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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1090990 times)
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« Reply #5220 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:45 AM »

March 20, 2013

Afghans Compromise Over Ban on Elite U.S. Troops


KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai’s government has agreed to compromise on his demand that American Special Operations forces immediately leave Wardak Province, according to statements from American and Afghan officials on Wednesday, breaking an increasingly acrimonious impasse.

Tensions over Mr. Karzai’s order grew sharply worse just more than a week ago after the discovery that the American military had ignored his March 10 deadline for withdrawal.

“I am pleased to announce that following a very constructive series of talks with the president and the leadership of the M.O.D. and M.O.I., we have come to agreement on a plan for Wardak that continues the transition of this critical province and meets the security needs of the people and the requirements of our mission,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top American commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement, referring to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior.

The statement offered only a vague sense of timing, saying that full security control in one particular district, Nerkh, would “soon” be handed over by American Special Forces and the Afghan Local Police militiamen they train, with the rest of Wardak being transferred over time. Wardak sits directly to the west of the capital, Kabul, and important roadways run through it, making it a frequent staging ground for insurgent attacks against Kabul.

The dispute came on the heels of complaints related to abuses by American forces and accompanying Afghan men during night raids in the province, accusations the coalition has denied. Some Afghan and Western officials said that groups friendly with Hezb-i-Islami insurgents were responsible for actions leading to the complaints.

The conflict over Wardak has come during a stretch of increasingly strident criticism by Mr. Karzai about Western involvement in Afghanistan, with some analysts saying he is evoking Afghan sovereignty in an effort to shake an image as an American lackey. He recently accused the Taliban and Americans of basically working at complementary ends to destabilize Afghanistan, a charge the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called “absolutely ridiculous.”

The president’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, offered his own rejoinder to the secretary general, broadcast on local television this week, a broadside that reflects the growing weariness of Afghans with the war and the presence of foreign troops here for more than a decade.

“The people of Afghanistan ask NATO to define the purpose and aim of the so-called war on terror, as they question why after a decade, this war in their country has failed to achieve its stated goals, but rather has resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives and destruction of their homes,” Mr. Faizi said.

Additional points of dispute that touch on issues of Afghan sovereignty have bedeviled relations between Afghans and the coalition in recent months, including a continuing disagreement over issues critical to negotiations about long-term American assistance to Afghanistan.

The thorniest of those has been the transfer of the prisoners held by the Americans at Bagram Prison. That transition was meant to take place last year, but delays related to prisoners the Americans deem high risk have scuttled plans to complete the transfer. That led to the cancellation of a ceremony during a recent visit to the country by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Mr. Karzai has publicly said he was promised the transfer would happen by the end of this week, but that appears unlikely as the two sides continue to struggle to work through their differences.

Even while intensifying his ire about specific issues, Mr. Karzai has continued a pattern of conciliatory words when discussing the general relationship between his country and the United States. In remarks broadcast Monday, he thanked the United States for its support and said the two governments were committed to an enduring friendship. The comments came shortly after the coalition put out a safety alert cautioning that Mr. Karzai’s anti-American statements could encourage attacks against its forces.

“My assertions were only for reform, not for reprimand or destruction of the relations,” Mr. Karzai said. “Where we see the interests of Afghanistan as very important, vital and fundamental, we want the Americans to respect and recognize those interests.”

Violence was particularly severe in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday and Wednesday. A protest in response to accusations of desecration of the Koran in Helmand Province turned violent Wednesday, with four civilians reported killed, and five civilians and two police officers wounded, officials said.

The violence, in Musa Qala, erupted over accusations that a district police official had ripped a Koran, though conflicting reports from provincial officials and religious leaders left the facts of what happened unclear. Some claimed the Taliban had stirred up the protests.

Three men traveling on the road from Sangin district to Ghorbak district in Kandahar Province were abducted by the Taliban and beheaded, an Afghan official said. One tribal elder said the men were members of the Afghan Local Police, while the district governor reported they were civilians.

In Zabul Province, three Afghan Border Police officers were killed in a fight with another border officer, officials said, adding that the assailant, who is thought to have escaped to Pakistan, was not involved in the insurgency. The Taliban, however, claimed responsibility for the killings, saying the officer was an infiltrator.

In Khost Province, in the east, a magnetic bomb placed on a vehicle driven by Afghan security forces killed two police officers.

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« Reply #5221 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:47 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
March 21, 2013, 5:26 am

What India’s New ‘Anti-Rape’ Bill Actually Says


NEW DELHI–After clearing the Lok Sabha or lower house of Parliament earlier this week, a bill to toughen India’s laws on sexual offenses is being debated in the upper house on Thursday.

The bill, which will amend India’s penal code and laws of criminal procedure and evidence, was drafted in response to widespread street protests after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in December.

Among the significant provisions of the bill, seen by India Ink, are longer sentences for sex offenders, a broader definition of rape and punishments for other sex crimes like stalking and voyeurism.

Here are some of the bill’s crucial changes:

– Women’s rights advocates and victims of sexual offenses have long accused a male-dominated police force of refusing to register complaints by women, and even facilitating a monetary settlement or brokering a marriage between victims of rape and the accused.

The bill lays down punishment for police officers who fail to record the initial complaint, known as the first information report, of a woman who alleges she was attacked with acid, assaulted by a man who intended to molest her or “outrage her modesty,” stripped naked or raped. Such officers can receive jail terms of six months to two years.

– The bill creates a separate offense to address acid attacks, common in South Asian countries, especially by men who are spurned by women they express an interest in.

Under the bill, those convicted of throwing acid on a woman, causing “permanent or partial damage or deformity,” or maiming or disfiguring her, will be punished with prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life and a fine.

With an eye to the rehabilitation of the victim, the bill says the fine should be paid to the woman as compensation.

– The bill defines sexual harassment, which includes “physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures,” a demand for sexual favors and showing pornography to a woman who does not want to see it. Those convicted of harassment can receive prison sentences of up to three years.

Making “sexually colored” remarks is also included in the definition of sexual harassment, for which the bill prescribes a prison sentence of up to a year.

– The bill criminalizes the forced stripping of women, or disrobing, in public spaces or in private confines, with a minimum jail term of three years and a maximum of seven. Under the current law, disrobing a woman is not a separate offense.

– One of the more controversial provisions in the bill is the section on voyeurism, which seeks to punish men who watch or photograph women who are conducting a “private act,” such as bathing, using the toilet or having sex.

The bill lays down a punishment of three to seven years in prison for those convicted of voyeurism more than once.

Voyeurism is not a separate offense under the current law.

– The bill creates another new, and much-debated, offense: stalking. This provision deals with men who follow a woman and establish contact with her or attempt to do so “to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest” by the woman.

E-stalking, or monitoring of a woman’s activities online, such as browsing or checking of e-mail, has also been made punishable.

A man convicted of stalking once can be sentenced to a term of up to three years, and if convicted again can receive a sentence of up to five years.

– The bill expands the definition of rape to include not just penovaginal intercourse but the insertion of an object or any other body part into a woman’s vagina, urethra or anus, and oral sex.

This responds to a longstanding demand of women’s rights groups. The issue of rape by different means was highlighted in the Delhi gang-rape case, where an iron rod was inserted into the young woman’s body.

Prison sentences for rape can range from seven years to life. The current law allows courts to hand down a sentence of less than seven years for “adequate and special reasons,” a provision omitted in the bill.

– The bill raises the age of consent for sex to 18. This means that intercourse with a woman under 18 is statutory rape and courts conducting rape trials cannot consider whether the woman consented to having sex. It also, in effect, criminalizes consensual sex with women under 18, a subject of much controversy.

– The bill does not make marital rape an offense, ignoring a longstanding demand of women’s rights advocates.

– The bill takes a tough stand on rape by public servants. Under the current law, when a rape is committed by a police officer or prison staff, those convicted can be punished with sentences ranging from 10 years to life.

The bill clarifies that imprisonment for life means the convict must remain in prison till the end of his natural life.

The bill also allows women to bring a complaint of rape against members of the armed forces.

– When a rape leaves a woman dead or in a “persistent vegetative state,” the bill demands a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum punishment of death. This is the first time that the death penalty is being prescribed for sexual offenses in India, which, unlike nearly all European nations, retains the death sentence, but uses it only in the “rarest of rare cases.”

– The bill increases the minimum punishment for gang rape from 10 years imprisonment to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to life imprisonment.

– The bill provides for life imprisonment or death for repeat offenders convicted of rape and gang rape.

– The bill makes procedural changes to address concerns that women are uncomfortable or intimidated by male police officers, or are treated with insensitivity when they approach police stations to register complaints of sex crimes.

The bill requires that all initial reports involving sexual harassment, disrobing, voyeurism, stalking, rape and gang rape be taken by women officers only.

– In order to ensure speedy trial, the bill requires that rape trials be completed “as far as possible” within two months from the time the police file charges against the accused.

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« Reply #5222 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:49 AM »

March 20, 2013

Moscow Court Rejects Punk Band’s Appeal


MOSCOW — A Moscow appellate court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by three members of the punk group Pussy Riot who were jailed for hooliganism after they called for the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin in a protest in a church last year.

Judge Ellada Bondarenko of the Moscow City Court reaffirmed a lower court’s conclusion that the musical protest, held in Moscow’s prominent Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012, was “motivated by religious hatred,” and denied a defense appeal to review the court proceedings.

The convictions of the three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, elicited international condemnation from rights groups and celebrity musicians.

Ms. Tolokonnikova and Ms. Alyokhina are serving two-year sentences in a penal colony. Ms. Samutsevich was released on appeal, and is serving a two-year suspended sentence.

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« Reply #5223 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Turkish prime minister says speech calling Zionism ‘a crime against humanity’ was misunderstood

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 19:30 EDT

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks published Wednesday that his controversial comments branding Zionism a crime against humanity had been misunderstood.

Erdogan, who has often attacked Israeli policies, triggered a storm of protest about his comments on Zionism at a UN forum in Vienna last month.

“I understand that my statement in Vienna led to some debate. But no one should misunderstand what I said,” Erdogan said in an interview with Danish newspaper Politiken ahead of a visit to Copenhagen.

