Romania: ‘Missile shield remains in Romania’
18 March 2013
România libera, 18 March 2013
On March 15, the US government announced the cancellation of the fourth phase of its planned missile defence shield, designed to counter threats to US territory — and in particular ballistic missiles from Russia.
The batteries of interceptors intended to counter missiles from the Middle East, which have been established in Romania and Poland and which constitute the second and third phase of the defence system, will remain.
The cancellation of the fourth phase amounts to a “concession made by the US to Russia,” which insisted that this phase “represented a threat to its nuclear capability,” notes the newspaper.
Remains missile shield in Romania. What concessions did the U.S. Russia
March 18, 2013
Obama administration's decision to alter missile defense plans again and cancel the fourth phase of the Stage Adaptive Approach missile defense in Europe (EPAA) announced Friday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, does not affect the development system in Romania, as part of phase II. However, it is a concession to Russia, which complained that phase IV is a threat to its nuclear capabilities.
A year ago, on March 26, 2012, a microphone left open the surprise following conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama, and (yet) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: "In all these matters, especially regarding defense missile that, this can be solved, but it is important that he (Vladimir Putin) to leave me room to maneuver. These are my last choice. After the elections, you have more flexibility. "
Friday's announcement by the new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, waiving phase IV shield deployment was "wrapped" public need to address threats of ballistic missile attacks recently arrived from North Korea, constraints determined Pentagon budget reduction and technological developments, but none of these explanations stands. Budget cuts came into force on 1 March and were uncertain until the last moment and bellicose statements and actions of North Korea are as recent time, some only a few days. However significant they could not determine a revision so important military plans within so short. This means that plans existed and has now been exploited favorable moment to announce. Changes primarily responsible domestic critics on American soil that is poorly defended ballistic missile threats coming from North Korea and, to that end, the Pentagon wants to install new radar systems at increasing Japan and interceptor missiles in Alaska and California. In order to prevent possible attacks from Iran, the possibility of installing anti-missile systems on the East Coast of the U.S.. The second reason was abandoned Phase IV is to respond to criticisms and concerns expressed by Russia.
What has actually dropped
Missile defense system in Europe proposed by the Obama administration in 2009 was designed in four phases. Thus, Phase I is intended to protect the South-East with interceptors installed on ships of AEGIS, in phase II, which should be completed in 2015 when you install radar in Turkey and the 24 interceptors at Deveselu, missile defense of NATO's southern flank move by sea on land and in phase III the Allies protection extends to the entire European continent by installing all of 24 missiles in Poland. These three phases are based extensively on technology, aiming to protect European territory of the U.S. and are not directed against medium range missiles launched from the Middle East, especially in Iran.
Phase IV but who had time horizon U.S. territory in 2022 was for defense, and intercontinental missiles have targeted based on untested technology sufficient and depended on the construction of a new type of rocket faster. These missiles dropped Pentagon and hence the phase IV, which was the least developed, being basically the concept stage, but which caused most dissatisfaction Russians. Rockets in the fourth phase would be installed also in Poland and the Russians were furious that the way Americans could reject a Russian missile attack, thus dezechibrând balance of forces in the so-called "doctrine of mutual destruction". If Americans would be granted an opportunity to annihilate Russian attack first, then geostrategic balance would be destabilized. Americans did nothing to stop a virtual system and give them satisfaction that Russians are a superpower, but on the other important political signal.
Deveselu base to remain in place
Before Hagel's announcement, Americans have informed Romanian and Polish parties on decisions and amendments adopted and confirmed by the State Secretary Bogdan Aurescu. He said he was called by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for arms control and international security, who informed the "adjustment" phase IV. However, Americans have assured the Romanian side that work in the construction and development of the Deveselu will continue as planned, already caught in the Pentagon budget. In fact, Saturday, MFA and Ministry of Defense confirmed in a joint statement, the messages received from Washington, "Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry informs that, as a result of contacts during the day yesterday (Friday, nr) with the U.S. U.S. Defense Secretary prior announcement on further measures to defend U.S. territory against potential ballistic missile attacks have clear following: Project U.S. missile defense system that will be installed in Romania in phase II of the Adaptive Approach steps on missile defense in Europe (EPAA) to Base Deveselu is not affected in any way. It will continue to run the schedule agreed with the American side and will become operational in 2015, as originally established. "
How they respond Russians?
The New York Times, Americans have informed Romanian and Polish on the changes, but not the Russians, whose response is expected today or tomorrow. Informal channels, the Russians have hinted that they will accept the resumption of nuclear disarmament talks, but on the other, the experts consulted by the daily New York said that this is a good time to see what will actually Russians. If their goal was the fourth phase cancellation when they got what they wanted, but if their real dissatisfaction is expanding U.S. strategic influence in Eastern Europe, they will be disappointed. As the Poles and Romanians want American bases to deter Russian expansionist tendencies, that foundation will remain satisfied both countries. It is unclear whether it pleases and Putin.
Balkans: ‘Government condemns, Brussels stays quiet’
18 March 2013
The Kosovar government has rejected and described as “unofficial” the planned agreement negotiated with the European Union to resolve the ongoing dispute with Belgrade over the status of Serbs in Northern Kosovo, which was published on March 14 by the Serbian daily Blic.
The Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has also denied the existence of an agreement, while representatives of the European Commission in Pristina, questioned by weekly Koha Ditore, refused to comment on the news.
Government disproves, the Brussels silent
Published: 18.03.2013 - 08:50
Pristina, March 18 - Representatives of the Government rejected, and have been assessed as "unofficial" Draft published on Sunday by the Serbian daily "Blic", under which the European Union and Pristina have agreed to a draft of 10 points agreement between Pristina and Belgrade. The same is also stated Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic. And representatives of the European Commission (EC) in Pristina did not want to comment on the authenticity of this document have seen opposition representatives doubt it, however, have estimated that there is room for a lot of criticism, if it turns out to be true project proposed by the EU.
Stojan Pelko, spokesman for the EC Office in Pristina, said that the EC does not comment on such content from the daily "Blic". "We do not comment on the content nor the issue of the possible authenticity of the document published in Blic" said Pelko.
For the project, which states, inter alia, that the EU and Pristina propose that in the north of Kosovo Serbs to allow the formation of the European region - north of Kosovo, as well as membership mosbllokim Kosovo from Serbia in international organizations where mentioned only the OSCE, the prime minister's political adviser, Blessing Çollaku, considered as an informal document that was not presented to any party in any case.
Foreign Minister Enver Hoxha, has denied the existence of any projektmarrëveshjeje, much less similar to that published by the Serbian media. He said such a document does not exist in Pristina or Belgrade or in Brussels.
He declined to comment on the content of the document published in the media. According to him, Kosovo will not move from its position, and the only frame of reintegration of the three municipalities in the north will be the Constitution, the laws of Kosovo and the Ahtisaari Plan. According to him, in the next round of talks, despite the rhetoric, there will be no move by Kosovo attitude. "For the Republic of Kosovo, the only frame of reintegration of the three municipalities in northern Kosovo Constitution, the laws of Kosovo and the Ahtisaari package, documents providing for the Serb community rights and privileges, which may not have a community ethnic group in Europe, "he said, illustrating with examples municipal rights in the North in higher education, health care, which did not even municipalities in Europe.
"The Serb community living in Kosovo will have the same legal political rights within the territory of the Republic of Kosovo, so there will be Serbian republic in the north, there will be no special status, there will be no territorial autonomy , and there will be no internal division of the Republic of Kosovo, "he said.
Prime Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, said during Sunday that an agreement on the association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, which was published by the media, is not authentic and said that any document or official letter has not been at the negotiating table in Brussels, and even that is offered by Baroness Catherine Ashton. That these statements were made to the Serbian media, adding that any story for that arrangement and analysis of its points is absolutely meaningless, because "it does not exist."
Kosovo opposition such projektmarrëveshje deems unacceptable.
Day before the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" published an article in which Kosovo and Serbia are very close to an agreement, which is similar to that between the two Germanys. According to the newspaper, on March 20 Ashton hopes that it will go down in history with this agreement. An EU diplomat told this newspaper that the agreement for the normalization of relations in the ideal case that Kosovo to comply with the Association of Municipalities in the north. "The Association shall not have neither parliament nor the justice system. Can express the desire to cover policing and justice functions, but the executive power belongs to the central government in Pristina. So, the executive power belongs to north Pristina, "an EU diplomat told Austrian newspaper.
Also in the agreement, according to the newspaper, said that Serbia would be obliged to withdraw its forces security intelligence, to dissolve parallel structures, or to legitimize them with municipal elections, and give up opposition to membership Kosovo in international organizations, including the UN. EU diplomat said that in exchange for Serbia will get a date for starting EU membership talks
David Hasselhoff returns to Berlin to save the wall he helped to topple
The Hoff returns to Germany's capital to battle property developers looking to tear down final fragment of wall
Josie Le Blond in Berlin
The Guardian, Sunday 17 March 2013 20.12 GMT
Despite being celebrated for the righteous war he and his robotic car waged on criminals, for his selfless, slow-motion patrols of the beaches of Los Angeles – not to mention the hard-won wisdom he has imparted to countless Britain's Got Talent contestants – David Hasselhoff is in no doubt as to his finest hour.
In 1989, the star of Baywatch and Knight Rider stood atop the Berlin Wall and captured the hearts of millions of Germans with a New Year's Eve performance of his song Looking for Freedom.
