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« Reply #4770 on: Feb 26, 2013, 07:50 AM »

Italy: And the winner is... Beppe Grillo

26 February 2013
La Stampa Turin   

By bringing together the many Italians disillusioned by old-style politics, former comedian Beppe Grillo has robbed the coalition of the left, under Pieluigi Bersani, of what was looking like certain victory. Italy will now have to reckon with a new player who is as indispensable as he is unpredictable.
Massimo Gramellini

The clear outcome of these elections is that Beppe Grillo has won. And that's an understatement. In a mass uprising at the polls against the elite, at least one in four voters ticked the box for the bearded comic, often without having the courtesy to tell the pollsters, who are also considered part of the elite. Not everything can be reduced to a question of gut feelings, even if the grumbling does come from something more than empty stomachs.

Feelings are running high here, and they are not merely resentments. There is a desperate hope that the parliamentarians of the Five Star Movement [Grillo's party] are different, that they won't be out to line their pockets, and that – most importantly – they will listen, which the others had stopped doing long ago.

It is as if there had come, from a thousand offices, the cries of a thousand solitudes, bound together by computer cables. A virtual emotion that, over time, turned into a protest gathering of individuals who feel misunderstood and shunted into the gloomy shadows of interest groups that have fallen deaf to them: the caste of politicians, journalists, bankers, string-pullers.

Each member of the Grillo community has a history and a different kind of defeat: has lost a job or never found one, or lost confidence in the future, in the state and in the bodies that stand between them, like the political parties and the unions. They do not hate politics, only those who have held onto their job far too long, without having the competence or the moral authority for it.
Grillo’s ‘Vaffanculo’

A vacuum of attention gathered around these despairing souls, and Grillo has filled it. At first with a rude Vaffanculo [Up yours], and then with a series of concrete proposals and a good dose of utopia. He sketched landscapes that everyone could colour as they pleased. In its social composition, his movement is a franchise: in Turin, he has attracted the alternative types who want to bring down capitalism; in Bergamo, the SME owners in trouble with the IRS; in Palermo, the desperate and those who are allergic to all forms of public or private oppression. Where there is a malaise, Grillo has provided a format and a face – his own.

The professional politicians have failed, or may not be able, to offer an alternative. It would have been enough to come up with a dignified self-reform of the system, a few cuts in costs and in the number of parliamentarians, an electoral campaign that spoke not about figures but about the environment, life, the future. Instead, lost in their own world, they reeled off cold figures, discussed Merkel and muttered in baffling metaphors.

Down here on the ground, only an old impresario was left standing, pockets full of free tickets to the world of dreams, and a ham who has studied the Berlusconi mechanism of seduction so well that he has managed to perfect it. Grillo has chosen the language of the spectacle – the only show that, after 20 years of vacuum, the Italians understand.

But he chose to use it to say serious things, helped along by his popularity, his energy and even his flaws. Even the listing of unknown candidates and candidates not altogether representative of the population proved a strong point. If, among the many names of new politicians put forward, the only one that wasn't there was his own, it was also because – unlike the outgoing head of government, the technician Mario Monti and former judge Antonio Ingroia – he had not stuffed the Five Star list with pseudo-personalities, cold technocrats and dusty notables.
Five Star everyman

Future historians will find everyone among the ranks of Grillo supporters: from the pragmatic dreamer to the perpetual victim. But among the many last-minute voters there is, I believe, a merger of two seemingly opposed frames of mind. On the one hand, the passionate desire to bring down the system in the hope that new leadership may emerge from the ruins of the different castes. On the other, the rational calculation that sending to Parliament a group of outsiders with keen eyesight will help to keep a close eye on the schemers in the halls of power.

And now? The movement of reliable watchmen is so new that it is still a mystery even to those that voted for it. Is Grillo the absolute master of this team, or is he merely the referee who blows the whistle and hands out the red cards? Will the parliamentarians take orders from him, or, as they assure in chorus, strictly from their followers on the Internet, to whom they will submit every proposal, from the make-up of an unlikely coalition to the naming of the next head of state?

The only really stupid question is whether Five Star voters are politically right or left. Grillo did not take votes away from the other parties. He was limited to picking up the ones they dropped. Next time, there may be a lot more of them.
"A shock outcome: there is no majority," writes Corriere della Sera after the vote that saw the leftist coalition win an absolute majority in the House of Deputies but not in the Senate, and also saw the Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo assert itself vigorously. For commentator Massimo Franco, “Eurosceptic Italy has come out the winner, at least regarding the austerity policy.”

    A third political pole has emerged from the ground, but it is not that of Mario Monti – moderate, European, pro-government. It is, rather, the radical populist protest of Beppe Grillo, who picked up a surprising percentage of the votes. There is one other winner, beside the comic, who managed to get a quarter of the votes: Silvio Berlusconi, who has wagered on his own survival. And he pulled it off, with a crown of regional lists that helped him get a relative majority of seats in the Senate and verges on a resounding victory in the Chamber of Deputies.[...]

    It is as if Italy had internalised the idea of a suspension of democracy and refused to analyse the international reflections on the vote. Worse, it decided to challenge them, pushed along by a mood of hostility towards an austerity policy that is being judged not for its beneficial effects on the public accounts, but for those of negative growth and employment. Monti is paying the price for those controversial choices, for unpopularity and inexperience. Failing an agreement between the parties to undertake certain reforms, the prospect of a fresh elections is becoming dangerously likely. And that brings with it the risk of a trusteeship more traumatic than the one Italy has gone through in recent months.


02/26/2013 12:20 AM

The Berlusconi Effect: Political Gridlock Wins Italian Elections

By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Rome

First the good news: Silvio Berlusconi didn't win the Italian election. But the bad news is disturbing enough. Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani was unable to win control of the Senate, meaning that a stable government in Italy looks unlikely. The results for Europe could be devastating.

It was a nice moment, but it was short. The first exit polls from the election in Italy were greeted with relief in Brussels and Berlin on Monday; the stock markets in Milan, Frankfurt and London ticked upwards and the interest rates on Italian sovereign bonds dropped. Silvio Berlusconi had fallen short of his goal. His opposite, it seemed, had won the election, the center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani. Half of Italy was pleased, as was the rest of the world.

But just a short time later, the stock rates froze and the bond rates began climbing again. New forecasts showed that Berlusconi had won a majority in the Senate, the second house of parliament in Rome. Furthermore, the "Five Star" movement of the ruthless former comedian Beppe Grillo had nabbed 24 percent in the Senate, according to exit polls. As a result, Berlusconi and Grillo together have a blocking majority. Without their approval, laws cannot be passed. They may not like each other, but they are both euroskeptics, opposed to "the Brussels bureaucrats." And they have vowed resistance to the "dictates from Berlin." Indeed, they stand opposed to everything that a Bersani government seeks to -- and must -- accomplish. Already, there are voices -- mostly from the Bersani camp -- speaking of new elections. Post-election Italy, they say, is ungovernable. At the very least, it is likely to take some time before a government can be assembled, if it can be done at all.

The results from the election on Sunday and Monday present perhaps the worst scenario possible, short of a Berlusconi victory. Europe is bound to suffer. An ailing Italy -- the third largest economy in the euro zone -- with a weak government is bound to once again become a plaything of the financial markets. Rome's massive, €2 trillion mountain of debt will continue to grow, as will risk premiums on Italian bonds, tearing new holes in the country's budget. And a wobbly Italy presents an acute danger to all of Europe. Unless Bersani can find a partner that grants him a Senate majority, an eventuality which looks highly unlikely.

In parliament, the center-left was able to secure a majority. His lead over Berlusconi's alliance is not large, but Italian law grants the winner a minimum of 340 seats, representing a 54 percent majority. The rule is designed to ensure a stable government, and it works, in the lower house at least.

Monti Loses Big

But in the Senate, extra seats are granted on a regional basis. And there, the situation doesn't look good for Bersani's dream of a stable government. Given Berlusconi's tiny lead, the center-left leader would need but a small coalition party to secure a majority. Indeed, that was to be the role played by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti.

But Monti, an economics professor once celebrated as Italy's savior, lost big on Sunday and Monday, landing well behind even Grillo. He had influential backers, including the Catholic Church, Italian business leaders, foreign leaders and, most of all, Brussels and Berlin. But he failed to gain significant support among the electorate. He received a mere 10.5 percent in the parliament and a weak 9.2 percent in the Senate, according to exit polls, a feeble result. The majority of Italians -- young and old, rich and poor -- have suffered from rising taxes, shrinking buying power and a wave of bankruptcies triggered by Monti's austerity policies. They opted for anything but a continuation of his government.

Still, even Monti's meagre haul would be enough to push Bersani beyond Berlusconi in the Senate. But if Grillo's Five Star block votes with Berlusconi's alliance against the center left, they can easily block any law not to their liking. And without the Senate, it is impossible to govern Italy. Every law has to find approval in both houses. Which means that Bersani will have to go looking for additional allies.

During the campaign, he said that he was open "to all alliances," and a pact with Monti seemed the most likely. But even that partnership would be fraught. Monti belongs to the center-right camp and his economic policies tend to be conservative. Prior to becoming prime minister, he was a consultant for Goldman Sachs and a board member of the Bilderberg Conference, where the world's rich and powerful meet away from the public eye. Bersani, for his part, comes from a communist grouping that morphed into a Social Democratic reform party. His friends are union leaders rather than global players of the financial world. Monti is close to the Christian Democratic German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Bersani's preference is for the Socialist president of France, François Hollande.

"We will continue austerity policies to pay down the sovereign debt," Bersani pledged before the election, adding that he would ensure "a bit more equality and more jobs."

Alliance with Monti?

Stefano Fassina, a professor of economics who belongs to Bersani's Democratic Party, was more concrete. The austerity policies pursued thus far, he said, have only led to recession, and he promised that his party would not introduce additional belt-tightening measures. He said that growth must be stimulated via increased state spending on education, research and infrastructure. That, of course, would only increase the Italian debt load -- and would hardly find approval from Monti.

Furthermore, Bersani is allied with Niki Vendola, head of Left Ecology Freedom. He is even more opposed to EU-wide austerity than the Democratic Party. Monti said during the campaign that he was uninterested in joining Vendola in a coalition, saying Bersani would have to jettison the party if he wanted his support. The openly homosexual Vendola also hopes to establish a legal basis for gay marriage -- a plan to which Monti is opposed.

And should Bersani make too many compromises in the effort to secure Monti as a partner, Vendola is likely to turn his back. A coalition would become impossible under such a scenario.

If a partnership with Monti seems difficult, however, one with the "Grillini," as Grillo's followers are called, is virtually impossible to imagine. They believe that politicians and bankers, judges, business leaders and the press -- in short, the entire establishment -- has united against the people, simple Italians and youth.