“Everyone should know that my criticisms on certain issues, especially Gaza and the settlements, are directed at Israeli policies,” he said.

“It’s entirely natural for us to continue to criticise Israel, as long as it will not give up its approach of denying the right to exist of the Palestinian state.

“In several statements I openly condemned anti-Semitism, and it clearly displays my position on this issue. In this context, I stand behind my remarks in Vienna.”

Erdogan faced stinging criticism from Israel, the United States and the United Nations after telling the Vienna forum: “As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity.”

The Turkish prime minister has often attacked Israeli policies in blistering language over the past few years, sending relations between the once close allies into free-fall.


Kurdish ceasefire boosts peace process in Turkey

Historic gesture by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan shows peace talks launched last year are building momentum

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, Thursday 21 March 2013 11.56 GMT   

The jailed Kurdish guerrillas' leader, Abdullah Öcalan , has used the Kurdish new year celebrations to call a ceasefire in the 30-year war with the Turkish state in the biggest boost to an incipient peace process in years.

"The weapons should fall silent, politics should speak," said a statement on Thursday from Öcalan broadcast on Kurdish TV, as hundreds of thousands of Kurds thronged the streets of the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, their capital, for the Newroz new year celebrations.

The statement from the PKK leader, who has been held in solitary confinement in an island prison south of Istanbul for 14 years, was the strongest signal to date that peace talks launched tentatively last October with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are building momentum.

The Öcalan statement added that the estimated 3,500 PKK fighters inside Turkey should leave the country for their strongholds in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq. "This is not the end. This is the beginning of a period," said the declaration.

In an important symbolic gesture last week, the PKK released eight Turkish hostages who had been held captive in northern Iraq for up to two years. But in a sign of the possible backlash to come, a leftist group scornful of the rapprochement launched a bomb and missile attack on government buildings on Wednesday night. One person was injured.

"The announcement of the ceasefire will be one of the most important steps ever in the history of this conflict," Mesut Yeğen, a historian of the Kurdish issue, said. The ceasefire will be the first step of a so-called roadmap proposed by Öcalan a couple of weeks ago.

If successful, it would further reinforce peace talks that began in October last year and that might yet spell the end to the devastating conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since it erupted in 1984.

In further steps, PKK fighters are expected to withdraw from Turkish territory to northern Iraq, where the PKK, labelled a terrorist organisation by both the US and the European Union, maintains bases. A third step would include the disarmament and reintegration of PKK guerrillas.

Sadullah Ergin, the Turkish justice minister, told reporters on Monday that he expected all three steps to be successfully completed by the end of 2013. If the PKK heed their leader's call, the entire organisation's estimated 3,500 fighters based in Turkey will have withdrawn by August.

While Öcalan stressed in his peace roadmap that the Kurds did not demand a separate independent state, he did underline the importance of substantial constitutional and judicial changes that would guarantee Turkey's Kurdish population all cultural rights and give more power to local authorities.

Yeğen said: "The fact that the PKK does not want to withdraw all of its fighters before the announcement of the new constitution also means that they want to keep an ace up their sleeve during the negotiations of constitutional changes. But the government seems to have accepted this condition."

There have been attempts at peace negotiations before, but this is the first time that a Turkish prime minister and Öcalan, deemed the conflict's chief villain by many Turks, are openly engaging in dialogue.

Cengiz Aktar, a columnist, warned that a successful completion of the three steps of the peace negotiations would not mean an immediate solution of Turkey's Kurdish problem. "We would enter a post-conflict era, but this era will last a long time," he said. "There are no quick fixes in conflict resolution."

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« Reply #5224 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:52 AM »

March 20, 2013

Chemicals Would Be ‘Game Changer’ in Syria, Obama Says


JERUSALEM — Showing solidarity with Israel’s growing concern about chemical weapons in neighboring Syria, President Obama stated bluntly on Wednesday that if an investigation he had ordered found proof that the Syrian military had used such weapons it would be a “game changer” in American involvement in the civil war there.

On the first day of his first trip to Israel as president, in which Israeli officials stated their own conclusion that chemical weapons had been used in an attack on Tuesday in Syria, Mr. Obama’s remarks represented both an effort to warn the Syrian government of the consequences of using its chemical arsenal and to signal his administration’s support for Israel, the central point of his visit.

American officials reiterated that they did not have independent evidence that chemical weapons had been used, and the president made clear that it would require proof gathered by investigators before he would come to any conclusions. Mr. Obama, while vocal in his opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, has been reluctant to involve American forces in support of the opposition. Presidential aides made clear that he was not signaling any change in that regard.

But Mr. Obama’s remarks, in which he pointedly left open the possibility that President Assad’s government had used chemical weapons — and all but ruled out Mr. Assad’s assertions that insurgents had used them — were unusually strong in tone.

“Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Again and again during his visit, Mr. Obama signaled that the United States and Israel were partners on a broad range of issues, reinforcing their historic alliance and America’s stated commitment to protect Israeli security. Mr. Obama pointedly emphasized his administration’s pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s greatest fears.

But concern about chemical weapons in Syria were a major focus of the day.

Two senior ministers in Israel’s new cabinet said publicly on Wednesday that chemical weapons had been used, and several government officials said in interviews that Israel had credible evidence of an attack. The ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yuval Steinetz, were among those who met with Mr. Obama here on the first day of his trip.

A senior American official, however, said Mr. Netanyahu had not presented conclusive evidence of an attack in his closed-door discussions with Mr. Obama. The president’s words might have been intended to reassure Mr. Netanyahu, who has long feared that Mr. Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons could be used against Israelis.

In Washington, the American ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, testified before Congress that the United States still did not have proof that the weapons had been used. But he added, “We take these reports and these possibilities very seriously.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks were his first public reaction to the reports on Tuesday that chemical weapons had been used. They seemed calculated, in part, to counter claims by both the Syrian government and its major supporter, Russia, that opposition forces had mounted a chemical attack against the government.

“We intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve instructed my teams to find out precisely what happened, what we can document, what we can prove.”

While Mr. Obama cautioned that he did not have all the facts, he said, “We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical attacks” and that he was “deeply skeptical of any claim that it was the opposition that used chemical weapons.”

Israeli officials provided no proof of their assertions but appeared more confident that chemical weapons had been used.

Ms. Livni, the new Israeli justice minister, said in an interview with CNN, “It’s clear for us here in Israel that it’s being used,” adding, “This, I believe, should be on the table in the discussions.”

Mr. Steinetz, the minister for strategic affairs, said on Israel’s Army Radio, “It’s apparently clear that chemical weapons have been used against civilians by the rebels or the government.”

Two senior Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, said that Israel was sure that chemicals were used, but did not have details about what type of weapons were used, where they came from, when they were deployed, or by whom.

A third senior official, also refusing to be identified, said, “It is possible that chemical weapons were used, or some concoction of chemical substances,” but he said he had not “seen clear confirmation.”

Mr. Obama spoke after both the Syrian opposition and the government escalated accusations of chemical weapons use, with both sides demanding an international investigation.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the umbrella political group that wants to topple Mr. Assad, said in a statement that it “condemns these attacks and holds the Assad regime fully responsible for shedding Syrian blood.” The group said the attacks killed at least 19 civilians and left 69 others short of breath, with some in critical condition.

The coalition accused government forces of carrying out two chemical weapons attacks on Tuesday — one in the Khan al-Assal area of northern Aleppo Province, as originally asserted, and a second strike in the Ataybah area of suburban Damascus.

Ambassador Ford, in his testimony, also said that the United States was investigating reports of attacks in the north, and in the suburbs of Damascus.

Fears about Syria’s growing instability are shadowing Mr. Obama on each stop of this trip. On Thursday, he is to visit the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to raise worries about the plight of Palestinians in Syria. On Friday, he is scheduled to meet King Abdullah in Jordan, which has been flooded with Syrian refugees.

At the United Nations, the Syrian ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, told reporters that his government had also requested an official inquiry to corroborate its claims that insurgents — not government forces — had used the weapons. Mr. Jaafari said he had delivered a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office seeking a “specialized, independent and neutral technical mission to investigate the use by the terrorist groups operating in Syria of chemical weapons yesterday against civilians.”

Mr. Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said the request was under study.

Mr. Nesirky also repeated Mr. Ban’s reaction to the first allegations of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, saying, “The secretary general remains convinced that the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances would constitute an outrageous crime.”

The chemical weapons issue quickly became entangled in the longstanding, sharp divisions on Syria in the United Nations Security Council, between Russia and those Western states opposed to the Damascus government.

In a Security Council debate, France said the United Nations should investigate the opposition’s accusations that chemical weapons were used by the government not just in the Aleppo area but also at the second site, in the Damascus suburbs. Russia accused the West of trying to create a diversion, an accusation echoed by the Syrian envoy.

The Russian envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, said the United States, France and others were engaged in “delaying tactics,” for raising the allegation of a second site and for demands like humanitarian access to treat any victims.

“Instead of launching those propaganda balloons it is better to get our focus right,” Mr. Churkin said.

The Western demands, he said, echoed inspections instituted against Iraq more than a decade ago, which failed to find any chemical weapons. Mr. Churkin also said he would not put it past the opposition to fake a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government because it knows their use might well prompt international intervention. The Syrian ambassador seconded that possibility.

The French envoy, Gerard Araud, sarcastically referring to Mr. Churkin’s summary of the council debate as “fascinating,” said France and its allies wanted the United Nations to investigate all possible incidents.

Mark Landler reported from Jerusalem, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon; Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; Michael R. Gordon from Washington; and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.

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« Reply #5225 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Barack Obama hails 'eternal' US-Israel alliance at start of Middle East visit

Obama says his first visit to Israel as US president is chance to 'reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations'

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Wednesday 20 March 2013 13.48 GMT   

The alliance between Israel and the United States is eternal, Barack Obama has said after landing in the Jewish state for his first visit since becoming US president more than four years ago.

"I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbours," Obama said at a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. "I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever," he added.

In a short speech before Israeli parliamentarians, religious leaders, military figures and other dignitaries, Obama said: "We will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours." The Palestinians were not mentioned by name.

Air Force One touched down at about 12.30pm local time in glorious spring sunshine that prompted the president to discard his jacket shortly after the end of the ceremonials. His visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories is scheduled to last 50 hours before the 600-strong entourage departs for Jordan on Friday.

