04/08/2013 03:08 PM
Late Push on War Crimes: Prosecutors to Probe 50 Auschwitz Guards
By David Crossland
Prosecutors have obtained a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards still alive in Germany and will investigate whether they can stand trial. Guards at other death camps and members of the feared Einsatzgruppen death squads are also being traced in a late push to bring the surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice.
Germany's central office for investigating Nazi war crimes has launched a major push to bring Nazi death camp guards to justice 68 years after the end of World War II, saying on Monday it had obtained a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards still living in Germany and was seeking the names of suspects at other death camps like Sobibor and Belzec.
The office is also trying to identify people who took part in mass shootings in the "Einsatzgruppen" death squads that murdered over one million Jews, Roma and Sinti and prisoners of war in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Kurt Schrimm, the head of the Central Office of the Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, said he had received the list of names of Auschwitz guards from the museum at the memorial site. The office would now review which of the men, most of whom were likely to have been members of the SS, could stand trial, he added.
They are all aged around 90. Schrimm said his purpose was not to put old men behind bars but to give the victims a sense that justice is being done, and to shed light on historical events.
'We Owe It to the Victims'
"My personal opinion is that in view of the monstrosity of these crimes one owes it to the survivors and the victims not to simply say 'a certain time has passed, it should be swept under the carpet,'" Schrimm told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Auschwitz isn't our only goal, we're also checking on the guards of the other extermination camps," Schrimm said.
He said the number of new suspects was unlikely to go into the hundreds, though, because the other camps had been far smaller than Auschwitz.
Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, welcomed the news but said he hoped the investigations would proceed quickly.
"There is no question that, at least in theory, this is a very positive development, but in order for the project to succeed in practical terms it will depend on the extent to which the judicial system will expedite the cases in question," Zuroff, the director of the Center's Israel office, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
He added that the Center would run a new PR campaign for Operation Last Chance II, an initiative offering rewards for information leading to the prosecution of death camp guards and Einsatzgruppen members, in the late spring. "That will produce additional suspects, whether from Auschwitz or from other death camps or from the Einsatzgruppen," said Zuroff.
Demjanjuk Verdict Paved the Way
Schrimm's office is exploiting a recent re-interpretation of German criminal law in order to bring to justice people who were small cogs in the Holocaust machine -- men and women who had hitherto been spared prosecution because they couldn't be proven to have committed specific crimes, and could hide behind the argument that they were following orders.
Schrimm said prosecutions have been made easier by the precedent set by the trial of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, found guilty by a Munich court in May 2011 and sentenced to five years in jail for being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while he was a guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland. The crucial piece of evidence against Demjanjuk was his SS identity card from Sobibor. He died in a nursing home in the southern Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach in March 2012, after being released pending his appeal.
"For decades the prevailing interpretation of the law was that the individual guilt of a guard had to be proven, there had to be evidence that he was involved in a specific killing or that he herded people into the gas chambers or took part in the selection or similar," Schrimm said.
"That has changed, we reinterpreted the legal position in the case of Demjanjuk and … concluded that abetting a crime can also apply to people who weren't directly involved in a killing but contributed in some way, by being a guard for example."
Schrimm said his office would now launch preliminary investigations to check which of the 50 Auschwitz guards were healthy enough and eligible to stand trial. Some may have already been prosecuted and couldn't then be tried again, he noted.
First Trials Possible This Year -- In Theory
The cases will then be handed over to regional state prosecutors' offices where the suspects are located. The office itself cannot itself indict people. Schrimm said he couldn't predict when the first trials might begin. "Theoretically, it could be this year," he added.
The Demjanjuk precedent also applies to possible future cases against death squad members. "The limitation is that the Einsatzgruppen were mostly made up of people who didn't qualify for front-line duty due to their age or for health reasons, so the chance of finding survivors here are very, very small," said Schrimm.
Senior SS members got off with lenient sentences or were acquitted in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s when courts tended to follow the argument that the top Nazi leaders were principally to blame for the Holocaust and that people carrying out orders were bound by a chain of command and therefore had limited culpability.
German courts have convicted around 6,650 Nazi war criminals in 36,000 trials since 1947, but most of those convictions occurred before 1950, and the overwhelming number of sentences amounted to less than one year in jail, according to figures from the Institute for Contemporary German History in Munich.
In their quest for the last surviving perpetrators, Schrimm and his team are combing through archives in eastern European countries as well as in South America, where many war criminals fled after the war. He recently returned from a trip to Brazil to review old immigration files there.
04/08/2013 01:48 PM
Pirates of the Caribbean: Global Resistance to Tax Havens Grows
Tax havens cause hundreds of millions of euros in annual damage to national economies around the world and they create an uncontrollable parallel economy. The recent Offshore Leaks investigative reports are helping to fuel efforts in Europe and the US to have them eliminated.
What do a now-deceased German playboy and the daughter of the former Philippine dictator have in common? What connects a Russian oligarch and the former campaign manager of the French president?
Gunter Sachs and Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, Mikhail Fridman and Jean-Jacques Augier have all parked assets in countries that expect little in taxes and guarantee absolute confidentiality. And they are not alone. More than 130,000 people do exactly the same thing, and those are only the ones whose names appear in a data set called "Offshore Leaks," which was analyzed by a group of international media organizations.
But the real scandal is much bigger than that, namely that no one knows how much money is on deposit in anonymous bank accounts in countries that are euphemistically referred to as tax havens. Estimates by the non-governmental organization Tax Justice Network put the figure at about €16 to 25 trillion ($21 to 33 trillion). In this manner, the native countries of these individuals and companies are deprived of hundreds of millions in taxes, sometimes legally but often illegally.
The billions deposited in offshore accounts come from the United States and the rest of North America, and recently from emerging economies and the Third World, as well. Many Russian oligarchs manage their companies through offshore firms, while wealthy Southern Europeans use offshore accounts to protect their assets from a collapse of the euro -- and from the taxman.
But it isn't only tax fugitives who use the discreet services offered by these countries.
A Global Shadow Realm
Drugs and other criminal funds are hidden and laundered there, shady deals are arranged, and hedge funds whose speculative activities could shake the financial system once again use them as a base.
As a result, a global shadow realm has developed in the last few decades, with bases on all continents, a parallel economy that escapes all democratic scrutiny, and from which many profit: banks that provide assistance to tax refugees, as well as attorneys and companies that devise sophisticated systems to obfuscate the path the money takes.
The number of tax havens has gone from a handful only a few decades ago to 60, 70 or even more today. Years ago the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Belize, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and the Marshall Islands were, in some cases, dirt-poor -- until they decided to charge no or almost no taxes on money brought into the country, as well as guarantee the owners of the asset anonymity through company and foundation structures. In return, they collected fees from the offshore companies.
The British Virgin Islands, for example, transformed itself into one of the most affluent parts of the world in less than a generation, after the group of islands adopted laws to guarantee secrecy in financial transactions in 1994. Today the BVI, which is formally part of the United Kingdom and has a population of about 31,000, is home to almost half a million foundations and letterbox companies.
Trust companies and law firms worldwide help create such trusts and offshore companies. They include firms like Portcullis Trustnet in the Cook Islands and Commonwealth Trust Ltd. in the BVI, the companies whose 2.5 million documents are now making headlines. The purpose of their business is to establish anonymous trusts and letterbox companies for their generally affluent clients. But instead of the actual owners, the tax evaders use straw men as the offshore companies' supposed shareholders and managing directors. A deed of trust between the customer and the trustee ensures that the funds are managed in the customer's interest.
For the last two decades, the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the club of industrialized nations, have insisted again and again that they intend to dry out these fiscal swamps. But so far the differing national interests of the member states have largely stood in the way of effective international agreements. In the fight for international capital and jobs, there are diverging opinions on where legitimate tax competition ends and unfair competition begins.
'The Kind of Tax Scam We Need to End'
That could now change, and Offshore Leaks seems to have come at the right time. The determination to address abuses has grown considerably, at least in the United States and Europe.
In his first election campaign, US President Barack Obama called for clamping down on tax havens. In one speech, he gave a detailed description of the Ugland House in the Cayman Islands, where more than 12,000 companies are registered, saying, "either this is the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world." He added: "And I think the American people know which it is. It's the kind of tax scam that we need to end."
The debt-ridden countries of the Western world can no longer afford to be deprived of such massive revenues. In addition, the public is sharply critical of the fact that some wealthy people can escape their responsibility for their countries through tax flight, even as the gap between rich and poor widens. Taxpayers also have trouble understanding why the euro countries are using their money to rescue banks, while the banks are simultaneously helping the wealthy shelter their money from the tax authorities.
Almost all major German banks have branches and subsidiaries in a number of tax shelters. According to its annual report, Deutsche Bank has 13 subsidiaries in Singapore alone. And according to the Offshore Leaks data, Germany's largest bank has used its Singapore office to establish 300 trust companies and foundations in tax shelters.
Germany's Commerzbank, which received a government bailout, insurance companies like Allianz and state-owned banks like LBBW and HSH Nordbank, also operate subsidiaries in Singapore. HSH, whose survival is still a heated subject of debate among German politicians, also has a presence in exotic places like the Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
There can be many motives for the German financial sector's fondness of tax havens. But institutions where portfolio management and financial consulting for the wealthy play an important role are especially active in the offshore arena.
Deutsche Bank uses the websites of its offshore subsidiaries to actively recruit wealthy customers. The bank also officially confirms that it offers its affluent customers services like the establishment of trust companies, albeit under the condition, as it notes, that their tax affairs are handled legally.
'Tax Optimization, not Evasion'
In fact, businesses in all industries use tax havens to optimize their tax burdens within the letter of the law. "Of course banks advise their customers on setting up foundations and trust companies. As a rule, this is for purposes of tax optimization, not evasion," says Christoph Kaserer, a professor of finance specializing in banking at the Technical University of Munich. Publicly traded companies that pay more taxes than necessary, he says, must justify their actions to their shareholders and, in extreme cases, make themselves liable to pay damages. Nevertheless, says Kaserer, publicly traded companies in Germany have an average tax burden of 30 percent.
Deutsche Bank also reports an average tax rate of this magnitude. Nevertheless, the company's tax experts were recently called before the financial committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, to justify their tax policy. The inquiry was triggered by a remark the bank had made in its annual report, stating that it partially attributes its tax rate to an "advantageous geographic distribution of consolidated profits."
The lawmakers suspected that the bank was deliberately shifting profits to tax havens. "When a bank has more than 2,000 subsidiaries, with 500 of them in tax havens, it makes sense that there are tax reasons for that," says Lothar Binding, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the Bundestag's Finance Committee.
Critics find the industry's claims that it doesn't support tax evasion hard to believe. Although banks require their customers to certify in writing that they do not engage in tax evasion, there is reason to suspect that they do this primarily to cover their legal bases. "This formally legal pseudo-correctness should no longer be allowed," says Binding.
He wants banks to have to take more responsibility for the questionable business dealings of their customers. "If banks were required to report such transactions in Germany, it would be easier to assess whether customers are truly acting within the law when it comes to taxes," he says. Binding also believes that tougher sanctions are the right approach. "If banks don't have to worry about losing their licenses, it will not be possible to effectively put a stop to questionable transactions."
It is quite possible that Offshore Leaks will now give a boost to such efforts. The data will also have "political consequences," says Kaserer. "If there are reactions directed against countries that have made tax optimization and evasion their business model, it's to be welcomed."
A Deterrent Effect
Some 86 journalists from 46 countries spent 15 months analyzing the data, with the help of special computer software and supported by programmers in Germany, Great Britain and Costa Rica. So far the trails have led to 10 tax havens. Most names on the lists are from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while another important group of customers are from Russia and the former Soviet republics.
Several hundred Germans are also reportedly affected, although German tax evaders have traditionally tended to favor Switzerland or Liechtenstein. The principality was essentially around the corner, German was spoken there, and there was close cooperation with the Swiss banks that managed the money of the rich and powerful. In the 1990s, even Commerzbank offered its affluent customers the Liechtenstein model for tax optimization.
There, the money was deposited into foundations managed by a trustee, while the names of the real owners did not appear in any public registry. And because Liechtenstein's politicians had an interest in the influx of wealth from around the world, they initially blocked any efforts by foreign tax authorities for legal assistance.
But then there was a leak in Liechtenstein, just as there is a leak today with the Offshore Leaks data. An employee of trustee Herbert Batliner siphoned off his customer data, which eventually ended up with the German tax authorities. Investigations were launched against hundreds of tax evaders, including well-known corporate families and the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, which squirreled away its illegal money there in what eventually became a massive slush fund scandal.
