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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 462971 times)
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« Reply #4875 on: Mar 03, 2013, 09:36 AM »

Mission to Mars will use feces as radiation shield

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Saturday, March 2, 2013 20:51 EST

Astronauts in a privately-funded expedition to Mars in 2018 will use their own feces to protect themselves against cosmic radiation.

New Scientist reported on Friday that the Inspiration Mars project, funded by multimillionaire Dennis Tito, will develop a radiation shield for the 1166-cubic-foot spacecraft by lining its walls with, among other materials, human waste.

“It’s a little queasy sounding, but there’s no place for that material to go,” said Taber MacCallum, a member of the Inspiration Mars project. “And it makes great radiation shielding.”

MacCallum said that the two-person crew’s waste products would also be dehydrated, with the water drained out for recycling and put into bags on the walls. Food would also be stored in shielding containers, he added, saying that using it as a shield would not put it at risk of becoming radioactive.

The goal would be to use the bags create a liquid shield that would be 40 centimeters thick, with the crew swapping and recycling materials as needed, using a program known as Water Walls, which follows researcher’s suggestions to combine life-support and waste-processing functions with radiation shielding.

“Water is better than metals for protection,” said one researcher, Marco Durante of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, since water has a higher volume of nuclei — natural radiation shields — than metals.

A processing system using bags to convert urine to water for the NASA space shuttle Endeavour in 2011 was found to be 50 percent less effective in microgravity than in tests conducted on the ground.

The crew for the yoyage, which Inspiration Mars said it hopes to begin on Jan. 5, 2018, has not been named, but organizers said on the project’s website that they will choose a man and a woman from the U.S. to take part n the 501-day trip, which will bring the spacecraft within 100 miles of Mars’ surface before using the planet’s gravity to “slingshot” it back toward Earth.

“This exceptionally quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years,” the project website stated. “After 2018, the next opportunity won’t occur again until 2031. The mission will provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #4876 on: Mar 03, 2013, 09:40 AM »

In the USA...

March 2, 2013

Across-the-Board Cuts Take Effect, but Their Impact Is Not Immediately Felt

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — University officials, city managers, day care providers and others spent Saturday assessing how they would absorb their part of the across-the-board cuts in federal spending that began taking effect over the weekend.

But even as the institutions that depend on federal money nervously took stock, most Americans were largely unaffected by the cuts, at least for now. At Los Angeles International Airport, John Konopka, 45, suffered no delays as he arrived from Atlanta.

“This is just another travel day,” Mr. Konopka said. “I think all of it’s been talked up a bit, way too politically, to make it seem a lot worse than it is. I don’t think it’s going to be the gloom and doom that some people are saying it would be.”

Others were less sanguine. Joel Silver, 63, a retiree from the Bronx, said he feared the cuts would affect the most vulnerable. He said he was angry that President Obama and lawmakers had not prevented what he called “an invented crisis.”

“What’s the point of a Congress?” he asked. “Aren’t they supposed to sit down and talk about things and figure them out? The economy was just recovering and now it’s going to slide back.”

Across the country, the impact of sequestration, as the cuts are known, appeared to be as varied as the thousands of federal programs, big and small, that now have shrunken pots of money from which to draw.

In Baltimore, the mayor called for an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the reductions in federal money and their impact on a city that already has a projected deficit of $750 million over the next decade.

At research universities, administrators sent e-mails to faculty members and students warning that changes were coming. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the president of Stony Brook University, said the institution would lose $7.6 million in “vital federal funding” for research grants and other programs. The University of California, Berkeley, warned that “as sequestration translates into fewer federal grants, the campus will be forced to hire fewer researchers.”

The Air Force Thunderbirds, the elite team of F-16 pilots who perform flight maneuvers at air shows around the country, announced on their Web site that all of their shows had been canceled starting April 1.

Federal officials began sending letters to governors, informing them of smaller grants. Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, wrote to Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, “You can expect reductions totaling approximately $35 million.”

In a 70-page report to Congress accompanying the sequestration order and detailing the reductions — agency by agency and program by program — Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Obama’s budget director, called them “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions.”

Among the $85 billion in cuts for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30: $3 million less for Pacific coastal salmon recovery; $148 million less for the patent office; a $1 million cut in support by the Defense Department for international sporting competitions; $289 million less for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; a $1 million cut in the Interior Department’s helium fund; and $16 million less for the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund.

But even as the reductions became official, the result of a stalemate between Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans over increasing taxes, some of the immediate impact was difficult to see.

The process of trimming government budgets is slow and cumbersome, involving notifications to unions about temporary furloughs, reductions in overtime pay and cuts in grant financing to state and local programs. Less federal money will, over time, mean fewer government contracts with private companies. Reduced overtime pay for airport security checkpoint officers will make lines longer, eventually.

And so as the first weekend began for the new, slimmer government, little of that was evident yet.

At Kennedy International Airport in New York, travelers who arrived extra early were greeted by short lines, not the drastic delays that federal transportation officials have said could emerge as security officers are furloughed to save money.

“The check-in was fine, at least for now. I’m surprised,” said Chris Achilefu, 45, who arrived at the airport four hours before his flight to Lagos, Nigeria. Normally Mr. Achilefu, an automotive exporter who lives in Upper Darby, Pa., would arrive two hours early, but he said he was concerned about lines.

“I was listening to what the president said yesterday, that it won’t kick in right away,” he said. “Hopefully the two parties will come together, hopefully they will resolve it before another month.”

At the main San Ysidro port of entry between Mexico and San Diego, traffic moved smoothly late Friday night, just hours after the sequestration began, and border lines had only a few dozen vehicles in each lane.

Vendors who line the street where cars sometimes idle for hours waiting to enter the United States perked up when they heard about the cuts.

“That’s good for business,” said Emilio Gomez, an employee at a stand selling rugs, china figurines and soda. “When people are waiting, they get bored and they buy more stuff.”

In his weekly address on Saturday, Mr. Obama acknowledged that not everyone would be affected equally. “While not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away, the pain will be real,” he said. “Many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in a significant way.”

In the Republican response to Mr. Obama’s address, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington also called the cuts “devastating,” but said that Republicans in the House would not yield on taxes. “Spending is the problem, which means cutting spending is the solution,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

Reporting was contributed by Robbie Brown from Atlanta; Will Carless from San Ysidro, Calif.; Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; and Marc Santora and Ravi Somaiya from New York.

*********

March 2, 2013

Cuts to Achieve Goal for Deficit, but Toll Is High

By JACKIE CALMES
NYT

WASHINGTON — The latest budget impasse ushered in a new round of austerity on Saturday, with the nation facing reduced federal services, canceled contracts, job furloughs and layoffs.

But lost in the talk of Washington’s dysfunction is this fact: on paper at least, President Obama and Congress have reduced projected deficits by nearly $4 trillion over a decade — the widely embraced goal for stabilizing the national debt.

The spending cuts that began to take effect Friday, known as sequestration and totaling about $1 trillion through 2023, come on top of $1.5 trillion in reductions that Mr. Obama and Congress committed to in 2011, mainly from the accord that averted the nation’s first debt default.

Nearly $700 billion more will come from tax increases on wealthy Americans, the product of the brawl in December over Bush-era tax cuts, and another $700 billion is expected to be saved in projected interest on the reduced debt.

If the latest cuts stick, the two parties will have achieved nearly the full amount of deficit reduction over the next decade that economists and market analysts have promoted. Yet the mix comes with substantial downsides.

It does not add up to the “grand bargain” that the two parties had been seeking, because it leaves virtually untouched the entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — that are responsible for projections of an unsustainably rising federal debt in coming decades.

“This is not a result that deals with our long-term debt problem,” said Vin Weber, a Republican former congressman. “The fact we’ve gotten to a $4 trillion deficit-reduction deal without tackling entitlements is almost a bad thing,” he added, if it lulls the public and the politicians into thinking the problem is solved.

The progress on deficit reduction over the past two years will also probably hamper job creation and the economic recovery. Private and government forecasters project that sequestration alone will cost about 700,000 jobs this year and will shave at least a half percentage point from economic growth. The Congressional Budget Office now forecasts a falling deficit but stubbornly high unemployment in coming years.

For Democrats, at least, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases in the package is another reason for disappointment. The deficit deals to date would yield $4 in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue. Mr. Obama, as well as several bipartisan groups, including the commission led by Erskine B. Bowles and Alan K. Simpson, call for one dollar of tax increases for every $2 to $3 in spending cuts.

It remains unclear how long sequestration will last: it was designed to be onerous to force a compromise on an alternative. But Mr. Obama and Republicans indicated on Friday that the cuts would probably remain in place at least until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Democrats, led by the president, express confidence that in coming months public pressure will force Republicans to relent on revenue, especially as cuts to the military begin to be felt. But Republican leaders have said they will stand firm against tax increases, suggesting that they have won at least a temporary victory on reducing the size of the government.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Mr. Obama said the Republicans had “decided that protecting special-interest tax breaks for the well off and well connected is more important than protecting our military and middle-class families from these cuts.”

“I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach — one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone’s tax rates,” Mr. Obama said.