The trip has been billed primarily as a listening exercise by the White House, which has been anxious to set low-to-zero expectations of tangible outcomes. Talks between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, are expected to focus on Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president will also travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders.

Obama, Netanyahu and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, wore broad smiles and matching blue ties as they strode along the red carpet. In his welcoming remarks, Peres thanked America for its unshakeable support and said "a world without your friendship would invite aggressions against Israel".

He added: "We long to see an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoying freedom and prosperity in their own state. We extend our hand in peace to all the countries of the Middle East."

Netanyahu said Israel sought peace with its Palestinian neighbours, and the need for the US-Israel alliance was "stronger than ever".

As the leaders spoke, Palestinian activists set up a protest camp consisting of about 15 tents on highly sensitive land near Jerusalem known as E1. They said their action was "to claim our right as Palestinians to return to our lands and villages".

A similar protest village in the area, named Bab al-Shams, was forcibly removed by Israeli security forces. The Israeli military may be reluctant, however, to deploy bulldozers and teargas against protesters during Obama's visit.

Israeli air space was closed for about an hour for the arrival of Air Force One. Following the airport ceremonials, Obama inspected an Iron Dome mobile missile defence unit – largely funded by the US – that had been brought to Ben Gurion airport. He then flew to Jerusalem by helicopter.

Wednesday's schedule is dominated by at least five hours of talks between Obama and Netanyahu. Despite the lack of personal warmth between the two leaders, it will be the tenth time the pair have met face to face since both took office in early 2008. No other world leader has clocked up as many meetings with Obama.

The Iranian nuclear programme is top of the agenda for Netanyahu, closely followed by the deteriorating security situation in neighbouring Syria. The stalled "peace process" with the Palestinians will also be discussed, along with Israel's regional relationships, principally with Turkey and Egypt.

Some US and Israeli officials say the trip is also aimed at recalibrating the tetchy relationship between the two leaders at the start of their second terms, and building trust on both sides.

The White House has said it is a "chance to connect with the Israeli people" – who are largely distrustful of Obama. A poll published last week in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv showed that 10% of Israelis had a favourable attitude towards Obama, and 17% defined their attitude towards the US president as "hateful".

As part of his overture, Obama will deliver his keynote speech of the visit to an invited audience of Israeli university students at the international convention centre in Jerusalem on Thursday.

He will travel to Ramallah to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salaam Fayyad. The seven-mile journey will be made by helicopter, thus avoiding crossing by land the seven-metre-high concrete separation wall that snakes through Jerusalem, cutting off much of the east of the city and the West Bank. The president will have a birds-eye view of the barrier and some of the 130-plus Jewish settlements that punctuate the West Bank landscape.

Many Palestinians are hostile towards Obama, believing he failed to live up to early pledges to halt Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and tried to obstruct their quest for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. On Tuesday scuffles broke out between anti-Obama protesters and police near the Muqata, the presidential compound in Ramallah where Thursday's meeting is due to take place. Many posters bearing Obama's face have been torn or painted over.

According to the Palestinian Authority, 3,000 police officers will be on duty in the city alongside US security personnel. Five thousand Israeli police will be stationed in Jerusalem for each day of Obama's visit.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are sceptical about the chances of any real movement on the decades-old conflict. A poll published in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday suggested that eight out of 10 Israelis did not believe that Obama would succeed in brokering a peace deal in the next four years.

On Tuesday Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian legislator, criticised the stated goal of the Obama visit of listening to both sides. "The issue is not about listening, but realising the reality of the situation and dealing with it," he told reporters in Ramallah. "The passivity of the United States is dangerous at a time when the whole notion of the two-state solution is at risk. Passivity is unacceptable."

It emerged that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who has stated his commitment to trying to rekindle peace talks between the two sides, is to return to Jerusalem at the weekend to follow up on Obama's visit.

The presidential entourage leaves Israel for Jordan on Friday afternoon, and Kerry will head back on Saturday for further talks over dinner with Netanyahu. He had not been expected to return to the region until next month.

In January, Kerry warned US senators that the chances of achieving a Palestinian state alongside Israel were diminishing. If a way forward was not found, he said, "the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment".

Obama's itinerary for his 50-hour visit includes visits to the Israel Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel's haunting Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, and the assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He will make a second trip – again by helicopter – to the Palestinian territories on Friday to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. His entourage has taken over the historic King David hotel that overlooks the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.


Netanyahu reaffirms US-Israel bond on Obama visit but talks tough on Iran

PM reasserts Israel's right to be 'masters of our own fate' over Iran threat as Netanyahu and Obama strive to show new warmth

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Wednesday 20 March 2013 21.33 GMT   

Binyamin Netanyahu reasserted Israel's right to defend itself against the Iranian nuclear threat and be "masters of our own fate" at the end of Barack Obama's first day of his first presidential visit to Israel.

Despite the "great success" of Obama in mobilising the international community behind stringent sanctions against Iran, Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, insisted such an approach must be "augmented by the clear and credible threat of military action".

And although he accepted that Obama was determined to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu said: "Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves to others, even to the greatest of our friends. And Israel has no better friend than the United States of America."

Netanyahu said Obama's recent statement that it would take the Iranian regime about a year to manufacture a nuclear weapon was correct: "We have a common assessment." But, Netanyahu added, Iran's uranium enrichment programme could reach a "zone of immunity" earlier.

The two leaders strove to demonstrate a new warmth in their relationship, with Obama repeatedly referring to the Israeli prime minister by his nickname "Bibi". As Obama quoted a letter written by Netanyahu's brother, Yoni, who died in an operation to free Israeli hostages in Entebbe in 1976, the prime minister was visibly emotional. The pair also joked about their children, wives and gene pools.

Netanyahu obliquely acknowledged concerns about some rightwing elements of his new government sworn in earlier this week, but insisted that Israel remained "fully committed to peace [with the Palestinians] and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We extend our hand in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people."

Obama appeared reluctant to dwell on the issue, twice saying he would return to it in his keynote speech on Thursday. He suggested both sides must take steps "to build trust and confidence upon which lasting peace can depend", but did not mention the critical issue of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which has derailed peace talks for the past two and a half years.

Obama said that as part of America's "long-term commitment to Israel's security, the prime minister and I agreed to begin discussions on extending military assistance to Israel." The current agreement lasted until 2017, but officials would begin work on extending it "to the years beyond".


March 20, 2013

Document Shows Abbas’s Desire to Resume Israeli Talks


CAIRO — President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is so eager to return to peace talks with the Israelis that he may soften his demand that Israel’s president publicly pledge to halt construction of new settlements on Palestinian land before such negotiations can resume.

The shift in the Palestinian leader’s stance was laid out in a draft set of talking points prepared for Mr. Abbas by his negotiating team in advance of his private meeting on Thursday with President Obama.

“He can pledge to you secretly that he will stop settlement activities during the period of negotiations,” read one talking point, referring to President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “(He does not have to announce it.)”

The draft talking points were in an electronic document obtained by The New York Times. Its author was listed as NAD-Wajeeha. The initials are that of the authority’s Negotiations Affairs Department and are used in internal communications by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, along with the name of his assistant, Wajeeha.

Mr. Erekat said in the e-mail Wednesday night that Mr. Abbas’s talking points for the meeting had not been completed. But another senior Palestinian official said they were Mr. Abbas’s planned arguments, and others familiar with talking points for previous meetings said the document looked authentic and its text bore marks of Mr. Erekat’s style.

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who was previously part of the Palestinian negotiating team, would not comment on the document’s authenticity, but said he was would not be surprised if Mr. Abbas was eager to return to the negotiating table. “Negotiations are the only thing he has,” Mr. Elgindy said.

Another talking point in the document, which spells or transliterates Mr. Netanyahu’s name two different ways, suggest that Mr. Abbas should implore Mr. Obama to persuade Mr. Netanhyahu to say that Israel’s 1967 borders could be the starting point for negotiations, as Mr. Obama has suggested.

“I hope you can get Prime Minister Netanyahoo to say (two states on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps). He never said it,” reads one talking point. “I hope one day he will put his Map on the table as I did.”

Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday repeated his refusal to stop settlements or negotiate from the 1967 borders, calling both unacceptable “preconditions” for talks.

Mr. Abbas may even suggest dissolving the Palestinian Authority and returning the West Bank to direct Israeli control if the two sides cannot make progress toward an independent Palestinian state, the talking points say. While the settlements continue eroding the authority’s territory, the documents notes, economic stagnation and low tax revenue has left the authority unable to pay its employees.

“I am not threatening, I am sharing a fact with you,” the talking points suggest Mr. Abbas tell Mr. Obama. “If this situation continues I will be forced to ask Prime Minister Netenyahoo to resume his responsibilities.”

Mr. Abbas also appears set to reassure Mr. Obama that the Palestinian Authority will not use its new United Nations status to seek to press claims against Israel in the International Criminal Court unless Israel begins building a settlement in the sensitive area known as E1, central to the envisioned Palestinian state.

“We together agree on what to do and not do, on the principle that no one’s interest is affected provided that Israel does not begin the construction of E1,” the talking points say.

“No one benefits more from the resumption of the peace process than Palestinians,” the talking points suggest Mr. Abbas should tell Mr. Obama. “And no one loses more in its absence.”

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

In response to a question, Obama said the main goal of his visit was to let the Israeli people know they had a friend in the United States. That was evident in his remarks on landing in Israel earlier in the day, when he spoke of the eternal and unbreakable alliance between the two countries and of "America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security".

The trip has been billed primarily as a listening exercise by the White House, which has been anxious to set low expectations of tangible outcomes. The president will also travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders.

In his welcoming remarks after Obama touched down at Tel Aviv airport, Israeli president Shimon Peres thanked America for its unshakeable support and said "a world without your friendship would invite aggressions against Israel".

He added: "We long to see an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoying freedom and prosperity in their own state. We extend our hand in peace to all the countries of the Middle East."

As he spoke, hundreds of Palestinian activists set up a protest village, consisting of four large tents and a Palestinian flag, on highly sensitive land east of Jerusalem, known as E1. They said their action was to "to claim our right as Palestinians to return to our lands and villages".