Berlusconi's Interests

Indeed, the potential behavior of the Grillini in parliament is one of the great mysteries left behind by the Italian election. Will they remain silent? Will they vote against everything? Or would some of them ally themselves with a Bersani government if they are promised radical reforms to the country's political system?

Even should such an alliance be created, it would hardly be a stable one. Particularly given that Grillo himself has no interest in becoming a parliamentarian. He prefers to remain on the outside, in opposition against the establishment.

And Berlusconi? His campaign alliance with the Northern League isn't likely to last, nor does his party seem built for the long haul. But he will do his best to interfere with the creation of the next government and to block its plans in parliament. After all, he remains fuelled by a powerful motivation: that of protecting himself from the Italian judiciary. Indeed, that would be the price for his participation in a coalition with Bersani -- perhaps even with Monti as head of government.

That, though, is not particularly realistic. And it would be devastating for Italian democracy.


02/26/2013 12:56 PM

World From Berlin: Italy's 'Childlike Refusal to Acknowledge Reality'

The Italian election, in which more than half of voters backed two comedians in the form of Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, shows Italians are unable or unwilling to grasp the depth of their economic plight, argue German media commentators. The ungovernable nation poses a major risk to the euro zone.

Italy faces political stalemate after its election left no group with a clear majority in parliament, effectively making the euro-zone's third-largest economy ungovernable at a time when it urgently needs to continue reforms.

Predictably, Italian share prices fell and government bond yields rose on Tuesday. The euro fell as far as $1.3042, its lowest since Jan. 10. Investors around Europe and worldwide have been spooked by the election outcome, which has the potential to reignite the euro crisis.

They are unlikely to be reassured by a suggestion on Tuesday from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi that his center-right might be open to a grand coalition government with the center-left bloc of Pier Luigi Bersani, which has secured a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, but not in the upper house, the Senate.

Any coalition government must have a working majority in both houses to be able to pass legislation. German media commentators note on Tuesday that more than half of Italian voters backed two populists -- Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo with his anti-establishment Five-Star Movement -- who told people what they wanted to hear, rather than the simple truth that Italy will have to keep on tightening its belt and reform its economy to maintain investor confidence and be able to cope with its burgeoning public debt.

Grillo's party won the most votes of any single party, with 25 percent of ballots cast. He wants Italy to hold a referendum on remaining in the euro. He also wants cuts in politicians' privileges, a minimum income for the unemployed, clean energy and free Internet access.

Conservative Die Welt writes in an editorial headlined "Poor Italy!":

"Silvio Berlusconi ruined Italy -- a founding member of the European Community -- and brought it almost as close to bankruptcy as Greece. One had hoped that he wouldn't get another chance after a lean but necessary year of reforms under Prime Minister Mario Monti. He probabably won't get that chance -- but he succeeded in at least getting close to the winning Democratic Party. It is worrying that voters didn't punish this jester by ignoring him."

"In the campaign he promised the abolition of the IMU real estate tax and even the repayment of the taxes already paid under it. The failure to punish such nonsense casts a bad light on a country that requires a fundamental political renewal. If you count the results of the Five Star Movement of the rabid Beppe Grillo, who has been preaching wild hatred of the 'freeloaders up there,' then more than half of Italians voted for some form of populist. This amounts to an almost childlike refusal to acknowledge reality."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The Italian election has a special lesson for everyone involved in the euro crisis: If you hesitate, you lose; if you hum and haw, you get punished; and half-measures don't count. Italian voters left a simple message at the ballot box: We haven't understood. One can't criticize them for that, they live in a political climate that rewards half-truths and elevates satire to state reason."

"Two comedians stood in the election campaign and were rewarded for their defamatory shouting: Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo. How could that happen? Because the serious politics in the form of technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti and the center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani hesitated, hummed and hawed and resorted to half-measures."

"Without Monti's pledge of a return to seriousness, Italy as a euro nation wouldn't exist anymore today. But this blunt message hasn't reached Italy. No, it wasn't the austerity-obsessed Germans who forced Italy to tighten its belt. It was the circumstances, the markets, it was the political and economic conditions in the country itself that left Monti with no other option than to tackle reforms and reduce the ludicrously high debt levels."

"Now populism, yelling and lies rule Italy once more. In the Greek election dramas of recent years it was the radicals who profited from the crisis. In Italy it has been the populists. They're radical too in their ways: They deny reality, they pass blame for the misery to enemies outside the country, they witter on about the simple solution to all the problems. Italy won't get a simple solution after this election. It will get a new election at most. And that wouldn't be a blessing either."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The road from this election result to the formation of a government is difficult in a two-chamber system with fragile parties vulnerable to blackmail by splinter groups. Even if enough support emerges for a center-left alliance, this election is a signal: half the Italians voted for aggressively anti-European platforms. That's an alarming signal that rings out beyond Itay's borders."

Berlin liberal daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

"Italy is ungovernable. But that's only the one side of the Italian drama. The election also shows that Italy remains vulnerable to populist rhetoric. The 25 percent support for the hackneyed outbursts of rage by the antiparty party of comedian Beppe Grillo prove that. As does the 30 percent for Berlusconi. More than one in two Italian voters succumbed to populist temptations. A pretty eerie thought that doesn't bode well for Italy's future. The Berlusconi disease is far from being cured."

David Crossland


Italy election sparks fresh fears for euro

Result projections point to a hung parliament as a former comedian leads the Five Star Movement to the national stage

John Hooper and Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 February 2013      

Italy threatened to pitch the eurozone into fresh turmoil on Monday night as the result of its general election pointed to a hung parliament and confirmed the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by a comedian-turned-politician, had exploded on to the national stage.

With almost all the votes counted, the centre-left had a lead in the race for the lower house, the chamber of deputies, where it would be assured an outright majority under electoral rules. It was also reckoned to have more seats in the senate, beating a resurgent right led by Silvio Berlusconi by a narrow margin. However, the figures and estimates given did not include the results of four overseas constituencies.

Neither right nor left had an outright majority in the upper house, where the balance will be held by Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement (M5S). Grillo has ruled out supporting either side in his drive to sweep away Italy's existing political parties and the cronyistic culture they support – a sentiment he appeared to reiterate after the countby insisting the M5S was not planning on "any stitch-ups, big or small" and lambasting Berlusconi's voters for committing "a crime against the galaxy".

In an audio message broadcast live online, Grillo said that, after his movement's "exceptional" results, the mainstream parties were "finished, and they know it". "We've started a war of generations … They've been there for 25 to 30 years and they've led this country to catastrophe," he said. "We will be an extraordinary force … We will be 110 inside [the parliament] and several million outside."

Exceeding even the most adventurous pre-electoral predictions, the M5S emerged as Italy's biggest single party in the chamber – a result that will send shockwaves through the eurozone and beyond. Grillo boasted it had achieved its prominence in the space of little more than three years, "with no money and no [state] funding." However, Grillo's movement lagged the two big alliances in the number of seats because it is running alone and not in a coalition.

The result indicated that fresh elections were a strong possibility and, at best, foreshadowed a weak government unable to pass the tough reforms Italy needs to enhance its grim economic prospects.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, appeared to signal that his party would attempt to form a government. "It is clear to everyone that a highly delicate situation is developing for the country," he was quoted by the Ansa news agency as saying. "We will manage the responsibility these elections have given us in the interest of Italy."

Gianfranco Fini, a former foreign minister whose party ran as part of outgoing prime minister Mario Monti's centrist alliance, said: "I think the worst is yet to come for Italy."

European leaders have been desperate to see a stable government in Italy, and are likely to be horrified at the triumph of populism in the eurozone's third biggest economy.

The likely results threaten to reignite the euro's instability after months of relative calm. The markets took fright: the "spread" between Italian and German government bonds, which increases in line with investors' concern over Italy's ability to repay its debts, shot up. Having started the day at 258 basis points, it reached 293.

The Milan bourse had a rollercoaster session, closing 0.73% up – before the full degree of uncertainty was apparent. Meanwhile the Dow Jones fell 216.4 points, or 1.55%, to end at 13,784.17.

Grillo, and to a lesser extent Berlusconi – both showmen politicians – were the victors. The understated Bersani saw an initially substantial lead in the polls slip away. Angelino Alfano, named by Berlusconi as the right's prime minister in case of victory, said the result was "very positive – I would say extraordinary, even – and we are very satisfied".

But the biggest loser of all was the sober, professorial Monti. His ill-assorted alliance of free-market liberals, Christian Democrats and former neofascists appeared to have garnered barely 10% of the vote. Its failure was the price of the tax increases and unpopular reforms that Monti's administration imposed after taking office in November 2011.

Monti insisted he was content with the result, having created a programme that had presented voters with a "realistic" way forward for the country. "Ours is a satisfying result," he told a press conference.

But his dismal showing could have a decisive impact on the prospects for a stable government because his bloc seems to be unable to furnish either of the two main alliances with the seats needed for a senate majority.

A representative of the M5S avoided ruling out a deal to elect the country's next prime minister. Alessandro Di Battista told the news agency Ansa: "We are waiting for the official figures. First, we need to know how many we are – count ourselves up. Then we'll meet, listen to the web and decide what to do."

The projections suggested the movement could have more than 50 seats in the 315-seat senate and well over 100 in the 630-seat lower house. While paying tribute to Grillo's contribution to the M5S's result, Di Battista stressed the movement's elected representatives would take their decisions independently of him.

Shunning television and other established media, Grillo embarked on a barnstorming tour of the country that took him to 77 towns from the Alps to the tip of the "boot" and on to Sicily. He rounded it off with a rally in Rome that attracted several hundred thousand people.

Turnout in the election was about 75% – the lowest since the Italian republic was founded after the second world war. Abstention was encouraged by heavy snow in parts of the north and centre of the country and storms and flooding in the south. But it was rooted in widespread disillusionment over the corruption and stagnation in Italian politics.

Former Berlusconi supporters who had been toying with abstention seem to have been persuaded to vote in force by the media tycoon's promise to abolish an unpopular property tax on primary residences and refund the €4bn (£3.4bn) levied in 2012.

The tax was imposed as part of a drive by Monti's technocratic government to put Italy's public finances in order after a collapse at the end of 2011 in investor confidence.

Now that risk is fast taking shape again. Berlusconi is deeply mistrusted in the markets and Grillo wants a referendum on whether Italy should quit the euro. Mired in recession, Italy has had a decade of economic near-stagnation followed by a year of punishing austerity that has made the pledges of both men – though lambasted by their opponents as unfeasible – highly attractive.