Suddenly Liechtenstein, long a monetary fortress, was no longer secure, and it continued to crumble when Germany and its other EU neighbors increased pressure on the principality. Today Liechtenstein even cooperates in cases involving only the suspicion of tax evasion.
The release of information like the Offshore Leaks data still has a deterrent effect. Tax evaders who already have a bad conscience or are plagued by the fear of being found out have a tendency to turn themselves in.
Legally Controversial 'Bycatch'
This also became evident when CDs containing tax information from Switzerland were acquired in recent years. Several German states purchased various CDs with the names of presumed tax evaders. The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in particular, benefitted from the information. When the state bought a CD with Swiss data for the first time, in the spring of 2010, the number of people turning themselves in quickly increased from a few hundred to about 5,000 in only a few months.
But the deterrent effect quickly wore off. By the end of 2012, the number of tax evaders turning themselves had only increased by 2,200 over 2010.
The material on the CDs was also significantly less explosive than hoped. By the end of summer last year, judicial authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia had concluded about 900 cases. Only in 11 cases, or about 1 percent, were punishments imposed. Ninety percent of the cases were discontinued with no consequences at all.
The purchase of tax CDs was often the only way to track down tax evaders, but it was always legally controversial. The German foreign intelligence agency, the BND, was even accused of dealing in stolen goods when it acquired one of these CDs from a former employee of the Liechtenstein bank LTG. After that, then BND President Ernst Uhrlau prohibited the purchase of further CDs.
The BND's position changed when Gerhard Schindler became its president. Now sources within the agency say that it is also responsible for cases of money laundering, international crime and terrorism.
If there happens to be tax information on an acquired CD, the BND argues, it is seen as "bycatch" and can be made available to the tax authorities. The BND's position is that if informants break the law by selling such data, they are responsible for their own actions. But there have been no such offers to the agency since Uhrlau's replacement.
To avoid being dependent on the acquisition of data CDs, the German government negotiated a bilateral tax treaty with Switzerland. But the deal fell through because of opposition in the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents the German states, and because tax evaders, as the SPD believes, would have gotten off too lightly with a relatively low payment of tax arrears. "The German-Swiss treaty would have allowed for bigger holes than in a piece of Swiss cheese," SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück said in a SPIEGEL interview.
Many at the Finance Ministry in Berlin and in parliament hope for a new attempt to forge a tax treaty after the federal election this autumn. But Switzerland has already indicated unofficially that it is no longer interested in a comprehensive solution. Difficult negotiations are in the offing.
The United States had an easier time of it. It wrested a much better agreement from the Swiss by threatening to banish the country's banks from New York in the future. That was all it took. But the German government is barred from employing such repressive tactics. As a financial center, Frankfurt isn't nearly as important and appealing as New York. Besides, the German government, in its efforts to attack tax havens, is always constrained by the need to take its partner countries into account.
Combatting the Tax Haven Epidemic
No number of pithy declarations of war against the world's tax havens can disguise the fact that there are EU member states that pride themselves on their special discretion when it comes to financial and fiscal matters. In addition to Britain's Channel Islands, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg also exhibit some clear characteristics of tax havens.
The latter already appears to be feeling at least some pressure from Offshore Leaks. In an interview published Sunday in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Sonntagszeitung, Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden said his country was considering easing its banking secrecy rules. "We want an intensified cooperation with foreign tax authorities," he said, noting that there is a clear trend towards the automatic exchange of information. "In contrast to the past, we no longer strictly reject this," he added. Until now, the country has blocked any strict EU directive on taxation of foreign-held savings that would require such automatic exchange of data, ensuring favorable advantages for investors in the country.
On Friday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said there are two EU countries that "make use of special rules for themselves," a clear reference to Austria and Luxembourg. "I assume that will now change, also through such developments." During the Cyprus crisis, representatives of several euro-zone member states had indirectly called for Luxembourg to rethink its business model and to reduce its oversized financial sector.
Initiatives are also underway in Brussels to tackle tax havens. European Commissioner for Taxation Algirdas Semeta presented a plan of action last December. It contains more than 30 eminently reasonable proposals to combat the tax haven epidemic. But it isn't being taken very seriously in European capitals. The EU treaties stipulate that taxes are a national matter, and the finance ministers are jealously ensuring that it remains that way. Joint tax rules would require the approval of all 27 EU member states, including those that profit from tax flight today.
In the case of Cyprus, the other Europeans have only now, when the island nation is on the verge of bankruptcy, been able to insist on compliance with certain standards. With a low corporate tax rate of 10 percent, the Cypriots attracted many offshore companies that have deposited billions there. Now the corporate tax is at least being raised to Ireland's level of 12.5 percent.
The agreement that the troika negotiated with Cyprus contains a number of requirements to combat money laundering and tax flight. For instance, under a memorandum of understanding the Cypriots are now required to supply "adequate, accurate and timely information on the beneficial ownership" of Cypriot letterbox companies if requested by foreign tax authorities. The country is also being required to create a new registry with regulators for the many Cypriot trusts, which are generally foreign-owned.
This is precisely what experts like Raymond Baker are calling for to stop worldwide tax flight and money laundering. The director of US think tank Global Finance Integrity believes it is imperative that the names of the true owners of offshore companies, trusts and foundations be disclosed in a public registry, or at least to the authorities.
But governments aren't quite that far along yet. Still, the German government has agreed to exchange information with a large number of countries. Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the British Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, as well as Antigua and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean are included in this group.
The agreements give German tax authorities the right to obtain information about German depositors when there is any suspicion of wrongdoing. The information can enable the treasury to collect outstanding taxes. This could also be helpful today, if the authorities, as demanded by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, actually obtain and are able to evaluate the Offshore Leaks data.
But what will be far more useful for Schäuble is something that the recent revelations have made clear to even the last tax evader: In the future, anyone who evades paying taxes won't feel safe anywhere in the world.
REPORTED BY SVEN BÖLL, MARKUS DETTMER, HUBERT GUDE, MARTIN HESSE, ARMIN MAHLER, CHRISTOPH PAULY, CHRISTIAN REIERMANN, JÖRG SCHMITT AND GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Margaret Thatcher's death: reaction from around the world
Rightwing friends and communist foes say former prime minister was charismatic, formidable, warlike and uncompromising
The Guardian, Monday 8 April 2013 22.25 BST
Barack Obama led tributes, describing Margaret Thatcher as "one of the great champions of freedom and liberty" and a true friend to the US. Former president George HW Bush and the Republican House speaker John Boehner also paid generous tributes.
Obama, in a statement from the White House, focused on her success in breaking gender barriers. "As a grocer's daughter who rose to become Britain's first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can't be shattered," the president said.
"As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best. And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the cold war and extend freedom's promise."
Thatcher was an icon for conservative figures in the US, both as partner of Ronald Reagan, the most popular Republican president since 1945, and as a champion of small government and balanced budgets. But her popularity extended well beyond the American right. With Reagan, she was widely viewed as being instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There was praise too from Hollywood, with Meryl Streep, who played Thatcher in her declining years in The Iron Lady, expressing her admiration for Thatcher's pressing ahead with what she believed in, despite arousing a level of hatred normally confined to "mass murderers".
The former president Bill Clinton praised her achievement in becoming the first female British prime minister. He described her as a fearless leader. "Like so many others, I respected the conviction and self-determination she displayed throughout her remarkable life as she broke barriers, defied expectations and led her country," Clinton said.
"Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history – we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."
George Bush, who occupied the White House towards the end of Thatcher's premiership, said in a statement on behalf of himself and his wife Barbara: "Margaret was, to be sure, one of the 20th century's fiercest advocates of freedom and free markets – a leader of rare character who carried high the banner of her convictions, and whose principles in the end helped shape a better, freer world.
"The personal grief we Bushes feel is compounded by the knowledge that America has lost one of the staunchest allies we have ever known; and yet we have confidence that her sterling record of accomplishment will inspire future generations. May God bless the memory of Margaret Thatcher."
Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under presidents Nixon and Ford, told CNN: "She was a woman who [knew that] a leader needed to have strong convictions because the public had no way of orienting itself unless its leadership, its leaders, gave it the real push. She didn't think it was her job to find the middle ground."
Thatcher still has a resonance in the US today, being frequently cited in speeches by conservatives. CNN showed a passage of one of her speeches relevant to the present debate about curbing the debt.
Boehner, who is at the centre of the White House-Congress confrontation over debt and spending, described her as the greatest peacetime prime minister in British history. He said: "Margaret Thatcher, a grocer's daughter, stared down elites, union bosses and communists to win three consecutive elections."
Boehner added: "Americans will always keep Lady Thatcher in our hearts for her loyalty to Ronald Reagan and their friendship that we all admired. At this difficult hour, I send the condolences of the US House of Representatives to prime minister Cameron and the British people."
The Republican senator John McCain, who backed Reagan in his approach to the Soviet Union, described Thatcher as "one of the great leaders" of the last century.
"To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, levelled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas – wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now – without corruption – I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle.
"To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream – the real-life option of leading their nation – this was groundbreaking and admirable."
It was Krasnaya Zvezda, the Red Army's newspaper, that dubbed Thatcher the "Iron Lady" in a 1977 article. The title stuck around, but the Soviet Union didn't and the USSR's last premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, 82, said her death was "a sad thing" and described her as "a great politician" who "will remain in our memory and in history". He recalled how his relations with Thatcher "were difficult at times, not always smooth, but, serious and responsible from both sides".
"Personal relations formed gradually and became more and more friendly," he said. "Eventually, we managed to reach mutual understanding and it was a contribution to changing the atmosphere between our country and the west and to stopping the cold war."
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said: "We have lost a strong political figure." He issued his condolences "in the name of the Russian leadership". He said Thatcher always brought "very strong impressions" and that she was "pragmatic, strict and responsible".
Even Russia's hardliners found something to respect.
"She is the greatest woman, the greatest politician," said Leonid Kalashnikov, a Communist deputy. "As an opponent, I always respected her. And how she, with the Americans, 'strangled' the Soviet Union is also worth quite a lot – because she did it correctly, logically and in their own interests."
Former deputy PM Boris Nemtsov recalled her visiting the city of Nizhny in 1994 as Russia opened up to the world. "We went into [a] shop and Thatcher bought cheese and came out to see hundreds of city residents waiting for her," he said. "People were so amazed that they started to shout 'Thatcher for president of Russia!' The baroness asked me, what are they screaming? She laughed and said, when Gorbachev moves to London they yell that it's time he became PM of the UK. They were similar. Neither one nor the other was loved in their motherland, but were respected abroad."
The influential political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky reflected on how Thatcher had been unswerving in her criticism of the "evil empire".
"Until her coming to power, the western establishment thought that the USSR and communism were permanent, so you don't have to struggle against them, but come to terms with them," he told the Izvestiya newspaper . "It was Thatcher and then Reagan who brought the totally new idea that communism can be beaten and destroyed. And they did it."
Reaction to Thatcher's death was divided around her stance on the ruling African National Congress, which she once described as "a typical terrorist organisation", and her support for the former apartheid government.
"I don't think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy," said Dali Tambo, son of the former ANC president Oliver Tambo. "Many lives were lost. It's a shame that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle. Normally we say that when one of us goes, the ANC ancestors will meet them at the pearly gates and give them a standing ovation. I think it's quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion."
"I say good riddance," said Pallo Jordan, the ANC's chief propagandist in exile during the apartheid era. "She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime. She was part of the rightwing alliance with Ronald Reagan. In the end I sat with her in her office with Nelson Mandela in 1991. We knew she had no choice. Although she called us a terrorist organisation, she had to shake hands with a terrorist and sit down with a terrorist. So who won?"
But the country's last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, saluted her as "one of Britain's greatest prime ministers" and said she played a positive role in the process of non-racial constitutional transformation.
"Although she was always a steadfast critic of apartheid, she had a much better grasp of the complexities and geostrategic realities of South Africa than many of her contemporaries," he said. "She consistently, and correctly, believed that much more could be achieved through constructive engagement with the South African government than through draconian sanctions and isolation.
The ANC government of the current president, Jacob Zuma, said: "The ANC was on the receiving end of her policy in terms of refusing to recognise the ANC as the representatives of South Africans and her failure to isolate apartheid after it had been described as a crime against humanity," a statement from the ruling party said.
"However, we acknowledge that she was one of the strong leaders in Britain and Europe to an extent that some of her policies dominate discourse in the public service structures of the world. Long after her passing on, her impact will still be felt and her views a subject of discussion."