"We are here to send a message to President Obama, our struggle, our non-violent peaceful resistance will continue until we are free," said senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouthi at the site.

Police told the protesters to clear the area but took no immediate action. A similar protest village, named Bab al-Shams, was forcibly removed by Israeli security forces earlier this year. The Israeli military may be reluctant, however, to deploy bulldozers and tear gas against protesters during Obama's visit.

Palestinian protests against Obama's visit were mounted in Hebron, where hardline settlers have taken over the centre of the historic West Bank city, and Gaza. Many Palestinians are hostile to Obama, believing he failed to live up to early pledges to halt Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and tried to obstruct their quest for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.

Following the airport ceremonials, Obama inspected an Iron Dome mobile missile defence unit – largely funded by the US - which has been brought to Ben Gurion airport. He then flew to Jerusalem by helicopter.

Security was tight in the city, with roads around the King David hotel – the base for the 600-strong entourage – closed and at least 5,000 Israeli police officers on duty round the clock. US security service personnel were liaising with their counterparts in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The first day of Obama's visit was dominated by five hours of talks between the president and Netanyahu. Despite the lack of personal warmth between the two leaders, it was the 10th time the pair have met face-to-face since both took office in early 2008. No other world leader has clocked up as many meetings with Obama.

Some US and Israeli officials said the trip was partly aimed at recalibrating the tetchy relationship between the two leaders at the start of their second terms, and building trust on both sides.

The White House has said it was also a "chance to connect with the Israeli people". A poll published last week in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv found that only 10% of Israelis had a favourable attitude towards Obama. Seventeen percent defined their attitude towards the US president as "hateful".

As part of his overture, Obama will deliver his keynote speech of the visit to an invited audience of Israeli university students at the International Convention Centre in Jerusalem on Thursday.

He will also travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salaam Fayyad. The seven-mile journey will be made by heliciopter, thus avoiding crossing the 24ft high concrete separation wall which snakes through Jerusalem, dividing it from much of the east of the city and the West Bank. However, the president will have a birds-eye view of the barrier and some of the 130-plus Jewish settlements that punctuate the West Bank landscape.

Obama's itinerary for his 50-hour visit includes visits to the Israel Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel's haunting Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, and assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He will make a second trip – again by helicopter - to the Palestinian territories on Friday to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


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« Reply #5226 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Tensions mount on Mali-Burkina Faso border as cattle farmers vie for land

Malian farmers and livestock, forced south by conflict, put pressure on land and water resources in the borderlands

Misha Hussain in Ouagadougou, Thursday 21 March 2013 07.00 GMT   

The movement of hundreds of thousands of cattle from Mali is threatening peace across the border in Burkina Faso, where tensions are mounting as Malian refugee pastoralists come head to head with local agricultural farmers.

"They don't even say hello, they don't ask but they just take things," said Hamidou Tamboura from Djibo, near the site of the refugees.

"They are hot blooded, and when their animals come on your land you cannot chase them away, as they receive protection from international organisations. We share the same vegetation and the water resources, but they get extra support."

Nomadic tribes have crossed the porous borders of these large territories for centuries in search of pastures to graze their cattle, a phenomenon known as transhumance.

Farmers from Niger normally go to the Gao region in Mali between December and February for a special herb called bourgou. However, the security situation has prevented them accessing the region, and they remain stuck in Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, cattle farmers from Mali, who are not usually part of the transhumance, are being forced south to Burkina Faso by the conflict, putting additional pressure on the same land occupied by the nomadic tribes from Niger. Many are afraid to return.

"Even though the Islamists have been defeated, we still cannot go back. The Malian army are killing the civilian population and many are being accused of sympathising with the Islamists," said Idoual Ag-Bala, a refugee from Gao.

"We know there is not enough food and water for the animals in Burkina Faso. We're hopeful for peace. As soon as there is peace we will go back."

According to the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), about 47,000 refugees have crossed the border since Islamists took control of northern Mali in early 2012, some of them bringing their livestock with them.

Latest figures from Oxfam (pdf) estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 animals have entered Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In one camp in Burkina Faso there are three animals for every person, said the report.

The large influx of animals has put considerable pressure on both land and water resources still recovering from the shock of the 2011 drought and the resulting Sahel crisis in 2012.

A May 2012 report by Réseau Billital Maroobé (pdf), a network of pastoral farmers across Africa, had already warned of the potential challenges posed by increasing refugee numbers.

"There is a big risk that we will run out of food and water. We need an early warning system so we can see where shortages might arise," said Boubacar Cissé, director of Conseil Régional des Unions du Sahel (Crus), a farmer's organisation that works in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

"The Ecowas [Economic Community of West African States] countries know that this needs a regional response. The Burkina Faso government said they will try and mobilise food for the cattle," he said. "At the same time, we need to raise the awareness of the security forces in Mali so that they can distinguish between farmers and rebels."

Crus has started to put out "antennas" around the region to monitor the migration of pastoralists, but little else has been done from the Ecowas side. "It's almost like we need a UNHCR for cows," said one aid worker.

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« Reply #5227 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Mozambique leads from the front in battle against Aids

Mozambique is using new technology to improve diagnosis and treatment for people living with HIV

Thursday 21 March 2013 11.17 GMT

The Polana Caniço health facility, which treats more than 200,000 patients each year, is in a densely populated area in Mozambique's capital, Maputo. It's early morning and the hospital is already filling up with patients, mostly mothers with young children. However, there are also students here for training on how to use new equipment that will provide critical feedback to patients with HIV – 11.5% of 15- to 49-year-olds in Mozambique.

The rate has been stable for the past five years, but remains high. Innovative technologies to quickly and accurately diagnose and monitor HIV are being rolled out by the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Médecins sans Frontières and Unicef. The trials, funded by Unitaid, are to improve diagnosis of children under 18 months, and tests to assess all patients' immunity levels. They enable health workers to monitor levels of the virus in the blood, and can determine when a patient needs to switch from first-line to second-line antiretrovirals. The equipment is adapted for low-tech settings, and patients will be able to be tested and treated nearer their homes.

The top floor of Polana Caniço hosts a pristine research facility that works with a community advisory board to map the area's needs. This year the centre is carrying out an HIV incidence study in the neighbourhood, which has thousands of small homes, mostly brick built, usually with corrugated iron roofs held down with stones or tyres.

Dr Ilesh Jani, director of the Instituo Nacional de Saúde de Moçambique (national institute of health), says that although there has been progress in HIV treatment, something better is still needed – such as the machines his team is testing.

The usual tests, where a child's status is assessed with a dry blood spot test which is sent to one of four labs in Mozambique, are less accurate and results take longer – it takes up to two months for the results to come back to the health centre. Just as with tuberculosis testing, logistics are a challenge and some families never come back to hear the outcome. With the new equipment, using a blood sample from a finger tip, results are back in just over an hour.

According to Jani, it is estimated that half of untreated children die before the age of two due to the delays. "Some issues are solved by technology, but it won't solve all the problems. We need to invest in the health systems too. By the end of 2013, 25% of all patients in HIV programmes will have access to CD4 counts [to measure the strength of the immune system to resist the virus] – that's between 800,000 and 1 million patients."

About 400 centres across Mozambique now have printers that can quickly receive test results by GPRS (similar to SMS but cheaper, and with the data codified to ensure confidentiality, a contribution from mcel, a Mozambican mobile phone company).

But accurately testing children remains a challenge in much of the country. Adults are normally diagnosed on the basis of antibodies, but when babies are born they still have those of their mother, so it is not possible to confirm whether the baby is positive. Instead, the new machines test for viral load, to verify if the virus is in the blood.

The Mozambican health system has not implemented viral load testing, so patients are treated according to their CD4 count. Conventional viral load testing is expensive, and requires significant infrastructure and well-trained technicians. The machines now being trialled can be used in basic settings by lab technicians – each one comes with a printer and charger so it can run for eight hours without mains electricity.

Being able to offer both tests will help Mozambique catch up with parts of South Africa and Kenya. Jani says: "If HIV is a train that is moving at a certain speed, the viral load is the speed of the train and the CD4 is the station at which the train is. These are two different measurements and CD4 is normally used to choose which patients go on treatment, but once the person is on treatment, viral load is used to monitor if the treatment is working."

Preventing mother-to-child transmission

In Mozambique, 15% of pregnant women between 15 and 49 are HIV positive. Testing among expectant mothers increased from 12% in 2005 to 87% in 2010. About 85% of antenatal care facilities offer prevention services. The health ministry has developed a national plan towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015.

The situation is improving – in 2010, 42% of children born needing ARVs received them, but only 34% of infants born to pregnant women with HIV were tested within two months of birth – hence the need for more accurate and speedy testing.

Roberto de Bernardi, deputy representative for Unicef Mozambique, acknowledges the room for improvement but recognises that the government's decision to integrate testing and drug provision into general health provision has avoided the very real issue of stigmatisation that parallel support would have risked.

The national institute of health has ambitious plans. It is doing preliminary work on vaccinations against HIV and is part of a consortium with institutions in Tanzania, Sweden, the UK, US and Germany. Jani says it is vital for Mozambique to carry out research: "Mozambique is one of those countries most affected by these issues. We need to get involved and be driving progress, not just sitting in the back seat. We all hope to find a product that will significantly lower incidence of HIV and we're hoping the products will be available in an affordable format."

• Lucy Lamble travelled to Mozambique with Unitaid
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« Reply #5228 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:13 AM »

March 20, 2013

Team on the Way to Collect Congo War Crimes Suspect


NAIROBI, Kenya — American officials on Wednesday said that a team from the International Criminal Court was on its way to Rwanda to collect a war crimes suspect who had turned himself in to the American Embassy and that they were hoping Rwanda would cooperate.

Rwanda has indicated that it would not interfere with the transfer of the suspect, Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel commander nicknamed the Terminator, to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, where he has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On Monday, Mr. Ntaganda, who has been accused of massacring villagers and recruiting child soldiers in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, showed up unexpectedly at the American Embassy in Rwanda and surrendered. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson reiterated that the United States now needed Rwanda’s cooperation to get Mr. Ntaganda to The Hague.