In the Republican response, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, said: “The problem here isn’t a lack of taxes. This year alone, the federal government will take in more revenue than ever before. Spending is the problem, which means cutting spending is the solution. It’s that simple.”

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, total government spending is falling compared with the size of the economy but will rise again in the next decade. That growth will be driven by the entitlement programs as more baby boomers retire, not by discretionary spending.

And revenues, while reaching a high in dollar terms, remain below the average of the past 40 years as measured against gross domestic product.

The Republicans’ decision to accept sequestration raises the question of whether Democrats miscalculated in the negotiations in December over the Bush tax cuts. At the time, Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders accepted $680 billion in higher taxes on top incomes, which is just half of the minimum revenue increase the president wants.

Democrats had assumed that Republicans might agree to more tax increases, primarily through ending or reducing deductions, in exchange for Democrats’ support for canceling sequestration of military accounts. But Republicans shifted gears, to the surprise of the White House, and instead opted to accept the cuts, at least for now.

The grand bargain that has eluded Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner was supposed to mainly curb entitlement spending and raise revenues. Lesser savings would come from the discretionary programs that cover almost everything else the government does for defense and domestic purposes.

But Mr. Boehner’s speakership is on the line, given Republicans’ unhappiness with the December tax deal, and he vows that he will no longer negotiate with Mr. Obama on overhauling the tax code to raise revenue for deficit reduction. To date the revenue raised falls short of the amount Mr. Boehner proposed in previous talks. Nor will the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who faces re-election next year in a state with a strong Tea Party faction. He said on Friday, “I will not be part of any back-room deal, and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes.”

The president and Congressional Democrats will not agree to reductions in Medicare or Social Security spending except in return for at least $600 billion more in higher revenue over 10 years, from shaving tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

That standoff has left the discretionary programs to bear the brunt of deficit reduction measures. Those domestic and military programs are so named because Congress has discretion to set spending levels annually in appropriations bills; entitlement benefits, in contrast, grow automatically unless changed by law.

Even without counting sequestration, the budget office, in its annual 10-year outlook last month, appeared skeptical that political leaders would maintain the discretionary spending cuts mandated in 2011 given their scale.

Robert Greenstein, the head of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the decline in such spending came even as some discretionary programs, like health care for returning war veterans, would have to rise. “That will squeeze core functions — from education, research and infrastructure to protecting the food and water supply to services for poor children and frail seniors,” he said.

J. Keith Kennedy, a Republican former staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “The annual discretionary money is where you make your investments. And you decide every year where do you want to put your money to invest in the future — whether it’s education, or health care or infrastructure or national parks, or sending another rover to Mars.”

For two decades through the 1990s, G. William Hoagland, then the Republican staff director at the Senate Budget Committee, fought with Mr. Kennedy to get the Appropriations Committee to cut discretionary spending. But now, Mr. Hoagland said, “We have squeezed that turnip as far as we’re going to go, and that’s before sequestration. That is the component of the budget which, for all practical purposes, is the seed corn of the future.”

*********

March 2, 2013

Virginia’s Feast on U.S. Funds Nears an End

By TRIP GABRIEL
NYT

ARLINGTON, Va. — To listen to the human side of sequestration, wait in line here for the 595 bus to Reston, Va., a journey across a suburbia grown fat and happy on a federal spending boom in the past decade, primarily military.

While the rest of the country experienced a corrosive recession, unemployment in Arlington County, home of the Pentagon, never rose above 5 percent. Nearby Fairfax County, with a cyberintelligence industry that took off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, gorged on government contracts to private companies.

“It was easy, and people got comfortable,” said Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University, an expert on the regional economy. “They haven’t come to terms with the fact it isn’t going to be as easy.”

The Washington metropolitan area, especially Northern Virginia, is in line to experience the largest economic hit of any region from the $85 billion in spending cuts that President Obama made official late Friday.

Because the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, fall unevenly across the country, many Americans are greeting them with a shrug. Their nonchalance is heightened because the 2.4 percent lopped from a federal budget of $3.55 trillion is relatively small and will not happen all at once. Moreover, Congressional Republicans have accused the White House of exaggerating the impact for political gain.

But in Northern Virginia the cuts will be deeply felt, economists said, assuming there is no political deal to undo them, a dimming prospect. The White House said the Defense Department would furlough 90,000 civilian employees based in Virginia, the most of any state, reducing their salaries by 20 percent this year.

The ripple effect, as those employees pare expenses, put off car purchases and delay buying a home, is expected to be large. Some economists predict that Virginia will slip into recession.

“No more movies, no more out-to-dinners, no more fun,” Robin Roberts, a civilian budget employee in the Defense Department, said as she waited for the 595 outside the Pentagon for the ride home. She and her husband, who is retired, have canceled their summer vacation. They switched to a cheaper phone plan. “It’s just pay the mortgage, pay the utilities, no more frills.”

Americans far from Washington who say government spending is reckless and unsustainable may not shed a tear for its suburban counties, 6 of which are among the 10 richest in the country, according to the census. But that prosperity has largely rained down on government contractors; federal employees, especially younger ones, depend on their middle-class wages.

“Most of my paycheck goes toward child care,” said Sarah Stein, another rider of the 595. “We’ve cut out what we can cut, and we’re going to be in trouble.”

Ms. Stein’s husband lost a job two years ago and now works for much less repairing automobile wheels. Ms. Stein said she earned $64,000 in a civilian Pentagon job and pays $24,000 in child care for her two daughters, ages 3 years and 10 months.

The Pentagon has told civilian employees to plan on taking 22 days off without pay. Ms. Stein said she would not be able to save on child care even on the days she is home. “We still have to pay for five days a week, whether we go or not,” she said. “People are just very worried.”

The Center for Regional Analysis estimates that federal spending drives 37 percent of the Northern Virginia economy, largely spending on contractors that soared in the past decade.

“It was mostly on the war on terrorism,” said Dr. Fuller, the director of the center. “It was a spending bubble that made this economy grow two percentage points faster than the national economy.”

But as the federal government began cutting back two years ago — with foreign wars winding down and Congressional Republicans fighting spending — a regional slowdown that followed may be a taste of the future.

Virginia employment rose in December by only 0.8 percent, half the growth in the nation as a whole, said Christine Chmura, an economist in Richmond.

“If the sequester occurs as it’s currently stated, I would expect the state of Virginia to go into a recession,” she said.

The Pentagon’s share of the cuts is the largest of any. Robert F. Hale, an under secretary of defense, said on Feb. 20 that the Pentagon would cut $4 billion to $5 billion through civilian furloughs and $40 billion in purchases from the private sector.

Some business owners and people facing furloughs said the cutbacks were manageable, even a good thing. Moe Jafari, whose company Human Touch in McLean does technology work for the military, said he saw a new cost-consciousness in the government that pleased him.

“They’re looking at budgets that are not unlimited,” said Mr. Jafari, whose contracting includes work for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, S.C. “We see the government for the first time having discussions with us in ways we never thought. They’re looking at saving money. They’re starting to act like businesses.”

Even some government employees facing furloughs spoke of the 20 percent dock in salary as a sacrifice to a greater good. “The rest of the country is suffering and needs help; this is the least we can do,” said Mort Anvari, a civilian employee of the Army.

He and others who said they could manage their lower earnings were older, with savings and without children to support.

Mary Ann Fontana, who works for the secretary of the Air Force, said, “We older ones feel — at least I do — to help the country, it’s fine.” But “the real worry are the young ones,” she added, lower on the government pay scale and living paycheck to paycheck.

Matthew Bourke, a public affairs specialist with the Army, fits that description. He is looking for a part-time job to make up the loss to his salary. “I’m talking the restaurant business, a server, a food runner, anything,” he said.

“If you know something, let me know,” he said before jumping on his bus.


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« Reply #4877 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:23 AM »


US doctors cure child born with HIV

Mississippi doctors make medical history made with first 'functional cure' of unnamed two-year-old born with the virus who now needs no medication

• Research provides hope of a 'functional cure' for AIDS

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013      

Doctors in the US have made medical history by effectively curing a child born with HIV, the first time such a case has been documented.

The infant, who is now two and a half, needs no medication for HIV, has a normal life expectancy and is highly unlikely to be infectious to others, doctors believe.

Though medical staff and scientists are unclear why the treatment was effective, the surprise success has raised hopes that the therapy might ultimately help doctors eradicate the virus among newborns.

Doctors did not release the name or sex of the child to protect the patient's identity, but said the infant was born, and lived, in Mississippi state. Details of the case were unveiled on Sunday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.

Dr Hannah Gay, who cared for the child at the University of Mississippi medical centre, told the Guardian the case amounted to the first "functional cure" of an HIV-infected child. A patient is functionally cured of HIV when standard tests are negative for the virus, but it is likely that a tiny amount remains in their body.

"Now, after at least one year of taking no medicine, this child's blood remains free of virus even on the most sensitive tests available," Gay said.

"We expect that this baby has great chances for a long, healthy life. We are certainly hoping that this approach could lead to the same outcome in many other high-risk babies," she added.

