April 9, 2013
Silence on Awkward Topics at Inauguration of Kenya’s President
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — Once again, a Kenyatta has taken the reins.
On Tuesday, under a brilliant blue sky flecked with a few puffs of crisp white clouds, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, was sworn in as the nation’s fourth head of state amid a full day of pageantry, with a who’s who of Africa in attendance.
But there was a certain subject that no amount of sunshine or triumphant cannon fire could blast away: the International Criminal Court, which has charged Mr. Kenyatta with crimes against humanity.
Little digs — and not-so-little digs — were defiantly sprinkled into several of the celebratory speeches. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, saluted Kenyans for what he called “the rejection of the blackmail of the International Criminal Court,” which he said was steered by “arrogant actors” to “install leaders of their choice in Africa and eliminate those they don’t like.”
Mr. Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, who was sworn in as deputy president and who has also been charged by the international court with crimes against humanity, then repeated widely criticized comments made by a senior American official.
“It was said that choices have consequences,” Mr. Ruto said, referring to what many observers said was a ham-handed warning by Johnnie Carson, who recently stepped down as the assistant secretary of state for Africa, in the prelude to the elections. “And look at the consequences,” Mr. Ruto said, with a huge grin, suggesting that the warning had backfired, driving more supporters to the polls. “We won in Round 1.”
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have accused Mr. Kenyatta, 51, of using his vast family fortune to bankroll death squads during the chaos that exploded after Kenya’s presidential election in 2007. Mr. Kenyatta has insisted that he is innocent and that the accusations are based on gossip.
But it seems no matter how forward-looking he wants to be, his presidency, at least in its early days, is going to be dogged by the past. Several Western countries, including the United States, have signaled that they will keep their distance from him because of the graveness of the allegations, though they may have a hard time doing that because Kenya is one of the West’s most important allies in Africa.
The American ambassador to Kenya, along with other Western envoys, did attend the inauguration. But even that was interpreted by some Kenyans as a snub because the Kenyan news media reported that China, for instance, had sent a high-level delegation from Beijing, and many African countries sent heads of state.
Mr. Kenyatta made a thinly veiled reference to the court in his inauguration speech, saying that “Kenya will strive to uphold our international obligations,” but that these obligations must be based on “mutual respect.” He also delivered a long list of things he planned to do: give laptops to schoolchildren, fight wildlife poachers, abolish health center fees and extend electricity.
He congratulated the nation for carrying out the most complicated election in its history, and for showing patience when the outcome was delayed by problems with the vote count. He also emphasized that he wanted Kenya to move beyond ethnic-based politics, which often erupt in violence.
“We will not settle for a perfunctory peace that is disrupted every five years by an election cycle,” he said. “Rather, we are calling and working toward a permanent peace.”
The swearing-in ceremony, held in a packed stadium in Nairobi, capped an exhausting election period that started months ago when the country’s leading politicians split into rival camps. On March 4, millions of Kenyans streamed to the polls, some waiting for 10 hours on their feet to cast ballots.
Election officials declared Mr. Kenyatta the outright winner, narrowly avoiding a runoff, but the second-place finisher, Raila Odinga, who just stepped down as prime minister, cried foul, pointing to widespread breakdowns in the election commission’s computer systems. He challenged the results, but Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld Mr. Kenyatta’s victory.
In a sign that feelings were still raw, Mr. Odinga skipped the inauguration, saying he wanted to rest in South Africa. One of his aides said Tuesday that Mr. Odinga did not want to bestow legitimacy on an election that he still believed had been rigged.
But other African leaders were there in force, squinting in the sun, watching an honor guard stand stiffly on the parade ground, beads of sweat trickling down their faces. Among the dignitaries were Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, topped with a fedora; Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, in his signature black Stetson; and Mr. Museveni wearing a finely tailored suit and a floppy bush-fighter hat.
At the end of the festivities, after the cannon smoke cleared and the brass horns went quiet, Mr. Kenyatta ascended the steps of an antique convertible Land Rover and made a victory lap around the stadium. He was just a high school student when his father, Jomo, died in office in 1978.
No 'magic wand' for Sahel as food shortages loom yet again
WFP says 2012's good harvest in Sahel not enough to alleviate deep-rooted poverty, as millions more face hunger this year
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 07.00 BST
Aid agencies are gearing up for a second year of emergency response in the Sahel where an estimated 10.3 million people could be affected by food shortages, according to the UN (pdf). Despite rains in 2012 leading to a good harvest in October-November, deficits incurred during last year's food crisis means the poorest families have not been able to replenish their stocks and pay off debts.
The situation this year is exacerbated by a lower than expected harvest in Nigeria (pdf), which produces a lot of the grain consumed in the Sahel – prices have shot up. The crisis in Mali has prevented thousands of families there from planting at all.
"We can say there is a crisis already, just by the number of cases of malnutrition which we're dealing with in hospitals from Chad to Burkina Faso to Mali," said Alvaro Pascual, Sahel desk officer for Action Against Hunger.
Although fewer people are affected than last year, when about 18 million people were at risk of food shortages, Action Against Hunger estimates that 1.4 million under-fives could have severe acute malnutrition, which usually requires hospital treatment.
The problems are consistent with what some humanitarians call a crisis of resilience – there have been three serious food crises since 2005, meaning people simply cannot absorb any more shocks. With a drought in 2009 and subsequent hunger in 2010, some families lost up to half their animals, ate their emergency stocks and borrowed money to cover the cost of buying food on the market.
The outgoing head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Niger, Denise Brown, who is the WFP's new regional director for west Africa in Dakar, said food security remains a significant challenge in Niger. But she added: "We continue to be encouraged by the government's commitment to addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity" – a reference to the government's Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens programme, which is trying to increase agricultural yields and promote healthy nutrition.
WFP expects there to be pockets of hunger in Diffa, Maradi and Keita regions, and prices have already risen by 16% in the capital Niamey. WFP is continuing its cash for work and food for work programmes. Brown said: "The ground reality is that last year's good harvest is not a magic wand to alleviate deep-rooted poverty; that will take a generation to fix."
In northern Mali, the French intervention has failed to provide enough security for people to return home to start planting crops in June, when the rains are expected. The UN estimated about 450,000 people had been displaced by the conflict in northern Mali, about 180,000 of whom remain in refugee camps in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso where they are receiving food handouts.
Oxfam recently highlighted the problem of rocketing prices in the market in Gao in north-east Mali. Fighting by French and Malian soldiers who are trying to chase out Islamist rebels has restricted access for humanitarian workers and traders. The closure of the Algerian border has strangled the flow of goods into Gao and Kidal, which are about 1,000 kilometres from Bamako.
"Prices have increased dramatically with local rice going up by more than 50%," Philippe Conraud, Oxfam's Mali director, said in March. "The banking system is completely disrupted and the population has very little cash available."
Action Against Hunger says it is operating in emergency phase, treating severely and moderately malnourished children in hospitals and mobile clinics in Gao, Bourem and Ansongo. The NGO plans to start blanket feeding soon. This is usually the hardest time for poor families – the so-called lean season runs from April until September as stocks run low while farmers prepare to plant. "We're seeing the same picture in all our malnutrition clinics from Burkina Faso to Chad," said Pascual.
The west Africa regional food security and nutrition working group, comprising NGOs and UN agencies, has requested $716m from international donors to meet immediate food, agriculture and nutrition needs. In total, $1.6bn has been requested to improve resilience and deal with the extra complication of Mali. Last year's integrated Sahel appeal was relatively well funded – again the agencies asked for about $1.6bn, of which about 70% was donated.
The UK government will provide £10m to the Sahel – £5m for WFP's delivery of emergency rations to 200,000 refugees from the Darfur, Sudan, crisis still living in eastern Chad, and £5m for Unicef to provide nutrient-rich food to 130,000 severely malnourished children in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Funding for programmes in Chad has been particularly difficult to secure.
Extreme hunger in east Africa and the Sahel: forewarned but not forearmed
Pictures of starving children give donors an instant justification to release aid. Predictions of starvation, however accurate, do not
Wednesday 9 May 2012 07.00 BST guardian.co.uk
A Sahel woman walks after leaving the donkey she travelled on under the shade of a tree
Less than a year after the last crisis in the Sahel, we are watching another one develop. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
After the hunger crisis that engulfed east Africa last summer, there was plenty for the world to think about. After all, we'd been warned it was coming – the first alerts of a potential crisis came the previous year. But not enough was done to avert it, and we now know that failure cost tens of thousands of lives and millions of dollars in aid money.
In September, a coalition of NGOs launched the Charter to End Extreme Hunger, outlining the steps needed to prevent a repeat of the crisis. The charter was championed by the UN, the EU and governments, including the British. So why, less than a year later, are we watching another crisis develop in the Sahel, while east Africa's tentative recovery looks like being undone by poor rains?
It's an important question, and one that can't be answered without acknowledging that, despite the bleak forecasts from both east and west Africa, progress has been made. Governments, UN agencies and NGOs are acutely aware of the need for change and are actively seeking improvements in how we respond to hunger. We're on the ground earlier, more funding has been made available by donors, and journalists have been covering the story of the growing crisis in west Africa since January. In comparison, previous seasonal hunger crises in the Sahel have never attracted attention before the summer – there's no doubt that more is happening earlier this time round.
But it is not enough. Save the Children's appeal for west Africa is only 20% funded and other aid agencies are in the same boat. This has serious implications. We appeal based on the needs we see on the ground – if we can't raise the money we ask for, we can't do the work needed to prevent widespread hunger taking hold. The crisis will deepen, and we'll need even more money to fight it.
In east Africa, we are in danger of seeing the improvements from last year wiped out by poor rains, failed crops and ongoing conflict. Parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are always vulnerable to hunger. After last year's horrors, millions of people are especially vulnerable and, like last year, the money for preventive work is not there. Without funding, those people could find themselves facing a second summer of extreme hunger.
So why can't we fix this broken system in time to stop crisis in the Sahel and east Africa?
The blame does not lie with any one actor. Aid agencies, humanitarian donors and UN agencies all need to change the way they work to tackle the problem. The humanitarian system is like an ambulance – it is focused on disaster response, not prevention. It is geared up to react to demonstrable need. The point of hunger early warnings is that when they sound the alarm, the needs do not yet exist. They are projections. In a system where drama, urgency and clear need so often justify requests for funding, it is no surprise that the qualified predictions from early warning systems fail to have the same impact.
The hard truth is that pictures of starving children give donors an instant justification to release significant amounts of money. Predictions of starvation, however accurate, do not.
Likewise, the public do not respond to pre-emptive appeals. You can argue that early donations have a bigger impact and that prevention is better than cure until you are blue in the face. The truth is that for many people, giving to crisis appeals is an emotional response, not a logical decision. The money we receive from the public allows us to do extraordinary things in humanitarian emergencies. But for slow-onset, creeping crises such as the one now inevitable in the Sahel, things have to get pretty bad before help from the public arrives.
Despite this, we won't give up. Every penny we raise will help mitigate the severity of hunger in both east and west Africa. We'll keep making the arguments for change, keep pointing out the flaws in the system, keep suggesting ways we can improve. But change is a process. It will take time, and there's a long way to go. The lives of thousands of children depend on us completing the journey, and building a system that works.
• Andrew Wander is media manager for humanitarian emergencies for Save the Children
New one-pill, $10-per-month anti-retroviral AIDS treatment debuts in South Africa
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 8, 2013 18:00 EDT
South Africa’s health minister on Monday launched a new single dose anti-AIDs drug which will simplify the world’s biggest HIV treatment regime to just one life-saving pill a day.
The three-in-one combination anti-retroviral (ARV) was secured at a record-low price and will cost the state 89 rand a month ($10, eight euros) per patient.
“Before 2010, we were buying the most expensive ARVs in the world. Now we are a country where the ARVs are the cheapest in the world,” said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
“It means we can increase the number of people on treatment,” he added during a visit to the township of Ga-Rankuwa, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) northwest of the capital Pretoria.
After years of refusing to roll out ARVs, South Africa now has 1.9 million people on treatment among its 5.6 million HIV-positive population, which is the world’s largest.
The new pill will be introduced this month to positive pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, people co-infected with TB, and to new ARV patients.
Patients already on treatment will be assessed by doctors to start switching later this year.
“You’re just going to take it once, and it’s just going to be less pill burden,” said patient Andrew Mosani.
“People are tired (of) taking many drugs on a day to day basis.”
The pill also had fewer side effects and was easy to swallow, he added.
The South African National AIDS Council welcomed the treatment shift, saying it hoped it would encourage patients to stay on treatment.
“This is simplifying the way patients have become used to taking ARV treatment,” said the council’s CEO Fareed Abdullah.
“We have come a very long way since the advent of anti-retrovirals. At one point, patients used to take up to 16 pills a day,” he added.
South Africa once refused to roll out ARVs under former president Thabo Mbeki but now has the largest anti-retroviral (ARV) programme in the world.
The scaling up of treatment has seen the number of pregnant women passing on HIV to their babies brought down to less than three percent.
Life expectancy has also shot up by six years to 60 over the past few years.
04/10/2013 10:58 AM
'The Art World Is Rotten': Giacometti Forger Tells All
By Michael Sontheimer
Robert Driessen is one of the most successful art forgers in the world. Over his 30 years of work, he came to specialize in creating forgeries of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. Now living in Thailand, out of the reach of European authorities, Driessen wants his story told.
Roman Abramovich's luxury yacht is anchored out in the bay. We are sitting under coconut palms on a white beach, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" is playing on the stereo and ice cubes clink in our glasses of white wine. Robert Driessen lights a cigarette. "I am trapped in paradise," he says.
Driessen has lived in Thailand for the last eight years. He owns a café that is close to the water but far away from Europe. They are after him in his native Europe -- especially Ernst Schöller, a detective from Stuttgart who specializes in art crimes. Driessen forged sculptures by the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). Two of his accomplices are in prison in Germany, after the gang raked in more than €8 million ($10.4 million) with its scrap metal. The only member of the gang still at large is Driessen.
The police believe he forged at least 1,000 sculptures. Driessen, holding a wine glass in his hand, says that it was probably more like 1,300. "But I never kept records."