“We hope the Rwandan government will work with the U.S. government,” he said in a conference call from Washington. “We need cooperation so he can move freely from the American Embassy compound to the airport.”

Rwanda — and the United States, for that matter — are not members of the International Criminal Court, and Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, said this week, according to the SAPA news agency, “The I.C.C. is a political court, and we have never believed in its jurisdiction.” But she pledged to work with the United States and in other interviews, including one published by Bloomberg, Ms. Mushikiwabo reinforced the position, saying “The U.S. is a partner state, and we commit to give them any support they want.”

Mr. Carson said the critical issue now was getting Mr. Ntaganda from the American Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, to the airport about five miles away. He said that the Rwandans had given “appropriate assurances that they will not interfere,” but he did not elaborate.

Rwanda has faced broad international pressure because it is widely suspected of covertly supporting Mr. Ntaganda in the past and fomenting rebellions in eastern Congo that have killed countless people. It also has had a touchy relationship with international justice, condemning cases tried in France and Spain that accuse Rwandan government officials of assassinations and other crimes.

Several analysts have said that Rwanda may be worried that Mr. Ntaganda, once he leaves the country, might spill secrets that could further damage Rwanda’s reputation.

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« Reply #5229 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:17 AM »

03/21/2013 11:59 AM

Search for 'Plan B': ECB Sets Ultimatum as Cyprus Moves toward Deal

By Nicolai Kwasniewski in Nicosia

Saying it cannot guarantee emergency liquidity funding to Cypriot banks beyond Monday, the European Central Bank is pressuring Nicosia to find the 5.8 billion euros needed to ward off insolvency. Leading politicians on Thursday agreed to establish a "solidarity fund" and rejected any kind of bank levy.

The streets of Nicosia were eerily calm on Wednesday evening. When the Cypriot parliament rejected the euro-zone plan to impose a forced levy on bank accounts held with financial institutions in the country, the demonstrators who gathered in central Nicosia had achieved their goal. Few seemed to be considering what might come next.

That lack of foresight was on full display on Wednesday and again on Thursday morning as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades sought to find funding to replace the almost €6 billion that the levy was to raise. Negotiations with Moscow are continuing, with Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris telling reporters on Thursday that his country is not seeking additional loans, preferring instead to target investments in the banking and natural gas sectors.

And the European Central Bank (ECB) heaped on pressure as well. After hinting strongly on Wednesday that it was unwilling to continue providing emergency liquidity to Cypriot banks for much longer, the ECB on Thursday issued a statement that it could not guarantee funding beyond Monday, unless a bailout deal emerges.

On Thursday, the first outlines of how such a deal might look began to come into focus. Political party leaders meeting in Nicosia with Anastasiades agreed to abandon any kind of savings account levy and instead create a "solidarity fund" bundling state-owned companies and other assets together with the public retirement fund and Cyprus Church funds. "Emergency bonds" will then be issued. How much money such a vehicle might bring in was initially unclear. A similar plan presented to euro-zone officials last week was valued at €4 billion. Cyprus must find €5.8 billion ($6.5) by Monday.

Despite the difficult negotiations, the situation has normalized somewhat for those living in Cyprus. ATM machines are filled again after a brief cash shortage earlier in the week, stores are open and restaurants and cafés in the Nicosia city center are full, even if not all of them are currently accepting debit card payments. Banks will remain closed until Tuesday, but that doesn't seem to be affecting public life for the time being.

A Milder Levy

Everyone is talking about "Plan B," the yet-to-be defined alternative to the euro-zone plan. Brussels has said it remains willing to provide emergency bailout aid of €10 billion, but Cyprus has to come up with the remaining €5.8 billion. Late on Wednesday, several politicians said on Cypriot television that a parliamentary vote could be held as early as Thursday evening -- provided that the plan finds a majority.

As it currently stands, Anastasiades' "Plan B" would call for a milder form of the savings account levy he negotiated with European leaders in Brussels. Whereas the original plan called for all savings accounts to be levied, albeit it to different degrees depending on the size of deposits, the new plan, according to some lawmakers, would only impose a one-off tax on accounts of over €100,000. Other parliamentarians reported that accounts below the €100,000 cutoff would be taxed at the low rate of 3 percent.

The original euro-zone plan had called for a 6.75 percent tax on accounts with a volume below €100,000 and 9.9 percent on larger sums. Brussels was wary of loaning Cyprus the entire €17 billion in financing it needs for fear of saddling the country with an unsustainable sovereign debt level. A €17 billion loan would be roughly equivalent to 100 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product.

Nicosia's search for an alternative funding source has proven difficult. Even if Russia were to provide the country with a substantial loan and the Cypriot Orthodox Church were to make its assets available to the state, as Archbishop Chrysostomos II offered to do on Wednesday, Cyprus would still need bailout money from the euro-zone. Moscow, however, has shown little willingness to offer a large loan, focusing instead on direct investments, the size of which remain unclear. The hectic search for additional money continues.

Anger with the Troika

Protests earlier in the week made clear that the Cypriot population would like to do without any involvement from the troika, made up of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. It is a goal that Anastasiades is unlikely to be able to meet, but anger with the troika among policymakers in Nicosia was growing on Wednesday as well.

One reason for the anger is the fact that the Cypriot government presented several proposals for how it could come up with its share of the bailout package without resorting to a levy on savings accounts. Government sources in Nicosia confirmed this to SPIEGEL ONLINE. One proposal was the one agreed on on Thursday -- that of creading a "solidarity fund" using state-owned assets.

Another proposal involved winding down the country's two largest banks -- both of which are in deep trouble -- and spinning off their most problematic holdings into a "bad bank" before selling the rest to the Russian bank VTB Bank, which is active in Cyprus.

The troika, however, categorically rejected the alternatives. The Cypriots' willingness to make sacrifices to rescue its banking industry was not taken seriously, say government sources in Nicosia. The conclusion of many in the country has been that, "Merkel and Schäuble want to punish us." It is a sentence, referring to the German chancellor and her finance minister, that one hears from lawmakers as well as from protesters.

Deal by Monday?

Slowly, though, the fear is growing in the country that there may not actually be a way out of the deepening crisis. People fear that the mere suggestion that a levy could be imposed on private savings accounts has irrevocably harmed the country's financial sector. The belief that money is safe in a Cypriot account has been shattered.

The only chance to rebuild the faith of foreign investors in the country -- a large share of whom are Russian -- is to increase cooperation with Moscow. That, in any case, is what many lawmakers and account holders believe.

On Wednesday evening, Anastasiades said he hoped to reach a deal with parliamentary leaders on Thursday. Cypriot Central Bank head Panicos Demetriades likewise exuded confidence on Thursday following the ECB ultimatum. "I expect a program of support for Cyprus by Monday," he told reporters.


Cyprus to keep banks shut into next week as it seeks deal to avert disaster

Ministers continue negotiations with EU, IMF and Russia as suspicions grow that Kremlin is pressing for stakes in gas fields

Angelique Chrisafis in Nicosia and Miriam Elder in Moscow
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 March 2013 23.38 GMT   

Cyprus ordered its banks to remain closed until next week as the cabinet held emergency talks on Wednesday in an effort to strike a deal with the EU or Russia to avert financial meltdown and stave off bankruptcy.

After the country's parliament rejected a plan to provide €5.8bn (£5bn) by seizing a portion of bank deposits from anyone with a bank account, Cyprus is struggling to come up with a plan that will let it access an EU bailout to stop its banks failing.

The country's eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ready to provide €10bn in an emergency bailout if Cyprus comes up with an extra €7bn itself. Most of the bailout money is needed to shore up the country's oversized banking sector, with the rest for government finances.

No clear "plan B" had emerged after meetings between politicians and representatives of European partners and the IMF. The Cypriot cabinet was said to be discussing ideas including the nationalisation of pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold €2bn-€3bn, and another form of levy on deposits. The talks were due to resume

Another option debated may have been natural gas bonds linked to hydrocarbon reserves discovered off Cyprus, which remain uncertain and will not be exported until at least 2019.

It was unclear whether European partners would accept the idea of turning to pension fund assets, which could leave the government exposed to further debts.

"We don't have days or weeks, we have only hours to save our country," Averof Neophytou, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Rally party, told reporters as crisis talks in Nicosia dragged on into the evening.

Banks in Cyprus will now not open until Tuesday at the earliest, because Monday is a bank holiday. They have been shut since last week to prevent a run on deposits. The country's two main banks – Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus – face potential failure if a bailout is not secured. One official told the Associated Press that Europe and the IMF were pressing for the two banks to be wound down. The Cypriot government was said to be considering the possibility of imposing capital controls amid fears that money would flood out of the country once its banks were reopened.

With the EU deal uncertain, Cyprus was set to launch a second day of talks with its ally Russia in Moscow on Thursday over a multibillion-dollar loan. The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, held inconclusive negotiations with Russian officials, but said he would stay in Moscow "as long as it takes" to reach a deal.

"We had a very good first meeting, very constructive, very honest discussion," Sarris said after meeting Anton Siluanov, Russia's finance minister. "We've underscored how difficult the situation is." But he said there were "no offers, nothing concrete".

With an estimated $31bn (£21bn) held in Cypriot banks by Russian banks, businesses and individuals, as well as up to $40bn in loans to Cyprus-registered firms, Russia has been gripped by fear since the crisis began to unfold, with state-run television transmitting rare live reports from outside the Cypriot parliament.

Yet the Kremlin's reputation for seeking hard assets abroad in exchange for aid prompted speculation that negotiations were dragging as it bargained for stakes in offshore gas fields and Cypriot banks. Gas fields discovered in 2011 could be worth many times Cyprus's GDP but the exact potential revenue stream is uncertain.

Much speculation has fallen on Gazprom, the state gas monopoly that has often been dubbed a tool of Kremlin foreign policy. A spokesman shrugged off speculation that it was seeking exploration rights for gas deposits in the Mediterranean. "There have been a lot of fantasies in the press," a Gazprom spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, said. "We have made no proposals." He said no Gazprom officials took part in Wednesday's talks.

The appearance in Moscow of George Lakkotrypis, Cyprus's minister for energy, commerce, industry and tourism, only fuelled the speculation. Cypriot officials said he was visiting a tourism exhibit.