The anthem topped the German pop charts for eight weeks and became, for many, the soundtrack to the peaceful revolution that culminated in the reunification of east and west Germany.
"I didn't realise the significance of Looking for Freedom in east Germany until a few months ago," said Hasselhof on Sunday. "On my last tour there were thousands of Germans holding up signs saying 'We love you, thank you for Mauerfall [the fall of the wall].'"
Nearly 25 years on, in one of fate's more unlikely twists, the Hoff is back in Berlin to help save the wall he once helped destroy, vowing to do everything in his power to preserve its longest surviving stretch, which is under threat from property developers who want to tear down part of the historic monument to provide access to luxury flats.
"This last piece of the wall is really sacred, it's the last memorial to the people who died and to the perseverance of freedom," Hasselhoff said as he visited Berlin's East Side Gallery and was mobbed by thousands of fans. Plans to remove part of the mural-covered wall, he said, were as outrageous as destroying the Ground Zero memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks in New York.
After 1989, most of the wall was removed, with larger sections being sold to museums across the world and countless tiny fragments being flogged to tourists as souvenirs. A few smaller sections remain intact in Berlin, the largest after the East Side Gallery in its original spot at Bernauer Strasse in the north of the city, now the site of a permanent exhibition about life with the wall.
Demolition work on the 20-metre section of the 1.3 km (0.8 mile) stretch of wall – decorated with dozens of paintings by artists from all over the world – was suspended this month after activists formed a human chain in front of it. The scale of the following protest, attended by 10,000 demonstrators, prompted Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to oppose the ''unnecessary'' demolition.
But the 60-year-old actor fears he lacks the riches needed to take on property developers Living Bauhaus, who bought the land from the Berlin senate last October. "I don't think I can afford to buy the land," Hasselhoff told the Guardian. "But we could raise the money – maybe we will." If the developers pressed on with their plans, he added, he might find himself compelled to organise an all-star celebrity benefit concert for the cause.
Events, however, may yet overtake them. Activists worry Living Bauhaus could send their construction workers back to the wall this week. Much will hinge on Monday's meeting between project investor Maik Uwe Hinkel and Berlin's senate and district government, at which alternative solutions are expected to be put on the table. But if the demolition does continue, Hasselhoff's support could help fund a legal battle to uphold the East Side Gallery's status as a protected historical monument.
"David offered to do anything to help, he said the wall was special to him," said Lutz Leichsenring, a spokesman for the Berlin Club Commission, which represents the interests of the city's clubs – and which has launched a petition that has attracted 77,000 signatures. Leichsenring added: "We've talked with him about creating an online platform to raise legal fees to fight the development."
With a bit of luck, he went on, Hasselhoff's return to Berlin would keep up pressure on Berlin's politicians. "We need him to keep media coverage up," he said.
The crowd that greeted the star was so large and so enthusiastic that he had to abandon plans to walk along the wall and retreat instead to a bus. Still, he did serenade his fans with lines from Looking for Freedom.
"David Hasselhoff was here when the wall came down and now he's here because he wants to save the last piece," said Theresa Sheppard, a 28-year-old protester. "He's the only celebrity who's trying."
But what had brought her to the barricades: the wall or the Hoff?
"Lots of people just think he's funny, they don't take him seriously," she said. "We think saving the wall is important but we probably wouldn't have come to the protest if he hadn't been here."
March 17, 2013
Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’
By SIMON ROMERO and WILLIAM NEUMAN
BUENOS AIRES — One Argentine priest is on trial in Tucumán Province on charges of working closely with torturers in a secret jail during the so-called Dirty War, urging prisoners to hand over information. Another priest was accused of taking a newborn from his mother, one of the many baby thefts from female prisoners who were “disappeared” into a system of clandestine prisons.
Another clergy member offered biblical justification for the military’s death flights, according to an account by one of the pilots anguished about dumping drugged prisoners out of aircraft and into the sea.
As he starts his papacy, Francis, until this month Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, faces his own entanglement with the Dirty War, which unfolded from 1976 to 1983. As the leader of Argentina’s Jesuits for part of that time, he has repeatedly had to dispute claims that he allowed the kidnapping of two priests in his order in 1976, accusations the Vatican is calling a defamation campaign.
Now his election as pope is focusing scrutiny on his role as the most prominent leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina, an institution that remains under withering criticism for its role in failing to publicly resist — and in various instances actively supporting — the military dictatorship during a period when as many as 30,000 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared.
This stance by Argentina’s church stands in contrast to the resistance against dictatorships by Catholic leaders elsewhere in Latin America at the time — notably in Chile and Brazil, two nations where far fewer people were killed. Even as the head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops from 2005 to 2011, Francis resisted issuing a formal apology for the church’s actions during the Dirty War, disappointing human rights campaigners.
“The combination of action and inaction by the church was instrumental in enabling the mass atrocities committed by the junta,” said Federico Finchelstein, an Argentine historian at the New School for Social Research in New York. “Those like Francis that remained in silence during the repression also played by default a central role,” he said. “It was this combination of endorsement and either strategic or willful indifference that created the proper conditions for the state killings.”
Francis, 76, has offered a complex description of his role during the dictatorship, a period officially called the Process of National Reorganization, in which the authorities installed a terrifying campaign against perceived opponents.
While refraining from public criticism of the dictatorship, Francis said in his autobiography that he pressed military officials behind the scenes to free the two priests from his order — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — even meeting with top military officials.
Francis also said that he hid at a Jesuit school several people persecuted by the dictatorship, and even helped one young man who resembled him to flee Argentina, via Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian border, giving him priest’s garb and his own identity documents.
The Rev. Ignacio Pérez del Viso, a Jesuit who is a longtime friend of Francis’, said that a small number of Argentine bishops spoke out against the military dictatorship. But they were clearly in the minority, he said, and others in the Argentine church, including the new pope, who was 39 at the time of the 1976 coup, adopted a far more cautious position.
“When you saw that the majority of the bishops preferred to have a dialogue with the military,” Father Pérez del Viso, 78, said, “it’s not easy to say, ‘We will do something different.’ ” He added: “Many of the bishops opted, rather than to confront the military head on, to try to intercede in private conversations for those they could save.”
“Later the bishops realized this was a mistake,” Father Pérez del Viso said. “But to see the mistake at that moment was difficult.”
Religious scholars attribute such passivity to remarkably close ideological and political links between the church and the armed forces. Some priests have even been forced to stand trial on charges of human rights abuses.
After a previous military coup in Argentina in 1930, the church forged a role as a spiritual guide for the armed forces. By the time military rule was established again in the 1970s, their operations overlapped to the point where some bishops were provided soldiers as personal servants in their palaces, and only a handful of bishops publicly condemned the dictatorship’s repression.
“Of all the national churches in Latin America, Argentina is where ties were closest between the clergy and the military,” said Kenneth P. Serbin, a historian at the University of San Diego.
This legacy presents a challenge to Francis. Last week, a judge who took part in an investigation into a clandestine prison at the Naval Mechanics School said the inquiry uncovered no evidence that Francis was involved in the kidnapping of the Jesuits. “It is totally false to say that Jorge Bergoglio handed over those priests,” the judge, Germán Castelli, was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Nación.
But doubts persist, based on the priests’ own accounts, including a 1977 report by Father Yorio to the Jesuit authorities, obtained by The New York Times, and a 1994 book by Father Jalics.
Father Yorio wrote that Francis, who was then the top Jesuit in Argentina, told them he supported their work even as he sought to undermine it, making negative reports about them to local bishops and claiming they were in the slum without his permission.
“He did nothing to defend us, and we began to question his honesty,” wrote Father Yorio, who died in 2000. Finally, without telling the two priests, Father Yorio wrote, Francis expelled them from the Jesuit order.
Three days later, hundreds of armed men descended on the slum and seized the two priests. Father Yorio was interrogated and accused of being a guerrilla. The priests were kept for five months, chained hand and foot and blindfolded, fearing they would be killed.
Finally, they were dropped off in a drugged state on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
In a statement posted on a Jesuit Web site last week, Father Jalics said he would not comment “on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events.” He said that years after the kidnapping, they celebrated a Mass together and he solemnly embraced him. “I am reconciled to the events and view them from my side as concluded,” Father Jalics wrote.
But in an interview, Father Yorio’s sister, Graciela Yorio, accused Francis of leaving the priests “totally unprotected” and making them an easy target for the military. She said that her brother and Father Jalics, whom she referred to using his name in Spanish, were in agreement about Francis’ role. “My brother was certain,” she said, “And Francisco, too, Francisco Jalics. I have no reason not to believe my brother’s word.”
Still, several prominent leftists here have defended Francis, emphasizing his openness to dialogue and austere habits. “He is questioned for not having done all he could do,” said Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a pacifist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. “But he was never an ally of the dictatorship.”
Though Francis has had to respond to doubts about his own past during the Dirty War, he has faced other issues that still haunt the church. He was head of Argentina’s bishops’ conference in 2007, when the Rev. Christian von Wernich, a former police chaplain, was found guilty of complicity in the killing and torture of political prisoners.
Even after his conviction, Father von Wernich was allowed to offer Mass to fellow prison inmates. Other priests have similarly faced charges related to abuses from the dictatorship era. And still there are other priests who have not been charged with a crime, but who face serious accusations about their connection to the armed forces.
