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« Reply #5625 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:32 AM »

April 8, 2013

Bomb Explosion Rocks Central Damascus


DAMASCUS, Syria — An explosion from a car bomb tore through central Damascus on Monday, the government said, killing 15 people in a blast that rattled windows, spread chaos and sent billows of dark smoke over an area that had been packed with people forming lines at banks, insurance companies and cellphone outlets.

As ambulances pushed through the crowd, hundreds of people streamed away, and others called relatives to check whether they had been close to the explosion. State television, which also said 54 people were wounded, showed upturned cars blackened by the blast as smoke blotted out the sky in the vicinity of the explosion. Fire crews sprayed jets of water onto nearby high-rise buildings, and at least one body was visible under the wreckage of a car.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which brought the country’s two-year-old revolt close to the heart of the city.

The bomb appeared to have exploded inside the gates of the Central Bank’s parking lot, destroying an outer structure and shattering windows of two large office buildings. Inside one of the buildings, people peered down from a glassless window at mangled, blackened cars, destroyed shops across the street and swarming emergency workers.

“People were just sitting here working and doing their daily life, and suddenly this happened,” said a man whose curtain shop had its windows blown out.

A taxi driver said he had seen a minibus, similar to the kind usually used to transport employees, go through the checkpoint and into the parking lot where it exploded.

A mosque and a building housing primary and technical schools and at least one apartment were across the street from where the bomb exploded. The building had gaping holes that framed the wreckage. On the ground floor, a school office had curtains and glass splayed across desks, and a television was on, broadcasting footage of the smoke and chaos that could also be seen out the window. A picture of the Syrian president hung above the television.

One woman, a teacher named Hanaa who worked at the technical school, was crying as she picked her way through the rubble with wounded hands. Along with students, she had been inside the school when the bomb exploded, and a door frame fell on her.

“This is America, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, they are funding those people to do those explosions!” a man who was with her shouted at journalists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain, put the death toll at 16 and said the explosion had been caused by a booby-trapped car.

As early details emerged, SANA, the state news agency, quoted a reporter as saying that “terrorists blew up a booby-trapped car in a crowded area near a school and a hospital, claiming the lives of many people and injuring others.”

That observation was reflected in the chaos on the streets as rescue efforts continued and people searched for loved ones. A woman in a pink hijab hurried away from the area, a phone pressed to her ear. “My daughter was in school, and they attacked the school, may God take them,” she said. An older man in a suit said into his telephone, “Cars went flying.”

Amer, a Syrian Red Crescent worker, said he saw three charred bodies as he removed a wounded person. A woman approached him, crying: “My daughter was inside. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.”

The bombing followed claims by the authorities that they had cleared the eastern Ghouta area close to Damascus of rebels who are fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. The blast came a day after the beleaguered government forces sought to push back against insurgents in many parts of the country, according to opposition activists.

Reuters quoted a resident, who spoke in return for anonymity, as saying that the bomb had been planted despite the presence of six government checkpoints that were supposed to guarantee security in the area.

Fighting intensified in and around Aleppo, the country’s largest city, after government forces regained control of Aziza, a village near the city’s military airport, following weeks of clashes, reports said on Sunday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels in the village ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw. The village sits on high ground commanding the road between the military airport and the city.

Syrian warplanes hit Aleppo in the north, Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and other locations in an apparent effort to counter recent territorial gains by the rebels, the activists said.

In The Hague, meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said all serious claims about any use of chemical weapons should be investigated, news reports said.

“The use of chemical weapons by any side, under any circumstances, would constitute an outrageous crime with dire consequences and constitute a crime against humanity,” Mr. Ban told delegates to a chemical weapons conference on Monday.

The extent of any inquiry has fueled differences between Western countries supporting the rebels and Russia, Mr. Assad’s main overseas backer.

While Russia wants an inquiry to focus on Syrian government claims that the insurgents used chemical weapons near Aleppo, France and Britain also want inquiries into rebel assertions that government forces used chemical weapons in the central city of Homs and in Damascus.

Mr. Ban said an advance team of inspectors was in Cyprus, Reuters reported, able to deploy within 24 hours if the Syrian authorities offered access.

Anne Barnard reported from Damascus, and Alan Cowell from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad in Damascus; Hania Mourtada in Beirut, Lebanon; Hala Droubi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Christine Hauser in New York.


Syrian troop redeployments raise concerns over Golan Heights security

Israel fears jihadists will use area as staging ground for attacks after thousands of Syria soldiers withdrawn in recent weeks

Martin Chulov in Beirut and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Sunday 7 April 2013 18.53 BST   

The Syrian government has withdrawn large numbers of troops from the Golan Heights in a move that has cast doubt over the future of a UN peacekeeping force on the strategically vital plateau and increased the risk of an intervention by Israel in the conflict.

Western diplomats said the Syrian redeployments near the Golan ceasefire line were the most significant in 40 years, with at least several thousand soldiers thought to have been moved in recent weeks to battle fronts closer to Damascus.

Rebel groups have moved into the vacuum, and Israel fears that jihadists will use the area as a staging ground for attacks on territory it controls.

Meanwhile, the United Nations observer force on the Golan Heights, Undof, finds itself in an ever more vulnerable position, with states whose peacekeepers comprise the mission known to be reconsidering their commitment, including the Austrians, who provide the largest individual contribution of troops.

The eastern border of the Golan Heights, an area of high ground that was seized by Israel in 1967 during the six-day war, was until recently thought to be occupied by four Syrian army divisions whose positions helped make the Golan the safest of Israel's four borders for more than four decades.

"They [the Syrian government] have moved some of their best battalions away from the Golan," said a western diplomatic source of the Syrian changes. "They have replaced some of them with poorer-quality battalions, which have involved reducing manpower. The moves are very significant."

Separate media reports in Israel suggest the Syrian redeployments could amount to as many as two divisions – up to 20,000 soldiers.

"Undof is of the highest importance, now more than ever," said one senior Israeli government official. "We know some participant countries are having second thoughts and we're concerned about that. We are talking to them to try to understand what they plan on doing if the going gets rougher. We know some are hesitating, and it's a problematic situation.

"We are also talking to New York [the UN headquarters] about whether there could be a replacement in case one contingent pulls out. We don't envision a scenario in which Undof dissolves but we are very aware of the fragility of the situation."

Croatia withdrew its troops from Undof in February, putting extra onus on the Austrians to stay.

Another senior Israeli official said: "It's clear Undof is having very serious problems in meeting its challenges. But Israeli national security figures are very sceptical as to the real utility of international forces in dealing with our security issues.

"We are very concerned [about the Golan]. Since 1974 the Golan has been remarkably quiet. That has now changed, and we are following the situation very closely. As you know, we are building a fence along the border and monitoring matters very closely. We are aware of different actors in close proximity to the border, and we are watching them very closely."

The former commander of the Israeli Defence Force liaison unit responsible for relations with peacekeeping forces, Brigadier General Baruch Speigel, said: "It's a very sensitive situation [with Undof]. It's important to find a mechanism to allow them to stay, but I'm not sure if it's possible because of the situation in Syria.

"If the UN is unable to fulfil its mission, this is a big, big dilemma. No one can tell you the bottom line. We have never faced this situation, but we have to act very responsibly. But worst-case scenarios can bring us worst-case answers."

Austrian soldiers comprise close to a third of the 1,000-strong Undof contingent and are considered essential to the viability of the mission. Vienna has made no decision to pull out its troops, but the cabinet is known to have held recent discussions about the issue. The Austrian foreign ministry did not return calls.

The area from the southern Syrian town of Deraa – where the uprising started in March 2011 – to the Jordanian border has been the most active battleground in the country since early January. Rebel groups and jihadists there have made significant territorial gains since late January, including in the Quneitra governorate near Israel, where they took over an artillery base two weeks ago near the demilitarised Golan buffer zone.

Since then a key border crossing to Jordan has been closed and Syrian opposition figures claim that it is now being used as a resupply route to rebel groups.

The CIA is known to have trained a small number of Syrian rebels at bases in Jordan in an attempt to drive a wedge between jihadist groups such as the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, which continues to gain prominence in key Syrian battlefronts. Informed sources, who refused to be identified, said some of the US-trained rebels were deploying to the Golan area to act as a buffer between the jihadists and Israeli units.

Israel has reported a number of incidents of small arms fire directed at its units near the ceasefire line. It has three times fired back across the border with missiles, but has not publicly blamed either rebel groups or loyalist forces for the attacks.


Deal between Syrian rebels and Kurds marked by mistrust

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 7:25 EDT

In the majority-Kurdish Sheikh Makqsud district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Arab rebels and Kurd fighters say they are fighting together against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

But on the ground, the reality is rather more complex.

Standing at the entrance to Sheikh Makqsud, rebel commander Abu Ahmad wears an orange, green and red scarf — the colours of the Kurdish flag.

Nearby, two flags fly together: that of the Kurds, alongside the green, black and white standard of the Syrian revolt.

“I wear the colours of my Kurdish brothers, even if I am an Arab,” says Abu Ahmad, proudly.

He says Kurdish militia loyal to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — Syria’s branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — have “given us ammunition, and their fighters are on the front lines of the battle against the regime”.

Kurds comprise 10 percent of Syria’s total population, with most living in the north of the embattled country.

Since the outbreak of the anti-Assad revolt more than two years ago, most Kurds have tried to ensure that their areas remained violence-free.

Last summer, Assad’s forces withdrew from majority Kurdish areas, and the YPG Kurdish militia became responsible for security there.

Although many Kurds feel hostile to a regime that has oppressed them for decades, they have also tried to keep the rebels out of the areas they control in order to avoid sparking a confrontation with the army.

When Islamists launched a bid to take over the city of Ras al-Ain in the north, firefights pitted Arab rebels against the Kurds.

But in Sheikh Maqsud, where rebels say “Aleppo’s biggest battle” is being waged, it appears that past grudges between rebels and Kurds have been set aside, and that the Kurdish militia has joined forces with the insurgents.

Thanks to the Kurds’ help, “we have blocked the army’s supply and reinforcements route near Al-Kindi hospital and the central prison” in northern Aleppo, says Abu Abdullah, who commands a mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army battalion in Syria’s second city.

“The regime can only use its planes now to bring supplies to its troops,” he told AFP.

But the army has bombarded the district since insurgents took up positions there.

On Saturday, an air raid killed 15 people, among them nine children. In revenge, Kurdish fighters attacked an army checkpoint, killing five soldiers.

“There’s no difference between us. Together, we fight the same enemy: the regime,” says Abu Juan, a Kurdish militiaman.

“It’s a matter of conscience. We are fighting oppression by the regime,” says another Kurdish fighter.

But under the surface, feelings of mutual suspicion run deep.

Dozens of men wearing the Kurdish YPG militia uniform — distinct for its yellow star symbol on a red background — stand at a checkpoint.

They are visibly more disciplined and organised than the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, most of whose checkpoints are manned by young, shabbily dressed fighters.

A YPG commander says the Kurds’ priority is self-defence. “We are here to protect our people and residents of Sheikh Maqsud, where the PYD has been present for years,” he says.

“Some FSA rebels are respectable, but others are here just to steal. They break into company premises and loot stuff,” adds the Kurdish commander.

Because of this, the fighters are well spread out in Sheikh Maqsud. Arab rebels keep a lookout in residential areas of the district, while the YPG is responsible for the industrial part.

The FSA, meanwhile, fears that Kurdish residents will provide the loyalist army with sensitive information.

“We used to allow a lot of civilians to enter the neighbourhood. But the bombing intensified, and now we are more careful,” says Abu Abdullah.

Because of the violence, Sheikh Maqsud is becoming a ghost town.

At the district’s northern edges, civilians are leaving en masse, packing belongings including mattresses, carpets and electrical appliances onto pick-up trucks.

“We’re fleeing the bombing,” calls out one man, as the pick-up he is in drives off.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

« Last Edit: Apr 08, 2013, 07:41 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5626 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:37 AM »

John Kerry returns to Middle East amid lowered expectations

Obama administration aims to get Israeli-Palestinian 'peace process' back on track but there are few grounds for optimism

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Sunday 7 April 2013 13.24 BST   

It's a journey that John Kerry will come to know well. The plane descends either from the west, over the glittering Mediterranean sea and the bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv, or from the east, across the stark biblical landscape of the West Bank. From there it's uphill – literally and, perhaps, metaphorically – to west Jerusalem, the seat of the Israeli government, and to Ramallah, the home of the Palestinian Authority.

The US secretary of state is expected to make this journey many times in the coming months of grinding shuttle diplomacy between the two sides of the 65-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will need stamina, patience, resourcefulness, determination; a strong sense of history, a clear grasp of the present, and a vision of the future; plus an instinct for when to tread delicately and when to diplomatically bang heads.

Kerry is in the Holy Land this week, for the third time in less than a month, as part of a drive by the second-term Obama administration to get the so-called peace process back on track after the miscalculations and setbacks of Barack Obama's first term. Amid carefully lowered expectations, Kerry will strive to bridge the gaps between the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that have caused a two-and-a-half-year impasse. But a long history of failed efforts and aborted talks cannot be far from his mind.

Obama's charm offensive on Israel last month went down well. During his three-day visit he showed warmth towards "my friend Bibi", repeatedly using Netanyahu's nickname, in contrast to earlier chilly encounters, and paid tribute to the history and achievements of the Jewish state.