Driessen, 54, spent more than 30 years forging art, including paintings and sculptures, and has lived well on the proceeds. He has probably made at least €3 million with his forgeries. Being a prisoner in the South China Sea isn't the worst thing in the world, and he has no regrets, says Driessen. But he thinks it's time for the world to know about him and his works.
Wolfgang Beltracchi, a painter from Germany's Rhineland region, forged at least 100 Expressionist paintings over a similar period of time, earning an estimated €30 million. He is something of a king of the art forgers, a hippie and a risk-taker who fooled the art world, and he has been a media star since he was caught three years ago.
Driessen could justifiably claim that after Beltracchi, he is Europe's second-most important art forger. The only problem is that no one knows who he is. Beltracchi sits in prison while Driessen is in Thailand. He pours himself a second glass of white wine.
The Most Expensive Sculptor
Alberto Giacometti was one of the great artists of the 20thcentury, and today, 47 years after his death, he is the world's most expensive sculptor. Three years ago, the widow of a Lebanese banker bought his sculpture "L'Homme qui marche" at a Sotheby's auction for the equivalent of €74 million. Exhibitions of Giacometti sculptures, like the one currently underway in Hamburg, are always a guaranteed popular success.
Giacometti went from his native Bergell, Switzerland to Paris when he was 20. He was a friend of Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, of André Breton and Man Ray, and of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and Igor Stravinsky. A portrait of Giacometti, with large eyes, a wild shock of dark hair and a face furrowed with wrinkles, graces Switzerland's 100-franc note today. He was a member of the Paris avant-garde, a man obsessed with his art, a Bohemian whose breakfast, at noon, consisted of hard-boiled eggs and copious amounts of black coffee, along with several unfiltered cigarettes. He created an oeuvre of strange figures, delicate, elongated, emaciated, desperate-looking creatures, as recognizable as a Coca-Cola bottle.
The artist is believed to have produced no more than 500 unique pieces, although no one knows exactly how many there were. Even the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris, established by his widow, struggles with the task of bringing order into the chaos of Giacometti's life of an artist. He often had different foundries produce bronzes from the same design, after apparently losing track of which of his plaster models he had cast and which ones he had destroyed because he didn't like them. There is no catalogue of his oeuvre, only an incomplete database with images of his works on the Internet. He was a great artist who created a great body of work, leaving behind even greater disorder. In this sense, Giacometti made things very easy for Robert Driessen.
It was also relatively easy from a technical perspective. "Long, thin figures, and an amorphous, crumbly surface," says Driessen. "It isn't difficult to make Giacomettis." After a while, he says, he "literally had Giacometti in my fingers." According to Driessen, it took him 30 to 40 minutes for the small figures. But they weren't simply recast versions of the originals. Instead, Driessen just added to Giacometti's body of work. He made his own models, had them cast and stamped them with the stamps of the foundries Giacometti had used.
Driessen is a Dutch citizen from Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands, but he speaks fluent German. At 16, he left home and dropped out of school, and began painting for a living: windmills, canals, anglers, boats and the sea. He churned out typical Dutch scenes, 30 by 40 centimeters (about 12 by 16 inches), which were especially popular in Germany. The dealer who sold his paintings eventually asked him if he could copy the works of the Dutch Romantic painters: Paul Gabriel, Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch, Hendrick Willem Mesdag. Driessen bought old paintings at flea markets, removed the paint from the canvas and got started.
No one was interested in his own paintings. After two or three years, Driessen began painting variations on the works of Expressionists like Emil Nolde, August Macke, Wassily Kandinsky and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Sometimes he simply painted mirrored versions of originals, and sometimes he created a new painting from several others -- an old forgers' technique.
Soon a number of dealers were buying his paintings. One of them was Michel van Rijn, who would eventually acquire the reputation of being the most successful art smuggler in the world. He lived in a villa in the Spanish resort town of Marbella, was shot at by competitors and eventually cooperated with Scotland Yard. For a fake Schmitt-Rottluff painting, for example, Driessen was paid €500 to €700. The dealers also ordered motifs from him. He remembers that he once painted 15 Nolde watercolors in a single day.
Driessen estimates that he must have did more than 1,000 paintings in total. He has no interest in knowing what happened to them. "One or two of them are probably hanging in a German or a Dutch museum," he says. He remembers that a dealer had paintings he had made sold at auction at Sotheby's and Christie's. "I knew that I was forging art. The dealers knew that they were buying forgeries. But we didn't talk about it. I assume that they sold the forgeries as authentic paintings."
It was the 1980s, and business was going well. Driessen rented a villa with 11 bedrooms, six bathrooms and three studios on the top floor in Arnhem, only 10 kilometers (six miles) from the German border. His BMW 7 Series was parked outside.
He lives in a more modest house today, a made of wood and standing on stilts, two kilometers up into the green mountains. It has only two rooms, and in the living room is a stack of pages with Chinese characters that he recently painted for a friend. He has written down his story as an art forger in a large sketchbook.
Moving on to Sculpture
In 1987 he began casting sculptures, a craft he had learned from Roel Maaskant, a caster in Brummen, near Arnhem. Bronze sculptures are expensive and complex, and the path from a wax or plaster figure through a latex mold to the finished sculpture is a long one. "You never know if it's going to work," says Driessen. "It's exciting."
The market for sculpture is even shadier than the market for paintings, because recasting is easier than painting. Cases have repeatedly come to light in which heirs have had castings made after the sculptor's death. For instance, there are 80 castings of a famous sculpture by Berlin artist Georg Kolbe. It is difficult to verify how many castings of a sculpture exist, partly because foundries often make copies or cast more sculptures than the artist commissioned. As a result, there are real and fake originals that are indistinguishable from one another.
Dirk Grosman in Arnhem is considered the best bronze caster in Arnhem. Driessen bought a number of latex molds from Grosman, which he had used to produce bronzes by artists like Degas, Rodin, Matisse, Lehmbruck, Barlach and Kollwitz -- in fact, by almost every well-known, modern sculptor. For instance, the purchase included a mold for the Ernst Barlach sculpture "Kussgruppe" (Kissing Group) and Käthe Kollwitz's relief "The Complaint." Driessen recast the bronzes and took them to Berlin, to the deeply traditional Hermann Noack foundry, which had worked for Barlach and Kollwitz in the 1920s and 30s, and where he was told that the recast bronzes were authentic. Driessen sold the pieces for a total of 17,000 Dutch guilders (about €7,700) to an art dealer in The Hague.
It was much more difficult to forge bronzes when no mold or casting was available. Driessen went to Duisburg more than 10 times to take more than 200 photos of Wilhelm Lehmbruck's famous "Kneeling Woman" in front of the Lehmbruck Museum there. To sell the finished bronze, which weighed 150 kilos (330 lbs.), he bought an ad in the art journal Weltkunst. The first prospective buyer arrived in Arnhem by helicopter.
The second was Cologne art dealer Michael Werner, one of Germany's great gallery owners, who represents artists like A.R. Penck, Markus Lüpertz and Jörg Immendorff. Werner drove up in a Jaguar and paid €42,500 for the Lehmbruck copy. Today it stands in the garden of the Werner Gallery in Trebbin, south of Berlin. Werner was very enthusiastic about the piece at the time, says Driessen, but today Werner calls it an "atrocious forgery."
Choosing Giacometti to Build a Brand
Driessen made his first Giacometti sculpture in 1998. After studying Giacometti's style, the signatures and the foundry stamp, he made a thin, plaster figure 2.7 meters (8'10") tall, named it "Annette," after Giacometti's wife, and put it in storage in his attic. Only after one of his dealers had found a potential buyer did he have the bronze cast.
Soon afterwards, several men paid Driessen a visit: a Dutch art dealer he had known for a long time, Guido S., an antique dealer from the southwestern German city of Mainz, and a Greek living in the southern German region of Swabia. The Greek pulled out a brown envelope and counted out 250,000 deutsche marks, all newly printed 1,000-mark bills, which he gave to the art dealer, who in turn handed the money to Driessen.
As they were leaving, Guido S. asked Driessen: "Do you have any more Giacomettis?" "Yes, I might be able to get another dozen," Driessen replied, "including some from England."
So began the great Giacometti swindle. Guido S. went to see Driessen again three weeks later, this time leaving with 12 Giacometti bronzes, all small figures less than 40 centimeters tall. Driessen was paid 6,000 deutsche marks. Neither Guido S. nor the forger was troubled by the fact that, a few months later, the police found Driessen's 13 Giacomettis at the house of the Greek art lover, who was involved in various shady deals. Instead, they began a thriving business.
Guido S. was an insatiable buyer, and Driessen provided the antique dealer with as many forgeries as he wanted. Guido S. always came in person to pick up the bronzes, and he told Driessen that he planned to open a gallery near Lagos in Portugal's Algarve region, stocked with 1,500 Giacometti sculptures. The two men would meet on Sundays at a rest area on the A3 autobahn, which passes from the Netherlands to the Rhine-Main region in Germany. Driessen moved the fake Giacomettis from his BMW to Guido S.'s Daimler station wagon. He received an envelope filled with cash, or the purchase price was simpler transferred to his bank account. The Giacometti business went on for 10 years.
The Forgery Network Grows
During one of his visits to the antique dealer in Mainz, Driessen met his partner Lothar S., who appended the title "Count von Waldstein" to his name. Lothar had been a train conductor in East Germany before he was sent to prison for challenging the political system and was later deported to West Germany. While the count handled sales, Guido S. acted as the gang's strategist.
Guido S. even wrote a book, which he called "Diego's Revenge," and of which he had 300 copies printed. It tells the story, part truth and part fiction, of Diego Giacometti, a brother and assistant of the artist, who had established a secret cache of sculptures. According to the book, the brother had even removed "the results of Giacometti's work, and of long nights of struggle" from the studio and made castings of them, "which he took to the foundry, either on his own or after checking with Alberto."
In the book, Diego initially hid the castings, but after Alberto's death in 1966, sold them to collectors in Greece, France and England. Count Waldstein, as Guido S. wrote in his tall tale, had bought the bronzes back from the collectors. Even the ISBN number printed in the book was a forgery. Every forgery needs its legend, and every forged work of art needs a plausible provenance.
Driessen's partners searched for wealthy individuals with little knowledge about art. And they were successful. A billionaire in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, bought 49 fake Giacomettis for €3.5 million. Stuttgart investment manager Peter Hans Schuck paid at least €3.7 million for 18 forgeries. But the attempt to sell about 300 sculptures to two New York gallery owners for €50 million failed after the Americans became suspicious.
Driessen even had to hire two assistants to keep up with the casting. The majority of the pieces were produced in Roel Maaskant's foundry in Brummen. Driessen later found out that on average he had been paid less than a fifth of the purchase price. "It was really unfair," he says, "since I was the artist, after all."
Refuge in Southeast Asia
In 2005, Driessen, his wife and their son emigrated to Thailand to escape the gray winters at home. Before they left, Driessen burned all his photos of forged works of art.
He rented a large villa on the Gulf of Thailand, while Guido S. continued sending money to his bank account from Germany. At first, Driessen still made regular trips to the Netherlands, where he continued to produce Giacomettis. But in February 2009 the police, who were already on to Guido S. and the fake count, detained him for two hours at the Frankfurt airport. When Driessen drove to the Netherlands from there, plainclothes policemen kept him under close surveillance for the next 10 days. To be on the safe side, Driessen decided not to visit his two foundries and soon flew back to Thailand.
In early March 2009, Driessen received the following text message from Guido S.: "I'm transferring the money to your account, but make sure you don't come to Germany." Five months later, Guido S., Lothar S. and two assistants were arrested at the Frankfurt airport by a mobile police unit while in the process of selling five Giacometti forgeries for €338,000 in cash. Lothar S., the fake count, had crossed paths with real, undercover investigators with the state police in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg.
The police officers also searched the gang's warehouse on Kaiser-Karl-Ring in Mainz. In several rooms in the basement, there were 831 bronzes and 171 plaster figure in the style of Alberto Giacometti, as well as 20 pieces of metal furniture, copies of originals by Giacometti's brother Diego.
The regional court in Stuttgart imposed stiff penalties. Lothar S., who insisted until recently that the sculptures are real and that he had known Diego Giacometti personally, was sentenced to nine years in prison, while Guido S. was given seven years and four months. The case against Driessen is still open, but because he is not a German citizen, the investigators cannot have him extradited from Thailand.
In June of last year, Inspector Ernst Schöller and his coworkers transported Driessen's more than 1,000 creations to a foundry in the Swabian town of Süssen. A backhoe was used to smash the plaster figures, while the metal sculptures were melted into bars at temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). The casters later used the resulting five tons of bronze to make doors for a customer in Abu Dhabi.
Driessen watched a television report on the destruction of his works on YouTube, but he wasn't overly moved by it. He doesn't feel guilty, and there are limits to his pity for the victims. "Anyone who believes he can buy a real Giacometti for €20,000 deserves to be duped. The art world is rotten."
He says that he doesn't know if he would do it all again. His wife and son moved back to Europe some time ago. Driessen pours himself another glass of wine -- with lots of ice, as usual.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
We are Femen, the naked shock troops of feminism
Femen is at war with a patriarchy that sees women as sex objects. What weapons do we have? Our bare breasts
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 April 2013 13.04 BST
You can hear us shouting "Fuck off, dictator!", "I'm not your sex toy!", or "Religion is slavery!" You can see our half-naked bodies facing Berlusconi, Putin or the Pope. You can feel how deep our anger is by looking in our eyes. We are feminism's shock troops, a spearhead unit of militants, a modern incarnation of the word fearless.
We are Femen. Our nakedness attacks the raw nerve of the historic conflict between women and "the system". We are nothing less than its most visual and fitting embodiment. Our activists' bodies represent undisguised hatred for the patriarchal order, and display the new aesthetics of a rejuvenated woman's revolution.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, is accosted by a Femen activist in Hanover Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, is accosted by a Femen activist in Hanover as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, looks on. Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Femen is our attempt at rethinking the history of feminism in its entirety. We believe that if women are left with little more than satisfying sexual desires as a life purpose, then our sexuality must become politicised. We are not denying our potential to be treated as sex objects. On the contrary, we are taking our sexuality into our own hands, turning it against our enemy. We are transforming female sexual subordination into aggression, and thereby starting the real war.