The number of babies born with HIV in developed countries has fallen dramatically with the advent of better drugs and prevention strategies. Typically, women with HIV are given antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy to minimise the amount of virus in their blood. Their newborns go on courses of drugs too, to reduce their risk of infection further. The strategy can stop around 98% of HIV transmission from mother to child.

In the UK and Ireland, around 1,200 children are living with HIV they picked up in the womb, during birth, or while being breastfed. If an infected mother's placenta is healthy, the virus tends not to cross into the child earlier in pregnancy, but can in labour and delivery.

The problem is far more serious in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, around 387,500 children aged 14 and under were receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2010. Many were born with the infection. Nearly 2 million more children of the same age in the region are in need of the drugs.

In the latest case, the mother was unaware she had HIV until after a standard test came back positive while she was in labour. "She was too near delivery to give even the dose of medicine that we routinely use in labour. So the baby's risk of infection was significantly higher than we usually see," said Gay.

Doctors began treating the baby 30 hours after birth. Unusually, they put the child on a course of three antiretroviral drugs, given as liquids through a syringe. The traditional treatment to try to prevent transmission after birth is a course of a single antiretroviral drug. The doctor opted for the more aggressive treatment because the mother had not received any during her pregnancy.

Several days later, blood drawn from the baby before treatment started showed the child was infected, probably shortly before birth. The doctors continued with the drugs and expected the child to take them for life.

However, within a month of starting therapy, the level of HIV in the baby's blood had fallen so low that routine lab tests failed to detect it.

The mother and baby continued regular clinic visits to the clinic for the next year, but then began to miss appointments, and eventually stopped attending all together. The child had no medication from the age of 18 months, and did not see doctors again until it was nearly two years old.

"We did not see this child at all for a period of about five months," Gay told the Guardian. "When they did return to care aged 23 months, I fully expected that the baby would have a high viral load."

When the mother and child arrived back at the clinic, Gay ordered several HIV tests, and expected the virus to have returned to high levels. But she was stunned by the results. "All of the tests came back negative, very much to my surprise," she said.

The case was so extraordinary, Dr Gay called a colleague, Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at Massachusetts Medical School, who with another scientist, Deborah Persaud at Johns Hopkins Children's Centre in Baltimore, had far more sensitive blood tests to hand. They checked the baby's blood and found traces of HIV, but no viruses that were capable of multiplying.

The team believe the child was cured because the treatment was so potent and given swiftly after birth. The drugs stopped the virus from replicating in short-lived, active immune cells, but another effect was crucial. The drugs also blocked the infection of other, long-lived white blood cells, called CD4, which can harbour HIV for years. These CD4 cells behave like hideouts, and can replace HIV that is lost when active immune cells die.

The treatment would not work in older children or adults because the virus will have already infected their CD4 cells.

"Prompt antiviral therapy in newborns that begins within days of exposure may help infants clear the virus and achieve long-term remission without lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place," said Dr Persaud. "Our next step is to find out if this is a highly unusual response to very early antiretroviral therapy or something we can actually replicate in other high-risk newborns."

Children infected with HIV are given antiretroviral drugs with the intent to treat them for life, and Gay warned that anyone who takes the drugs must remain on them.

"It is far too early for anyone to try stopping effective therapy just to see if the virus comes back," she said.

Until scientists better understand how they cured the child, Gay emphasised that prevention is the most reliable way to stop babies contracting the virus from infected mothers. "Prevention really is the best cure, and we already have proven strategies that can prevent 98% of newborn infections by identifying and treating HIV-positive women," she said.

Genevieve Edwards, a spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV/Aids charity, said: "This is an interesting case, but I don't think it has implications for the antenatal screening programme in the UK, because it already takes steps to ensure that 98% to 99% of babies born to HIV-positive mothers are born without HIV."
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« Reply #4878 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Russian migration officials storm ‘Pussy Riot’ stage play

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 3, 2013 19:48 EST

AFP – Russian migration officials disrupted a Moscow play by a Swiss director about the trial against punk band Pussy Riot on Sunday, while religious activists caused a commotion outside.

The political play “The Moscow Trials” by director Milo Rau tells the story of last year’s trial against three singers of the feminist band — one of whom, Yekaterina Samutsevich, has since been freed and is now taking part in the play.

Russia’s migration service confirmed that its employees entered the Sakharov Centre, a human rights museum staging the performance, and asked Rau to show his work documents in the middle of the play.

“Mr. Rau was warned about the necessity to follow migration regulations,” deputy head of the service Sergey Kalyuzhny told RIA Novosti news agency. The director’s business visa does not allow “work activity”, he said.

Perplexed employees of the Sakharov Centre said at first that they were not sure whether the visitors were migration officials or Orthodox activists in fake uniforms.

“It was an attempt to disrupt the play, and they succeeded for two hours,” said Yelena Kaluzhskaya, the spokeswoman of the Sakharov Centre, adding that the officers had a television crew with them. “I don’t doubt that they targeted the Pussy Riot play,” she said.

The visitors, wearing purple vests emblazoned with the words “Immigration Control” asked the play’s creator for his visa documents and questioned the director of the Sakharov Centre in his office, Kaluzhskaya told AFP. Nobody was detained.

The play was later interrupted again because of Orthodox activists and Cossacks outside the venue. Police units were called in, and organisers invited five Cossacks to watch the performance to show it was not anti-religious, another employee Mikhail Kaluzhsky wrote on Facebook.

“Sakharov Centre is surrounded by people in Cossack uniform and police which seems to be keeping order,” Kaluzhsky said. An AFP correspondent also observed a truck with special forces units parked near the building.

Members of Pussy Riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour last February to stage a short performance in bright-coloured dresses and balaclavas protesting against the increased involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church in politics and Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign.

They were controversially sentenced to two years in jail on hooliganism charges in a closely-watched trial that was slammed by the West and divided Russian society.

Yekaterina Samutsevich was released in October but two other band members are serving their sentences in distant penal colonies.

Orthodox activists and Cossacks have disrupted several Pussy Riot-related events in the past, including plays and rallies in support of the women.


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« Reply #4879 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Young Russians increasingly view Stalin as strong leader

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 3, 2013 19:55 EST

AFP – No wall plaque honours the victims of Josef Stalin’s purges, who met their end in the execution cells of headquarters of the feared Soviet security services on Lubyanka Square in central Moscow.

Instead the traffic races round a busy square and the building itself, known everywhere in Moscow as The Lubyanka, these days houses the Russian successor to the KGB, the FSB, as if the burden of history did not exist.

The lack of any hint of the atrocities carried out inside the Lubyanka, particularly but not exclusively in the mid 1930s at the height of Stalin’s purges, is richly symbolic of the strangely ambivalent way in which the Soviet tyrant is remembered in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

When Stalin died sixty years ago on March 5, 1953, ordinary Soviet citizens cried real tears in the streets and anguished processions of officials marched by his open coffin at the House of Columns.

Statues and iconography lauding Stalin however disappeared in the 1960s, when his successor Nikita Khrushchev revealed the extent of his crimes to the Soviet elite and the process of de-Stalinisation began.

Yet in a country where tough and autocratic rulers, from Ivan the Terrible to Nicolas I and arguably right up to Putin himself, remain admired rather than criticized, Russia never turned entirely against Stalin.

His greatest perceived achievement was leading the Red Army to victory in World War II, despite the almost ruinous hesitations and mistakes in the early part of the campaign, not to mention the loss of much of the military elite in the purges.

The 1930s purges, the murderous collectivization of the peasantry, and the feared network of GULAG camps under Stalin that together claimed millions of lives are largely absent from the public discourse.

– ‘An effective manager?’–

At the end of the 1980s, during the perestroika reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, Stalin’s crimes were largely denounced. But by the mid-1990s, his image had already improved as liberal reforms provoked a surge in nostalgia for the Soviet era.

“Stalin’s image started to improve and this intensified with the arrival in power of Putin,” who first became president in 2000, said Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster.

“Certain figures started overtly defending Stalin and this discreet rehabilitation reached its apogee in 2004-2005 with the 60th anniversary of the war victory when he was described as an ‘effective manager’ in a book approved by the ministry of education,” said Gudkov.

A 2012 poll by the Levada Centre found that 37 percent of Russians know either nothing or almost nothing about the Stalinist repressions. The same year, Stalin topped a poll of great Russian personalities.

Putin has on rare occasions condemned the repressions of the Stalin era but has hardly ever criticized Stalin by name, still less shown a sense of being haunted by the crimes committed on his country’s territory by its former leadership.

While Khrushchev had Stalin’s body removed from the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square, it still rests at the foot of the Kremlin walls along with a host of other national heroes.

“Under Putin, the Russian authorities have taken an ambiguous attitude towards Stalin,” said Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

The current Russian political system is based on the same foundations as Stalin’s — “a centralized authority based on the security services and a submissive population,” she said.

The vice-rector of the Moscow Plekhanov University Sergei Markov, a political analyst close to Putin, says Stalin is still admired at a popular level as a symbol of a strong state.