He made an impassioned appeal for peace, delivered over the heads of government to the people of Israel. Look through Palestinian eyes, he said, recognise that peace is in Israel's interests, face the hard choices and take the necessary risks.

The president was received with markedly less warmth in Ramallah, where the Palestinians feel betrayed by the past four years and deeply cynical about the future.

Despite focusing on settlements early in his first term, Obama barely mentioned Israel's continuing colonisation project, which many diplomats say is close to eliminating the possibility of the Palestinians ever creating a viable state. There was little acknowledgement of the Palestinians' painful history and bleak lives under occupation.

Obama left the Holy Land with his stock higher than ever among Israelis, but even lower among Palestinians. It's now down to Kerry to try to move forward.

Kerry's efforts to bring the two sides together will focus initially on measures to instil confidence in their stated commitment to negotiations.

Israel may be asked to release more than 120 Palestinian political prisoners who have been in jail since before the 1993 Oslo accords. The Palestinians would also like a settlement construction freeze. Israel's formal position is that this is a non-starter, but it may avoid announcing new building projects in the next two or three months in an unstated gesture.

The Palestinians have said they will refrain from pressing ahead with taking Israel to the international criminal court – a key Israeli concern – for up to 12 weeks. But they also want to see a proposed map with defined borders at the start of any talks.

Kerry is believed to be keen to dust off the 11-year-old Arab (or Saudi) peace plan, under which regional states would normalise relations with Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And he is likely to ask Turkey to play an active role in any revived process.

It all seems reasonably promising on paper, but the reality on the ground looks rather different.

The new Israeli government, sworn in two days before Obama's visit, is a rightwing pro-settler coalition. One of its key partners, the Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, is vehemently opposed to a two-state solution. Netanyahu also has a long track record of saying he wants peace talks while pursuing a colonialist policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On the Palestinian side, frustration is growing at the lack of a political horizon and the continued suffocated existence under occupation. Cynicism about the "peace process" abounds, faith in Abbas is plummeting and the mood among young men in villages and refugee camps is growing more radical. Talk of a new Palestinian intifada (uprising) is common both on the street and in Israeli military-intelligence circles.

In Gaza, perhaps the most complicated and least discussed aspect of any peace talks, rocket fire has resumed on a limited scale over recent weeks. Another conflict like those in 2008-9 and 2012 would likely derail Kerry's ambitions.

Kerry will also focus on Iran's nuclear programme, as well as the worsening situation in Syria and its knock-on effect in Lebanon. The secretary of state will have his hands full. "It's too early to be optimistic," said a western diplomat.
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« Reply #5627 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Hamas starts rounding up, beating young men for ‘inappropriate’ hairstyles

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 7:30 EDT

Hamas security forces in Gaza have been rounding up young men and forcing them to get haircuts on grounds of inappropriate hairstyles, a rights group has charged.

Some of the youths have even been beaten for styling their hair in a way deemed unacceptable to Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement, or wearing low-hung trousers, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said on Sunday.

“Palestinian police have stopped several young men walking in different areas in the Gaza Strip in the last three days and taken them into custody saying their hair styles are inappropriate,” said the PCHR.

“Those young men were forced to get haircuts in a humiliating way and several of them were beaten. They were also forced to sign statements saying they will never grow their hair or have strange hairstyles or even wear low-waist trousers.”

The PCHR urged the attorney general to immediately open an investigation into the attacks and the beatings, saying they “undermine personal freedom”.

“We severely condemn the detention of several young men in the past few days by the Palestinian police,” said the PCHR.

Police spokesman Ayman al-Batinji confirmed some young people had been compelled to get their hair cut, in a move he said was related to inappropriate behaviour on the streets.

“We received several complaints from headmasters saying a number of boys are hanging around on the streets and harassing girls,” he said in a statement, adding police had begun the crackdown following “complaints” last week.

But he denied claims of police brutality, saying their treatment of the youngsters was “not as harsh as it appears,” without giving further detail.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5628 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Kenya's Maasai keep lions at bay with solar power and ingenuity

Teenage Maasai cattle herder invents illuminated fence to prevent lions from preying on his father's livestock

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Monday 8 April 2013 07.00 BST   

When it came to keeping hungry lions at bay, an old-fashioned scarecrow just wasn't up to the job. So Richard Turere, a 13-year-old Maasai cattle herder, combined rudimentary technology with teenage ingenuity to find another way.

Turere is the inventor of "lion lights", a fence made of a car battery, solar panel and torch bulbs that ensures lions no longer dare touch his father's livestock. The young Kenyan has been lauded as an inspiration after giving a recent TED talk about his invention.

Turere lives in Kitengela on the edge of Nairobi national park. He told how wild animals that migrate from the park are pursued and killed by lions.

"My community, the Maasai, we believe that we came from heaven with all our animals and all the land for herding them, and that's why we value them so much," says Turere, who started herding his family's cattle when he was nine. "So I grew up hating lions so much. The morans are the warriors who protect our community and the livestock, and they're also upset about this problem. So they kill the lions … And I think this is why the Nairobi national park lions are few."

Turere said he tried various ideas for a more peaceful solution, such as a kerosene lamp and a scarecrow. "But lions are very clever. They will come the first day and they see the scarecrow, and they go back, but the second day, they'll come and they say, this thing is not moving here, it's always here. So he jumps in and kills the animals."

But, one night, Turere went to the cowshed with a torch and found that the lions stayed away. "I discovered that lions are afraid of a moving light."

The teenager – who has a knack for making things from scrapyard parts – bought a car battery, motorcycle indicator box, switches, torch bulbs and solar panel, and hooked them together. It worked, and now dozens of lion lights have been rigged up around Kenya.

As a consequence, Turere gained a scholarship to one of the country's top schools, delivered a TED talk in Longbeach, California, last month, and has ambitions to be an aircraft engineer and pilot when he grows up.

"I used to hate lions," he adds, "but now, because my invention is saving my father's cows and the lions, we are able to stay with the lions without any conflict."

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« Reply #5629 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:53 AM »

Venezuela’s opposition leader sees momentum key to succeeding Chavez

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 22:14 EDT

AFP – Hundreds of thousands of supporters on Sunday crammed Caracas’ streets in what opposition presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles, trailing in the polls, called a fast-changing tide.

“Today, we are winning this contest,” Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, told masses of faithful, despite polls showing him as many as 20 points behind acting President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro, 50, is a burly former bus driver and ex vice president who was the anointed successor of late president Hugo Chavez before his death from cancer last month.

Opposition leaders say Maduro has used sympathy for Chavez and the late president’s state political machinery to bolster his campaign. But Capriles, a telegenic distance runner whose female fans have endearingly nicknamed “Skinny,” was not ready to give up based on polls.

And in fact, his mass support on the capital’s streets had him professing confidence that victory — in this country sitting atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves — was within reach.

“Just three short weeks ago, they were saying that this was impossible,” Capriles said, urging supporters: “Give me your vote of confidence, because I want for this country — which wants change — to be able to achieve it.”

Capriles, in a wine-colored shirt the color of the national football squad’s, spoke after masses of his backers thronged the rally from eight separate points around the capital.

He took aim at the Venezuelan government’s close relationship with the Communist Cuban government — resented by many here for the vast resources, billions of dollars a year, bestowed on Cuba, and fired.

“You can go ahead and win elections in Havana. I am going to win the elections here in Venezuela,” Capriles said jabbing at Maduro.

Reaching out to supporters of the late president Chavez, Capriles also urged them to cross over to his side.

“Vote for me,” he said. “Nicolas (Maduro) is not Chavez.

“I am not the opposition,” Capriles insisted. “I am the solution.”

Construction worker William Pereira, 33, said his vote would go to Capriles.

“We have hope. We need a better Venezuela, and that’s why we are out here fighting for it,” he said along a major avenue with his wife and daughters.

“Maduro is not a strong guy. He thinks he is funny like Chavez, but he is so far from it,” added Pereira.

Pro-government supporters gathered on balconies to “challenge” the Capriles rally — particularly in government funded subsidised housing. But the number of Capriles supporters spoke loudly for now.

“The main reason I am here is the public safety crisis. Yesterday my uncle had his car robbed from him — at gunpoint. This cannot go on like this,” said accountant Richard Nunes, 28.

“It may be really difficult to pull off a win. But we have to get out and try or we are leaving the whole thing in his hands,” Nunes said of Maduro.

“Chavez did good things in terms of investing in the neediest. But he also left the country divided by a political party. And this has got to change,” Nunes stressed.

The presidential vote to replace Chavez will be held on April 14.

On Thursday, Maduro also accused the opposition of plotting to sabotage the national power grid to cause a blackout ahead of the election.

He repeated the claim on Saturday, adding that he was aware that one of the leaders of Capriles’ Justice First party had met with an employee of the US Embassy in Caracas to discuss plans for “a general blackout” in the state of Bolivar, where most of Venezuela’s electrical power is generated.

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« Reply #5630 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Pablo Neruda's body to be exhumed over Pinochet regime murder claims

Chilean poet was long thought to have succumbed to cancer but driver claims he was murdered by Pinochet regime

Jonathan Franklin in Santiago
The Guardian, Monday 8 April 2013   

The remains of the Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda are to be removed from his grave in Chile as part of an investigation into his death nearly 40 years ago.

A team of forensic specialists will remove bones from the casket where he lies near his seaside home on Monday morning.

Neruda, who died suddenly 12 days after the 11 September 1973 military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, had suspected prostate cancer and for decades it was assumed that he had succumbed to the disease.

But two years ago when Neruda's bodyguard and driver, Manuel Araya, began describing his recollections of the poet's last days, a new narrative was born: the Pinochet regime eliminated Neruda to avoid the possibility that he would become a renowned voice of dissidence.

Neruda was known for his erotic, passionate, romantic poetry, particularly Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. He was also a leftwing politician, diplomat and close friend of President Salvador Allende, who killed himself rather than surrender to Pinochet in the 1973 coup.

Araya said that while Neruda was making final preparations for exile in Mexico, doctors injected the poet with a substance, after which his health rapidly deteriorated.

The investigating judge, Mario Carroza, originally doubted the conspiracy theory but his inquiry over the past two years has uncovered sufficient evidence to order the exhumation.

Among the more damning pieces of evidence are reports from the pro-Pinochet El Mercurio newspaper the day after Neruda's death, referring to an injection immediately beforehand. The official death certificate said an advanced and incurable cancer led to malnutrition and wasting away.

"There were three main voices who could have continued the Allende legacy," said Eduardo Contreras, a Chilean lawyer who has been pushing for a thorough investigation of Neruda's death.

"There was Allende, Víctor Jara [the folk singer] and Pablo Neruda. Allende died on the day of the coup, Jara soon after, the only one left was Neruda. Why not eliminate the third symbol? I can't assure that he was killed or who might have done it, but there are too many suspicious acts [not to investigate]."

The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which manages the poet's estate, has fought the exhumation order and claims that Araya's charges of murder are not believable. "It doesn't seem reasonable to build a new version of the death of the poet based only on the opinions of his driver," a statement said.

"It is very debatable whether Pablo Neruda was really on his death bed," said Contreras, who has laboriously reconstructed the poet's final weeks and concluded that rather than being deeply unwell, Neruda was planning for his exile in Mexico, having intercourse with a lover and discussing the chaotic first days of the Pinochet dictatorship.

In Mexico City as a VIP guest of the president, Neruda would have been at home. His strong communist leanings, his service in the Chilean foreign service as ambassador and his worldwide following practically guaranteed that he would become a founding member of a government in exile. As a corpse in the Santiago hospital he was quickly added to the list of Allende aides and colleagues who were dead within weeks of the 1973 US-backed coup.

"There is lots of water [where Neruda is buried], lots of salinity and it will take months of investigation," said Contreras when asked whether analysis was even possible 40 years later.

"We have world-class labs from India, Switzerland, Germany, the US, Sweden, they have all offered to do the lab work for free. That is the tenderness that he still provokes in people."

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« Reply #5631 on: Apr 08, 2013, 08:20 AM »

In the USA...

April 7, 2013

Targeted Killing Comes to Define War on Terror


WASHINGTON — When Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was taken into American custody at an airport stopover in Jordan last month, he joined one of the most select groups of the Obama era: high-level terrorist suspects who have been located by the American counterterrorism juggernaut, and who have not been killed.

Mr. Abu Ghaith’s case — he awaits a federal criminal trial in New York — is a rare illustration of what Obama administration officials have often said is their strong preference for capturing terrorists rather than killing them.

“I have heard it suggested that the Obama administration somehow prefers killing Al Qaeda members rather than capturing them,” said John O. Brennan, in a speech last year when he was the president’s counterterrorism adviser; he is now the C.I.A. director. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

In fact, he said, “Our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible.”

Despite Mr. Brennan’s protestations, an overwhelming reliance on killing terrorism suspects, which began in the administration of George W. Bush, has defined the Obama years. Since Mr. Obama took office, the C.I.A. and military have killed about 3,000 people in counterterrorist strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, mostly using drones. Only a handful have been caught and brought to this country; an unknown number have been imprisoned by other countries with intelligence and other support from the United States.

