Malay Muslims.

“An increasing number of Malay Muslims are fed up with the violence,” he said. “The voices of the community are getting stronger.”

The number of militants involved in the insurgency was not clear. The military had a list of about 9,000 people it considered likely insurgents.

Thailand has flooded the area with soldiers in recent years. There are about 150,000 security personnel in the three provinces, including military, police and village protection volunteer forces.

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.
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« Reply #4556 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:09 AM »

February 12, 2013

Russia May Restrict Investing Abroad


MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin introduced a draft law on Tuesday that would bar senior Russian officials from holding bank accounts or stocks outside Russia, the latest in a series of recent measures intended to insulate the country’s governance from foreign influences.

The measure, which requires legislative approval, would apply to a wide range of top officials, including lawmakers, ministers, high-level employees at the Central Bank and other state funds and those whose work involves “the sovereignty or national security of the Russian Federation,” as well as their spouses and young children.

The change, though appealing to the broad public, would come as a jolt to many in Russia’s ruling class, who are both wealthy and deeply integrated into the West.

The proposed ban, first presented in discussions on the “nationalization of the elite,” has been framed primarily as a way to guarantee officials’ loyalty to Russia, and also as a check on corruption, a topic on which the Kremlin knows it is politically vulnerable. Commenting on a similar proposal by legislators last fall, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said officials with investments outside Russia “are not safe, in terms of being firm in defending the state’s interests.”

If the measure becomes law, as expected, officials will have three months to close their foreign accounts and sell their stock or face possible dismissal based on “lack of trust.” State auditors can initiate investigations into officials based on information provided by journalists, law enforcement bodies, political organizations and other sources.

The introduction of the measure met with cheers from lawmakers, who have embraced a series of populist — some say reactionary — measures in the months since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency. An ultranationalist lawmaker, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, said foreign holdings marked government officials as members of a “fifth column.”

“They’ve bought half of Europe — the real estate, accounts in all the banks, they vacation there, their children study there, their relatives live there, they give birth there, they get medical treatment there,” Mr. Zhirinovsky told a television reporter. “And it’s easy to influence them. A fifth column is formed here. One has to live at home, vacation at home, work and study. If you don’t like it, do not enter state service.”

A number of legislators said Tuesday that Mr. Putin’s measure could be broadened. Nikolai Levichev, of the party A Just Russia, suggested widening the circle of relatives who would come under scrutiny, noting that there are “multiple cases when a grown son or a niece of some governor or minister is a multimillionaire, in some cases invested in foreign banks.”

In their proposal, some legislators had recommended barring Russians from owning real estate overseas as well, but Mr. Putin seems to have set that provision aside.

Foreign bank accounts have traditionally been used by officials as “an instrument for bribetaking,” noted Yevgeny Minchenko, a political analyst, in an interview with the Kommersant FM radio station. But the measure presented Tuesday leaves gaping loopholes, he said, because officials can still keep their money in accounts associated with offshore companies or under the names of proxies or friends. “It’s clear that any law can be bypassed,” he said.

High-level corruption — and especially lavish spending by Russian officials overseas — has been a perennial theme for Mr. Putin’s critics, and some saw the measure presented on Tuesday as the president’s attempt to claim the issue as his own.

Kirill Kabanov, the chairman of the National Anticorruption Committee, a watchdog organization, said officials were being presented with a choice: either leave state service and retain foreign assets or “stay in the real vertical — but if it becomes clear that in reality you are thinking about how to maintain your life in Côte d’Azur, you will be thrown out of the caste.”

“It’s not a secret to anybody that for many people, the motive for entering state service is to provide for a quiet life beyond the borders of our motherland at the expense of our budget,” he said.

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« Reply #4557 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:11 AM »

02/12/2013 05:37 PM

Prosecuting the Messenger: Chief Greek Statistician Threatened with Jail

By Georgios Christidis in Athens

He was hired to bring Greece's debt statistics in line with European norms. Now, chief statistician Andreas Georgiou faces jail time for allegedly producing inflated budget deficit numbers. He says he was merely being honest, and he has plenty of support in Europe.