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been dubbed the Iron Lady of Europe for her tough line over the eurozone crisis, called Thatcher a "formidable leader in world politics in her time".
"The freedom of the individual stood at the core of her beliefs, therefore, Margaret Thatcher recognised the power of the freedom movement in east Europe early on and supported it," she said. "I will not forget her part in overcoming the European division and in the end of the cold war. Margaret Thatcher was not a politician for women, but that she led the highest democratic office as a woman, in times where that was not a given, she set an example for many after her."
Michael Roth, of the opposition Social Democratic party, said "her edge and her charisma" would be missed.
"Such special politicians, with special stories shaped by the second world war and the subsequent years of rebuilding, have become rarer in the younger generation," he said.
But he added: "Her radical market policies and her Europe-sceptical politics will certainly not be missed. Her politics seem to not have gone out of fashion, as evidenced by the radical savings and austerity policies in crisis countries, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. That Thatcher legacy is obviously very present there. She had the sort of politics that I, as a social democrat, obviously find to be wrong, but that are still in effect today."
The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said she "leaves behind a big legacy for European history. We look upon her life's work with wonderment."
Jean-François Copé, leader of the centre-right French opposition, was among right-leaning European politicians who hinted that Thatcher's legacy held lessons for the reform of struggling EU economies. "She set her goal and stayed the course in the face of all the arguments and succeeding in bringing a spectacular modernisation to the British economy," he said.
France's socialist president, François Hollande, said she was "a great personality who profoundly marked the history of her country".
"Throughout her public life, with the conservative beliefs that she fully assumed, she nurtured the influence of the United Kingdom and the defence of its interests," he said.
"The relations she maintained with France were always frank and loyal. She knew how to build a constructive and fruitful dialogue with François Mitterrand. Together, they set about reinforcing the ties between our two countries. It was in that era that Mme Thatcher gave the decisive push to the construction of the Channel tunnel."
Le Monde, which reminded readers of the late President Mitterand's remark that "she has the mouth of Marilyn [Monroe] and the look of Caligula", said: "She demonstrated the character traits that founded her reputation: an inflexible will, bordering on intransigence; an almost faultless self control; above all, the certainty of being right against all winds and tides."
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy hailed Thatcher as "a true landmark in 20th-century history" and said it was "a sad day for Europe as a whole".
"Margaret Thatcher led the UK government at a key moment in history. Her unerring commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as well as her firm determination to reform, constitute a most valuable legacy for European leaders who, akin to the 80s when it was her turn to be in power, have to face very complex challenges which require greatly ambitious stances and political courage."
Thatcher was hailed as a champion of freedom and the free market across central and eastern Europe, where she and Ronald Reagan were seen as the west's pre-eminent cold war warriors.
In Poland, where on a 1988 visit she met Lech Walesa, then leader of the pro-democracy Solidarity union to support the fight against communism, Walesa remembered Thatcher as "a great person".
"She did a great deal for the world, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Solidarity, she contributed to the demise of communism in Poland and central Europe," he said.
Monuments to Reagan and John Paul II already stand in Poland, and now Thatcher deserved hers, Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said, calling her a "fearless champion of liberty [who] stood up for captive nations."
In Prague, Vaclav Klaus, a staunch Eurosceptic who has just left office after a decade as Czech president, called her death "a huge loss for all supporters of freedom, democracy and market capitalism".
"She was one of the most outstanding political personalities of the last quarter of the 20th century and I believe that with the passing of time, her name will not lose importance," he said.
Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, expressed his "deepest sadness He said: "She was a transformative figure under whom the United Kingdom registered important progress on the national and international arena."
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, popular among the country's businessmen but accused of rightwing Hindu nationalist views by many, saluted an "inspirational leader of immense stature and fortitude, Baroness Margaret Thatcher was an epoch maker".
Reports focused on Thatcher's friendship with Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India who was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 after ruling for all but three years since 1966.
"Very early on, [Indira Gandhi and I] struck up a close rapport, for we both felt the loneliness of high office and it was good to be able to talk to someone who understood … Gandhi's death by terrorism is forever linked in my mind with my own survival of it," Thatcher later said, IANS, an Indian news service, reported.
Thatcher said that she and Gandhi, who launched a massive nationalisation campaign which fundamentally changed India's economy and suspended democracy to impose a two-year emergency "had very different ideas about politics."
"But I found in her qualities which seem to me essential in a statesman. She was passionately proud of her own country, always courageous and very practical."
Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, a former mujahadeen who fought the Soviets with Thatcher's support in the 1980s, offered condolences and said she would be missed as "a great stateswoman".
"Prime minister Thatcher was one of the greatest leaders the world knew," he said. She would always be remembered in history as "a well-known and strong leader who had truly served her country, particularly in strengthening UK's economy".
In Santiago, former supporters of Chilean the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, talked of Thatcher's "bravery" in supporting his regime at a time when his military government was being accused of killing, interning and tortured his enemies.
Pinochet died in 1990, but those close to him said Thatcher was a great statesperson. "Personally, I see her as a world leader, who was consistent and absolute in her defence of her nation," said General Guillermo Garin, retired vice-commander in chief of the Chilean army.
"Regarding Chile, during the military government, she was very brave. She recognised the origins of the [1973 military coup] and the benefits of the military government … She was a defender of the grand modernisations that Chile put in place and expressed her support versus a very hostile campaign run by the Soviet Union. President Pinochet always had tremendous admiration for her, they had a very close relationship highlighted by the visit she made to his place of detention in London … They shared similar concepts of modernisation of the state."
"Thatcher was warlike and uncompromising in her ways," said Ghana's former president John Agyekum Kufuor.
"I know that in her country some people admired her for that, but to many of us that wasn't impressive. We in Ghana were very critical of the way she led her country into war in South America – she seemed too ready to resort to force to settle the Falklands. And her position on the ANC wasn't acceptable. She proved to be too conservative; she didn't seem to appreciate the rapidly changing world."
But he saluted her economics. "She believed that there are only a few creators in this world, entrepreneurs and investors, and that you protect them – they are the people who will increase the wealth of the nation and create jobs for people. That is a philosophy I also subscribe to."
Nigeria's former military leader Ibrahim Babangida said he had agreed with Thatcher's policy on "constructive engagement" with South Africa, and that had informed Nigeria's own stance.
"[Thatcher] told us that its about time that we engaged South Africa in constructive engagement, and that is perhaps the best way to get rid of apartheid. I took her advice and invited De Klerk to this country. I think she was a fine example of a very courageous political leader. She is admired greatly by a majority of countries in Africa," he said
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was in mourning and sent condolences to the people of Britain, describing Thatcher as "a truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness".
"She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders."
Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel who was prime minister and foreign minister during Thatcher's premiership, said: "There are people, there are ideas. Occasionally those two come together to create vision. Lady Thatcher was an exceptional leader, a colleague in the international arena and a friend for me personally. She served as an inspiration for other leaders, as the first female prime minister of Great Britain she broke new ground. She showed how far a person can go with strength of character, determination and a clear vision."
Peres praised Thatcher for standing by Israel in times of crisis. "During our negotiations with Jordan in the late 1980s, she stood as a mediator and a source of wisdom for me and the king of Jordan," he said.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had recently invoked Thatcher's resolve during the Falklands war in his country's ongoing territorial dispute with China. Abe called her a "great statesperson" and Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, Hiroshige Seko, said Abe had "great respect" for Thatcher and identified with her conservative agenda for economic reform.
Hu Xijin, editor in chief of the populist state-run tabloid Global Times, wrote: "People's most striking memory is of her 'being tough'. As a successful woman in politics, she was revered. As a politician, her experience and policies stirred feelings."
But he added: "The 'Iron Lady' era is over. Today is the era of co-operation."
The state broadcaster CCTV talked of the death of the tie niang zi – Iron Lady – noting her meetings with the then leader Deng Xiaoping to discuss the handover of Hong Kong, but devoting as much time to her childhood, rise through the ranks and political career. It noted her free market policies, concerns about the wealth gap and unemployment rate under her governments, and the Falklands war.
Shi Yinhong, an expert on foreign relations at Renmin University, said: "I think Chinese people respected her and positively assessed her historical role.
"Although in the process of Hong Kong's return to China and the negotiations there were some difficulties between Mrs Thatcher and our great leader Deng Xiaoping, Britain and China successfully overcame them and both sides made efforts to smooth the transfer of sovereignty.
"My guess is that they had something in common in their strategic and political responsibilities. Both were very determined, responsible people who were not afraid to speak frankly to the other side. They could respect and understand each other's national interests."
Margaret Thatcher: Falklands mourn 'number one person in our history'
Islands where Thatcher Day is marked every year pay tribute to former PM, while death stirs up bitter memories in Argentina
Roberta Radu and Uki Goni in Buenos Aires, Jonathan Franklin in Santiago and Jonathan Watts
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 April 2013 17.05 BST
The death of Margaret Thatcher generated some of the most extreme reactions in Argentina and the Falkland Islands, which remain sharply divided by memories of the 1982 war.
By sending the British military to repel the invasion of the South Atlantic archipelago, the former prime minister earned the enduring thanks of the islanders, who continue to celebrate Thatcher Day every 10 January.
"She will be forever remembered in the islands for her decisiveness in sending a taskforce to liberate our home following the Argentine invasion in 1982," said Mike Summers, on behalf of the islands' legislative assembly. "Her friendship and support will be sorely missed, and we will always be thankful for all that she did for us."
Rosie King, a Port Stanley resident since before the 1982 war, said the island would arrange a memorial service and fly flags at half mast.
"She was probably the number one person in our history … It was mind-blowing when we heard on the radio that Thatcher would send a taskforce. When she arrived afterwards, it was like a visit from the Queen.
"I met her on a street corner and we chatted very comfortably. It wasn't like she was a big world leader. She wasn't as harsh as she was portrayed and she was smaller than I imagined … It was one of the most memorable moments of my life."
However, the Iron Lady stirred up very different sentiments in Argentina, where she is remembered as a war criminal who ordered the British submarine Conqueror to sink the General Belgrano even though it was outside the UK-declared exclusion zone. The resulting loss of 323 lives made up more than half the Argentinian casualties in the war.
"She will be remembered as a leader who gave nothing positive to humankind," said Ernesto Alberto Alonso, an Argentinian veteran of the war and president of the National Commission of Ex-Combatants of the Malvinas. "She was a person who caused not only great harm domestically but also internationally … In many ways, I think she was similar to the military dictatorship here, and in particular [General Leopoldo] Galtieri."
Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – a fierce critic of Britain's policy towards the islands – has yet to comment on Thatcher's death, but the local media gave extensive and largely negative coverage.
The state news agency Telam classified as a war crime Thatcher's decision to sink the Belgrano.
"One less genocide criminal in the world," tweeted the journalist Ricardo Arrúa.
The rancour against her was evident on Argentinian Twitter feeds. "How beautiful, Margaret Thatcher died," said Santi Cuestas, a young football fan of Argentina's Boca team. The well-known Argentinian cinema critic Eduardo Antin was dismissive: "Nothing like Twitter to stay informed of news that doesn't interest us."
"Argentina's dictators drooled over her," wrote the columnist Alberto Amato in the mass daily Clarín, recalling how Argentina's generals applauded when Thatcher reacted coolly to the death of the IRA member Bobby Sands during a hunger strike at Maze prison in 1981, when she said: "He chose to take his own life; it was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims." Thatcher's statement was praised by Argentina's military dictatorship, which at that time was involved in a murderous campaign to eliminate leftwing activists. But a year later, at the receiving end of Thatcher's steely determination, "Thatcher's ferocity was condemned by those who had before applauded it," Amato wrote.
Another Argentinian expressed gratitude for Thatcher's victory over the generals in the 1982 war, a humiliating defeat that forced them to abandon power a year later. "Thankyou Maggie Thatcher, for catalyzing the return of democracy in Argentina," wrote Andres Wolberg-Stok, who covered the war for the Buenos Aires Herald as a young reporter 31 years ago, on his Facebook account.
Egypt's Coptic pope criticises Islamist president over sectarian violence
Pope Tawadros II says Mohamed Morsi promised to protect Cairo cathedral, but did not
Associated Press in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 April 2013 12.09 BST
The leader of Egypt's Coptic church has criticised the country's Islamist president's handling of recent deadly sectarian violence, including an attack on the main cathedral in Cairo.