This policy on targeted killing, according to experts on counterterrorism inside and outside the government, is shaped by several factors: the availability of a weapon that does not risk American casualties; the resistance of the authorities in Pakistan and Yemen to even brief incursions by American troops; and the decreasing urgency of interrogation at a time when the terrorist threat has diminished and the United States has deep intelligence on its enemies.

Though no official will publicly acknowledge it, the bottom line is clear: killing is more convenient than capture for both the United States and the foreign countries where the strikes occur.

The drone strikes have become unpopular abroad; in a Pew Research Center poll last year, just 17 percent of Pakistanis supported them against leaders of extremist groups. And domestic critics have attacked from two different directions: Some Republicans in Congress accuse Mr. Obama of adopting a de facto kill preference because he shut down the C.I.A.’s overseas prisons and does not want to send more detainees to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Human rights advocates argue that some drone strikes have amounted to extrajudicial killings, the execution without trial of people suspected of being militants whose identities American officials often do not know and who sometimes pose little threat to the United States.

But with the American public, the strikes remain popular. Even as some senior former American security officials question whether the strikes are beginning to do more harm than good, 65 percent of Americans questioned in a Gallup poll last month approved of strikes to kill suspected foreign terrorists; only 28 percent were opposed.

Mr. Brennan’s criterion for capture — when it is “feasible” — is a very subjective judgment, said Matthew C. Waxman, a former Defense Department official who is now at Columbia Law School.

“Those simple statements about a preference to capture mask a much more complicated story,” Mr. Waxman said. “The U.S. military and intelligence community can do a great deal if they’re directed to do it. Sometimes where we say it’s infeasible, we mean it’s too risky.”

But he believes the hazards of a capture strategy are real. “I think in most cases we could not capture people without significant risk to our own forces or to diplomatic relations,” he said.

The uncertainties were evident nine months into Mr. Obama’s first term, when intelligence agencies tracked down Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a suspect in the attacks on two American embassies in East Africa in 1998.

The original plan had been to fire long-range missiles to hit Mr. Nabhan and others as they drove in a convoy from Mogadishu, Somalia, to the seaside town of Baraawe. But that plan was scrubbed at the last minute, and instead a Navy SEALs team helicoptered from a ship and strafed Mr. Nabhan’s convoy, killing him and three others. The SEALs landed to collect DNA samples to confirm the identities of the dead.

The episode raised uncomfortable questions for some at the Pentagon. If the United States took the risk to land troops in Somalia, they wondered, why did they not capture Mr. Nabhan instead of killing him?

Or consider the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who had joined the Qaeda branch in Yemen. In September 2011, when American intelligence located him, it might conceivably have been possible to organize a capture by Yemeni or American commandos. But a drone strike was politically far less complicated for both countries, said Gregory D. Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton.

If American forces captured him, their presence on Yemeni soil might have spurred unrest, Mr. Johnsen said. If the forces of the Yemeni president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, caught him, he said, “Does he turn him over to the Americans and risk a backlash? Does he hold him? It was easier for Saleh to let the Americans take a shot at Awlaki than to send his troops to catch him.”

The trade-offs have not changed under Yemen’s new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who lauded the precision of drone strikes in a 2012 speech in Washington. Two months later, an American strike killed Adnan al-Qadhi, a well-connected Qaeda supporter, even though he was in a town near the capital, Sana, where several high-level officials live. Neighbors told reporters that he could easily have been captured.

In Pakistan, where the SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden sent Pakistani-American relations into a tailspin, drone strikes — though deeply unpopular — are tolerated by the security establishment. “There’s an intangible notion that a drone flying over is less of an intrusion than troops on the ground,” said Ashley S. Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor and a former State Department lawyer.

Then there is the question of very real danger to Americans in capturing heavily armed terrorists. The SEALs sent to Abbottabad were instructed that if Bin Laden immediately surrendered, he should be detained, according to Matt Bissonnette, a member of the SEAL team who wrote a book on the raid. But if Americans died trying to catch a midlevel militant — when drones were available but went unused — there would be a huge public outcry, most officials believe.

Only in the drone era has killing terrorism suspects become routine. In the 1980s and 1990s, counterterrorism officers captured several suspects overseas and brought them back to the United States for trial.

Brad Garrett, a former F.B.I. agent, was on the teams that caught both Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an organizer of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and Mir Aimal Kansi, who shot five C.I.A. employees, two of them fatally, outside the agency’s headquarters in Virginia the same year. Teams of American and Pakistani officers caught the men by kicking down doors at their guesthouses, and “no shots were fired in either case,” he said.

As an investigator, Mr. Garrett said, “I’ve spent my life talking to live people. That’s the downside of drones. There’s no one left to talk to.” But he said that catching a solo suspect in an urban setting, while risky, was far less hazardous than confronting a gang of heavily armed men in the hostile territory of Pakistan’s or Yemen’s tribal areas. “I don’t think you can really compare them,” he said.

When Mr. Obama closed the C.I.A. prisons and banned coercive interrogations, Republicans complained that there was nowhere left to hold and question terrorists, a charge that resonated with some military and C.I.A. officers. The president countered by creating a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, an elite group of analysts and interrogators that officials say has been sent about two dozen times to question detainees at home and abroad. That is a tiny number compared to the frequency of drone strikes, of course, but officials say the secretive group has been successful.

An even smaller number of those questioned by the interrogation group have been brought back to the United States to face criminal charges, including Mr. Abu Ghaith, the Bin Laden son-in-law, and Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali commander of the militant group Shabab.

By all accounts, Mr. Warsame’s handling is a powerful illustration of the value of capturing rather than killing a terrorism suspect. He first began providing information to American counterterrorism officials after being caught on a ship in April 2011. He has never stopped talking about both the Shabab and the Qaeda branch in Yemen, officials say, and he knows that his ultimate sentence will depend on his cooperation.

There are signs that the Obama administration may itself have grown wary of the convenience of targeted killing — or may be running out of high-level targets. After a sharp rise in Mr. Obama’s first two years, the total number of drone strikes is now in sharp decline.

In Pakistan, strikes peaked in 2010 at 117; the number fell to 64 in 2011, 46 in 2012, with 11 so far this year, according to The Long War Journal, which covers the covert wars. In Yemen, while strikes shot up to 42 in 2012, no strikes have been reported since a flurry of drone hits in January, according to several organizations that track strikes.

In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Obama pledged more transparency for the drone program, and he and his aides have hinted that change are coming. It remains unclear what the administration has in mind, but the president has spoken of the treacherous allure of the drone.

Decisions on targeted killing, he told CNN in September, are “something that you have to struggle with.”

“If you don’t, then it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not who we are as a country.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.


April 7, 2013

Obama Must Walk Fine Line as Congress Takes Up Agenda


WASHINGTON — The days ahead could be decisive ones for the main pieces of President Obama’s second-term agenda: long-range deficit reduction, gun safety and changes to immigration law.

With Congress back this week from a recess, bipartisan groups of senators who have been negotiating about immigration and gun violence are due to unveil their agreements, though prospects for a gun deal are in question as the emotional impact of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., has faded and the National Rifle Association has marshaled opposition. And on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will send his annual budget to Capitol Hill intended as a compromise offer, though early signs suggest that Republican leaders have little interest in reviving talks.

Members of both parties say Mr. Obama faces a conundrum with his legislative approach to a deeply polarized Congress. In the past, when he has stayed aloof from legislative action, Republicans and others have accused him of a lack of leadership; when he has gotten involved, they have complained that they could not support any bill so closely identified with Mr. Obama without risking the contempt of conservative voters.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, called this predicament Mr. Obama’s “Catch-22.” And Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said he had often seen it at work since 2010 while negotiating with Republican lawmakers to reach a long-term budget agreement.

At times, Mr. Warner said, Republicans would urge him to get Mr. Obama more involved, saying, “Gosh, Warner, we’ve got to have the president.” Other times, he said, the same lawmakers would plead otherwise, saying, “If the president comes out for this, you know it is going to kill us in the House.”

“Everybody wants him involved to the right degree at the right moment,” Mr. Warner said, “but not anytime before or after.”

The challenge for Mr. Obama became evident as soon as he took office, when Republicans almost unanimously opposed his economic stimulus package even as the recession was erasing nearly 800,000 jobs a month. The author Robert Draper opened his recent book about the House, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” with an account from Republican leaders who dined together on the night of Mr. Obama’s 2009 inauguration and agreed that the way to regain power was to oppose whatever he proposed.

Though Mr. Obama was able to prevail over Republican opposition in his first two years as president because Democrats had majorities in the House and the Senate, that changed when Republicans won control of the House in 2010, giving them a brake to apply to the president’s agenda.

Other than the stimulus experience in early 2009, the moment that most captured that polarization for the White House occurred a year later. In early 2010 Republican senators, including the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, demanded that Mr. Obama endorse bipartisan legislation to create a deficit-reduction commission. But when he finally did so, they voted against the bill, killing it.

Now the president’s three pending priorities are shaping up as test cases for how he and Republicans will work together — or not — in his second term.

Each measure — on the budget, guns and immigration — in its own way illustrates the fine line that Mr. Obama must walk to succeed even with national opinion on his side. Privately, the White House is optimistic only about the prospects for an immigration bill, which would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million people in the country illegally.

That is because an immigration compromise is the only one that Republicans see as being in their own interests, given their party’s unpopularity with the fast-growing Latino electorate. In contrast, most Republicans see little advantage in backing gun legislation, given hostility toward it in their states or in districts throughout the South and the West and in rural areas. A budget compromise would require agreeing to higher taxes, which are anathema to conservative voters, in exchange for Mr. Obama’s support for the reductions in Medicare and Social Security that they want.

Yet even on immigration, many Republicans are weighing their party’s long-term interests in supporting a compromise against their own short-term arguments for opposing one: antipathy remains deep in conservative districts to any proposal that would grant citizenship. That calculation also holds for Republicans planning to seek the 2016 presidential nomination.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Obama early on outlined elements that he wanted in the immigration and gun measures. Then he purposely left the drafting to Congress. Senior aides, mainly the chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and the deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, check in daily with senators. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stays in touch with his former Senate colleagues about the gun bill talks.

On immigration, Mr. Obama had wanted to propose his own measure because he had promised Latino groups he would do so. But Senate Democrats advised against it, fearing an “Obama bill” would scare off Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has presidential ambitions. Indeed, Mr. Rubio’s office once issued a statement to deny that he was discussing immigration policy “with anyone in the White House,” even as it criticized the president for not consulting Republicans.

“I think he’s handled it just perfectly,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democratic leader who is part of the bipartisan negotiations on both issues, said of Mr. Obama. “He’s mobilizing public opinion. He’s staying on top of the issues and being helpful. But at the same time he’s given us — in the House and Senate — space to craft a bipartisan agreement.”

While Mr. Obama is said to be actively involved in the immigration talks behind the scenes because of that bill’s better odds, on gun measures like tighter background checks of firearms purchasers he is waging his fight mostly in public settings far from Washington. On Monday he will travel to Connecticut to meet again with the families of those killed in the school shooting in Newtown last year. At the University of Hartford, he will give another speech calling for passage of gun legislation.

Even Democrats say these speeches are having no effect on Republican lawmakers. Mr. Schumer and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, spoke again over the weekend but have been unable to reach a deal, raising interest in a fallback proposal that two other senators — Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia — are working on.

Yet White House aides predict that if the gun issue dies, Mr. Obama will at least get credit for trying and Republicans will be blamed by the majority of Americans who favor tighter controls.

On Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, intensified the White House’s efforts to shame Republicans who are threatening to filibuster a Senate vote on gun measures.

“Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder and filibuster it,” Mr. Pfeiffer said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

On the budget, Mr. Obama has tried both strategies — negotiating personally with Speaker John A. Boehner on a “grand bargain” for taxes and entitlement-program reductions, and when that failed, letting Congress try, which also failed. Now, with the bipartisan effort moribund, the president has decided he has no option but to publicly take the lead to revive negotiations with hopes of drawing some Republican support.

So the budget he is sending to Congress will embody his last compromise offer to Mr. Boehner in December. For the first time, Mr. Obama is formally proposing to reduce future Social Security benefits, if Republicans will agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.

Republican leaders already have rejected the overture, based on early reports about it. But Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Mr. Obama is “showing some signs of leadership that’s been lacking. I’m encouraged.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama is to dine with a dozen rank-and-file Republican senators, hoping they might deal with him on the budget, as well as on immigration and gun measures.


America stunned at diplomat’s death in Afghanistan

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 22:17 EDT

AFP – Relatives and colleagues of a young US diplomat killed in Afghanistan honored her as a smart woman just starting her career and eager to engage with locals in the war-ravaged country.

Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was among at least five Americans killed in separate attacks Saturday, in the deadliest day for foreigners in Afghanistan this year, as she traveled with Afghan officials to distribute books to students.

“She particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people,” her parents Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff said in a statement.

She “was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war,” they added.

The last American diplomat killed on the job was US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

He died along with three other Americans — two embassy security personnel and an information officer — in an attack on the US diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi on September 11.

Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Turkey, lashed out at the “cowardly” Taliban extremists who killed the “selfless, idealistic” young diplomat.

“Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy,” Kerry said during a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of the students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help.”

Kerry met Smedinghoff when she assisted him during a visit to Afghanistan two weeks ago.

At least three US soldiers and another civilian were killed in the attack that saw a suicide car bomber strike a NATO convoy in the southern province of Zabul. Four other State Department employees were injured, one critically, according to officials.