The church has tried to account on different occasions for its actions during the dictatorship. In 2000, it apologized for its “silences” that enabled rights abuses. And last November, after the future pope’s tenure as head of the bishops’ conference had ended, the church issued another statement in response to the assertion by Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, that Argentine bishops had in effect collaborated with the dictatorship.
The church rejected Mr. Videla’s claim, but said it would “promote a more complete study” of the Dirty War years.
Reporting was contributed by Fabián Werner, Emily Schmall and Jonathan Gilbert from Buenos Aires; Mauricio Rabuffetti from Montevideo, Uruguay; and Nicholas Kulish from Berlin.
March 18, 2013
Francis Meets Argentine Leader After Frosty Ties
By RACHEL DONADIO and ALAN COWELL
VATICAN CITY — As heads of state and government converged for Tuesday’s formal inauguration of Pope Francis, one encounter in particular drew attention on Monday when the newly-elected head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics met a more temporal and often adversarial leader — Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of his native Argentina.
The encounter may offer a first clue as to whether the new pope’s spiritual message of humility and simplicity will carry over to diplomacy on a global rather than national stage.
But after 15 minutes of private conversation before a lunch together, neither side immediately issued a statement to say what had transpired.
For many years, the relationship between Francis — formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires — and the Argentine leader has been depicted as tense and mutually hostile, as it was between the prelate and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner.
Underlying the strains have been accusations — dismissed by the Vatican — of complicity between the church in Argentina and the military dictatorship in the 1970s and early 1980s in the so-called Dirty War when as many as 30,000 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared.
As the leader of Argentina’s Jesuits for part of that time, Cardinal Bergoglio repeatedly disputed claims that he allowed the kidnapping of two priests in his order in 1976, accusations the Vatican is calling a defamation campaign.
But it sharpened more recently over doctrinal issues that reflect Francis’ deep conservatism on the social issues that often divide Catholics.
As Cardinal, Francis was — and remains — a staunch supporter of the Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues including adoption by gay couples.
In 2010, the prelate described a government-supported law to legalize marriage and adoption by same-sex couples as “a war against God” and “a maneuver by the devil.”
At the time, Mrs. Kirchner said, “Bergoglio’s position is medieval.”
But last Wednesday, after his election as pope was announced, the Argentine leader seemed prepared to make at least a formal gesture of reconciliation, congratulating him and telling him he had her “consideration and respect.”
The Vatican announced the midday meeting with President Kirchner with brief formality.
Another head of state whose arrival drew some comment was President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe, where the state broadcaster in Harare, the capital, said he arrived in Rome on Monday en route to the inaugural Mass. Mr. Mugabe, 89, is the subject of a formal travel ban by European countries but exemptions allow him to travel to the Vatican City state, encircled by Italian territory, and to United Nations gatherings.
Mr. Mugabe was raised as a Catholic at a remote mission school in Zimbabwe. He was among leaders who attended the funeral in 2005 of John Paul II, whose successor, Benedict XVI, resigned last month at age 85 citing failing strength.
The Zimbabwean leader also attended ceremonies to mark the beatification of John Paul II in 2011.
Rachel Donadio reported from Vatican City and Alan Cowell from London. Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.
IHT Rendezvous -
March 18, 2013, 2:33 am
The Vatican and the Other China
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
BEIJING — There are approximately as many Catholics in the world as Chinese — over 1 billion each, with 1.3 billion Chinese just surpassing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
It’s a coincidence, of course, but it points to the potential for sought-after converts in a fast-changing, officially atheist country where many people are urgently searching for spiritual values, as the church seeks to strengthen its image and numbers globally after the damaging child abuse scandals. Yet there is a well-known problem: the Chinese Communist Party rejects Rome’s influence and regards its own secular officials, not a foreign pope, as the leader of all Chinese, Catholics included.
Instead, for 71 years, the Vatican has maintained diplomatic ties with the Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known, and not the People’s Republic of China, which threw it out after the 1949 Communist revolution and set up its own, competing church, called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
So as Pope Francis prepares for his inaugural Mass on Tuesday in Rome, President Ma Ying-jeou is on his way with a high-level team from Taipei to take part in what is a rare opportunity for Taiwan’s leader, head of a state recognized by just 23 nations around the world, to mix with other world leaders, dozens of whom are expected, including Joe Biden, the U.S. vice president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. The Vatican is the only state in Europe that recognizes Taiwan.
For President Ma, who has said he was raised in a Catholic household and frequently attended a Catholic church in Taipei with his grandmother as a child, it’s a rare chance to mingle, and it speaks directly to the aspirations of most of Taiwan’s 23 million people for more international recognition, after decades of unbending pressure from China for nations to derecognize it.
President Ma is traveling with his wife, Chow Mei-ching, and two senior officials: the deputy foreign minister, Vanessa Shih, and the National Security Council secretary general, Jason Yuan, as well as the president of Fu Jen Catholic University, Vincent Chiang, The Taipei Times reports.
In his luggage President Ma has a gift for Pope Francis: a red vase by Franz Chen, a popular Taiwanese ceramicist who is a Catholic (there are about 300,000 Catholics in Taiwan, where the church is headed by Rome, as it is almost everywhere in the world). In Chinese culture, the magpie is a happy bird, and the vase sports a “Joyful Magpie” design, The Taipei Times reported, citing a presidential office spokeswoman, Lee Chai-fei.
But might the Vatican one day switch its affiliation to Beijing, as so many states have?
No one expects that any time soon, but there was a renewed flurry of speculation when the new pope’s name was announced. Could “Francis” be a message for China, with Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary, being a role model for the new pope, the Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit to occupy the position?
Xavier, who co-founded the Jesuits, died in 1552 on an island off the coast of southern China while waiting to travel inland.
Pope Francis has since stated clearly that his name choice was based on Saint Francis of Assisi, but he’s a Jesuit — an order known for its intellectuals and wily thinkers — and suspicions linger that there might be a dual meaning that the pope is not willing to state in public but intends nevertheless.
And what of China, which normally registers angry protest when a top Taiwan politician is received abroad?
There was some pushback, but not as much as in the past, likely a reflection of China’s hopes for its warming relationship with Taiwan under President Ma. In 2005, China filed a protest to Italy for granting a visa to then-President Chen Shui-bian so he could attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Instead, last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called on Taiwan to “bear in mind the overall situation and deal prudently with sensitive issues,” The South China Morning Post reported.
“We hope that the Vatican will take concrete steps to create conditions for the improvement of China-Vatican relations and gradually remove barriers,” Ms. Hua said.
She did, however, call on the Vatican to “sever its so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognize the Chinese government as the sole legal representative of all of China.”
For its part, Wang Jin-pyng, Taiwan’s legislative speaker, said the Vatican was Taiwan’s diplomatic ally and that China should respect the interactions between two countries that maintain diplomatic links with each other, The Taipei Times reported.
The Vatican has said it will accord President Ma normal diplomatic honors and there will be no restrictions to his presence.
As for the conversion issue: that hope remains in the church, though China is likely to resist it very stubbornly. What if “China opens up and becomes the greatest field of Christian mission since the Americas?” asked an article in the Catholic Education Resource Center. For one, it might create a different Catholic-Muslim global balance, projected in the article to be 1.3 billion Catholics to 1.8 billion Muslims by 2025, the article said.
March 17, 2013
As Government Stands Firm, Analysts See Risk of New Recession in Britain
By JULIA WERDIGIER
LONDON — As George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, prepares this week to update Parliament on his plans for the economy, the prospect of stagflation is back to haunt Britain.
Recent disappointing economic data coupled with rising consumer prices have heightened fears among some economists that Britain is once again edging closer to a recession, leaving Mr. Osborne and his austerity plan increasingly isolated.
Calls for Mr. Osborne to take a break from his relentless efforts to balance the budget and instead find ways to get economic growth back on track intensified in advance of the annual budget, which he is to present to Parliament on Wednesday. Even within his own Conservative Party and among members of the government’s junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, lawmakers have started to suggest that it time for a new approach.
“The pressure is mounting on Mr. Osborne,” said Simon Wells, an economist at HSBC. “He’s been in the job almost three years, and over this period the economy has grown by a measly 1 percent.” That compares with 4.9 percent growth in the United States during that span, 3.7 percent in Germany and 1.7 percent in France, according to Mr. Wells.
“With an election looming in 2015, he needs growth if he is to stabilize the public finances, and he needs it soon,” Mr. Wells said.
Some lawmakers and economists suggested that Mr. Osborne should use the budget update to announce a slight increase in borrowing to invest in infrastructure, education and other projects that would help revive growth. But the government is widely expected to stick with its plan of balancing the books within five years, even as a deteriorating economy makes achieving that goal more difficult.
“This month’s budget will be about sticking to the course, because there’s no alternative,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech last week.
In January, Britain’s industrial production surprisingly fell to its lowest level in 20 years, reviving concerns that the country could fall back into a recession for the third time in little more than four years. A dismal economic outlook had pushed the pound to the lowest level against the dollar in nearly three years; that makes imports more expensive and threatens to increase inflation that is already above the E.U. average. Higher consumer prices in turn would further cut spending power.
Irfan Aslam, the founder of Global Components, a British supplier of bolts, textiles and other components to the local furniture industry, said the weak pound had already hurt his business by making parts he buys in the United States and Europe more expensive.
“It’s having a real detrimental effect on the business,” said Mr. Aslam, 37. “It forces us right to the edge.”