The remarks by Pope Tawadros II add to rising Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt. They were his first direct criticism of the president, Mohamed Morsi, since he was enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians. They are also likely to fuel the political turmoil that has gripped the country for the two years since the President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Tawadros said Morsi had promised him in a telephone conversation to do everything to protect the Coptic cathedral, "but in reality he did not".
Asked to explain the president's attitude, the pope, who spoke in a telephone interview to a political talk show aired on Egypt's ONTV, said it "comes under the category of negligence and poor assessment of events".
On Sunday, a crowd of Muslims threw firebombs and rocks at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, leaving two people dead.
The attack followed a funeral service for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes in a town north of Cairo the day before. A fifth person, a Muslim, was also killed. It was the deadliest sectarian violence since Morsi came to office nine months ago as the country's first freely elected president.
Tawadros also criticised the president over his decision on Monday to revive a state body mandated to promote equality between Egyptians regardless of their religious and ethnic background.
"Enough already of formations, committees and groups and whatever else," Tawadros said. "We want action not words and, let me say this, there are many names and committees but there is no action on the ground."
Morsi has condemned the recent violence and said he considered any attack on the cathedral to be an attack on him personally. He also ordered an investigation into the violence.
The office of his assistant for foreign relations issued a statement shortly after the pope's remarks, saying: "The Egyptian presidency would like to affirm its full rejection of violence in all its forms, and under any pretext, and affirms that all Egyptians are citizens who should enjoy all rights and are equal before the law."
The statement added: "The presidency further stresses that it will not allow any attempts to divide the nation, incite sedition, or drive a wedge among Egyptians under any pretence and that it is doing all it can to realise the sovereignty of law and hold the assailants accountable."
Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's estimated 90 million people. Copts have complained for decades that the Christian minority suffers from discrimination and recurrent localised violence over issues such as building places of worship and inter-religious love stories that ignite Muslim-Christian tension.
But attacks against Christians have increased since Mubarak was ousted in 2011, including more attacks on places of worships and at times forced evictions of whole communities of Christians from their villages.
With Islamists increasingly empowered in Egypt's politics, Christians are also worried about their freedom of worship and belief.
Kenyatta inauguration to go ahead despite crimes against humanity charges
Diplomats to attend swearing-in ceremony of Kenya's fourth president amid claims he was behind deaths of 1,000 people
Jessica Hatcher in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 April 2013 17.02 BST
Diplomats in Nairobi face the awkward prospect of a date with a man who has been indicted by the international criminal court for crimes against humanity.
Uhuru Kenyatta, who will be sworn in as the fourth president of Kenya at his inauguration on Tuesday, is accused of orchestrating the violence that killed more than 1,000 people after Kenya's last election and is the first international criminal court (ICC) indictee to be elected as head of state. If he abides by the summons and the charges stand, he will be the first president to stand trial at The Hague.
A spokesperson for the British high commission in Nairobi confirmed the high commissioner, Christian Turner, would be attending the ceremony. Contrary to Sudanese media reports, Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, who faces an arrest warrant from the ICC, will not attend, a Kenyan official said on Monday.
Diplomats from Europe and the US will be entertained by rappers and gospel singers among others during the two-hour event. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, will speak on behalf of the guests.
There has been a softening in diplomatic attitudes towards the Kenyatta government, said Hadley Muchela, programmes manager at IMLU, a Kenyan human rights organisation. Before the election, the US and Europe warned of serious consequences if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president, was elected. Britain warned it would maintain only essential contact.
Muchela said the west had eased its stance on the regime to protect its interests. "Is there honesty in these dealings, or is it always just about our interests in other countries in the world?" he said. "It's left the country a bit confused."
The 4 March election was marred by accusations of inaccuracy and fraud. Kenyatta's opponent, Raila Odinga, filed a petition to the high court to contest the tally. But on 30 March, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga announced the decision to uphold the results.
On the same day, David Cameron wrote a congratulatory letter to Kenyatta. "[The prime minister] stressed that this represented the end of a remarkable process, in which more Kenyans than ever before turned out to vote," Downing Street said.
The process was remarkable in more ways than one: while massive numbers of voters turned out to vote, in more than 20 polling stations the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters.
Patrick Orr, chairman of the Kenya Society in the UK, remembers a former British governor describing Kenyatta's father, Jomo, as "a leader of darkness and death". But Orr says Jomo turned out to be "a pretty good leader for his time". He predicts a similar situation, and is hopeful about Kenyatta. "He's an extremely bright guy, I think he's got the makings of a superb president," Orr said.
Britain has £4bn of investments in Kenya, Orr pointed out, and, with recent hydrocarbon discoveries, he said it was unlikely that relations would cool.
Mali becomes first African country to give away domain for free
Mali has announced its little known .ML domain will be free from July, a move it hopes will put the country on the map
Afua Hirsch, West Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 8 April 2013 18.50 BST
Its domain currently ranks 177th in the world, less than half of the country has mobile phone coverage, and only 4% of the population are online. But Mali could be set to become one of the world's most popular internet destinations after it became the first African country to give its domain away for free.
Mali announced on Monday that its little known .ML domain – which is currently used by fewer than 50 active websites – will be free from July, in a move which it hopes will bring much needed outside investment, and give a boost to Malian businesses.
"We are proud to be the first African nation to give domain names for free," says Moussa Dolo, general manager of Mali's Agence des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication (AGETIC). "By providing free domain names to internet users worldwide, we will put Mali back on the map. We wish to show the rest of the world the fantastic opportunities our country has to offer."
The new scheme is being operated by Freedom Registry, the company which operates a similar .TK system for Tokelau – the tiny cluster of coral atolls in the South Pacific with a population of less than 2,000 – but which is now the most popular domain name in the world, with more active domain name registrations than Russia and China combined.
"If you look at the Tokelau experience, most registrations for .TK are coming from Turkey – whose name corresponds to the letters," said Joost Zuurbier from Freedom Registry. "And they are coming from many other emerging economies – China, Vietnam, India – they have a real need for domain space because other domains are full. .com is already taken, and if you want .cn you have to show your ID to the Chinese government. That's why people have been using .TK – it's a free alternative, and now .ML will be just as attractive."
Interest in the .ML domain is expected to come from a number of countries, including Manila in the Philippines, and Malaysia, attracted by the resemblance between the letters and their own names.
Mali's attempt to revamp its online presence comes as its economy has been devastated by an ongoing conflict, in which an international military intervention has been battling al-qaeda linked insurgents who seized control of the country's north a year ago.
But some questioned whether the move could really make a difference in a country where internet access and disposable incomes remain low.
"I think the .ML domain free registration process is a good idea on paper and could shed positive light on Mali which is sorely needed," said Tim Katlic, founder and editor of oAfrica.com, which tracks internet progress in African countries, reports that Mali is experiencing steady online growth. "But in reality, I don't think it will pan out as expected, since Mali's Internet users aren't ready for content creation - they have limited desktop usage, lack of income to afford web hosting even if domain is free, heavy reliance on international social media sites instead of local ones."
But Freedom Registry said that Mali would also attract extra revenue from the move, with advertising income from domains which lapse split between the company and the Malian authorities.
"Currently we add about 20% to the GDP of Tokelau, and although it is a small country, Mali is much bigger and the potential is huge," said Zuurbier. "But its not only about the money – to Mali it's the infrastructure we provide."
"In the past countries needed to invest heavily in equipment to increase their internet traffic, but now it all exists in the cloud – so its a service that we can provide for them at no charge in Mali. It's a win-win situation where everyone in Mali will get their domain name for free, internationally people can register domains in Mali for free, and Mali doesn't have to invest but can still get a lot of international business."
April 8, 2013
Kerry to Focus on Palestinian Economy as Part of Peace Process
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Secretary of State John Kerry signaled Monday that he is hoping to use the economic development of Palestinian areas on the West Bank as a means to build support for a new set of Middle East peace negotiations.
“I’m having discussions about those steps that would get at this issue of mistrust,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after meetings on Monday with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
One step, he added, is to move on the “economic front because that can be critical to changing perceptions and realities on the ground, all of which can contribute to forward momentum.”
Mr. Kerry’s latest trip here represents a new phase of American involvement in Middle East diplomacy. On both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, officials said Mr. Kerry’s personal engagement appeared at the least to have put the peace process back on the agenda for the first time in years.
After meeting on Sunday night with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Kerry met on Monday with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, and Shimon Peres, the Israeli president.
Mr. Kerry also attended Israel’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Yad Vashem, the memorial for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, which he said he found moving.
On Monday night, Mr. Kerry had a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and was scheduled to have another session with him on Tuesday morning.
Mr. Kerry has not talked in detail about the idea he has been discussing and has even asked Palestinian officials he consulted not to share it.
But he outlined the tenets of his thinking in a Monday meeting with reporters, stating that the “festering absence of peace” was being used by extremist groups around the world to recruit supporters. Without a reinvigorated peace process, he said, the window for a comprehensive peace settlement that would lead to an independent Palestinian state would begin to close.
“One of the reasons for these early interventions is to get right at the issue of mistrust,” he said, referring to his flurry of meetings.
“I am convinced that we can break that down,” he said. “This process should not be rushed, subject to some sort of external time limit or artificial process, because it’s too important.”
Mr. Kerry has yet to elaborate on how he would strengthen the economy of the Palestinians. But the basic idea is to make the area more economically viable in the hope of giving the Palestinian leaders more of a stake in a revived peace process and providing Israel with a credible negotiating partner.
A Palestinian official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing private diplomatic discussions, said the Palestinians had presented a paper to President Obama last month detailing several economic projects that the official said were “important for building capacity” for a future Palestinian state.
The proposed projects were mainly in the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, where Israel maintains full security and civilian control under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the 1990s agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. One example of the kind of project the Palestinians have in mind is a tourism development along the northern shore of the Dead Sea, the official said.
Any Palestinian initiatives in Area C, however, have to be coordinated with Israel. And Palestinians and international experts have long argued that limits on Palestinian economic activity there have stymied Palestinian growth.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that in his meeting with Mr. Abbas, Mr. Kerry said that if the Palestinians returned to the negotiations they would receive several benefits, including the transfer of more land to the control of the Palestinian Authority, enabling construction in Area C.
There was no indication that the Palestinians had dropped their preconditions that Israel must stop settlement construction and agree to release Palestinian prisoners before talks can resume.
Still, the Palestinian official said Mr. Kerry was “well trusted” on the Palestinian side. “He does not want to get engaged in another 20 years of negotiations,” the official said, adding, “He made that clear.”
After his one-hour meeting with Mr. Kerry, Mr. Peres said in an interview that all parties agreed there was a need to “move fast” and that a return of Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy was a possibility.
Mr. Peres’s job as president is mostly ceremonial. But Mr. Netanyahu has in the past leaned on Mr. Peres’s experience as a veteran of Israeli politics and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Mr. Peres said he still maintained his own connections with the Palestinian leadership, with the knowledge of the Israeli government.
“I think the most important point right now is time,” he said. “The Middle East today is like a watch without hands.”
April 8, 2013
Chile Exhumes Nobel Poet’s Body to Investigate Claim of Poisoning
By PASCALE BONNEFOY
SANTIAGO, Chile — The remains of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda, were exhumed Monday so that they could be examined for signs of whether he might have died of poisoning instead of cancer, the widely believed cause for almost 40 years.
The court-ordered exhumation seeks to establish what caused Mr. Neruda’s death in a private clinic in Santiago on Sept. 23, 1973, less than two weeks after a military coup toppled the nation’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, a close friend of the poet.
Mr. Neruda, a prominent member of the Communist Party and a former senator, had prostate cancer and was being treated in Paris, where he was an ambassador appointed by President Allende. He returned to Chile in November 1972. Best known for his romantic poetry, Mr. Neruda won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.
Shortly after the coup, as the new military rulers persecuted supporters of Mr. Allende, troops looted and destroyed Mr. Neruda’s house in the capital and twice raided his home in Isla Negra, where he lived with his third wife, Matilde Urrutia.
The Mexican government had offered to fly the couple out of the country, and days before he was scheduled to travel, Mr. Neruda was admitted to the Santa María clinic in the capital.
In 2011, Mr. Neruda’s driver at the time, Manuel Araya, publicly claimed that Mr. Neruda had not been in critical condition beforehand and that a day before his death Mr. Neruda, 69, told him that a doctor had given him an injection in the stomach that made him “burn inside.” His health quickly deteriorated. Mr. Araya contends that the poet was poisoned by doctors in the clinic, although there are no material witnesses to confirm the accusation.