Make no mistake about it: we are at war. This is an ideological war, a war of traditionalism against modernity, oppression against freedom, dictatorship against the right to free expression. We are targeting the three principle manifestations of patriarchy: religion, the sex industry, and dictatorship.
"I didn't have time to see if they looked good or not, whether they were blondes or not" – such were the words of Putin after our most recent act of diversion, when Femen activists confronted him in Hanover, shouting to his face, "Fuck you, dictator!" Putin was quick to smile, but a Kremlin official was already demanding that Germany punish our activists. Within half an hour, four criminal cases had been opened against the dictator's assailants.
This is our reality. Femen activists are arrested, beaten up or even kidnapped, as happened to us in Belarus after our protest ridiculing president Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
Machismo can be defeated only through feminine rebellion. No authoritarian leader is interested in popular opinion, which would personally hurt him. Femen's tactics aim to do just that: hurt and humiliate them personally. Tossing shoes at Bush is nothing compared to our attack against Putin. Never before had he found his holy body, under the protection of dozens of professional security guards, so imperilled.
We were amateurs when we demonstrated against Putin in 2011, in Kiev, dozens of kilometres away from our target. But we improved our skills when we besieged the polling station in Moscow in 2012, just 20 minutes after our Putin had left the place. One year later, we faced him and bared our breasts in defiance.
Putin is a homophobe and an oligarch embodying the merger of church and state, putting his personal interests before those of 150 million people in the process. Only recently has he announced that Russia is not a country for gay people, just as our George H W Bush, in his time, said the US was not a country for atheists. Putin is not stopping at that, so we are going to stop him.
How, you ask? Yes, dear readers, with our bare breasts alone! We are responding by knocking down the great oligarch and his security-service clowns, and with them, the image he has been so carefully cultivating.
Femen is a huge experiment. Every day we find new ways to destroy the patriarchy, new words with which to answer our opponents. We are calling for a global sexual revolt against the system. We cannot tell you of our upcoming plans, or what the final result of our struggle will be, but we're working on them around the clock. The only thing I can say for sure to all those against whom we are fighting is that we are not about to let you enshrine such shit as yourselves in a cult.
and this story is but one crushing example of what the patriarchy has created ......
Teenage rape victim commits suicide after being bullied by peers
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 16:52 EDT
A teenage girl from Nova Scotia in Canada was driven to suicide after photos of an alleged sexual assault led to her being shunned and harassed by her peers.
The 17-year-old girl, Rehtaeh Parsons, died Sunday in a hospital after attempting to hang herself.
“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15yr old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” her mother wrote Monday on a memorial page on Facebook.
Parsons was the victim of an alleged gang rape that occurred in 2011 after she attended a party where she drank vodka. Her mother said the four boys who attacked her took pictures of the assault and shared it with classmates. Parsons faced ongoing bullying and harassment because of the terrible incident, according to her mother.
“One of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral,” her mother added. “Because the boys already had a ‘slut’ story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT. This day changed the lives of our family forever. I stopped working that very day and we have all been on this journey of emotional turmoil ever since.”
Police investigated the attack for a year, but concluded it was a “he said, she said” case and they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute the boys. In regards to the lurid photo of the assault, Rehtaeh’s mother said police described it as a “community issue” rather than a criminal issue.
“The justice system failed her,” she wrote.
[Ed note: Raw Story policy is not to publish the names of victims of sexual assault unless they or their family members, as is the case here, choose to make that information public.]
In the USA...
Democrats pressure Republicans for a vote on background checks
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 18:30 EDT
US Senate Democrats on Tuesday demanded a vote on a gun bill as Vice President Joe Biden slammed a Republican threat of a filibuster as “mind-boggling” in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was shocked that 13 conservative senators had lined up to block the vote, and promised to overcome the tactic, known as a filibuster, with a procedural vote on Thursday.
“We need to move to this legislation,” Reid told reporters, weeks after the Judiciary Committee approved a three-part bill calling for background checks for all gun sales, felony penalties for gun trafficking, and new funding to boost school safety.
“It would be a real slap in the face to the American people not to do something on background checks, on school safety, on federal trafficking, which everybody thinks is a good idea,” he said.
Reid warned that inaction would show lawmakers’ failure to keep America’s children safe from gun violence.
“We have a responsibility to safeguard these little kids,” Reid said, citing the 20 children killed along with six adults in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
“We are really failing. We need to do more.”
This week’s effort coincided with President Barack Obama’s 11th hour appeal to Congress to allow a vote.
Obama heaped on the pressure, with phone calls to Republican and Democratic senators Tuesday to discuss gun violence prevention measures, according to a White House official.
He faces resistance from Republicans in conservative-leaning states where gun cultures like hunting are prevalent, and where efforts to crack down on gun violence are seen by many voters as infringing on the constitutional right to bear arms.
Democrats in some conservative states were keeping their options open.
Senator Max Baucus said he was not sure if he would vote to move to the gun legislation.
“My primary focus is the state of Montana. They’re my employers,” the Montana Democrat said.
Meanwhile in a concerted push by the White House, Biden warned that the world would be mystified if Republicans followed through on the filibuster threat.
“It appears that now not only are some of the senators not willing to stand and be counted, they’re prepared to stop anybody from being able to be counted. I mean, it’s almost mind-boggling,” Biden said.
“What an embarrassing thing to say,” he added. “Imagine what they are saying in other capitals around the world today.”
Biden, who served in the Senate for nearly 40 years, sounded exasperated at the thought that “the climax of this (Newtown) tragedy could be we’re not even going to get a vote.”
The vice president said he spent two hours Tuesday with family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a day after Obama traveled to the state to make an impassioned call for reform.
Many of those relatives are expected to be lobbying lawmakers this week.
“It is time for these guys to stand up and be counted,” Biden said of his former colleagues in the Senate.
“What are you going to say to those parents? Look them in the eye and tell them you concluded there is nothing you can do?”
White House calls for a new ban on assault rifles and limits on the size of fast-firing magazines look unlikely to pass Congress amid opposition from the gun lobby, most Republicans and a handful of Democrats from conservative states.
The best hope for reform now lies in a drive to expand background checks for all gun purchases — but even that measure appears in doubt.
Democrats, meanwhile, are frantically seeking bipartisan backing for the legislation.
Democrat Joe Manchin is in negotiations with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey over new, softer language in an amendment that would expand mandatory background checks to include sales at gun shows, which are currently exempt from such checks.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell joined the filibuster effort this week, saying Tuesday that the bill “clearly had no bipartisan support in committee.”
But at least 10 Senate Republicans have told reporters they would like to have an open debate and vote on gun legislation.
Reid has said he would allow senators to offer various amendments to improve the bill, a gesture that led Republicans like Lindsey Graham to support allowing a vote.
“If your goal is to have a process that allows people to read it, understand it, debate it, amend it and vote on it, count me in,” Graham said.
April 9, 2013
As Gun Control Advances in States, It Meets an Unforgiving Math in Congress
By MICHAEL COOPER, JACK HEALY and JONATHAN WEISMAN
In Colorado, a state of hunters and sportsmen, the Democrats who control state government acted last month not only to expand background checks for gun sales, but also to ban the kind of high-capacity magazines that gunmen have used in recent mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson.
But in Washington, a federal ban on high-capacity magazines faces long odds, as the Democratic White House has been struggling to get traction on its broad gun agenda even in the Democratic-led Senate.
The reason for the disparity lies not just in the complicated, emotional politics of guns in America — there was fierce lobbying in opposition to Colorado’s new gun laws, and threats were even reported against some lawmakers who supported it — but also in the way that the Senate’s arcane rules make it so much harder to pass bills there than in the nation’s statehouses.
Even as gun control advocates grew optimistic Tuesday that they would be able to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster, it was evident that the Senate bill was unlikely to include many of the steps that President Obama initially called for after Adam Lanza killed 20 first graders and 6 educators in Newtown last December with a semiautomatic rifle and several 30-round magazines.
A federal assault weapons ban — which the president called for again this week at an emotional rally in Connecticut — will not be included in the Senate’s main gun bill. A ban on high-capacity magazines appeared in doubt as well. Most of the frenzied last-ditch negotiations in Washington were aimed at salvaging a measure that had seemed almost assured of passage in the Senate just months ago: universal background checks for gun sales, which have overwhelming public support and which a number of Republican senators had appeared open to earlier in the year.
Why has it been so much harder for Senate Democrats to pass gun bills than it was for Colorado Democrats? The answer lies in the unforgiving math of Senate procedure. Colorado’s most contentious new law, which banned magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition, passed its State Senate with 51 percent of the vote, and no Republican support. But because of the rules of the United States Senate, Democrats effectively need 60 percent of the vote to overcome the threat of filibusters and pass legislation there.
That contrast helps explain why the nation’s post-Newtown gun debate has not always followed the script that some predicted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. New gun restrictions in Colorado, New York, Connecticut and Maryland went further than many advocates on both sides had initially expected. At the national level, though, the president has faced an even steeper climb than many expected as he has labored to persuade the Senate to act on expanded background checks.
Not that passing new gun regulations in the states was easy.
An increasingly urban Colorado relishes its frontier image, and its Democratic governor, John W. Hickenlooper, had seemed cool to gun control in the past. But a combination of timing and tragedy paved the way for the bills that passed there last month. Many Democrats were galvanized to act after a gunman strode into a movie theater in Aurora in July and opened fire on the full midnight house, killing 12, wounding dozens and evoking painful memories of an earlier shooting: the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.
Then Democrats won control of both houses of the state legislature in November, putting action within reach. In mid-December, Mr. Hickenlooper said the time had come to re-examine the state’s gun laws. Then came the Newtown shooting. Lawmakers knew they did not have much time.
“We meet 120 days out of the year,” said Representative Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City, northeast of Denver. “You can’t fiddle around like Congress does.”
The opposition was fierce. Gun owners thronged the Capitol, and opponents of gun restrictions circled the building in their cars one day, honking loudly enough to be heard inside. An airplane circled overhead another day towing a banner that read, “Why does Hick hate guns?”
Groups on both sides hired lobbyists, including some firms with ties to Mr. Hickenlooper and Democrats in the legislature. The National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, firearms manufacturers and a group called Rocky Mountain Gun Owners opposed the measures. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group founded by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, joined with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and local gun control groups to support the bills.
Pressure mounted when Magpul, a Colorado company that makes magazines, placed an ad in The Denver Post threatening to leave the state, taking much-needed jobs with it. “A magazine ban will do more than hurt public safety in a free Colorado,” the ad said. “It will force a Colorado company to leave the state.”
One lawmaker pushing to ban high-capacity magazines, Representative Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora whose son, Javad, was fatally shot in 2005, said she received a threatening letter in February. “I’m coming for you,” it said, using a racial epithet.
Not every measure passed. A bill that would have banned concealed weapons on college campuses failed, after a rape victim testified against it and was questioned aggressively — and, many said, insensitively — by Democratic lawmakers, setting off a backlash. And Democrats made some concessions to gun owners: Mike McLachlan, a Democratic representative from rural southwestern Colorado who wears a bolo on his Web site, helped raise the magazine limits in the bill to 15 rounds from 10. It was not enough for some of his constituents, though. He is now facing an effort to recall him from office.
Colorado also passed a bill requiring background checks for private gun sales — the kind of measure that gun control advocates have made their top priority in Washington. But while universal background checks once seemed likely to pass the Senate, their fate is far from clear now.
In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, more than a half-dozen Republican senators went on record with at least qualified support for expanded background checks. Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, called it “a reasonable step forward.”
But those voices have largely gone to ground, with the lawmakers unwilling to sign on to any of the background check proposals circulating.
Some Democratic aides worry that Mr. Obama may have let the emotions of Newtown slip away. The Senate was in a rare and extended session in January, but instead of moving immediately, the president asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to convene a task force on gun violence. The proposals made were along the lines of what many Senate Democrats had expected in the days after the Newtown shooting, but time was lost.
Since then the search for Republican support to get the needed 60 votes has not been smooth.
Looming over the bill are concerns about whether any measure can pass the Republican-led House. Representative Ed Perlmutter, Democrat of Colorado, said the steep climb any gun bill faces in the House makes it hard to persuade Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning states to support gun bills.
“Those senators, if they’re going to vote for something, they want to know it can pass,” he said, “and everything is going to have a hard time in the House.”
April 9, 2013
Lifted by Gun Control Issue, Democrat Wins House Seat
By STEVEN YACCINO
CHICAGO — Robin Kelly, whose stance on stricter federal gun laws brought a cascade of “super PAC” support to her campaign earlier this year, easily won the Congressional seat resigned by Jesse L. Jackson Jr. in a special election here Tuesday.
Facing a lesser-known Republican opponent, Paul McKinley, and a handful of third-party candidates, Ms. Kelly had been widely expected to win in the Democrat-leaning district, which includes the South Side of Chicago and its suburbs. She was expected to be sworn in by the end of the week to represent a community that has been without a voice in the House for nearly a year.
“We not only won an election,” Ms. Kelly, 56, said in her victory speech. “We took on the N.R.A., we gave a voice to the voiceless, and we put our communities on a brand new path to a brighter day.” She was joined on a stage by the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who was killed in Chicago gun violence in January, a week after performing during President Obama’s inauguration festivities.
Ms. Kelly prevailed in a more competitive primary battle in February — aided by Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City and a staunch gun control supporter — that thrust her unexpectedly into the spotlight amid a national debate over firearms. She now carries with her to Washington sizable public expectations.
“I think she has no choice but to be one to stand up and be one of the more vocal members of Congress around the issue of guns,” said Representative Bobby L. Rush of Illinois, one of Ms. Kelly’s new Democratic colleagues. “I think for her to lowball that would be a mistake. It would be sending mixed signals to her constituents.”
Illinois’s Second Congressional District seat was left vacant for the first time in almost two decades after Mr. Jackson, 48, took a medical leave last summer and later disclosed that he was being treated for bipolar disorder. Despite a long absence from public view, the congressman won re-election in November, only to resign two weeks later, citing his ill health and acknowledging a federal investigation into his use of campaign funds for personal use.