Mr. Aslam had to postpone plans to expand his warehouses and hire staff members and said he might be forced to pass price increases to his customers. “Demand is weak anyway, and we should be thinking about offering promotions to create demand, but we can’t. We’re actually thinking about increasing prices,” he said.
The government and the Bank of England had welcomed a weaker pound, arguing it would help the economy by making British exports cheaper. But the recent slump of the currency against the dollar, as well as the euro, prompted Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, to change his tone. In an interview with the television channel ITV on Thursday he said the pound was now “properly valued,” indicating a further decline was not desirable.
Ha-Joon Chang, an economist at the University of Cambridge, said Britain had failed to generate a trade surplus despite the relatively weak pound because the country was unable to produce enough valuable goods that could be exported. Britain’s economy shrank 0.3 percent in the final quarter of last year and is expected to grow 1 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The opposition Labour Party has been pointing to the weak economic growth as evidence that Mr. Osborne’s austerity plan — which has included some tax increases, the elimination of tens of thousands of public sector jobs and cutting social benefits — was not working. Austerity is choking the economic recovery, opposition lawmakers have argued; they say the government needs to increase spending to fuel growth.
Mr. Cameron has repeatedly rebuffed such criticisms and instead blamed the euro zone and higher fuel costs for the troubles. But in an embarrassing gaffe this month, Mr. Cameron quoted the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent group that provides economic forecasts, as being “absolutely clear” that the deficit reduction plan was not responsible for Britain’s economic difficulties, only to be contradicted a day later by the O.B.R. chairman, Robert Chote.
The group’s forecasts “incorporated the widely held assumption that tax increases and spending cuts reduce economic growth in the short term,” Mr. Chote wrote in an open letter.
The success of Mr. Osborne’s plan to eliminate the budget deficit by 2017 has hinged on the strength of the economic recovery. But sluggish growth last year has already forced Mr. Osborne to acknowledge, which he did in December, that it would take a year longer — well into 2018 — to achieve his target of balancing the budget. Disappointing tax revenue and rising benefit payments have made his job more difficult.
And yet, the Cameron government has been sticking to its plan, arguing that anything else would raise concerns among investors about Britain’s ability to pay its debt, which would drive up borrowing costs. Taking on more debt — even short-term — was not an option. There was no “magic money tree,” Mr. Cameron said in his speech.
Some economists expect Mr. Osborne to turn to the Bank of England to pump more money into the economy. The central bank has already poured in £375 billion, or $562 billion, over the past four years by buying assets, mostly government bonds, and it is expected to buy more soon.
Mr. Osborne could perhaps ask the Bank of England on Wednesday to adopt a more flexible approach starting in July when Mark Carney, the head of the Canadian central bank, is to take over as governor of the Bank of England. The central bank, on its own, could also focus more on reviving growth than on reducing inflation to its target of 2 percent, some economists said.
Mr. Cameron has already hinted that he would welcome interest rates that remained close to the current record low of 0.5 percent. A sharp rise in interest rates would do “unthinkable damage” to Britain’s economy, he said in the speech last week.
Meantime, opposition is brewing even within the government’s ruling coalition to Mr. Osborne’s reluctance to consider alternatives to debt reduction. Vince Cable, the business secretary and member of the Liberal Democrats, wrote in an article earlier this month that more borrowing to finance projects like new schools or roads could revive growth.
March 18, 2013
6 Indians Accused of Raping Swiss Appear in Court
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW DELHI (AP) — Six men accused of raping a Swiss tourist who was cycling with her husband in central India were produced in court Monday and charged with gang rape.
The suspects appeared in the magistrate's court in Madhya Pradesh state with their faces covered with black cloth, police superintendent Chandra Shekhar Solanki said.
It was not clear how they pleaded in court, but during their arrest Sunday they confessed to the crime, police said. The men, who are poor farmers from nearby villages, also face additional charges of robbing the Swiss couple.
The attack, which occurred Friday night as the couple camped in a forest in Datia district, came three months after the fatal gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus which spurred outrage over the treatment of women in Indian society and the country's justice system.
The Swiss couple told police that the woman had been raped by seven or eight men, but that it was dark and they could not be sure of the exact number.
The men beat up the husband, tied him to a tree before raping the woman, police said. They also stole the couple's cellphone, laptop computer and 10,000 rupees ($185). Police said they recovered the laptop and phone from one of the suspects.
The Swiss tourists were on a three-month India holiday and had visited the temple town of Orchha. They were planning to cycle to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) away.
They set out from Orchha on Friday and pitched their tent in the forest near Jatia village when they were attacked by men armed with sticks, police said.
Last month, the Swiss government issued a travel notice for India that included a warning about "increasing numbers of rapes and other sexual offenses" in the South Asian nation, and the latest incident could prompt other countries to issue similar warnings.
On Monday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported that the 39-year-old woman said she will stay in India for now to help the investigation. There was no immediate confirmation and phone calls to the Swiss Embassy went unanswered.
Indian Tourism Minister K. Chiranjeevi met the Swiss ambassador to assure him that the victim would receive justice, a statement from his office said. Chiranjeevi also said the Indian government needs to do more to ensure that tourists inform local police stations before venturing into remote areas.
After last December's bus attack, the government passed a law increasing prison terms for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. The law provides for the death penalty in cases of rape that result in death or leave the victim in a coma. It has also made voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
March 18, 2013, 5:54 am
Sexual Offenses Bill to Be Altered to Pass Parliament
By NIHARIKA MANDHANA
NEW DELHI— A bill aimed at toughening India’s laws on rape and sexual violence will be altered, India’s law minister said Monday, a move expected to garner wider political support in a divided Parliament.
The changes are expected to address several contentious issues, including lowering of the age of sexual consent from 18 to 16, and the definitions of new offenses like stalking and voyeurism, which critics say expose the law to misuse.
“I believe it should be possible to have a law that has a broader political consensus,” Ashwani Kumar, the law minister, said in a televised interview with NDTV. Mr. Kumar said he expects the revised bill to be presented before Parliament on Tuesday, and pass before a recess later this week.
The Indian Parliament is scheduled to go on a monthlong break in four days, and until now political parties have been sharply divided about the bill, which was crafted in response to a massive public outcry after a young woman was fatally gang raped in Delhi in December.
In meetings Monday morning attended by senior politicians from several parties, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party, an ally of the governing Indian National Congress, voiced their disagreement to parts of the bill.
“This will lead to the unnecessary harassment of people,” said Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party in an interview on television, referring to the sections that make stalking and voyerism illegal. “We will have to make different schools and different roads, where men walk on one side and women on the other.”
Women’s rights activist Vrinda Grover said comments like these are indicative of a regressive mindset that is “extremely uncomfortable” when the law tries to “criminalize conduct that amounts to sexual violence.”
“How can any man in his right mind oppose a law to punish men who watch women bathing, or going to the toilet, or indulging in a sexual act?” she said.
Demand for this bill comes from a broad range of activists, lawyers and citizens, many of whom took to the streets in December to demand justice for the 23-year-old victim of the fatal gang rape. The government, which promised swift changes in the legal system, is under immense public pressure, and no political party wants to be seen as obstructing the bill.
On Feb. 3, the government hurriedly passed an ordinance that made temporary changes to Indian laws dealing with crimes against women, which was widely criticized as an act of tokenism. The ordinance is set to expire on April 4.
The blueprint for these changes is a report, submitted in January by a three-person committee headed by former Chief Justice J.S. Verma, which garnered appreciation from politicians and activists for its scathing critique of the government’s performance on gender rights and its far-reaching recommendations for an overhaul of the legal and judicial system.
The government has since been criticized for taking a piecemeal approach to implementing the recommendations of the report.
Activists see the last-minute scramble to get the bill passed as a sign of the government’s attitude to issues of women’s rights.
“The government should have started discussions on the bill much ahead of time,” said Ms. Grover. When the government is determined to pass something, she said, they find a way of doing it, through a series of meetings and deals.
If the bill is not passed before Parliament goes on a break, she said, “the signal is loud and clear that our lives, our dignity, our very existence is not a priority for the government.”
March 18, 2013
Myanmar Holds Off on Press Law Following Criticism
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar journalists just getting used to their new era of freedom howled when the government announced plans for a media law that could lock many old restrictions back into place. Then, in the latest of many moves that never would have happened under the country's old military rulers, the government backed off.
A bill restricting publishers, drawn up by the Ministry of Information without input from press groups, might yet become law. But journalists' complaints helped scuttle plans to pass the legislation as soon as this week.
Now the changes won't be considered until June at the earliest, and only after government officials consult with members of the media. The information minister, who had said "poisonous" publications had made new rules necessary, is to discuss the proposal with journalists Saturday.
"I think the minister finally understands that the media industry is totally against the draft," said Zaw Thet Htwe, the editor of a health journal and a former political prisoner. "We cannot predict the outcome of our meeting on Saturday but we are happy that the minister listens to the views."
A new law could have had a chilling effect on the media days before Myanmar is to allow private daily newspapers to operate for the first time since 1964. Other private publications such as weeklies are already allowed, but the April 1 return of private dailies has been hailed as another step toward greater press freedom and democratic change.
The publishing bill had been scheduled to be discussed this week in Parliament, which will adjourn Friday and reconvene in June. Zaw Thet Htwe said he learned Monday that the bill is now off the agenda.
Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of the private weekly The Voice, said the speaker of Parliament's lower house did not allow debate on the legislation "because many media organizations have sent letters of criticism" to parliamentary officials. Legislators were in session until Monday evening and were not immediately available.
The proposed law would replace even tougher rules established in 1962 by the government of the late dictator Ne Win. The existing law allows the government to revoke licenses at any time and carries a maximum seven-year sentence for failing to register, though the current government has not used those provisions.
Journalists in Myanmar, also known as Burma, were regarded for decades as among the most restricted in the world, subjected to routine state surveillance, phone taps, imprisonment and censorship so intense that independent papers could not publish on a daily basis. Even photos of opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi were barred.
President Thein Sein's elected government has significantly relaxed media controls since taking power in 2011, allowing reporters to print material that would have been unthinkable during the five previous decades of absolute military rule. The government closed the Information Ministry's censorship bureau, which was known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department.
The government would have had little trouble pushing the publishing bill through this week if it had wanted to. Though a few dozen opposition politicians won office in a by-election last year, the ruling party commands a great majority in Parliament.
The bill would bar publishers from printing articles that "oppose and violate" the military-drafted 2008 constitution and articles that could undermine "law and order and incite unrest."
It calls for up to six-month prison sentences for failing to register news publications with the government, and for the appointment of a new "registration official" who will be in charge of monitoring the media and issuing publishing licenses.
"This draft law is nothing but a mechanism to control the media," Kyaw Min Swe said.
"If passed in the current form, the draft law will essentially replace Burma's old censorship regime with a similarly repressive new one," said Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We urge lawmakers to amend this draft in a way that protects, not restricts, press freedom."
Information Minister Aung Kyi has defended the draft bill, saying that since media censorship was abolished many new and "poisonous" publications have emerged.
He specifically referred to 46 publications that had run photographs that were "contrary to Myanmar's cultural norms," an apparent reference to scantily clad women that now appear regularly on magazine front pages. He also said there have been articles that "encouraged gambling" and others that had prompted complaints from a state-run Buddhist organization as going against Buddhist teachings.
The proposed law is "capable of decontaminating the poisoned printed matters without restricting freedom of the press," the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted Aung Kyi as saying when he submitted the bill to Parliament on March 8.
Journalists, however, note that the proposed law could go well beyond enforcing social norms and block media from publishing material critical of the government.
The legislation would protect a constitution that among other things bars Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency in elections set for 2015. The constitution bars anyone from the presidency whose spouse, child or parent holds foreign citizenship, a clause widely criticized as being tailored for Suu Kyi because her late husband was British, and her two sons hold British nationality.
Veteran journalist Win Tin, an 83-year-old former political prisoner, said the proposed media law would inevitably lead to self-censorship.
"Journalists will be too cautious to write stories about (proposed) amendments to the constitution," Win Tin said. "It could be construed as opposing the constitution."
After the bill was submitted, the Press Council, a government-formed group made up of journalists and government appointees, issued a statement calling for the parliamentary debate to be delayed until an amended version of the law can be drafted with input from media organizations.
Aung Kyi will meet Saturday with members of the council, which is drafting a separate press law that it says will protect journalists' rights.
Associated Press Writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report from Bangkok.
March 17, 2013
In China, New Premier Says He Seeks a Just Society
By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — Li Keqiang, in his first comments as China’s prime minister, laid out a vision on Sunday of a more equitable society in which environmental protection trumps unbridled growth and government officials put the people’s welfare before their own financial interests.
“Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water,” Mr. Li told reporters at the Great Hall of the People.
Speaking on the final day of the legislative session that installed a new generation of leaders, Mr. Li vowed to ease impediments to private investment, rein in the powerful interests that dominate large sectors of the economy and scale back an unwieldy, intrusive bureaucracy that he acknowledged often frustrated entrepreneurs and citizens.
The new government, led by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, will impose a moratorium on the construction of government buildings and reduce spending on official vehicles, public meetings and overseas travel, Mr. Li said. The government’s sprawling work force, he warned, would be trimmed to increase spending on social welfare.
“Reforming is about curbing government power,” he said in his opening remarks, which were broadcast live on television. “It is a self-imposed revolution that will require real sacrifice, and it will be painful.”
His comments, delivered with a casual spontaneity seldom seen from a Chinese leader, offered a tantalizing palette of economic and social reforms that promised to transform the lives of the rural poor, the migrants flooding into the cities and retirees who worry about rising prices and unaffordable health care.
Acknowledging that he has been “depressed” by the noxious pollution shrouding Beijing, Mr. Li encouraged the news media and the public to hold him accountable should his government fail to clean up China’s contaminated water and food supply.
“Poverty and backwardness in the midst of clear waters and verdant mountains is no good,” he said, “nor is it to have prosperity and wealth while the environment deteriorates.”
Li Weidong, a political commentator and former editor of China Reform magazine, said that he took “comfort in seeing that Li has an accurate understanding of the country’s problems.”
“He made a lot of promises, which shows he has confidence,” Mr. Li said, “and he seemed ready to take on the responsibility of fighting vested interests.”
Even if bloggers and political analysts were encouraged by Mr. Li’s comments — and his down-to-earth, direct speaking style — they noted that his promises were short on specifics. Mr. Li declined to discuss political reform, an issue that liberal intellectuals and policy advisers say must be addressed if the country is to tackle some of its most intractable problems. Instead, they said, he defended the modest package of administrative adjustments approved by the country’s party-run legislative session.
Mr. Li faces formidable obstacles. Changes that seek to increase opportunities for farmers, migrant workers and entrepreneurs are sure to face resistance from an elite that has shown little interest in sharing the fruits of China’s economic growth. He must also operate within a consensus-driven leadership, including a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee dominated by conservatives.
Even Mr. Li acknowledged the potential obstacles posed by those who have accumulated power and wealth during China’s three-decade embrace of market reform. “Nowadays moving against these interests is often harder than laying a hand on a soul,” he said.
As the leader of the State Council, China’s cabinet, Mr. Li is responsible for economic policy, health care and education; he has expressed an interest in the challenges of urbanization. Responding to a reporter’s question, he said Beijing would spend liberally to help the millions of rural residents who are flocking to Chinese cities each year and would enact policies that foster sound development. “We must also be on guard against urban ills,” he said. “We can’t have it so there are skyscrapers side by side with slums.”
Expectations for China’s first new leadership in a decade are high, heightened by Mr. Xi, who since his elevation as Communist Party chief in November has spoken about fighting corruption and shifting China’s growth toward domestic consumption and less on exports and infrastructure spending. But Mr. Xi has also provoked some unease, especially among China’s neighbors, with his emphasis on bolstering the military and by promoting “a great national revival” that some have interpreted as code for a more muscular foreign policy.
Earlier on Sunday, in his inaugural speech as president, Mr. Xi returned to the theme of the “Chinese Dream,” striking a nationalist note as he emphasized the glory of Chinese civilization. “Patriotism is always the spiritual force bonding the Chinese nation together as strong and unified,” he said.
While both men are unvarnished party loyalists, reformers have placed much of their hopes for change on Mr. Li, 57, whose law degree and doctorate in economics from Peking University make him one of China’s best-educated leaders.
Unlike Mr. Xi, a so-called princeling whose father was a Communist Party luminary, Mr. Li comes from a humble background.
The state-run news media has promoted the image of Mr. Li as a modern, no-fuss leader. Commentators noted that compared with his predecessor, Wen Jiabao, who occasionally adorned his speeches with classic Chinese verse, Mr. Li seemed to talk unscripted, his hands slicing the air for emphasis.
Still, the news conference was not an impromptu free-for-all. The questions were vetted, and journalists from The New York Times, which has reported on the finances of Mr. Wen’s family, were not allowed to attend.
Asked about China’s role in cyberattacks targeting the United States, Mr. Li issued the party’s standard rebuttal, saying that China was also a frequent target of hackers and that Washington should stop making “groundless accusations.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting, and Mia Li contributed research.
South Korea’s ‘Top Gun’ high school cyber warriors train for battle against North
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 18, 2013 4:10 EDT
Cheon Joon-Sahng may not look like an elite warrior, but the shy, South Korean high school student has been fully trained for a frontline role in any future cyber battle with North Korea.
Cheon, 18, was one of 60 young computer experts chosen in July from many applicants for a government programme providing specialist training in vulnerability analysis, digital forensics and cloud-computing security.
At the end of December their number was narrowed to 20 who completed a further two months survival-of-the-fittest training in cyber warfare.
Earlier this month Cheon was among six who received “Best of the Best” certificates and 20 million won ($18,000) at a ceremony in the state-run Korea Information Technology Research Institute (KITRI) in southern Seoul.
The training programme was launched to reflect growing official concern about South Korea’s vulnerability to cyber attack in the wake of two major intrusions in 2009 and 2011 blamed on North Korea.
Government agencies and financial institutions were targeted both times, causing networks to crash and, in the case of one bank, affecting millions of customers who were unable to use credit cards and ATMs for more than a week.
The tables were turned last Friday when North Korea accused the United States and South Korea of carrying out a “persistent and intensive” cyber attack that took a number of its official websites offline.
“An inter-Korean cyber war is already in full swing,” said Lee Seung-Jin, a computer research consultant and a trainer for the government programme.
Cheon and his fellow graduates are under no obligation to enter the South Korean military’s cyber command.