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« Reply #4771 on: Feb 26, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Spain can be a trailblazer in this new age of aid austerity

Spain's aid budget may be contracting sharply, but with greater craft and focus it can demonstrate that money isn't everything

Jonathan Glennie   
Tuesday 26 February 2013 11.56 GMT   

Spain's commitment to increasing its aid programme in the 2000s was remarkable. A net aid recipient until the 1980s, it moved to become the world's sixth largest bilateral aid donor, increasing its aid from less than $2bn to almost $7bn in just six years.

Then the economy crashed. With spectacular debt problems, and high youth unemployment figures, Spain is slashing its budget for official development assistance. It fell to just over $4bn (£2.65bn) in 2011 and is decreasing steadily. Cue a conference in Madrid last week on the role of aid in what is now known as "Brand Spain" – a government-led effort to reposition the country internationally.

Was cutting aid the right thing to do? Well, it was hardly an act of solidarity, amid concerns that the financial problems in the west would have serious knock-on consequences for poorer countries. No other Spanish ministry had its budget cut so savagely – a contrast, of course, to the UK, where aid is one of only two budgets protected from cuts (the other being health).

And these cuts will have consequences. In particular, NGOs supported by Spanish aid across the world could suffer, wounding progressive movements in many developing countries, including the one I live in, Colombia.

Despite this seemingly bad news, however, there are two reasons for Spain to be cheerful. First, money isn't everything. I don't buy the numbers NGOs sometimes give us linking cash spend to lives saved. I think aid should be increased because there are many issues that require international attention, including persistent poverty, but much more important are the objectives and effectiveness of aid interventions. Rather than worrying about how much money it is spending, Spain should demonstrate how much it can achieve with limited money, like every Spanish household seeing its budget squeezed. And $4bn is still a lot of money – look at what the Gates Foundation has achieved with an annual budget of about $1bn less.

This is even more the case in countries where Spain has historic programmes (it is shutting down recently established programmes in many countries, only a couple of years after they were set up). Spain has usually given a large majority of its aid to low-aid countries, and has established something of a niche in this area. These are countries that do not rely on aid, but for which aid can still catalyse change.

More and more countries are joining this group. A recent paper by the Overseas Development Institute demonstrates how, in this changing era, poor countries have more financing options than ever before. I was chatting to a World Bank representative in a middle-income country recently, who told me that he had waited months before being invited to meet the finance minister. Even in high-aid countries such as Uganda, gone are the days when money alone commands a seat at the table.

Whether you think poverty will in the future be more focused on middle-income countries (MICs), as Andy Sumner and others believe, or fragile states, as Andrew Rogerson and Homi Kharas say, there is no doubt that MICs and low-aid countries will continue to benefit from financial co-operation for many decades.

Rather than retreating into a shell and wasting all the ground it has made, an optimist might celebrate the opportunity Spain now has to lead the world in rethinking aid strategies for a new era. Catalytic and strategic interventions could have as much impact as the larger quantities of easier times, especially if, as appeared to be the consensus at the conference, Spanish aid has previously been inefficiently managed with little clear strategy.

The second reason why austerity may have done Spanish development efforts a strategic favour is that now the Spanish government and the civil society that pesters it will have to focus on the full range of ways in which the country impacts positively or negatively on sustainable development efforts.

A brilliant mock "white paper" drawn up by CIECODE – which co-hosted the conference with the Real Instituto Elcano – and Gonzalo Fanjul sets out seven ways in which Spain has an impact on development and what it needs to do to implement them. As well as aid these include tax justice, climate change, peace and weapons, immigration, trade and investment, and governance. It uses the example of the global food crisis to show how working on all of these issues could produce a virtuous circle leading to both urgent response and systemic change.

To borrow a phrase from the environment movement, this is an attempt to plot Spain's "development footprint". Though imperfect, this approach mirrors somewhat the Center for Global Development's commitment to development index, making the point strongly that non-aid actions are as important as aid, if not more so. A recent report by the IPPR in London urged analysts to look not only at Britain's aid to India, but also at other flows (namely remittances and direct foreign investment) when assessing co-operation between the two countries.

More and more people are realising that aid is only one of a wide range of actions that all governments need to implement to support sustainable development. Is the target to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid becoming even more of a red herring?

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« Reply #4772 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:02 AM »

02/25/2013 04:10 PM

Cyber Menace: Digital Spying Burdens German-Chinese Relations


Companies like defense giant EADS or steelmaker ThyssenKrupp have become the targets of hacker attacks from China. The digitial espionage is creating a problem for relations between Berlin and Beijing, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has shied away from taking firm action.

Very few companies in Europe are as strategically important as the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). It makes the Eurofighter jet, drones, spy satellites, and even the carrier rockets for French nuclear weapons.

Not surprisingly, the German government reacted with alarm last year when EADS managers reported that their company, which has its German administrative headquarters near Munich, was attacked by hackers. The EADS computer network contains secret design plans, aerodynamic calculations and cost estimates, as well as correspondence with the governments in Paris and Berlin. Gaining access to the documents would be like hitting the jackpot for a competitor or a foreign intelligence agency.

The company's digital firewalls have been exposed to attacks by hackers for years. But now company officials say there was "a more conspicuous" attack a few months ago, one that seemed so important to EADS managers that they chose to report it to the German government. Officially, EADS is only confirming there was a "standard attack," and insists that no harm was done.

The attack isn't just embarrassing for the company, which operates in an industry in which trust is very important. It also affects German foreign policy, because the attackers were apparently from a country that has reported spectacular growth rates for years: China.

During a visit to Guangzhou during February 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised China's success, saying it is something "that can be described as a classic win-win situation."

But the chancellor could be wrong.

For some time now, the relationship between China and the West seems to have been producing one winner and many losers. China is routinely the winner, while the losers are from Germany, France and the United States. They are global companies that are eviscerated by Chinese hackers and learn the painful lesson of how quickly sensitive information can end up in the Far East.

Berlin 's Dilemma

The relentless digital attack plunges the German government into a political dilemma. No government can stand back while another country unscrupulously tries to steal its national secrets. It has to protect the core of the government and the know-how of the national economy, sometimes with severe methods, if the diplomatic approach proves ineffective. Berlin should threaten Beijing with serious consequences, like the ones the US government announced last week.

On the other hand, the German government doesn't want to mar relations with one of its most important international partners. China has become Germany's third-largest trading partner and, from Merkel's perspective, is now much more than a large market for German goods and supplier of inexpensive products. Berlin now views the leadership in Beijing as its most important non-Western political partner.

That may explain why Merkel is addressing the Chinese problem abstractly rather than directly. During the high-level government meetings last August, she reminded the Chinese of the importance of "abiding by international rules." When she sent a representative to Beijing in November to tell senior government officials that Germany condemned the cyber espionage, it was done informally and off the record. In the end, Merkel will accept the ongoing espionage attempts as a troublesome plague that Germany simply has to put up with.

When SPIEGEL first exposed the scope of the Chinese attacks five-and-a-half years ago, then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao asserted that his government would "take decisive steps to prevent hacker attacks."

But the problem has only gotten worse since then.

1,100 Attacks in 2012

Last year, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, reported close to 1,100 digital attacks on the German government by foreign intelligence agencies. Most were directed against the Chancellery, the Foreign Ministry and the Economics Ministry. In most cases, the attacks consist of emails with attachments containing a Trojan horse. Security officials noticed that the attacks were especially severe in the run-up to the G-20 summit, targeting members of the German delegation and focusing on fiscal and energy policy. The Green Party has also been targeted before.

In mid-2012, hackers attacked ThyssenKrupp with previously unheard of vehemence. The attempts to infiltrate the steel and defense group's corporate network were "massive" and of "a special quality," say company officials. Internally, the subject was treated as a top-secret issue. The hackers had apparently penetrated so deeply into the company's systems that executives felt it was necessary to notify authorities. ThyssenKrupp told SPIEGEL that the attack had occurred "locally in the United States," and that the company did not know whether and what the intruders may have copied. It did know, however, that the attacks were linked to Internet addresses in China.

Hackers have also apparently targeted pharmaceutical giant Bayer and IBM, although IBM isn't commenting on the alleged attacks. In late 2011, a German high-tech company, the global market leader in its industry, received a call from security officials, who said that they had received information from a friendly intelligence service indicating that large volumes of data had been transferred abroad.

The investigations showed that two packets of data were in fact transmitted in quick succession. The first was apparently a trial run, while the second one was a large packet containing a virtually complete set of company data: development and R&D files, as well as information about suppliers and customers. An external technology service provider had copied the data and apparently sold it to Chinese nationals.

Seventy Percent of German Companies Under Threat

"Seventy percent of all major German companies are threatened or affected" by cyber attacks, Stefan Kaller, the head of the department in charge of cyber security at the German Interior Ministry, said at the European Police Congress last week. The attacks have become so intense that the otherwise reserved German government is now openly discussing the culprits. "The overwhelming number of attacks on government agencies that are detected in Germany stem from Chinese sources," Kaller said at the meeting. But the Germans still lack definitive proof of who is behind the cyber attacks.

The hackers' tracks lead to three major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. And from Germany's perspective, they point to a Unit 61398, which was identified in a report by the US cyber security company Mandiant last week.

In the dossier, which is apparently based on intelligence information, the Washington-based IT firm describes in detail how a unit of the Chinese People's Liberation Army has hacked into 141 companies worldwide since 2006. The trail, according to Mandiant, leads to an inconspicuous 12-story building in Beijing's Pudong district, home to the army's Unit 61398.

Chinese Denials
Mandiant claims that the elite unit operates at least 937 servers in 13 countries. One of the key Chinese nationals involved has worked under the code name "UglyGorilla" since 2004, while two other hackers use the names "SuperHard" and "Dota." According to Mandiant, the scope of the evidence leaves little doubt that soldiers with Unit 61398 are behind the hacker attacks. The White House, which was notified in advance, privately confirmed the report's conclusions, while the Chinese denied them. "The Chinese military has never supported any hacking activities," said spokesmen for China's Foreign and Defense Ministries, adding that China is in fact "one of the main victims of cyber attacks."

The dossier publicly emphasizes, for the first time, what has long been claimed in intelligence circles: that the power apparatus of the Chinese government is behind at least some of the attacks. Following the report's publication, European ambassadors in Beijing moved the accusations to the top of their agenda. The diplomats agreed that China has become too large and powerful for a single European Union country to tangle with it.