In February, Mr. Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights activist, pleaded guilty to one felony fraud count and admitted to using $750,000 in campaign cash to buy items like celebrity memorabilia and expensive furniture. His sentencing was scheduled for June 28.
Framed by a rash of violence in Chicago, the primary race to replace Mr. Jackson gained widespread attention because of an unexpected surge of spending by Mr. Bloomberg. His political action committee, Independence USA, ran more than $2 million worth of advertisements in the special election attacking some Democratic candidates for being friendly with the National Rifle Association. He endorsed Ms. Kelly, who wore her “F” rating by the gun lobby proudly.
Mr. Bloomberg’s group said it had not spent in the general election.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, another Illinois Congressional Democrat, said, “I think she understands that her victory had implications beyond the Second District and beyond Illinois when it comes to gun violence.”
Some former colleagues from Ms. Kelly’s days in the state legislature said they were surprised to watch guns emerge as her chief campaign issue this year. While they acknowledged that she had backed gun restrictions, issues like education, economic development and domestic violence bills stood out in their minds as some of her more passionate pursuits at the time.
“It seemed that forces outside her control really created this issue to be the issue of the race,” said Representative Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican who served with Ms. Kelly in the legislature and will again be her colleague in Congress.
Ms. Kelly had been part of a passionate gun debate before. She has had some victories, including a 2003 measure criminalizing the practice of buying a gun for someone else in some circumstances. The bill was co-sponsored by Barack Obama, then a state senator. President Obama endorsed Ms. Kelly last week.
But she has also taken her share of legislative bruises. Almost a decade ago, as lawmakers in Illinois debated whether to ban assault weapons, Ms. Kelly, a sponsor of one such bill, would often retire to a nearby restaurant after a hard day on the House floor, spooning at an order of ice cream while nursing her wounds.
“We’d sit there and talk about how we got creamed for the day,” said Alderman Deborah L. Graham, a former state representative who sponsored some gun-related bills with Ms. Kelly. “Sometimes we’d be there, and we’d almost be in tears because the debates had been so extreme.”
April 9, 2013
Obama Pushes His Choice for Position on Appeals Court
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — With a coordination and an energy that echo a Supreme Court nomination fight, the Obama administration is pushing for the confirmation of a senior Justice Department lawyer to the country’s most prestigious appellate court. If the effort fails, it could lead to a confrontation with the Senate over the long-simmering issue of judicial nominees.
The White House is lobbying some of the president’s most vocal foes, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Administration officials are trumpeting the endorsement of top Republican lawyers like Kenneth W. Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Clintons. And former clerks for Supreme Court justices, liberal and conservative, are writing letters of support for the nominee, Sri Srinivasan.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on his nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The nomination will test an aggressive new strategy that the White House and Democrats are hoping will put Republicans in a bind: approve the highly regarded Mr. Srinivasan or risk forcing a change to Senate rules that could prevent Republicans from filibustering nominees.
Beyond its import for other nominations, Mr. Srinivasan’s confirmation matters for its own sake. Mr. Obama has yet to leave his mark and fill any of the four vacant seats on the court, which often decides major federal cases and has been a steppingstone for Supreme Court justices. Four of the current justices served there first.
As a 46-year-old lawyer with bipartisan backing who would become the first appeals court judge of South Asian heritage, Mr. Srinivasan himself is a potential Supreme Court candidate.
“There really is no good reason not to confirm Sri — and no good reason after his hearing not to give him a speedy vote,” said Walter E. Dellinger III, who served as acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton and is one of the organizers of the effort to burnish Mr. Srinivasan’s centrist credentials so Republicans will feel they have little choice but to support him.
Speaking of his efforts to line up conservatives on Mr. Srinivasan’s behalf, Mr. Dellinger added, “It was not a hard sell.”
Like some recent Supreme Court nominees, Mr. Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general, does not have the kind of long paper trail on divisive issues that could complicate his prospects, although that background also creates anxiety among some of the president’s allies.
He was a point guard on his high school basketball team in Kansas, where a teammate was Danny Manning, the star University of Kansas player who went on to play professionally. In Washington, he has played an occasional game with Senator Cruz.
He has argued two dozen cases before the Supreme Court. Most recently, he was on the Obama administration’s side in arguments last month over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. When he appears before the justices, he is one of the few lawyers to speak completely without notes.
He was also a clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee, and has taken on causes that are not conventionally liberal. Several years ago, he represented the imprisoned former Enron executive Jeffrey K. Skilling, winning a decision that significantly limited the federal law used to prosecute corrupt politicians and public figures.
Senate Republicans are largely withholding public judgment on Mr. Srinivasan’s nomination until after his hearing.
The list of high-profile lawyers supporting his nomination reads like a strange bedfellows guide to Washington. Along with Mr. Starr, Paul D. Clement and Theodore B. Olson, both solicitors general under President George W. Bush, signed a letter of support drafted by Mr. Dellinger. So did nine other former solicitors general or top deputies, including Seth P. Waxman, a Clinton appointee, and Neal Katyal, Mr. Srinivasan’s predecessor.
The efforts to push Mr. Srinivasan to confirmation — some directed by the White House, and others led by coalitions of lawyers that have the Obama administration’s blessing — would probably not have been necessary in years past. Democrats started aggressively filibustering judicial nominees during the George W. Bush administration, a practice Republicans have escalated.
“We’ve lived through this atmosphere since the confirmation hearings of Judge Bork,” Mr. Starr said, recalling the bitter 1987 defeat of Robert H. Bork, a conservative Supreme Court nominee, by Democrats. “I wish,” Mr. Starr added, “we could get past the era of such a deeply politicized process.”
In part because the Obama administration has been slow to name appellate judges when vacancies occur and in part because of Republican efforts to deny nominees votes in the Senate, no new judge has joined the District of Columbia court to which Mr. Srinivasan has been nominated since Mr. Bush was president.
Mr. Obama’s only other nominee to the court, Caitlin J. Halligan, was named to fill the vacancy created by the elevation of John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court. Republicans last month for a second time prevented the Senate from voting on Ms. Halligan, and she then asked that her nomination be withdrawn.
Of the judges who hear full caseloads, four were appointed by Republican presidents and three by Mr. Clinton.
The court is of major importance to any White House because it often takes cases that decide the constitutionality of rules and regulations issued by federal agencies. Some recent decisions, like one this year stating that the president had violated the Constitution when he installed three officials on the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in recess, have dismayed the Obama administration.
Since Ms. Halligan withdrew, the White House and Mr. Srinivasan’s allies have rallied to his defense. In addition to Mr. Dellinger’s letter, a group of more than two dozen former Supreme Court clerks who worked for justices as ideologically far apart as Clarence Thomas and John Paul Stevens drafted their own letter.
Last week, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, opened one of his daily news briefings with a plea for the Senate to confirm Mr. Srinivasan and to stop what he called a continuous and arbitrary pattern of delay with judicial nominees.
Senate Democrats have discussed with the White House the possibility of putting nominees forward for all four of the vacancies on the Washington court at once. And on Tuesday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he expected the White House to move forward soon with more nominations.
“We expect in the next couple of weeks — I spoke to the White House this morning — three more nominations,” he said. Mr. Reid decided this year not to make major changes to rules governing the filibuster, but he has become increasingly exasperated by a series of drawn-out nomination fights.
He hinted this past weekend that unless Republicans started approving more of the president’s judicial nominees, he would resort to a procedural maneuver that would allow him to limit Republicans’ ability to prevent votes on nominees.
On Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, appeared sensitive to that possibility, saying, “We treated this president quite fairly.”
April 9, 2013
Three Obama Nominees Encounter No Opposition at Senate Confirmation Hearings
By MATTHEW L. WALD and ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s three nominees to run Medicare and Medicaid, the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget sailed through their separate Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday and appeared to be on track to win approval from the committees, though none of the panels voted on the nominations.
Marilyn B. Tavenner, who has been chosen to run the government’s big health care programs, won endorsement from the House Republican leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who said he had worked with her in his days as a state lawmaker.
Ms. Tavenner deflected criticism of Mr. Obama’s health care policies with mild-mannered responses in which she described herself as a pragmatist committed to solving problems, not scoring ideological points.
She has been acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since December 2011. and, if confirmed, would get the job on a permanent basis.
Similarly, Mr. Obama’s nominee for energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was under secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, faced no opposition Tuesday in a three-hour hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who has been nominated as director of the budget office, also appeared to have no serious opposition in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Ms. Tavenner, a nurse, worked for more than two decades at the Hospital Corporation of America, a commercial hospital chain, eventually becoming an executive there. From 2006 to 2010, she was the secretary of health and human resources in Virginia, managing Medicaid, foster care and other programs for Tim Kaine, a Democrat who was then governor and is now a United States senator.
At the hearing, held by the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Cantor said Ms. Tavenner, who grew up in the rural town of Fieldale, Va., was “eminently qualified.”
Ms. Tavenner pleased Republicans with her vision for the Medicare agency, which has an annual budget of more than $850 billion. “We need to operate C.M.S. as a business and act like business partners,” she said.
In response to questions, Ms. Tavenner said she had ordered an internal investigation of the premature disclosure of information about the rates that would be paid to Medicare managed care plans. The disclosure, on April 1, touched off frenetic trading that drove up share prices for insurance companies that run such Medicare Advantage plans, including Humana, UnitedHealth Group and Aetna.
“I consider this a huge issue,” Ms. Tavenner told Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.
Ms. Tavenner indicated at several points that she was not impressed with the work of actuaries who say the 2010 health care law could lead to higher premiums for policies sold to consumers in the individual health insurance market.
Fewer than 20 million Americans are in that market, Ms. Tavenner said, so most Americans will not be affected.
In addition, she said, the government will offer subsidies in the form of tax credits to help some people pay premiums, and consumers will have a choice of policies providing different levels of coverage at different prices.
Finally, she said, some insurance policies have low premiums for a reason: they offer skimpy, bare-bones coverage, and consumers may not discover that unless they need coverage for a serious illness.
Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, said that “subsidies mask the cost” of health insurance to consumers, but do not hold down the cost of health care or of insurance.
In response to a question from Mr. Burr, Ms. Tavenner could not immediately say how much it would cost the federal government to run health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, in more than half the states next year. When Congress passed the health care law, it assumed that each state would set up its own regulated market, but many states have balked, leaving the task to federal officials.
Ms. Tavenner said the Obama administration was still working with Arkansas on its proposal to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people.
Officials in Florida, Ohio and other states have expressed interest in such “premium assistance,” even though it might be more expensive than expanding the traditional Medicaid program because private insurers often pay higher rates to doctors and hospitals. Ms. Tavenner said she believed that only “a handful of states” were interested in following Arkansas’s example.
Mr. Moniz avoided taking firm positions on many of the issues, and pointedly refused to be pinned down on whether a factory on which the department has spent about $6 billion and which is intended to convert plutonium from bombs into fuel for civilian power reactors should be finished. The United States has an agreement with Russia, which Mr. Moniz helped negotiate, that each side will convert some of its weapons-grade plutonium into a form unsuitable for weapons.
Mr. Moniz did commit to visiting another troubled, multibillion-dollar construction project, a factory at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington State that is supposed to solidify military nuclear wastes so they cannot spill. At the request of the committee chairman, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, he also agreed to meet people at the plant who Mr. Wyden said were “whistle-blowers” pointing to safety problems.
April 9, 2013
New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education
By JUSTIN GILLIS
Educators unveiled new guidelines on Tuesday that call for sweeping changes in the way science is taught in the United States — including, for the first time, a recommendation that climate change be taught as early as middle school.
The guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution, the central organizing idea in the biological sciences for more than a century, but one that still provokes a backlash among some religious conservatives.
The guidelines, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, are the first broad national recommendations for science instruction since 1996. They were developed by a consortium of 26 state governments and several groups representing scientists and teachers.
States are not required to adopt them, but 26 states have committed to seriously considering the guidelines. They include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas and New York. Other states could also adopt the standards.
Educators involved in drawing them up said the guidelines were intended to combat widespread scientific ignorance, to standardize teaching among states, and to raise the number of high school graduates who choose scientific and technical majors in college, a critical issue for the country’s economic future.
The focus would be helping students become more intelligent science consumers by learning how scientific work is done: how ideas are developed and tested, what counts as strong or weak evidence, and how insights from many disciplines fit together into a coherent picture of the world.
Leaders of the effort said that teachers may well wind up covering fewer subjects, but digging more deeply into the ones they do cover. In some cases, traditional classes like biology and chemistry may disappear entirely from high schools, replaced by courses that use a case-study method to teach science in a more holistic way.
In many respects, the standards are meant to do for science what a separate set of guidelines known as the Common Core is supposed to do for English and mathematics: impose and raise standards, with a focus on critical thinking and primary investigation. To date, 45 states and Washington have adopted the Common Core standards.
“This is a huge deal,” said David L. Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “We depend on science in so many aspects of our lives. There’s a strong feeling that we need to help people understand the nature of science itself, as an intellectual pursuit.”
The climate and evolution standards are just two aspects of a set of guidelines containing hundreds of new ideas on how to teach science. But they have already drawn hostile commentary from conservative groups critical of mainstream scientific thinking.
For instance, as the standards were being drafted, a group called Citizens for Objective Public Education, which lists officers in Florida and Kansas, distributed a nine-page letter attacking them. It warned that the standards ignored evidence against evolution, promoted “secular humanism,” and threatened to “take away the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.”
In many states, extensive scientific instruction does not begin until high school. The guidelines call for injecting far more science into the middle grades, with climate change being one among many topics. In high school, students would learn in more detail about the human role in generating emissions that are altering the planetary climate.
While thousands of schools in the United States already teach climate change to some degree, they are usually doing it voluntarily, and often in environmental studies classes. In many more schools, the subject does not come up because students are not offered those specialized courses, and state guidelines typically do not require that the issue be raised in traditional biology or chemistry classes.
Advocates of climate literacy hailed the new standards, saying they could fill a critical gap in public awareness.
“Quite simply, students have a right to know about climate science and solutions,” said Sarah Shanley Hope, the executive director of the Alliance for Climate Education, which offers one-day programs in schools.