The hour was late, but Andreas Georgiou was still at his office last Friday evening. He sounded calm and poised, certain that he had done his duty. But Georgiou, 53, also sounded dumbfounded. "It strikes me as odd," he says, "that we are being prosecuted in a European Union member state for actually following European law."

When Georgiou decided in the summer of 2010 to take over leadership of the revamped, newly independent Greek statistics service ELSTAT, he never imagined that the position could land him a jail sentence. But at the end of January, felony charges were filed against Georgiou and two senior ELSTAT staffers for allegedly inflating the 2009 deficit. In other words, at a time when the rest of the world was furious that Greece had artificially improved the country's budget statistics, Greek prosecutors are accusing Georgiou of doing the opposite. Prosecutors acted after a 15-month investigation into allegations made by a former ELSTAT board member. If found guilty, Georgiou faces five to 10 years in prison.

At stake in the ELSTAT case is more than the credibility of a senior statistician, one who previously worked for 20 years at the International Monetary Fund. The entire bailout of Greece was based on the numbers provided by ELSTAT on the deficit figures for 2009 onwards. ny deal with the troika might unravel were the foundation of the agreement to be suddenly altered.

The ELSTAT affair also tests the cohesion of the already fragmented three-party coalition government, made up of the conservative party New Democracy and its junior partners PASOK and Dimar. Several New Democracy parliamentarians blame Georgiou and their former PASOK adversaries for falsifying the data in an attempt to place all the blame for the Greek economy's maladies on the New Democracy-led government of Kostas Karamanlis, who led Greece from 2005 to 2009.

Simply Overzealous?

But what would Georgiou have to gain by deliberately making the Greek economy look to be in even worse shape than it actually was? Georgiou's detractors have a number of theories. Some say he was simply overzealous. University of Athens economics professor Yanis Varoufakis, for example, argues that: "When the whole world assumes that Greek statistics are always going to under-estimate the budget deficit, changing this reputation and impressing the world that things have changed meant one thing: getting it right or, since statistics can never be precisely right, issuing predictions that err on the side of over-estimation."

That, though, is the most generous of the explanations currently circulating in Athens. Some argue that the technocrat Georgiou was serving his former superiors at the IMF and the European statistics agency Eurostat, which is led by a German. This theory holds that Greece was to be brought to its knees by imposing harsh austerity measures based on bloated deficit figures.

There is also no love lost between Georgiou and ELSTAT employees, with the union representing those workers having waged war against him almost from the start. It is telling that the union greeted the prosecution announcement with hardly concealed joy. "There is a moral obligation to remove ELSTAT's chairman until there is a final ruling," the union said. "It is beyond belief that ELSTAT should be led by a man of our creditors."

Many say the charges against Georgiou are over the top, if not outright fabricated. Miranda Xafa, CEO of E.F. Consulting and a former member of the IMF executive board, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that "the investigation is motivated by a desire to blame the Greek debt crisis on external factors, such as speculators, bankers or austerity imposed by (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and the IMF. Instead of investigating whether the Greek government understated the deficit before the crisis, they are investigating whether it overstated the deficit after the crisis!"

A Witch Hunt

Even prominent opponents of policies pursued by Greece's creditors, like professor Varoufakis, believe this is a witch hunt. Georgiou's prosecution, he wrote in his blog, is an attempt to pacify the anger of government supporters with the ongoing austerity-driven economic problems "while staying the course with the same austerity policies that the Papandreou government first implemented three years ago."

Mr. Georgiou's line of defense is that most of the revisions that corrected the budget deficit from a projected 6 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 to a whopping 15.4 percent 12 months later were undertaken during the PASOK-led government of Georgios Papandreou. They also took place before Georgiou had taken up his post. Furthermore, Greece had already agreed on a bailout with its euro-zone partners and with the IMF before he took over the reins at ELSTAT. Under his leadership, the deficit only rose from 13.6 to 15.4 percent, a substantial revision to be sure, but irrelevant to Greece's bailout.

Xafa says that all Georgiou did when he took over as head of the Greek statistical service was to comply with EU rules. She notes that nearly half of the revisions undertaken under Georgiou's watch were the result of adding loss-making entities such as rail, public transport, defense and other sectors to the government books. "These losses were real and had to be financed, whether they were included in the deficit" or not, she says.