Another US civilian was killed in a separate assault in eastern Afghanistan.

Speaking to staff and families at the US Consulate General in Istanbul, Kerry acknowledged that such attacks pose a “huge challenge” as US troops and their NATO allies prepare for a withdrawal at the end of next year.

“It’s a grim reminder to all of us, though we didn’t need any reminders, of how important and also how risky carrying the future is… and just trying to provide opportunity to those young boys and girls and men and women in Afghanistan.”

Flags and white ribbons lined the street of Smedinghoff’s family home in River Forest, a suburb of Chicago, local media reported.

Smedinghoff’s first assignment as a diplomat was in Caracas before she volunteered to work in Afghanistan starting in July as a public diplomacy officer.

Her parents said she had joined the US Foreign Service right after graduating from college in 2009 and loved her work, despite the risk.

“We always knew in the back of our minds that this was a possibility. She went everywhere. She usually told us about it afterward, but she never expressed any fear at all,” her father told CBS News.

In their statement, Smedinghoff’s parents said they were “consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world.”

In addition to her parents, Smedinghoff is survived by a brother and two sisters.

She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in international studies, and rode in an annual cross-country bicycle trip organized by students and alumni to raise money for cancer patients.

“I think living in Afghanistan is dangerous 24/7,” her aunt Rita Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Anne downplayed it because this was how she was going to save the world.”


Same-sex marriage momentum spells trouble for the Republican Party

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:33 EDT

With Americans tilting toward support of gay marriage and two GOP senators now in favor, Republicans find themselves in a tightening political vice on the issue ahead of mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Last year was a watershed of sorts for the movement, with gay marriage laws passing in three states, Democratic President Barack Obama offering his public endorsement of marriage equality, and Wisconsin electing Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay US senator.

But same-sex marriage is suddenly, unavoidably in the political spotlight once again, with the US Supreme Court mulling whether to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which restricts federal benefits to marriages between a man and a woman.

And with the number of US senators backing gay marriage roaring past the halfway mark this past week — 53 of 100 members are now in favor — activists say Republicans risk getting left in the movement’s wake, which could find them struggling to attract new voters.

“The reality is, there is now irrefutable momentum in the country” in favor of marriage equality, Evan Wolfson, a founder of the gay marriage movement in the United States and president of the non-partisan group Freedom to Marry, told AFP.

With each passing year the support for gay marriage grows greater and broader, with a solid 58 percent now in favor, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey.

Wolfson said “true opposition to gay marriage is dwindling and isolated to a few demographic groups” — namely Americans over 65, non-college-educated whites, and white evangelical Christians.

Young Republicans are siding with Democrats on the issue. Conservative freshman Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona even conceded last week it was “inevitable” that a future Republican presidential nominee would be in favor of marriage equality.

That puts Republicans in a pickle, especially after party leaders conducted a brutal self-criticism in the wake of their 2012 election debacle and announced they must do more to attract minorities like Hispanics.

Conservatives promote family and traditional values in their political platform. A Republican White House hopeful who openly espouses same-sex marriage could alienate the party’s base, while opposing it could trigger charges he or she is behind the times.

Some Republicans are not shying away from pressing their case, namely that same-sex unions dilute the importance of marriage as the traditional avenue for raising children with both a mother and father.

But their alarmingly off-script statements are “sending a shudder through the coroners who just finished the Republican autopsy,” noted Wolfson.

Among them are remarks by Tea Party-favorite Louie Gohmert, a congressman from Texas who mentioned homosexuality in the same breath as polygamy and bestiality.

“When you say it’s not a man and a woman anymore, then why not have three men and one woman or four women and one man?” Gohmert told supporters on a recent conference call.

“Or why not, you know, somebody has a love for an animal or — there is no clear place to draw a line once you eliminate the traditional marriage.”

Wolfson dismissed Gohmert as an extremist voice who operates on the fringes and not in the weighty conservative center.

“But if that’s the kind of voice the Republican Party puts forward, they’re going to continue to sink like a stone,” he said.

Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy Eric Cantor continue to speak about big-tent inclusion, even while expressing their own personal opposition to gay marriage.

Potential Republican candidates for the White House in 2016 — Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to name a few — are opposed as well, while another possible candidate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, has said it should be left to the states, nine of which now allow gay marriage.

“I could not imagine somebody who supports same-sex marriage winning the Republican nomination for president,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington which supports traditional unions.

Likewise, a Democrat would need to back gay marriage — and support a woman’s right to abortion — in order to be accepted by the party machinery, he noted.

“We’re in an emotional debate,” Backholm said, and today’s climate has allowed Republicans like Senators Rob Portman and Mark Kirk to switch their positions to support gay marriage.

Most rights advocates insist the arc of history points toward broad acceptance of gay marriage, but Backholm believes the “emotional leverage” will fade, and the country will reconsider its current trend.

“There is no chance that this issue becomes uncontroversial any time soon,” he said.


Amy Goodman: Corporate media is ‘an extreme media beating the drums for war’

By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:06 EDT

Journalist Amy Goodman made the case for independent media at the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver on Saturday, saying the pro-war views of the corporate media networks were firmly entrenched.

“This is no longer a mainstream media, it’s an extreme media beating the drums for war,” she said after citing statistics about the mainstream media’s bias in favor of the Iraq war. “I really do think that those who are concerned about war, that those who are deeply concerned about the growing inequality in this country, those who are concerned about climate change, about the fate of the planet, are not a fringe minority — not even a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media, which is why we have to take it back.”

Goodman said the United States was in dire need of major media outlets that were free of a “corporate lens.” She noted her own radio program, Democracy Now, sought to highlight the views of those typically ignored or overlooked by corporate media networks.

Goodman also praised former MSNBC host Phil Donahue, who was fired from the network for voicing anti-war sentiments in the run-up to the Iraq war. The incident illustrated how the mainstream media was afraid of challenging the status quo, particularly in regards to war.

Goodman said the country needed a media that showed the images of war. She described debating anything other than “war and peace, life and death” as a “disservice to the servicemen and women of this country, who can’t have these debates on military bases, they rely on us.”

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube on April 7 by UpTakeVideo, below:


Republicans Celebrate as Americans Face Losing Their Jobs

By: Rmuse
Apr. 7th, 2013

One of the benefits of 21st century technological advances is the quick availability of government reports that relay information to the population without commentary or criticism from a biased source such as a news organization or media pundit. Over the past four years, Republicans have not rejoiced much at reports the President’s economic policies have helped create millions of jobs in spite of their attempts to cripple the tepid recovery, and in spite of their news outlets and conservative belief tanks persistent rants that this President was toxic to the economy; government jobs reports have shown consistent growth. Yesterday there was another report that the economy added jobs, but it is likely that instead of despair, Republicans celebrated wildly that their austerity cuts have begun paying dividends and slowed job growth.

The good news is that the economy added 88,000 jobs in March and the jobless rate fell to 7.6%, but there are conditions that make the report less than encouraging. First, the new job numbers was the lowest increase in nine months signaling the job market recovery is slowing, and although the jobless rate did fall, it is likely because more Americans have given up hope and stopped even looking for work. The labor force contracted by about a half million people because if a person is not looking for a job, they are not counted as unemployed. The percentage of working-age Americans either with a job or looking for one dropped to 63.3 percent that is at its lowest level since 1979 and it means the pace of job growth in 2013 is slower than it was last year.

One can hardly blame some Americans for dropping out of the labor market because if there are jobs available, they are increasingly part-time minimum wage jobs that do not afford adequate food and shelter compared with unemployment benefits for those who qualify. In every state in the Union, a full-time job at minimum wage will not pay rent for the most austere apartment, and even if both parents are fortunate enough to hold down two part-time jobs, they still earn well below the federal poverty limit and struggle to feed their families.

Republicans can take all the credit for the slowdown in jobs that are a direct result of their austerity frenzy that slowed GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, and that was well before the Republican sequester took effect on March first.  Part of the slowdown in hiring is that companies are not hiring because Americans are tightening their belts and not buying, and as sales drop, companies stop hiring or worse, start laying off workers. The sad news is, it is going get much worse and the GOP must be wetting themselves at the prospects of rising unemployment and hungry and homeless Americans as they resist any of the President’s attempts to create jobs and grow the economy.

Economic experts warned consistently that austerity during a recovery retard growth and kill jobs, and after Republicans imposed Draconian spending cuts and Republican-controlled states shuttered schools, fired teachers by the hundreds of thousands, and eviscerated the public workforce, the downstream jobs are drying up rapidly. The sequester alone was promised to kill between 700,000 and a million jobs in its first of a ten year run, and doubtless March’s employment figures reflected the start of those job losses. Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said “While the recovery was gaining traction before sequestration took effect, these arbitrary and unnecessary cuts to government services will be a headwind in the months to come, and will cut key investments in the nation’s future competitiveness.”

Federal Reserve officials warned that it is not just the slower pace of job growth that is disconcerting, but the quality of hiring is troubling according to Sarah Bloom Raskin. She said, “It’s important to look at the types of jobs that are being created because those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” and noted lower-wage jobs accounted for a large share of job growth that in turn slow consumer spending drastically. The largest share of jobs added in March were low-wage temporary and part-time work that might be good for large employers, but it means less job security and income for workers.  In fact, 7.6 million Americans who want full-time jobs are only finding part-time jobs that, for many Americans, are not worth taking and not because job seekers are lazy.  For example, a single mother who lost her full-time paralegal jobs after five years said, “When I’ve had offers for positions they’re part time or temporary, but the child care I’d need to pay to take the jobs is more costly than what I’d be getting paid for the job itself,” and it is a narrative heard more often than not.

The executive director of the National Employment Law Project said that midlife and older workers who lost their jobs to cutbacks are having to “dip into retirement savings in order to stay afloat, and that 10 years down the road, a lot of retirees who didn’t expect to live in poverty are going to be in poverty” and it does not appear there is any stopping the elderly’s march into poverty. Through it all, Republicans in states and Congress are actively cutting retirement and pension benefits on top of killing public sector jobs that drives the slowdown in hiring as more and more Americans are forced to cut spending in order to survive. Businesses large and small have cited lack of consumer spending as the prime reason for hiring slowdowns, and yet debt and deficit reduction and the resulting austerity are still foremost on the Republican agenda with no end in sight.

The Republicans’ spending cut frenzy gave Americans a firsthand look at the deleterious effects of austerity at the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, and the sequester’s one month anniversary promptly revealed a slowdown in hiring that is only going to get worse. President Obama’s budget attempts to create jobs through infrastructure spending as well as replacing the arbitrary government cuts in the sequester, but John Boehner dismissed it immediately for not cutting Social Security enough and because it includes revenue to put Americans to work repairing a broken infrastructure. It is important for all Americans to remember that Republicans know, and were warned, their austerity and sequester would kill jobs and slow growth, and yet they proceeded anyway and celebrated accomplishing another job-killing policy.

Americans had just started feeling the economy was on a path of recovery and growth, but their good outlook failed to take into account the true leaders of this nation were hell-bent on staunching recovery and killing jobs. The slowdown in growth during the fourth quarter of 2012 should have been a warning sign to Republicans that their slash and burn austerity was dangerous to economic growth, but instead, they celebrated their sequester victory and promptly rejected the President’s budget because it replaces the sequester and creates jobs. They most likely celebrated again at the news hiring is slowing and more Americans are headed for poverty, and although they were discouraged there were any jobs created in March, they can rest assured that as the sequester enters its second month of a ten year run, they will have plenty to celebrate as more Americans lose their jobs, people drop out of the workforce, and the economy contracts; their goal for the past four years.


Sequester Tantrums Reveal Yet Again That Republicans Are Developmentally Stunted

By: Deborah Foster
Apr. 7th, 2013

The sequester has finally done some real damage and some real people are feeling the pain. With the cuts came the decision by the Obama Administration to close 149 air traffic control towers at small-sized airports and it is starting to affect rich people who like to tool around the country in their private jets. Oh the humanity! Don’t these closings mean there will be potential safety hazards? Certainly. On the other hand, all pilots are trained to communicate with one another to ensure safe take-offs and landings. Having an air traffic controller is just a safety net. In case these wealthy travelers hadn’t heard, safety nets are being eliminated for millions of people across the country. First responders, our police and fire fighters, are being laid off as a result of the sequester cuts. Cancer patients are being turned away from chemotherapy since the cuts, which substantially reduced Medicare reimbursement rates. Domestic violence services are being slashed, risking the lives of those in abusive relationships. Public health spending has been cut so that vaccines are not being given. The children, elderly, and others who become sick, and perhaps even die, from the diseases that those vaccines were supposed to prevent have no expectation of safety right now. Schools are even beginning to close for the Fall.

However, since air traffic controllers have taken away from 149 airports (and a substantial number more will have hours cut), the people affected have been more likely to be wealthy, so whiny Republican legislators representing people with deep pockets have been scurrying around trying to find ways to reinstate the funding for their pet concern, airports. Just as the empty heads at Fox News were beside themselves that the sequester was going to curtail White House tours, but couldn’t manage to give a damn that food is being taken away from infants and children as the WIC program is cut, these sniveling conservatives have no qualms about harming poor people as long as their airport control tower stays open. Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas even tried to get an amendment passed that restored $50 million to the budget for allocation to private plane travel. Loathsome Congresswoman Michele Bachmann looked approvingly at the cuts to food safety, public health, education for disabled children, aid to the poor, first responders, and then said that air traffic control towers closing in her district showed, “a troubling lack of priorities,” by the FAA and the Obama Administration.

