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« Reply #5010 on: Mar 10, 2013, 07:39 AM »


Uhuru Kenyatta wins Kenyan election by a narrow margin

Rival Raila Odinga refuses to concede and sets his sights on court battle over alleged fraud

Jason Patinkin in Nairobi
The Observer, Saturday 9 March 2013 17.09 GMT   

International criminal court indictee Uhuru Kenyatta was officially declared the winner of Kenya's presidential election this afternoon, although his rival, Raila Odinga, will not concede defeat and a legal challenge alleging widespread fraud is certain.

Kenyatta won by the slimmest of margins, earning 50.07% of the vote to clinch a first-round win, in an election that saw a record turnout of 84.9% of registered voters. Kenyans waited for nearly a week for its beleaguered electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, to announce the result. So far protests have remained peaceful in a country known for ethnic violence.

"This is a coming of age for Kenya," Kenyatta said in his acceptance speech. "Despite the misgivings of many in the world, we have demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectation. We voted in peace, we upheld order and respect for the rule of law, and maintained the fabric of our society."

Kenyan media called the election for Kenyatta before dawn after the electoral commission posted results from the last constituencies, but did not officially crown Kenyatta the winner until early afternoon. In the dawn hours, Kenyatta supporters blew whistles and vuvuzelas in celebration.

Boniface Mwinde, 25, is a bus conductor and Kenyatta supporter who went out to celebrate at three in the morning. "I feel very, very good," he said, wrapping himself in a red flag of Kenyatta's party. "I've been waiting to go back to work." Businesses and schools were closed across Nairobi during the long wait.

A Kenyatta presidency has worried western governments, which may have to limit diplomatic contact with Kenya due to the international criminal court charges against him. Kenya is an ally of the west in combating terror in Africa, and Nairobi, the capital, is home to a UN headquarters.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, released a statement after the election saying America would remain "a strong friend and ally of the Kenyan people", but outgoing assistant secretary of state for Africa Johnnie Carson had previously warned of "consequences" for Kenya's government with Kenyatta in office.

In his acceptance speech, Kenyatta told the international community that he would work with the ICC prosecution. "To the nations of the world I give you my assurance that ... we will continue to co-operate with all nations and institutions," he said.

"However," he added, "we also expect that the international community will respect the sovereignty and the democratic rule of Kenya." Kenyatta has called the ICC charges western meddling in Kenyan affairs.

Kenya's last general elections in 2007 were racked by ethnic violence that killed more than 1,200 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless after disputes over election results. This time Kenyans mobilised against violence with rallies, concerts and online campaigns. Last Monday's vote earned international praise as peaceful and fair.

But electronic glitches and lack of transparency tarnished the vote counting process, stretching the process over six days. Odinga's Coalition for Reforms and Democracy party accused the electoral commission of permitting vote-rigging, and a coalition of civil society groups filed a case against the electoral commission asking for a halt in the release of results, although this was dismissed. Tensions mounted as the long counting process tested Kenyans' patience.

When official results gave Kenyatta the presidency, Odinga urged his supporters to remain peaceful despite losing. "Let the supreme court determine whether the result determined by the [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission] is the correct one. Any violence now will destroy this nation forever." Overall, peace held throughout the country, though there were reports of police in the western city of Kisumu dispersing small riots with tear gas and some rock throwing in the Nairobi slum of Kibera.

Odinga alleged "massive tampering of the tallying process," and vowed to go to the Kenyan supreme court for redress. "Democracy is on trial in Kenya," said Odinga. "It is clear that the process of electing a new set of leaders has been thwarted by another tainted election." The case will begin tomorrow, and could lead to another lengthy wait for Kenyans.

But Josh Ogure, an electrician in Kibera who supported Odinga, was not excited about a court battle. "I'm disappointed," he said of Odinga losing the election, "but I don't think there is anything that can change it. I will just now have to move on."


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« Reply #5011 on: Mar 10, 2013, 07:43 AM »


Syrian refugees could triple to 3m

Syria could become world's worst refugee problem area, warns UN high commissioner

Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 March 2013 11.48 GMT

The number of refugees from the Syrian conflict, which topped 1 million last week, could triple by the end of the year if it continues at the current rate, the UN's refugee chief said on Sunday.

"If this escalation goes on, we will have – and nothing happens to solve the problem – we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level," the UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, told reporters in Ankara.

If his worst forecast comes true, it would make Syria the world's biggest refugee problem area, ahead of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thousands of refugees are crossing into Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon every day. Half are children.

Lebanon's population has increased by 10% as a result of the refugee inflow, the UN refugee agency reported last week. Tens of thousands of refugees have even crossed into Iraq, despite the uncertain security situation there.

Aid agencies have warned that they are receiving insufficient funds to deal with the huge numbers flowing into camps such as Zaatari on the Syria-Jordan border.


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« Reply #5012 on: Mar 10, 2013, 07:46 AM »


How the influx of new global elites is changing the face of Europe

New wealth, especially from China and Russia, is having a dramatic impact on European tourism, cities and traditional rural havens

Conal Urquhart   
The Observer, Saturday 9 March 2013 21.51 GMT   

The beaches, resorts and assorted tourist attractions of Europe are undergoing a quiet revolution; a transformation to match the foreign-holiday boom unleashed by cheap package tours in the 1960s. The Russians are no longer coming. They have arrived. And the Chinese are on their way in even bigger numbers.

With its pretty piazzas and ancient churches, Montecatini is a typical Tuscan town. But it is also one where the mayor has proposed that all street signs should be written in Russia's Cyrillic script, reflecting an unprecedented invasion of pleasure-seekers from the east.

Across the rest of the continent, the picture is the same. Russians, Asians and Arabs are rewriting the rules of European tourism as newly enriched tycoons and middle-class beneficiaries of the world's booming economies buy properties and take up beach space once jealously guarded by northern Europeans.

Outbound tourists from western Europe and the United States have remained fairly static in recent decades but the numbers going in the other direction are startling. Take China, where a travelling boom has marched in step with the country's vertiginous economic growth. Five million making foreign visits in 1996 became 60 million by 2010. Over the same period, 12 million visitors from Moscow, St Petersburg and the rest of Russia multiplied into almost 40 million.

As the eurozone (and Britain) wonders where sustained economic growth is going to come from, in the depressing aftermath of the banking crisis, governments overseeing flagging economies in southern Europe are pulling out all the stops to attract non-EU visitors with cash to spare. Countries such as Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have even offered residency permits to foreign house buyers to energise their property markets.

Joannna Leverett of Savills estate agents said there were several trends. "Russians are still buying in the south of France, Tuscany, Turkey. Buyers from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar have started buying in Turkey as well as the south of France. Marbella remains popular. They tend to buy large villas in serviced resorts. Americans continue to buy in Italy and France. Chinese are buying newly built apartments in Paris and London, but here it's related to education and visas and less about tourism," she said.

In the context of the eurozone crisis, a knockdown sale of assets appears to have begun. Last week the emir of Qatar bought six Greek islands for £7m, continuing a trend started by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia when he fell in love with Marbella in 1974. The king spent up to two months on the Costa del Sol every summer and he was joined by much of the Saudi court and many other Middle Eastern princes. Each royal visit was said to pump £60m into the local economy.

Marbella is still a magnet for visitors from the Middle East. The Saudi royal family owns the 200-acre Nahda complex that includes a clinic, a mosque and a replica of the White House, among other palaces. Sheikh Abdullah al-Thani of Qatar owns Málaga football club. But Russian wealth has become a bigger player in recent years.

Jelena Cvjetkovic, also of Savills, said that wealthy Russians were still looking for "trophy assets" and last year one had bought a private property for more than £40m in St Tropez. The latest fashion, she said, was for the very wealthy to add a countryside property to their seaside property. "We are seeing a surge of interest in Tuscany. They already have a seaside property and now they want a countryside property with a vineyard. A lot of these sales are carried out privately, but I have heard through lawyers of many going for £30m-£40m," she said.

Meanwhile, the emerging Russian middle class – the merely well-off as opposed to the super-rich – are transforming the mass tourism market and adding to their own, more modest property portfolios. In 2011 Russians were the largest group of visitors to Europe, with 24.6 million, followed by the US with 20.6 million. Next is China with 4.7 million, Canada with 4.2 million and Japan with 4.1 million.

Many of those visitors are also buying. Mike Bridges, editor of International Residences, a Russian property magazine, said: "The majority of Russian buyers are now from the middle classes with an average budget of €500,000. They normally don't need mortgages and pay cash. The Russian economy is doing very well, and the middle class is immense."

As a result, large Russian communities are emerging in north-east Spain, Montenegro and Cyprus where there are Russian shops and services on offer. Bridges said: "Russians are looking for places with direct flights to St Petersburg and Moscow and they need a lot of interpreters at the other end. Developers normally need Russian-speaking staff. Bulgaria and Montenegro are popular because of the linguistic similarities, but Spain has become very popular because of the cheap property prices."

Russians now account for 9% of the property market on the Costa del Sol, ahead of the Germans on 7%, but still way behind the British on 35%.

The new influx has had its darker side, amid accusations of mafia activity and corruption. In Cyprus, a court in 2010 bailed a Russian accused of spying in the US, giving him the opportunity to escape. In Spain, Russian businessmen and Spanish politicians have been accused of collaborating in corruption.

But as the spending capacity of the new powerhouses of the global economy inexorably grows, the new kids on the block will become more numerous. And if Russians are the present, the Chinese are the future. Young Chinese people are steadily moving from organised group travel to independent travel, making reservations and buying tickets on the internet and going beyond the major tourist attractions.

The UN has predicted 100 million Chinese tourists will travel somewhere in 2020. Europe, or at least the continent's most alluring spots, are set to become a playground for the new rich of the east. It's all a long way from the Costa Brava in 1970.

Scramble for a continent

UK

The British climate does not lend itself to non-European sunseekers, but the race for prime property grows ever more intense. When the Malaysian owners of the Battersea power station development released the first batch of 600 apartments for sale in January they were snapped up in two days.