The US government has now defined the attacks as a key issue, and cyber security is now on the agenda of the Strategic Security Dialogue between Beijing and Washington. China's IT espionage is the biggest "transfer of wealth in history," says General Keith Alexander, head of the US military's Cyber Command. The companies that Mandiant claims were the targets of attacks include one with access to more than 60 percent of the oil and natural gas pipelines in North America. "A hacker in China can acquire source code from a software company in Virginia without leaving his or her desk," says US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Last summer, Holder launched a training program for 400 district attorneys to specifically investigate cyber attacks by foreign countries. And last week, Holder presented the government's plan to prevent the theft of intellectual property. Following the Mandiant report, there have been growing calls in the United States for tougher action, including such steps as entry bans for convicted hackers and laws to enhance the options available to companies to fight data theft under civil law. Referring to Beijing, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Wall Street Journal: "You've got to keep pushing on them."

Germany Like a Developing Country

Germany is a long way from increasing pressure on the Chinese. In fact, when it comes to cyberspace, Germany sometimes feels like a developing country. When companies like EADS are attacked, it is a question of coincidence as to whether the German government learns of the incidents. The draft of the country's new IT Security Law, which Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) unveiled in early February, at least envisions a reporting requirement for companies that are attacked. But there is a strong chance that the ministries involved in the proposed legislation will destroy the draft before the German national election in September.

The government approved a national cyber security strategy two years ago, and Germany's new Cyber Defense Center has been staffed with a dozen officials since then, but it's little more than a government virus scanner. The center lacks authority and clear policies on how the government intends to handle threats originating from the Internet. The federal agencies are "not even capable of appreciably defending themselves against an attack," scoffs a senior executive in the defense industry.

The country's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, has the most experience with cyber attacks. The agency, based near Munich, is also involved in digital espionage and has used Trojans and so-called keyloggers in more than 3,000 cases. BND President Gerhard Schindler wants to combine previously scattered personnel into a single subsection, and the necessary new positions have already been approved. An official from the Chancellery will likely head the new group.

The BND wants its future capabilities to not only include infiltrating an outside computer system. It also intends to develop a sort of digital second-strike capability to shut down the server of a particularly aggressive attacker.

That would be the worst-case scenario.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4773 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:03 AM »

02/25/2013 04:07 PM

European Obstruction: NATO Reforms Moving at 'Snail's Pace'

By Matthias Gebauer, Ralf Neukirch, Gordon Repinski and Christoph Schult

NATO members committed themselves last year to reforming the alliance, with pledges from Europe to boost its military capabilities to ease the burden on the US. But a confidential analysis by the German government finds that virtually no progress has been made -- and that it's mainly the Europeans' fault.

When Anders Fogh Rasmussen drives to his office in the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels in the morning, he gazes longingly at a large construction site across the street. The site, where construction cranes jut into the sky, will eventually be the home of the new, 250,000-square-meter (2.7-million-square-foot) NATO headquarters. Price tag: more than a billion euros.

The secretary general of the Western defense alliance would be in his new office by now, if it weren't for the significant delays in completing the massive glass-and-steel structure.

But the delays are among the least of the former Danish prime minister's current problems. Rasmussen has the thankless task of managing a much more difficult rebuilding project. More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO still hasn't defined the role it wants to play in a changed world.

The goal of "keeping the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down," as Lord Ismay, the first NATO secretary general, put it, was obsolete by the fall of the Berlin Wall. But NATO members, especially the Europeans, are having a difficult time accepting the need to adapt their organization.

With unprecedented bluntness, a confidential analysis by the German Foreign Ministry reveals how few of the programs that were announced at the NATO summit in Chicago last year have been implemented. "It has not been possible to achieve any consensus in core areas," the document reads.

The report lists in detail the challenges the alliance must overcome, from poor cooperation to missile defense to the lack of funding for an effective security policy. The authors conclude that progress is moving at "a snail's pace."

The inertia at NATO is out of proportion with the speed at which the global balance of power is changing. The Americans, for example, are turning their attention to the emerging Asian economies, which are also becoming stronger militarily.

Washington, for its part, is increasingly unwilling to assume a growing share of the defense of Europe and its interests. "The burden sharing between the US and the Allies has become increasingly unbalanced," Rasmussen wrote two weeks ago in an internal letter to NATO ambassadors. "If this continues, it could weaken political support for the Alliance in the United States."

Empty Promises

The Europeans, however, seem unable to assume a larger share of the burden from their big ally. Without American help, it would have been necessary to end the international mission in Libya two years ago after only a few days. Little has changed since then.

At last May's summit in Chicago, the NATO leaders announced major new goals. The communiqué stated that NATO would enhance its cooperation with the European Union. In the interest of reducing costs, the individual members promised to better coordinate their respective defense projects. The Europeans pledged to improve their military capabilities. According to the document, the alliance was embarking on nothing less than a "new age of cooperation."

But these were empty promises. When NATO defense ministers met in Brussels last Thursday to launch the key initiatives of the Chicago summit, they couldn't even agree on the basic working documents. The implementation report for the "Chicago Defense Packet" was put on ice. "This must be viewed as a significant setback for 'Chicago,'" said a German diplomat.

In Berlin, others are blamed for the development. Especially the "seemingly incompatible positions of a few nations" with the mainstream of NATO partners is obstructing progress in key areas, the Foreign Ministry analysis concludes. The nations in question are France and Turkey, and there is a lot more at stake than differences over individual issues. "In particular, there is still one unanswered question: 'Quo vadis, NATO?'"

Doubts About Germans

The German analysis glosses over Berlin's role in this lack of progress. It merely mentions, in a roundabout way, that the Chicago resolutions are also complicated by the "issue of secured access to (yet to be created) multinational capabilities." The convoluted wording alludes to the partners' skepticism over whether the Germans can be relied upon in an emergency.

In essence, the European NATO members agree that because of the lack of funds, they must cooperate much more closely in various areas, including defense policy. Not every country has to have tanks, fighter jets or submarines. Instead, military capabilities should be pooled and shared. In an emergency, one partner would help other partners by providing them with the weapons they lacked.

But the concept presupposes that assistance is in fact provided in an emergency. This was called into question by Berlin's behavior during the NATO mission in Libya. The Germans withdrew their military personnel from the AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and ordered German warships to return home, so that they wouldn't be involved in implementation of the arms embargo. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's constant insistence on a German "culture of military restraint" has only heightened the skepticism of partners like Great Britain and France.

It also bothers the governments in London and Paris that the German parliament, the Bundestag, has to approve each mission, which they believe makes Germany's actions unpredictable. Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière hasn't even found support within his own ranks for his proposal to change the approval rules.

It isn't just the Germans who are getting in the way of a joint arms and defense policy. The French, for example, have issues with NATO's planned missile defense system. According to the German Foreign Ministry analysis, the French government's "strong emphasis on national sovereignty" is an indication that Paris is uninterested in consensus. When push comes to shove, the nation state is more important to Paris than joint defense efforts.

The same applies to Turkey. According to the German report, a key problem is the Turks' refusal "to constructively support the concept of partnership." The negative assessment by the diplomats refers to the rigid stance taken by Ankara, which refuses to cooperate with NATO partner Israel and is also blocking cooperation with the European Union because of the Cyprus conflict.

It was because of this stance that the Turkish representative chose, at the last minute, not to approve key documents associated with the NATO projects last week. "The fundamental differences make it impossible to reach an agreement at this point in time," the Turkish NATO embassy in Brussels informed the allies.

US Share of NATO Funding Has Jumped

Money is another bone of contention. Missions like Afghanistan have increased the demands on the alliance, but the economic crisis means that most governments are spending less on defense. According to an internal breakdown by Rasmussen, the American share of the NATO budget has increased from 63 to 72 percent in the last decade, a development the Americans have long deplored.

"Initial feedback shows that all nations face significant problems when it comes to assuming the planned burdens," reads the Foreign Ministry analysis. Officials in most European capitals hope that when push comes to shove, Washington will not abandon it allies.

Nevertheless, last week the Americans unofficially let their partners know that US President Barack Obama is not willing to put up with Europe's stance any longer. At Washington's insistence, a special NATO summit will be held in June. At that meeting, Obama wants German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders to make a public commitment stating which of them will assume which additional costs.

Most Europeans, however, have no intention of budgeting more money for defense. Instead, they actually hope to save money as a result of the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. In his recent letter to NATO ambassadors, Rasmussen urges that this "peace dividend" remain part of the defense budget. The "Allies should look to make the political commitment that defense budgets will increase once their economies pick up," he writes. But this is highly unlikely that will actually happen.

There is in fact hardly any important issue on which the partners aren't blocking each other. For instance, there has also been no progress on one of the alliance's showcase projects, the planned missile defense system. The dispute revolves around the question of how non-NATO countries are to be integrated into the project. The United States, Turkey and the Baltic countries are mainly interested in discussing operational issues. Other countries, most notably Germany, France and Italy, are calling for a political approach and want to involve Russia, which takes a critical view of the missile defense plans. "Progress in the area of missile defense, as one of the flagship issues in Chicago, has been disappointing," the German analysis states.

Criticism of the alliance's capabilities now extends into the German Bundestag, where lawmakers across party lines question whether NATO is prepared for future challenges. "Everyone is doing his own thing without taking the others into account," says Rainer Arnold, a defense expert with Germany's opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). His fellow lawmaker Omid Nouripour also sees little reason for optimism. "The Americans are pulling back from NATO," says the Green Party politician. "For them, the Pacific region is more relevant." The Europeans, he adds, are not filling the resulting power vacuum.

There is no indication that the allies will manage to agree on the necessary reforms in the foreseeable future. When Rasmussen leaves office in 2014, his record will seem meager, but he will be somewhat justified in assigning the blame to obstruction by member states.

The Danish politician shouldn't be too worried about a career setback. He already has his sights set on his next move. Rasmussen has noted with interest that the European liberals are considering declaring him as their top candidate for the 2014 European election.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4774 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:06 AM »

World powers exchange offers with Iran in talks to end some trade sanctions

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 7:58 EST

World powers and Iran on Tuesday exchanged offers in crunch talks in Kazakhstan aimed at breaking a decade of deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear drive despite low expectations of any deal.

The two-day meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty comes as sanctions bite against the Islamic republic and Israel still refuses to rule out air strikes to knock out Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons drive.

The first round of closed-door talks started at around 0830 GMT after an initial bilateral meeting between the Chinese and Iranian delegations.

“We have come here with a revised offer and we have come to engage with Iran in a meaningful way,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who negotiates with Iran on behalf of the world powers, said in a statement.

She said the ambition was that “we see progress by the end of the meeting.”

The world powers are offering Iran permission to resume its gold and precious metals trade as well as some international banking activity which are currently under sanctions, Western officials told AFP.

But in exchange, Iran will have to limit sensitive uranium enrichment operations that the world powers fear could be used to make a nuclear bomb, the sources added.

Iran would have to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and shut down its controversial Fordo plant where such activity occurs, a Western official said.