Few of Mr. Neruda’s relatives and friends believe Mr. Araya’s version, nor does the Pablo Neruda Foundation, which manages his estate. But there are contradictory accounts regarding his health conditions and how advanced the cancer was, and it is not clear why Mr. Araya kept silent all these years.
Mr. Araya said that he had tried to tell Communist Party leaders at the time, but that no one would listen. Almost four decades later, he again approached the party to relay his suspicions about Mr. Neruda’s death. This time, the party filed a criminal lawsuit to have the courts establish the truth.
“Once there is a doubt, I believe it is extremely important to clear it up and use the technological means at our disposal to determine the poet’s cause of death,” said Judge Mario Carroza, who is in charge of the investigation. “We will not spare any possibility.”
Mr. Neruda and Ms. Urrutia were buried together in a grave facing the Pacific Ocean at his seaside home in Isla Negra, about 70 miles west of Santiago. His remains were transported Monday to the morgue in the capital, where Chilean and international forensics experts will examine them. Results of the analysis could take several months.
April 8, 2013
Even in Death, Chávez Is a Powerful Presence
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
SAN FELIPE, Venezuela — Nicolás Maduro is certainly not the first political candidate to invoke the name and legacy of a dead leader to win votes. But he may be the first to say that his political mentor, President Hugo Chávez, visited him from beyond the grave in the form of a little bird.
In what stands out as the most surreal moment of Venezuela’s presidential campaign — a race whose central personality is the deceased president — Mr. Maduro told the nation that Mr. Chávez’s spirit came to him as a tiny bird that flew into a chapel where he was praying.
So now at campaign rallies he whistles like a bird.
An intense, compressed campaign for president is under way in Venezuela, a month after Mr. Chávez’s death from cancer. Voters will go to the polls on Sunday to choose between Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s handpicked political successor, and Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who just six months ago mounted an energetic but losing campaign against Mr. Chávez.
With all the temporal troubles Venezuela faces, including out-of-control crime, high inflation and production problems in the country’s all-important oil industry, Mr. Maduro’s campaign has done its best to leverage the spiritual, emphasizing his close, continuing ties to the deceased leader.
At times, it seems as if Mr. Chávez is running again himself. At Mr. Maduro’s rallies, images of Mr. Chávez are everywhere, with the slogan “Chávez lives!” Mr. Chávez’s old campaign songs blast from loudspeakers. His picture is displayed on huge television screens on the stage where Mr. Maduro speaks. Hawkers sell key rings with a picture of Mr. Chávez on one side and Jesus on the other. Supporters sing along to a recording of Mr. Chávez belting out the national anthem.
Mr. Maduro drives home the point by telling crowds that his only mission, if he wins, will be to carry out the socialist revolution that Mr. Chávez left unfinished. He calls himself “the son of Chávez.”
Mr. Chávez was a charismatic populist and a thorn in the side of Washington, which he pilloried as an imperialist force of evil even as he reaped the financial benefits of Venezuela’s being the fourth-largest foreign oil supplier to the United States.
Mr. Maduro, 50, who was Mr. Chávez’s vice president and is now interim president, has followed his mentor’s lead. He expelled two military attachés from the United States Embassy, saying they were seeking to destabilize the country, and suggested that the United States might have caused Mr. Chávez’s cancer. He accuses former American diplomats of plotting to kill him. And he recently slammed the door on talks aimed at improving relations between the two countries.
But just in case that is not enough, he wants people to know that Mr. Chávez, who is worshiped by many as something close to a god, has come to him from the great beyond.
Appearing on television last week from Mr. Chávez’s hometown, Sabaneta, in the western plains, he told the nation that he had been praying in a small chapel when a little bird flew in, perched on a rafter and sang to him. Mr. Maduro said that he whistled back and that the bird responded.
“I felt his spirit,” Mr. Maduro said. “I felt him there as if he was blessing us, telling us: ‘Today the battle begins. Go to victory.’”
The story brought jeers from the opposition and even some raised eyebrows from supporters. But Mr. Maduro is betting there are plenty of believers among the masses.
“It’s a message from our commander,” said Elena Quiñones, 54, at a Maduro rally in this western city. She carried a homemade sign with photos of Mr. Chávez framing one of the campaign’s main slogans: “I swear to you, Chávez, my vote is for Maduro.”
“We have to continue the revolution with his son, which is Nicolás Maduro,” Ms. Quiñones said.
Mr. Maduro, who spent years far from the hustings as foreign minister, is not a polished campaigner, and he often seems to struggle to connect. At the rally here many ignored his speech, chatting and drinking beer. A large circle formed around a group of young people playing drums and dancing, oblivious to the candidate’s speech blasting from nearby speakers.
“Maduro is going to win through Chávez,” said Livia Llovera, 42, who works at a preschool. “If it was just him, he might not. The leader is Chávez. We will admire him forever.”
Crammed into just a few weeks, the campaign has turned negative fast. Mr. Maduro mocks Mr. Capriles, calling him Caprichito, a play on his name that suggests he is capricious.
He claims the opposition plans to sabotage the electrical network to disrupt the election, and he accused Mr. Capriles of preparing to abandon the campaign and move to New York. On Sunday, Mr. Maduro said a close aide to Mr. Capriles was in cahoots with plotters seeking to kill him.
Mr. Capriles, 40, has hardly been demure himself, calling Mr. Maduro “Fresh Lies” and “the little bird’s candidate.” He has accused Mr. Maduro’s United Socialist Party of obtaining a secret code that can turn digital voting machines on and off.
Mr. Maduro is widely considered the favorite. Mr. Chávez, who dominated political life here for 14 years with his outsize personality and firm hold on power, beat Mr. Capriles by 11 percentage points in October, although Mr. Capriles received the most votes for an opposition candidate since Mr. Chávez was first elected in 1998. Mr. Chávez died March 5; the winner of Sunday’s election will complete his six-year term, which began in January.
Mr. Capriles has once again energized a demoralized and fragmented opposition. He is a more polished campaigner than Mr. Maduro. And he seems to have a stronger personal connection with his followers than Mr. Maduro does, a striking turnaround, since Mr. Chávez was legendary for his rapport with the masses.
Mr. Chávez’s followers have been through several grueling weeks after the death of their revered leader. And Mr. Maduro’s rallies seem at times to struggle against a sense of emotional exhaustion.
The opposition, by contrast, did not have a chance to release its emotions in public after the death of Mr. Chávez, who was hated by some as fiercely as he was loved by others. Mr. Capriles is now feeding off that pent-up energy.
Still, Mr. Chávez’s party has a strong get-out-the-vote machine, and it taps nearly unlimited government resources. Government workers are required to attend rallies. Government television stations broadcast every event, and government ministries openly take part in the campaign. At a recent rally in Maracay, a north-central city, people in red T-shirts provided by the government stood in line to get lunches distributed by government workers that included products like bottled juice, made in government-run factories.
Mr. Capriles relies on financing from private companies and donors, and his campaign events are broadcast on a privately owned station closely allied with the opposition.
But most observers say the field is tilted strongly in Mr. Maduro’s favor, citing a court system packed with loyalists and an electoral council that refuses to curb the use of government resources in the campaign.
While Mr. Maduro may be shying away from original ideas, the campaign is not without novelty.
At the Maracay rally, Mr. Maduro whistled into a microphone, pointing to an imaginary bird fluttering overhead. Carolina Díaz, 38, carried a poster showing Mr. Maduro’s head on a yellow banana (the word “maduro” in Spanish sometimes refers to a ripe plantain). On stage, Mr. Maduro looked incongruously like a boy scout, in a khaki shirt, a red neckerchief and a small green backpack that he has started wearing, saying it is packed with Mr. Chávez’s revolutionary dreams.
“Maduro is not convincing,” said Edesia Rodríguez, 58, a Capriles supporter at a rally for Mr. Capriles in the city of Barinas, in Mr. Chávez’s home state. “He is basing his campaign on what Chávez was. He has nothing new to offer.”
But that may be what many Chávez loyalists want. As thousands congregated for the rally in Maracay, two die-hard Chávez supporters discussed their certainty that Mr. Maduro would be elected to carry out the leader’s legacy.
“I say to God, let me live until April 14 to vote for Chávez,” said one of the men, Nayef Mussa, 67.
“For Maduro,” his friend, Marco Rojas, 43, corrected him.
“Bah.” Mr. Mussa waved a hand dismissively. “It’s the same thing.”
April 8, 2013
Latin Makes an Appearance on Finnish Radio. News at VI.
By JOHN TAGLIABUE
HELSINKI — Leah Whittington, an English professor at Harvard, catches the news bulletins on her iPod while strolling to classes. Daniel Blanchard, a professional countertenor in Paris, used to listen on shortwave radio, but now he uses an iPod, too. The BBC? NPR? No, it’s a weekly summary of world events and news broadcast by Finnish state radio — not in Finnish, but in classical Latin.
Nobody knows exactly how many listeners the Latin program reaches. “Tens of thousands is my wild guess,” said Sami Koivisto, a reporter in the station’s news department. But it seems clear that the Internet is injecting new life into a language often described as dead.
No, there are no traffic reports from the Appian Way, nor does the station assign a political reporter to the Forum. But, on Friday evenings before the main news broadcast, the Finnish Broadcasting Company presents five or six short news stories in Latin. In recent weeks, the subjects have included the financial crisis in Cyprus, an unusually brilliant aurora borealis and the election of Pope Francis.
“There are no scoops,” Mr. Blanchard, 37, said recently, over coffee. “But it is a great way to hear the news.” A request to the French national broadcaster to do something similar, he said, failed to produce a response.
Not even Vatican Radio, which broadcasts some prayers each day in Latin, reports the news in the ancient tongue.
Tuomo Pekkanen, a retired professor of Latin who helped start “Nuntii Latini,” or “Latin News,” as the program is known, said the language is very much alive for him and for many educated Finns of his generation deeply influenced by Edwin Linkomies, his Latin professor at Helsinki University and prime minister during the difficult years of World War II. For them, Latin was a part of Finnish identity as well as of a sound education.
“In order to be educated,” said Mr. Pekkanen, 78, who is proficient in not only Latin but also ancient Greek and Sanskrit, “it was once said that a real humanist must write poetry in Latin and Greek.”
Mr. Pekkanen helped start the news program almost on a lark, then saw it steadily gain popularity. “Picking the subjects, that is the most difficult part of it,” said Mr. Pekkanen, who in his spare time has translated all 22,795 verses of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, into rhymed Latin verse. “One principle is that we don’t want to count the bodies of how many were killed in this or that country,” he said. “That is dull.”
It may be no coincidence that the broadcast began in 1989, the year Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Finns turned toward Western Europe. For educated Finns, Latin had long been the country’s link to Western culture, and they were required to study the language in school.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” said Jukka Ammondt, a university lecturer in English and German who dabbles in Latin and regularly tunes in to the broadcasts, even though he confesses that he cannot understand everything.
Mr. Ammondt, 68, has certainly done his part to promote Latin — and Finland. After a difficult divorce two decades ago, he turned increasingly to the songs of Elvis Presley, an idol of his youth, for consolation. For the fun of it, he began singing them in Latin.
Now, in addition to teaching, he gives occasional concerts like one last summer when he swayed a crowd at the Finnish Culture Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, east of here, with his renditions of “Tenere me ama,” (“Love Me Tender”) and “Ursus Taddeus” (“Teddy Bear”).
While the broadcasts once went out over the airwaves, with shortwave reception for listeners outside Finland, more and more listeners tune in to the program’s Web site, through podcasts and MP3 downloads.
It also reinforces a global trend among lovers of Latin to try to speak it, not just read it.
In Paris, Mr. Blanchard, an avid Latin speaker, helps run the “Circulus Latinus Lutetiensis,” or “Paris Latin Circle,” whose members meet monthly to converse, produce works of theater or just play cards, all in Latin. “We use the Internet to chat, in Latin,” he said.
Antti Ijas, 27, a graduate student writing a thesis on Old English poetry, helps Mr. Pekkanen translate news spots and field e-mails from listeners across the world. “We do get linguistic feedback,” he said, “especially from Germany,” where Latin studies have a deep tradition.
Most comments, he said, focus on pronunciation. There are endless debates about how Cicero would have sounded as he addressed the Senate — and about the choice of words for modern things like “golf course” (“campus pilamallei”) or iPad (they haven’t found one). “I don’t use an iPad myself,” Mr. Pekkanen said with a chuckle, adding: “We quarrel with the Germans.”
But many listeners think the criticism is largely unfounded. “I’m often struck when I’m listening how well structured it is, how idiomatic, how precise the vocabulary is,” said Ms. Whittington, the Harvard professor.