"We're in the eye of the storm right now," says James Moran, sales director at Winkworth's South Kensington office. "Sales are up 60% on last year and we're seeing traditional markets, such as the French and Italians, being replaced with buyers from Russia, the Middle East and Asia."

The Arab spring has also resulted in a surge in demand from Egypt, Libya and Iran as buyers look for a safe haven for their money.

Joanne O'Connor

France

The Russians are still buying holiday homes on the French Riviera, but they are now being joined by sun-starved Scandinavians and cash-rich Egyptians. The "Golden Triangle" – Cannes, Cap d'Antibes, Châteauneuf – remains popular. Fredrik Lilloe, of Estate Net Prestige-Knight Frank, says his agency is seeing buyers from the Middle East, particularly Egyptians. The Chinese have shown great interest in Burgundy vineyards, but in general they do not live on the estate. They get someone to run it and ship the wine to China.

Mark Harvey, of the French team at Knight Frank in London, said Paris was popular with Middle Eastern and American buyers as well as Russians and Italians.

President François Hollande's threat to impose higher taxes has sent many buyers out of the country to seek "safe-haven" investments in places such as Monaco and Switzerland.

Kim Willsher

Spain

With the collapse of the housing market after the residential property bubble burst five years ago, buyers of all nationalities have been scarce – though Russian president Vladimir Putin was among those reportedly snooping around Marbella's exclusive La Zabaleta luxury estate last year.

The government is so desperate to sell off the estimated 1m empty new-build properties that it plans to change visa laws to allow non-Europeans who spend more than €160,000 (£140,000) on a house to live in the country.

Secretary of state for commerce Jaime García-Legaz said the move was specifically aimed at attracting wealthy Russian and Chinese buyers. With prices down more than 30%, Russians overtook Germans last year as the second biggest buyers of property – after Britons – on the southern Costa del Sol. In eastern Alicante they snap up the more expensive properties.

Chinese buyers, meanwhile, are also looking at far bigger investments. A Chinese consortium is considering a 4.6 square mile site on the outskirts of Madrid, where it plans to build a new finance centre.

All of that pales, however, beside the site at Alcorcón, near Madrid, where US billionaire Sheldon Adelson plans to build a vast complex, known as EuroVegas.

Giles Tremlett

Italy

Russian oligarchs and their bottle blonde wives have been a common sight on Sardinia's Emerald Coast for years now, propping up the bar at Flavio Briatore's Billionaire nightclub. The Russian tide has since hit the mainland, with the mayor of Tuscan resort Forte dei Marmi growing so alarmed by the spiralling house prices he decided to set aside new homes for locals only.

Further inland, Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, took over an entire spa hotel in Montecatini Terme last year with her 30-strong entourage, prompting the mayor to suggest he would put up Russian street signs in the hope Medvedeva's arrival would lead a boom in high spending Russians.

Gulf Arabs are thick on the ground and expected to swell in numbers after the Qatar royal family signed a deal last year to buy out the American owner of the Emerald Coast – a stunning stretch of Sardinian coast first developed by the Aga Khan. Plans for large-scale development by the Qataris have been rumoured, prompting fears that sleepy coves will be crowded by new villas catering to Gulf Arabs.

Italian hoteliers are meanwhile desperate to figure out how they can grab a slice of the growing Chinese tourism business, from offering the right tea to complying with Feng Shui rules.

Their fear is that Chinese entrepreneurs will buy up hotels to accommodate Chinese tourists, shutting out Italians from the goldrush. Milan already boasts its own, all-Chinese hotel, the Huaxia.

Indian tourists are now a common site on the streets of Rome, displacing the traditional mobs of baseball capped, camera toting Japanese.

Tom Kington

Germany

Germany is not a country accustomed to foreign investors. In a characteristically blunt commentary the tabloid Bild recently lamented that "Russians, Chinese, Indians and Arabs" were "stuffing their pockets" with "German bargains".

"And they have even more of the best cuts of meat in their sights" Increasing numbers of shipyards on the north German coast have found themselves in foreign hands, much to the disdain of many Germans who feel the shipyard sellouts are just the tip of a much more widespread foreign takeover of corporate Germany that leaves Europe's biggest economy exposed to speculation and short-term visions

Kate Connolly

Montenegro

When it was part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was the favourite destination for the Serbian middle classes. The Bay of Kotor was the last home of the Yugoslav navy and the resort of Herceg Novi was known as little Belgrade for the number of tourists that came every summer from the Serbian capital.

Now Russians almost equal the number of Serbians who travel to Montenegro but are greater buyers of property. !e Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last year that 40% of Montenegrin property was owned by Russians. Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska is the owner of Montenegro's aluminium plant, the country's biggest industry.

Conal Urquhart

Greece

After three years of economic crisis Greece is beginning to attract investors. The emir of Qatar confirmed last week that the debt choked country is a buyer's market, picking up six islands in the Ionian Sea for a mere £7m.

"Properties have lost 50% of their value since 2007 and foreigners who smell an opportunity are calling," says Christos Vergos, of the Athens branch of Remax. Bargains are such that Qatar's oil-rich monarch, Hamad bin Khalifa al-!ani, wants to buy 12 more islands off the coast of Ithaca for the purpose of building summer palaces for each of his 24 children.

Property specialists say hundreds of cash-rich Lebanese and Israelis have snapped up holiday homes on the island of Mykonos.

"They are the people with cash in hand who can get a deal," says Roi Deldimou who represents Beauchamp estates on the island. Turkish investors are also moving in, cutting deals to snap up hotels in the historic heart of recession-ravaged Athens, where the cash-strapped state, desperate to meet the demands of international lenders, is also offloading properties.

The Chinese, who recently bought the operating rights to the port of Pireaus, are taking advantage of depressed prices to purchase property around the capital.

Russians have led Greece's wave of new investors. Oligarchs have acquired luxurious homes along the Athenian Riviera following Roman Abramovich's acquisition of a huge estate on Corfu.

Helena Smith

Cyprus

The island embodies the drive by non-Europeans to invest in the European Union. With the collapse of its British second homes market, the Chinese have moved in, buying retreats at a record rate.

"Since November last year there have been around 700 sales to Chinese investors," says Peter Christofi, overseas marketing manager at Antonis Louizou and Associates.

The promise of permanent residency visas, procured with properties over €300,000, has spurred all the interest. "In our experience the attraction is all based on this law involving residence visas and has little to do with Cyprus itself," said Christofi.

With its low taxes and abundant sunshine, the island has also been a magnet for Russians almost since the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Based in Limassol, the 40,000-strong community has made huge property investments.

Helena Smith


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« Reply #5013 on: Mar 10, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Hungarian prime minister warned over moves to increase his power

European human rights watchdog calls for Viktor Orbán to delay constitutional changes seen as assault on democratic rights

Ian Traynor in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 14.04 GMT   

Hungary's domineering prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is coming under mounting European pressure to shelve changes to the constitution planned for next week which are seen as an assault on democratic rights and liberties and a boost to his executive power.

In a statement reflecting deep-seated anxiety at the direction in which Orbán is taking Hungary, Germany and three other EU countries called for Brussels to be given new powers allowing it to freeze EU budget funds to a member state in breach of Europe's "fundamental values".

Europe's human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe (not an EU body), also called on Orbán to delay the constitutional changes until its experts had had a chance to scrutinise them.

Orbán, whose Fidesz party enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament, brought in a new constitution last year. Monday's vote would be the fourth change in a year, reintroducing amendments that had been scrapped because of disputes with the EU and that had been rejected by the country's supreme court.

Critics claim the proposed changes will dilute checks and balances on government power, narrow the authority of the constitutional court, limit or control religious freedoms, narrowly define heterosexual marriage as the foundation of Hungarian society, and curb the authority of independent institutions.

This week Orbán appointed a loyalist former minister as head of the central bank, seen as a move to undermine the bank's independence and ensure it follows the government's line.

"I am concerned about the compatibility of the constitutional amendments with the principle of the rule of law," said Thorbjørn Jagland, the Norwegian who heads the Council of Europe. "This gives the impression that the government is willing to use the two-thirds parliamentary majority to overrule the constitutional court, which might endanger the fundamental principle of checks and balances in a democracy."

Budapest dismissed the call for a delay. "It is unacceptable that prior to the adoption of the amendment the Council of Europe should announce a preliminary judgment which is clearly based on misunderstandings. We find this behaviour especially strange," said a statement from Orbán's party.

There were calls in Brussels for the issue to be raised with Orbán at an EU summit next week. "Using a parliamentary majority to overrule the country's highest court's decision does not comply with EU values," said Hannes Swoboda, leader of the social democrats in the European parliament. "Victor Orbán has been warned by all sides."

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the parliament's liberals, said: "Orbán appears to have learned nothing."

A straight-talking populist who relishes his regular collisions with the European commission, Orbán reignited his fire at Brussels on Thursday, calling on the countries of eastern Europe who joined the EU in 2004 to plot their own path.

"The countries of central and eastern Europe should make their own policies without looking to the EU. We do not have to listen to everything the bureaucrats in Brussels say," he said.

In a letter to the European commission obtained by the Guardian, Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, was joined by his counterparts in Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland in demanding new powers to police the rule of law in EU member states.

"There are limits to our institutional arrangements when it comes to ensuring compliance," they complained. "A new, more effective mechanism to safeguard fundamental values in member states is needed … the commission should have a stronger role here, allowed to address deficits in a given country and require the country in question to remedy the situation … as a last resort, the suspension of EU funding should be possible."

***********

Viktor Orbán's grip on government is suffocating democracy in Hungary

The prime minister's changes to voting rules will discourage poorer voters and consolidate his power

Viktor Pál   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 November 2012 15.00 GMT   

At the end of last month, the Hungarian parliament – which is dominated by the Fidesz party, led by the prime minister, Viktor Orbán – passed a constitutional amendment on voter registration. The new amendment will allow citizens to vote in elections only if they register in advance either in person or electronically. Critics of this move have pointed out the new amendment will help the powerful leading parties at the expense of smaller political groups in the 2014 election: poorer and hesitant voters are less likely to register, and more likely to stay away from the ballot boxes on election day.