His immediate goal is to secure a college place and, after graduation, he says he would consider going into the private sector as an Internet security consultant.
“But this programme played a crucial role in building my career, so I wouldn’t mind working as an officer in the military cyber command,” he said.
“Ironically, it’s the North Korean cyber attacks that have led to all the increased interest and investment in Internet security in our country,” he added.
The South Korean military set up the special cyber command in early 2010 and, in partnership with Korea University, established a cyber warfare school in 2012 that admits 30 students every year.
On the surface at least, South and North Korea — which remain technically at war — occupy different ends of the IT spectrum.
Broadband speeds and penetration levels in South Korea are among the highest anywhere, and Seoul prides itself on being one of the world’s most wired cities.
North Korea, by contrast, has a domestic Intranet that allows a very limited number of users to exchange state-approved information and little more. Access to the full-blown Internet is for the super-elite only.
As a result, the focus of the South’s cyber command is on defensive measures to prevent sensitive, secure networks being compromised.
“It’s really like fighting an asymmetric war,” said KITRI training centre chief Choi Yun-Seong.
The Korea Internet Security Agency, a state watchdog, said it had recorded 40,000 cases of cyber attacks from foreign and domestic sources in 2012, up sharply from 24,000 in 2008.
“South Korea is an IT superpower with good infrastructure but remains relatively vulnerable to hacking,” said Park Soon-Tai, manager of the agency’s hacking response team.
According to intelligence officials cited by South Korean media, North Korea is believed to have a cyber warfare unit staffed by around 3,000 people handpicked for their computer literacy.
The South’s military has a special alert level system called Infocon that reflects the current likelihood of an imminent cyber attack.
With military tensions on the Korean peninsula at their highest level for years following the North’s nuclear test last month, the Infocon level was recently raised from five to four.
China warns US over missile defence programme against North Korea
Beijing says American interference could only make matters worse in sabre-rattling between Seoul and Pyongyang
guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 March 2013 08.07 GMT
China has said that US plans to bolster missile defences in response to provocations by North Korea would only intensify antagonism, and urged Washington to act prudently.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, made the comments at a daily news briefing.
He said: "Actions such as strengthening anti-missile [defences] will intensify antagonism and will not be beneficial to finding a solution for the problem.
"China hopes the relevant country will proceed on the basis of peace and stability, adopt a responsible attitude and act prudently."
The Pentagon said the US had informed China, North Korea's neighbour and closest ally, of its decision to add more interceptors but declined to characterise Beijing's reaction.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced plans on Friday to bolster American missile defences in response to "irresponsible and reckless provocations" by North Korea, which has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the US.
A senior US military official visiting Seoul sent a message to both Koreas: warning Pyongyang over recent threats and reassuring South Korea that military backing won't be hurt by a congressional budget debate.
The deputy secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, said on Monday that Pyongyang's threats would only deepen Washington's defence commitment to Seoul. He said that includes a "nuclear umbrella" security guarantee for Seoul, which doesn't have atomic weapons.
Ashton said deep US budget cuts won't alter Pentagon efforts to make South Korean security a priority.
Pyongyang is angry over USs-South Korean war games and UN sanctions meant to punish it for carrying out a third nuclear test. It has threatened nuclear attacks on Washington, though it isn't believed to have the weapons needed to do so.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's defence ministry has said it regretted the "not entirely objective" characterisation by the former top American diplomat on the island that declining military budgets have left it vulnerable to Chinese attack and made it easier for mainland spies to penetrate its armed forces.
The remarks from William Stanton constituted an unusually hard-hitting critique of Taiwan's national security posture, and stood in sharp contrast to repeated assertions of American support for President Ma Ying-jeou's five-year programme of seeking to lower tensions with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
A career diplomat, Stanton served as the head of the de facto US embassy in Taiwan from August 2009 to August 2012. His remarks came in a speech before a pro-independence organisation in Taipei on Friday.
His charge constitutes what is believed to be the first public acknowledgement from a US government official serving or recently retired that Chinese espionage against Taiwanese targets may be affecting America's willingness to provide security assistance to Taipei.
Responding to Stanton's charge, Taipei's defence ministry said it had been zealous in pursuing cases of Chinese espionage against the Taiwanese military, which proved its "credibility" in combating the Chinese spying threat.
"We will continue working on measures to safeguard our security," it said.
Syrian rebel leaders to form interim government for 'free' areas
Summit in Istanbul hopes to end up with leader or executive panel to officiate in regions now out of Assad's control
Associated Press in Istanbul
guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 March 2013 11.25 GMT
Syria's main opposition coalition is holding talks to form an interim government to provide services to people living in parts of the country now controlled by rebel forces.
The effort is the most serious yet by the forces opposing the president, Bashar al-Assad, to establish a rival administration and bring together all the factions fighting government forces on the ground.
At the start of the conference on Monday in Istanbul, Turkey, there was no guarantee it would succeed. Two previous attempts to form an interim government failed because of divisions within the coalition, and some members said before the meeting that it was unclear if they would agree this time.
But many said there was a new sense within the opposition that unification was necessary, as government retreats have expanded the size of the rebel-held zone, which now encompasses much of Syria's largest city, Aleppo, and one provincial capital, Raqqa.
Currently, for practical purposes, local rebel garrisons or community councils run villages and neighbourhoods, with limited co-operation between them. Many communities have little electricity and no running water.
"What delayed this before was that there was no agreement on the importance of forming a government," said Burhan Ghalioun, a coalition member and former head of the Syrian National Council. "Now people are convinced that a government is necessary."
In a stance that could frustrate their western backers, including the US, coalition members dismiss any possibility of negotiating with the current regime and insist they will talk only when Assad has left power. Many believe the only way to accomplish this is through continued advances by rebel forces.
"There has to be a military victory on the ground to convince the regime, or some elements in the regime" of the need for change, Ghalioun said. "The solution is not an end to the violence. This is linked to pushing the regime towards steps to a democratic system."
Twelve candidates have been nominated for prime minster, who will be elected by the coalition's 73 members. The vote is expected by Tuesday but it was unclear exactly when the vote would take place and who the final candidates would be. Some coalition members suggested that if they could not agree, they could form an executive commission.
March 17, 2013
Terror Haven in Mali Feared After French Leave
By ERIC SCHMITT
NEMA, Mauritania — With France planning to start withdrawing its troops from Mali next month, Western and African officials are increasingly concerned that the African soldiers who will be relied on to continue the campaign against militants linked to Al Qaeda there do not have the training or equipment for the job.
The heaviest fighting so far, which has driven the militants out of the towns and cities of northeastern Mali, has been borne by French and Chadian forces, more or less alone. Those forces are now mostly conducting patrols in the north, while troops sent by Mali’s other regional allies, including Nigeria and Senegal, have been slow to arrive and have focused on peacekeeping rather than combat, prompting grumbles from Chad’s president, Idriss Déby Itno.
The outcome of the fighting in Mali carries major implications not only for France, but also for the Obama administration, which is worried that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other militant groups could retain a smaller but enduring haven in remote mountain redoubts in the Malian desert.
To help the French, the United States began flying unarmed surveillance drones over the region last month from a new base in Niger. And the administration has spent more than $550 million over the past four years to help train and equip West African armies to fight militants so that the Pentagon would not have to. But critics contend that the United States seems to have little to show for that effort.
Turning Mali’s own fractured army into a cohesive and effective force would entail “a huge amount of work,” according to Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre of France, who is leading the effort to retrain Mali’s Army. As if to underscore the point, a group of Malian troops briefly abandoned their posts recently and fired shots in the air to demand a deployment bonus.
Here in the southeastern corner of Mauritania, about 100 miles from the border with Mali, an exercise conducted this month by the United States military to train African armies to foil ambushes, raid militant hide-outs and win over local populations offered the administration more reasons for worry, as well as some encouraging signs.
The exercise offered a rare glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of several of the African armies that are poised to help take over the mission in Mali. In a few weeks, the United Nations Security Council is expected to decide whether to authorize a peacekeeping force for Mali and how to compose it.
“It’s possible these troops would go to Mali,” said Lt. Col. M. Dieye of Senegal, commander of a platoon of special forces soldiers who took part. His nation, like Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, joined the exercise and have also sent troops to Mali. “Now we’ve worked together with other African troops, like we would in Mali,” he said.
The French-led operation in Mali has killed scores of militants and destroyed many weapons caches, and France has said it will not withdraw until the threat from the militants is vastly diminished. Even so, some Western officials say the African troops in Mali will be up against guerrilla fighters with far more experience in desert warfare than they have.
“No amount of exercise or training in the next couple weeks or months can, in itself, prepare African forces for their new role in Mali,” said Benjamin P. Nickels, a counterterrorism specialist at the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. “An ongoing commitment will be required.”
France has already delayed its withdrawal by at least a month, amid fierce fighting against a major militant stronghold. The French had some 1,200 soldiers in that battle; along with 800 troops from Chad, they have been focusing their efforts on a 15-mile zone in the Adrar des Ifoghas, the rocky, barren mountains near Mali’s border with Algeria.
The French are likely to maintain a small counterterrorism force in Mali after withdrawing most of their 4,000 troops from the country, diplomats say. The bulk of the peacekeeping duties will shift to African troops, with the growing likelihood that they will operate under a United Nations mandate.