“The majority of the population consider that people want to destroy the Russian state under the cover of de-Stalinisation and those who criticize Stalin want in fact to destroy Russia.”

– ‘Stalin taught us loyalty’ –

It’s usually not too hard at large bookshops in Russia to find words cataloging the horrors of the purges. But equally anyone wanting books eulogizing Stalin’s achievements will be able to find them piled high.

When Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad this year, buses decorated with Stalin’s face circulated in Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities.

The rights group Memorial, which was created by former dissidents to preserve the memory of victims of the Soviet regime, has for years waged a lonely campaign for the opening of a national museum remembering the Stalinist repressions and the full opening of archives.

But in vain.

“The access to the archives is limited on the fallacious grounds of respecting the private life of the victims and the secret services refuse to declassify numerous documents,” said Yan Rachinsky, a historian working at Memorial.

And those with a sharp eye can still find isolated monuments eulogizing Stalin in Russia.

Look up in the entrance hall of Kurskaya metro station in Moscow and an inscription proclaims: “It’s Stalin who taught us the loyalty to the people and who pushes us towards achievement.”


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« Reply #4880 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:40 AM »


Italy: ‘Bersani: Grillo decides or we all go home’

4 March 2013
La Repubblica, 4 March 2013

After a week of stand-offs and tough negotiation over the formation of the new government since the February 24-25 elections, Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani has issued an ultimatum to Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement (M5S).

If the M5S MPs do not support an executive led by the PD and based on an eight-point reform project, Bersani will reject every other solution, triggering another election in the spring.

The main points of this project are fighting corruption and organised crime, slashing the costs of politics through cuts in the number and salaries of MPs, reforming the party system, extending the rights of same-sex couples and what Bersani has vaguely described as “addressing social, economic and civil emergency”.

*******

March 3, 2013

A Jester No More, Italy’s Gadfly of Politics Reflects a Movement

By LIZ ALDERMAN and ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
IHT

ROME — A populist with wild hair, a booming voice and untucked shirts, Beppe Grillo now holds the fate of Italy — and to some extent Europe — in his hands.

After winning a quarter of the votes in last week’s national election, Mr. Grillo, a comedian turned activist, is being courted by Italy’s traditional political players, but having thumbed his nose at them for years, he is having none of it. He has ruled out such alliances, throwing Italian politics into a logjam.

He refers to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who sought a return to power, as “the psycho dwarf” and has steadfastly rejected appeals by Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, to join forces to govern, dismissing him as “a dead man walking.”

In a rare interview at his seaside home in Marina di Bibbona on Sunday, Mr. Grillo said it would be “inadmissible” for him to ensure the stability of a future Italian government. “It would be like Napoleon making a deal with Wellington.”

Barefoot and wearing faded jeans and a gray T-shirt with an image of Gandhi, he said his goal was to do away with a system that had “disintegrated the country” and build “something new” that would restore Italy to a true participatory democracy. “We can change everything in the hands of respectable people, but the existing political class must be expelled immediately,” he said.

Mr. Grillo typifies a new style of politician rising from the fires of the European Union’s long-running economic crisis and voter discontent in other countries. Like Alexis Tsipras, the young upstart in Greece who rode an anti-austerity wave to head the second-largest parliamentary party, or Yair Lapid, who tapped into a national frustration with social inequality in Israel, these politicians are not extremists but generally reformist leftists.

In refusing to play ball with the establishment powers, whom they consider irredeemably corrupt, the newcomers are fraying nerves in Brussels and Berlin.

“There is the sense that the European project is at risk with what happens in Italy if Grillo blames the E.U. for problems along with Germany, the enforcer,” said Moisés Naím, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “If he gets away with that, other politicians will also do it, and there may be contagion.”

Now that his political crusade, called the Five Star Movement, has been handed a powerful mandate, Mr. Grillo’s challenge will be to decide how to use it to change an establishment that has long viewed him as a demagogic, even reckless, man who risks taking Italy down the path of Greece.

Mr. Grillo rejected those charges in the interview, in which his at-home persona bore little resemblance to the inflammatory populist whipping up crowds into an indignant rage. “How can we be accused of destroying something that’s already destroyed?” he said, speaking in measured tones. “They’ve devoured the country, and now they can’t govern.”

Over the years, he has gathered huge followings after being barred from Italian television in the 1980s for mocking corrupt politicians. With a background in accounting, he has also taken on scandal-ridden businesses that have cost shareholders and taxpayers spectacular amounts through mismanagement, including the Parmalat dairy empire, Telecom Italia and the bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

His biggest edge, however, has been exploiting the power of the Internet and social media to get his message out. When he started a political blog in 2005, people logged in by the millions to engage in debate.

Buoyed by the momentum, he formed his Five Star Movement a little more than three years ago, based on a manifesto of improving public water, transportation, development, Internet connection and availability, and the environment.

Soon, Five Star candidates, known in the press as Grillini, began making a mark in local elections, grabbing seats in the legislatures of the Sicily region and in the city of Parma by addressing issues that embedded politicians rarely took on.

Candidates — mostly eager professionals younger than 45 — post videos and profiles of themselves on Mr. Grillo’s blog and are then chosen through an online vote. Ethics standards are strict: No criminal record or previous political affiliations are permitted. Doing without official cars and other perks of office is a must. Lawmakers must quit after two terms and may keep only a small percentage of the monthly salary that Italian elected representatives typically earn. The rest will most likely be put into a fund for small and medium businesses planning to expand and create jobs.

Before the national vote, the most striking success had come in Sicily, where the party won 15 of 90 seats in the regional assembly in October. It has since scored some legislative victories on critical issues in the party’s platform, largely by backing proposals sought by the movement’s members, regardless of which party makes them, said Francesco Cappello, the party’s deputy leader there.

Recently, for instance, lawmakers approved a plan by the Democratic Party to halt a costly public works contract for a bridge over the Strait of Messina, which divides Sicily from the mainland. Mr. Grillo, in a wet suit, swam it in October in one hour, a stunt he said had shown why the bridge was hardly needed.

Such tactics may be effective at shifting legislative agendas at a regional level. But maneuvering in the political shark tank of Rome will require a different approach.

The party “has the problems of a movement that grew quickly,” said Roberto Biorcio, a sociology professor at Bicocca University in Milan and an author of a recent book about the Five Star Movement. “So there will be some issues of inexperience.”

Mirella Liuzzi, 27, an expert on social media, is one of the 180 Grillini who will enter the lower house in Rome soon. She said she was looking forward to standing in Parliament, but acknowledged that it would be “a tough mandate.” Already, the movement’s voters are begging her not to disappoint them, she said.

On Sunday, all of the newly elected Grillini kicked off several days of meetings in Rome to learn about lawmaking.

“Even if it isn’t a political party, it will have to do the sorts of things that a political party normally does,” Mr. Biorcio said.

In the interview, Mr. Grillo said the movement would try to develop a consensus platform through discussion and set out legislative goals by May. Among the top measures is a so-called citizenship salary, a type of unemployment insurance for hard-hit Italians. Policies would be funded by cutting waste, corruption and rampant political spending. Further savings would come from withdrawing Italian forces from Afghanistan, capping state pensions at 5,000 euros a month and overturning tax amnesties, among other steps.

The big question is still whether Five Star lawmakers will simply be reactive and prone to blocking legislation they deem unfavorable. After Mr. Grillo refused to ally the movement with other parties, his detractors pointed out that most of his talk involves pulling down rather than building up.

His stance has rekindled fears that Italy may pivot back toward the center of the euro crisis, which Mr. Grillo blames for worsening the lives of ordinary Italians. He has called for a nationwide referendum on whether Italy should remain in the euro zone, and declared the spread between yields on Italy’s and Germany’s bonds a “hallucination” — a claim that rings hollow while thousands of small businesses are closing weekly as foreign investors drive up interest rates to reflect political uncertainty.

The departing prime minister, Mario Monti, saved Italy — at least temporarily — from having to ask for an international bailout. The risk is that Mr. Grillo has the effect of reversing those gains, making the situation harder for the people he is fighting for.

Mr. Grillo brushed off those concerns. Markets would respond positively, he said, “if we work with transparency and serenely, if we are honest and abolish conflict of interest, and pass laws against criminality, and if we support small and medium businesses and transform Italy into a community.”

Back in Sicily, Rosario Crocetta, the region’s center-left president, said he was skeptical about Mr. Grillo’s ability to guide the movement’s legislators in Rome.

“The time has come for Grillo to decide whether he is the pied piper of a protest movement that is an end to itself, or take on the institutional responsibilities for which he asked citizens for a mandate,” Mr. Crocetta said. “He has to show voters whether he was elected to help the country, or to lead it into chaos.”

Liz Alderman reported from Rome, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Marina di Bibbona, Italy.



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« Reply #4881 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:41 AM »


Portugal: ‘More than a million sang the Grândola’

4 March 2013
Diário de Notícias, 4 March 2013

More than 1m people from 40 cities throughout Portugal took to the streets on March 2 in a series of demonstrations organised by the non-partisan movement known as Que se lixe a troika (Fuck the troika). Organisers say around 800,000 marched in Lisbon alone.