An Iranian source said Tehran had come up with a counter-offer, whose final nature would be determined by terms posed by the big powers.

“Which version we present depends on what the 5+1 (world powers) put forward. Our offer will be of the same weight as their offer,” the Iranian delegation source said.

The source stressed “there was no question” of Tehran closing the Fordo plant where uranium is enriched to up to 20 percent — a level seen as being within technical reach of weapons-grade matter.

But Iran could envisage halting the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, if all international sanctions against it were dropped, including UN Security Council measures, the source said.

Hopes are low of a breakthrough at the talks — the first such since a meeting in Moscow in June 2012 — and Iranian officials have doused expectations by insisting they will offer no special concessions.

“It’s clear that no one expects everyone to walk out of here in Almaty with a done deal. This is a negotiating process,” said Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann.

Iran denies it is developing nuclear weapons and wants the world to respect its “right” to enrich uranium — something current UN sanctions say it cannot do because of its refusal to cooperate with nuclear inspectors.

“We don’t expect any breakthrough. The Iranians have made different declarations in the last days. It depends if you take the positive or the negative ones,” said one Western official who asked not to be identified.

World powers are represented at the table by the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — with the Iranian team headed by top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

The Iranians went into the talks by issuing a string of comments suggesting they were willing to listen to offers without softening their own position.

“We will not accept anything beyond our obligations and will not accept anything less than our rights,” Jalili declared before setting off for Kazakhstan.

The talks essentially come down to tough negotiating sessions — replete with power point presentations — between Jalili and the EU’s Ashton who is mandated to speak on behalf of the world powers.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was hoping that the talks would now move into a phase of “bargaining” rather than just offering proposals.

“There needs to be a political will to move into that phase. We call on all participants not to lose any more time,” he said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

The talks come with the lingering threat of Israel launching a unilateral strike on Iran just as it had done against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981.

Iran already has a nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr — built with Russian help — but Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described atomic weapons as a “sin”.

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« Reply #4775 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:09 AM »

February 25, 2013

South Korean President Warns North Against Nuclear Pursuits


SEOUL, South Korea — The country’s new president, Park Geun-hye, was sworn into office on Monday, facing far more complicated fissures both within South Korea and with North Korea than her father did during his Cold War dictatorship, which ended with his assassination 33 years ago.

Ms. Park, 61, is the first child of a former president to take power here, as well as the first woman, a remarkable turn for a country where Parliament, the cabinet and corporate board rooms are predominantly male and the gender income gap is the widest among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In her address, Ms. Park called for the revival of an economic boom her father, Park Chung-hee, had once overseen and urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

After the ceremony, in front of the National Assembly, her motorcade moved through a downtown Seoul packed with well-wishers. Her return to the presidential Blue House, her childhood home, was a triumphant moment for her and old South Koreans loyal to her father. His quashing of dissent and censorship of the press in his 18-years of iron-fisted rulewere much maligned among South Koreans during the country’s struggle for democracy.

She was elected Dec. 19, thanks largely to the support of South Koreans in their 50s and older who grew disenchanted with fractured politics and recalled how, South Korea under the dictatorship had begun its evolution from a country where per-capita income was just $100 a year into what is now a global economic powerhouse whose smartphones, cars and ships are exported around the world.

But while her father, Ms. Park begins a single, five-year term facing sharp criticism from younger and liberal South Koreans who have no fear of speaking out. When she named Queen Elizabeth I of Britain as her role model, they filled blogswith derision for her sense of entitlement. They openly called her election a return to the past, arguing that the seeds of some of the country’s biggest problems, such as the unruly influence of family controlled conglomerates, were sown under her father and accused her of glorifying his rule.

South Korea’s political rivalries are freewheeling, evidenced most recently by the arrest of a 76-year-old Christian pastor last week who claimed that Ms. Park had sex with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during her visit to Pyongyang in 2002. His videotaped allegations were circulated widely through the Internet.

Meanwhile, two weeks before Ms. Park’s inauguration, North Korea detonated an underground nuclear device, testing her campaign promise to reach out to the North to help end five years of diplomatic silence and high tension on the divided Korean Peninsula under her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, a fellow conservative.

In her inaugural address, “North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself.”

Speaking before a large crowd that was entertained by the rapper Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame on the lawn in front of the National Assembly, she urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay, “instead of wasting its resources on nuclear and missile development and continuing to turn its back to the world in self-imposed isolation.”

Ms. Park invoked her father’s era, calling for a “second miracle on the Han River.” The first was the transformation under him of Seoul, the capital city, which straddles the river, from the rubble of the 1950-53 Korean War into an industrialized metropolis. He nurtured a handful of family controlled companies, such as Samsung and Hyundai, as engines of an export-driven economy. These companies have grown into globally recognized conglomerates.

Now, decades later, his daughter vowed to bring South Korea’s slowing economy “rejuvenation” and “revival,” terms favored under her father. But she nodded to the biggest complaints of ordinary South Koreans — widening economic inequality and the conglomerates’ overpowering expansion at the cost of smaller businesses — grievances, saying the second Han River miracle should be based on “economic democratization.”

Ms. Park promised to end unfair practices by big businesses and strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises so that “such businesses can prosper alongside large companies.”

Ms. Park’s father was assassinated by his own disgruntled spy chief in October 1979 and her mother by a pro-North Korean gunman four years earlier. In this slight, unmarried woman, South Koreans found the enormously appealing image of a loyal daughter focused on rebuilding her family’s reputation. She bears a remarkable resemblance to her father and echoes his themes, including her tireless references to “national defense.”

“She was born to be a conservative and security-minded,” said Jo Dong-ho, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, who cited a well-known episode about Ms. Park. “As a young woman, when she first heard of her father’s assassination, she did not cry or ask how he died, but rather the first thing she did was to ask whether everything was all right along the border with North Korea.”

Her presidency adds a family rivalry into relations between the two Koreas. Under her father, a staunchly anti-Communist conservative mainstream took root in South Korea. The current North Korean leader is Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the North Korean founder, who sent 31 commandos in 1968 in a failed attempt to attack the Blue House and kill Ms. Park’s father.

The young North Korean leader’s quest is to recover some of the leverage North Korea had lost to the economically prosperous South by arming itself with nuclear weapons.

A week before Ms. Park’s December election, North Korea launched a satellite into orbit. The launching and its Feb. 12 nuclear test heightened fears in the region that years of efforts by Washington and its allies to rein in the North’s nuclear ambitions have failed, and that it was getting closer to mastering the technology for building nuclear-tipped long-range missiles.

“By timing his nuclear test before her inauguration, Kim Jong-un consolidated his bargaining position and is challenging Park Geun-hye to deal with it,” said Bong Young-shik, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “What first move she makes on North Korea is important because it could help set the pace and tone of the policies of other regional powers who have all gone leadership changes recently. Everyone is watching her, including North Korea.”

During her campaign, Ms. Park positioned herself halfway between the two extreme views in South Korea, promising a strong defense posture and retaliation against North Korean provocations but also calling for dialogue and easing animosity built up under Mr. Lee.

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« Reply #4776 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:10 AM »

China unveils new stealth missile frigates

Navy builds 20 Type 056 Jingdao class frigates to replace older models and bolster its capabilities in disputed waters

Associated Press in Beijing, Tuesday 26 February 2013 12.22 GMT   

China has launched the first ship in a new class of stealth missile frigates, state media have reported, amid ongoing tensions with neighbouring countries over Beijing's maritime claims.

Its navy is building a total of 20 Type 056 Jiangdao class frigates to replace older models and bolster its ability to conduct patrols and escort ships as well as submarines in waters it claims in the South and East China Seas.

The first in the class, No 582, was formally delivered to the navy on Monday in Shanghai, which is home to one of the country's largest naval shipyard complexes, according to the official Xinhua news agency and the navy's official website.

Navy commander Wu Shengli attended the delivery ceremony, the reports said, an indication of the importance with which the service regards the new ships' mission.

The helicopter-equipped ships feature a sleek design to reduce clutter and make them harder to spot by radar and are armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. They also need a crew of just 60, two-thirds fewer than older vessels, a major advantage that should boost efficiency and relieve burdens in training and recruitment. At 1,440 tons fully loaded, each is considerably smaller than US navy frigates, and is categorised by some observers as a member of the smaller class of ship known as corvettes.

China's navy has so far stayed aloof from the island disputes in order to avoid further escalating tensions, with patrol ships from the ministry of transportation and other government agencies dispatched instead to assert China's territorial claims.

However, China has made no secret of its desire to extend its navy's global reach, and the service has received considerable attention in China's military modernisation. China's first aircraft carrier, the overhauled Soviet-era Liaoning, entered service last year, while a growing array of nuclear submarines and ultra-modern surface ships are also joining the fleet.

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« Reply #4777 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:14 AM »

Philippines orders trespassing clan out of Malaysia

Strongman in southern Philippines sends in armed followers to reinforce his claim to sultanate on island of Sabah

Staff and agencies, Tuesday 26 February 2013 07.19 GMT   

The Philippines has found itself embroiled for a potential territorial dispute with neighbouring Malaysia just as the outlines of a peace deal with Muslim separatists are beginning to emerge.

The Philippines' president, President Benigno Aquino III, has gone on national television demanding that a Muslim clan leader in the southern Philippines to order his followers to withdraw as soon as possible from Malaysian land they claim as their own. Aquino warned of legal action against them and potential trouble.

Speaking on national television, Aquino told the leader known as Sultan Jamalul Kiram III that his group of 180 followers led by his younger brother and including up to 30 armed men was risking a violent end to a two-week standoff by insisting on holding out. Kiram's sultanate has been claiming the land in a coastal village in Lahad Datu district in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state for nearly a century.

"We have not yet reached the point of no return but we are fast approaching that point," Aquino said, calling the action by Kiram's followers a "foolhardy act" that was bound to fail.

Aquino's remarks elevated the Sabah territorial issue, which has been a thorn in Philippine-Malaysian relations for decades, to a Philippine national security concern. The crisis has erupted at a crucial stage of peace negotiations brokered by Malaysia between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the southern Philippines.

Kiram's followers secretly travelled by boat this month to Lahad Datu, where he said many of their Filipino relatives had resettled for years, to fortify his clan's claims on Sabah. It is a resource-rich Malaysian region where many mostly Muslim Filipinos have relocated in search of jobs and opportunities and to escape poverty and the decades-long Muslim rebellion in the southern Philippines.

Malaysian authorities regard Kiram's group as armed intruders and ordered them to immediately leave or face eviction. Malaysian police have surrounded Kiram's followers in Lahad Datu and given them until late Tuesday to leave, suggesting they will otherwise be forcibly removed.