NGOs and analysts have warned that binding voting to registration will serve the political goals of Orbán, who today has a slight majority of support among voting age citizens, but wants to gain absolute majority in parliament by the modifications to the constitution.

Orbán knows exactly how hard it is to win elections. He spent 16 years in opposition. During this time, he created a centralised and well-disciplined rightwing populist party, which is probably one of the most professionally managed organisations of its kind in east-central Europe.

Since Fidesz came to power in 2010, the party has been aiming to strengthen its position as the dominant political force in Hungary. It is talking about leading the country for the long term and state television and radio are already under its control. Since December 2011, former state TV union leaders and NGOs have been holding protests in front of state TV headquarters against biased reporting. On 23 October, when hundreds of thousands marched on the streets of Budapest, state news preferred to cover a pro-Orbán march for seven minutes on the evening news. A similarly large opposition protest received barely a minute in coverage. The keynote speaker, former socialist prime minister and leader of opposition party Together 2014, Gordon Bajnai was filmed by state media from an angle and location that presented his voice as faint and his speech insecure. I was shocked by this footage on state TV, because I was present and Bajnai appeared confident and the crowd cheered his words.

Also on that day, the ministry of interior and the state news agency Magyer Távirati Iroda (MTI) may have deliberately dwarfed the numbers of opposition protesters to 20,000 and boosted pro-Orbán numbers to 400,000. Népszabadság, the country's best-selling daily newspaper, calculated that even if the pro-Orbán march would have covered the full surface of the route, having two people in every square metre, their numbers would have been no more than 180,000.

So what can be done? If voter registration becomes law in the near future, what will the reaction in the rest of the European community be? Some will call for a boycott, but the EU has a poor track record of making political sanctions work against its own members. When Jörg Haider was part of the Austrian government, he used openly antisemitic and xenophobic political rhetoric which enraged the EU. In 2000, 14 member states froze bilateral relations between the EU and Austria for seven months, but these sanctions were largely symbolic in nature.

International reaction will not force Orbán to change course. Instead, the people of Hungary will need to sort out their own fate. His paternalistic rule provides a second chance for Hungarians to reconsider what they failed to do in 1989. At the end of the communist era, civic society was not strong enough to challenge the interests of new and old elites throughout east-central Europe. Privatisations favoured the few, and masses slipped rapidly into poverty.

After 1990, civic society shrank, and important social, economic and political questions have not been raised since. But things may be about to change. NGO leaders have teamed up with Bajnai to start a discussion about how a better, fairer and more successful society could be created. Bajnai and his fellow NGOs want to create a large, central political force that entices voters both from Fidesz and the Socialist party.

This idea of a new, central force may well stand a chance of success in 2014 – as long as it can appeal to the large section of undecided voters. But its chances also depend on how Fidesz will legislate on voter registration, because its goal is to usher Fidesz voters to the polls and keep the undecided at home. Even a little more than 50% of votes will give Fidesz absolute supremacy in parliament.

Hungarians need political consolidation, fair and straightforward policies in today's tough times. Perhaps Bajnai – a calm, and intelligent EU-friendly politician – will convince them in 2014 that he makes a better candidate than anxious Orbán, who is apparently afraid to lose his laboriously gained power, and aims to be re-elected at any price.

*********

'Baby boxes' polarise Hungary

Proponents say hatches for unwanted newborns result in fewer deaths, but critics say counselling for mothers is preferable

Anna Szoboszlay in Budapest
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 June 2012 12.24 BST   

Baby boxes have polarised Hungarians, with many experts saying anonymous childbirth in hospitals would be a better option. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

On Saturday evening the bell of the "baby box" in Budapest's Heim Pál children's hospital rang at the intensive care department, signalling that a newborn had been placed in the heated incubator.

It was the fourth time this year that somebody left a baby in the hatch in the garden wall of the hospital – a higher rate than usual.

"We saw on our monitors that a baby was placed in the incubator just about the time the bell was pushed," said Emoke Székely, head physician of the department. "However, we saw nothing more than the baby suddenly appearing in the box. Our cameras are placed in a way to not release any information about the persons using this opportunity. This is the point of this whole facility, to secure full anonymity. In a way it is similar to the practices from previous centuries, when foundling babies were left on church stairs."

The situation is of growing concern to the UN. Hungary pioneered the foundling hatches in 1996 when it opened its first incubator in Budapest's Schöpf-Merei hospital and Mothers in Crisis centre. By the end of 2011 there were 26 in the country, with about 40 babies left in them over the past 15 years, the majority in the past seven.

"Until 2005, leaving a baby in any public place, these 'baby boxes' included, was seen as a crime in Hungary and punished accordingly," said Szilvia Gyurkó, the children rights legal expert of Unicef Hungary. "In 2005 the law was changed. After that, leaving a newborn anonymously in an incubator was not punished anymore, the person making this choice received legal immunity and his/her act was seen as a declaration of abandonment of the child, even though there were no papers signed.

"According to the law, if the family would not return and request the baby in the following six weeks, their 'consent' was given to adoption and the baby could be entered almost immediately in the system."

The relaxation of the law has been controversial. "It shows how 'blind' the legal system can be, and how contradictions in the legislative system persist," Gyurkó added. "Currently, if you leave anonymously your baby in any other place than a baby-saver incubator, you will be searched and if caught, severely punished. If you do the same in an incubator, you are free to walk away, nobody will inquire after you."

The rights of the child, she says, are "severely harmed". "He or she will never have a chance to know her/his birth mother, her/his health history, or siblings," she said.

Opinions in Hungary are polarised on baby boxes, which have been introduced in at least 11 other European countries. Proponents say they result in fewer unwanted newborns being killed at birth. But critics say they are inaccessible to rural women, have done nothing to alter infanticide statistics and have shifted the focus from methods that might make a proper difference, such as counselling, free contraception and help for pregnant women and mothers in need.

Maria Herczog, a sociologist and member of the UN Children's Rights Committee agrees with Gyurkó's assessment. "This is a paradoxical situation in Hungary: while midwife Ágnes Geréb is sent to jail for championing home birth under controlled circumstances, the incubator programme, though indirectly, sends out the mistaken message to pregnant women in crisis that they are right to continue with hiding their pregnancies, giving birth under uncontrolled circumstances, and then abandoning their babies anonymously, losing the possibility to connect with them again."

Herczog said she and many other experts of these issues had advocated a different system, one that would make anonymous childbirth at hospitals possible, similar to the French system. In her view that is an optimal solution for mothers and babies, without erasing the possibility for either that later in their lives they can receive information about each other.

"The baby hatch is an easy and comfortable 'solution' for the state, instead of providing a comprehensive set of policies, services to prevent abandonment," she said. "Currently the system is serving first and foremost the interest of the prospective adoptive parents, who are usually well situated middle-class families, while at the same time indirectly assumes that these birth mothers are irresponsible and unsuitable for motherhood."



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« Reply #5014 on: Mar 10, 2013, 07:57 AM »


Abu Qatada must remain in custody

Judge refuses to grant bail to radical Islamic cleric after arrest, days before new Home Office deportation attempt

Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 March 2013 09.56 GMT   

Radical preacher Abu Qatada must remain in custody following his arrest for allegedly breaching his bail conditions, a judge has ruled.

UK Border Agency officials arrested Qatada on Friday after raids by the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism unit, days before the government's latest deportation bid in court.

Mr Justice Irwin, chairman of the special immigration appeals commission (Siac), on Saturday refused to grant Qatada bail at a telephone hearing, a spokesman for the Judicial Office said.

He was ordered to return to Belmarsh prison with a further hearing to take place on 21 March.

The court heard evidence suggesting Qatada had broken a bail condition which prohibits him from permitting mobile phones to be switched on in his house while he is present, the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office said: "At a telephone hearing this afternoon with lawyers for both sides, Mr Justice Irwin, chairman of Siac, ordered the return of Omar Othman, otherwise known as Abu Qatada, to prison.

"There was material before Siac suggesting he had breached his bail conditions. There will be a further hearing in the matter on 21 March, giving both sides the opportunity to submit more evidence in the matter."

In his ruling, Irwin said there was "strong prima facie evidence" that Qatada had breached the bail condition, which also bans communications equipment such as digital media devices, rewritable CDs and pen drives being brought into his house.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are pleased the special immigration appeals commission has decided to revoke bail for this individual on an interim basis following serious breaches of his bail conditions.

"We will vigorously argue our case at the next hearing on 21 March."

Officers searched at four properties in connection with ongoing inquiries by the counter-terrorism command but found no hazardous materials, Scotland Yard said. No arrests have been made.

Qatada, who has been convicted of terror charges in Jordan, is due to appear at the court of appeal on Monday as the home secretary, Theresa May, bids to overturn a judge's decision to allow him to stay in the UK.

Qatada was arrested outside his home by the UKBA, the Sun reported. Pictures showed him being escorted out of his house by officials with his hands hidden under a jacket.

Police raids on his home began at 6.30am on Thursday, Scotland Yard said, and were followed by his arrest by the UKBA on Saturday.

Once described by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", Qatada has used human rights laws to fight deportation for more than a decade.

Siac decided in November that Qatada could not lawfully be deported to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999. The judges ruled there was a danger that evidence from Qatada's former co-defendants Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher, said to have been obtained by torture, could be used against him in a retrial in Jordan.

He was granted bail following the ruling by three Siac judges and released from HMP Long Lartin, returning to his family home in London.

But on Monday, the government will challenge the decision in front of three court of appeal judges led by Lord Dyson, the master of the rolls.