"The people give the orders" was the slogan most-often written on posters and chanted during demonstrations, which ended with the protesters singing Grândola, Vila Morena, a song linked to the Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974.

During the austerity protests, demonstrators called on Pedro Passos Coelho’s government to resign and for the troika, currently in Lisbon conducting the seventh review of the bailout programme, to leave the country.
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« Reply #4882 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:43 AM »


How the corrala movement is occupying Spain

The financial crash and plummeting property market struck Spain with a high eviction rate and a rash of empty houses. Now victims of the crisis are fighting back by setting up home in a network of vacant buildings

Dave Stelfox   
The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013   

"Life changes when you lose everything," says Manoli Cortés. "There was a time when I was happy just to work and look after my home. Now, at the age of 65, I have suddenly become an activist." She is sitting in a typical Spanish living room: immaculately clean, filled with family photographs and dark wood furniture. Meanwhile, with its crisp, geometric lines, sliding French doors and private balconies, the exterior of her building looks much like any other newly built urban apartment block.

Look a little closer, though, and a different story is told. The afternoon sun shines down on concrete walls adorned with spraypainted banners and stencilled slogans, the most revealing of which reads: "Ni gente sin casa, ni casas sin gente" (No people without houses, no houses without people). This is Corrala Utopía, the first in a growing network of previously vacant properties in the Andalusian capital of Seville now occupied by victims of Spain's ongoing economic crisis.

Like much of the rest of the country, Andalusia experienced a building boom at the turn of the millennium. Locals took jobs as bricklayers, painters, carpenters, contract cleaners, and property values rose. But in 2008 the global financial crash brought this cycle to an abrupt end, leaving huge numbers unemployed and, after punishing cuts to social welfare, struggling to keep roofs over their heads.

In 2010 Spanish banks foreclosed on more than 100,000 households. Macarena, the district of Seville in which Corrala Utopía stands, now has the highest eviction-rate in the city. Yet in Seville's greater metropolitan area alone an estimated 130,000 unsellable, unrentable homes are lying empty.

Toñi Rodriguez, 44, left her home voluntarily last year. "I was unable to pay my rent and was being taken to court. I didn't want to build up any more debt. I was living on the street, sleeping in my car. Back then the people from 15-M [the grassroots community activist group that rose to international prominence during the 2011 Indignados protests] were holding public assemblies in a square every day. A friend said that they might be able to help me," she explains.

Together they came up with a simple solution. "We began to talk about the possibility of taking over vacant buildings," she says. "We spent four months planning before we did anything and I was very afraid of what might happen to us. I didn't know whether we would be allowed to stay or if we would be arrested."

Eventually, a block of flats owned by the troubled construction company Maexpa was selected. With a group of women in similar situations, Rodriguez entered the building on 14 May 2012. Now a total of 36 families have made it their home, among them 40 children and several elderly people.

So far their future appears safe. Maexpa is now mired in bankruptcy proceedings. The current owner of the building, the Zaragoza-based bank Ibercaja, has entered into a series of negotiations with the corrala's inhabitants and local support is strong. However, life there remains challenging. Just two weeks after the community was established, its electricity was cut off and shortly after, despite an application for collective billing, its water supply disconnected. Now residents have to use a public standpipe.

In recent weeks four more corralas have been established in smaller towns in Andalusia and another in the city of Málaga, where the unemployment statistics and the number of empty houses are even higher than in Seville. These come in addition to the five communities that now exist in the city, ranging in size from five to 18 families. In late January Corrala Libertad, a community of seven apartments in the district of Triana, was granted legal rights to operate as a housing cooperative.

For the occupants of Corrala Utopía, who received an award from the Asociación Pro-Derechos Humana De Andalucia (Human Rights Association of Andalucia) in December last year, these developments are encouraging. Ana Lopez, 67, is one of the community's oldest members. She lives with her 71-year-old husband Pancho, a former flamenco dancer, who has in the last few years had three heart attacks, undergone a bypass operation and suffered complications related to asthma and diabetes. Despite his ill health, the couple were evicted from their home last year after falling into mortgage arrears. Before moving into the corrala they spent several weeks sleeping in the lobby of their former building.

"I have grandchildren," she says. "When I die I would like to be able to say to myself that they will have jobs, homes and a happy life. The corralas are important. They set an example to people who are struggling. They show that we can help ourselves and each other. I don't know what the future will hold for any of us, but one way or another I believe that this will be a successful fight. I have to, otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."


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« Reply #4883 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:47 AM »


Slovenia: Alenka Bratušek has her work cut out

4 March 2013
Dnevnik Ljubljana

In taking over from the minority government of Janez Janša, who was booed in the street and ultimately ousted by the coalition, the new leader of the centre-left has a chance to tame the political crisis facing Slovenia. Unfortunately, a catastrophic economic situation awaits her.
Primož Cirman

He's gone. In December, when the Constitutional Court removed the obstacles to creating a "bad bank" and a "Slovenian Sovereign Holding" [responsible for managing the sale of state-owned enterprises], Janez Janša seemed to hold all the cards in the final phase of Slovenia's transition to a neoliberal economy.

Barely two months later, he has been ousted. Just like that, he's history. A prime minister of Slovenia and politician who came in for the most blistering criticism in the street protests and became a symbol of the elite that has ruled Slovenia since independence in 1991.

The new parliamentary majority, though, has no reason to crack open the champagne. The problems facing the Slovenian state are much bigger than merely Janša. Slovenia is peering into yet another year of alarming statistics without any certainly that the crisis has bottomed out.

Forecasts suggest growth will be negative (-2 per cent), the budget deficit will widen to reach 5 per cent of GDP at the end of the year, and unemployment will beat the record of 125,000. Businesses are stifled by debt, big exporters are recording a slump in orders, and the banking system has joined the walking dead.

It is no exaggeration to say that, five years into the crisis, Slovenia is almost "clinically dead”. Economic stagnation, accompanied by political excesses and moral deficits by the political and economic elites, have provoked widespread disenchantment and hopelessness.
Symbols of creeping poverty

In a state where once upon a time one could get a loan signed in five minutes, gold-buying agencies are sprouting up like mushrooms after a rain shower, and have become the symbol of creeping poverty. Major regional employers are closing their doors one after the other, while hospitals have run out of money for medicine. The young are leaving the country, the elderly are having more problems making ends meet at the end of the month, and the middle class is falling apart.

This is the situation facing the new prime minister, Alenka Bratušek, who risks running into rough waters from the very start of her mandate. She is, for now, acting president of a party, Positive Slovenia [centre-left], that was built on the personality cult of its founder, the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković. The “Talibans" of Janša, ideologically homogeneous, will unquestioningly follow his economic dogma of austerity, swallowing it in one gulp like a medicine, eager that this anaesthetic sooth their pain. Will the ideologically heterogeneous coalition under Bratušek obey its leader?

With little political experience to fall back on, the new prime minister will need the talents of a magician, if not a miracle-worker. How to reach agreement on the sell-off of state enterprises, regarded as high treason by the Social Democrats (SD), while Positive Slovenia intends to award employees a quarter of the shares issued and the Civic List (LS centre-right) wants to sell them off right away? Will the coalition partners be able to reach a compromise on the "bad bank"? Will the government hold together to the end of its term, fixed at a year [the probable date of the next election]?
Spirit of rebellion is freed

Unlike Janša, Bratušek risks colliding with the people's awakened hopes, which will not make her job any easier. The spirit of rebellion is already out of the bottle. The unions, public sector employees and students have been gathering in the streets and squares for months. However, if it wishes to get the public finances in order, the new government will have to impose its unpopular measures on its base support. which poured out into the streets against the austerity measures brought in by Janša.

When it comes to getting the banks back into shape, the government will have to make some tough decisions. Taking into account the public's zero tolerance for the wayward habits of the political elite, the government must work on reforms and negotiate with the unions, in short, try to sort out the errors made by Janša and to find the missing money.

The scope of action of the new government will get clarified once that government is put together. If there is one piece of advice that might be offered to the new prime minister, it would be: don't build your strategy on (only) the return of the Ministry of Culture [disbanded by Janša] and cheap populism, which digs in behind the illusion that Slovenia can be shielded from change. More than ever before, the state needs action, not empty words. The survival of the new government depends on it.
 
New PM offers second chance for PS

The appointment of the new leader of the centre-left Positive Slovenia (PS), Alenka Bratušek, provides the PS with a "second chance" to help the country, headlines Mladina. The weekly recalls that the previous party leader, Zoran Janković, failed to put together a government despite winning the December 2011 elections.

Bratušek became head of the party in January 2013 as the coalition partners of the PS – Civic List, DeSUS and the Social Democrats – demanded that Janković step down, after allegations emerged during a parliamentary commission investigation into graft in Slovenia.

The 42-year-old first woman to head the government of the country will have her work cut out for her, Mladina adds: "Only Greece and Cyprus, two countries that have been forced to seek international financial assistance, were in a worse situation than Slovenia. [...] Last year, Slovenia made a lot of absurd mistakes. [...] There's no guarantee that the new team will be able to do any better.”