Aquino said Kiram and his followers would be investigated, along with possible collaborators, suggesting the incident may have been an act to undermine the Philippine government. He warned Kiram and his followers of possible legal action if they continued to defy orders to withdraw from Lahad Datu.

"If you choose not to co-operate the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm's way," Aquino said.
While Philippine and Malaysian top diplomats have agreed to resolve the standoff peacefully, Aquino said his government was braced for any contingencies, adding that navies from both nations took steps to prevent more people from entering Lahad Datu.

The Philippines notified Malaysia over the weekend that it had placed a navy ship with social and medical workers off Lahad Datu while talks to persuade the Filipinos to return home continued.

Kiram's younger brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, who is considered a crown prince in their sultanate, said he and his followers would not leave. The village had been surrounded by Malaysian police and abandoned by long-time Filipino residents who feared getting caught in a crossfire, he said.

"We're not invading this place because it is ours," Agbimuddin Kiram said by mobile phone from Lahad Datu, adding that he and his group were fast running out of food. "Sabah is owned by the sultan of Sulu, so what crime are we violating?"

Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province in the southern Philippines where the Kiram clan is based, is about half a day away by boat from Sabah.

"If the Malaysian police come with guns, we have to defend ourselves," Kiram said.

Despite their seemingly futile stunt the Kirams have succeeded in refocusing attention to the territorial issue that past Philippine presidents have relegated to the backburner in favor of cultivating ties with affluent Malaysia, as the Philippines attended to more pressing concerns such as the Muslim insurgency.

Aquino said he had ordered an extensive study into the Sulu sultanate's claim to Sabah but warned that the effort could run into a dilemma over the convoluted history of the dispute. He cited at least five clan leaders who claim to be the heirs of the original Filipino sultan who was supposed to have had control over the vast territory. Documents dated to the late 1800s, he said.

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« Reply #4778 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:18 AM »

February 26, 2013

Kerry Vows Not to Leave Syria Rebels ‘Dangling in the Wind’


BERLIN — Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that the Obama administration has been considering new steps to increase support for the Syrian opposition and hasten the departure of President Bashar al-Assad and that some of them would be decided at an international conference in Rome this week.

“We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it’s coming,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference in London. “And we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad.”

Mr. Kerry’s comments came amid diplomatic maneuvering and a White House intervention over the Rome meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

After the Syrian opposition signaled that it would boycott the Rome conference to protest what it sees as negligible help from Western nations, Mr. Kerry called Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, and persuaded him to attend. Vice President Joseph R. Biden called Mr. Khatib later to thank him for agreeing to go and to emphasize the importance of the meeting.

American officials have said that their goal in supporting the Syrian resistance is to build up its leverage in the hope that Mr. Assad will agree to yield power and a political transition can be negotiated to end the nearly two-year-old conflict.

In Moscow, however, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, appeared to be making a competing initiative. In a statement during a visit to Russia, which has been one of the Assad government’s main backers, Mr. Moallem said that Syrian authorities were “ready for a dialogue with anyone who’s willing, even with those who carry arms.”

It was the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official had signaled that the government is open to talking with Syrian rebels who have taken up weapons against the armed forces.

It was unclear whether Mr. Moallem’s offer came with caveats, such as a precondition that the Syrian rebels must disarm first. More fundamentally, if the aim of Mr. Moallem’s offer was to achieve a cease-fire while perpetuating Mr. Assad’s hold on power it would be fundamentally at odds with the demand of the opposition that the Syrian leader be ousted.

Mr. Kerry was skeptical of Mr. Moallem’s intentions.

“What has happened in Aleppo in the last days is unacceptable,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to the Scud missile attacks the Assad government directed at the city last week. “It’s pretty hard to understand how, when you see these Scuds falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it’s possible to take their notion that they’re ready to have a dialogue very seriously.”

London was the first stop on Mr. Kerry’s nine-nation tour, and Syria figured prominently in his discussions with William Hague, the British foreign secretary, who sent a strong message that more had to be done to support the Syrian opposition because the possibility of a political solution was “blocked off.”

“Our policy cannot stay static as the weeks go by,” Mr. Hague said at a joint news conference with Mr. Kerry, who met that day with Mr. Hague and British Prime Minister David Cameron.  “It will have to change and develop.”

The European Union agreed to a British proposal that nonlethal assistance could be sent to armed groups inside Syria. Discussions were now under way among European nations to determine just what sort of aid could be sent, but some American officials had said it might include night-vision equipment or armored cars.

Mr. Kerry declined to say whether the United States might also send nonlethal aid to armed factions fighting Mr. Assad, saying that a variety of ideas was under discussion.

“We are not coming to Rome simply to talk,” he said. “We are coming to Rome to make a decision about next steps and perhaps even other options that may or may not be discussed further after that.”

Mr. Obama last year rebuffed a proposal from the C.I.A., State Department and Pentagon that the United States train and arm a cadre of Syrian rebel fighters.

After his meetings in Britain, Mr. Kerry flew to Germany for meetings on Tuesday with German officials.  After a meeting in Berlin with German young people, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning to discuss international affairs, Mr. Kerry is to meet with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Later in the day, he is scheduled to meet with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

The United States has sought Russia’s help in facilitating talks on a transitional government in Syria, but the American effort to reach out to the Russians failed last year when the Kremlin balked at the demand that Mr. Assad’s departure had to be one of the results of any negotiation.

Among the factions of the Syrian coalition, the debate is not over whether Mr. Assad must go but whether his departure is a precondition for talks.

On Jan. 30, Sheik Khatib floated the idea of negotiations with members of the government not directly involved in the crackdown. But many in the coalition remain skeptical of talks with the government and see them as a way for Mr. Assad to buy time.

On Monday, Samir Nachar, a member of the coalition, said that Sheik Khatib had met in the past week with Muhammad Hamsho, a prominent Syrian businessman who is close to Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother who leads the army’s feared Fourth Division, and a frontman for many Assad family enterprises.

Mr. Nachar said that Sheik Khatib had briefed him and other coalition members on the recent meeting, which he said had been initiated by Mr. Hamsho.

“Hamsho asked to meet Moaz al-Khatib and the latter agreed,” Mr. Nachar said in an interview. “The meeting did take place, yes.” He said Sheik Khatib had refrained from going into detail.

Mr. Hamsho is one of several Syrian figures on whom the United States has imposed sanctions since Mr. Assad’s repression of a peaceful protest movement that began in March 2011 and has since evolved into a civil war.

Gen. Selim Idriss, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, the main rebel fighter group, said that a cessation of violence by the government was “the bottom line” for rebels before any talks. In remarks to Al-Arabyia, a Saudi-backed news Web site, he also said, “There needs to be a clear decision on the resignation of the head of the criminal gang Bashar Assad, and for those who participated in the killing of the Syrian people to be put on trial.”

Michael R. Gordon reported from Berlin, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
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« Reply #4779 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:20 AM »

February 25, 2013

Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms


Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases.

The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad.

The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria’s armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad’s forces. The weapons’ distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers.

For months regional and Western capitals have held back on arming the rebels, in part out of fear that the weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. But officials said the decision to send in more weapons is aimed at another fear in the West about the role of jihadist groups in the opposition. Such groups have been seen as better equipped than many nationalist fighters and potentially more influential.

The action also signals the recognition among the rebels’ Arab and Western backers that the opposition’s success in pushing Mr. Assad’s military from much of Syria’s northern countryside by the middle of last year gave way to a slow, grinding campaign in which the opposition remains outgunned and the human costs continue to climb.

Washington’s role in the shipments, if any, is not clear. Officials in Europe and the United States, including those at the Central Intelligence Agency, cited the sensitivity of the shipments and declined to comment publicly.

But one senior American official described the shipments as “a maturing of the opposition’s logistical pipeline.” The official noted that the opposition remains fragmented and operationally incoherent, and added that the recent Saudi purchase was “not in and of itself a tipping point.”

“I remain convinced we are not near that tipping point,” the official said.

The official added that Iran, with its shipments to Syria’s government, still outstrips what Arab states have sent to the rebels.

The Iranian arms transfers have fueled worries among Sunni Arab states about losing a step to Tehran in what has become a regional contest for primacy in Syria between Sunni Arabs and the Iran-backed Assad government and Hezbollah of Lebanon.

Another American official said Iran has been making flights with weapons into Syria that are so routine that he referred to them as “a milk run.” Several of the flights were by an Iranian Air Force Boeing jet using the name Maharaj Airlines, he said.

While Persian Gulf Arab nations have been sending military equipment and other assistance to the rebels for more than a year, the difference in the recent shipments has been partly of scale. Officials said multiple planeloads of weapons have left Croatia since December, when many Yugoslav weapons, previously unseen in the Syrian civil war, began to appear in videos posted by rebels on YouTube.

Many of the weapons — which include a particular type of Yugoslav-made recoilless gun, as well as assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets for use against tanks and other armored vehicles — have been extensively documented by one blogger, Eliot Higgins, who writes under the name Brown Moses and has mapped the new weapons’ spread through the conflict.

He first noticed the Yugoslav weapons in early January in clashes in the Dara’a region near Jordan, but by February he was seeing them in videos posted by rebels fighting in the Hama, Idlib and Aleppo regions.

Officials familiar with the transfers said the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars. One Western official said the shipments included “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns” and an unknown quantity of ammunition.

Croatia’s Foreign Ministry and arms-export agency denied that such shipments had occurred. Saudi officials have declined requests for interviews about the shipments for two weeks. Jordanian officials also declined to comment.

Danijela Barisic, a spokeswoman for Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that since the Arab Spring began, Croatia had not sold any weapons to either Saudi Arabia or the Syrian rebels. “We did not supply arms,” she said by telephone.

Igor Tabak, a Croatian military analyst, said that after a period when many countries in the former Yugoslavia sold weapons from the Balkan wars on black markets, Croatia, poised this year to join the European Union, now strictly adheres to international rules on arms transfers.

“I can’t imagine bigger quantities of weapons being moved without state sanctioning,” he said. “It is not impossible, but it is just very improbable.” He added that it was possible that such weapons could be moved by the intelligence services, though he offered no evidence that that was the case.

Syria’s rebels have acquired their arms through a variety of means, including smuggling from neighboring states, battlefield capture, purchases from corrupt Syrian officers and officials, sponsorship from Arab governments and businessmen, and local manufacture of crude rockets and bombs. But they have remained lightly equipped compared with the government’s conventional military, and have been prone to shortages.

An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels.

At the time, the rebels were advancing slowly in parts of the country, but were struggling to maintain momentum amid weapons and ammunition shortages.

Washington was not interested then, the official said, though at the same time, there were already signs of limited Arab and other foreign military assistance.