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« Reply #5015 on: Mar 10, 2013, 08:00 AM »

Cardinals calling for access to Vatican report on church security leaks

By John Hooper, The Guardian
Saturday, March 9, 2013 20:01 EDT

Before the conclave, Benedict XVI ordered an inquiry into Vatican leaks. Now the men who will choose his successor demand its full disclosure

It is known throughout the Vatican as the Relatio (Narration). It is contained in two stiff, unmarked red folders and runs to around 300 pages. Lying in a safe in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St Peter’s Square, it will be at the forefront of the minds of the 115 cardinals who on Tuesday are to file into the Sistine chapel to start the conclave that elects the next pope.

In the Relatio are the findings of three cardinal-detectives, appointed last year by ex-pope Benedict XVI to investigate the leaking of documents from his study. The cardinals, headed by a Spanish member of the Opus Dei fellowship, Cardinal Julián Herranz, discovered the main source of the leaks – the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele.

But they found a great deal else – and some of it is reportedly extremely compromising. According to one unconfirmed report, they stumbled on a gay sex ring in the Vatican, some of whose members had been blackmailed.

Already dismayed by the blunders that marred Benedict’s papacy, many of the cardinals in Rome to elect his successor are seething with resentment towards the Roman Curia, the intensely secretive and predominantly Italian bureaucracy that administers the Catholic church.

“The anti-curial – and anti-Italian – feeling is almost palpable,” said a source close to their deliberations.

On the first day of last week’s pre-conclave discussions, known as general congregations, three cardinals demanded that Herranz circulate the Relatio. For Massimo Franco, author of a recently published book on the protracted crisis rocking the Vatican, this was more than just prurient curiosity. “The cardinals must vote with a clear view of the situation in the Vatican,” he said. “Otherwise, they could be voting for a pope who is accused of wrongdoing in the report. If that comes out afterwards, it would cause mayhem.”

Neither can they avoid that risk simply by voting for a pastoral cardinal – one who is an archbishop in his own country. Most have at least one seat on the committees that oversee the work of the Vatican’s various departments and they are frequent visitors to Rome. Innocently or otherwise, one or more could have been linked to events detailed in the Relatio.

Yet Herranz’s reaction was to hold out, apparently signalling that Benedict ordered that the report be kept for his successor. Many in and around the Vatican interpreted his reaction as confirmation of something already becoming apparent – faced with demands for transparency, the departmental satraps of the Curia were closing ranks.

Indeed, the approach to this conclave has brought about what many in Rome would deem a miracle: an apparent, if temporary, healing of the breach between the Vatican’s two most renowned adversaries, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, and his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. As a result, a conclave that had been billed as a trial of strength between the two men is shaping up instead as a battle between the “Romans” and invading “Barbarians”.

The first group includes the power-brokers in the Vatican and their allies, many of whom are Italians; the second faction, bent on shaking the Curia to its foundations, is led by cardinals from the United States and Germany.

But to see it as a contest between conservatives and liberals would be a mistake: after eight years of Benedict XVI and 27 of John Paul II, there are precious few liberals among the cardinals.

The most obvious sign of the Barbarians’ drive for greater transparency was visible last week on the Janiculum, the hill south of the Vatican that at this time of year offers sublime views to the snowy Apennines. In the North American college, the US cardinals attending the general congregations gave daily media briefings in which they managed to shed light on the process without breaking their duty of confidentiality or contradicting the official account of the pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

But on Wednesday they were made to shut up in a move that had as much to do with the looming face-off in the Sistine chapel as with media relations. The pretext was a report in the Italian newspaper La Stampa on the previous day’s proceedings that certainly did not come from the Americans’ press conferences.

Initial skirmishing, then, went to the Romans. But the battle itself has yet to be fought, even if there are indications already of who initially will champion each side. The choices are deceptive. The Romans have, for the moment, put their faith in a cardinal who is neither Italian nor curial: the archbishop of São Paulo, Odilo Scherer. Though an “out-of-towner”, Scherer is well versed in the ways of the Vatican. The extent of the curial insiders’ trust in him is shown by his appointment to the commission that oversees the Vatican bank. Meanwhile, the Barbarians’ hopes have coalesced around an Italian, Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan. A disciple, like Benedict, of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Scola is intimately linked to the conservative fellowship Communion and Liberation. Temperamentally, though, he is unlike the retiring Benedict and could vigorously wield the new broom the Barbarians would like to see sweep through the Vatican. He is handicapped by his association with Communion and Liberation, which has recently been tarnished by a corruption scandal in Lombardy, the region around Milan. And, according to someone present, Scola made a speech to the general congregation that was felt to be rather too electioneering.

The Barbarians have two advantages. One is money; the Americans and Germans between them provide much of the cash that keeps the Vatican afloat. The other is the US contingent’s apparent unity of purpose.

The Romans, on the other hand, seem to have maths on their side. Of the 115 cardinal-electors, 39 hold – or have held – top curial positions. Another nine are Italians outside the Vatican. Some do not share the Curia’s instinctive aversion to transparency, but there are others in the field who do. It is among the “floating voters” of the emerging countries that the deciding votes are likely to be cast.

“The Curia feels itself to be very strong,” said Massimo Franco. “Under threat, but strong.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #5016 on: Mar 10, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Indigenous protests in Panama turn violent

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 9, 2013 20:30 EDT

Police in Panama clashed with farmers and indigenous people for a second day Saturday over a planned dam that locals fear will wipe out their way of life.

Demonstrators in the western town of Vigui threw up barricades with three trunks and branches, some on the Pan-American Highway, the main road to neighboring Costa Rica.

They say the planned Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam, near the borders of Veraguas and Chiriqui provinces, will displace at least 36,000 people. Many local indigenous people’s traditional way of life is based on fishing from the river and transport on the waterway.

Police in riot gear seeking to reopen the highway cracked down on dozens of demonstrators who fought back with rocks and other blunt objects.

“People were protesting peacefully for the closing of the (planned) Barro Blanco (hydroelectric power plant) and police attacked them,” local Ngobe Bugle indigenous leader Silvia Carrera said.

Carrera said she expected there would be injuries but could not confirm whether protesters were treated in hospital.

The Panamanian government wants to use the Central American nation’s vast and largely untapped water resources to make energy more affordable, selling land as needed to build hydroelectric power plants.

The government argues that oil-fueled plants have made energy costs too high in the country of 3.4 million.

Last year, indigenous people and the government held UN-mediated talks after violent clashes over traditional indigenous lands being used by mining industries and for hydroelectric plants left at least two people dead.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5017 on: Mar 10, 2013, 08:06 AM »

Crime drops dramatically in El Salvador as gang truce expands

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 9, 2013 19:30 EDT

Rival Salvadoran street gangs on Saturday added a sixth city to a truce signed a year ago, in a hopeful sign for a peace pact that has dramatically lowered deaths from gang-related homicide.

Members from the notorious Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs looked on as their leaders signed the pact in the town of Apopa, 12 kilometers (seven miles) north of the capital city, San Salvador.

They later handed over nearly 300 guns and explosive devices that underscore how well armed they are. The arsenal included M-16 assault rifles, pistols, submachine guns and grenades.

Police kept a close watch at the ceremony, which was also attended by Justice Minister David Munguia and a mediator, Raul Mijango, a former guerrilla leader.

Since the truce was first agreed exactly one year ago Saturday, the gang-related homicide rate in this Central American country has dropped from 14 a day to five.

At first the truce was between those two main gangs, but later five smaller ones joined in.

Political analyst Antonio Martinez said the truce has eased street violence that had long plagued impoverished El Salvador.

But he added that other issues need to be addressed, such as how to get gang members who abandon that lifestyle back into society as productive people.

“Those are details that for now are not resolved and must be taken into account for the process to avoid falling apart,” Martinez said.

El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars, according to government figures.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5018 on: Mar 10, 2013, 08:09 AM »

March 9, 2013

How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs

By MARK MAZZETTI, CHARLIE SAVAGE and SCOTT SHANE
New York Times

WASHINGTON — One morning in late September 2011, a group of American drones took off from an airstrip the C.I.A. had built in the remote southern expanse of Saudi Arabia. The drones crossed the border into Yemen, and were soon hovering over a group of trucks clustered in a desert patch of Jawf Province, a region of the impoverished country once renowned for breeding Arabian horses.

A group of men who had just finished breakfast scrambled to get to their trucks. One was Anwar al-Awlaki, the firebrand preacher, born in New Mexico, who had evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Another was Samir Khan, another American citizen who had moved to Yemen from North Carolina and was the creative force behind Inspire, the militant group’s English-language Internet magazine.

Two of the Predator drones pointed lasers on the trucks to pinpoint the targets, while the larger Reapers took aim. The Reaper pilots, operating their planes from thousands of miles away, readied for the missile shots, and fired.

It was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, intense deliberation by lawyers working for President Obama and turf fights between the Pentagon and the C.I.A., whose parallel drone wars converged on the killing grounds of Yemen. For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial.

Eighteen months later, despite the Obama administration’s effort to keep it cloaked in secrecy, the decision to hunt and kill Mr. Awlaki has become the subject of new public scrutiny and debate, touched off by the nomination of John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, to be head of the C.I.A.

The leak last month of an unclassified Justice Department “white paper” summarizing the administration’s abstract legal arguments — prepared months after the Awlaki and Khan killings amid an internal debate over how much to disclose — has ignited demands for even greater transparency, culminating last week in a 13-hour Senate filibuster that temporarily delayed Mr. Brennan’s confirmation. Some wondered aloud: If the president can order the assassination of Americans overseas, based on secret intelligence, what are the limits to his power?

This account of what led to the Awlaki strike, based on interviews with three dozen current and former legal and counterterrorism officials and outside experts, fills in new details of the legal, intelligence and military challenges faced by the Obama administration in what proved to be a landmark episode in American history and law. It highlights the perils of a war conducted behind a classified veil, relying on missile strikes rarely acknowledged by the American government and complex legal justifications drafted for only a small group of officials to read.

The missile strike on Sept. 30, 2011, that killed Mr. Awlaki — a terrorist leader whose death lawyers in the Obama administration believed to be justifiable — also killed Mr. Khan, though officials had judged he was not a significant enough threat to warrant being specifically targeted. The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had set off into the Yemeni desert in search of his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.