While there is advice available on how to deal with childish adults, it is disturbing that our government has been usurped by conservatives who are obviously delayed psychologically, as if stunted anywhere from their toddler through teen years. Childish adults display a number of behaviors that they should have outgrown, including throwing tantrums, an inability to share resources, whining, creating competitive rivalries, and forming cliques. We see all of these on display among today’s conservatives, and illustrated perfectly in this story about the air traffic control towers. The entire morass was started by their inability to share resources resulting in the damaging implementation of the sequester. The whole ridiculous showdown occurred because Republicans couldn’t help themselves and they just had to nurse a juvenile competitive rivalry with the President. And of course, the only clique you can belong to that Republicans will politically represent are the wealthy elite.

Egocentrism is most often associated with early childhood, and it is characterized by an inability to appreciate the viewpoint of others. Those who haven’t moved beyond the childhood developmental period of intense egocentrism have difficulty with sharing, relating to the needs of others, or understanding that there could be a reality other than the one they recognize. Having legislators who can only understand the pain of cuts to government services when it directly affects them is pathetic. These are grown adults who should be capable of empathy, selflessness, and altruism. Nonetheless, the only time our current crop of Republican politicians can even mimic these qualities is when they are protecting the interests of the wealthy.

On Friday, Bill Maher pointed out that libertarianism has become a popular movement “intellectually stuck in its teen years.” Libertarianism in its present prevalent form is a selfish, egocentric political philosophy. The current formulation of libertarianism has infected the Republican party, particularly through its Tea Party wing. These individuals are virulently anti-government unless receiving a benefit or service themselves.

Paired with their emotional immaturity, their delayed intellectual development makes Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul tout the sequester regardless of the harm it causes to millions of Americans. To see Republicans, including the alleged deficit hawks of the Tea Party, reverse their economic dogma the moment their elite constituency is inconvenienced should be embarrassing to everyone in their party. Instead, it’s just another day at the office.


GOP Hijacked the Budget Over Chained CPI in December, Now It’s Not Enough

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 7th, 2013

In December of 2012, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he had to have chained CPI. Oh, a little chained CPI would be compromise and if he got it, he’d give the President $1 trillion in revenue, “President Barack Obama is considering a possible budget concession on Social Security cost-of-living increases after House Speaker John Boehner dropped his opposition to raising tax rates for some top earners, said two people familiar with the talks…. A Republican congressional aide said Boehner is pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes, such as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age.”

Give us the chained CPI and we’ll give you 1 trillion in revenue, Republicans offered in December. Cut to April of 2013: Obama offers them chained CPI, and guess what?

Chained CPI is not enough of a compromise! It’s not even a real start. It’s just “rhetoric”. Boehner’s full statement:

“The president and I were not able to reach an agreement late last year because his offers never lived up to his rhetoric. Despite talk about so-called balance, the president’s last offer was significantly skewed in favor of higher taxes and included only modest entitlement savings. He said he could go no further toward the middle, and that’s why his last offer was rejected. In the end, the president got his tax hikes on the wealthy with no corresponding spending cuts. At some point we need to solve our spending problem, and what the president has offered would leave us with a budget that never balances. In reality, he’s moved in the wrong direction, routinely taking off the table entitlement reforms he’s previously told me he could support.

“When the president visited the Capitol last month, House Republicans stated a desire to find common ground and urged him not to make savings we agree upon conditional on another round of tax increases. If reports are accurate, the president has not heeded that call. If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes. That’s no way to lead and move the country forward.”

According to Speaker Boehner’s logic, by giving Republicans exactly what they asked for, Obama has proven that he is unwilling to compromise. Yes, because when the other side offers you exactly what you said you wanted and you don’t take it, but instead raise the bar, and don’t offer your own concessions, they are at fault because their offers don’t live up to their “rhetoric”. Speaking of rhetoric, it’s tough to imagine how Boehner can be so confident regarding his assessment of Obam’as budget offer when he never read Obama’s budget?

In case you’re not convinced that Republicans knew what they wanted as they held the country hostage last year, in December, chained CPI was the sticking point, “A Democratic aide said the problem was that McConnell’s proposal includes basing Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments on something called a chained CPI, a measure of inflation that grows more slowly than the way Social Security measures inflation now.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) even told the Wall Street Journal that chained CPI and means testing for Medicare “are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue.”

In fact, chained CPI was the hold up last December. It was the surprise attack, the last reason Republicans gave us for why they would not agree with the other side:

    Republicans have added changes to Social Security spending to their list of fiscal cliff demands, in a last-minute surprise that Democrats are characterizing as a major setback in negotiations.

    According to new reports, Republican Senate negotiators are now demanding that any fiscal cliff deal include a switch to the chained CPI in calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases.

Grace Wyler, continuing on Business Insider pointed out, “National Review editor Robert Costa suggests that Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s new insistence on the chained CPI might be a political tactic aimed at helping House Speaker John Boehner save face by boosting support for a deal among GOP House members.”

Again, we return to the real problem. Boehner’s House of tea. Republicans keep finding a new excuse for why they can’t compromise, when the truth of the matter is that they don’t have the votes for anything other than something as immoral, extreme and ineffective as Paul Ryan’s “budget”.

President Obama gave Republicans exactly what they said they wanted. Progressives are furious with him over it. Once again we reach an impasse when we get to the part where Republicans are supposed to give something.


The Rich Get Richer From Tanking the Economy As The Poor Go To Jail For a Missed Payment

By: Rmuse
Apr. 7th, 2013

There is little argument that America is home to a disproportionate prison population for crimes that boggle the mind when one considers there are no victims and imprisonment will not serve to rehabilitate a prisoner. Before 1833, Americans were sent to prison for unpaid debt, and it is a practice that rightly is associated with Dickensian England and certainly not 21st century America, but with jobs nearly impossible to find after the Great Recession and tepid economic recovery, debtor’s prisons have been making a comeback despite they have been illegal in the United States since 1833. In a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, they detail how “Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities” because Ohio courts are illegally jailing poor people for their inability to pay their debt.

The ACLU report reveals that there is a “harrowing debtors’ prison” system in Ohio  that violates both the United States and  Ohio constitutions, and that many Ohio residents are sent to prison for debts “as small as a few hundred dollars” in spite of being in violation of the state and Federal Constitution. They also exposed economic evidence that in many cases it is costing the state more to send and keep a debtor in prison than the amount of the debt they owe. Some of the statistics in the ACLU report are that in the “second half of last year, more than one in every five of all bookings in the Huron County jail originating from Norwalk Municipal Court cases involved a failure to pay fines,” and that in “suburban Cleveland, Parma Municipal Court jailed at least 45 defendants for failure to pay fines and costs between July 15 and August 31, 2012,” and that during the same period at least 75 people were thrown in jail for similar charges in the Sandusky Municipal Court.

In several cases, people were sent to prison for missing payments on fines levied against them for some other infraction, such as a woman who spent ten days in jail for not paying $300 in fines for a traffic ticket and when she got out of jail, she owed an additional $200. Her husband is also serving time in jail for overdue fines and both are unemployed. It is not unusual for a court to give a person the option of paying a fine or serving out jail time in lieu of payment, but it most states it is always an option. It is curious though, why a judge would send someone to prison for their inability to pay, and yet not discount their fines according to the time served which happened to a man who owed $1,500 in fines and court costs, was sent to prison in Wisconsin for three-and-a-half years, and still struggles to repay the fines.

There are other states throwing people in jail and debtors’ prison because of sloppy paperwork on the part of credit collection agencies who most likely had nothing to do with the original debt. It is a common practice for hospitals, retailers, and small businesses to sell their debt to collection agencies whether or not a debtor defaulted on a loan or outstanding bill. Often, if a debtor is late or misses one month repaying their debt, the creditor immediately turns (sells) the debt over to a collection agency that takes legal action the debtor may be unaware of. Without knowledge they are being sued for the debt by an unknown collection agency, the person cannot possibly go to court to face the charges and the judge automatically issues an arrest warrant for the debtor for failure to appear or contempt of court.

Without knowledge they were sued by creditors and a warrant for their arrest was issued, they are taken unawares and arrested and jailed without knowledge that they “failed to appear” before the court. For example, a woman was pulled over for a loud muffler in Illinois and instead of a fix-it ticket or just a warning, the officer arrested her and took her to jail and later she discovered the court issued an arrest warrant for failing to appear. The woman owed $730 for a medical bill and had no idea the collection agency bought the debt or filed the lawsuit against her, and without the court or creditor giving her notification she had to appear in court, she missed the date and went to jail.

Even though debtors’ prisons have been banned explicitly by states’ and the Federal Constitution, over a third of the states allow borrowers to be jailed whether they were unable to pay because their jobs were eliminated due to the recession or a medical emergency racked up enormous debt. In fact, another report by the ACLU found that many people are imprisoned regardless the cost of keeping them in jail far exceeded the amount of debt they owed. In one case in Louisiana, a homeless construction worker was imprisoned for five months for legal debt of $498 while his jail time cost six times as much, and the debtor was forced to pay for his own incarceration. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 140,000 complaints related to debt collection practices and they have taken 10 collection agencies to court for unfair practices in the past three years.

Since 2010, judges, who like debtors, do not know the debtor’s rights signed more than 5,000 arrest warrants in just nine counties, and one legal aid attorney said it is not uncommon for the accused to be intimidated by the judge into making unfair repayment agreements after facing interrogation by judges about why they cannot pay more and if they are really looking for a job; in this economy and regardless if it is an emergency medical debt or not. Collection agencies have an incentive to use needlessly harsh tactics, including seeking judgments and threats of jail time, because debt collection is a very lucrative business, especially in a down economy when people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

It is beyond the pale that in 2013, there are Americans being thrown in debtors’ prison when in most cases the people fail to keep up timely payments because they either lost their job, are uninsured and had a medical emergency, or can only find part-time minimum wage jobs if they are fortunate. One hopes that the ACLU of Ohio’s exhaustive report shines a light on the problem, and court officials pledged to look into the accusations, but that does not help any of the people who are thrown in prison for something as minor as missing a single payment that was sold to a collection agency that promptly secures a court judgment against the person unawares.

There are people who deliberately skip out on their debt commitments, and it reached a high point during the housing crisis where people just walked away from their mortgages with little or no consequences except a blemish on their credit record. There are other Americans who are without healthcare insurance and face a life-threatening illness that disables them, and their debt to the hospital is promptly sold to a credit collection agency that takes legal action to force them into a repayment plan they can hardly afford, but when given the choice of promising to repay a debt they can never keep up with or go directly to prison, most people will accept succumb to the court and collection agency’s pressure and still wind up in debtors’ prison when they are in contempt of court for not following the details of their debt settlement. It is a no-win situation and as usual, it is the poor and unfortunate who wind up sitting in America’s prisons while filthy rich bankers and Wall Street CEOs are luxuriating in style after fleecing the people, the economy, and their investors with impunity. But that is America, where the rich are granted immunity from prosecution for robbing billions of dollars from millions of Americans and the poor are thrown in prison for missing a payment for their catastrophic health emergency.

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« Reply #5632 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:08 AM »

North Korea warns foreigners to leave South

Regime says visitors might get hurt if war starts, while workers boycott joint factories and missile test talk heightens

Justin McCurry in Seoul, Tuesday 9 April 2013 08.05 BST   

As the world waits to see if North Korea launches a ballistic missile, the regime has attempted to raise tensions further, warning foreigners living in South Korea to make evacuation plans because the peninsula is on the brink of war.

"We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war," the official KCNA news agency quoted an official from a North Korean organisation calling itself Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying.

The KCNA report did not offer details and there are reportedly no signs of a military buildup near the border dividing the Korean peninsula, located less than 40 miles from the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Analysts noted that Pyongyang had issued similar threats in the past, adding that this latest warning is designed to elicit aid and political concessions from Seoul and Washington.

Amid the bluster of recent weeks – during which the North has threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the US – the regime appears to have made good on its threat to withdraw its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex.

None of the 53,000 North Korean workers at the site, located just north of the border, arrived for work on Tuesday morning – a day after Pyongyang accused the South of turning the jointly run zone into "a hotbed of war".

The suspension of all operations at the site momentarily shifted attention from North Korea's east coast where, according to reports, preparations were being made to test launch at least one medium-range missile, possibly as early as Wednesday.

In response, Japan deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in Tokyo on Tuesday. Japan's self-defence forces are under orders to shoot down any incoming North Korean missiles; Tokyo has also deployed two Aegis destroyers equipped with sea-based interceptor missiles in the Sea of Japan.

The two missiles, thought to be the untested Musudan, have a maximum range of 2 485 miles, putting South Korea, Japan and US bases on Guam within reach.

The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said his government would take "every possible measure to protect the lives and safety of the Japanese people".

The closure of Kaesong, the last symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas, marks a serious deterioration in cross-border ties. The move is also a sign of how far the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, may be prepared to go to foment crisis on the peninsula, given that a prolonged closure would deprive his regime of an important source of hard currency.

South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, described the suspension as "very disappointing" and said investors would now shun the North.

"Investment is all about being able to anticipate results and trust and when you have the North breaking international regulations and promises like this and suspending Kaesong while the world is watching, no country in the world will invest in the North," Park told a cabinet meeting.