Many states are expected to adopt the guidelines over the next year or two, but it could be several years before the guidelines are translated into detailed curriculum documents, teachers are trained in the material and standardized tests are revised.
And all of this has to happen at a time when state education departments and many local schools are under severe financial strain. Inevitably, educators said, some states will do it better than others.
The other states that helped draw up the guidelines were Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. The organizations included the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council and Achieve, a nonprofit education group that helped develop the earlier common standards in mathematics and English. Financing was provided by private foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Noyce Foundation and the Cisco Foundation, as well as DuPont.
Outlining how the standards might change science classrooms, educators said they foresaw more use of real-world examples, like taking students to a farm or fish hatchery — perhaps repeatedly, over the course of years — to help them learn principles from biology, chemistry and physics.
Educators want to introduce students to topics that can be made comprehensible only by drawing on the ideas and methods of many scientific disciplines, one of the reasons climate change and other large-scale environmental problems are seen as holding so much potential in the classroom.
Some teachers are already ahead of the curve.
Judith Luber-Narod, a high-school science teacher at the Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School in Worcester, Mass., has incorporated climate change into her environmental studies classes, even though she teaches in a somewhat conservative area.
“I hesitated a little bit talking about something controversial,” she said. “But then I thought, how can you teach the environment without talking about it?”
Her students, on the other hand, love topics some deem controversial, she said. She devised an experiment in which she set up two terrariums with thermometers and then increased the level of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, in one of them.
The students watched as that terrarium got several degrees hotter than the other.
“I say to them, ‘I’m here to show you the evidence,’ ” she said. “ ‘If you want to believe the evidence when we’re done, that’s up to you.’ ”
the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy speaks .. or let's say lies ..
April 10, 2013 06:00 AM
Irrefutable Proof That Ted Cruz (R-TX) is Congress' Biggest Liar
By Blue Texan
Ted Cruz (T-TX) calls himself a Southern Baptist, so he should know the Ninth Commandment.
A full 54 percent of Ted Cruz's statements have been rated "false" or "pants on fire" by PolitiFact. Another 20 percent are only "half true." That's 74 percent of Cruz's statements failing the truth test.
We're used to politicians lying to us, of course. But the frequency of Cruz's lies is actually staggering. Compare Cruz's 74 percent lying rate with Rick Perry's 48 percent and John Cornyn's 56 percent. Cruz is in rarified with Michele Bachmann as one of this country's biggest political liars. Whenever Ted Cruz opens his mouth, there's a 3/4 chance he's lying.
Cruz, you may remember, says he has a secret list of communists at Harvard Law School, and bravely exposed a Democratic plot to shutter Catholic charities and hospitals.
Guess you could say he's lying for Jesus.
April 9, 2013
As Governor Steers Maryland to the Left, Talk Turns to 2016
By TRIP GABRIEL
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As the Maryland Senate debated a crackdown on guns last week, one Republican after another objected that amendments were being smothered by the Democratic majority in its haste to send Gov. Martin O’Malley the bill he wanted.
But the opponents had no chance, as allies of the governor passed sweeping gun restrictions, the final victory in a series of triumphs that capped one of the most successful 2013 legislative seasons of any governor in the country.
Besides gun control legislation, Mr. O’Malley coaxed a liberal wish list from the General Assembly session that ended Monday: repeal of the death penalty, a $1.7 billion subsidy for offshore wind turbines and a bump in the gasoline tax to pay for mass transit and roads.
Republicans fumed that Mr. O’Malley had steered well to the left of Maryland residents’ concerns, and denounced his agenda as a punch list for a 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign. Mr. O’Malley — largely unknown outside Maryland, though he is mentioned in presidential speculations alongside Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado — said the bills were smart policy and in step with state residents.
“I don’t think the relevant question for Maryland families is whether we’re moving left or right; it’s whether we’re moving forward or back,” he said in an interview. To voters under 35, who represent a generational shift in American politics, especially on social issues, “these are pretty mainstream things,” he added.
In a relaxed mood a few days before the adjournment of the General Assembly, Mr. O’Malley, 50, offered a tour of the fine art in his office. He pointed out a Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, whose distant eyes are the most arresting feature.
“They have the look of a man who knows how the conversation is going to end before it begins,” Mr. O’Malley said.
It was a comment that could apply as well to Mr. O’Malley, who is in his next-to-last year as a governor facing term limits. That he is looking ahead to a presidential campaign “is the worst-kept secret in Annapolis,” said Anthony J. O’Donnell, the Republican minority leader in the House of Delegates. Mr. O’Donnell added that the governor was “planting his flag as far to the left as possible” with left-leaning Democratic primary voters in mind.
Mr. O’Malley would not confirm any such thing. He said he was flattered that people noticed “the tough things we’ve accomplished here.”
“I haven’t put a whole lot of brain power or effort or time into 2016,” he said.
His successes come on top of others a year ago, when lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled legislature approved same-sex marriage and in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants. After opponents forced both measures onto the state ballot in November, Mr. O’Malley campaigned hard for them, and voters upheld the changes — victories that provided political capital that allowed the governor to pass his even more ambitious agenda this year.
But with lawmakers in Annapolis increasingly on the ideological wings of each party, it is an open question whether Mr. O’Malley has left Maryland residents behind. Protests against his gun restrictions, including an assault weapons ban and fingerprinting for handgun buyers, were the largest and most inflamed in memory. In a Washington Post poll last month, a plurality of Maryland residents, 48 percent to 41 percent, said the state was on the wrong track.
A former mayor of Baltimore, who despised the city’s dark portrayal in the television show “The Wire,” Mr. O’Malley is not a traditional liberal. His arguments to abolish the death penalty were practical, not moralizing, in keeping with his reputation for shaping policy by analyzing data. He argued that capital punishment failed as a deterrent and did not reduce violent crime.
Similarly, his defense of same-sex marriage and tuition breaks for illegal immigrants is an economic argument, aimed at attracting the well-educated and socially tolerant “creative class” to Maryland. “We believe that openness and inclusiveness are good for creating jobs and expanding opportunities,” he said.
Mr. O’Malley has succeeded with a fiscal policy balanced between tax increases and spending cuts, of the sort President Obama has sought with less success in talks with Congressional Republicans. He has nearly wiped out a $1.7 billion structural deficit he inherited in the Maryland budget, partly by slowing the rise of spending. He won re-election in 2010 in part by pointing out that spending went up less in his administration than under the previous governor, a Republican.
But Republicans denounce his tax increases, including on individual incomes above $100,000 — a definition of “high earner” that is lower than the $250,000 threshold Mr. Obama campaigned on during his re-election race. Critics say Maryland has chased entrepreneurs to lower-taxed Virginia.
“Since 2007, we’ve lost 40,000 jobs in this state; we’ve lost 6,500 small businesses who have closed their doors to move across the border,” said Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the Republican minority whip in the legislature’s lower house.
Mr. O’Malley has been called a rising star in the Democratic Party since he rode on the back of garbage trucks as mayor. But he has picked his battles with care. He decided not to challenge Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002. When she lost the general election, Mr. O’Malley had a clean shot at Annapolis four years later.
He went on to lead the Democratic Governors Association, raising his national profile as a happy partisan warrior who attacked “the dinosaur wing of the Republican Party.”
Strategists who have worked with him do not believe he will seek the presidency in 2016 if Hillary Rodham Clinton commits to the race. The governor is close to Mrs. Clinton, whom he supported in her unsuccessful 2008 primary campaign. A generation younger, he will presumably have many options when his term ends in 2014, including a run for the Senate or a cabinet position in a future Democratic administration.
Mr. O’Malley pointed out that he had begun campaigning to overturn the state’s death penalty in 2007, his first year in office, long before Republicans in the General Assembly accused him of checking boxes for a presidential race.
“These guys would be sorely pressed to say that that was some sort of appeal to the base in Keokuk, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H.,” he said.
He turned to an aide, Teddy Davis, his director of strategic communications. “They still have the death penalty in New Hampshire, don’t they?”
Mr. Davis said they did. “They had passed a repeal bill about 10 years ago. Governor Shaheen had vetoed it,” he said, referring to Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who is now one of the state’s senators.
And how did an aide to Maryland’s governor know policy details in New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary?
“Just learned my New Hampshire stuff,” said Mr. Davis, whom the governor recently hired to help with the next phase of his career.
Congo: 'We could do what we wanted' says soldier who raped 53 women
As the G8 tries to address sexual violence in the DRC, perpetrators and victims speak out about mass rape in Minova
Pete Jones in Minova
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 11.36 BST
In a small house on a hill overlooking Lake Kivu, a young Congolese army soldier recounts the crimes that he and his comrades committed in the town of Minova a few months ago. "Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it," he said. "I've raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.
"I didn't rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure," says 22-year-old Mateso, not his real name. "When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted."
As William Hague unveils a sexual violence prevention strategy at a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London this week, what happened in Minova is a stark reminder of the huge challenges facing those seeking to solve the problem of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo .
On 22 November last year thousands of exhausted, battered and bruised Congolese army troops descended on Minova having just lost a battle with the rebel M23 fighters in Goma, the main city in eastern Congo some 30 miles away.
Their retreat was haphazard and chaotic. The soldiers were embarrassed, angry, upset and out of control; their commanders had disappeared and the battalion and regiment structures had disintegrated.
When they arrived in Minova they were drunk, hungry and violent. The locals suffered two nightmarish days of looting, rape and murder before the army managed to restore some discipline among its troops.
Hundreds of women were raped. It is impossible to accurately state the number of cases as victims frequently fail to come forward, fearing that their communities and even their husbands will reject them, but local hospital director Dr Ghislain Kassongo said that he had dealt with well over 100 women with rape-related injuries after the army rampage.
At a rape victim refuge centre a couple of miles from Minova, 60-year old Nzigire Chibalonza tells the horrific story of what happened to her when the soldiers came to her shop. "They beat us and beat us, and then they started to rape. Three men raped me – two from the front and one from behind," she says, tears welling in her eyes as she nervously grabs and twists fistfuls of her dress.
"My head is still not right. I thought I had Aids, and now my husband mocks me. He calls me the wife of a soldier, he has rejected me," she says. The refuge centre, set up and run by a local woman who was herself a multiple rape victim, is the only place she has to go. It is home to a traumatised but resilient community of women who work and care for each other. One of the victims who spoke to the Guardian at the centre was just 14.
The scale of criminality in Minova has forced the army to take action. Military prosecutors in North and South Kivu provinces – Minova is right on the border between them – have made powerful statements, even threatening to arrest the officers who failed to control their troops.
"There have been a lot of troubles here. The soldiers are traumatised by war and so commit serious acts and crimes," said Mokuta Amdondo, the North Kivu military prosecutor. "This is where military justice is of the utmost importance. We have not hesitated to put in place the processes to arrest the soldiers who have raped and pillaged the civilian population in Minova.
"If [the victims] are unable to identify the soldiers who committed the crimes, then we'll apply the hierarchy principle: the commanders of the units must be pursued for these incredibly serious crimes committed by soldiers under their control."
Observers hope that a successful investigation can make Minova a watershed moment in the construction of a functioning justice system in eastern Congo. "Minova is at the centre of something, as far as justice is concerned in the DRC," says Charles Guy Makongo of the American Bar Association in Goma. "That the investigation is already ongoing is good. But the trials and certainly the convictions will change several things in the justice sector, in the fight against impunity and the process of building the rule of law in the DRC."
To date there have been few concrete developments. Military justice personnel on the ground told the Guardian they did not want to be involved in the case if it would lead to charges against officers, as they feared a backlash from powerful army figures. So far only three soldiers have been arrested – a sub-lieutenant, a corporal and a South Kivu-based soldier of no rank.
"If justice is done, this might stop the soldiers raping," says Chibalonza. "I will go wherever I need to go to in order to testify against these men because what they did to me was so awful. If they are punished I do feel justice will have been delivered."
Until some significant arrests are made, however, the women of Minova remain sceptical that justice will be done or that impunity will end. "The government says it will arrest these soldiers and officers," says the head of the victim refuge centre, who wishes to remain anonymous. "They may arrest some, but then later they will just set them free again." Unfortunately it is the gloomy predictions of the sceptics that have, so far, proved correct.
Research for this article was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
*********Aftermath of mass rape in Congo - in pictures
Last November, hundreds of women and children were raped in Minova, on the shores of Lake Kivu, by soldiers from the Congolese national army. As the G8 debates ways to prevent sexual violence in the DRC, photographer Fiona Lloyd-Davies gained unprecedented access to the town
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2013/apr/11/congo-rape-galley-pictures
April 10, 2013
Morocco Slow to Enforce Laws on Women's Rights
By AIDA ALAMI
MARRAKESH, MOROCCO — The girl at the police station in Marrakesh said she was not sure how old she was, 13 or maybe 14. Sitting on a chair in the unit that processes youth cases, she told a chilling account of being gang raped, and said she had no relatives willing to shelter her.
She gave conflicting statements and when she was finished speaking with two male police officers, no one was clear on what had really happened. There were only two consistent elements in her testimony: that her first name was Amal and that she was pregnant.
Like many unmarried girls in Morocco, she would be afraid to admit to having had a sexual relationship because of the social stigma but also because it is illegal to have sex outside of marriage.
Last year, 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide after a judge and her parents forced her to marry her alleged rapist, causing a national and international uproar.
In 2004, Morocco changed its code of family law, shifting away from Islamic principles by giving more rights to women regarding divorce and polygamy, and raising the minimum marriage age for women to 18 from 15.
But conservative judges have been finding ways around the law. Courts have granted special dispensation for minors to marry in 90 percent of the cases that have appeared before them, according to 2010 data reported by the Justice Ministry.
And while human rights groups are urging Moroccan leaders to further reinforce women’s rights, amending the penal code remains a sensitive issue. While the government has ratified international treaties on human rights, its own laws do not yet conform, a situation that has led to protests, human rights groups say.
In Amal’s case, the police officers who questioned her late last month were extremely gentle. The presence of Najat Oulami, a member of the women’s advocacy group Al Amane, seemed to help.
“We help women navigate the system and make sure that every woman that comes to our offices asking for our help is treated well by the authorities,” Ms. Oulami said. “We took Amal to our shelter, we gave her clothes and fed her. But she is a minor, we cannot take on the responsibility and the authorities need to deal with her case.”