But in a sign that Western officials are worried about whether the Africans will be up to the task, some diplomats are suggesting that the United Nations approve a heavily armed rapid-response force of up to 10,000 troops to ward off any resurgent Islamist threat in Mali. Chad, which has 2,200 soldiers in Mali and decades of experience in desert warfare, would probably supply the core of any peacekeeping mission.
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is expected to submit his peacekeeping recommendations to the Security Council by the end of March, and diplomats anticipate a vote as early as mid-April.
Mali’s own army, which toppled the country’s civilian government early last year, is “very much underequipped,” said General Lecointre, who is leading the European Union mission to retrain the Malian troops beginning April 2. “It is the army of a very poor country.”
When the militants took advantage of the chaos caused by the coup to seize the northern half of the country, some Malian soldiers defected to the rebels and others fled rather than confront them. Malian soldiers who joined with French troops in January to reclaim three main northern cities from the militants have been accused in recent weeks of committing atrocities, including summary executions of suspected insurgents.
Against this backdrop, the American-led training exercise that concluded here on March 9 took on greater significance, even though it was not specifically designed to address the conflict in Mali. Annual exercises that the Pentagon calls Flintlock have been staged in northwest Africa since 2006; last year’s installment was scheduled to be held in Mali, but it was but was canceled because of the coup.
This year, more than 600 African troops and 400 Western trainers and support personnel, including about 250 Americans, trained at this dusty crossroads town, as well as in two other major towns in southern Mauritania, Kiffa and Ayoun.
For three weeks in temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees, African soldiers in groups of a dozen to two dozen teamed up with advisers from the United States or NATO allies like Spain, Italy, France or the Netherlands to practice marksmanship, patrol harsh desert terrain and resupply those patrols with airdrops.
“You have to able to shoot, you have to able to move, you have to be able to communicate, but most importantly, you have to be able to think,” said Col. George Bristol of the Marine Corps, the senior American Special Operations officer on the ground during the exercise.
If the daily training honed the Africans’ tactical skills, it also revealed weaknesses that insurgents could exploit, Western advisers said. Most African armies are small, with little money to buy modern gear, to train regularly or to set up systems to provide spare parts when equipment breaks down.
The African troops here learned to improvise with materials at hand. During one airdrop, for instance, Mauritanian soldiers used a large plastic tarpaulin as a makeshift parachute to successfully deliver supplies from a small propeller-driven airplane.
“We don’t need them to be as good as us, just better than the bad guys,” said one American officer who, under the ground rules for the exercise, would not be identified.
The training scenarios emphasized teamwork. In clear, searing weather one late afternoon, about two dozen troops in khaki camouflage uniforms, members of Mauritania’s presidential security platoon, gathered near some trees at one end of a small windswept valley. Suddenly, half the Mauritanians raced forward across open ground, firing their AK-47 rifles, while the others stayed back to provide covering fire. Then the roles reversed. Their objective was a mock militant encampment a few hundred yards down the valley, designated by several paper targets.
From a ridge above, Senegalese special forces soldiers also opened fire on the enemy camp, which in an actual raid would be intended to draw the militants’ attention away from the Mauritanians.
“Good sustained, controlled fire,” Colonel Bristol said after watching the maneuvers from a rocky hilltop.
For Mauritania, a vast, parched nation of about three million people at the western end of the Sahara that straddles the divide between largely Arab North Africa and black West Africa, playing host to this year’s exercise underscored its commitment to combat Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, diplomats and commanders said.
Since 2005, Qaeda fighters have kidnapped and murdered Western tourists, aid workers and Mauritanian soldiers in the country, and have attacked foreign diplomatic missions in Nouakchott, Mauritania’s oceanside capital.
The Mauritanian military, which has staged two coups since 2005, says it is vying with militants for the trust of the country’s civilian population. “Their main strength is their ability to lock in with local populations, spread out, and make it very hard to be pinpointed,” said Col. Mohamed Cheikh Ould Boyde, the senior Mauritanian officer during the exercise, who has trained in France, Tunisia and the United States.
“One of our biggest challenges,” the colonel added, “is separating the corn from the husk, so you can target the right people.”
Palestinians eye concrete gains during Obama visit
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 18, 2013 7:39 EDT
The Palestinians are hoping to see concrete gains from US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, while acknowledging it unlikely the trip will bring about a peace breakthrough.
Obama himself has played down expectations of pushing forward peace talks on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories as president, but the Palestinian optimism stems from other issues.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s top priority during the Obama visit is to secure the release of more than 1,000 prisoners held by Israel, his negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Thursday.
But they are also hoping to see key US funding issues resolved when Obama arrives for talks at the Palestinian leader’s political headquarters in Ramallah on March 21.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will accompany Obama, in February voiced his intention to deliver $700 million (540 million euros) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, most of which has been blocked for months by Congress.
State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday that “an economically viable Palestinian Authority is in the interest not only of the Palestinians themselves but of regional peace and security.”
“I’m confident (the issue) will also come up on the president’s trip,” she added.
Abbas’s political adviser Nimr Hammad invoked hopes the US president would push forward with issues raised early in his first term.
Obama must “realise what he promised in his speech at Cairo University (in June 2009): cessation of settlement building in all its forms, which is an obstacle to a Palestinian state,” he told AFP.
The US leader must also make good on “his hope for Palestine to become a full member of the UN,” he told AFP, referring to the president’s remarks in a speech from September 2010.
In the event, the United States voted against Palestinian observer state membership of the UN, in a resolution that passed with overwhelming international support.
On the issue of peace, Obama has downplayed the likelihood his visit would achieve concrete gains.
Speaking to American Jewish community leaders last week, he signalled there would be no big Middle East peace initiative on the table and told his guests that he was not aiming to resolve any specific policy issue during the visit.
In Moscow on Friday, Abbas said he hoped “this year, the situation will allow the start of talks with Israel,” but added “we aren’t too optimistic.”
The Gaza-based Palestinian NGO network urged Obama to bring “serious change” to his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressing the hope he would make good on past promises.
But in Ramallah, another activist group called Palestinians for Dignity expressed open hostility to Obama’s visit, calling for protests to reject “a return to futile negotiations.”
It also denounced “attempts by the Palestinian leadership to lighten the atmosphere through statements about Obama’s pressure on the Israeli government on the question of prisoners or American charity.”
And Ismail Haniya, ruler of the rival Hamas movement which governs the Gaza Strip, warned Abbas “not to fall into the trap of Obama’s next visit to the region and close the door on (inter-Palestinian) reconciliation.”
Arabic-language daily Al-Quds railed against “the apparent determination of Palestinians to put all their eggs in one basket,” as the “American bottomless basket has sapped the energy of the Palestinians and neutralised their resistance.”
It said the Palestinian Authority had not stuck to its guns on pursuing Israeli “crimes” through the International Criminal Court, “almost four months after the (upgraded) status of Palestine at the UN.”
In an exclusive interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television on Thursday, Obama cautioned the Palestinians against further moves to secure UN recognition as a state.
“To Abu Mazen (Abbas), I will say that trying to unilaterally go to, for example, the United Nations, and do an end run around Israel, is not going to be successful,” he said.
***********My Neighbourhood: a Palestinian boy's view of Israeli settlements - video
My Neighbourhood (directed by Julia Bacha and Rebekah Wingert-Jabi) tells the story of Mohammed El Kurd, a Palestinian teenager growing up in the heart of East Jerusalem. When Mohammed's family is forced to give up a part of their home to Israeli settlers, local residents begin peaceful protests, and in a surprising turn, are quickly joined by scores of Israeli supporters. Mohammed comes of age in the face of unrelenting tension with his neighbours and unexpected co-operation with Israeli allies in his backyard. My Neighbourhood is latest short film by Just Vision, an organisation that uses film and media to increase the power and legitimacy of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and resolve the conflict nonviolently. Learn more about Just Vision at www.justvision.org
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/mar/17/my-neighbourhood-palestinian-israeli-video
March 17, 2013
Obama’s Visit to Israel Renews Effort to Free Spy
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — When President Obama lands here on Wednesday, he may encounter some Israelis staging a hunger strike in support of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American serving a life term in a North Carolina prison for spying for Israel.
But the call for Mr. Pollard’s release will not be restricted to the strident, right-wing protests that have previously greeted American officials.
Instead, it will come from Israel’s dovish president, Shimon Peres, and some of the country’s most respected public figures: Nobel Prize-winning scientists, retired generals, celebrated authors and intellectuals who have signed, along with more than 175,000 other citizens, an online petition appealing for clemency for Mr. Pollard.
After years of being viewed as a somewhat marginal and divisive issue here, the campaign to free Mr. Pollard has become a mainstream crusade. Prominent Israelis are shedding the shame long felt over the affair, one of the most damaging, painful episodes in the annals of the American-Israeli relationship, and recasting it as a humanitarian issue ready to be resolved.
The effort has gathered momentum, and many Israelis consider Mr. Obama’s visit to be the perfect opportunity for a gesture of good will.
“I will sum it up in three words: enough is enough,” said Amnon Rubinstein, a law professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, and a former minister of education. “It is not humane to keep him in jail any longer.”
A main factor behind the shift, Israelis supporting the campaign say, is the time that Mr. Pollard, 58, who is said to be ailing, has already served — 28 years. Advocates for his release say that is unprecedented among Americans convicted of spying for an ally.
Another factor is the growing number of former officials in the United States who have called for clemency in recent years, including two former secretaries of state, George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger, and a former director of the C.I.A., R. James Woolsey.