The most common complaint about the broadcast is that at five minutes, it is far too brief. Mr. Pekkanen demurs. The choice of subjects and translation, he said, “takes much time.”
“In my opinion, five minutes is quite suitable,” he said.
Joonas Ilmavirta, a graduate student in mathematics and a regular listener, understands the challenge. “It’s very labor intensive,” he said. Mr. Ilmavirta, 25, who studied Latin in high school and occasionally helps Mr. Ammondt translate Elvis, keeps up his Latin by reading comic books in the language.
He only occasionally dips into serious authors. “If I could pick one, it might be Catullus,” he said, referring to the earthy Roman poet.
Many Finns know the broadcast because it precedes the popular Friday evening news, even though most these days cannot understand it.
Mr. Ilmavirta acknowledged that few of his contemporaries share his passion for Latin. “I don’t really know of young people interested in Latin,” he said. “And by young, I mean under 40.”
Mr. Ammondt, the Latin Elvis, said numbers did not matter. “Latin is the basis of Western culture,” he said. “That is why it is very symbolic.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 9, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the individual in a photo cation. The person reading the news on a Latin-language radio program is Virpi Seppala-Pekkanen, not Tuomo Pekkanen.
In the USA....
Barack Obama takes gun control campaign to Connecticut
President hopes to make progress with bid to tighten legislation on ownership of firearms
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 April 2013 00.51 BST
President Barack Obama visited Connecticut on Monday, looking for a breakthrough in his efforts to curb gun violence in the state where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in a Newtown school in December.
State lawmakers last week passed one of the strictest gun control laws in the country and Congress returns from a two-week recess this week with gun control legislation high on the agenda.
"The day Newtown happened was the toughest day of my presidency," Obama said. "But I've got to tell you, if we don't respond to this, that'll be a tough day for me too."
The president laid on transport so the relatives of those killed in the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School could attend his gun control speech in Hartford. Some joined him on an Air Force One flight to Washington where he will personally encourage senators to back gun legislation.
The administration moved quickly after the shooting amid concerns that the high emotions would settle and politics would go back to normal. The president's proposals have weakened in the months since the shooting amid fears that the more controversial ones, such as an assault weapons ban, would harm an overall gun control package.
Senators could start debating gun legislation before the end of the week but leaders might take more time to seek a breakthrough deal on expanding background checks for gun buyers – the proposal seen as having the best chance of being accepted.
Federal background checks are currently required only for transactions handled by federally licensed firearms dealers. Private sales are exempt.
After the Connecticut massacre, Obama proposed applying the requirement to virtually all firearms sales. The National Rifle Association and other critics say the checks are ignored by criminals, and they fear that expanding the system could be a step to the government maintaining files on gun owners.
The NRA proposed arming teachers. South Dakota is the only state so far to respond with a new law allowing school personnel to carry guns into elementary and high schools.
Obama hopes spring bloom brings thaw on Capitol Hill
Tentative signs of consensus on guns, immigration and gay marriage – but White House warns there is still work to be done
Dan Roberts in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 April 2013 21.44 BST
Since the heady optimism of Barack Obama's inauguration speech in January, Washington politics has been stuck in the deep freeze. The chilly reaction of a Republican-dominated Congress quickly eclipsed liberal hopes that his second term might match the president's warm words. But the return of spring sunshine – and rested politicians – to Washington this week has raised hopes of a thawing in relations that could finally give the White House something to brag about.
Inside the West Wing, the mood of hope is tangible: from gun control, to immigration reform and gay marriage, there are tentative signs of cross-party consensus emerging that could allow significant breakthroughs over the next few days. Disagreement remains, not least over taxes and spending, which has been the source of much of the rancour. Nevertheless, Democrats hope that progress on just one, let alone three, of the more peripheral issues could be enough to help define Obama's second term.
Unsurprisingly, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, is already wary of this heightened sense of spring optimism backfiring. "I would not characterise this week as any different," he told expectant White House reporters on Monday. "Every one of these weeks is full of possibility." But the truth is that if the green shoots cannot be cultivated now, Obama may have no choice but to dig in and wait forlornly for the midterm elections in the hope they can change the congressional landscape instead.
A sign of how high the stakes are became apparent on Monday as Obama took the unprecedented step of flying 11 relatives of children and teachers shot at Sandy Hook elementary school from Connecticut to Washington on Air Force One so they could lobby Congress on gun control. Ostensibly, the presidential favour was granted to allow them to attend his speech in Connecticut at the same time, but the message to Republican sceptics is stark: the White House will do whatever it can to keep Newtown at the front of voters' minds. "It's been stated in recent weeks that somehow the memory of Newtown has faded," said Carney. "But the pain will never go away."
The timing is good. On Sunday, the Washington Post revealed that a conservative Republican senator, Patrick Toomey, was in talks with an equally unlikely gun control advocate on the Democrat side, senator Joe Manchin, to hammer out an agreement for universal background checks on gun buyers. Back in January, this was seen as the easiest of the various gun reforms to pass, but since then, even this looked out of reach.
Republicans are extremely cagey about such reports for fear of incurring the wrath of the gun lobby. Toomey's office did not respond to calls on Monday. But the White House was quick to leap on the report, making clear that it did not have a problem with their rumoured compromise: allowing family members to transfer guns without background checks. "It was wrong to suggest that universal background checks would be a cakewalk," said Carney. "Comparing the progress with what political prognosticators would have given only six months ago shows the road we have travelled."
Another long-running issue coming to a head this week is the debate over whether to make it easier for undocumented migrants to obtain citizenship, or at least emerge out of the legal shadows.
Senator Chuck Schummer went on TV at the weekend to announce that the so-called 'gang of eight' senators negotiating a bipartisan immigration bill should have something to announce by Friday.
It's not all over yet. Marco Rubio, the key Republican power broker, has been playing hard to get – stressing that he wants final veto over the bill. And his fellow Republican Lindsey Graham was more cautious on timing, suggesting it might still be two or three weeks away.
But what is no longer in doubt is that a Republican party trounced in the election among Latino and other minority voters has decided it needs to do something about its image on immigration.
Immigration experts caution that disagreements remain on issues such as border control and quotas for unskilled workers. But most now believe something will pass. "This would be the most important immigration legislation since 1965, when the quota system was set up," said Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations.
"It would certainly rank alongside healthcare in the first term as one of Obama's defining second-term achievements."
Team Obama also cannot help indulging in a spot of optimism on that other big issue that once divided Washington: gay marriage.
In recent days, a host of conservative-minded politicians from both parties have come out in favour of legal recognition for gay people who want to wed, much to the surprise of pundits.
When Obama made gay rights a key part of his second inauguration, it was a regarded as a slightly unexpected second-term priority, and one that would inflame tensions with the conservative right wing.
Instead, as the supreme court prepares to rule on whether to overturn a gay marriage ban in California, Republicans seem to have acknowleged that they have become out of step with modern America. On the Democrat side, only four senators remain opposed.
The real action may come in the courts and states rather than Washington, but it's a mood swing that Obama would happily associate himself with. "The country deserves credit," said Carney on Monday. "It's been a remarkable evolution."
All three divisive issues could get solved tomorrow, and it still wouldn't thaw the chill at the heart of Washington politics: the disagreement over the size of government, the deficit and taxes.
President Obama is expected to announce his budget proposal on Wednesday to the sound of collective raspberries from Republicans such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan, who are dismissive of his proposal to tie tax rises to cuts in welfare benefits.
But even if the so-called 'grand bargain' over fiscal policy remains as elusive as ever, there are renewed signs that both sides have not given up trying. On Wednesday, for example, Obama has dinner planned with 12 Republican senators to try to persuade them back to the negotiating table.
Judging from the dismissive reaction of Boehner and others, who reject the linkage between tax and welfare, it might be a short meal, but with the spring blossom heavy in the air around Washington, the optimists in town can at least say they are trying.
April 8, 2013
A Governor Retrenches on a Big Idea
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
BATON ROUGE, La. — In a short address Monday on the first day of the legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal described why his next big plan — a plan that had been applauded by conservative pundits nationally, pitched at meetings around the state and promoted in slickly produced commercials — was crucial to Louisiana’s success.
Then he announced he was shelving it.
“Governor, you’re moving too fast, and we aren’t sure that your plan is the best way to do it,” Mr. Jindal said, describing what he had heard from legislators and citizens alike.
“Here is my response,” he said. “O.K., I hear you.”
The plan, to get rid of the state income and corporate taxes and replace the lost revenue with higher and broader sales taxes, was not dropped altogether. Mr. Jindal emphasized that he was still committed to losing the income tax, but that he would defer to the Legislature to suggest how exactly to make that work.
But it was a rare admission of defeat for Mr. Jindal, 41, a constant Republican in the mix for 2016 and rising conservative luminary since his early 20s. And it was only the latest in a season of setbacks.
In the fall, Mr. Jindal was tapped to lead the Republican Governors Association and after the 2012 election appeared often on national op-ed pages and at Washington forums, diagnosing the party’s ills and earning a reputation as a politician who could deliver straight talk.
Back home in Louisiana his troubles were piling up. Unfavorable polls, once discounted as the byproduct of an ambitious agenda, were only getting worse — recently much worse.
The governor’s statewide school voucher program, a pillar of his education reform package, was blocked by a trial court judge on constitutional grounds.
Judges have since also blocked his revamp of teacher tenure rules and a change of the state retirement system (the administration has appealed the rulings and is pushing for legislative action should they stand).
Then at the end of March, Mr. Jindal’s health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, announced his resignation amid reports of a federal grand jury investigation into the awarding of a $185 million state contract. Mr. Greenstein had also been the point man for one of the administration’s most complex, consequential and potentially risky projects: the accelerated transfer of the state’s safety-net hospital system to a system of public-private partnerships.
All along, opposition to the tax swap was growing broader and more bipartisan by the day. Clergy members urged the governor to drop the plan, saying it could hurt the poor, while the state’s most prominent chamber of commerce group came out against the plan for its potential impact on businesses.
With the math behind the tax swap remaining vague and variable, the plan’s few outspoken friends in the Legislature began to wobble.
Most legislators said on Monday that the governor had made the politically wise decision to stop championing something that had such unfavorable prospects, and some even expressed admiration.
“It’s a monumental thing for any politician to realize that what they’re trying to promote the public isn’t behind yet,” said John Alario, a Republican and the president of the State Senate.
But it sets up a legislative session no less contentious. Democrats immediately criticized Mr. Jindal for remaining committed to the elimination of the income tax while dropping the more politically difficult insistence that any tax plan be revenue neutral.
On the right, where Mr. Jindal has been facing some of his most vociferous opposition, a group of budget-minded Republican lawmakers who call themselves the fiscal hawks seemed far from satisfied as well.
“It doesn’t bode well for a governor’s leadership skills just to, in essence, kind of throw his hands up and say, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with it but if it passes I’ll take credit for it,’ ” said Representative Cameron Henry, a member of the hawks, who has become so dissatisfied with the governor’s fiscal management that he and a colleague have sued to have Mr. Jindal’s most recent two budgets declared unconstitutional.
It is in fact the state budget, more than any reform plans, that accounts for the governor’s slide in the polls. In particular, surveys show a growing frustration with the annual deep cuts to higher education and health care, partly because of a reduction in federal Medicaid rates but also of Mr. Jindal’s fiscal policies.
Mr. Jindal says that these policies have made Louisiana more business friendly, and indeed the state has weathered the recession better than many others; there are regular announcements by major companies moving plants or offices into Louisiana, often taking advantage of generous tax incentives. The unemployment rate is a full two percentage points below the national average of 7.6 percent.
“There are only a handful of states that have more jobs now that than they did when the recession started and Louisiana’s one of them,” said Timmy Teepell, a political consultant and Mr. Jindal’s former chief of staff.
But in a state that is still poor, routine deep budget cuts — made even deeper after routine midyear revenue shortfalls — are hard to counter with a message of growth, said Bernie Pinsonat, whose polling firm, Southern Media & Opinion Research, released a survey last week showing Mr. Jindal’s approval rating below even that of President Obama’s within the state.
Mr. Pinsonat said that the governor’s upbeat message is further compromised when it is delivered, as it frequently has been, to audiences outside of Louisiana. “It is very difficult to play national politics and come back home and not suffer,” Mr. Pinsonat said, adding: “They see his reforms as not as helping Louisiana but putting another trophy on his mantel.”