Georgiou himself feels that, if he is guilty of anything, it is for breaking with tradition and bringing the infamously dodgy Greek public finance records in line with EU standards. "Since taking up my post two-and-a-half years ago, the biannual publications of government deficit and debt statistics of the Greek statistics office have been accepted without any reservation by Eurostat," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "All my energy is focused on preserving and extending this unprecedented track record for Greece with the upcoming release of public finance statistics in April."

'Sticking to the Truth'

Georgiou has also received support from his European colleagues. When word got out about the prosecution, Eurostat expressed its "deep concern" about developments in Greece, while confirming that ELSTAT's numbers under Georgiou's watch have been impeccable. In a statement released on January 23, the German head of Eurostat Walter Radermacher wrote: "As we all know, the independence of a statistical office is crucial for the credibility of its statistics and, in this difficult situation, Mr. Georgiou retains my full confidence."

The ELSTAT head is also supported by the Finance Ministry. According to a senior ministry staffer, the government accepts the 2009 numbers and has no intention of getting rid of Georgiou. Technically, firing him wouldn't be possible anyway; the independent ELSTAT is under the purview of parliament. Prior to the redesign of ELSTAT, the Finance Ministry had the final work on the public finance figures reported to Eurostat. The resulting political influence, as is by now well known, was detrimental.

Georgiou is painted by his critics almost as a traitor. According to ELSTAT unionists, "the national statistics agency is an indivisible part of our country's national sovereignty." Georgiou says he has heard the accusation before. And his response is always the same: "There is only one way to serve the public interest," he says. "By sticking to the truth."
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« Reply #4558 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:13 AM »

02/13/2013 11:46 AM

State of the Union: Obama Backs Trans-Atlantic Trade Deal with EU

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington D.C.

Both Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have long favored a potential trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. Though US President Barack Obama backed the idea in his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, wrangling over the details could prove problematic.

When the most powerful man in the world holds a State of the Union address, as President Barack Obama did on Tuesday evening in Washington, political stakeholders listen closely. They comb through the text, looking for messages in the lines and between them.

This year, however, some of the most attentive listeners were not sitting in the joint Congressional session on Capitol Hill, or even in the US at all. Rather, they were sitting in capital cities across Europe. European Union leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron chief among them, were hoping for a clear commitment to the pursuit of a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone. It is an idea the Europeans threw their support behind at the last EU summit in Brussels.

And Obama didn't disappoint. "Tonight, I'm announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade and investment partnership with the European Union," he said. "Because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs."

Finally, the project that has long been cause for euphoria among trans-Atlanticists has received an official seal of approval from the highest level. America and Europe, in different weight classes when it comes to foreign and military policy, are to fight the economic battle in a class of their very own: Super heavyweight.

'Limitless Fruits of Success'

Trade between the two regions already accounts for more than 50 percent of the global gross domestic product and secures an estimated 15 million jobs. US investments in France and Belgium alone in 2010 were as high as in India and China combined, says Dan Hamilton from the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Should this trade become easier due to the elimination of tariffs and, in particular, cumbersome regulations, it could generate economic growth of up to 1.5 percent on both sides of the Atlantic, according to estimates by the US Chamber of Commerce. Vice President Joe Biden says that if such a deal goes through, "the fruits of success would be almost limitless." Those involved in trans-Atlantic issues refer to the agreement as "an economic NATO."

Still, Obama's support does not mean the agreement is a done deal. The devil is in the details. Whether it has to do with the length of car bumpers, the permissibility of genetically modified corn or the correct method to be used when slaughtering beef, trade talks are often just as complicated as nuclear non-proliferation negotiations. By their very nature, they touch on issues that are often vital to the cultural identities of certain countries or regions. Already, small armies of officials have failed to find adequate answers to such questions. Most recently, the Trans-Atlantic Economic Council created by Merkel in 2007 became bogged down in the bureaucratic brambles.

Some interest groups have refused to budge. The powerful US agrarian lobby, for example, insists on unlimited access to European markets, including such products as genetically modified produce, which is controversial on the Continent. European companies, for their part, refuse to accept the diktats of US regulatory authorities regarding whether and how they can pursue state contracts.