Both Ukrainian-made rifle cartridges that had been purchased by Saudi Arabia and Swiss-made hand grenades that had been provided to the United Arab Emirates were found by journalists to be in rebel possession.

And Belgian-made rifles of a type not known to have been purchased by Syria’s military have been repeatedly seen in rebel hands, suggesting that one of Belgium’s previous rifle customers had transferred the popular weapons to the rebels.

But several officials said there had not been such a visible influx of new weapons as there has been in recent weeks.

By December, as refugees were streaming over Syria’s borders into Turkey and Jordan amid mounting signs of a wintertime humanitarian crisis, the Croatian-held weapons were back in play, an official familiar with the transfers said.

One Western official familiar with the transfers said that participants are hesitant to discuss the transfers because Saudi Arabia, which the official said has financed the purchases, has insisted on secrecy.

Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, reported Saturday that in recent months there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.

The newspaper said the United States, Croatia’s main political and military ally, was possibly the intermediary, and mentioned four sightings at Pleso Airport of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo. It said such aircraft had been seen on Dec. 14 and 23, Jan. 6 and Feb. 18. Ivica Nekic, director of the agency in charge of arms exports in Croatia, dismissed the Croatian report as speculation.

C. J. Chivers reported from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Washington, and Dan Bilefsky from Paris.

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« Reply #4780 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:25 AM »

02/26/2013 10:24 AM

Daily Life in Aleppo: The Struggle for Normality amid the Ruins of War

By Christoph Reuter

After almost two years of civil war, much of Syria is no longer under the control of autocrat Bashar Assad, including half of Aleppo. Despite air raids and rocket attacks, residents are doing what they can to establish a functioning civil society. A fledgling court deals with rent disputes while the Islamists provide flour for bread.

Aleppo is an unnerving city, especially the eastern half, which is controlled by the rebels and bombed by the regime. In this vast, dark urban expanse ravaged by war, the streets are lined with the jagged silhouettes of half-collapsed buildings and torn-open rooms, interspersed with intact facades.

Many neighborhoods only intermittently have electricity, and rarely have drinking water. The price of bottled gas for cooking has risen 17-fold. In a city park, an old woman is using a trowel to chop bits of wood from a tree stump. Children are combing through the trash in search of plastic bottles.

And yet people are streaming back into this war-torn city, which once had a population of over 2 million. Tens of thousands have returned because Turkey has refused to accept any more refugees, because they have used up their savings, and because they would rather live at home, in the hope that the next bomb will hit somewhere else, instead of dwelling in sodden tents in the cold. In the evenings, groups of people gather around small fires every few meters along the sidewalks, and pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns patrol the streets, while detonations from Syrian air force bombing raids can be heard in the distance.

No single individual is in charge here, there is no one who could keep rival militias from transforming the city into a second Mogadishu, but so far this hasn't happened. Shops and restaurants are even open in the evening, and there are fewer attacks and abductions than there were in the months leading up to the fighting.

There is also something disquieting about this normality, as if the city were a sleeping monster that could awake at any moment.

Reduced to Ruins

Two years after the first tentative demonstrations for more freedom, the rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a war that is destroying Syria in two ways: by reducing the cities to ruins -- and threatening to destroy the peaceful coexistence of diverse religious and ethnic groups for decades to come.

In late February, the United Nations registered 900,000 refugees in Syria's neighboring countries, and thousands flee across the borders every day. What's more, two and a half million people have become displaced within the country. Typhus, hepatitis and leishmaniasis, a skin infection also known as the "Aleppo boil," are spreading across the country. Some 70,000 people have died in the conflict, with an additional 100 to 200 losing their lives every day. There have been more casualties among civilians than among rebel fighters and regime soldiers.

Two years is a very long time to spend in the firing line of a regime which, since the beginning of this year, in addition to tanks and fighter jets, has now resorted to shooting Scud missiles into those parts of the country that are trying to escape its oppression. The missiles are usually fired from Damascus, have notoriously poor accuracy, and often merely leave behind enormous craters in uninhabited areas. Last Monday, though, a Scud struck Aleppo again, destroying half-abandoned buildings and killing a dozen people. This was followed on Friday by another missile attack that killed at least 12 civilians.

Two years is a dangerously long time when the rest of the world can't decide how to deal with the growing horror of this conflict. While German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is appealing for restraint, Moscow is supplying the regime with weapons, Iran is sending elite Revolutionary Guards to support Assad, and an Iranian clergyman is publicly referring to Syria as "Iran's 35th province."

Given that hundreds of thousands attended the largest demonstrations against Assad in Hama and the suburbs of Damascus back in 2011, it's fair to assume that the majority of Syrians would rather live in a free and democratic system under the rule of law.

Huge and Complex

But how does civil society survive in the face of such excessive violence by the country's rulers? Every air strike, every massacre by Assad's notorious Shabiha militia, increasingly drives the people to resist, including those who did not take to the streets to protest for democracy and freedom, but are now taking up arms to avenge their dead. They are swelling the ranks of the rebels, but they are also changing the nature of their goals: Those only interested in retribution likely care little about what happens after Assad is toppled.

Aleppo is a good indicator of the devastation, in every respect. This is a huge and complex city: It wasn't the general population here that first demonstrated and then took up arms, such as in Homs and Deir al-Zor. Only students and many lawyers rebelled, but on the whole, the city remained calm, even after people in surrounding areas had long since changed sides. Regime-loyal clerics, businessmen and local mafia clans helped keep this financial and commercial center firmly under Assad's control.

It was the rebels from the countryside, from the towns and villages, who led the attack last July and, within weeks, captured half the city -- or liberated it, depending on one's point of view. Whether they wanted to fight or not, the inhabitants of this half of the city became the victims of the regime's counterattacks, which has used artillery, tanks and aircraft to wipe out entire city blocks. The front between the world of the rebels and old Aleppo runs in a zigzag line from the southeast to the north -- and has remained virtually unchanged for months.

But how does this half of the city function, and what holds it together? Rafat Rifai, one of the organizers of the transitional city council, lists off the major players in the liberated section: the rebels of the Tawhid Brigade, the city council, the Free Syrian Lawyers' Association (FSLA), the courts, the physicians' association and the Islamists of the Al-Nusra Front.

According to Rifai, one could also say that no one is in charge: "What keeps Aleppo together is the social contract among its inhabitants -- the mutual respect and ability to compromise -- at least for the time being," he says.

Searching for Justice

Teams of electricians constantly patch up ruptured power lines after they are destroyed. Underground hospitals remain in operation, maintain blood banks and run a vaccination campaign. The state is no longer supplying flour, but 30 to 70 metric tons are still baked into bread every day. These are the first signs of a functioning civil administration.

Marwan Kaïdi was one of the first judges in Aleppo to switch sides. For the past four months, he has presided over the court in the district of Ansari, a job that sounds easier than it is. "We first had to manage to get all rebel units to recognize us as a legal body to prevent them from arresting each other in a dispute," he says. "We want to save the state -- but with what system of justice?"

They are improvising with a mixture of the judicial norms advocated by the Arab League and the tenets of Islamic law. "But we primarily rely on mediation," he admits. "We can't put a thief behind bars for three years!"

When asked whether any proceedings were currently taking place that outsiders could observe, he shrugs his shoulders and leafs through the registry. Then he nods and leads the way through the crowded building to a small office, where a bearded civilian judge, a beardless sharia judge, a court clerk, the plaintiff and his brother are sitting on brightly colored camping chairs arranged around a table.

Surprisingly enough, the case has to do with a rental dispute -- in a city where gunfire is heard in the distance every few minutes, and where the bodies of those shot to death float downriver every day from the regime-occupied zone. A rental dispute.

The plaintiff had rented out an apartment in his building until Dec. 31, 2012. Weeks before that, however, the tenant had simply disappeared, without paying -- but also without taking his possessions. The landlord could simply forcibly enter the apartment and change the lock, at least in these times of war and strife. "But precisely that could be disastrous," says one of the two judges. "Afterwards, the tenant could claim that his valuables were stolen, and then come after the landlord with a weapon. We have to maintain order, especially now!"

Vast Piles of Refuse

He says they have decided on a seven-day deadline, to be posted with a note on the apartment door. After the deadline expires, he explains, the apartment will be opened in the presence of two men from the revolutionary police, and a record made of everything that belongs to the missing tenant.

Earlier, Judge Kaïdi said that maintaining public order is less of a problem than the growing number of devotees of the radicals. "In addition to fighting Assad, they want to combat the infidels," he contends. "But in their eyes, that includes 99 percent of the people here."

Jabhat al-Nusra, the shadowy yet prominent radical group that Kaïdi is referring to, is significantly less impressive militarily in Aleppo than the fairly well organized main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Al-Nusra Front has 500 to 1,000 fighters, compared to the FSA's 20,000. The radical group's popularity is based on money, not military victories.

The Islamist group has enough money to buy hundreds of tons of flour from a local FSA commander -- enough to supply Aleppo's bakeries for weeks. They also have money to allow them to distribute butane and diesel at the old subsidized prices and, in early February, to get the garbage collection up and running again, which has since managed to remove vast piles of refuse and debris.

Nobody knows where the money comes from, not even a former member of the organization, who says that it "probably comes from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait," where preachers collect large amounts of donations. But even the organization's own people don't know exactly where the cash comes from, he says, nor are they told who leads the Al-Nusra Front: "Even the two emirs in Aleppo constantly change their names, and no one knows if there is someone above them," he says.

The ex-member of the group reveals that most of the high-ranking officials come from the circle of Syrian Islamists who went to fight the jihad in Iraq back in 2003, were arrested after their return, and then released again in March 2011. The emirs don't talk with journalists.

There are Al-Nusra groups in other cities as well, but Aleppo is their stronghold -- to the bitter disappointment of FSA commanders who have waited a long time for aid from the West that never arrived. "We met with the Americans time and again," says Abu Jumaa, the second highest ranking officer in the Tawhid Brigade, Aleppo's largest rebel unit, with over 8,000 fighters.

'What Does the West Want?'

"They told us that we should form a joint military leadership and recognize the coalition of the Syrian opposition in exile. We've done that," he notes. "Then they would support us with arms, they said. But they haven't done that, not even with civilian equipment. They don't want us to win. Perhaps they don't want us to lose, either -- but what is their goal?"

Jumaa, who is in his late fifties and was a factory owner before the revolution, confirms the experiences of other commanders: "The Americans maintain that they want to forestall the radicals," he says. "But as long as they receive money from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, they become stronger and we become weaker." He points out that this is not an ideological question. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

On Feb. 7, 2013, at a US Senate hearing in Washington, outgoing US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta provided an explanation for the many months of political foot-dragging. He said that he had favored sending military assistance to the rebel groups, as did then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the director of the CIA at the time, David Petraeus. But he said that President Barack Obama had ultimately decided against it.