Supporters of Mr. Jindal strongly take issue with this perception, saying that Mr. Jindal has long been an advocate of these reforms. Mr. Teepell suggested that the governor’s current political difficulties are in fact a testament to his seriousness about improvements.
“You go through temporary rough patches,” Mr. Teepell said. “But that’s not going to slow him down.”
April 8, 2013
Student Loan Rate Set to Rise, Despite Lack of Support
By TAMAR LEWIN
The interest rate on many student loans is scheduled to double on July 1, to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent — just as it was last year, when in the midst of an election campaign, Congress voted to extend the lower rate.
Again this year, no one wants the increase to happen, especially since even the current rate is well above market. But once again, there is likely to be a good deal of brinkmanship before the issue is settled. This time around, though, longer-term solutions may be on the horizon.
On Tuesday, the day before the White House plans to send its budget to Congress, student advocacy groups are releasing an issue brief charging that the federal government should not be profiting from student loans, while more and more students bear a crushing debt burden.
The brief, citing a February report from the Congressional Budget Office, said the federal government makes 36 cents in profit on every student-loan dollar it puts out, and estimates that over all, student loans will bring in $34 billion next year.
“Higher education loans are meant to subsidize the cost of higher education, not profit from them, especially at a time when students are facing record debt,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate at the United States Public Interest Research Group, which is issuing the brief with the United States Student Association and Young Invincibles, an organization for people 18 to 34.
“The revenue from student loans should be used to keep education affordable, and should never be used to pay down the deficit or for other federal programs,” Mr. Senack said.
While it has long been known that the government makes money on student loans, the numbers in the issue brief are surprising, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education.
“If the numbers are accurate, the government will make more money on student loans than Ford makes on automobiles,” he said. “Using student loans to create a profit center is not what anybody intended.”
Student loan borrowers graduate with an average debt of $27,000, and the scheduled interest rate increase on subsidized Stafford loans would cost almost 10 million borrowers about $1,000 more over the life of their loan, for each year of college.
According to the C.B.O. report, the government will get 12.5 cents in revenue next year for every dollar lent through subsidized Staffords, 33.3 cents per dollar in unsubsidized Staffords, 54.8 cents on each dollar of graduate school loans, and 49 cents per dollar of parent loans, for a total of $34 billion a year.
Borrowers of subsidized Stafford loans make up more than a third of those using federal student aid. More than two-thirds of those borrowers are from families with an annual income under $50,000. Last April, in his re-election campaign, President Obama made a central issue of stopping the Stafford interest rate increase. A few days later, Mitt Romney expressed a similar view.
Now that the lower rate is about to expire, there is general agreement that it should not double. But a solution is unclear.
The White House budget is widely expected to include a proposal to move to a variable interest rate, pegged to the government’s cost of borrowing, that would be reset every year.
“The president’s plan will help middle-class students and their families afford college by stopping interest rates from doubling on July 1 as part of a long-term solution that is fair, fiscally responsible and benefits more borrowers by offering lower interest rates on nearly all federal student loans next year,” said an administration official, who declined to provide details of the plan.
Many Republicans favor a variable interest rate. But the Senate recently passed a budget resolution extending the 3.4 percent rate indefinitely, and Representative Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut, said he planned to introduce legislation this week extending the 3.4 rate for two years, to give Congress time to rethink student loan interest rates as part of the higher education reauthorization bill.
“We have this very fragmented loan system, with subsidized loans and nonsubsidized loans and graduate students who may not qualify for anything,” Mr. Courtney said, “and we need some kind of long-term proposal that isn’t a one-year fix, but would use the low cost of money now as a sweetener.”
Chuck Hagel: Reform military judicial system to combat sexual assault
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 20:11 EDT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday said US commanders should be barred from overturning criminal convictions, in the wake of anger over a quashed guilty verdict in a sexual assault case.
Under Hagel’s proposal, which would have to be approved by lawmakers, commanders would still have the power to alter sentences handed down in court martial cases, defense officials said.
“These changes, if enacted by Congress, would help ensure that our military justice system works fairly, ensures due process, and is accountable,” Hagel said in a statement.
The move comes amid mounting concern over sexual assault in the armed forces and outrage in Congress over the case of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, whose conviction for aggravated sexual assault was overturned by Air Force Lieutenant General Craig Franklin.
The case prompted Hagel to order a review of the military’s judicial code, which grants wide-ranging powers to commanding officers who can throw out the findings of juries and judges without explanation.
The military code’s provisions, which date back to the founding of the United States, had become outdated as troops that face criminal charges now have access to a “robust” appeals process and professional legal counsel, officials said..
“It became clear that the world had changed,” a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
In discussions among military leaders and Pentagon lawyers, “there wasn’t significant push back” to making the change, the official added.
But the proposal was unlikely to satisfy some lawmakers and advocates for victims of sexual assault, as commanders will still have unquestioned authority to drastically reduce a sentence.
Defense officials said part of the rationale for permitting commanders to retain the power to alter sentences was to allow for plea bargain agreements, which are presided over by commanders.
The Pentagon’s proposal also would require commanders to explain in writing any changes made to court-martial sentences.
According to Hagel’s proposed changes, commanders would have the power to reverse a verdict only in cases involving minor offenses.
Officials said verdicts are rarely reversed under the current system, with only about one percent of court martial convictions tossed out by commanders.
In the Wilkerson case, Hagel had asked the Air Force to examine whether the military code was correctly applied. And officials said Monday that a review showed the commanding general’s decision was in keeping with the military’s legal code.
The Air Force, responding to a request from Hagel, also plans to release documents in the case to shed light on why the commanding general threw out the guilty verdict against Wilkerson.
In his statement, Hagel said the Defense Department “still has much more work to do to fully address the problem of sexual assault in the ranks.
“This crime is damaging this institution.”
Trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law faces ‘stunning’ delay due to sequester cuts
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 20:16 EDT
The highly anticipated New York trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law could be delayed because his court-appointed lawyers have been hit by US budget cuts, they said Monday.
Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan called the revelation that a package of US federal government cuts known as the sequester could imperil a start to the trial this year “stunning.”
Martin Cohen, an attorney for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, allegedly a senior propagandist in the Al-Qaeda network, said he doubted he could be ready by Kaplan’s suggested trial date in September.
“The lawyers for the federal defenders are to be furloughed for five-and-a-half weeks,” he told a hearing, saying it would be “very difficult to be ready for September.”
Cohen suggested a January date for the trial as an alternative.
Kaplan said it was “extremely troublesome to contemplate the possibility of a case of this nature being delayed because of sequestration.”
Abu Ghaith has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill US nationals.
He was brought in and out of the Manhattan court with his hands cuffed behind his back and wearing a blue prison smock. He did not speak during the hearing, but listened to proceedings through an English-to-Arabic interpreter.
Defense lawyers also queried whether the bearded former comrade of the late Bin Laden could get a fair jury trial in a courthouse just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks.
Cohen said his team was considering asking Kaplan to move the trial elsewhere because of “the prejudicial nature of the trial in New York.”
Asked later by journalists if a fair trial was possible, Cohen said: “These are questions that we’re mulling over.”
Once a trial does get underway, it could take as much as five weeks, with up to four weeks spent on the prosecution case, lawyers for both sides told the court.
April 8, 2013
No Lawyer for 100 Country Miles, So One Rural State Offers Pay
By ETHAN BRONNER
MARTIN, S.D. — Rural Americans are increasingly without lawyers even as law school graduates are increasingly without jobs. Just 2 percent of small law practices are in rural areas, where nearly a fifth of the country lives, recent data show.
Here in Bennett County, which is situated between Indian reservations on the Nebraska border, Fredric Cozad is retiring after 64 years of property litigation, school board disputes, tax cases and homicides with no one to take his place. When he hung out his shingle he was one of half a dozen lawyers here. Now there is not a working attorney for 120 miles.
“A hospital will not last long with no doctors, and a courthouse and judicial system with no lawyers faces the same grim future,” South Dakota’s chief justice, David E. Gilbertson, said. “We face the very real possibility of whole sections of this state being without access to legal services.”
In South Dakota, 65 percent of the lawyers live in four urban areas. In Georgia, 70 percent are in the Atlanta area. In Arizona, 94 percent are in the two largest counties, and in Texas, 83 percent are around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Last summer, the American Bar Association called on federal, state and local governments to stem the decline of lawyers in rural areas.
Last month, South Dakota became the first state to heed the call. It passed a law that offers lawyers an annual subsidy to live and work in rural areas, like the national one that doctors, nurses and dentists have had for decades.
Such moves follow a growing call for legal education to model itself on medical training to increase practical skills and employability. They also come amid intense debate on the future of the legal profession, and concerns about a possible glut of lawyers. In the past two years, only about 55 percent of law school graduates, many with large student loans to repay, have found full-time jobs as lawyers.
“In some areas we probably do have an oversupply of lawyers, but in others we have a chronic undersupply, and that problem is getting worse,” said David B. Wilkins, who directs a program on the legal profession at Harvard Law School. “In the 1970s, lawyers spent about half their time serving individuals and half on corporations. By the 1990s, it was two-thirds for corporations. So there has been a skewing toward urban business practice and neglect of many other legal needs.”
Data from LexisNexis showed that in 2012, firms with fewer than 50 lawyers were heavily concentrated in urban and suburban areas, with only 2 percent in rural regions.
In June at the annual Jackrabbit Bar Conference, for which delegates from South Dakota and similar states like Nevada, Montana and Wyoming will gather near Mount Rushmore, the new South Dakota law is expected to be high on the agenda.
The South Dakota model has also drawn interest in Iowa, where the 33 counties with the smallest populations, among 99 over all, contain fewer than 4 percent of the state’s lawyers.
“I sent it to our legislators,” Philip L. Garland, chairman of the state bar association’s rural practice committee and a lawyer in Garner, Iowa, said of the South Dakota law. Thirty years ago, he said, there were a dozen lawyers in his area. Now there are seven, none of them young.
Last year, the Iowa State Bar Association began encouraging law students to spend summers in rural areas in the hope they might put down roots. In Nebraska, the bar association organized rural bus tours for law students for the first time this year.
Here in South Dakota, Mr. Cozad, who is 86 and came as a boy with his homesteader parents from Iowa, said he had never imagined that younger lawyers would not follow him. Sitting in his modest paneled office, the shelves groaning under aging legal volumes, he said: “The needs of the people are still there. There is plenty of work and opportunity.”
That was evident on the day court was in weekly session in this town of 1,100. The lunch place at the Martin Livestock Auction, where 1,000 head of cattle had been sold the previous day, included a table of lawyers, the ones in suits, ties and no hats. All had driven more than two hours from Rapid City and Pierre, paid by Bennett County, which also pays to transport prisoners 100 miles away because it has no functioning jail.
“Between sending out prisoners to Winner and bringing in lawyers and judges, we are breaking the county budget,” said Rolf Kraft, chairman of the County Board of Commissioners.
The new law to lure lawyers passed partly because it requires the rural counties and the bar association to contribute to the subsidy before the state pays. Mr. Kraft said the law seemed good, but he worried about finding the money for his county’s share and rental properties for young lawyers.
Mayor Gayle Kocer said that landowners in Martin — 42 miles from the site of the Wounded Knee massacre and home to wild turkeys and antelopes, winter wheat and millet — required lawyers for deeds, wills, sales and disputes.
“We need lawyers,” she said. “Our state attorney drives down from Rapid City. It’s crazy. We haven’t had a full-time city attorney in years. For any legal issue, we have to look out of town.”
Carla Sue Denis, a drug-rehabilitation counselor in town — addiction is a raging problem — said people seeking a divorce and other legal matters sometimes consulted her since she knew how to do research on the Internet and download forms.
Thomas C. Barnett Jr., executive director of the State Bar of South Dakota, said lawyers serve their towns not only through their professional work but also on school and community boards. He said that in contrast to an earlier era, law graduates seemed increasingly drawn to urban life for the better shopping and dining as well as job opportunities for their spouses. In addition, he said, young graduates need mentors.
But Mr. Barnett, like Chief Justice Gilbertson, said the possibilities for satisfying and highly varied legal work were especially great in rural areas. And the plan is to set up new rural lawyers with mentors and help spouses find work.
The new law, which will go into effect in June, requires a five-year commitment from the applicant and sets up a pilot program of up to 16 participants. They will receive an annual subsidy of $12,000, 90 percent of the cost of a year at the University of South Dakota Law School.