On Wednesday, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev criticised the EU's handling of the Cyprus crisis, describing it as a "bull in a china shop" and adding that the bank deposit levy reminded him of Soviet-era policies that, he said, robbed Russians of their savings.

The Russian press reported that Gazprombank, a subsidiary of the gas group, was interested in Laiki Bank. The Cypriot government denied reports that it had been sold to foreign investors.

Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, a Russian bank, said a bid for gas fields would fit with Russian president Vladimir Putin's strategy of using natural resources to boost Russia's influence. "I could see some potential deal around the natural gas fields – energy is something that Putin believes makes the country powerful," he said. "It would fit with his long-term agenda."

A deal on banks appeared less likely, he said, particularly considering Russian clients were now seeking to move funds out of Cyprus and its banks were looking less than healthy.

Teetering Cypriot banks have been crippled by their exposure to the financial crisis in neighbouring Greece, where the eurozone debt crisis began.

The uncertain situation in Cyprus is "very damaging" and needed to be addressed immediately, the EU Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, told the European parliament.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Cyprus's banking sector, which through foreign funds attracted by low tax deals has swelled to eight times the country's GDP "is not sustainable".

The European Central Bank's chief negotiator on Cyprus, Jörg Asmussen, said the ECB would have to pull the plug on Cypriot banks unless the country took a bailout quickly. "We can provide emergency liquidity only to solvent banks and … the solvency of Cypriot banks cannot be assumed if an aid programme is not agreed on soon, which would allow for a quick recapitalisation of the banking sector," Asmussen told the German weekly Die Zeit on Tuesday. Austria's chancellor, Werner Faymann, said he could not rule out Cyprus leaving the eurozone, although he hoped its leaders would find a solution for it to stay.

Cyprus's Orthodox church said it was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds. The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery.

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« Reply #5230 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Italy: Beppe Grillo prepares to storm Europe

20 March 2013
Il Fatto Quotidiano Rome

The comedian's Five star movement was the revelation of last Italian election. Its anti-establishment views and "digital democracy" methods are shared by many political movements across the EU, and they could form a common front at the European elections in 2014.
Ferruccio Sansa | Emiliano Liuzzi

Beppe Grillo has a new objective: Europe. While Italian politics struggles to comprehend the political tsunami that has followed his election, from his home in Genoa the leader of the Five Star Movement's mind is already jetting across borders. His stated aim is to export his experience to other European countries where the key aspects of the political and economic crisis are very similar to the one in Italy. “We can't think that we've done it all and stay here in Rome. We need to push on and the target is Strasbourg in 2014, the European Parliament. Because there is a similiar need there, as in Italy and because if we find some support in Europe, the change will be far-reaching,” he tells his followers.

A man given to flights of fantasy or a visionary? The objective has become a lot more concrete in recent weeks when the debate at his meetings broke through into other countries and languages. Those behind the movement call it a “revolution”, “a kind of '68 that has the internet as its glue”.

“We've just started,” says Grillo, who, with his followers – as he has explained frequently to those who have been listening to him recently – already have contacts, especially with eastern European countries from Slovakia to Romania and Bulgaria. But then they're turning their attention to Greece, Spain and Portugal. “This is what I mean when I say that we've just started.”

The subjects particularly focus on environmental matters but also on de-growth. While the Indignados and the German green movement are closely watching developments, this is less pronounced among exremists from the left or right, such as The Greek Golden Dawn, Syriza or even the National Front in France. As in Italy, we're talking about the millions of citizens who are bound together by common battles rather than ideologies and the groups to which they belong. We're talking about Europeans who have not yet found – or no longer have – a political stable. We're talking about moderates too and young people, but not just young people, in Italy. “Of course the Five Star label won't be used but the programmes and mechanisms are exactly the same. In every country, they'll find their representatives.”
‘Blind cycle of manipulation’

The European press is divided when it comes to Grillo. Manuel Castells, in La Vanguardia, translated in Italy by Internazionale, writes how “the experimental nature of this traditional anti-politics project is clear,” adding: “But it has been supported by millions of people and by many young people who identify themselves with the desire to get out of the blind cycle of manipulation and non-transparency in the delegation of powers. The divide between civil society and political institutions is growing and is a phenomenon that is also widespread in Spain.”

Spain, of course, is one of the starting points in what was intended to be a movement sweeping across Europe. Back on October 15, 2011, the squares were filling up with young protestors who wanted a different kind of world. There were Spanish and French indignados and American Occupy Wall Street protesters. The streets were packed with thousands of people. In Italy there was looting and clashes with police, but then nothing.

What happened to those protests in the end? They ran out of steam in social networks as they waited for a new organisation to emerge. So it was that Italy, a country that gives its own twist to any political phenomenon, found itself without any indignados on its streets and instead a movement that wanted to make its way into the institutional set-up. And that was what happened.

Now the challenge is to communicate a common language that unites the movements within and outside Europe and that, as they say in the Five Star Movement, can be constructive – decisive in its messages but respectful of the institutions. “There's no room here for extremists and, worse still, racists,” says someone close to Grillo. Because the choruses of "Stuff you" and “Let's send them all packing” are of no use now that it's about going into parliament”. And they add: “It'll be an overhaul of the current political situation that will come about through a new enthusiasm for politics.”

There are different reactions from abroad. “Italy hasn't just let in the clowns,” says Jonathan Hopkin, professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He takes a hard line in his response to The Economist, which saw in Grillo's progress and the umpteenth return of Berlusconi, another lamentable twist in the Italian political saga. “It isn't just a challenge to austerity but to the traditional party system itself. The economic crisis has helped, but the Grillo attack against corrupt and egoistic Italian politicians had already started before the beginning of the decline,” says Hopkins. “Throughout Europe, membership of political parties has reached the lowest level since the Second World War," he adds. Proof of this [frustration with politics] can be seen in the success of the UK Independence Party in Great Britain, the Pirate Party in Sweden, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, not to mention the populist parties such as the French National Front. He concludes: “Italy could pave the way for a change that will fascinate all of Europe”.
Pedro pleads for sacrifice

But for now, only one party openly against austerity has won elections in a European country since the onset of Europe's economic crisis. Rajoy's Spain and Portugal's Pedro Passos Coelho are among the countries where austerity continues to rule.

Just a week ago, the Portuguese prime minister wrote a long post on Facebook – which he signed off as "Pedro" – and in which he asked his people again to make sacrifices. He had more than 36,000 replies, with the most popular one being the reply that quoted Reagan: “Government is not a solution to our problem. Government is the problem."

There's a lot of weariness in European countries that have been asking people to tighten their belts for years now. A proposal from the Five Star Movement that could be tempting is the idea of creating a European Union that can explain itself to its citizens. “I have never said that I want to be in or out of the euro. What I want is accurate information. I want a plan B for survival for the next 10 years. And then, with a referendum, we can decide. First we need to be informed. We're trying to understand what the costs and benefits are. Just suggesting that, people say: you're a demagogue, you're crazy, you want to drag Italy into defaulting, you're irresponsible. Just because we talk about looking into this hypothesis”.

But this thinking brings together so many citizens, who see the European Union as something distant, scattered around in big meeting rooms in Brussels and Strasbourg. And this new attempt at Italian-style dialogue may please many people. While everyone is nervously looking at the Italian parliament today, there are those who are already thinking about the European elections in 2014.

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« Reply #5231 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Berlin calls for more powers to EEAS

20 March 2013
Dziennik Gazeta Prawna

“Germany wants to strengthen EU foreign policy,” begins Dziennik Gazeta Prawna after Berlin proposed giving the European External Action Service EEAS new powers over European neighbourhood policy, development and cooperation in order to “ensure a coherent, comprehensive and integrated EU approach to external action.” Currently, those areas fall under the control of two EU Commissioners. The proposal, to be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Dublin on March 22, has already been endorsed by 13 countries, including Sweden, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. The daily says that for Warsaw –

    The German proposition is favourable as it may increase the significance of the neighbourhood policy involving Mediterranean countries that border with the EU and six states of the Eastern Partnership (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). Strengthening their stability is in Poland’s national interest.

However, the German plan is likely to be opposed by the UK “which rejects all ideas pushing for more integration” and France “which guards the right to determine its own foreign policy and is set to put forward its own proposal to improve the way the EEAS operates”.
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« Reply #5232 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Moldova: ‘Success story is over’

21 March 2013
Timpul, 21 March 2013

On March 20, President Nicolae Timofti announced that the signature of an association agreement with the EU – considered to be a first step towards accession – has been postponed.

The signature was due to take place at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in the autumn, however disruption resulting from the collapse of Vlad Filat’s pro-European government on March 5 will mean that it will not go ahead before 2014.

Timofti's official explanation for the postponement was “a lack of time to translate the document into the EU’s 23 official languages,” which leads the newspaper to wonder is this “EU, see you soon, or goodbye?"

Full Story

Politics March 21, 2013, 6:46 pm

EU, sooner or goodbye? "Success story" has postponed final

Thursday, 21.03.2013, time: 07:00

What happened was inevitable! Thankless task of announcing publicly that Moldova will not sign with the Vilnius summit, which will take place in November this year, the Association Agreement with the European Union, went to the president, Nicholas Timofti.

In an interview broadcast on Prime TV channel, he said that the first formal step in European integration was delayed until 2014.

"I will sign the final act, as was expected in the fall. But it will be signed, probably early next year, "said the president. Nicholas Timofti "packed" this failure in a technical formula, citing officials alleged inability to translate in the 23 official EU documents, although until the deadline remained long enough. "It is a large volume of documents to be translated into 23 languages ​​and have decided that they will not be able to translate all the documents," said Moldovan President Nicholas Timofti.

Republic of Moldova put on stand by

Moldova's chance to become an associate partner of the EU, thus consecrating what was declarative main objective of the IEA, has been compromised by the inability pro-European alliance leaders to overcome internal conflicts for power. The political crisis resulted in the dismissal of the Filat, following a motion of censure of the Communist Party, but supported the Democratic Party, demonstrated that despite political and financial support of the EU, Chisinau can not overcome it take away from the European community.