Because Al Amane cannot shelter minors, Amal was sent to a different shelter, and her whereabouts are now unclear.
To avoid more tragedies like the Filali suicide, rights groups say that Morocco must change Article 475 in its penal code, which allows for a charge to be dropped in cases of statutory rape if the two parties get married. One interpretation of this provision has allowed rapists to swap the charges against them for a wedding ring and a child bride.
“The problem is, many judges are very conservative,” Ms. Oulami said, “and they believe that it is better to save the girl’s honor by giving their permission to let minors get married.”
Al Amane is one of several groups throughout Morocco working with Global Rights, a nongovernmental organization that aims to help women get more access to the justice system.
A grant from the Netherlands has led to the creation of a Web site called Marsadnissa, or Women’s Observatory, where judicial decisions are listed as a sort of database to help women’s rights lawyers across Morocco argue the law more effectively.
This kind of tracking mechanism is crucial, rights advocates say.
“Judges don’t know how cases are being decided across the country — there is no systematic collection and publication of court decisions at the local level,” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, an American who is the Global Rights director for the Maghreb region of North Africa. “We’d like to see greater consistency in court decisions and greater protection of women’s rights by the judiciary.”
In January, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying it was in favor of abrogating Article 475 and human rights groups are confident it will be struck down by Parliament. The Islamist-led government, however, is not showing much impetus to act.
“The pressure of civil society has already created an impact: It has become impossible now to marry a girl under the age of 16,” Kachane Belcaide, a lawyer in the northeastern city of Khemisset, said last month. Still, “the current government seems to be divided,” he added. “There is no sign that a special law on violence against women will be put forward.”
Observers say that any changes undertaken by Morocco will not mean much as long as there is not a strong and independent judiciary to apply the law. In fact, Moroccan judges themselves are demanding changes to the family code. In August 2011, judges formed the association of Moroccan judges, which now has 3,700 members, to protest judicial corruption and interference by the executive branch, which they say undermines their independence.
Aziz Nizar, a judge and former president of the association, said initiatives like Marsadnissa would help change the system. “There are many ways to interpret a law,” he said. “I frequently go on the Web site, read the decisions and am inspired by them. Sometimes I even enter comments and give my opinion on some cases.”
Despite the various initiatives, the biggest obstacle to advancing protections for girls seems to be the prevailing mentality in Morocco about women and their place in society. A recent online documentary about the rape law, “475: Trêve de Silence,” in which Moroccans of all ages and from different parts of society were interviewed on pre-marital sex and rape, showed a clear consensus that a girl who had lost her virginity had lost her value.
“A woman should stay at home and only go out to run errands,” one man said in the documentary, suggesting that a rape victim was responsible because she put herself in danger. “She shouldn’t be wandering around the streets.”
Even some women in the film said they believed that was normal for men to desire women. As one teenager put it: “The man is never guilty.”
Alice Urban contributed reporting from Rabat.
Israel police arrest 5 feminists for praying at Western Wall
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 11, 2013 7:35 EDT
Five Jewish feminists who on Thursday wore prayer shawls and prayed out loud at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in defiance of a court order have been detained for questioning, a police spokeswoman said.
Some 200 women gathered at the Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City to stage what has become a monthly protest by activists seeking to overturn a legal ban on them performing certain religious rituals at the sacred site, an AFP correspondent said.
Media reports this week said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was trying to find a compromise so the women could pray as they wish without offending more traditional worshippers.
“Five (women) who were wearing a tallit, which is barred by the Supreme Court, were taken for questioning,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
An ultra-Orthodox man who tried to set fire to a prayer pamphlet being held by one of the women was also taken for questioning, Samri said.
Wearing a tallit, a fringed prayer shawl, is one of several practices traditionally reserved for men at the sacred spot in the Old City. A court in 2003 ruled that women could not perform such rituals there as this would constitute a danger to public order.
Under Israeli law, women are allowed to pray at the ancient wall, but in silence.
The activists, who belong to a group called Women of the Wall, have been going the site to pray on the first day of every Jewish month for 25 years, sparking insults and curses from the men at the site.
At the same time, they have been waging a protracted legal struggle over their right to pray out loud, to wear prayer shawls and to hold a Torah scroll at the site.
The AFP correspondent said that some of the women at Thursday’s protest were wrapped in tallits while others wore skullcaps.
Religious men tried to drown out their singing and prayers by carrying out their own rites at a volume much louder than usual.
The women say access to the Wall, the most sacred spot at which Jews can pray, is open to all streams of Judaism, including the Reform and Liberal branches which accord women an equal place alongside men.
The Jewish Agency, a body tasked with linking Israel to Jewish communities around the world, confirmed on its Facebook page Sharansky was working on a compromise plan.
“Sharansky hopes his recommendations will be accepted and will decrease the heightened tensions at the Western Wall,” it said in a move aimed at making the site “a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife”.
The site is venerated by Jews as the last remnant of wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
On its other side is the compound housing the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Also known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the compound is a deeply sensitive location where clashes frequently break out between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces.
April 10, 2013
Yemen: President Set to Purge Military Leadership
By KAREEM FAHIM
President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced a purge of Yemen’s military leadership on Wednesday that could sideline relatives of his autocratic predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed to step down in November 2011 but whose continued influence has troubled Yemen’s brittle transition. Mr. Hadi restructured the military in December, but the moves announced Wednesday were more far-reaching, removing Mr. Saleh’s son and two nephews from powerful security posts as well as from the country. Officials said that Mr. Saleh’s son, who was the head of the Republican Guard, had been appointed ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and that the nephews had been made military attaches in Ethiopia and Germany.
April 10, 2013
Move to Widen Help for Syrian Rebels Gains Speed in West
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK LANDLER
LONDON — A long-debated move by Western nations to expand support for Syria’s opposition gained momentum on Wednesday, with the United States poised to increase its nonlethal aid to rebel groups and pressure building to lift a European Union embargo on sending arms to Syria.
In Washington, administration officials said President Obama had not yet signed off on a specific package of measures, but had agreed in principle to increase assistance to the military wing of the Syrian opposition that could include battlefield gear like body armor and night-vision goggles, but not arms.
“Our assistance has been on an upward trajectory, and the president has directed his national security team to identify additional measures so that we can increase assistance,” a senior administration official said.
In London, where the British foreign secretary, William Hague, hosted a meeting with the Syrian opposition on Wednesday, there were signs that Britain and France were prepared to let the European Union arms embargo expire by the end of May so that they could increase their assistance.
“We certainly believe that it’s necessary to continue, if the situation continues to deteriorate, to increase the practical help we give to the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Hague told reporters. “We think that as things stand today, there is going to be a very strong case for further amendments to the embargo or the lifting of the embargo.”
The Syria crisis was at the forefront of discussions here as foreign ministers gathered for a meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.
At a lunch meeting convened by Mr. Hague and attended by Secretary of State John Kerry, the Syrian opposition reiterated its request for antiaircraft and antitank weapons, according to Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the rebel delegation.
Syrian opposition representatives also said they planned to establish a presence in areas that had been wrested from Syrian government control within the next four to six weeks. The goal would be to buttress the opposition’s efforts to present itself as a viable alternative to Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, but it raised the question of how opposition forces could defend the enclave against the Syrian government’s air force and Scud missiles.
Among the opposition members who attended the meeting was Ghassan Hitto, a naturalized Syrian-born American citizen who was recently picked by the opposition coalition to serve as prime minister of an interim government. The question of how much, and what kind, of support to give the armed groups fighting the Syrian government has been hotly debated within the Obama administration.
Mr. Obama rebuffed recommendations last year by David H. Petraeus, who was then the director of the C.I.A., and other key members of his national security team for the United States to funnel arms to carefully vetted members of the Syrian opposition. But as Mr. Assad has clung to power, partly because of weapons supplied by allies like Iran and Russia, the White House has moved incrementally toward more support.
Another factor that has influenced the Obama administration’s calculations has been the growing popularity and prowess of Al Nusra Front, the Qaeda-affiliated group that has been battling the Syrian government.
The expanding role of Al Nusra has raised the prospect that Islamic extremists might seize control of much of Syria if Mr. Assad were deposed, and it has strengthened the case of proponents within the American government for providing support to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.
In February, Mr. Kerry announced that the United States would provide food rations and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army. The C.I.A. has also run a covert program to train Syrian rebels in Jordan, officials say.
Now, Mr. Obama is poised to expand the nonlethal aid. An administration official, who declined to be identified because the aide was discussing internal deliberations, said the White House had “blessed the concept” of increased assistance. But, the official added, “There are a lot of details still to be worked out before there’s something concrete for the president to sign off on, and before anything would be delivered.”
Mr. Kerry and other foreign ministers concerned with the crisis in Syria are expected to gather in Istanbul along with the Syrian opposition in 10 days to consider further steps. That session could be a venue at which the United States might make clear what additional support it is willing to provide. The European Union’s embargo on shipment of arms to Syria will expire at the end of May, unless all 27 members vote to extend it — an unlikely situation, diplomats said, given the strong opposition of Britain and France to the ban. European sanctions against the Assad government are also scheduled to expire.
Several analysts said Washington’s decision to expand its nonlethal aid would be helpful to the rebels but probably was not sufficient to alter the balance in Syria’s civil war.
“It’s not going to turn the tide in the battle, but of course it helps,” said Joseph Holliday, a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, a nongovernmental research organization.
The challenge for the United States, Mr. Holliday said, was to offer aid that would allow it to gain influence with elements of the opposition that might be part of a post-Assad government.
Mr. Kerry has said that the United States is still interested in fostering a political transition in which Mr. Assad would voluntarily give up power, and has argued that stepping up support for the Syrian opposition would be a way to increase the pressure on the Syrian leader.
A senior State Department official told reporters that the group of foreign ministers was expected to issue a “strong statement” on Thursday on the need to address the crisis. But because of Russian opposition, the official said that there had been “vigorous discussion” about how the statement should be worded.
Michael R. Gordon reported from London, and Mark Landler from Washington.
Egypt's army took part in torture and killings during revolution, report shows
Leaked document shines light on crimes including forced disappearances during uprising against Hosni Mubarak
Evan Hill and Muhammad Mansour in Cairo
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 April 2013 11.23 BST
Egypt's armed forces participated in forced disappearances, torture and killings across the country – including in Cairo's Egyptian Museum – during the 2011 uprising, even as military leaders publicly declared their neutrality, according to a leaked presidential report on revolution-era crimes.
The report, submitted to President Mohamed Morsi by his own hand-picked committee in January, has yet to be made public, but a chapter seen by the Guardian implicates the military in a catalogue of crimes against civilians, beginning with their first deployment to the streets.
The chapter recommends that the government investigate the highest ranks of the military to determine who was responsible.
More than 1,000 people, including many prisoners, are said to have gone missing during the 18 days of the revolt. Scores turned up in Egypt's morgues, shot or bearing signs of torture.
Many have simply disappeared, leaving behind desperate families who hope, at best, that their loved ones are serving prison sentences that the government does not acknowledge.
The findings of the high-level investigation, implicating Egypt's powerful military, will put pressure on Morsi, who assumed power from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after his election in June and has declined to prosecute any officers, despite allegations that some participated in abuse.
They could also figure in the retrial of the toppled president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister Habib al-Adly, who are set to return to court on Saturday to face charges – perhaps supported by new evidence from the report – that they were responsible for killing protesters during the revolt.
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said: "This chapter sheds light on new and extremely disturbing incidents that implicate the military in serious human rights violations. It uncovers new details on one of the most secret aspects of the 18 days of revolt that ended with the ousting of Mubarak: the role played by the armed forces in supporting Mubarak against protesters from the date they were deployed on 28 January 2011, until the first military statement was issued in support of the protesters on 10 February."
Among the incidents explored in the chapter, which focuses on the fate of those who went missing or were forcibly disappeared, investigators found that members of the armed forces detained an unknown but probably large number of civilians at a checkpoint on a road south of Cairo who have not been seen again; detained and tortured protesters in the Egyptian Museum before moving them to military prisons, killing at least one person, and delivered to government coroners in the capital at least 11 unidentified bodies, believed to be former prisoners, who were buried in paupers' graves four months later.
"The committee found that a number of citizens died during their detention by the armed forces and that they were buried in indigent graves, as they were considered unidentified," the report says, adding that authorities did not investigate, despite evidence of injuries and severe torture.
"The committee recommends investigating the leaders of the armed forces about the issuance of orders and instructions to subordinates who committed acts of torture and enforced disappearance," it states.
One woman who gave testimony to the committee, Radia Atta, told the Guardian that her husband, Ayman Issa, disappeared after being held at a military roadblock near the pyramids of Dahshour. He was on his way to work on 30 January 2011, after leaving their home in Ashment, a village in the governorate of Beni Suef. Issa was probably arrested some time between 7.30am and 8am, Atta said, during a curfew set by the military.
When Atta arrived at the checkpoint that afternoon, after receiving a call from a neighbour who saw Issa being arrested, she said she saw a staggering number of detained civilians lying on the ground with their hands and feet bound. Officers at the checkpoint sent Atta to a police station in Giza, the capital's western district, that had been commandeered by the military. There, Atta saw soldiers frisking and beating detainees as they arrived from the checkpoint. One soldier handed Atta her husband's passport and said he had been charged with "rioting" against the army and referred to military prosecutors.
When Atta obtained permission from the prosecutors to visit her husband in Hykestep, a large military base with a prison on Cairo's eastern outskirts, he could not be found. Her complaints to the defence and interior ministries, as well as civilian and military prosecutors, have failed to turn up any trace of her husband.
The military declined to comment on the report, saying it could take up to three weeks to respond. A source at the president's office said Morsi had not seen the findings, which were being investigated by the prosecutor general. "As soon as results appear, they will be made public," the source said. "The findings you mentioned are speculative, and not authentic. We haven't received the findings from the committee, and the investigations are still ongoing."
Protesters and opposition politicians have long called for the military to be held accountable for scores of alleged incidents of torture and killings during the uprising and 16 months of military rule that followed. The military has prosecuted at least four people, including three low-level conscripts, for incidents that occurred later in 2011, but no member of the armed forces is known to have faced charges for abuse or killings during the revolution.