An Evolving Threat

By the time the missile found him, Mr. Awlaki, 40, had been under the scrutiny of American officials for more than a decade. He first came under F.B.I. investigation in 1999 because of associations with militants and was questioned after the 2001 terrorist attacks about his contacts with three of the hijackers at his mosques in San Diego and Virginia. But at other times, presenting himself as a moderate bridge-builder, he gave interviews to the national news media, preached at the Capitol in Washington and attended a breakfast with Pentagon officials.

In 2002, after leaving the United States for good, he endorsed the notion that the land of his birth was at war with Islam. In London, and then in Yemen, where he was imprisoned for 18 months with American encouragement, Mr. Awlaki inched steadily closer to a full embrace of terrorist violence. His eloquent, English-language exhortations to jihad turned up repeatedly on the computers of young plotters of violence arrested in Britain, Canada and the United States.

By 2008, said Philip Mudd, then a top F.B.I. counterterrorism official, Mr. Awlaki “was cropping up as a radicalizer — not in just a few investigations, but in what seemed to be every investigation.”

In November 2009, when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was charged with opening fire at Fort Hood in Texas and killing 13 people, Mr. Awlaki finally found the global fame he had long appeared to court. Investigators quickly discovered that the major had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki, though the cleric’s replies had been cautious and noncommittal. But four days after the shootings, the cleric removed any doubt about where he stood.

“Nidal Hassan is a hero,” he wrote on his widely read blog. “He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.”

As chilling as the message was, it was still speech protected by the First Amendment. American intelligence agencies intensified their focus on Mr. Awlaki, intercepting communications that showed the cleric’s growing clout in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

On Dec. 24, 2009, in the second American strike in Yemen in eight days, missiles hit a meeting of leaders of the affiliate group. News accounts said one target was Mr. Awlaki, who was falsely reported to have been killed.

In fact, other top officials of the group were the strike’s specific targets, and Mr. Awlaki’s death would have been collateral damage — legally defensible as a death incidental to the military aim. As dangerous as Mr. Awlaki seemed, he was proved to be only an inciter; counterterrorism analysts did not yet have incontrovertible evidence that he was, in their language, “operational.”

That would soon change. The next day, a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried and failed to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit. The would-be underwear bomber told F.B.I. agents that after he went to Yemen and tracked down Mr. Awlaki, his online hero, the cleric had discussed “martyrdom and jihad” with him, approved him for a suicide mission, helped him prepare a martyrdom video and directed him to detonate his bomb over United States territory, according to court documents.

In his initial 50-minute interrogation on Dec. 25, 2009, before he stopped speaking for a month, Mr. Abdulmutallab said he had been sent by a terrorist named Abu Tarek, although intelligence agencies quickly found indications that Mr. Awlaki was probably involved. When Mr. Abdulmutallab resumed cooperating with interrogators in late January, an official said, he admitted that “Abu Tarek” was Mr. Awlaki. With the Nigerian’s statements, American officials had witness confirmation that Mr. Awlaki was clearly a direct plotter, no longer just a dangerous propagandist.

“He had been on the radar all along, but it was Abdulmutallab’s testimony that really sealed it in my mind that this guy was dangerous and that we needed to go after him,” said Dennis C. Blair, then director of national intelligence.

A Legal Quandary

David Barron and Martin Lederman had a problem. As lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, it had fallen to them to declare whether deliberately killing Mr. Awlaki, despite his citizenship, would be lawful, assuming it was not feasible to capture him. The question raised a complex tangle of potential obstacles under both international and domestic law, and Mr. Awlaki might be located at any moment.

According to officials familiar with the deliberations, the lawyers threw themselves into the project and swiftly completed a short memorandum. It preliminarily concluded, based on the evidence available at the time, that Mr. Awlaki was a lawful target because he was participating in the war with Al Qaeda and also because he was a specific threat to the country. The overlapping reasoning justified a strike either by the Pentagon, which generally operated within the Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda, or by the C.I.A., a civilian agency which generally operated within a “national self-defense” framework deriving from a president’s security powers.

They also analyzed other bodies of law to see whether they would render a strike impermissible, concluding that they did not. For example, the Yemeni government had granted permission for airstrikes on its soil as long as the United States did not acknowledge its role, so such strikes would not violate Yemeni sovereignty.

And while the Constitution generally requires judicial process before the government may kill an American, the Supreme Court has held that in some contexts — like when the police, in order to protect innocent bystanders, ram a car to stop a high-speed chase — no prior permission from a judge is necessary; the lawyers concluded that the wartime threat posed by Mr. Awlaki qualified as such a context, and so his constitutional rights did not bar the government from killing him without a trial.

But as months passed, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman grew uneasy. They told colleagues there were issues they had not adequately addressed, particularly after reading a legal blog that focused on a statute that bars Americans from killing other Americans overseas. In light of the gravity of the question and with more time, they began drafting a second, more comprehensive memo, expanding and refining their legal analysis and, in an unusual step, researching and citing dense thickets of intelligence reports supporting the premise that Mr. Awlaki was plotting attacks.

Their labors played out against the backdrop of how some of their predecessors under President George W. Bush had become defined by their once-secret memos asserting a nearly unlimited view of executive authority, like that a president’s wartime powers allowed him to defy Congressional statutes limiting torture and surveillance.

Indeed, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman had produced a definitive denunciation of such reasoning, co-writing a book-length, two-part Harvard Law Review essay in 2008 concluding that the Bush team’s theory of presidential powers that could not be checked by Congress was “an even more radical attempt to remake the constitutional law of war powers than is often recognized.” Then a senator, Mr. Obama had called the Bush theory that a president could bypass a statute requiring warrants for surveillance “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Now, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman were being asked whether President Obama’s counterterrorism team could take its own extraordinary step, notwithstanding potential obstacles like the overseas-murder statute. Enacted as part of a 1994 crime bill, it makes no exception on its face for national security threats. By contrast, the main statute banning murder in ordinary, domestic contexts is far more nuanced and covers only “unlawful” killings.

As they researched the rarely invoked overseas-murder statute, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman discovered a 1997 district court decision involving a woman who was charged with killing her child in Japan. A judge ruled that the terse overseas-killing law must be interpreted as incorporating the exceptions of its domestic-murder counterpart, writing, “Congress did not intend to criminalize justifiable or excusable killings.”

And by arguing that it is not unlawful “murder” when the government kills an enemy leader in war or national self-defense, Mr. Barron and Mr. Lederman concluded that the foreign-killing statute would not impede a strike. They had not resorted to the Bush-style theories they had once denounced of sweeping presidential war powers to disregard Congressionally imposed limitations.

Due to return to academia in the fall of 2010, the two lawyers finished their second Awlaki memorandum, whose reasoning was widely approved by other administration lawyers, that summer. It had ballooned to about 63 pages but remained narrowly tailored to Mr. Awlaki’s circumstances, blessing lethal force against him without addressing whether it would also be permissible to kill citizens, like low-ranking members of Al Qaeda, in other situations.

Nearly three years later, a version of the legal analysis portions would become public in the “white paper,” which stripped out all references to Mr. Awlaki while retaining echoes, like its discussion of a generic “senior operational leader.” Divorced from its original context and misunderstood as a general statement about the scope and limits of the government’s authority to kill citizens, the free-floating reasoning would lead to widespread confusion.

Heightening Intelligence

Now the lawyers had twice signed off on killing Mr. Awlaki if he could not be captured — but the government still had no idea where in Yemen he was hiding. During the first half of 2010 the C.I.A. was just ramping up intelligence gathering in the country, and Saudi spies had yet to penetrate militant networks in Yemen deeply enough to learn the whereabouts of leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Awlaki appears to have hidden most of the time in Shabwa Province, several hours’ drive southeast of the capital, turf for Al Qaeda and also the traditional territory of his family’s powerful tribe, the Awaliq. Yemen’s cagey longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, negotiated with tribal leaders, who offered to hold Mr. Awlaki under house arrest, according to a Yemeni official. The talks were inconclusive.

And there were other problems. A disastrous American missile strike in May 2010 accidentally killed a deputy provincial governor in Yemen and infuriated President Saleh, effectively suspending the clandestine war. It would be months before the Pentagon’s next strike in Yemen.

In August 2010, Mr. Awlaki’s father, with help from civil liberties groups, filed a lawsuit in Washington challenging the government plan to kill his son, which had been reported in the news media. In court filings, the administration marshaled its public claims against Mr. Awlaki and said he could always surrender.

But it also declared that courts should play no role in overseeing the executive branch’s wartime targeting decisions, argued that Mr. Awlaki’s father had no legal standing to bring the case, and invoked the state secrets privilege. In December 2010, a judge dismissed the suit.

Back in Yemen, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon used the pause in the air campaign to develop more sources inside the country. The National Security Agency stepped up monitoring of cellphones in Yemen and penetrated computer networks to intercept electronic messages. Aware that Mr. Obama, shaken by the underwear bombing attempt, was closely following the hunt, agencies competed to get new scraps about Mr. Awlaki into the president’s daily intelligence briefing, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst said.

And, very quietly, the C.I.A. began to build its own drone base in Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials had given the C.I.A. permission to build the base on the condition that the kingdom’s role was masked. And the base took care of a separate problem: the government of Djibouti, where the military was basing its drone operations in the region, put tight restrictions on any lethal operations carried out from its soil. The Saudi government made no similar demands.

Meanwhile, attacks linked in various ways to Mr. Awlaki continued to mount, including the attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen who had reached out to the preacher on the Internet, and the attempted bombing by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of cargo planes bound for the United States that October.

In late 2010 or early 2011, Yemeni security troops surrounded a village in Shabwa Province where Mr. Awlaki was reported to be hiding, said Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton scholar and author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia.” But a house-to-house search did not find him.

At the White House, frustration was mounting.