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« Reply #4884 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:49 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/04/2013 11:58 AM

German Interior Minister: 'We'll Veto Schengen for Romania and Bulgaria'

Germany remains opposed to allowing Romania and Bulgaria membership in Europe's Schengen Area of border-free travel. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told SPIEGEL that more progress must be made in the fight against corruption.

SPIEGEL: European justice and interior ministers are set to make a decision on Thursday as to whether to allow Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Area, Europe's border-free travel regime. That would mean non-EU citizens with visas to travel to Romania and Bulgaria would have easy access to the rest of Europe as well. Are you supportive of such a development?

Friedrich: No. And that is why I -- should the issue remain on the agenda -- will vote against extending Schengen privileges to Romania and Bulgaria. Should Romania and Bulgaria insist that the vote be held, the attempt will be blocked by Germany's veto. The concept of freeing up certain areas, such as arrivals by air or via seaports, is likewise unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: What are the reasons for your position?

Friedrich: The EU has long been evaluating whether or not Romania and Bulgaria are ready for acceptance in the Schengen Area. The last annual report showed progress, but it's not enough. Bulgaria and Romania still have to be more decisive in the fight against corruption. Those who acquire a visa through bribery could travel all the way to Germany without further controls. Our citizens will only accept an expansion of the Schengen Area if some fundamental conditions have been met. That is not yet the case.

SPIEGEL: Mayors of German cities and towns are warning of huge levels of poverty migration once Romanian and Bulgarian workers are allowed to work and live anywhere in the EU in 2014.

Friedrich: The right to freedom of movement means that every citizen of the EU can remain in any member state when he or she studies or works there. Any EU citizen who fulfils that condition is welcome here. But those who only come to receive social welfare, and thus abuse the freedom of movement -- they must be effectively prevented from doing so.

SPIEGEL: How do you intend to do that?

Friedrich: The European Commission has to ensure that Romania and Bulgaria actually use the funds that are available to them for the benefit of their citizens. In addition, I would like to strengthen the penalties for attempted welfare fraud. Such penalties could, for example, include a ban on the return of those we have deported. I will promote such measures in Brussels. We cannot allow a situation to develop whereby people from all over Europe come to Germany because we have the highest social welfare payments.

SPIEGEL: Such an approach is not likely to trigger much euphoria in the European Commission.

Friedrich: The Commission has to learn to pay closer attention to the viewpoints and sensitivities of the people in EU member states. The basic attitude of "Oh, we'll just turn a blind eye; the main thing is that the EU continues to grow," is no longer acceptable for those who have to answer to the citizenry.

Interview conducted by Hubert Gude and Peter Müller


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« Reply #4885 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:51 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/04/2013 12:03 PM

Luxury Project Suspended: Protests in Berlin Save the Wall for Now

The investor behind a controversial luxury housing complex in the German capital has suspended construction after thousands protested plans to remove a section of the Berlin Wall to accomodate the building. He will try to find a compromise at a meeting with officials later this month.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, few of the Berliners who celebrated its demise likely imagined it would become the object of nostalgic affection.

But it has. And many want to see its remnants preserved as a valuable piece of history, a sentiment dramatically illustrated by the thousands of people who in recent days have protested the removal of a section at the Wall's famous East Side Gallery to make way for a luxury apartment complex.

Their efforts appear to have paid off. Demonstrators managed to halt the further removal of the Wall section on Friday. Then, after some 6,000 people demonstrated at the site again on Sunday, the investor has announced the suspension of construction until a compromise can be reached.

"I don't absolutely need this opening," Maik Uwe Hinkel told the Monday edition of the tabloid Bild. He had the large crane being used for the project withdrawn from the site already on Friday.

The initial plan was to remove some 22 meters of the Wall from its longest-surviving section, a 1.3 kilometer stretch along Mühlenstrasse, which is home to murals painted by artists from around the world. There are already five existing gaps in this section of Wall that allow access to the former death strip along the Spree River, and this one would have allowed entry to Hingel's high-rise luxury housing complex, in addition to making room for the construction of a new pedestrian bridge over the water.

Widening the Gap

But after the uproar, Hinkel has signalled he's ready to find another way. "We can change the plan if the city district and the other builder in our area participate," he told Bild, referring to another apartment building going up nearby, which will likely necessitate the widening of an already existing gap in the Wall. One possible -- albeit complicated -- option could be turning that gap into a shared entrance to the river shoreline for both buildings, according to Bild, which added that it remains uncertain just who will pay for the construction delay or changes to existing plans.

About 100 demonstrators were at the construction site early on Monday morning, daily Berliner Zeitung reported, noting that all of the protests have been peaceful and relaxed, prompting police to reduce their presence. "Culture instead of luxury apartments," one of their placards read -- a common sentiment in a city where many residents are vehemently anti-gentrification.

A meeting between Hinkel, the Berlin senate and the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district authority has been scheduled for March 18, and construction will cease until then, the paper reported.


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« Reply #4886 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Cardinals open pre-conclave talks in Vatican

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 4, 2013 7:05 EST

Catholic cardinals began talks on Monday ahead of a conclave to elect the next pope, following Benedict XVI’s historic resignation, as a British cardinal not in attendance admitted to sexual misconduct with priests.

Scotland’s Keith O’Brien recused himself last month after allegations dating back to the 1980s surfaced.

“My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal,” he said Sunday, days after resigning his post and retiring.

A string of new scandals and allegations have emerged since Benedict became only the second pope in the Church’s 2,000-year history to step down of his own free will.

The Vatican meetings starting on Monday, known as “general congregations”, set the date for the start of the conclave and help identify candidates to be leader of the world’s 1.2 bilion Catholics.

The Vatican is now expecting 115 “cardinal electors” — cardinals aged under 80 — to attend the conclave after O’Brien opted out and an Indonesian cardinal said he was too sick to attend.

The field for next pope remains wide open, with possible candidates from every corner of the world and from both progressive and traditionalist wings of the Church.

The pre-conclave meetings, which are expected to last for most of the week, are also a way to identify what the priorities for the next pope should be.

Benedict’s eight-year pontificate was often overshadowed by Vatican intrigue and scandals in Europe and North America over sexual abuse by paedophile priests going back decades and the cover-up of those crimes by senior prelates.

Church leaders are also concerned about issues like priestly celibacy, treatment of gays, attitudes towards divorcees, the Catholic stance on contraception as well as inter-religious dialogue, particularly with Islam.

Benedict’s effort to revive faith amid rising secularism is also crucial.

“We will confront the most important issues: evangelization and the new evangelization of lands with a Christian tradition,” Colombian cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez told Italian daily Corriere della Sera on the eve of the meeting.

Honduran cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga said there would be no avoiding the issue of “Vatileaks” — a series of leaks of confidential documents last year that revealed intrigue in the government of the Church.

“We have to be informed about things that, because of the distance, we have little information about,” Maradiaga told Italian public channel Rai Due.

No date has yet been set for the election of the Church’s 266th pope, although Italian media have mentioned next Monday, March 11 as a possibility.

The dean of the college of cardinals, Angelo Sodano, has stressed that the start date will not be set until all the “cardinal electors” are in Rome.

The closed-door “general congregations” will also make preparations for the vote itself by, for example, ordering a special stove to be set up in the Sistine Chapel to burn ballots after each of the two daily rounds of voting.

If the smoke from the ballots is black — a special chemical component is added — that indicates no candidate has won the two-thirds majority required.

If the smoke is white, it means a new pontiff has been elected.

The profile of an ideal candidate for pope is beginning to come into focus as cardinals have their say — many would prefer a relatively youthful, pastoral figure who can help foster spiritual renewal, particularly among young people.

“When John Paul II died in 2005, everyone had been thinking about a successor for months and the conclave was short,” a retired cardinal told AFP.

“This time the unprecedented move of a pope resigning has upset all the calculations,” he said, adding that he believed a “bold decision” like the unexpected election of Polish Karol Wojtyla in 1978 is a distinct possibility.

Among the leading candidates this time around are Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, a big promoter of inter-religius dialogue, and Austria’s Christoph Schoenborn, a former student of Benedict’s with strong progressive ideas.

US cardinal Sean O’Malley, who cracked down on the problem of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese where the scandals began to emerge, and Timothy Dolan, the gregarious archbishop of New York, are also seen as possibilities.

Canadian Quebecois cardinal Marc Ouellet, a conservative with ties to Latin America, is also highly rated.

For Latin America — home to most of the world’s Catholics — Brazilian cardinal and Sao Paulo archbishop Odilo Scherer is seen as a favourite.

In Africa, Ghana’s Peter Turkson, Guinea’s Robert Sarah and South Africa’s Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Duran, are also seen as possibilities.

For Asia, the most frequently mentioned candidate is Manila archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, a 55-year-old theologian and pastor who is hugely popular.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

***********

March 3, 2013

Following Resignation, Top British Cardinal Acknowledges Sexual Misconduct

By JOHN F. BURNS
IHT

LONDON — Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, acknowledged Sunday that he had been guilty of sexual misconduct, a week after he announced his resignation and said he would not attend the conclave to choose the next pope. The moves followed revelations that three current and one former priest had accused him of inappropriate sexual contact dating back decades.