Postponement of the Agreement result in delaying all projects Moldova for the next period and hence the benefits that people derive from it, such as the elimination of visa requirements for travel between EU countries, trade facilities, more substantial financial support project to modernize the country etc..
Missing IEA objective was underlined by PCRM president, Vladimir Voronin, and PL leader Ghimpu despite assurances few days ago the acting premier, Vlad Filat, said that negotiations on an association agreement between Moldova and European Union were finalized.

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« Reply #5233 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:34 AM »

03/21/2013 12:14 PM

Duped by Dope: Reality Trumps Ideals in German Drug War

By Barbara Hardinghaus

Germany's law-enforcement and legal apparatus devotes enormous resources to fighting illegal narcotics. But users are always a step ahead, and lawmakers seem uninterested in exploring alternatives to a broken system.

Germans ought to know who Mechthild Dyckmans is, but the politician is even more obscure than many actresses on afternoon television. Dyckmans makes a big appearance in Berlin every November, but soon afterwards people forget about her again. She is petite, blonde and a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition government. But, most importantly, she is Germany's national drug commissioner.

Last November, Dychmans described the current state of the drug war at the Federal Press Conference building. Only about 20 to 30 attended the press conference, leaving the room almost empty. Drugs are no longer a big issue in Germany. Dyckmans sits in front of thick stacks of paper filled with figures she wants her audience to pay attention to, but the journalists listen with little enthusiasm. Speaking like a strict teacher trying to instruct a group of surly students, Dyckmans tells her audience that there have been no significant changes since the previous year.

The only real challenge at the moment, she says, is what she calls "problematic drug use." Cannabis products are the most-consumed illegal drugs in Germany, according to Dyckmans. The press conference ends after about half an hour, and there are few questions from the audience. Germany's drug and addiction policy seems to be relatively successful. The country spends an estimated €3.7 to €4.6 billion ($4.8 to $6 billion) a year on the fight against drugs, an effort that involves law-enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges. What unites them all is the common goal of achieving a drug-free country. But is that goal even attainable anymore?


A door opens slowly in one of the back hallways of the large courthouse in Berlin. Marcel P. sticks his head through the half-open door into room C 106 at the Tiergarten District Court and says: "Oh, sorry, but I think I have an appointment here."

The judge looks at him and then glances at a piece of paper, a schedule of sorts. He asks P. to wait outside as he is still busy with another case.

On this particular day, the judge has already convicted Michael S., a drug addict, for possession of a plastic bag containing 175 tablets of flunitrazepam, a sedative also known also known as Rohypnol or Roofies. Later on, he will convict Thomas J., who was caught buying a ball of heroin for his girlfriend. Fadi E., whom the police caught with four balls of cocaine in his jacket, will also be sentenced.

But now it's Marcel P.'s turn. The judge begins the trial, the second case he is hearing within two hours in room C 106. Marcel is charged with buying narcotics, specifically, six small bags of marijuana.

"Is that true?" the judge asks.

"Yep. Pretty much," says Marcel, a pale, 25-year-old man who works odd jobs and receives Hartz IV benefits for the long-term unemployed. According to the police report, he was caught with 17.8 grams of marijuana.

The judge leaves the room to confer with the jurors. After one minute and 43 seconds, he returns and pronounces the sentence: 20 daily fines of €15 each. The trial lasted 26 minutes.

The rest of the day is much the same in room C 106. Similar trials unfold in rooms 138 and D 107, the other courtrooms reserved for minor cases involving drug offences in Berlin.

The judges are also referred to as Schnellrichter, or "fast judges." To prepare for these types of cases, they usually do nothing more than read the police report. P.'s judge took 20 minutes to read his report, which means that by the time he had pronounced the sentence, he had spent 46 minutes on P.'s case. Afterwards, the judge wrote the sentence and sent a letter to the court office, which in turn sent a letter to P.

Major Costs for Minor Offenses

Cannabis possession has been illegal in Germany since the country's narcotics law was enacted in 1972. The law, which relies on repressive measures, was designed to reduce the consumption of cannabis, in particular, which had risen sharply in the late 1960s. But it didn't decline, and other drugs were added to the mix. In response, lawmakers made the law stricter.

The provisions on cannabis possession were relaxed in the early 1990s, partly in response to pressure from the environmentalist Green Party. Since then, the law's new Section 31a allows prosecutors to drop charges in some drug cases, at least those involving "small amounts" of cannabis. In other words, there are cases that are even more minor than the minor cases addressed in room C 106.

The police still have to write a report in these cases, which takes one to two hours. And the public prosecutor's office is still required to initiate proceedings.

Many of the folders containing these reports are lying around in the office of Thomas Leipzig, on the fifth floor of the court building, on his desk, on the shelf and on a table next to the door. He often has to pick up the files in the morning from the various court offices -- using a handcart.

Leipzig, a sturdy man with the appearance of a biker, has been a public prosecutor for 18 years. He reaches blindly into one of the stacks of files. "Here," he says, "this is actually a typical case."

The case involves 1.5 grams of cannabis in small bags. But even 1.5 grams of cannabis creates work for the prosecutor, and even dismissing a case takes time.

He reads through the file. It's an open-and-shut case. There was no dealer involved, and the perpetrator confessed. There are no prior offences. Leipzig pulls two forms out of a drawer. The first is to drop the case, and the second is to request destruction of the narcotics. He writes a few things on both forms with a ballpoint pen, stamps both documents and glances at the clock.

Five minutes and 13 seconds.

Every month, Leipzig writes up to 40 petitions to dismiss cases like these, or about 400 a year. That translates into up to three-and-a-half hours a month or 35 hours a year devoted to these small cases -- time he would rather use for bigger and more serious cases.

Legislative Chaos and Failure

After the trial in courtroom C 106 in Berlin, Marcel P., the pale young man, puts on his backpack and says that he works in the warehouse of an electronics store during the week, and that he likes to smoke a joint or two on weekends. He disappears down the hallway, while the judge continues to hear cases behind the door and prosecutor Leipzig struggles to fend off the onslaught of files.

The 17.8 grams P. was caught with are about 3 grams above the level at which it is still possible to dismiss a case in the city-state of Berlin. In Bavaria, he would be almost 12 grams above the limit. Thus, the answer to the question of what constitutes a "small amount" in Germany depends on the location. In Berlin, the threshold is 15 grams; in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, it's 10 grams; and, in Bavaria, it's 6 grams. If P. boarded a train in Berlin with 10 grams of cannabis in his pocket and got off the train in Munich, he would have started his trip as a non-criminal and ended it as a criminal.

As long ago as 1994, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled that all German states were to pay more attention to the big cases and less to the small ones.

The so-called cannabis decision was designed to create order. It called upon the states to "provide for an essentially uniform practice of dismissing cases." It made it clear that citizens are to be protected against excessive criminalization. In addition, a number of states drafted an objective: They wanted "law-enforcement authorities, by being relieved of the burden imposed by a large number of minor cases, to be given the opportunity to focus their capacities on fighting the organized narcotics trade."

It's been 19 years since that decision, and yet the states of Saxony and Bavaria still do not necessarily dismiss cases involving the possession of less than six grams of cannabis. The total number of offences has not gone down in Germany since 1993. In fact, it has almost tripled.

"What's happening in C 106 is actually typical for Germany," says the attorney of Fadi E., the man caught with four small balls of cocaine in his pocket. "The addicts are criminalized, and the poor devils on the surface are mopped up because no one really has a clue."

Two men wearing bulletproof vests walk briskly across the courtyard. They have pepper spray in their pockets and are carrying truncheons and MP5 submachine guns. It's shortly after 6 p.m. on a heavily overcast day in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt.

The men, Lutz and Roland, plainclothes officers working in drug enforcement, get into a blue BMW. "We're the ones who deliver," Lutz says with a firm voice. "We turn everything over, just as we find it, to the public prosecutor's office."

Lutz spends four nights a week on the road, constantly traveling on the A 9 autobahn between Munich and Nuremberg. His territory includes two important autobahns that practically form a crossroads of Europe: the A 9, for north-south traffic, and the A 93, for east-west traffic from the Czech Republic toward the Netherlands.

The officer has a habit of looking into every car, even when he's on vacation. A photo of his biggest success hangs on the wall in the office, next to his boss's Borussia Mönchengladbach soccer team scarf. It's a picture of 37 kilos (82 lbs.) of cocaine, hidden in small packets under car seats. It was taken in 2009.

"Of course, you don't hit that kind of a jackpot every day," says Lutz, an athletic-looking, 44-year-old man with dark hair, wearing a Converse shirt, a tracksuit top and sport shoes. His nightshift lasts 10 hours. He has been a plainclothes officer for almost seven years, after working with the traffic police. When he started his current job, he used to chase after every expired emissions sticker, he says with a chuckle.

Hunting for Offenders

On the autobahn, he pushes the car up to 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph), driving through deep puddles, to chase the first car. He pulls up alongside the car and looks inside, "but it was nothing, a woman," says Lutz. The typical drug courier is male, slightly scruffy and travels alone in a rental car. After the first chase, the officers stop a black man from Ingolstadt, an Israeli engineer from Wiesbaden in the west and an Italian construction worker driving home from the industrial Ruhr region in the north. By 8 p.m., the officers have found exactly zero grams of narcotics.

They keep moving along the autobahn, like bear hunters chasing after sparrows. At the Holledau rest area, they pass a VW Golf from Austria with a couple sitting inside: a young man in the passenger seat and a woman at the wheel, wearing a hoodie, with short black hair and piercings. Lutz stops, looks into the car, parks and says: "She's pretty pale around the nose."

He gets out, asks the couple to get out of their car and inspects the vehicle's interior with a flashlight. In his report, the officer will later indicate the time of the crime as 8:30 p.m.

Lutz finds half a joint. He also discovers large, broad leaves and a marijuana grinder.

"Anything else?" Lutz asks.

The young man pulls out a small bag of pot, about as much as the parsley garnish on a schnitzel. The couple -- he paints cars for a living and she works the register at a gas-station shop -- are on their way home to the far-western Austrian state of Vorarlberg. They've just bought a Maine Coon cat, which is sitting in a carrier on the back seat.

Lutz calls the local police station in Pfaffenhofen to request backup. It takes a while for the patrol car to arrive.