"North Korea should stop behaving in this way and make the right choice for the future of the Korean nation."

South Korean firms have invested an estimated $500m (£327m) in the site since it opened in 2004. The complex generates about $96m for the North Korean economy every year.

About 475 South Korean workers and factory managers remain in Kaesong, with 77 expected to return across the border on Tuesday.

The warning to foreign residents in the South comes a week after North Korea told overseas embassies in Pyongyang that they should consider evacuating staff, warning their safety could not be guaranteed if war breaks out. No embassies are thought to have acted on the advice.


North Korea to consider closing Kaesong complex after worker recall

Pyongyang's suspension of operations at complex it runs with South Korea is yet another 'foolish gesture', says expert

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Monday 8 April 2013 16.19 BST   

North Korea has said it will recall more than 50,000 workers from the industrial park it runs with the South and consider shutting it permanently, spelling an end to inter-Korean co-operation.

Pyongyang has engaged in weeks of angry rhetoric in response to a UN security council resolution expanding sanctions following its third nuclear test and to ongoing joint exercises by South Korean and US forces.

But analysts noted that while the latest move by Pyongyang was substantive, it was also a non-military one made amid concerns that the North might be planning another missile or nuclear test.

The Kaesong industrial complex has been a much-needed source of income for the impoverished North and a cheap source of workers for labour-intensive South Korean firms.

The statement from a senior party Workers' party official, carried by the KCNA state news agency, warned that operations would be suspended while the future of Kaesong was reviewed.

"The zone is now in the grip of a serious crisis," Kim Yang Gon said. "It is a tragedy that the industrial zone, which should serve purposes of national reconciliation, unity, peace and reunification, has been reduced to a theatre of confrontation between compatriots and war against the North."

He did not mention the 475 South Korean managers still at Kaesong. The North has prevented personnel and supplies from entering from the South since last week.
North Korean workers at the South-owned Shinwon clothes company in Kaesong industrial park North Korean workers at the South-owned Shinwon clothes company in Kaesong industrial park. Photograph: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

According to Associated Press, about a dozen of more than 120 South Korean companies at Kaesong have halted production owing to lack of supplies.

"The temporary suspension is likely to become the final sigh of the sunshine policy as we knew it," said Leonid Petrov, an expert on the North at Australian National University.

"It's understandable that as they proclaimed war it would be inconsistent with the desire to produce sneakers and LCDs at the same time … North Korea is sending a strong message to prove that money means nothing for the regime and its nuclear missile programmes are not for sale and not negotiable."

Seoul's policy of free-flowing aid and engagement was ended by South Korea's previous president, Lee Myung-bak, who took office in 2008. Petrov argued future attempts at co-operation would have to start from scratch, adding: "It is unlikely it will happen under Park Geun-hye given the conservative origins of her party.

"Many people blamed the sunshine policy for being ineffective, but that's not correct: it was too successful for its time. It achieved a lot but was too dangerous for the North and too expensive for the South."

James Hoare, the former British chargé d'affaires in Pyongyang, said: "It may be that among the military there are those who never liked [Kaesong] and saw it as a Trojan horse. It may be they've decided they won't carry on with it, but they could still row backwards. It is not militarily threatening. It's a gesture which to me looks foolish from the North Korean point of view, but it isn't firing rockets or doing a nuclear test."

He pointed out that attempts at engagement with the North had often stumbled, from the early 1970s onwards. But he added: "It's very unfortunate for the workers, who will lose their wages and other perks."

Stephan Haggard of the Washington-bade Peterson Institute, an expert on North Korean economics, wrote last year: "For North Korea, [Kaesong] is a cash cow that even hardliners have been loath to push the way of the Mount Kumgang project. Since 2004, total wage payments for North Korean workers in the KIC has totalled $245.7m, rising from $380,000 in 2004 … to $45.93m in the first half of 2012. For Pyongyang, even hardliners can see that this is a no-brainer."

One possibility is that the North believes it must threaten a clearly valuable asset to send the message that it is serious in its stance. Another possibility mooted by experts is that it could hope to expropriate the factories and hand them over to members of the elite, bolstering domestic support for the regime.


U.S. official: Warlike rhetoric of North Korea ‘perfectly predictable’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 0:07 EDT

With tensions on the Korean peninsula soaring to include threats of nuclear war, frustration is mounting at what US policy experts see as the failure of all efforts to rein in North Korea.

Decades of threats have waxed and waned despite myriad attempts to reach out for talks or punish the regime, as seen recently in the tightening of UN sanctions.

North Korea watchers see a familiar pattern in which the communist state ramps up threats or takes actions such as missile launches or nuclear tests in a bid to show anger and force concessions from the United States.

Observers saw parallels between the latest crisis and 1994 when Pyongyang took on a bellicose tone as it faced pressure over its nuclear program at a time of political transitions in both North and South Korea.

The 1994 crisis ended when former US president Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang, setting the stage for a joint energy project that has been the inspiration for several initiatives since.

“I still don’t find any of the latest North Korean rhetoric that shocking. It’s perfectly predictable,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was in charge of implementing the 1994 energy agreement.

“The difference this time is that they have nuclear weapons,” said Wit, now a scholar at Columbia University.

North Korea has threatened to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, although experts doubt it is able to. The United States, in turn, carried out runs by its nuclear-capable B-2 bomber as part of exercises with South Korea.

Other new factors in the latest crisis include question marks over North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-Un and growing unhappiness from China over its smaller ally’s insolence.

Bruce Cumings, chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago and the author of several books on North Korea, said the 24-hour news environment had also changed the dynamics behind Pyongyang’s threats.

“You get instant attention on the World Wide Web which is so different than when I used to read their Central News Agency reports in the early ’90s that would come a week late through Tokyo and you never knew if anyone would pay attention,” he said.

But Cumings said that North Korea’s tactics followed a pattern dating to even before the 1950-53 Korean War, when the communist leadership would threaten to destroy the South’s army.

“It is always the case with North Korea that when its back is put to the wall, it lashes out and it creates problems. It says: ‘If you want to sanction us, this is what you’re going to get’,” he said.

Cumings warned that tensions “are inevitable as long as the United States and South Korea are not willing to engage with North Korea.”

“The North Koreans go about things in the worst way — they are their own worst enemy — but they keep saying that they want to talk to the United States in particular,” he said.

But President Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out what is widely considered North Korea’s main aim — its symbolic recognition as a nuclear weapons state, seen by the regime as critical to ensure its survival.

The Obama administration, after long hesitation, last year sealed an aid-for-disarmament agreement with North Korea that fell apart in a matter of weeks after Pyongyang attempted to test a rocket.

The previous administration of George W. Bush similarly swung widely in its approach to North Korea. Bush famously grouped North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” and under his watch Pyongyang tested its first nuclear device.

But Bush, like Bill Clinton before him, tried late in his term to seal a historic far-reaching agreement with North Korea.

Some US conservatives criticized the Bush outreach and have called for an entirely new approach.

Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called on the United States to avoid any future deals with North Korea and instead aim at toppling the regime.
« Last Edit: Apr 09, 2013, 06:15 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5633 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:25 AM »

April 8, 2013

China Reports New Cases of Bird Flu


HONG KONG — Chinese and World Health Organization officials said Monday that they had still not yet found any human-to-human transmission of a spreading form of avian influenza, after confirming five more infections among humans over the weekend and three more on Monday.

Public health officials around the world have been closely watching the emergence of the illness, H7N9 influenza, in Shanghai and three nearby provinces in central-eastern China over the past week, and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have begun work on a vaccine.

Chinese health officials have acknowledged 24 cases and 7 fatalities in the past week, counting the eight infections confirmed by laboratories over the last three days.

Liang Wannian, the director of the H7N9 influenza control and prevention office at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday that the government was monitoring 621 people who had been in close contact with the infected patients and had found no sign that any of them were getting sick.

“At present, the cases have been sporadic in nature, and no evidence of human-to-human transmission has been discovered,” Mr. Liang said, but he cautioned that “currently, due to the limited understanding of the origin and dissemination of this disease, there are still uncertainties remaining as regards the aspects of epidemic prevention and control work.”

Chinese officials are still investigating two families in which multiple cases of H7N9 are suspected, according to the W.H.O. One of the cases involves an 87-year-old man who died on March 4 and was later found to have had the disease. Two of his sons developed severe pneumonia about the same time, and one died on Feb. 28. But while severe pneumonia is rare, H7N9 has not been confirmed in either of the sons. And even if it had, the sons, as well as their father, could have been infected through animals instead of humans.

The Chinese authorities have not released details of the other family under investigation.

Mr. Liang said the Chinese government would be open about the outbreak’s progression, and the W.H.O. said it was in discussions about whether to send international experts to work with China in halting the spread of H7N9.

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said one of the 24 people who were infected, a 4-year-old boy in Shanghai, appeared to have recovered, although he remained in a hospital for observation. While the boy’s improvement is a sign that the disease is not necessarily fatal, it also raises the question of whether more people are coming down with mild or even asymptomatic cases and recovering without becoming sick enough to visit a hospital or clinic for testing.

Because the virus can continue to mutate in people who are infected, scientists are eager to know whether H7N9 manifests itself only in cases that are serious enough to lead victims to seek medical attention. The W.H.O. lists 3 of the 24 cases as mild, although those patients were still in a hospital.

“The key point is whether there are milder cases — I’m not completely clear,” said Dr. Malik Peiris, director of the Center for Influenza Research at the University of Hong Kong.

Two of the eight main gene segments of the virus seem to come from wild birds, while the other six segments come from a well-known and widely distributed poultry virus, Dr. Peiris said. But the genes have changed to acquire patterns found in human influenza viruses, causing scientists to worry whether a further evolution of the virus could increase its ability to be transmitted.

Dr. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health, announced Monday that Hong Kong and mainland Chinese inspectors would begin extensive testing on Thursday of poultry being shipped to Hong Kong to determine whether any of the birds carry the disease. They will be released for sale only after they have been certified to be free from the disease, he said.


No proof China bird flu H7N9 spreading between humans: World Health Organization

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 9:09 EDT

The World Health Organisation said Monday there is no evidence China’s bird flu is spreading between humans, but jitters over the outbreak that has killed six people saw airline and tourism shares slump.

China announced just over a week ago that H7N9 avian influenza had been found in humans for the first time, and the number of confirmed cases has since reached 21.

Like the more common H5N1 variant which typically spreads from birds to humans, experts fear the possibility that such viruses can mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

“Although we do not know the source of infection, at this time there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” Michael O’Leary, the WHO’s representative in China, told a news conference.

“The human cases we know of are very serious. A large proportion have died,” he added.

Fears over the deaths sparked a fall in Shanghai shares, with hotel and tourism shares leading the decline.

China United Travel, a tourism agency based in the eastern city of Nanjing, slumped 3.38 percent and hotel operator Shanghai Jinjiang International Hotels Development fell 5.21 percent.

Flag carrier Air China was off 3.38 percent and China Eastern Airlines down 3.23 percent. But medical stocks rose.

Concerns over the outbreak were also blamed for a tumble in Hong Kong stocks on Friday, although shares recovered on Monday.

“The major cause of bird flu remains unknown and this will cause panic among people and affect consumption, which may affect market expectations for the trend of the domestic economy,” said BOC International analyst Shen Jun.

The outbreak has so far been confined to China’s developed eastern region, with four deaths in the commercial hub Shanghai and two in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang. Other infections have occurred in Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.

A Chinese expert said more H7N9 cases could be found in a wider area.

“We are tracking the source and cannot rule out the possibility of finding the virus in other regions,” said Feng Zijian, director of the emergency office for China’s disease control centre.

Another official, Shu Yuelong, said poultry infected with the H7N9 strain die more slowly than those with H5N1, giving the virus more time in which to infect people.

More than 365 people have died of H5N1 worldwide since a major outbreak in 2003, and it kills about 60 percent of people who develop it, according to WHO statistics.

The first deaths from H7N9 were not reported by Chinese authorities until three weeks after they occurred, prompting criticism the initial announcement was too slow.

But Chinese officials have said the delay in announcing the first results was because it took time to determine the cause of the illness. O’Leary praised China’s transparency, saying the WHO was “very satisfied and pleased with the level of information shared”.

China faced condemnation a decade ago on accusations it covered up the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which eventually killed about 800 people globally.

Users of China’s popular weibo microblogs have expressed scepticism about official assurances. “Although there is no human transmission, why does the number (of cases) increase daily? This makes people scared,” said user Li Xiao Lei.

The WHO said in a statement that it is possible the virus can spread to humans from animals, such as pigeons.

Shanghai has culled more than 111,000 birds, banned trading in live poultry and shut markets in a bid to curb the outbreak.

Nanjing city followed suit by banning live poultry trading while Hangzhou culled poultry after discovering infected quail.

The China Daily newspaper on Monday called for “high alert” nationwide and urged stronger regulation of the poultry trade.

“The rules for transporting and trading of live poultry in cities should be strengthened, because the bird flu can spread very fast in densely populated cities,” it said in an editorial.
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« Reply #5634 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:26 AM »

April 8, 2013

Wary of China, Companies Head to Cambodia


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Tiffany & Company is quietly building a diamond-polishing factory in Cambodia, a country popularly associated more with killing fields and land mines than baubles.