The Hunt Narrows

Even as the hunt went on, Yemen’s strongman began to lose his grip on power as his country was caught up in the revolts sweeping the Arab world in early 2011.

That June, a barrage of rockets struck the room of the presidential palace where Mr. Saleh was hiding, severely injuring him and effectively ending his rule.

The weakening of Mr. Saleh gave the Americans more latitude for the Awlaki manhunt. By then, American and Saudi spies had turned a number of militants into sources, helping to guide American strikes.

In its most exotic effort to track the cleric, the C.I.A. worked with Danish intelligence to use Morten Storm, a Danish convert who had befriended Mr. Awlaki, to put a tracking device on the suitcase of a woman who had agreed to become the cleric’s third wife. The plan failed when Mr. Awlaki’s wary associates discarded the suitcase. But Mr. Storm also told the authorities that he communicated with Mr. Awlaki via a courier; it is not clear whether that courier eventually helped lead the C.I.A. to Mr. Awlaki’s location.

Other sources of information were also emerging, and one led to a new debate. In April 2011, the United States captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali man who worked closely with the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. He was held aboard a naval vessel for more than two months and spoke freely to interrogators, including about his encounters with the former North Carolina man now editing the group’s magazine, Samir Khan.

While the United States had long tracked Mr. Khan, the new details from the Warsame interrogation raised the question of whether another American citizen should be considered for targeting. There was still scant evidence tying Mr. Khan to any specific plot, so the administration left him off the list. But events would not turn out so neatly.

In May 2011, days after the American commando raid in Pakistan that killed Bin Laden, the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, the hub for classified Army and Navy commando units, had its best chance to kill Mr. Awlaki as he moved around Shabwa Province. Drones and Marine Harrier jets fired at his truck, but he managed to escape and took refuge in a cave. According to Mr. Johnsen, the Princeton expert, Mr. Awlaki told friends that the episode “increased my certainty that no human being will die until they complete their livelihood and appointed time.”

Finally, by late September 2011, the C.I.A. base in Saudi Arabia was ready. Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Brennan, directed that lead responsibility for the Awlaki hunt would be shifted to the agency. David H. Petraeus, who had taken over as C.I.A. director on Sept. 6, ordered several drones to be relocated from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. By mid-September, the Americans were closing in — with updates from a C.I.A. source inside Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, officials say. That was when a very different search for Mr. Awlaki began.

As Mr. Awlaki had become one of the world’s most hunted terrorists, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman had lived the life of a normal adolescent. He liked sports and music and kept his Facebook page regularly updated. But now he sneaked out of the family home in Sana, Yemen’s capital, leaving an apologetic note for his mother saying that he had gone to find his father.

But by the time the teenager headed to Shabwa, his father had left for Jawf Province, hundreds of miles away. Accompanied by Mr. Khan, the elder Awlaki moved about the rugged territory, wary of staying anywhere for long.

What he did not know was that the C.I.A.’s source was reporting the movements. On the morning of Sept. 30, guided by the tipster, the fleet of drones arrived above Jawf. Missiles destroyed the convoy.

The same day, at a military ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., Mr. Obama took note of the victory for the immense American counterterrorism effort — but in oddly indirect language. Mr. Awlaki, he said, “was killed” in Yemen, and “this success is a tribute to our intelligence community and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces who have worked closely with the United States.”

Mr. Obama had immediately declassified the Bin Laden raid. But this time he signaled that the operation in Yemen, though already reported around the globe, would remain officially unacknowledged. Members of Congress would speak only cautiously about it, and counterterrorism officials could discuss only privately what the whole world knew.

Administration officials who had labored for months to evaluate the killing of Mr. Awlaki took stock. Mr. Khan, whom they had specifically decided not to add to the kill list, was dead, too. While the lawyers believed that his killing was legally defensible as collateral damage, the death cast a cloud over all those months of seemingly cautious efforts to analyze who should go on the list and who should not.

Then, on Oct. 14, a missile apparently intended for an Egyptian Qaeda operative, Ibrahim al-Banna, hit a modest outdoor eating place in Shabwa. The intelligence was bad: Mr. Banna was not there, and among about a dozen men killed was the young Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had no connection to terrorism and would never have been deliberately targeted.

It was a tragic error and, for the Obama administration, a public relations disaster, further muddying the moral clarity of the previous strike on his father and fueling skepticism about American assertions of drones’ surgical precision. The damage was only compounded when anonymous officials at first gave the younger Mr. Awlaki’s age as 21, prompting his grieving family to make public his birth certificate.

He had been born in Denver, said the certificate from the Colorado health department. In the United States, at the time his government’s missile killed him, the teenager would have just reached driving age.


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« Reply #5019 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:33 AM »

March 10, 2013

As North Korea Blusters, South Flirts With Talk of Nuclear Arms

By MARTIN FACKLER and CHOE SANG-HUN
IHT

SEOUL, South Korea — As their country prospered, South Koreans have largely shrugged off the constant threat of a North Korean attack. But breakthroughs in the North’s missile and nuclear programs and fiery threats of war have heightened fears in the South that even small miscalculations by the new and untested leaders of each country could have disastrous consequences.

Now this new sense of vulnerability is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for the South to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions.

While few here think this will happen anytime soon, two recent opinion polls show that two-thirds of South Koreans support the idea posed by a small but growing number of politicians and columnists — a reflection, analysts say, of hardening attitudes since North Korea’s Feb. 12 underground nuclear test, its third since 2006.

“The third nuclear test was for South Korea what the Cuban missile crisis was for the U.S.,” said Han Yong-sup, a professor of security policy at the Korea National Defense University in Seoul. “It has made the North Korean threat seem very close and very real.”

In recent weeks, the North has approached a crucial threshold with its weapons programs, with the successful launching of a long-range rocket, followed by the test detonation of a nuclear device that could be small enough to fit on top of a rocket. Those advances were followed by a barrage of apocalyptic threats to rain “pre-emptive nuclear strikes” and “final destruction” on Seoul, the South’s neon-drenched capital. The intensification of North Korea’s typically bellicose language shocked many South Koreans, who had thought the main target of the North’s nuclear program was the United States.

Adding to South Koreans’ worries, the North and its nuclear arsenal are in the hands of a young new leader, Kim Jong-un, whose brinkmanship appears to be an effort to ensure the support of his nation’s powerful military.

The South also has a new president, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a military strongman who stood firm against North Korea, who herself also faces pressure to stand fast against the North. Just two weeks after her inauguration, Ms. Park faces a crisis as the North makes vague threats interpreted by many South Koreans as the precursor to some sort of limited, conventional military provocation. Ms. Park has promised to retaliate if her nation is attacked, aware of the public anger directed at her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, when he showed restraint after the North shelled a South Korean island in 2010, killing four people.

That kind of limited skirmish is more likely than a nuclear attack, but such an episode could quickly inflame tensions and escalate out of control. Over the years, North Korea has sent armed spies across the border, dug invasion tunnels under it and infiltrated South Korean waters with submarines.

But beyond the immediate fear of a military provocation, analysts say deeper anxieties are also at work in the South. One of the biggest is the creeping resurgence of old fears about the reliability of this nation’s longtime protector, the United States. Experts say the talk of South Korea’s acquiring nuclear weapons is an oblique way to voice the concerns of a small but growing number of South Koreans that the United States, either because of budget cuts or a lack of will, may one day no longer act as the South’s ultimate insurance policy.

“The Americans don’t feel the North Korean nuclear weapons as a direct threat,” said Chung Mong-joon, a son of the founder of the Hyundai industrial group and the former leader of the governing party, who has been the leading proponent of South Korea’s development of a nuclear weapons program. “At a time of crisis, we are not 100 percent sure whether the Americans will cover us with its nuclear umbrella.”

The United States, which still has 28,500 troops based in South Korea, has sought to assure its ally that it remains committed to the region as part of the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia. But analysts say the fact that senior leaders like Mr. Chung and a handful of influential newspaper columnists now call for the need for “nuclear deterrence,” or at least hint at it, reflects widespread frustrations over the inability of the United States and other nations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Until recently the idea was too radical for most mainstream leaders and opinion makers, including both deeply pro-American conservatives and nationalistic yet antinuclear liberals.

Advocacy for a nuclear-armed South Korea has been virtually taboo since the early 1970s, when the country’s military dictator, Park Chung-hee, made a serious bid to develop a nuclear weapon, fearing that the United States might pull out of Asia after its defeat in Vietnam. After catching wind of the program, Washington forced Mr. Park, the new president’s father, to stop, persuading him instead to rely on the United States, an agreement that has held ever since.

Mr. Chung and others say that if the United States does not allow South Korea to develop its own nuclear arms, it should at least restore the nuclear balance on the Korean Peninsula by reintroducing American atomic weapons, which were removed from bases in the South in 1991 in a post-cold-war effort to reduce tensions.

Many in the South are now convinced that the North may never give up its nuclear weapons. The South’s new level of anxiety is also apparent in the widespread speculation here about when and where the North might carry out another, non-nuclear military provocation.

North Korea has stoked those fears by saying that on Monday it will drop out of the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean War, in a show of anger at new United Nations sanctions for its nuclear test. North Korea has threatened to terminate the armistice in the past, but the greater worry now is that it might take actions to contravene it. There have been cryptic warnings in North Korea’s state-run news media of coming “counteractions,” which have led South Korean officials to warn of an episode like the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

On Friday, North Korea’s state-run television showed Mr. Kim addressing the same artillery units that hit Yeonpyeong. On the same day, South Korean television stations showed President Park with heavily decorated generals, and later descending into the bunker at the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, to confer with her national security advisers.

The opposition parties had blocked the confirmation of her cabinet, raising concerns about her ability to respond to a crisis, but she reached a deal allowing her to fill crucial posts on Monday. Even many on the left said that the country would quickly pull together if shots were fired.

“The third test was a wake-up call for the left, too,” said Lee Kang-yun, a television commentator.

On the streets of Seoul, it has remained business as usual with no signs of panic, a testimony to the resilience, or perhaps resignation, of a people who have grown used to the North’s threats.