This compares with a 40-year-old federal medical program, the National Health Service Corps, which offers up to $60,000 in tax-free loan repayment for two years of service in underserved areas and up to $140,000 for five years of service. The program consists of nearly 10,000 medical, dental and mental health professionals serving 10.4 million people, almost half in rural communities.
A spokesman for the federal program said research had shown that residents who train in rural settings are two to three times more likely than urban graduates to practice in rural areas.
“The health care model is unbelievably subsidized, and while I favor finding some version of it for legal needs, it is never going to be ratcheted up to that level,” Professor Wilkins of Harvard said. “We should think more about public-private partnerships and loosening up some of the restrictions on law practice without junking them all. What we need now is experimentation, like what is happening in South Dakota.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 9, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed a statement in the final paragraph to Philip L. Garland, chairman of the state bar association’s rural practice committee and a lawyer in Garner, Iowa. It was Professor David B. Wilkins, who directs a program on the legal profession at Harvard Law School, who made the statement.
Ex-North Korea spy says Kim Jong-Un struggling to control military
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 7:15 EDT
A former North Korean spy who bombed a South Korean airliner said Wednesday that the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un is struggling to control his military and using war talk to shore up support.
Kim Hyun-Hee, who said she was ordered by Jong-Un’s father Kim Jong-Il to bomb the airliner in 1987 killing 115 people, said she believes the son is still trying to establish himself following his father’s death in December 2011.
“Kim Jong-Un is too young and too inexperienced,” she told Australia’s ABC television in an exclusive interview from Seoul, where she lives at an undisclosed location surrounded by bodyguards.
“He’s struggling to gain complete control over the military and to win their loyalty. That’s why he’s doing so many visits to military bases, to firm up support.”
The North has been turning up the rhetoric for weeks and on Tuesday reiterated a warning that the Korean peninsula was headed for “thermo-nuclear” war, advising foreigners to consider leaving South Korea.
Kim Hyun-Hee told ABC there was method in the North Koreans’ madness in threatening thermo-nuclear war.
“North Korea is using its nuclear programme to keep its people in line and to push South Korea and the United States for concessions,” said Kim, who was captured after boarding the doomed 1987 plane in Baghdad.
She got off during a stopover in the Gulf, leaving a time bomb in an overhead compartment, but was arrested with another agent when they tried to leave Bahrain using fake Japanese passports.
Both immediately swallowed cyanide capsules. The man died almost instantly but Kim survived and was brought to Seoul, where she confessed and was eventually pardoned.
Kim published a book entitled “Tears of My Soul” describing her training at a North Korean spy school, and donated the proceeds to families of victims of the bombing.
She married one of her security guards and now lives in Seoul, still fearful that North Korean assassins could strike at any time, ABC said.
North Korea: US and Seoul brace for missile test
Joint command steps up surveillance of North as South Korean foreign minister warns prospects of launch are 'very high'
Justin McCurry in Seoul and Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 12.13 BST
The US and South Korean combined forces command in the South has stepped up surveillance of the North and added intelligence staff as the region prepares for an expected missile test.
The joint command has increased its alert level one notch above the standard status, an unnamed military official told the South's Yonhap news agency, while Seoul's foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, told parliament the prospects of a launch were "very high".
While tensions on the peninsula have escalated rapidly in recent weeks, with Pyongyang issuing a series of threats and withdrawing workers from a joint industrial zone, analysts believe the North is simply trying to exert pressure on other countries in the hope of a security guarantee and aid.
"If history is any guide, in a few weeks' time things will calm down ... It does not make sense to credulously take their fake belligerence at face value and give them the attention they want now," Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University wrote on Wednesday.
He described the country's longstanding policy as "diplomatic blackmail ... and blackmail usually works better when the practitioners are seen as irrational and unpredictable".
On Tuesday, North Korea told foreign businesses and visitors in the South they should make evacuation plans, and it earlier informed diplomats in Pyongyang that it could not guarantee their safety after Wednesday. But observers suspect it was hoping to prompt an exodus from the peninsula that would make the situation look more worrying and its messages have had little apparent effect.
Some travel agencies in China said they had cancelled trips on the instructions of Chinese tourism authorities, although others were going ahead with visits.
Despite its dire warnings, the North said it was preparing to welcome international athletes for a marathon on 14 April and soldiers in the capital remain at work on construction projects, Associated Press reported.
Analysts say the concern is of miscalculation or misjudgment. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, warned on Tuesday that any "small incident" could create an "uncontrollable situation".
The South's Yonhap news agency reported that possible weapons launches could involve more missiles than previously thought, with various ranges, and could happen any time. It cited national security officials who said satellite imagery showed more mobile launchers on the country's east coast in addition to the two already thought to have been deployed. Any launches are expected to be tests, possibly timed to key dates in the North's political calendar – notably the upcoming anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung.
Yun told parliamentarians that the North could fire an untested Musudan "at any time from now. The Musudan missile has a range of 3,500km and it's up to North Korea how far it would fly."
The US, which along with Japan says it is prepared to shoot down any missile considered a threat, warned that a launch could be imminent.
Citing an unnamed Obama administration official, CNN said satellite imagery suggested that an unspecified number of missiles on the east coast had been injected with liquid fuel and were ready for launch.
It quoted the official as saying that it hoped the regime would issue a warning to commercial aviation and maritime services to steer clear of the projectiles' path, as in the past, but noted: "At this point we don't expect it ... We are working on the assumption that they won't."
Two Chinese travel agencies that organise trips from the border town of Dandong told the Guardian that Chinese tourism authorities had told them to cancel visits to the North.
But another said that while it had been informed that all train trips were halted with immediate effect, other travellers would fly into Pyongyang as planned in the coming weeks. Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours in Beijing said North Korean colleagues had said its tour group could fly in on Saturday, as scheduled.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Recently, some Chinese travel agents and tourists, on seeing the tense situation on the Korean peninsula, cancelled or postponed their travel plans for North Korea. At present, the China-North Korea border is as normal."
State broadcaster CCTV said the government had not issued orders to shut down tourism to the North.
Reuters said cars and trucks could still be seen crossing into the North at Dandong and agencies there told it that the border remained open to commercial traffic.
Separately, officials at South Korea's internet security agency said an initial investigation had found that North Korean government agents were responsible for a cyberattack in March that shut down about 32,000 computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks.
US confident it can intercept North Korean missiles, says top admiral
Head of US Pacific Command says US military is 'ready' to stop a strike as North Korea warns foreigners to leave South Korea
Justin McCurry in Seoul and Associated Press in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 April 2013 19.51 BST
The United States could intercept a ballistic missile launched by North Korea, the top US military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday, as the relationship between the West and the communist government hit its lowest ebb since the end of the Korean War.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of US Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles represented a clear threat to the United States and its allies in the region.
But he said that the US was "ready" if North Korea attempted a strike and that it had the capability to thwart a North Korean missile.
Earlier on Tuesday, Pyonyang 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.
At the Senate hearing, Locklear said a decision on whether any North Korean missile should be intercepted should be based on where it is aimed and expected to land.
"I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii and defend our allies," said Locklear, who added that it would not take long to determine where a missile would strike.
Navy Admiral Locklear
Locklear (pictured) concurred with the assessment of committee chairman John McCain that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s. But the admiral insisted that the US military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.
"We're ready," Locklear said.
He said North Korea was keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, a position that allows the North to threaten US and South Korean civilian and military personnel.
Locklear told the panel: "The continued advancement of the North's nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation."
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.
South Korean lawmaker: We need our own nuclear weapons
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 18:34 EDT
A prominent South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday his country should consider developing nuclear weapons or bringing back a former US arsenal as a way to pressure North Korea and its ally China.
Chung Mong-Joon, a billionaire businessman who belongs to the ruling conservative New Frontier Party, said on a visit to Washington that the latest crisis with North Korea showed that diplomacy had failed with Pyongyang.
“The lesson of the Cold War is that against nuclear weapons, only nuclear weapons can hold the peace,” Chung said, citing the previous long-standing nuclear stand-off between the Western allies and the Soviet bloc.
The former presidential candidate argued that South Korea has the right to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and then to match North Korea’s nuclear work step-by-step, only stopping if Pyongyang does likewise.
“It would send a clear warning that, by continuing its nuclear program, North Korea is releasing the nuclear genie in East Asia,” Chung told a conference of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“North Korea — and for that matter China as well — should know that South Korea has this option if it persists in possessing nuclear weapons,” he said, referring to Beijing’s alliance with Pyongyang.
Chung, in a view endorsed by some US Republicans, said the United States also had the option to return to South Korea the nuclear weapons which it withdrew in 1991 at the end of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
The remarks by Chung, the son of the founder of the Hyundai conglomerate, are not mainstream and few experts expect a country that has tried hard to use pop culture to give itself a friendly image to seek a nuclear arsenal.
But the opening of the debate in Seoul is likely to raise apprehension in Washington, which has vowed to protect South Korea and Japan under its nuclear umbrella.
The nuclearization of a close US ally would set back a longstanding, if repeatedly violated, principle of not allowing new nations into the nuclear club at a time when Washington is pressuring Iran over its contested program.
The United States this month took the unprecedented step of announcing a bombing test-run in South Korea by its nuclear-capable B-2 jets, in a show of force US officials said was aimed largely at quashing doubts in Seoul.
South Korea is also pressing to produce its own nuclear fuel for civilian purposes under a deal with Washington, a move resisted by the United States as it goes against a denuclearization agreement with North Korea.
The issue is expected to be on the agenda when Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul this weekend.
Chung hailed the United States for its six decades of support but said that the alliance had allowed a failure of historic proportions — a nuclear-armed North Korea.
“Telling us not to consider any nuclear option is tantamount to telling us to simply surrender,” he said.
The United States stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea and around 50,000 in Japan.
While some nationalist politicians in Japan have also broached the idea of nuclear weapons, the idea is even more taboo in the only nation that has been attacked with atomic bombs.
Late South Korean dictator Park Chung-Hee — the father of newly elected President Park Geun-Hye — flirted with nuclear weapons in the 1970s when then US president Jimmy Carter planned to remove US troops from the peninsula.
Only North Korea has ever pulled out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was signed in 1970 with an aim of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. India, Israel and Pakistan never signed the treaty.
Chung likened South Korea’s position to “a member of the gun control lobby in good standing whose neighborhood gangster just acquired assault rifles and threatens him.”
“In order to buy a gun to protect himself and his family against the gangster, he now wishes to withdraw his membership temporarily,” Chung said.
April 10, 2013
Malaysia Sets Elections in Big Test for Ruling Party
By GERRY MULLANY
HONG KONG — Malaysia on Wednesday scheduled national elections for May 5, setting the stage for the biggest test of the governing party’s dominance since the country gained independence from Britain more than five decades ago.
The country’s election’s chairman, Abdul Aziz Yusof, said candidates will be nominated April 20, allowing for a two-week campaign.
The elections come as Prime Minister Najib Razak has been struggling to hold together the multiethnic coalition, known as the National Front, that has long governed the country. That coalition is composed of three parties that define themselves along racial lines: one for Malays, the country’s largest ethnic group; one for Chinese; and one for Indians.
Recent opinion polls have suggested that Mr. Najib holds a slim majority, with the National Front losing its once powerful edge as ethnic Chinese have abandoned the coalition. Ethnic Chinese voters who have long supported the governing coalition have shown dissatisfaction with the longstanding preferences given to ethnic Malays in land purchases and bank loans, as well as in university admissions.
Mr. Najib’s most formidable opponent is Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister running with the Peoples’ Alliance, which in 2008 balloting captured five of Malaysia’s 13 states.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Malaysian government said Mr. Najib welcomed the coming elections and the chance to make his case to voters.
“This election is a choice between sticking with a competent, reform-minded government and risking our prosperity on a fractious, inexperienced opposition, whose manifesto doesn’t add up,” the statement said.
The announcement of a date for the elections came exactly a week after Mr. Najib dissolved Parliament in a speech on national television in which he sounded defensive.
“Don’t gamble the future of your children and Malaysia,” he said in the address. “Think and contemplate as much as you can before making a decision. Because that will determine the direction of the country and also your grandchildren’s future.”
The two-week campaign period is shorter than the 21-day period that an electoral reform group, Bersih, had recommended. But political parties have already begun campaigning.
Mr. Najib has one major advantage in the form of the governing coalition’s longstanding influence over major media outlets. On Wednesday, the Web site of the New Straits Times, a leading English-language newspaper, prominently featured an article suggesting that Mr. Anwar, the opposition candidate, “did not have a firm stand on matters pertaining to Islam” despite the fact that he “portrayed himself as an Islamic figure.”