Washington apparently prefers to pursue negotiations with Moscow. But this won't achieve a break in the fighting or put an end to the war. Both sides in Syria are exhausted. The rebels lack weapons while Assad's regime is running out of troops. The situation is evolving slowly, but steadily, in one direction: Village by village, district by district, military post by military post, rebels are gaining control of the country and seizing weapons.

Instead of guerrilla warfare, the rebels are using their control of large areas of the countryside to pursue almost medieval siege tactics, cutting off supply routes and starving out the troops, who have no lack of ammunition but are running short of bread. For the time being, no provincial capital has fallen, but Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Rakka and Aleppo are surrounded.

"What does the West want?" asks rebel commander Jumaa, and without waiting for a response, he says: "Right now, they are merely prolonging the bloodshed. But why?"

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #4781 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:28 AM »

02/25/2013 04:10 PM

Smuggled Out: Most Timbuktu Manuscripts Saved from Attacks

More than 80 percent of Timbuktu's priceless manuscripts were smuggled out of the ancient city before Islamists began to attack its cultural heritage, SPIEGEL has learned. Many were driven by car to the Malian capital of Bamako.

Far more of Timbuktu's priceless ancient manuscripts were saved from Islamist attacks than previosly thought, according to information from the German Foreign Ministry.

More than 200,000 of the documents, or about 80 percent of them, were smuggled to safety, says the ministry, which aided in the operation.

The ministry said many of the manuscripts, some of which date back to the 13th century, were driven out of Timbuktu in private vehicles and taken to the Malian capital, Bamako. Some of them were hidden under lettuce and fruit in an operation led by the head of the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library, Abdel Kader Haidara.

The German embassy paid for the fuel and procured archival boxes to store 4,000 of the manuscripts. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the priority now was to catalogue the manuscripts and preserve them for posterity.

"We are ready to support the reconstruction of the library in Timbuktu," said Westerwelle.

Timbuktu was captured in April by Tuareg fighters whose separatist rebellion was later hijacked by Islamist radicals who imposed Islamic law. The Muslim militants torched a world famous library in January. They also destroyed dozens of ancient shrines in Timbuktu that are sacred to Sufi Muslims, calling them idolatrous and un-Islamic.

France launched a military intervention in Mali, its former colony, in January to stop an offensive by Islamist fighters who seized control of the north last year.

Along with their African allies, French forces drove the rebels out of urban areas but now face the threat of a guerrilla war. They are fighting the rebels in northern Mali's mountainous border with Algeria, and casualties are mounting.

The Chadian army said on Sunday that 10 of its soldiers were killed in the area, after 13 Chadian soldiers were killed on Friday, Reuters reported. At least 93 rebel casualties have been reported in the area, according to the army.


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« Reply #4782 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:29 AM »

February 25, 2013

Tunisian Reports Suspect’s Arrest in Assassination


TUNIS (Reuters) — A hard-line Islamist has been arrested in connection with the killing of a Tunisian opposition politician whose death this month touched off protests across the country, a security official said Monday.

Tunisia was plunged into political crisis when the secular opposition politician, Chokri Belaid, was shot to death outside his house on Feb. 6, igniting the biggest street protests since the former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted in 2011.

The official would say only that “the police arrested a Salafist suspected of killing Belaid.” Salafists are hard-line Islamists.

The Tunisian radio station Express FM cited a senior security official as saying that the police had arrested three Salafists in connection with the killing.

Abd Majid Belaid, a brother of the victim, said he could not confirm or deny the report. The Ministry of Interior and Justice was not available for comment.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said last week that arrests had been made but gave no details.

After Mr. Belaid’s killing, Hamadi Jebali resigned as prime minister. President Moncef Marzouki has asked Mr. Larayedh to form a new government.
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« Reply #4783 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:33 AM »

London police pressured women to retract rape claims

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 8:40 EST

A Metropolitan Police sex crimes unit put pressure on women to retract allegations of rape, including against a man who went on to murder two children, the police watchdog said Tuesday.

The Sapphire Unit in Southwark, south London, had a “standard operating procedure” in 2008 and 2009 of encouraging the retraction of rape allegations so that no crime was recorded, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.

This enabled them to improve their detection statistics, because the percentage of recorded crimes that were solved appeared higher.

The commission noted a report in 2011 of “rape involving threats of violence, which was neither recorded nor investigated”.

The man accused of this rape, Jean Say, went on to kill his son and daughter.

Despite the woman’s account of the rape, a detective sergeant said she had “consented” to sex and no crime would be recorded or investigated.

Deborah Glass, the commission’s deputy chairwoman, said: “There’s no doubt this was an incredibly serious, shocking incident. We know with all the cases that we’ve dealt with that the consequences of not dealing with allegations of rape can be extremely serious. This is yet another tragic illustration of that.”

Sapphire is a London-wide unit investigating sexual violence, and this report — one of several into Sapphire — focused on the Southwark branch.

Women in Southwark alleging rape were questioned by a detective constable before speaking to a specialist officer, in defiance of Met police policy that says alleged victims should be believed unless evidence shows otherwise.

The overall Sapphire unit was brought under central Metropolitan Police command in 2009 after a series of incidents including a failure to fully investigate two women’s reports of sexual assault against serial rapist and black cab driver John Worboys, who was left free to commit more crimes.

Detective Constable Ryan Coleman-Farrow of the Southwark unit was jailed for 16 months in October 2012 for failing to investigate rape and sexual assault claims in another case, while a second officer, based in Islington, north London, is still under criminal investigation.

A total of 19 officers from across London have been disciplined, including three who were fired.

Glass said: “The pressure to meet targets as a measure of success, rather than focusing on the outcome for the victim, resulted in the police losing sight of what policing is about — protecting the public and deterring and detecting crime.”

Despite positive changes to the unit, “there is more to be done”, Glass said.

Scotland Yard acknowledged that some rape investigations had previously been “below standard.”

“The activities identified in this report came during that era and highlight specific issues within Southwark which resulted in unacceptable actions by local officers,” it said in a statement.

“It is as a result of such failings that we have made substantial changes to the investigation of rape and serious sexual assault, both in terms of structure and revised working practices.”

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« Reply #4784 on: Feb 26, 2013, 08:37 AM »

Cossack cadets fill a gap in Russia's sense of security and patriotism

Resurgence of traditional southern Russian guardsmen echoes Putin's orthodox, autocratic and nationalist ideal

Marie Jégo   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 26 February 2013 14.03 GMT      

A motley battalion is trooping the colours in the snowy yard at the Cossack military school near Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), nearly 1,000km south-east of Moscow. Aged seven to 17, the cadets, wearing camouflage clothing and matching hats, are standing to attention in a line. They are preparing for the ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Red Army's decisive victory over the Germans, watched by President Vladimir Putin.

Obeying orders from their instructor, they turn their eyes right, then left, finally staring straight ahead at the flags blowing in the wind: the colours of Russia and the Nedorubovskaya stanitsa (Cossack settlement) that runs the school, only a few kilometres from the banks of the river Don, in the Cossack heartland.

Cheeks are rosy on this icy morning, but most of the 320 cadets will be going home to their families after a tough schedule of study, military training, singing and prayers.

The cadets file into the refectory, say grace and eat their meal in silence. In the entrance to the boarding house, the Cossacks' commandments set the tone: "Love Russia, for she is your mother and no one will ever replace her", or indeed "Those who march against the Motherland are your enemies".

The headmaster, Vladlen Stratulat, is proud of his recruits: "We have a 90% success rate in the unified state examination [at the end of secondary education]," he says. The curriculum is the same as elsewhere in the Russian Federation, but with military and patriotic training as an extra.

The school has a good reputation. The buildings are modern and the extensive grounds are perfect for exercising and of course riding, essential for true Cossacks. With their military training, the cadets hope to enter the army, police or intelligence service. What is more, the school is free. "Apart from buying the basic uniform, families pay nothing. We supply the ceremonial uniform, teaching, moral education, board and lodging," says Alexander Nikolaevich, the head of the teaching staff. Almost all the funding is provided by the ministry of nationalities and nearby Cossack communities.

The school, which opened in 2009, is a symbol of Cossack resurgence. Almost a century after they were nearly destroyed by the Bolsheviks, these fierce horsemen – recruited by Ivan the Terrible in 1571 to guard Russia's borders – are back in harness. Between the Don and the Volga, and further south near Krasnodar and Rostov, stanitsas have sprung up again. Russia's ongoing demographic worries have played a part in this trend. Ethnic Russians are increasingly anxious about the vibrant Muslim areas of the Caucasus, the only places where the population is growing. This suits the Cossacks, who see themselves resuming their traditional role as the guardians of the southern steppes threatened by Tatar hordes.

The Russian army has had a Cossack regiment since 2005. Some 30 military schools, such as the one in Volgograd, have opened in the country. Strapping fellows, in papakhi (the traditional black Astrakhan hats), now patrol the streets of Moscow and Krasnodar to prevent trouble and acts of blasphemy against shrines. They replace the police in this paradoxical land where the "hierarchy of power" coexists with disintegrating state institutions (police, army, justice) sapped by inefficiency and corruption.

As part of the tsarist army the Cossacks pursued Napoleon's forces across Europe, finally camping on the Champs Elysées in 1814. But during the civil war, which followed the 1917 revolution, they were divided, Reds pitted against Whites. In the early 1930s the triumphant Bolsheviks turned on the Cossacks, who seemed at odds with dreams of a "new man". They were liquidated, along with the kulaks. During the second world war Stalin reinstated Cossack cavalry units, but when peace returned they were again forgotten.

For the past 20 years Russia's leaders have been searching for a new "national idea". With the fall of communism, they wanted to give new impulse to the country, torn between embracing the outside world or withdrawing within its borders. Since the start of his third term as president, Putin seems to have adopted the traditional tsarist line, first expressed under Nicholas I, that promotes "orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality".

Much as his reactionary predecessor, Putin relies on officialdom, the church and the security services to govern. This fits well with Cossack patriotism. "Russia is like a mother, an invaluable gift from God and above reproach," Nikolaevich says. Putin's portrait hangs in every classroom, alongside the Russian flag and the words of the national anthem.

According to Stratulat, a former Soviet air-force pilot, the return to values such as "spirituality, morality and patriotism" is good for the country, which is still recovering from the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "The children who are boarders here would spend their time in front of a computer or TV at home with their parents. Some belong to problem families, with feckless, alcoholic parents, so they're better off here," he explains. "We try to give our pupils a sense of brotherhood. They will leave school as law-abiding citizens, profoundly attached to God and their homeland."

• This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

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