Chung Eun-jin, a 26-year-old English teacher interviewed in the trendy Gangnam district, said she was not overly concerned because the North had threatened the South so often before. But Kwon Gi-yoon, 38, an engineer, said that since the North’s third test, he believed that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons.

Opinions like Mr. Kwon’s appear to be spreading. Two opinion polls conducted after the third test, one by Gallup Korea and the other by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, found that 64 to 66.5 percent of the respondents supported the idea that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons, similar to polls after the Yeonpyeong attack in 2010.

“Having a nuclear North Korea is like facing a person holding a gun with just your bare hands,” said Mr. Kwon, the engineer. South Koreans should have “our own nuclear capabilities, in case the U.S. pulls out like it did in Vietnam.”

Su Hyun Lee contributed reporting.

**********

North Korea cuts peace hotline as South begins military drills

Strident reaction to war games is an annual routine but North's repudation of 1953 armistice adds to tensions

Associated Press in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 March 2013 03.43 GMT   

South Korea has begun annual military exercises with the US and says the North has apparently cut off a hotline used to maintain the armistice that Pyongyang has recently repudiated over nuclear test sanctions.

After the start of the drills, South Korean officials said their northern counterparts didn't answer two calls on the hotline between the sides, apparently following through on an earlier vow to end non-aggression measures.

Pyongyang has launched a propaganda campaign against the drills, which involve 10,000 South Korean and about 3,000 American troops, and last week's UN vote to impose new sanctions over the North's 12 February nuclear test.

Pyongyang isn't believed to be able to build a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile and the North's military has repeatedly vowed in the past to scrap the 1953 armistice. North Korea wants a formal peace treaty, security guarantees and other concessions as well as the removal of 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.

North Korea regularly claims South Korea-US drills are a preparation for invasion but Pyongyang has shown heightened anger over the exercises that began on Monday. Before the UN vote it threatened to fire a nuclear missile at the US and has also warned South Korea of a nuclear war on the divided peninsula.

Under newly inaugurated President Park Geun-hye, South Korea's defence ministry, which often brushes off North Korean threats, said the North's government would "evaporate from the face of the Earth" if it ever used a nuclear weapon. The White House also declared the US was fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean ballistic attack.

North Korea has said the US mainland is within the range of its long-range missiles and an army general has told a Pyongyang rally that the military is ready to fire a long-range nuclear-armed missile to turn Washington into a "sea of fire".

But there are still worries about a smaller conflict. North Korea has a variety of missiles and other weapons capable of striking South Korea. In 2010 North Korea shelled a South Korean island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing a total of 50 South Koreans. Both incidents occurred near the disputed western sea boundary, a recurring flashpoint between the Koreas that has seen three other bloody naval skirmishes since 1999.

Kim Jong-un visited two islands just north of the sea boundary last week and ordered troops there to open fire immediately if a single enemy shell was fired on North Korean waters.

The US and the South are holding 11 days of drills as part of two months of war games.



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« Reply #5020 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:35 AM »

March 10, 2013

In Wake of Cyberattacks, China Seeks New Rules

By DAVID BARBOZA
IHT

SHANGHAI — China has issued a new call for international “rules and cooperation” on Internet espionage issues, while insisting that accusations of Chinese government involvement in recent hacking attacks were part of an international smear campaign.

The remarks, by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, were China’s highest-level response yet to intensifying reports that the Chinese military may be engaging in cyberespionage.

“Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others nor whitewash themselves,” he said.

Speaking to the news media on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress on Saturday, Mr. Yang said that the reports were “built on shaky ground” and that cyberspace should not be turned into a battlefield.

Beijing has stepped up its response to the attacks in recent weeks, saying that China is often the victim of such attacks. Although security experts have found evidence that many of the most aggressive attacks can be traced back to Internet addresses inside China, the Chinese military recently said that attacks on its own computers were linked to Internet addresses in the United States.

Many experts on the issue acknowledge that it is difficult to pinpoint the origins of attacks. However, some experts in the United States and Canada say there is more and more evidence that the attacks on Western governments and multinational companies are coming from China and that the data that is being retrieved seems to involve issues of concern to the Chinese government.

American intelligence officials have also said privately that they have evidence of Chinese government involvement in the attacks, and the White House is expected to press Beijing on the issue.
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« Reply #5021 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:41 AM »

March 10, 2013

Myanmar Opposition Leader Vows Party Reform

By THOMAS FULLER
IHT

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s main opposition party ended a congress over the weekend with the party’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, calling for a “good relationship” with the powerful military. She vowed to infuse new blood into the party, which is still recovering from more than two decades of persecution under military rule.

The weekend congress was a showcase for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to revitalize the party, the National League for Democracy. By the admission of its members, the party has struggled with factionalism and poor management, but many analysts believe it will be the front-runner in national elections in 2015.

For the first time since the party was founded nearly 25 years ago, delegates elected members of a central committee that will help govern the party’s affairs, in a small step away from the highly personalized sway that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has had.

Despite her call for “new blood,” few changes were made to the aging party hierarchy.

In a country where about half of the population is under the age of 25, the average age of the party’s executive committee, whose members were announced Sunday, is over 60.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi handpicked the 15 party executives, underlining her continued dominance in the organization and the limits of the democratization in the party.

“The N.L.D. exists because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Mai Ye Kyaw Thu, who at 29 was one of the youngest delegates. “The party would not exist without her.”

As expected, the delegates re-elected Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as party chairwoman.

Membership in the party is growing, partly because of its prospects for 2015. Party officials say membership has increased by a third over the past year to 1.3 million people. But the party, which has been mismanaged for years, is having trouble keeping up with the growth.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged what she called “defects” in the party.

“If we want to build this nation into a real democracy, we, the National League for Democracy, have to change behavior, even with ourselves,” she said.

Wai Moe contributed reporting.


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« Reply #5022 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:49 AM »


Delhi gang rape: main suspect dead in apparent suicide, say police

Ram Singh, accused of leading five others in fatal attack on woman, has been found hanged in jail cell

Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 March 2013 04.25 GMT   

The man accused of leading five others in the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi in December 2012 has been found dead in the high-security prison where he was being held during his trial.

The attack in the Indian capital prompted global outrage, protests across India and calls for deep legal and policing reforms. It also led to a fierce debate over attitudes to women as a factor contributing to the wave of sexual violence against women that has hit the country in recent years.

Ram Singh, 34, was on trial with five others at a specially established fast track court in Delhi and faced the death sentence. The trial opened in February but there have recently been delays. Singh was found hanged by his own clothes and a prison blanket at 5am, officials at Delhi's Tihar jail have said. An inquiry is under way.

There was shock in India at the news and fierce criticism of prison authorities. Relatives of the victims said they were disappointed that Singh, a bus driver with a history of hard drinking, had apparently been allowed to take his own life.

"He knew he was going to die anyway because we had and still have such a strong case against him," the murdered woman's 20-year-old brother told the Reuters news agency.

"I'm not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged ... publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence."

The assault took place on the bus Singh drove for a living. The victim and a 28-year-old male friend boarded the vehicle on a Sunday evening as they returned from seeing a film. They had believed the bus to be one of the many unlicensed carriers that fill the gaps left by Delhi's inadequate public transport system. The pair were however attacked with an iron rod and the woman repeatedly raped. After almost an hour they were pushed from the moving bus on to a roadside near the city's airport. The woman died later of massive internal injuries sustained during the assault.

The accused adults in the case – along with a 17-year-old – were swiftly detained for their alleged roles in the attack, which took place on 16 December 2012. The minor is appearing in a separate court.

Singh's lawyer said he had been murdered in prison, possibly by the police. "What do you mean killed himself? He has been killed in prison," said defence counsel AP Singh. Lawyers for the accused have claimed that their clients have been repeatedly attacked by other inmates in prison and were tortured by police.

Investigators say there is a very strong prosecution case with 80 witnesses, DNA evidence and statements from both victims.

Singh's younger brother, Mukesh, is among the accused. The pair had been living in a slum neighbourhood in the south of Delhi at the time of the attack. They had been joined by a fruit seller and a part-time gym assistant, a former colleague and the juvenile, who was an illiterate drifter, on a "joy ride" after hours of heavy drinking on the evening of the assault. They had come across the woman and her friend by chance, statements from two of the accused claim.

**********

The case against Ram Singh

Delhi bus driver, found dead in apparent suicide, was alleged ringleader of gang rapists behind an attack of deadly brutality

Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 March 2013 05.44 GMT   

Ram Singh, 34 years old, was arrested two days after the gang rape and murder for which he was on trial. Police found him cleaning the bus he drove for a living – though did not own – and in which the attack is alleged to have taken place. It was parked 100 metres or so away from the small one-roomed, one storey brick home Singh shared with his brother, who remains on trial, in the slum neighbourhood of Ravi Das colony, an enclave of poverty in otherwise relatively wealthy south Delhi.

The Singh brothers – the younger, Mukesh, is 26 – had been living in Ravi Das Colony for most of their lives.  The two had come to Delhi with their parents 15 years previously, escaping a life of grinding agricultural poverty and harsh physical labour in a remote eastern part of the state of Rajasthan, five hours by train from the capital. They had grown up on a small homestead, attending a local school with few facilities and an often absent teacher, playing in the fields and dried river beds.

In Delhi the pair lived alone. Their father, suffering "mental problems", according to a neighbour, had long returned to their village.  Ram had married but his wife – a woman who had three children when she effectively eloped with him – died of an illness without bearing him a child of his own. After her death Ram started drinking heavily and an accident damaged an arm permanently. He later appeared on one of India's hugely popular reality shows, angrily confronting a former employer, a bus owner. Though he left local girls alone, he was known amongst his neighbours for drunkenness, petty crime and occasional unpredictable violence.

According to police Ram Singh had a Sunday evening routine of heavy drinking, some rough country cooking and then going out in the bus cruising Delhi's streets looking for "fun". That meant a little robbery to earn money for alcohol and to pay the roadside prostitutes.