Some of Japan’s biggest manufacturers are also rushing to set up operations in Phnom Penh to make wiring harnesses for cars and touch screens and vibration motors for cellphones. European companies are not far behind, making dance shoes and microfiber sleeves for sunglasses.

Foreign companies are flocking to Cambodia for a simple reason. They want to limit their overwhelming reliance on factories in China.

Problems are multiplying fast for foreign investors in China. Blue-collar wages have surged, quadrupling in the last decade as a factory construction boom has coincided with waning numbers of young people interested in factory jobs. Starting last year, the labor force has actually begun shrinking because of the “one child” policy and an aging population.

“Every couple days, I’m getting calls from manufacturers who want to move their businesses here from China,” said Bradley Gordon, an American lawyer in Phnom Penh.

But multinational companies are finding that they can run from China’s rising wages but cannot truly hide. The populations, economies and even electricity output of most Southeast Asian countries are smaller than in many Chinese provinces, and sometimes smaller than a single Chinese city. As companies shift south, they quickly use up local labor supplies and push wages up sharply.

While wages and benefits often remain below levels needed to provide proper housing and balanced diets, the manufacturing investment — foreign direct investment in Cambodia rose 70 percent last year from 2011 — is starting to raise millions of people out of destitution. “People along the Mekong River are being lifted out of poverty by foreign investment inflows driven by higher Chinese wages,” said Peter Brimble, the senior economist for Cambodia at the Asian Development Bank.

Only a smattering of companies, mostly in low-tech sectors like garment and shoe manufacturing, are seeking to leave China entirely. Many more companies are building new factories in Southeast Asia to supplement operations in China. China’s fast-growing domestic market, large population and huge industrial base still make it attractive for many companies, while productivity in China is rising almost as fast as wages in many industries.

Foreign investment in China nonetheless slipped 3.5 percent last year, after rising every year since 1980 except 1999, during the Asian financial crisis, and 2009, during the global financial crisis. Still, at $119.7 billion, foreign investment in China continues to dwarf investment elsewhere.

By comparison, investment in Cambodia rose to $1.5 billion. But last year was the first time since comparable recordkeeping began in the 1970s that Cambodia received more foreign investment per person than China.

“People are not looking for exit strategies from China, they’re looking to set up parallel operations to hedge their bets,” said Bretton Sciaroni, another American lawyer here. Among Japanese makers, Sumitomo is making wiring harnesses for cars, Minebea is assembling parts for cellphones and Denso is about to start production of motorcycle ignition components.

Foreign investment also jumped last year in Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines.

As companies compete for employees, working conditions in the region are improving. Pactics, a Belgian-run company that is the world’s largest maker of microfiber sleeves for luxury sunglasses, has introduced employee benefits that were previously rare in Cambodia, like medical insurance, accident insurance, education allowances and free lunches.

Because costs are extremely low in Cambodia, where a visit to the doctor may cost only a couple of dollars, overall compensation for each worker is still less than $130 a month. At the company’s factory on the outskirts of Shanghai, workers doing the same tasks earn $560 to $640 a month, including government-mandated allowances, said Piet Holten, the company’s president.

Cambodian workers sew 15 to 30 percent fewer sleeves per day than their Shanghai counterparts, but productivity in Cambodia has been catching up.

“I will never get it up to China, but the cost is less than a third of China’s, and China only gets more expensive,” Mr. Holten said.

Overall monthly compensation for industrial workers has increased as much as 65 percent in the last five years in Cambodia, although from such a low base that workers here remain among the poorest in Asia. A decade ago, workers flocked to newly opened factories in Phnom Penh that posted hiring notices, but “today, you put a notice on a factory and you don’t have anybody come,” said Sandra D’Amico, the managing director of HR Inc. Cambodia, a human resources company.

Strikes this winter temporarily crippled numerous Taiwanese-owned garment factories in eastern Cambodia producing simple garments like bathing suits after Japanese factories moved in to make more sophisticated products like business suits and gloves — and offered higher pay and benefits.

At the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone here in central Cambodia, Minebea is trying to attract workers by building a modern, four-story dormitory for 2,000 people with six beds to a room and a large recreation hall — a big change from the plywood houses with thatched roofs in which millions of Cambodians still live. The Laurelton Diamonds unit of Tiffany has already driven pilings for a modern, 95,000-square-foot factory across the street to polish small diamonds, and is seeking international “green building” accreditation for the project.

Employment at the zone is doubling this year, to 20,000 workers, and is projected to redouble to 40,000 in the next several years, said Hiroshi Uematsu, the zone’s managing director.

Skeptics like David J. Welsh, the Cambodia representative of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Solidarity Center, say that rising food and housing costs prevent many workers from fully benefiting from rising wages. Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that his industry needed to resist workers’ demands for further pay increases to preserve international competitiveness.

Tatiana Olchanetzky, a manufacturing consultant to companies in the handbag and luggage industry, said that she had analyzed the costs in her industry of moving operations from China to the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. She found that any savings were very small because China produces most of the fabrics, clasps, wheels and other materials required for the bag trade, and these would have to be shipped to other countries if final assembly moved there.

But some factories have moved anyway, at the request of Western buyers who fear depending exclusively on a single country.

While moving to a new country with an unproved supply chain is a risk, Ms. Olchanetzky said, “They think there’s a risk in staying in China, too.”
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« Reply #5635 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Serbia defies EU deadline to give Kosovo independence

Belgrade rejects EU deal because it does not give sufficient autonomy to the Serbian minority inside Kosovo

Associated Press, Monday 8 April 2013 18.47 BST   

Serbia rejected a European Union-brokered deal for reconciliation with its former province of Kosovo on Monday – a defiant move that could jeopardise its EU membership aspirations and fuel tensions in the Balkans. The EU had given Serbia until Tuesday to say whether it would relinquish its effective control over the northern region in exchange for the start of EU membership negotiations.

Even before the government rejection, Aleksandar Vucic, the deputy prime minister and Serbia's most powerful governing party leader, said the plan was unacceptable because it did not give more autonomy to minority ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who, together with Serbia, reject Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

"The Serbian government cannot accept the proposed principles ... because they do not guarantee full security, survival and protection of human rights for the Serbs in Kosovo," said Ivica Dacic, the prime minister. "Such an agreement could not be implemented and would not lead to a lasting and sustainable solution."

Catherine Ashton, the EU's top diplomat, said after the eighth round of talks between Serbian and Kosovan officials last week in Brussels that she wanted a response from both sides and that the bloc's mediation was over. Despite warnings that there will be no more EU-sponsored negotiations under Ashton's mediation, Vucic and the government called for more talks with rival ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"If there is a negative answer [from the EU], that would be bad news for Serbia, Kosovo and the EU," Vucic said. "If that happens, we would have to start thinking of what to do next.

"We don't want Serbia isolated from the world, but we have to protect our interests," he said. "It is highly important that we reach an agreement."

The rejection of the proposal could be a severe blow for Serbia's EU membership aspirations – including millions of dollars of promised accession funds – and would lead to more tensions in the Balkans, which is still reeling from the bloody wars of the 1990s when Serbia tried to prevent the breakup of the former Yugoslav federation by force.

While some 90 countries – including the United States and most EU nations – have recognised Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, it has been rejected by Serbia and its Slavic ally Russia.

The most contentious issue in the talks was the status of northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs dominate and refuse to accept the authority of the ethnic Albanian-controlled government in Pristina. Germany has made giving up control of Kosovo's north the key condition for the start of Serbia's EU accession negotiations.

The stumbling block in the talks was a Serbian demand that ethnic Serbs, who represent about 10% of Kosovo's 2 million people, have their own judiciary and police force. But Kosovo officials have rejected that, saying it would be tantamount to a division of Kosovo into two separate entities.

In Serbia, there are increasing calls among nationalists that the country should turn to its ally Russia instead of becoming an EU member. There also are suggestions from the extremists that Serbia should use force to reoccupy Kosovo, which it surrendered after a three-month Nato bombing campaign that pushed out its troops in 1999.

Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned moderate, said a military solution is out of the question. "I'm hearing some 'heroes' who were never brave who are giving us lessons on how we should stroll into Pristina," he said. "They should not tell us what our decisions should be."

Several hundred far-right supporters demonstrated in front of the government headquarters in Belgrade during the cabinet session, demanding that no deal is signed with the EU and ethnic Albanians.

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« Reply #5636 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Portugal deserves to be cut some slack

Nobody can seriously argue the country has been dragging its feet – there's a strong moral case for cutting Lisbon some slack

Nils Pratley   
Monday 8 April 2013 19.27 BST The Guardian     

A depressing and familiar plot is developing in Portugal. Having adopted a full package of austerity measures two years ago, the country finds its budget deficit has not closed according to the intended timetable and actually widened last year to 6.4% of GDP. Nor has growth returned. Instead, the economy is expected to contract by a further 2.3% this year and the rate of unemployment stands at almost 18%.

Now comes a constitutional and political crisis. The courts have shot down four out of nine measures the prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, wanted to adopt. He says he will now make alternative cuts in the health, education and welfare budgets to try to meet the (revised) deficit-reduction goals and keep the Troika happy.

Passos Coelho's strategy may keep the position stable for a while. Assuming the government survives and implements its new spending cuts, the real crisis could be delayed until next year. Certainly, the chances of Portugal being able to fund itself fully in the market this year are roughly zero: the 10-year bond yield is 6.45% and rising. Barclays Capital's analysts think "at best" full market access "may occur in 2014". If it doesn't, though, and if the deficit-reduction target is again blown out of the water, we're back in fresh bail-out territory if nothing else changes.

But José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, thinks something should change. He suggested that the maturity of loans to Portugal should be extended. That's a sensible suggestion since nobody can seriously argue that the country has been dragging its feet. There's a strong moral case for cutting Lisbon some slack.

The next step, of course, should be for the eurozone to find some pro-growth strategies and shed its austerity obsession. Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is making that argument and his timing is good. If the pain inflicted on compliant Portugal leads only to a second bail-out, plan A is a flop. It's time to try something new. Whether Germany is listening, though, is another matter entirely. To judge by current rhetoric, it's not.

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« Reply #5637 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:40 AM »

04/09/2013 01:38 PM

French Tax Scandal: Hollande Seeks Role as Apostle of Virtue

By Stefan Simons

French President François Hollande is doing some moral spring cleaning. His recent demands that government ministers make public all their financial assets are part of an effort to rebuild the reputation of the political caste -- and to legitimize his government so he can finally start governing again.

Marie-Arlette Carlotti was the first. The vice minister for people with disabilities published a comprehensive breakdown of all her assets on her website. Her move even pre-empted by a few hours the announcement by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that all his cabinet members should do likewise.

The financial striptease went down to the finest details: a 130-square-meter apartment in Marseille, estimated value of €270,000; a house in the Mediterranean department of Herault, bought in 2005 for €220,000; an apartment in Corsica, bought in 2004 for €75,000. On top of that were shares in the European defense conglomerate EADS worth €917.80, a savings account at the credit union Credit Cooperatif worth €1,655 and a life insurance policy worth about €40,000. The deposits in various bank accounts total about €36,000.

Was that all? No, the politician also included her cars -- a Smart and a Toyota, together estimated to be worth €8,000. All that was left out were jewelry or family heirlooms.

All cabinet ministers are soon expected to make public the value of their assets in as much detail as Carlotti, who has her eyes set on the 2014 mayoral race in Marseille. After the hidden money scandal that forced the resignation of former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, President Francois Hollande has prescribed complete transparency. The exemplariness of public officials would be without exception, Hollande promised. The private assets of the Republic's top statesmen and women, until now reviewed only internally, would soon be displayed in detail before the public.

Hollande Sees Chance to Win Back Popularity

The push for transparency belongs to a larger package of "shock measures" with which the embattled Socialist -- elected on promises of an "exemplary Republic" -- hopes to finally legitimize himself politically and morally. Besides clearing the government of politicians who don't have impeccable records of their assets, the measures include ratcheting up the fight against tax havens. Together with his EU partners, Hollande aims to dry out the opaque operations of banks and financial service providers. Companies have hidden their flows of capital in offshore subsidiaries to stay out of reach of the taxman, all completely within the confines of the law.

The "counter-offensive by the Elysée," as the daily newspaper Le Monde called it, is also an effort by an unpopular president to restore his damaged authority. His calls for banning anyone convicted of corruption or tax fraud from running for office are supported by some 90 percent of voters, both on the left and right.

The government's reputation is damaged and the president's maneuvrability diminished -- particularly after further reports circulated of various lapses by Hollande's party colleagues and members of government. Most recently, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denied speculation reported by the newspaper Liberation that he had a Swiss bank account. Also under pressure is Economy Minister Pierre Moscovici, a cabinet heavyweight whom the opposition accuses of having tried to protect his colleague Cahuzac by only half-heartedly investigating the tax evasion charges.

Scandals Distract from Pension Reform

The circulating rumors of scandal have unleashed panic in the various government ministries and at the Elysée, at the same time preventing the government from tackling the unpopular but necessary pension reform. The leftists in the government as well as the opposition have voiced opposition to the draconian cuts and drastic tax hikes which Hollande hopes will put France's finances back on track. He plans on presenting his re-worked plans for debt reduction in Brussels by April 17. All this while calls are growing within his own party for a cabinet reshuffle.