Big Fuss for Small-Fry Offenses

The young woman is shivering. Her boyfriend will be taken to the police station in the patrol car, which she will follow in the Golf. Lutz's partner, Roland, also has to administer a drug test, for which the young woman is asked to urinate in a Burger King cup.

"Negative," says Roland. The three vehicles form a small convoy as they travel toward the town of Pfaffenhofen: the patrol car with the perpetrator in the back seat, his girlfriend with the cat, and the plainclothes officers.

Roland fills out the two-page transfer report at the police station in Pfaffenhofen, Lutz photocopies the couples' passports, and a third officer documents the young man's personal data and questions his girlfriend. A fourth officer weighs the marijuana on a micro scale and photographs it: 0.75 grams (0.03 oz.)

The young man is taken to the second floor, where a clerk takes his fingerprints. As the man stands there with inked hands, the clerk checks off boxes on several pieces of paper: Height? Weight? Facial color? Legs? Bow-legged? Knock-kneed? Limp? Cane? She takes front-view and side-view photos of the man's face and body. He stands against the wall like a dangerous criminal.

Would the procedure be different in a murder case?

"In murder cases, we also take DNA samples," says the woman.

The officers get back in their car and keep driving. They write the next report, their final report for the day, late at night. The night's narcotics catch is 0.75 grams of marijuana. Every other day, they find nothing at all.

In the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, the legal threshold at which a prosecutor is allowed to dismiss a cannabis case, under Section 31a, is set at three consumption units, or six grams. But new drugs are constantly popping up.

"Toad-licking, that's the latest thing," says Willi Stier, a police officer from Mannheim. He points to a photo of the toad he's referring to, a stocky creature from America that can be ordered online. The toad has glands that can be induced to secrete a psychoactive substance with squeezing. Young people pass the animals around at parties like joints. "Get high, have fun," says the police officer.

Stier has been on the force for 39 years and a traffic cop for 26 years. He has been giving talks on drugs at schools for the last six years. He introduces himself to students as "Will, the Drug Man." He also speaks to teachers and parents, telling them what he was able to find out on the subject of drugs during his school talks.

In Stier's office in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city, there is a table with all if the items he has collected in classrooms. He says that he feels that he has succeeded if he can stop one student in each class from taking drugs. Stier has five grown children of his own. During school vacations, he rides around the city in a patrol car and goes to techno parties to keep up with the scene. He is waging his battle against cannabis, but also against the many other things, whether new drugs or new ideas.

A Step Behind the Users

Stier says that some 80 to 90 new drugs have spread in recent years. They make people high, make them "feel good" or make them feel invulnerable. He believes that 28 new substances were classified under Germany's narcotics law over the last year, but there are more than that. The government is being duped by a few students licking toads. "Drug users look for alternative products or modify the recipes, keeping themselves a step ahead of lawmakers," says Stier.

Does this mean that the government should be allowed to capitulate? Is a seemingly superior adversary a good enough reason to give up? Stier says no and just keeps plugging away.

A few of the enemy's weapons are lying on the table in front of him. "The bong, the water pipe, everyone knows what that is. You can write that!" And then there are amphetamines, capsules, powders, tablets, "legal highs" disguised as legal mixtures of herbs, bath salts, aquarium cleaner, fertilizer, granola bars. He taps his finger against a few packages and small cans, and says: "The rest comes from areas like veterinary anesthetics, cosmetics and air fresheners."

Stier also finds these drugs on the Internet, on sites where all it takes to order is to click on an item and place it in your shopping basket -- just like ordering a book on Amazon.

"The worst thing at the moment is something from Eastern Europe," says Stier. He lists the ingredients, which everyone has at home. "Let's call it 'cheap heroin.' It rots the body from the inside, almost like crystal meth."

Different Laws, Similar Results

Stier has devoted his life to fighting drugs. In his school presentations, he also shows the students pictures of young people covered with their own vomit. For Stier, alcohol is just as dangerous as soft drugs. The following words are written in red lettering above one of the pictures: "Graduated high school with a 1.7." It's a double entendre, as the number represents both a very low grade point average and a very high blood-alcohol content of 1.7 per mille.

He talks about something called a "Stürzer," or plunger, a sort of beer bong consisting of a bottle with a tube attached to it, which opens the larynx and makes swallowing unnecessary. And then there is "tampon drinking," which means "soaking a tampon in vodka and sticking the tampon in the vagina, so you can get drunk without having alcohol on your breath," says Stier. Another method is called "port-a-potty drinking," which calls for taking washing lotion from a port-a-potty and mixing it with Coca-Cola.

When he gives his talk to parents and teachers, they sometimes go home feeling helpless. Some also ask him for a written version of his presentation. He tells them that he doesn't have a written version because things are always changing -- every two weeks, in fact.

And what about the Netherlands, a country widely known for its more liberal drug policy? People there don't consume drugs any more than anyplace else, and the situation there isn't any worse than it is in Germany.

It sounds as if a liberal policy is no less effective at protecting people than the tenacity of Willi Stier or the precision of the two plainclothes officers traveling up and down the A 9 autobahn. Perhaps the only difference is that a liberal policy creates less work.

Searching for Alternatives

When Leipzig, the prosecutor in Berlin, is asked for his opinion, he says that he could imagine a system in Germany involving the controlled administration of soft drugs, such as cannabis, to adults. The problem is that there is no political pressure in Germany, nor does the federal government have a drug czar who wants things to change.

On the other hand, since 2006, some 60,000 people have died in the cocaine war in Mexico alone. There is a connection between each of these victims and each individual drug user during a night of partying in Berlin. So what could be the solution?

Ethan Nadelmann, a narcotics expert from New York, is even more specific than Leipzig, the prosecutor. First of all, under his liberalization proposal, drugs are not completely free from constraints. There are maximum amounts and age restrictions to prevent adolescents from gaining access to marijuana or cocaine. Any adult can legally buy small amounts for personal use. Second, the government regulates drug providers. Third, the billions that are spent on the drug war today -- for soldiers, prisons and criminal prosecution -- should be spent on education and prevention in the future.

It would be an enormous experiment.

And what is the counterargument?


But perhaps fear of the unknown isn't as bad as the certainty that if nothing is done, things will never change.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5234 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:39 AM »

March 20, 2013

Pope Meets Other Religious Leaders, Pledging Respect


ROME — Pope Francis promised friendship, respect and continued dialogue with other religious leaders on Wednesday, pledging cooperation with Orthodox churches, describing the spiritual bond between Catholics and Jews as “very special” and expressing gratitude to Muslim leaders.

“The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions,” the pope said. “I want to repeat this: The promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions.”

Francis, who was formally installed a day earlier, greeted a diverse group of religious leaders in the ornate Clementine Hall inside the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. Among them were Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, as well as other Orthodox leaders; representatives from different Protestant denominations; Jewish and Muslim leaders and advocates; and representatives of the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jainist faiths.

“You have an enormous responsibility and task before God and before men,” said Bartholomew, the first patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church to attend a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity broke apart almost a millennium ago.

“The unity of the Christian churches is the first and foremost of our concerns,” he added.

The symbolism of the event outweighed the substance, as Francis did not delve into any specifics, instead speaking broadly of collaboration and good will. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was committed to the interfaith goals set by the Second Vatican Council but made several high-profile decisions and statements that inflamed Jews and Muslims.

In the early days of his papacy, Francis has set a tone of humility and simplicity that has struck a chord with ordinary Catholics and also with other religious leaders. Soon after his election as pope, Francis sent a message to Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, pledging a spirit of “renewed collaboration.” Rabbi Di Segni attended Wednesday’s meeting and praised the new pope’s outreach.

“It’s a good start,” Rabbi Di Segni said in an interview. “Hopefully, we’ll not have any accidents.” But, pointing out that disagreements are inevitable, the rabbi added, “What is important is the good will to solve them.”

Imam Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, shook hands with Pope Francis and presented him with a book exploring the contemplative dimensions of Islam. He said he was touched when Francis expressed his gratitude for the presence of Muslim leaders in the room, and he predicted that the new pope would deepen the relationship between Catholics and Muslims.

“I think he will take interreligious dialogue among people, he will make it closer to people, not confined to theological exchanges among scholars, or political, territorial and international conflicts,” he said.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.


Pope Francis did not denounce me to Argentinian junta, says priest

Francisco Jalics, who was imprisoned for five months in the 1970s, says he and the new pope reconciled in 2000

Jonathan Watts   
The Guardian, Thursday 21 March 2013   

Accusations that Pope Francis denounced two priests to Argentina's military junta during the 1970s have been denied by one of the survivors in a boost to the reputation of the new pontiff.

Francisco Jalics, who now lives in a German monastery, issued an online statement on Wednesday to clear up what he said were misinterpretations of his earlier comments about the role played by the pope in his five-month incarceration by the navy.

He said he was addressing reports that he and another Jesuit priest, Orlando Yorio, were imprisoned because the leader of their order, Jorge Bergoglio – as the pope was known until last week – passed on information about them to the authorities.

"I myself was once inclined to believe that we were the victims of a denunciation," Jalics said. "[But] at the end of the 90s, after numerous conversations, it became clear to me that this suspicion was unfounded. It is therefore wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio."

The latest comments follow a less categorical statement that he made last week soon after the pope was chosen. In that earlier comment, he said he and Bergoglio had reconciled and "hugged solemnly" in 2000. But he also noted that he "could not comment on the role played by Father Bergoglio in these events".

Argentinian critics of the pope have continued to accuse him of wrongdoing, based on documents and old testimonies of Yorio, who died several years ago. Jalics' failure to deny this added to their suspicions.

But in the latest statement, Jalics said "Some commentaries imply the opposite of what I meant."

By contrast, his words on Wednesday were unequivocal: "The fact is: Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio."

His comments are likely to quash many doubts, but in Argentina they are unlikely to go away completely given the frustration felt by some victims, leftist priests and government figures that Bergoglio has not adequately addressed the close links that the church had with the dictatorship.

While many accept that it was dangerous to openly confront the military during that murderous era, others feel that church leaders should subsequently have condemned the wrongdoing by priests who were so closely involved in torture and incarceration of political enemies that they have subsequently been jailed.

Bergoglio has never been accused of a crime. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi noted on Friday that on the contrary "there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time".

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