Human rights lawyers say Egypt's new constitution, which was passed at Morsi's urging in December and gives the military sole authority to investigate its own members, made prosecuting soldiers impossible.
The constitution is "a bar forever", said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.
"We've been arguing from the start that there will never be military accountability within the military judiciary. It's just never going to happen in Egypt," she said.
The 16-member fact-finding committee, appointed by Morsi last July, investigated 19 violent incidents and submitted a roughly 800-page report to Morsi and the prosecutor general, Talaat Abdallah, but neither has released or publicly responded to the report's findings and recommendations.
Despite calls from some human rights lawyers, including the committee member Ahmed Ragheb, to set up a special authority to prosecute crimes committed by both civil and military authorities, no new charges have been filed. An office under Abdallah for the "revolution protection prosecution", approved by Morsi in November, says it is investigating new cases, but it will not be able to charge military officers.
Ragheb said: "The committee reached important findings, but unfortunately Morsi didn't do his role in declaring the report to public opinion and did not take serious steps with the security apparatus that was involved in crimes against demonstrators."
Egypt has not created a national database to track those who disappeared and has not set up a ministry to assist their families, as Libya did after its revolution. The National Council for Care of the Revolution Martyrs' Families and Wounded, established in December 2011, claims to have paid out millions of pounds in compensation but does not track missing people.
Disappearances are particularly difficult to investigate, human rights activists say. Egyptian authorities may intentionally fail to keep records, and ordinary missing-person cases can be impossible to distinguish from forced disappearances at the hands of by security forces.
Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer and member of the fact-finding committee, said the military and interior ministries had refused to provide the names of soldiers or officers working at checkpoints, police stations and ad-hoc detention centres where civilians disappeared. The failure to turn over the names "is in itself an indication of a criminal cover-up", Bahgat said.
Bahnasy said he intended to sue the armed forces and the government to compel them to reveal the officers' names and a definitive list of who they arrested.
Bahnasy and others said they could not reliably estimate how many people disappeared during the revolt. Nermeen Yousry, who in 2012 helped found an independent advocacy campaign for the disappeared called We Will Find Them, said Egypt's military-appointed cabinet reported in March 2011 that 1,200 missing-person cases had been filed during the revolution.
The fact-finding committee, after collecting witness statements, testimonies from relatives of the disappeared and data turned over by Cairo prosecutors and the Forensic Medical Authority, could only confirm 68 disappearances. Bahnasy said he believes there are hundreds more.
"This is a very small number, of course. The real numbers are much higher," said Hassan el-Azhari, a lawyer with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, who has also filed a case to force the government to turn over the names of those arrested.
The military, interior ministry and General Intelligence Service – Egypt's top spy agency – did not provide the committee with any information about civilians who may have been detained without identification, and Bahnasy said many families of the disappeared had not come forward.
But evidence compiled by the committee points to a wave of arrests, torture and deaths.
As well as at least four civilians, though probably many more, who disappeared after being detained at the roadblock near the Dahshour pyramids, it also found that the military detained protesters in and around Tahrir Square and transferred them to military prisons during the revolt.
Investigators found that armed military intelligence officers with cameras booked rooms in a major hotel next to the square on 25 January, the first day of protests, and observed and recorded subsequent events, Bahnasy said. "Military intelligence had evidence of what happened and hid it from the committee and the judiciary," he said.
The committee found evidence that at least one protester who disappeared from Tahrir Square during the revolt and was later found dead – a young lawyer from the governorate of Monofeya, about 45 miles (75km) north of Cairo – was detained and tortured by the military.
Osama Abdel Hamid travelled to Cairo with colleagues from his local lawyers' association on 1 February 2011 to participate in the protests, his father told the committee. Karim al-Gharbali, a friend who joined Abdel Hamid in the square, told investigators that the lawyer was fluent in English and helped foreign journalists translate painted banners and the slogans being shouted.
Some time after the 2 February assault on the square by Mubarak loyalists that became known as the Camel Battle, Abdel Hamid was abducted by men in civilian clothes and detained in the basement of the nearby Egyptian Museum, Gharbali said.
Another witness, Hani al-Azab, told the committee that he and Abdel Hamid were taken in armoured vehicles to the museum at about 6am on 3 February and were tortured and photographed with weapons and money. Before dawn on 4 February, Azab said, he and Abdel Hamid were transferred to a military prison run by a unit he named as Military Intelligence Group 75, where they were tortured and forced to confess to crimes. Finally, Azab said, the two were moved and held for three days in Hykestep, where Abdel Hamid died from the torture and beatings.
Abdel Hamid's father, Abdel Moneim Allam, found his son's body 12 days later, after receiving a tip from a lawyer who said it was being stored in Cairo's Zeinhom morgue. It was "misshapen" by torture, bore signs of beatings, and had a fractured skull, he told the committee.
Bahnasy and Azhari said that the hundreds of people who they believe disappeared during the uprising were probably killed. In addition to protesters who vanished and civilians who were arrested from the streets, thousands of prisoners remain lost, and the two lawyers believe many of them are dead.
Little is known about the violent events that wracked Egypt's prisons in the days following 28 January, when the police fled their posts. According to the interior ministry, about 24,000 prisoners escaped, and 21,000 have since been re-arrested. Taqadum al-Khatib, a political activist who worked with the fact-finding committee, has said that several prisons came under co-ordinated attacks by unidentified men and that guards used teargas and live ammunition in failed attempts to repel the assaults and subdue rioting prisoners.
Other reports allege that security forces may have intentionally allowed prisoners to escape from certain prisons, while guards at other jails opened fire and killed shot dozens of inmates who rioted when they heard that prisons were being opened. Witnesses claimed that during the chaos, some prisoners were left abandoned and locked inside, while others who escaped were later arrested by security forces and disappeared.
In February 2011, Amnesty International found that inmates who were released from Fayoum prison on 28 January and detained on 30 January at the Dahshour checkpoint were later found dead.
Officers told two men whose brothers were among the detained that they could inquire at the interior ministry about where their siblings would be taken. Instead, the men found their brothers' corpses, bearing signs of torture, nine days later in a Cairo morgue with 68 other bodies identified as Fayoum prison inmates.
According to data provided to the fact-finding committee by the prosecutor general's office, the Forensic Medical Authority officially recovered 19 unclaimed bodies during the revolution, 11 of whom had been delivered to coroners by military prosecutors, and 10 of whom were identified as inmates from Fayoum prison. All were turned over between 2 and 8 February.
Other disappearances detailed in the committee's report remain harder to explain.
Sabah Abdel Fattah, the mother of 26-year-old Mohamed Seddik, told the Guardian that her son, a member of the opposition Dignity party, disappeared after leaving home to protest on 28 January. On 11 February, the day Mubarak resigned, Seddik texted his cousins, saying: "Talk to me." When Abdel Fattah reached him on his mobile phone, Seddik was surrounded by voices and car horns, as if in a crowded vehicle.
"Yes mum, I'm mo …" he said, before the line was cut. Abdel Fattah believes he was either saying his name, Mohamed, or "mahbous", the Arabic word for arrested.
When Abdel Fattah reached Seddik's phone later that night, a man answered and swore at her. No one answered for another three months, when finally another man picked up and said he had bought the line. A month later, a third man answered and explained that his brother, a soldier in the army, had found the sim card near Al-Jabal al-Ahmar, or Red Mountain, a well-known riot-police camp in Cairo. When Abdel Fattah visited the Red Mountain area, residents told her that prisoners had been held in the camp during the revolution but had been released.
Azhari says that a number of families who continued to call their disappeared relatives' phones were answered by residents of the area who said they had found the sim cards in piles of rubbish outside the camp.
Abdel Fattah said she thought the military had secretly detained civilians during the revolution, some of whom had been sentenced. She claims to have been told by family friends in the intelligence services that her son was given a three-year sentence and is probably in a military jail.
Morayef and other human rights advocates say that such a scenario is highly unlikely, since the thousands of civilians known to have been brought before military trials since 2011 are transferred to civilian prisons after their case is decided and can usually contact their families.
Abdel Fattah believes her son will return to the family's flat, down an unpaved back alley in Cairo's Zeitoun district, where his framed portrait sits on top of a bookshelf, when he completes his sentence. Human rights lawyers, however, say most will never return.
Yousry, of We Will Find Them, said the security forces had tried to disappear those who died in their custody "to make it harder for the families to ever find their kids, so they don't convict themselves".
"Actually me, myself, I used to chant: 'The army and the people are one hand,' but now, yes, maybe we will realise that the army was never on our side," Yousry said. "I guess they were trying to break down the revolution. They wanted to contain it and make people scared, terrify people from going to the square."
April 10, 2013North Korea Delivers New Round of War Rhetoric
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea delivered a fresh round of rhetoric Thursday with claims it had "powerful striking means" on standby for a launch, while Seoul and Washington speculated that the country is preparing to test a medium-range missile during upcoming national celebrations.
On the streets of Pyongyang, meanwhile, North Koreans celebrated the anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's appointment to the country's top party post — one in a slew of titles collected a year ago in the months after father Kim Jong Il's death.
The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a nonmilitary agency that deals with relations with South Korea, didn't elaborate on its warning of a strike. The statement is the latest in a torrent of warlike threats seen outside Pyongyang as an effort to raise fears and pressure Seoul and Washington into changing their North Korea policy.
Officials in Seoul and Washington say Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test-fire a medium-range missile designed to reach the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Such a launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity, and mark a major escalation in Pyongyang's standoff with neighboring nations and the U.S.
North Korea already has been punished in recent months for launching a long-range rocket in December and conducting an underground nuclear test in February.
Analysts do not believe North Korea will stage an attack similar to the one that started the Korean War in 1950. But there are concerns that the animosity could spark a skirmish that could escalate into a serious conflict.
"North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions ... skating very close to a dangerous line," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Washington on Wednesday. "Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation."
The missile that officials believe Pyongyang is readying has been dubbed the "Musudan" by foreign experts after the northeastern village where North Korea has a launch pad. The missile has a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,180 miles) and is designed to reach U.S. military installments in Guam and Japan, experts say.
Bracing for a launch, officials said could take place at any time, Seoul deployed three naval destroyers, an early warning surveillance aircraft and a land-based radar system, a Defense Ministry official said in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. Japan deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors around Tokyo.
But officials in Seoul played down security fears, noting that no foreign government has evacuated its citizens from either Korean capital.
"North Korea has continuously issued provocative threats and made efforts to raise tension on the Korean peninsula ... but the current situation is being managed safely and our and foreign governments have been calmly responding," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters Thursday.
The war talk is seen as a way for North Korea to draw attention to the precariousness of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and to boost the military credentials of young leader Kim Jong Un.
The Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty, and the U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
For weeks, the U.S. and South Korea have staged annual military drills meant to show the allies' military might. North Korea condemns the drills as rehearsal for an invasion.
Citing the tensions, North Korea on Monday pulled more than 50,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which combines South Korean technology and know-how with cheap North Korean labor. It was the first time that production was stopped at the decade-old factory park, the only remaining symbol of economic cooperation between the Koreas.
South Korea's point man on North Korea, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to stop heightening tensions and to discuss the restart of operations in Kaesong.
In Pyongyang, meanwhile, there was no sense of panic. Across the city, workers were rolling out sod and preparing the city for a series of April holidays.
North Korean students put on suits and traditional dresses to celebrate Kim Jong Un's appointment as first secretary of the Workers' Party a year ago.
A flower show and art performances are scheduled over the next few days in the lead-up to the nations' biggest holiday, the April 15 birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader.
No military parade or mass events were expected over the coming week, but North Korea historically uses major holidays to show off its military power, and analysts say Pyongyang could well mark the occasion with a provocative missile launch in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring the North from nuclear and missile activity.
"However tense the situation is, we will mark the Day of the Sun in a significant way," Kim Kwang Chon, a Pyongyang citizen, told The Associated Press, referring to the April 15 birthday. "We will celebrate the Day of the Sun even if war breaks out tomorrow."
During last year's celebrations, North Korea failed in an attempt to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. The U.S. and its allies criticized the launch as a covert test of ballistic missile technology.
A subsequent test in December was successful, and that was followed by the country's third underground nuclear test on Feb. 12, possibly taking the regime closer to mastering the technology for mounting an atomic weapon on a missile.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
Follow AP's Korea bureau chief on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean.
********Chuck Hagel: North Korea ‘skating very close to a dangerous line’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 17:49 EDT
North Korea is “skating very close to a dangerous line” with its heated rhetoric and provocative actions, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Wednesday.
The United States and its allies hoped Pyongyang would tone down its inflammatory language but the American military was prepared for any possibility, Hagel said.
“North Korea …with its bellicose rhetoric, its actions, has been skating very close to a dangerous line,” the Pentagon chief said.
“Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate,” Hagel added.
The US military’s top officer, General Martin Dempsey, told the same press conference that he could not publicly comment on intelligence estimates as to how close North Korea was to placing a nuclear warhead on a missile.
But the four-star general said the United States military was ready for the “worst case” scenario.
“They have conducted two nuclear tests. They have conducted several successful missile launches.
“And in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, we have to assume the worst case and that’s why we’re postured as we are today,” said Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The military has deployed US naval ships in the region capable of shooting down incoming missiles and staged a show of force with bomber aircraft in a bid to deter North Korea from launching any attack.
Hagel said the United States and its allies hoped “that that rhetoric be ratcheted down” and Pyongyang will seek to defuse a “combustible situation.”
The comments come amid widespread speculation North Korea is poised for a missile launch in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
The head of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told senators Tuesday that he favored shooting down a North Korean missile only if it threatened the United States or Washington’s allies in the region.
Locklear, however, said he was confident the US military would be able to detect quickly where any missile was headed.
***********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
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 April 2013 12.13 BST
Link to video: North Korea: fear of attack raises tension around worldhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/10/north-korea-attack-world-video
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.
April 11, 2013South Korea Moves to Defuse Tensions With the North
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea appeared to ease its stance on North Korea on Thursday by calling for dialogue to help defuse tensions, as its president moved to calm foreign investors whose confidence the North has tried to shake with increasingly belligerent maneuvers.