Crash-Test Dummies

"The question is whether independent US authorities will accept European standards, and vice versa," says Daniel Gros from the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. In previous efforts to reach agreement, officials from the two sides couldn't even agree on a joint model for crash-test dummies.

Furthermore, US Congress must ultimately approve a free-trade agreement, whatever the final result might be. Many conservative lawmakers, however, have little faith in European unity, noting for example that French President François Hollande does not share the enthusiasm for expanded free trade exhibited by Merkel and Cameron. The applause for Obama's free-trade comments during his State of the Union address was notably unenthusiastic.

Still, the timing of his push is propitious. Hope for a worldwide free-trade agreement, first proposed in the Doha Round a decade ago, has essentially evaporated. At the same time, both Europeans and Americans know that their economies badly need stimulus, yet neither side has money for a far-reaching program. Growth through the reduction of trade barriers is an attractive prospect.

Furthermore, promoting a trans-Atlantic agreement would allow Obama -- on the eve of his planned visit to Berlin in June -- to address European concerns that the US has turned away from the Continent in favor of Asia. "A trans-Atlantic agreement would be a signal that America and Europe want to mutually strengthen their economic capabilities and thus gain renewed political momentum," says Constanze Stelzenmüller from the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. But in his Tuesday evening speech, Obama still lauded the benefits of a trans-Pacific trade agreement with Australia and Asian countries before he mentioned the trans-Atlantic deal.

From the European perspective, an "economic NATO" would be a sign of European unity and would open up the possibility for cooperation from countries with similar market philosophies from other regions, says Kristen Silverberg, the former US ambassador to the European Union.

Skeptics, on the other hand, see the possibility of a trans-Atlantic agreement as little more than a defense against the new economic superpower of China and an attempt to cement "Western values."

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« Reply #4559 on: Feb 13, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Evicted retired couple commits suicide as Spain debates reform

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 17:28 EST

A retired couple in Spain killed themselves Tuesday because they faced eviction, police said, as lawmakers considered legislation to save ruined homeowners from being thrown into the street.

In the latest in a series of suicides reportedly linked to evictions, the couple, aged 68 and 69, killed themselves in their home in Calvia on the island of Mallorca, a police spokesman who asked not to be named told AFP.

Hours later in Madrid, members of parliament agreed to debate a citizens’ motion to protect poor homeowners from eviction — a fate faced by hundreds of thousands in Spain.

The lower house of parliament agreed to debate the bill after lawmakers of the ruling conservative Popular Party threw their weight behind it despite earlier resistance, the party’s parliamentary spokesman Alfonso Alonso said.

In response to popular protests and reported suicides, Spain’s government in November passed a two-year moratorium on evictions — but campaigners insist that it go further.

The bill proposes to change the law to end evictions and to allow insolvent homeowners to write off their debts by surrendering their home.

Under the current law, a bank can pursue a mortgage holder for the remaining balance of a loan if the value of the seized property isn’t sufficient.

The new bill was brought to parliament by PAH, a popular campaign for housing rights that gathered 1.4 million signatures on a petition demanding that it be debated by lawmakers.

“People who undergo eviction not only lose their homes but get saddled with a large part of the debt, condemned for life to be excluded from credit,” the petition read.

The police spokesman said the couple in Mallorca “left a suicide note” saying they committed suicide because they could not pay their debts and were soon going to be evicted.

PAH says hundreds of thousands of people face eviction in the crisis brought on by the collapse of Spain’s housing market in 2008.

The resulting recession has driven the unemployment rate up to 26 percent, leaving many unable to pay mortgages on houses that are often now worth much less than purchased.

The PAH has campaigned by turning up in crowds outside the homes of evictees and sitting on their doorsteps to try to stop police and bailiffs from carrying out the eviction orders.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside parliament on Tuesday as lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to accept the bill.

A handful of PAH supporters were expelled from the gallery of the chamber when they burst out shouting after the Popular Party announced its backing for the bill.

“Yes we can!” they yelled.

Others also demonstrated outside the Popular Party’s headquarters in Barcelona.

They waved signs condemning evictions and the banks that many blame for the crisis.

“Stop finance genocide,” read a yellow sign held by protestors in Barcelona.

“These are not evictions,” yelled the protestors in Madrid. “They are murders.”

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