Cardinal O’Brien, the head of the church in Scotland, is the highest-ranking figure in the church’s recent history to make such an admission.

“I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal,” Cardinal O’Brien, 74, said in a statement.

The statement stunned many in the Scottish church and beyond. Some said the cardinal’s statement appeared to raise the possibility that the undefined sexual activities he acknowledged may not be restricted to the known allegations, the earliest of which relates to 1980. Ordained in 1965, he became an archbishop in 1985, but was not named cardinal until 2003.

Last weekend, The Observer newspaper reported the accusations of impropriety with accounts from the four men. The first was a seminarian when Cardinal O’Brien, then a priest, served as a powerful supervisory figure in two Scottish seminaries. The others were young priests; it is not clear exactly when in the 1980s they say they were subject to his unwanted advances.

Initially, Cardinal O’Brien contested the allegations and said he was seeking legal advice. But on Sunday, he offered a sweeping apology that was, however, bereft of detail. “To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” he said. “To the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland, I also apologize. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”

Many analysts saw the cardinal’s resignation and absence from the conclave as a result of papal pressure, and British newspapers have cited unidentified Vatican officials as saying Pope Benedict — who stunned the world with his own announcement on Feb. 11 that he would step down — had ordered the cardinal to remove himself.

Benedict’s resignation, which he attributed to ill health and exhaustion, took effect on Thursday, bringing an end to an eight-year papacy overshadowed by scandals involving cover-ups of pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.

The Vatican and more than a billion Catholics worldwide now await the papal conclave this month, in which 115 cardinals will choose one among their number as Benedict’s successor. He will inherit a crisis over church governance that Vatican experts have described as one of the legacies of the 85-year-old Benedict, a widely respected theologian whose critics faulted him with failing to deal conclusively with the sexual abuse scandals.

Analysts said that Cardinal O’Brien’s apology was bound to place a shadow over the process. Even before his announcement on Sunday, it was already seen as highly unusual that Cardinal O’Brien would not attend the conclave, and several other cardinals accused of protecting abusive priests have fought off pressure not to participate from advocates for abuse victims.

The differing approaches across the Catholic world to handling the sex abuse crisis are expected to be evident at the conclave. Bishops’ conferences in English-speaking countries have tended to adopt a more aggressive, zero-tolerance policy in recent years, while more traditionalist cardinals inside the Vatican and elsewhere in the Catholic world have often closed ranks to defend fellow prelates.

Cardinal O’Brien was a powerful voice of the conservative orthodoxy on homosexuality that characterized the papacies of John Paul II, who elevated him, and Benedict. Abandoning the relatively tolerant approach to the issue he had adopted in the years before he donned a cardinal’s red hat, he condemned homosexuality as immoral, and as a “grotesque subversion.”

His sudden downfall is a major crisis for the church in Scotland, where most of the country’s 750,000 Catholics are of Irish ancestry and live in the central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh. As migrants or their descendants, they suffered decades of discrimination.

“It’s possibly, in terms of the internal history of the Church, the biggest crisis in the history of Scottish Catholicism since the Reformation,” said Tom Devine, a prominent historian.

The four men who accused Cardinal O’Brien have not been identified publicly, but the Observer reporter who broke the story, Catherine Deveney, wrote Saturday that they had all identified themselves in the complaints forwarded to the papal nuncio.

She also addressed the mystery of why the accusations are only now surfacing: until now, the men did not know of one another’s stories.

She said the former seminarian, whose story she had known “for years,” had called her last month, and related that he had just had a conversation with a priest who had divulged that the cardinal had instigated an “inappropriate relationship.” Ms. Deveney said that two other priests who said they had been approached by the cardinal were “drawn in,” without saying how.

“I’d never wanted to ‘out’ Keith just for being gay,” said the former seminarian, Ms. Deveney wrote. “But this was confirming that his behavior toward me was part of his modus operandi. He has hurt others, probably worse, than he affected me. And that only became clear a few weeks ago.”

She laid out this timeline: The four made statements to the nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, a few days before Benedict announced that he was stepping down. The four men were told that Cardinal O’Brien would still go to Rome.

Then, on Feb. 22, the cardinal made headlines by saying that the church rules on celibacy should be reviewed. Ms. Deveney said the men learned informally that the church objected to the comments, and that “the cardinal would not go to Rome.”

“So did the church act because it was shocked by the claims against the cardinal, or were they angry he had broken ranks on celibacy?” she asked, noting that her article breaking the news — for which she had the men’s statements in hand — came two days later.

The former seminarian, now married with children, said he had acted because he was “disappointed” by what he described as a “lack of integrity” by the church in reacting to the men’s original complaint to the Vatican, Ms. Deveney wrote. He said the only response he had received from church authorities had been in the form of a “cursory e-mail” giving the numbers of counselors he could talk to who were based “hundreds of miles” from where he lived.

Since the allegations became public, he said, the indifference of the church had not changed. “There have been two sensations for me this week,” he said. “One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck, and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would.”

Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome and Douglas Dalby from Edinburgh, Scotland.


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« Reply #4887 on: Mar 04, 2013, 08:10 AM »


Polls open in Kenyan elections after gun attacks

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 4, 2013 7:30 EST

Long lines of Kenyans queued from far before dawn as polls opened Monday for hard-fought elections, hours after several policemen were killed in an ambush in the port city of Mombasa.

The elections are the first since bloody post-poll violence five years ago in which over 1,100 people were killed, and observers have repeatedly warned of the risk of renewed conflict.

However, voters standing in line several hundreds of metres (yards) long — and several people thick — crowded peacefully outside polling stations including in the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and the western town of Kisumu.

People started lining up outside polling stations from as early as 4:00am to cast their vote in the historic election, with polls officially opening at 6:00am (0300GMT), although there were short delays reported in some areas.

Voters packed side streets as they queued in long lines in Mombasa, despite the gun attacks hours earlier blamed on a coastal separatist movement in which several police officers had been killed.

Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo said there had been “casualties from both sides” when an armed gang ambushed police officers in Kenya’s second city.

“There was a clash between people we suspect are MRC attackers,” Kimaiyo said, referring to the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a group seeking the secession of the popular tourist coastal region.

Police sources said at least five officers had been killed, but officials could not immediately confirm the toll.

In Nairobi’s shanty town Kibera, scene of some of the worst ethnic clashes during the heavily disputed 2007 elections, thousands waited to vote.

“I got here at 3:45am, I came so early as I wanted to avoid the long queues,” said Denis Kaene, 34 years, an unemployed resident of Kibera.

“It’s a very good day, because we are looking for a change. It will be a very calm day, I want peaceful elections.”

“We have been waiting for this moment for five years. It is time for new leaders,” said 38-year old high school teacher Timothy Njogu outside the Ngara polling station in Nairobi’s Starehe constituency.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

***********

Kenyatta bids for Kenyan presidency despite ICC 'crimes against humanity'

Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for engineering ethnic violence that killed 1,100 after last elections

David Smith in Nairobi
The Guardian, Sunday 3 March 2013 15.59 GMT   

Sporting a red cap, red-and-white shirt and expensive designer watch, Uhuru Kenyatta gripped the microphone and whipped up thousands of supporters ahead of Monday's general election in Kenya.

Voters will go to the polls fearing a replay of 2007-08's post-election violence and aware that surveys show a 50/50 chance they are about to elect a president charged with crimes against humanity.

At Kenyatta's final rally in a downtown Nairobi park on Saturday, there was no clue that this is a man who ranks alongside Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, Libya's Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in the eyes of the international criminal court (ICC).

Waiting patiently for six hours in unforgiving heat, fans scrambled for caps and T-shirts, hung off lamp-posts and trees and cheered wildly when Kenyatta's helicopter flew overhead. Finally, the deputy prime minister appeared and told the sea of red: "We've come a long way and been through a lot of ups and downs. One of the challenges we faced was people claiming we can't run because of the charges of the ICC. But God has opened a door for us and we were cleared by the [Kenyan] courts to run."

He said of Raila Odinga, his chief rivalry for the presidency: "He should accept that the will of the people is the will of God."

Kenyatta is among four Kenyans facing ICC charges for engineering ethnic violence that killed more than 1,100 people and uprooted 600,000 after the last election. Prosecutors accuse him of bankrolling the outlawed militia group Mungiki as it carried out revenge attacks.

Kenyatta's trial was due to begin next month, just when he is likely to face a run-off vote against Odinga if Monday's poll is tight, but ICC officials have indicated that it could be delayed until later this year.

One of Kenyatta's co-accused is his running mate, William Ruto. Their Jubilee coalition has united two of Kenya's biggest communities, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, who were locked in deadly clashes last time.

Some predicted, or hoped, that the ICC charges would scuttle the "UhuRuto" ticket. In a live TV debate Odinga suggested his rival might one day have to govern by Skype from the Hague. In fact Kenyatta and Ruto appear to have gained sympathy from voters wanting to send a defiant message to "western imperialists" interfering in Kenyan affairs.