Mr. Woolsey, who has firsthand knowledge of the case and strongly opposed clemency for Mr. Pollard during his tenure at the C.I.A., told Israel’s Army Radio last week that three other spies for friendly countries who were tried and convicted in the United States were each sentenced to less than five years in prison.
Such voices have given the advocates for Mr. Pollard a new level of respectability and have allowed more Israelis to speak out.
Amos Yadlin, the former director of Israeli military intelligence who now runs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, recently appeared on Israeli television to appeal for Mr. Pollard’s release.
“Clemency for Pollard, given his health situation, is a humanitarian issue that we can put behind us as our two countries face extraordinary challenges in 2013,” Mr. Yadlin said.
Yair Lapid, the new centrist force in Israeli politics, also signed the petition, as did Gilad Shalit, a former soldier who was held captive by Hamas militants for five years. Veteran campaigners have also changed their tone. After Israel refused to recognize Mr. Pollard as a “prisoner of Zion” in 2005, his wife, Esther, called the government’s attitude “petty and meanspirited.”
Now, Mrs. Pollard is taking a more stately approach. Lawrence J. Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and is now pushing for clemency for Mr. Pollard, has accompanied Mrs. Pollard to meetings with Israeli leaders in recent years.
Last week on Israeli television, Mrs. Pollard said that she and her husband felt “profound remorse and sorrow for what has happened” and begged Mr. Obama for mercy.
Mr. Pollard, a former United States Navy intelligence analyst, began spying for Israel after he approached an Israeli officer in 1984. When he was discovered 18 months later, he sought refuge in the Israeli Embassy in Washington but was refused entry. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
At first, Israel disowned Mr. Pollard, saying that he was an actor in a rogue operation. But he was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his first term in office in the late 1990s, officially recognized Mr. Pollard as an Israeli agent.
Many details of the case remain classified. But recently declassified documents from a 1987 C.I.A. damage assessment stated that Mr. Pollard’s instructions were primarily to provide Israel with American intelligence on Israel’s Arab adversaries and the military support they received from the Soviet Union, including information on Arab chemical and biological weapons.
Mr. Pollard’s supporters note that he was not asked to spy on the United States per se.
Mr. Pollard delivered suitcases full of copies of classified documents to the Israelis every two weeks. The copious disclosures posed multiple risks to American intelligence sources and methods, and to American foreign policy interests, the C.I.A. assessment stated.
In the past, Mr. Netanyahu pushed for Mr. Pollard’s release to balance concessions he was being pressed to make in Middle East peace negotiations.
But Sallai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2006 to 2009, said that a “strong nucleus of people” within the United States defense establishment had adamantly opposed Mr. Pollard’s release, “exerting a lot of influence over others.”
“None of us know all the details,” Mr. Meridor said. “But assuming he did something really bad, the very worst that you could anticipate in this realm, 28 years is more than enough.”
Mr. Pollard’s supporters are now pinning their hopes on Mr. Peres, who is widely respected abroad. He has pledged to raise the issue with Mr. Obama.
“Our message is so human and it comes from friendship, so who better to convey it than Peres?” said Adi Ginsburg, a spokesman for the campaign to free Mr. Pollard.
Still, there was no indication of an imminent shift by the United States.
In an interview shown Thursday on Israel’s Channel 2, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Pollard had “committed a very serious crime” and was “serving his time.” He said he was sympathetic to Israelis’ emotions and would ensure that the usual rules of review were applied in his case.
But he added, “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately.”
Zimbabwe referendum marred by intimidation and arrests
Human rights lawyer and Tsvangirai supporters held after vote for constitution that paves the way for elections later this year
Ben Freeth in Chegutu
guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 March 2013 11.36 GMT
Elections are in the air in Zimbabwe. A referendum on the new constitution was held this weekend and the general election is due before the end of October. But the signs all suggest that the upcoming vote will take place under conditions not dissimilar to 2008, when elections were characterised by widespread intimidation and political violence.
Yesterday the office of the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, was raided by police, who arrested four officials - apparently for impersonating officers. A prominent human right lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was also arrested for "defeating the course of justice".
I was in Chegutu, near Harare, recently. An elderly church pastor had held a meeting at his local church to discuss the constitution. Three policeman barged in and arrested the pastor and some of his parishioners under the notorious public order and security act, as they had been having a meeting of more than three people without getting police clearance, as required.
Gift Konjana and Pastor Bere described their ordeal of sleeping on the concrete in a dark and over-crowded cell, sharing dirty blankets and a toilet, an often overflowing hole in the ground, in the corner of the room. It is an experience that many Zimbabweans know only too well.
After a couple of nights inside the magistrate gave Konjana bail, but he was immediately re-arrested without charge. Konjana went on hunger strike, saying that he would not eat until he had been charged. They finally let him out the next day.
Several days later 14 people in Movement of Democratic Change t-shirts were on their way to a meeting with Tsvanagarai. Under the long standing security laws, used selectively prior to each election, such meetings need to be cleared by the police at least four days before, and this one had been. Unfortunately, though, they stopped their bus in Chegutu to get some lunch. Police accused them of congregating illegally and they were arrested and put in the cells, where they spent the next week.
At the same time a witch hunt has begun for anyone with wind up short wave radios. In Lupane, in the south of the country, police have asked children at school whether their parents have these radios. Zanu-PF retains control of the airwaves and is determined to crack down on anyone listening to broadcasts from outside the country.
One of our employees told me about his parents-in-law a few weeks ago. They had refused to go to a Zanu-PF rally up in Mount Darwin, in the north of Zimbabwe. The next thing they knew a group of youth arrived and burnt their house down. They lost everything that they owned. I thought back to when the same thing happened to us and a number of our workers on the farm.
In Headlands at the end of last month, Sherpherd Masiri, a well known MDC activist, was out campaigning when his house was petrol bombed and burnt to the ground. In it his 12-year-old son Christpowers Masiri was sleeping; and like so many victims over the last four decades, he was burnt to death . When I saw pictures of his charred body lying on the burnt floor of his ruined home, I could only think of my own son, born at the same time, who managed to survive despite our house being burnt down. "It could have been him" I kept thinking. "How many more and going to suffer the same fate in 2013?"
The draft constitution was voted on this weekend. Although there are those in civic society who have expressed grave concerns about the document, both MDC and Zanu-PF – including the war veterans – campaigned for a yes vote. Although there are some better things in the constitution, I have yet to understand why MDC supported it. President Robert Mugabe approves the draft constitution essentially because, firstly, his powers remain little diminished but secondly because it allows him to continue to take land without any legal process. Property rights remain insecure and the door is open for the grabbing of white-owned mines, banks and businesses which will create further job losses and will continue to stifle investment.
In the classic Orwellian tradition, the draft constitution goes against international law on a few fundamental issues. The most critical area of concern is that the bill of "rights" allows a wrong. Just like the Animal Farm inscription on the barn door which said that "all animals are equal but some are more equal than it others", it asserts that "discrimination is unfair…unless it is found to be fair."
New evidence: CIA and MI6 were told before invasion that Iraq had no active WMD
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian
Monday, March 18, 2013 3:21 EDT
BBC’s Panorama reveals fresh evidence that agencies dismissed intelligence from Iraq foreign minister and spy chief
Fresh evidence is revealed today about how MI6 and the CIA were told through secret channels by Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister and his head of intelligence that Iraq had no active weapons of mass destruction.
Tony Blair told parliament before the war that intelligence showed Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programme was “active”, “growing” and “up and running”.
A special BBC Panorama programme tonight will reveal how British and US intelligence agencies were informed by top sources months before the invasion that Iraq had no active WMD programme, and that the information was not passed to subsequent inquiries.
It describes how Naji Sabri, Saddam’s foreign minister, told the CIA’s station chief in Paris at the time, Bill Murray, through an intermediary that Iraq had “virtually nothing” in terms of WMD.
Sabri said in a statement that the Panorama story was “totally fabricated”.
However, Panorama confirms that three months before the war an MI6 officer met Iraq’s head of intelligence, Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, who also said that Saddam had no active WMD. The meeting in the Jordanian capital, Amman, took place days before the British government published its now widely discredited Iraqi weapons dossier in September 2002.
Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who led an inquiry into the use of intelligence in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, tells the programme that he was not told about Sabri’s comments, and that he should have been.
Butler says of the use of intelligence: “There were ways in which people were misled or misled themselves at all stages.”
When it was suggested to him that the body that probably felt most misled of all was the British public, Butler replied: “Yes, I think they’re, they’re, they got every reason think that.”
The programme shows how the then chief of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, responded to information from Iraqi sources later acknowledged to be unreliable.
One unidentified MI6 officer has told the Chilcot inquiry that at one stage information was “being torn off the teleprinter and rushed across to Number 10″.
Another said it was “wishful thinking… [that] promised the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow”.
The programme says that MI6 stood by claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, though these were dismissed by other intelligence agencies, including the French.
It also shows how claims by Iraqis were treated seriously by elements in MI6 and the CIA even after they were exposed as fabricated including claims, notably about alleged mobile biological warfare containers, made by Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, a German source codenamed Curveball. He admitted to the Guardian in 2011 that all the information he gave to the west was fabricated.
Panorama says it asked for an interview with Blair but he said he was “too busy”.
• The Spies Who Fooled the World, BBC Panorama Special, BBC1, Monday, 18 March, 10.35pm
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