“We hope the North Korean authorities come out to the dialogue table,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea’s point man on the North, said in a nationally televised statement that deplored the North’s recent decision to suspend the operation of an industrial park the two Koreas have run together for eight years in the North Korean town of Kaesong. “We strongly urge North Korea not to stoke the crisis on the Korean Peninsula any further.”
Mr. Ryoo stopped short of calling his statement an official proposal for dialogue. But it was a considerable softening in tone by President Park Geun-hye's government.
Until now, South Korea has categorically rejected any early dialogue with the North, believing that doing so amid a torrent of North Korean threats to attack the South would amount to capitulation and would only embolden the North’s brinkmanship. On Monday, Mr. Ryoo said the South had no intention of talking with North Korea any time soon because it was unlikely to bring about "concrete results." On Tuesday, Ms. Park vowed to end a " vicious cycle" of South Korea answering North Korea's hostilities with compromise.
“Rather than being an offer for dialogue, this is a public declaration that the problem of the Kaesong industrial complex and the North’s escalating belligerent acts should be resolved through dialogue,” Mr. Ryoo said on Thursday after reading his statement.
Hours earlier, President Park invited a group of foreign investors, including members of the American Chamber of Commerce in South Korea, to a luncheon in her presidential Blue House, assuring them that it was safe to invest in her country.
“Some of you may be worried because North Korea has been escalating tensions,” she said. “But South Korea has achieved a dramatic economic growth and democratization in the past 60 years despite the provocations and threats from North Korea.”
She said that a joint South Korea-American military deterrent against the North and international diplomacy involving regional powers, including China, would help prevent the crisis from getting out of control. She said South Koreans “understand the motives behind the North Korean threats and remain calm” despite repeated crises on the peninsula that so often looked “shocking to the outside world.”
Despite an almost daily drumbeat of belligerent rhetoric from the North, including warnings of a nuclear war on the peninsula, people here have shown few signs of outward anxiety. They believe that North Korea will not be reckless or suicidal enough to launch a full-scale war against the South and its American ally, whose mutual defense treaty with South Korea obligates it to fight for the South in a new Korean War.
Instead, South Koreans, while expecting their leaders to be firm against North Korean provocations, oppose reacting overly to North Korean rhetoric because they believe it would hurt their top priority, economic stability, analysts said.
That delicate challenge for Ms. Park was highlighted by signs that investor confidence in South Korea had been rattled by recent events.
General Motors said last week that further increases in tensions would prompt it to consider eventually relocating its production out of South Korea. The country’s main stock index slipped to its lowest point since November last week, although it has inched up for a third straight day on Thursday.
North Korea on Tuesday tried to add to the tension by warning foreigners in South Korea that they should consider evacuating because the peninsula was moving toward a nuclear war. No foreign embassy in South Korea has followed upon the warning, said Cho Tae-young, spokesman of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, on Thursday.
But jitters remained in South Korea amid concerns about possible North Korean missile tests that South Korean officials said could come as early as this week.
South Korea will try to shoot down North Korean missiles with its Patriot antimissile battery should they threaten to hit its territory, said Kim Min-seok, spokesman of its Defense Ministry, on Thursday. Mr. Kim said that the North could launch missiles around Monday, the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the late founder of North Korea and grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un.
North Korea appeared to be moving several missiles repeatedly on its east coast in an apparent effort to confuse South Korean and American intelligence, the South Korean national news agency Yonhap quoted anonymous government sources as saying.
« Last Edit: Apr 11, 2013, 06:27 AM by Rad »
April 10, 2013
Malaysia Sets Elections in Big Test for Ruling Party
By GERRY MULLANY
HONG KONG — Malaysia scheduled national elections for May 5 on Wednesday, 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 elections chairman, Abdul Aziz Yusof, said candidates would 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 People’s Alliance, which in 2008 balloting captured 5 of Malaysia’s 13 states.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Malaysian government said Mr. Najib welcomed the 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 one week after Mr. Najib announced that he was dissolving 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: 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.”
April 10, 2013
Indonesians Call for Crackdown on Military
By JOE COCHRANE
JAKARTA — Soon after midnight on March 23, a group of heavily armed, masked men forced their way inside a prison near the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta and summarily executed four recently arrived detainees with gunshots to the head.
The coordination of the slayings, the professional demeanor of the masked men, and their military-style weapons and communications equipment prompted immediate speculation within the Indonesian news media and among human rights groups and lawmakers that the assailants were members of the military.
An uncharacteristically swift investigation by the army found that nine members of the army’s controversial Special Forces unit, known as Kopassus, were involved in the brazen prison shootings, while two others had come along in an attempt to stop their comrades. The army’s chief investigator in the case said April 4 that the soldiers had confessed to carrying out the shootings for revenge: The four detainees had been arrested in connection with the stabbing death of a Kopassus sergeant during a bar fight in Yogyakarta.
The prison raid has raised questions about what progress has been made in overhauling the Indonesian military since the collapse of President Suharto’s authoritarian rule in 1998 amid pro-democracy protests. During his 32 years in power and after, the military, and in particular Kopassus, has been linked to human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture.
The shootings have also revived calls by human rights groups that the country’s laws be amended so that military personnel accused of serious crimes can be prosecuted in civilian courts, rather than in the military court system.
“We can’t rely on the military courts, which are already well known for not working properly in human rights cases,” said Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, a nongovernmental organization that documents military and police human rights abuses. “The military court is a dark room where the public and victims have little participation.”
Mr. Azhar cited cases in which military personnel received lenient sentences for serious offenses, as in 2003 when a military court sentenced four Kopassus soldiers who had been convicted of murder in the strangulation of Theys Eluay, a pro-independence leader in the restive eastern province of Papua, to prison terms ranging from three to three and a half years.
In 2011, a military court in Papua sentenced three army soldiers to terms of 8 to 10 months in prison for “abuse and insubordination” for beating and torturing two Papuan men to determine whether they were members of the Free Papua Movement.
Marcus Mietzner, a senior lecturer at Australian National University in Canberra and author of “The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia,” said the prison raid exposed a persistent culture of impunity within the armed forces and in particular Kopassus, because soldiers have little to fear from military courts.
Two weeks before the prison shootings, dozens of army soldiers attacked a police station in South Sumatra Province after the shooting of a soldier by a police officer, nearly burning it to the ground and wounding 17 police officers.
“There’s a pattern that whenever you have a member of T.N.I.” — the Indonesian military — “being hurt, injured or even killed, this kind of counterreaction is almost inevitable,” Mr. Mietzner said. “This was extreme, and because it was Kopassus, of course, it was extremely violent, but it’s not a new phenomenon.
“You can put it this way: It’s a welcome wake-up call to remind the public that military reform not only isn’t over, but in fact in terms of internal procedures, ethics, protocols and payments, it has yet to begin.”
While civil society groups praised the swiftness of the army’s investigation into the prison shootings, and the fact that the Central Java regional military commander was relieved of duty after asserting immediately after the shootings that soldiers had nothing to do with it, they are demanding that the assailants be tried in a civilian criminal court.
On Monday, however, Adm. Agus Suhartono, commander in chief of the Indonesian armed forces, rejected those calls.
“The law clearly states that it must be heard in a military court, so we will work according to the law,” he said.
Juwono Sudarsono, a former Indonesian defense minister and the first civilian to hold that post, said that before his retirement in 2009, he had negotiated with the House of Representatives on legislation that would allow joint military-police investigations of serious crimes involving military personnel and would establish a transitional period of five to eight years in which civilian and military legal procedures would be combined with sentencing by civilian courts.
He said that the civilian court system in Indonesia was too plagued by corruption and incompetence to handle trials of military personnel at that time, and that trying soldiers in civilian courts would exacerbate rivalries between the Indonesian armed forces and the national police at time when the country was less than 10 years into its democratic transition.
However, Mr. Sudarsono said, that bill was blocked because of opposition from the national police and human rights groups, which were pushing for more immediate civilian supremacy at the expense of the armed forces.
“But these nongovernmental organizations assumed that the police, the attorney general’s office and the courts were capable and clean,” he said. “I was vindicated, because neither of these civil authorities was capable nor clean.”
Sidney Jones, senior adviser to the International Crisis Group, a research organization based in Brussels, predicted that the military trials of the 11 Kopassus soldiers would probably be more open to public scrutiny given the news media attention surrounding the case.
“That will put more pressure on the military judges to give heavy sentences,” she said, “because if we look up till now at crimes committed by the military against civilians, it’s actually quite rare that they get sentences of more than four years when murder is involved.”
Yet there has also been an outpouring of public support for the 11 soldiers in Indonesian online chat groups and on news Web sites, because the four detainees they confessed to killing were widely believed to be gangsters involved in the narcotics trade in Yogyakarta.
“The majority of the reaction is for Kopassus,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University. “They are supporting the unit. They’re saying the police are incompetent and cannot control the gangs, so we need Kopassus to do extrajudicial killings.”
April 10, 2013
China’s Actions in Flu Cases Draw Critics
By KEITH BRADSHER
HONG KONG — Of all the mysteries surrounding the emergence of a new and deadly strain of avian influenza around Shanghai, one of the biggest is why China’s hundreds of medical and veterinary labs did not spot the problem sooner — or if they did, why it was not disclosed.
Even the censored Chinese news media has begun cautiously questioning why the authorities did not say anything sooner about a disease that resulted in the first known human case in eastern China on Feb. 19, but was not announced to the public until March 31. The announcement came two weeks after the closing of the National People’s Congress, a show event during which the Communist Party traditionally avoids acknowledging problems.
“People are still asking, why did it take the government so long to confirm the outbreak?” The Communist Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, said in a column several days ago. “The transparency of information from the government is still being called into question by the public, and the actions the government has taken have not convinced the public.”
China’s health ministry is now finding three to five human cases a day, a brisk pace for a disease that Chinese officials and the World Health Organization assert is still transmitted from animals to people, and not from person to person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta activated its emergency operations center this week as governments around the world began making preparations in case of a flu pandemic.
Yet Chinese government officials have not yet publicly identified any farms with poultry infected with the new strain of bird flu, H7N9 avian influenza. The government has focused so far on closing wholesale markets in Shanghai and several nearby cities, and it has sent guards with nets to chase pigeons in Shanghai parks, to snare and later euthanize the potentially infected birds.
Chinese health officials assert that they have acted promptly upon laboratory confirmation of cases. Agriculture officials have said less, but they have also said that they are being transparent.
Western health officials and scientists say that they do not know whether China deliberately concealed the disease for six weeks after the first person fell sick with it; China says lab confirmation did not come until March 29. But they note that unusual properties of the virus, together with a controversial Chinese response to a previous bird flu outbreak of distributing millions of free vaccines, may have made the outbreak harder than usual to detect at first.
The virus can be detected in animals in two ways: a widely used, easily performed test for antibodies in the serum or plasma of poultry, known as a serology test, or a much more expensive and difficult experiment to isolate specific viruses from the birds, which can only be done in a few well-equipped labs in China.
The crucial question is whether veterinary technicians were doing serology tests only for H5N1 bird flu, which has been a chronic problem in China for 16 years, or whether they were testing for a broader range of avian influenza viruses and misread, ignored or decided not to publicize any detection of H7N9.
Chinese officials have been largely silent on the details of their test protocols. The Agriculture Ministry had no immediate response to questions submitted by fax on Wednesday.
Dr. Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, said that he suspected China had been testing broadly for more avian influenza viruses than just H5N1. “When you are running a serology, you usually don’t run it against one, you run it against a battery of viruses that you know are circulating,” he said in a telephone interview.
But while H7N9 has been spotted before in the West, it has not been documented before this spring in East Asia. Dr. Lubroth said that he did not know the details of the Chinese test protocol, and that if the Chinese were focused on H5N1 test results, these tests would not detect H7N9.
At least 31 human cases, including nine deaths, have been confirmed by the Chinese government so far, and the Chinese police have been detaining people who assert on the Internet that there are more cases. Chinese officials say that one patient has recovered and the rest are still sick in hospitals, mostly in serious or critical condition.
Dr. Malik Peiris, the director of the Center of Influenza Research at Hong Kong University, said that another serious challenge in finding the disease was that poultry, unlike people, can be infected with H7N9 and show very few symptoms. So Chinese technicians may not have seen a need to do much testing in recent months when there was little sign of H5N1, which does kill chickens.
“Generally people don’t go around testing apparently healthy poultry,” he said.
The World Organization for Animal Health, a veterinary group in Paris that sets international standards for animal care, has a mandatory policy for China and other member countries. Members must report all outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild or domesticated birds, and outbreaks of low-pathogenic avian influenza in domesticated birds.
Dr. Alex Thiermann, the president of the organization’s standard-setting Code Commission, said that H7N9 qualifies as a low-pathogenic bird flu virus, so China had an international obligation to report it to the World Organization for Animal Health. China did so last week.
Dr. Thiermann said that the organization’s rules allowed a country to fully confirm the presence of a virus before reporting it, but he declined to say whether he thought China had been slow in reporting it.
He also expressed concern that China might have initially missed the virus because of its controversial approach to fighting H5N1 virus ever since the disease led to mass deaths of chickens in 2004 and 2005: a massive vaccination for poultry across the country. The advantage of vaccination is that while it does not stop all infections, it reduces the amount of virus that a bird sheds when infected. The disadvantage is that the poultry develops antibodies to the virus, so serology tests become unreliable.
Dr. Thiermann says that his organization recommends mass culling of birds as a more reliable way to stamp out a disease and then monitor for any resurgence. He warned that vaccination for H5N1 might have masked the emergence of H7N9.
Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said that there might have been a slight delay in disclosing the emergence of the virus in people, since the Chinese government had already calculated the entire genetic sequence of the virus before announcing it. But other scientists said that decoding a gene sequence can now be done in China in two days and was a natural step before announcing the disease.
Dr. Monto said that the difficulty in spotting the virus in seemingly healthy poultry had made the whole task more complex than usual. “You’ve got to give them credit for identifying it,” he said. “The thing that is worrisome is the virus itself.”
Shi Da and Sue-Lin Wong contributed research from Beijing.