Hollande is not yet ready to dismiss Prime Minister Ayrault, nor to reshuffle his cabinet -- at least not yet. For the time being, the "morality law," which could come into effect before the summer recess, is meant to placate public sentiment. The law not only tightens restrictions and increases penalties for financial crime, it also establishes an independent prosecutor's office specifically dedicated to financial matters.

Time is ticking. "We have to hurry," Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told Le Monde. "We need proposals that correspond to the size of the crisis."

The leftist opposition meanwhile is mounting a protest against the Socialists. The more radical Parti de Gauche, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, has called for a mass demonstration in Paris on May 5. One year after Hollande's election, he and the Communist want to mount a protest against corruption in the Fifth Republic, calling it a "grand clearout."

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« Reply #5638 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Russia’s Putin faces thousands of pro-LGBT protesters in Amsterdam

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 0:12 EDT

Over 3,000 people protested Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Amsterdam on Monday, with rainbow flags flying at half-mast around the city that prides itself on enjoying every kind of freedom.

The brightly dressed crowd chanted “Go home Putin!” during a festive protest opposite the museum where Putin had dinner with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, at the end of his visit to the nation that first legalised gay marriage in 2001.

Protesters were mainly targeting a bill before the Russian parliament that bans homosexual “propaganda” among minors, but also a general rights clampdown in Russia, where Putin is serving his third term as president.

Activists and Western governments have condemned the measure, which provides for fines of up to 500,000 rubles (12,500 euros, $15,830) for any “public act” promoting homosexuality or paedophilia.

“There are no violations of the rights of sexual minorities in Russia,” a defiant Putin said alongside Rutte before heading in to dinner. “These people enjoy full rights and liberties just like everyone else.”

Putin said that gay couples could not produce children and that “Europe and Russia have demographic problems.”

“We need to reach a consensus with this community, we need to agree to work collectively. Don’t insult each other, agree with, understand, each other and develop certain civilised rules,” he said. “I think this is possible.”

Rutte said he had raised concerns over NGO and gay rights with Putin.

“We had a good talk about it,” Rutte said, which testifies “to the good relations between our two countries.”

Dozens of police were deployed in the tightly secured area, including anti-riot forces, although an AFP correspondent saw some police dancing to the thumping music.

“Critical journalists not allowed. Do not frighten President Putin. Keep this area human rights free,” read one huge Amnesty International banner hanging from a window.

“No gay propaganda beyond this line,” another sign read.

Dutch police said they had briefly detained one person, a gay Dutch artist who wrote expletives against Putin on the window of his Amsterdam studio.

Barges sailed on the Amstel river with signs reading “Punk bands strictly prohibited”, in reference to members of the band Pussy Riot who were jailed last year for staging an anti-Putin concert in Russia.

Rainbow flags dotted the city, including outside Amsterdam City Hall. Many of the flags were flown at half-mast.

Putin’s visit is centred on trade talks with The Netherlands, and many Russian business leaders are travelling with him.

Russia has invested heavily in the Port of Rotterdam, a transit point for much of its oil and gas.

Many Russian companies are also registered in The Netherlands because of its favourable taxation regime.

Environmental group Greenpeace criticised an active cooperation agreement for Arctic exploration signed during the visit between Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell and Russian giant Gazprom’s oil subsidiary.

“It would seem that Shell has not learnt from the litany of errors that plagued its attempts to drill in Alaska and that its relentless search for oil and gas continues,” said Greenpeace Netherlands Arctic Campaigner Faiza Oulahsen.

“This deal is bad news for investors and bad news for the fragile Arctic environment and the indigenous peoples whose way of life depends on it,” she said.

Putin attended the opening of an exhibition at Amsterdam’s Hermitage Museum with Dutch Queen Beatrix about Peter the Great, who came to The Netherlands as he tried to modernise Russia more than 300 years ago.

Russian authorities have launched a crackdown on foreign NGOs operating in Russia, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and German think-tanks.

Putin arrived from Germany, where he was met with topless protesters. In Amsterdam, the Russian leader, who is himself not averse to being photographed topless, said: “Thankfully the homosexuals didn’t undress here.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday urged Putin to “give a chance” to non-governmental organisations which she described as a “motor of innovation”.

The head of COC, the world’s oldest gay rights group, told AFP that they were protesting particularly because of the law’s vagueness.

“If I walk down the street holding my wife’s hand that can be construed as propaganda, flying a rainbow flag can be considered propaganda, and that’s all punishable,” Tanja Ineke said.


04/08/2013 02:18 PM

Surprise Welcome: Topless Protesters Confront Putin in Germany

Topless protesters caused a scene on Monday when they confronted Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Germany. The Russian president appeared unperturbed by the criticism, smiling and even giving two thumbs up to the bare-breasted activists, who accused him of being a dictator.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was confronted with naked criticism during a state visit to Germany on Monday morning when a group of young women, likely with the women's rights group Femen, surprised officials with a bare-breasted protest.

As Putin toured a trade fair in Hanover with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the women ran toward him screaming. Naked from the waist up, the activists had written anti-Putin slogans on their bodies, including "fuck dictator."

Putin, who often poses in rather macho staged PR shots, did not appear perturbed by the protest. In fact, journalists captured him smiling and giving two thumbs up as one protester approached. His German counterpart Merkel reacted with open-mouthed surprise.

The protest did not appear to dampen the mood, and Putin remained philosophical. "I don't see anything terrible about it," he said.

Once bodyguards and security personnel had quickly covered up and carried off the protesters, the trade fair tour continued.

Later, the Kremlin wasn't nearly as relaxed about the matter, however. "This is ordinary hooliganism and unfortunately it happens all over the world, in any city. One needs to punish (them)," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Criticism from Merkel, Too

Putin didn't have to wait long for more criticism, which later came from Merkel, who underlined her opposition to recent raids on non-governmental organizations in Russia. Germany hopes that the work of such foundations will be unhindered in the future, the chancellor said, adding that Germany supports an "active civil society" in the country.

Putin defended Russia's recent large-scale crackdown on NGOs, which have been forced to register as "foreign agents" if they receive money from outside the country, a move that has many critics accusing Putin of taking another step to turn Russia into a dictatorship. The flow of money is "alarming," he said. "Our citizens have the right to know where the money comes from," he said, adding that other countries have similar rules, including the United States.

The two leaders also disagreed over the civil war in Syria, with Putin defending weapons deliveries to Bashar Assad's regime. Because Assad runs a legitimate government, doing so does not violate international law, he said. Merkel's response: "In our view the authority of Mr. Assad no longer exists." Still, Russia said it was prepared to participate in international negotiations, saying that weapons deliveries must stop on all sides.

The two leaders did find somethint they could agree on, though, saying that increasingly militant North Korea should show more restraint. "We were very much in agreement that the international community must calmly but clearly appeal to North Korea to end this provocation," Merkel said.


April 8, 2013

Protesters and Merkel Criticize Putin, Who Wears a Smile


BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday publicly expressed her government’s disapproval of the way nongovernmental organizations are treated by the Kremlin, and she did so in the presence of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, making her the first Western leader known to have told him so directly.

Germany has become more willing to publicly criticize the Russian leadership lately, and Ms. Merkel, who was raised in East Germany, left no room for interpretation regarding Berlin’s position on the police searches that the Russians have conducted in recent weeks at the offices of nongovernmental organizations. The targets of the searches included two of Germany’s most-respected political foundations; in each case the Russian authorities confiscated documents and equipment.

“Of course it is a disruption and an intrusion when, for example, hard drives are subject to control — although the work of these foundations is in keeping with the law, as far as we know,” Ms. Merkel said, standing beside Mr. Putin at a news conference after the two leaders toured the Hanover trade fair.

“I made it clear that a vibrant civil society can only exist when the individual organizations can work without fear or concern,” she said.

The chancellor’s remarks reflected mounting frustration in Germany with what is seen as Russia’s crackdown on free expression. A group of female protesters tried to make the point to Mr. Putin a different way, flashing bare breasts and shouting that the Russian leader was a “dictator.” Bodyguards quickly swooped in, covered the women and dragged them off to the main police station in Hanover for questioning.

The Hanover police said it was not clear whether the protesters — two Germans, two Ukrainians and a Russian — were linked to Femen, a Ukrainian advocacy group known for topless demonstrations against the exploitation of women.

Mr. Putin, who smiled wryly as the women rushed at him, their chests and backs painted with slurs in English and Russian, later told reporters that he had “enjoyed” the protest and that the organizers of the fair should be grateful to the women, “because without such actions, one would speak less about the trade fair.”

Ms. Merkel found herself in the awkward position of defending the right of protesters to voice divergent opinions, though she stressed the importance of dissenting through orderly legal channels. “Whether in Germany one needs to take to such emergency measures and not express their opinion in another way, I have my doubts,” she said.

Mr. Putin traveled to the Netherlands later in the day. In Amsterdam, activists threatened mass protests, hoping to overshadow Mr. Putin’s attempts to focus on the growing importance of trade with the Netherlands, which was one of Russia’s biggest trading partners in 2012, with $83 billion in goods exchanged between the countries.

Gay rights activists were flying rainbow flags in the city before Mr. Putin arrived, and organizers said they planned a major protest against a bill pending in the Russian Parliament that would make public events and dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000. The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2001. German politicians also criticized the Russian bill.

Stefan Meister, a Russia expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations, said that although German officials were generally more critical of Russia, they had yet to change the way the country conducts its dealings with Russia. Though trade ties remain strong, the discussions on Monday reflected a clear agreement to disagree on Cyprus, Syria, the nongovernmental organizations and other matters. Mr. Meister said that indicated a need for a new approach.

“The German government’s policies have failed,” he said. “I see a change in the rhetoric, but not in the policies of the Germans.”

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« Reply #5639 on: Apr 09, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to continue activism

Anti-Kremlin punk band member gives defiant first interview with western media since being sent to prison eight months ago

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Monday 8 April 2013 15.17 BST   

A member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot has vowed to continue her work as a political artist in her first interview with the western media since being sent to prison eight months ago.

Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova, 23, sounded defiant in the 15-minute telephone interview from her prison colony in Mordovia, a central Russian region infamous for its high number of prison camps. She has been at the distant women's penal colony since October, serving the remainder of a two-year sentence on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Tolokonnikova and two other members of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were found guilty in August last year after they performed a song criticising Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox church in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Samutsevich was later given a suspended sentence.

In a phonecall monitored by prison officials, who repeatedly interrupted the conversation in order to prevent Tolokonnikova from talking about politics, the Pussy Riot founder said she had no hope that Putin's government would release her early.

A court in Mordovia is due to hold a parole hearing in Tolokonnikova's case on 26 April. Although the interview was held one day after the parole hearing date was set, Tolokonnikova, who has been kept largely in an information vacuum, said she had not heard the news.

"For me, the parole hearing means nothing," she said. "In our case, the government wants us to recognise our guilt, which of course we won't do," Tolokonnikova said. "I submitted the parole documents to show that they cannot break a person."

Pussy Riot's supporters have accused Putin of orchestrating the case against them. The women carried out their 40-second cathedral performance in the runup to a contested March presidential election that brought Putin back to the Kremlin. The highly publicised trial against them signalled the start of a sweeping crackdown on the opposition.

Tolokonnikova has also continued to appeal against her guilty verdict through the Moscow court system, and is one step away from it reaching the country's pliant supreme court. Late on Sunday, a leading judge in the Moscow appeals court denied that the case against the women of Pussy Riot was political. "We don't hear political cases," Olga Yegorova said in an interview with state-run NTV television. "It is in my power to lessen their sentence – it's not excluded that that will happen."

The case against Pussy Riot, conducted at lightning speed and rife with procedural abnormalities, highlighted the politicised nature of Russia's court system. Their guilty verdict sent a warning signal to the largely young and urban opposition, while the state's representation of Pussy Riot's performance as an attack on the church pandered to the post-Soviet growth in religious sentiment in the Russian heartland.

The next political trial due to shake the nation is that of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny, whose trial is set to start in the city of Kirov, 500 miles from Moscow, on 17 April. He has been charged with embezzlement in a case he believes has been designed to silence him.

Before being cut off by a prison official, Tolokonnikova said: "I hope they don't have the impudence to jail him – because, after all, he is even more of a media figure among the people than the members of Pussy Riot, at least in Russia.

"I'm very happy he exists, as I'm happy that any political activist exists, especially someone who is willing to spend all his time and energy to change the political situation in Russia," she said.

Tolokonnikova spends her days adhering to a strict prison regimen dominated by work in the colony's factory, sewing uniforms for various Russian officials. She said she felt fine and that "it could be worse". She takes medicine daily for persistent headaches.

Asked if she had begun to think about life after prison, Tolokonnikova said: "My life isn't going to change – there will be new key components because of the experience I've gathered here. The vectors of politics and art will continue the same."

The prison routine leaves her little free time. Whatever time she gets goes towards reading books and the many letters from supporters delivered to her twice a week. Any information from the outside world comes from the newspapers and magazines that her relatives bring her during visits.

"I try to use all my time constructively – productively, creatively. I'm trying to learn how to relate to all this with interest, and I think I am achieving it," she said. "If your mood is bad, then time goes slow. If you learn to live paying attention to life and valuing it, even here, then time isn't lost.

"That's my main task: to make it so that the time they tried to take from me isn't lost. And I think I am successful.

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