Then came 16 December 2012. On this Sunday too Singh had been drinking heavily with the five other accused, the police dossier of evidence claims. When his owner phoned asking him to take the bus on an errand – collecting a gas cylinder – Singh and his friends drove off. As he had done before, according to police, Singh organised a trap for unsuspecting prospective passengers, pretending the bus was one of the illegal but tolerated unlicensed vehicles that ply for trade in Delhi.

After about 10 minutes and several attempts to entice a victim at different bus stops, a man got on. Ram Singh shut the doors immediately behind him and his brother accelerated away, according to a statement made to police by one of the accused and viewed by The Guardian.

The man, a carpenter, later told investigators that he was beaten and robbed of his phone and 1,400 indian rupees (£17.50). He was then pushed out of the moving bus. He did not bother reporting the crime.

The next people to get on the bus were a couple: a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who had recently qualified and her 28-year-old male friend. Within moments of the bus pulling away with them on board there was a scuffle, according to the statements. "Where are you going with a young woman at this time of night?" Singh is alleged to have asked the woman's friend. "None of your business," came the reply.

The man was then attacked and pinned down, stripped and beaten with an iron rod. The woman was taken to the back of the bus and repeatedly raped by Singh and the other men in turn. She was also repeatedly penetrated with the iron rod, causing most of the massive internal injuries that eventually killed her.

According to the statement of the male victim, one of their attackers shouted "She's dead" when the woman lost consciousness, bleeding profusely. They then decided to dump the pair, naked, by the side of a road and drove back to the slum colony where their journey had started around two hours before. Singh oversaw the cleaning of the bus and the partition of their victim's property: cash, debit cards, watches, phones and even the shoes of the man.

Singh's lawyer maintained his innocence, saying that all statements of the accused to police were made under duress. In interviews on Monday the lawyer said his client had been "happy" with the way the trial was going.

Singh faced the death penalty if convicted. He was charged with a range of offences including rape, murder, kidnapping, destruction of evidence, banditry and criminal conspiracy.

*************

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
March 11, 2013, 5:55 am

Early Warnings About Ram Singh’s Safety; Suicide ‘Not Possible,’ Family Says

By BETWA SHARMA and MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE

NEW DELHI — The family of Ram Singh, one of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case who was found hanged in his jail cell on Monday morning, was warned on Friday that his life might be in danger, one of his brothers said on Monday.

He could not have killed himself, family and legal advisers insisted on Monday. “It’s simply not possible,” one of Mr. Singh’s two brothers, who asked that his name not be used, said in an interview on Monday.

Ram Singh and his other brother, Mukesh, are two of the six accused in the Dec. 16 rape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus, which ultimately resulted in her death. Ram and Mukesh Singh were feared by their relatives and neighbors in Ravidas Camp, their home in Delhi, even before they were connected with the attack, because they had a reputation for heavy drinking and bad language.

But after Mr. Singh was found dead in his Tihar Jail cell Monday morning, hanging from a rope made of his own clothes, family members vehemently rejected the notion that he might have committed suicide.

After the court hearing last Friday, a policeman who travels in the vehicle that brings accused people from jail to the courthouse, advised Mr. Singh’s parents to have his cell changed, his brother said. His parents had communicated this to the brother’s lawyer, V.K. Anand. “It’s been four days since we told him,” Mr. Singh’s brother said. “Why wasn’t this done?”

Mr. Anand was not immediately available to comment on whether he had received such a message. A Tihar Jail spokesman said that Mr. Singh’s death was being investigated, but did not provide any more information.

Last Friday, Mr. Singh’s parents visited him in jail, his brother said, and he appeared calm then. His adopted son visited him last Wednesday, the brother added. “He seemed happy and even made the little boy sit on his lap and talk to him,” he said. “He has never said or done anything that indicated that he was contemplating suicide.”

Several family members said in interviews that they suspected foul play, as did Mr. Singh’s former and current lawyers.

“We can’t believe it,” his sister-in-law, who requested that her name not be used to avoid additional media attention, said in a telephone interview. She is the wife of the brother who is not connected with the gang rape case.

“His parents were beating their heads and crying when they heard the news in the morning,” she said.

A cousin of the brothers, who also requested his name not be disclosed in order to avoid further media attention, said he suspected foul play in the death.

“It is terrible and also very suspicious,” said the cousin, who lived next door to the brothers in Ravidas Camp. “If he wanted to commit suicide, then why now when the trial is going on, why not before? It doesn’t make sense.”

He blasted the police for allowing such a lapse in security. “If they can’t protect people inside a jail, how can they protect people outside it?” he asked.

Although no evidence has been offered yet to support Mr. Singh’s relatives’ suspicions, India has a high rate of suspicious deaths during incarceration, human rights advocates said.

“The number of custodial deaths in India is disproportionately high, and it raises questions about the kind of security the jail authorities are providing,’’ Suhas Chakma, director at Asian Centre for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights, said.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,332 prisoners died in jails due to natural and unnatural causes in 2011.  Of these deaths, 88, or  6.6. percent, were listed as “unnatural,’’ including suicides, murders by inmates, deaths due to fire and deaths due to negligence or excesses by jail personnel.

Suicides accounted for 5 percent of total deaths. Delhi jails witnessed two suicides in 2011.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Singh’s cousin suggested he should be hanged if he was found guilty. Speaking after the news of the suicide, he said, “Look, there is a difference between hanging after a trial and someone committing suicide. Like this, justice does not run its course.”

Mr. Singh’s current lawyer, Mr. Anand, also said earlier Monday that he thought the death was suspicious.

Despite his own previous misgivings about the brothers, Mr. Singh’s cousin said on Monday that he grieved for Mr. Singh’s parents. “They are old and all this is too much to deal with at their age,” he said. “I have met them a few times and they just kept crying.”

The news of Ram Singh’s death has also raised concerns among the relatives of the other men accused in the Delhi gang rape case. Champa Devi, the mother of one of the men,  Vinay Sharma, said earlier that she believed her son had been led astray by the Singh brothers.

On Monday, Ms. Champa said that she wanted the jail authorities to ensure that her son was safe. “But I don’t know how I will ask the police,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m usually very frightened when I go visit him in jail,” she said.

Ms. Champa visited her son last week. “He is very depressed and cries a lot,” she said. Still, she added, “I cannot read his mind, but I don’t think he is having any suicidal thoughts.”

Niharika Mandhana contributed reporting from Delhi.
   


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« Reply #5023 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:54 AM »


March 10, 2013

Police Scatter Demonstrators in Capital of Azerbaijan

By SHAHLA SULTANOVA
IHT

BAKU, Azerbaijan — The police in the capital of Azerbaijan on Sunday used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse protesters demanding an end to the hazing and abuse of military conscripts, which activists say the government has concealed.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Fountain Square in central Baku, the capital, chanting “Stop killing our soldiers,” and “Explain this to us, supreme commander,” a reference to President Ilham Aliyev. They also demanded that the defense minister step down.

One demonstrator, Zaur Gurbanli, 26, said the demonstration was important because government officials had stifled public discussion of “mysterious noncombat soldier deaths.”

More than 80 people were detained at Sunday’s event, which was not authorized by city officials, but many were released. Several unexplained deaths have raised concerns in Azerbaijan recently, including that of Ceyhun Qubatov, 18, who died in January. Though his mother was told he died of heart failure, his body showed signs of physical injuries, according to photographs released by his family that circulated on social networks.

The Doktrina Center, a nonprofit organization based in Baku that researches military affairs, said 647 members of the Azerbaijani Army died from 2003 to 2012, 472 of them in noncombat situations.

Before Sunday’s demonstration, the police arrested three activists from Nida, a citizens’ movement that helped promote the event, and on Sunday state television broadcast a videotape that showed all three confessing to planning a coup. The three were arrested Thursday in connection with a criminal investigation related to drug and weapons charges.

Mr. Gurbanli, who is part of the same movement, said he took part in Sunday’s protest in part because he knew the three men who had been arrested.

“It was very clear from their speeches that they did it under pressure,” he said.

Beyali Azizov, 53, whose son, Elkhan, died while serving in a military unit in January 2010, said he did not believe the official explanation that Elkhan and another soldier shot four officers and wounded two others, and then shot each other.

“I cannot bring my son back, but I am here so that no father feels the grief I have,” he said in an interview. “My son’s case was not even investigated properly. I hope our voices will be heard.”


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« Reply #5024 on: Mar 11, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Afghan president: U.S. and Taliban ‘in talks on a daily basis’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 10, 2013 10:27 EDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday criticised the Taliban for holding daily talks with the United States as they also launch suicide attacks that kill civilians and children.

The Islamist militants deny re-opening talks after they broke off tentative contact with the US in Qatar in March last year due to failed attempts to negotiate a prisoner exchange.

Reacting after two suicide bombs killed 19 people in Kabul and Khost on Saturday, Karzai accused the Taliban of negotiating with their enemy at the same time as murdering innocent Afghans.

“The Taliban said they wanted to show their strength (by launching the attacks),” he said. “This is while the leaders of the Taliban, their representatives, are every day at meetings with the Americans abroad.

“We know about it, both the foreigners tell us about it and the Taliban. In Europe as well as in Gulf countries, the Taliban and the Americans and foreigners are in talks on a daily basis.”

Karzai, who offered no proof of the talks and who has a record of making inflammatory speeches, said the attacks enabled the US-led military force to justify its presence in Afghanistan.

“The bombs that were detonated in Kabul and Khost were not a show of force, they were serving America,” he said in a televised speech in Kabul.

A US spokesman travelling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is visiting Kabul, reacted to the speech by saying that the US and Afghanistan governments “shared a common view of the Taliban, and that is that they’re the enemy.”

“If a political reconciliation process leads to different behaviour on their part, it will be an Afghan-led process,” the spokesman added.

The Taliban have consistently refused to negotiate directly with Karzai’s government, which they have been battling since they were ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.


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