David Kamau, 63, a veteran of four violent elections, said: "It's wrong for anyone to come from outside, even if they are seeking truth. It's Kenyans who should judge which way it should go. In your own home, can anyone else come and determine your issues? All these decisions should be left to Kenyan citizens."

The Kenya Human Rights Commission opposed Kenyatta and Ruto being allowed to run with the charges hanging over them, but the country's courts decided otherwise. George Morara, senior programme officer at the commission, said: "They've been very ingenious at the turning the whole thing into 'the west versus Kenya'. It's terrible to have a country where poor people can be turned like marionettes."

Kenyatta, who is married with three children, has other cards to play: his youth – at 51 he would be Kenya's youngest leader – his name and his wealth. He is the son of the country's founding president. Jomo Kenyatta's face is ubiquitous on the national currency and the biggest international airport is named after him.Uhuru - a Swahili word for freedom - Kenyatta grew up in privilege unimaginable to most Kenyans. He attended one of the top schools in Nairobi before studying political science and economics at Amherst College in America. He inherited vast tracts of land and is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 23rd richest person in Africa with an estimated £330m. The family owns a TV channel, newspaper and various radio stations.

A well-resourced election campaign has included giant "UhuRuto" billboards showing the two men standing shoulder to shoulder, aggressive drives on Facebook and Twitter and an eight-page advert in one of the country's leading newspapers on Saturday.

Thousands of police officers will be on duty on Monday, with 14 million people expected to vote.

Victory for Kenyatta would put the world in uncharted diplomatic waters: it would be the first time a nation has democratically elected a politician indicted by the ICC. Given Kenya's status as a key western ally, not least in the fight against terrorism in neighbouring Somalia, a diplomatic headache looms.

Analysts at the International Crisis Group say that "regardless of the outcome of their cases, a president facing a lengthy trial before the ICC could potentially have extremely damaging implications for reform and foreign relations."There has been speculation in the Kenyan press that the country could be slapped with sanctions, imperilling the economy. Ngungi Githuku, a human rights activist, said: "If the election goes the way of those indicted by the ICC, is that the end of the ICC process? The culture of impunity will be stronger: as long as you have weight and money, anything goes. We will have sanctions on this country. Diplomatic quarters have made it clear that it won't be business as usual."

Britain's standard position on ICC indictees – to avoid all contact unless "essential" – and US assistant secretary of state Johnnie Carson's warning that Kenya's choice will have "consequences" have ruffled feathers here. But the EU has been at pains to avoid the word "sanctions" and officially pronounce that the Kenyan people must decide.

Kiama Kaara, programmes coordinator of the Kenya Debt Relief Network, said: "Kenya is too important to the international system for it to collapse. As long as it goes through the election and institutions, it becomes a hard sell to isolate Kenya on the basis of the outcome. If Uhuru Kenyatta wins free and fair, the international community would need to come up with a viable framework that does not punish the Kenyan people for their choices."

George Morara added: "The west will be reluctant to impose sanctions. They'd rather do business with Uhuru Kenyatta like they did with Mobutu [of Zaire] for 30 years. It will be for Kenyans to deal with it. I hope the internal tension doesn't mean that Kenyans turn on each other."

The ICC says the Rome statutes do not prevent Kenyatta and Ruto from running for election. Asked if she fears their election would embolden them to resist the court, Maria Mabinty Kamara, the ICC's outreach coordinator for Kenya and Uganda, said: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. So far they have fully participated and cooperated and there is no reason to believe that won't continue."


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« Reply #4888 on: Mar 04, 2013, 08:14 AM »


Hague says UK could arm Syrian rebels if situation worsens

William Hague responds to 'delusional' Assad interview with promise to step up aid package with promise of more to come

Julian Borger   
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 March 2013 19.10 GMT   

The UK might start arming Syrian rebels if the death toll and humanitarian crisis continue to worsen, making it necessary to do "something new to save lives", William Hague said on Sunday.

The foreign secretary is due to make a statement to parliament this week detailing a new package of aid to the rebels, following a relaxation last week of the EU rules on what can be sent to Syria. It is expected to include body armour and civilian vehicles reinforced to provide protection against shrapnel. Hague said the new aid would be non-lethal, excluding weapons and ammunition, but he stressed that policy could change as the conflict continues.

"I don't rule out anything for the future. If this is going to go on for months, or years, and more tens of thousands of people are going to die, and countries like Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilised, it is not something we can ignore," the foreign secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"If ever we get into that situation [of supplying weapons to the opposition] the risks of arms falling into the wrong hands is one of the great constraints. And it is one of the reasons we don't do it now. But these things are a balance of risk. You can reach consensus eventually when humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life is so great that you have to do something new to save lives. That's why I don't rule it out in the future."

In an interview with the Sunday Times, president Assad yesterday denounced Britain for its leading role in pushing for more help to the rebels, accusing the government of neocolonialism.

"To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries," the Syrian leader said in an interview with the Sunday Times. "The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony."

He derided Britain's stated aim of strengthening moderate rebel groups, arguing no such thing existed.

"The British government wants to send military aid to moderate groups in Syria, knowing all too well that such moderate groups do not exist in Syria; we all know that we are now fighting al-Qaida or Jabhat al-Nusra, which is an offshoot of al-Qaida, and other groups of people indoctrinated with extreme ideologies. This is beyond hypocritical," Assad said.

Hague responded by telling the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "This will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times."

The comments by Assad dampened hopes of peace negotiations that had been raised in Moscow last week by his foreign minister, Walid Muallem, who said the regime was ready to talk with the opposition. Assad said talks could only take part with those elements of the opposition that were "loyal to Syria" and who "surrender their arms". He appeared to exclude the main opposition group, the National Coalition, arguing "the Syrian people do not recognise them or take them seriously".

Today in an attempt to strengthen its ties with rebels inside Syria, the head of the coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, visited areas under their control near the northern city of Aleppo, which has been the focus of intense fighting in recent months. Khatib has offered to open talks with the Damascus regime, without insisting on the opposition's earlier precondition of Assad stepping down, but demanding the government release 160,000 political prisoners.

National Coalition officials emerged from a meeting of their western and Arab backers in Rome on Thursday confident the European arms embargo would begin to crumble in the next few months and that Washington would also drop its ban on arming the rebels. They said that in recent weeks they have been allowed by Turkey to smuggle in more sophisticated types of weapons, including anti-tank missiles.

The website of the French newspaper, Le Figaro, yesterday quoted a French military source in the Middle East as saying that US, British and French special forces were already training Syrian rebels in Jordan, at the King Abdallah Special Operation Training Centre north of Amman.

The New York Times last week also quoted senior US officials as saying that American soldiers were helping train Syrian rebels "at a base in the region" . In his Le Figaro blog, the journalist Georges Malbrunot cited a source as saying the training mission began "before the end of last year".
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« Reply #4889 on: Mar 04, 2013, 08:16 AM »


Yemen should stop child executions, says Human Rights Watch

Rights group calls on president to reverse orders for three juveniles on death row after at least 15 executed in five years

Reuters in Sana'a
guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 March 2013 10.57 GMT   

Yemen has executed at least 15 young male and female offenders, all aged under 18 when they committed the offences, in the last five years, Human Rights Watch has said, urging the government to halt such executions.

The New-York-based group also called on the president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to reverse the execution orders of three juveniles on death row, whose appeals have been exhausted.

"Sending child offenders before firing squads is hardly the way for Yemen to show that it respects human rights," said Priyanka Motaparthy, children's rights researcher at HRW.

In a 30-page report, HRW cited the case of Hind al-Barti, executed by a government firing squad in Sana'a on murder charges. The group said the young woman's birth certificate showed she was 15 at the time of the alleged murder.

Barti told HRW in March 2012 that she had made a false confession after police officers beat her and threatened her with rape. Government authorities only gave her family a few hours' notice before her execution.

"There is strong evidence that Hind al-Barti was just a girl when she was accused of murder, yet she was sentenced – and received – the ultimate punishment," said Motaparthy.

"The Yemeni government should have reduced her sentence if there was any reason to believe she was under 18 at the time of the crime."

HRW said several other juvenile offenders it interviewed said they had faced threats, physical abuse and torture in custody, which they said led them to make false confessions.

Yemen's human rights minister Hooria Mashhour said Yemeni law prohibited the execution of offenders under the age of 18, but that people often lacked birth certificates to prove their age.

"Problems happen during procedures, during trials, where they treat the young offender as a fully responsible adult," said Mashhour, when asked about the HRW report.

"When rulings are issued and we, as ministry of human rights, intervene, the judiciary consider our action as interference by the executive branch in their work."

Hadi, who took office a year ago after popular protests forced the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, is trying to reassert government authority in a nation that was lawless, chaotic and impoverished even before the political upheaval.

An official of a Yemeni group, the Seyaj Organisation for Childhood Protection, said it had managed to get the execution of an alleged child offender halted on Wednesday at the last minute after contacting Hadi. The juvenile, Mohammed Abdulkarim Hazaa, was not among the three named by HRW as on death row.


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