April 12, 2013
China Defends Vaccination of Poultry as Flu Spreads
By KEITH BRADSHER
HONG KONG — China’s agriculture ministry issued a strongly worded defense late Friday afternoon of its policy of large-scale vaccination of poultry against the H5N1 avian influenza virus over the last decade, saying that it was not interfering with its efforts now to identify the emerging H7N9 virus.
Dr. Alex Thiermann, the president of the standard-setting Code Commission of the World Organization for Animal Health, had expressed concern in a telephone interview earlier this week that vaccination against the earlier bird flu strain might have made it harder this spring for Chinese veterinary technicians to spot the recent spread of the H7N9 virus. The new bird flu virus has sickened 38 people and killed 10 of them in recent weeks in Shanghai and three nearby provinces.
Dr. Thiermann reiterated his organization’s longstanding support for culls of poultry as a way to fight outbreaks of disease while preserving the ability to test surviving poultry reliably for disease. Culls involve euthanizing not only infected poultry, but all poultry in a radius that can extend for up to several miles or kilometers around each site of infection.
In a statement on Friday in response to questions submitted by fax on Wednesday, the agriculture ministry said that tests for the two viruses were different. “Vaccinating poultry against H5N1 on a large scale does not make it harder to identify H7N9 in poultry,” the statement said, adding that vaccination had been an effective way to greatly reduce the incidence of H5N1 in recent years.
The statement did not address a separate question about whether the agriculture ministry had only been testing for H5N1 in recent years or had also tested for other avian influenza viruses.
Virologists at Hong Kong University, which has the best-known center for research on avian influenza in China, disagree among themselves on whether China’s practice of distributing free H5N1 vaccines to millions of farmers has made it harder to detect H7N9.
The question mainly involves whether the antibodies produced to the H5N1 vaccine require technicians to set a higher cutoff point in determining whether or not antibodies against other avian influenza viruses are also present.
The World Organization for Animal Health, based in Paris, issued a separate statement late Thursday in which it endorsed humane culls at infected farms but also said that a supplemental policy “could be to apply a suitably adapted vaccination policy of limited duration.”
Farmers in China have strongly opposed culls, fearing the loss of valuable poultry.
April 12, 2013
Papua New Guinea Considers Repealing Sorcery Law
By MATT SIEGEL
SYDNEY, Australia —Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, Peter O’Neill, has vowed to repeal his country’s controversial Sorcery Act following the latest in a string of brutal public killings of people accused of practicing black magic.
According to Amnesty International, violence against those accused of sorcery is endemic in the South Pacific island nation. In the most recent case, an elderly former primary school teacher in the autonomous Bougainville region was decapitated by a mob whose members accused her of using witchcraft to kill a colleague. Three other women, all relatives of the victim, were also injured in the incident.
Mr. O’Neill, responding on Thursday to a question from a reporter about that killing, pledged to repeal the 1971 Sorcery Act, which criminalizes the practice of sorcery and recognizes the accusation of sorcery as a defense in murder cases. Critics of the law say that it encourages violence against people accused of being sorcerers by codifying black magic as a legal phenomenon.
“We have quite a lot of issues on the table, so please give us a chance to work on it,” Mr. O’Neill told the reporter. “Realistically, a few sessions away, we will be able to put an act to parliament to stop this nonsense about witchcraft and all the other sorceries that are really barbaric in itself.”
Over the last year, Papua New Guinea has come under increased international pressure to end what appears to be a growing trend of vigilante violence against people accused of sorcery. Last July, police officers arrested 29 members of a witch-hunting gang who were murdering and cannibalizing people they suspected of being sorcerers.
The killing in February of Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old woman who was stripped, tortured, doused in gasoline and then set ablaze, caused an international outcry. The United Nations said it was deeply disturbed by her killing, which was reportedly carried out by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who, they claimed, had been killed by her sorcery.
A crowd of several hundred people that had gathered to watch her execution blocked police officers and firefighters who tried to save her. The police have since charged two men in her death.
A United Nations inspector who visited the country in March said that attacks against alleged sorcerers are often carried out by young men and boys acting on the instruction of their community and under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Turkish police prevent ‘Al-Qaeda U.S. embassy plot’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 6:31 EDT
Turkish police have uncovered and foiled an alleged plot by Al-Qaeda to bomb the US embassy in Ankara, as well as a synagogue and other targets in Istanbul, Turkish media reported on Friday.
As a result of a February raid in Istanbul and the northeastern city of Corlu, police had arrested 12 people, including eight Turks, two Azeris and two Chechens, and seized 22 kilogrammes of explosives, CNNTurk reported.
Police also found documents that allegedly revealed plans by the group, which they described as a Turkish cell of Al-Qaeda, to attack a synagogue and a museum in Istanbul.
The embassy in Ankara was the target of a suicide bombing on February 1, which killed a Turkish security guard. That attack was claimed by a radical Marxist and anti-US armed group, The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP-C), blacklisted by the US and the European Union as a terrorist organisation.
April 11, 2013
Rebel Keeps Kurds’ Guns Close at Hand in Peace Talks With Turkey
By TIM ARANGO
ZARGALI, Iraq — In a safe house made of cinder blocks and surrounded by grazing goats and sheep, nestled high in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, a Kurdish fighter who has waged a guerrilla war against Turkey for nearly three decades remains defiant in the face of peace.
“Our forces believe they can achieve results through war,” said the fighter, Murat Karayilan, who commands the thousands of fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K.
For all the costs of the long war, Mr. Karayilan, his fighters and millions of Kurds believe it helped them achieve something they never would have without armed struggle: a recognition of Kurdish identity and more democratic rights.
Now, as the P.K.K. negotiates peace with Turkey to end one of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts, it is clinging to its guns despite demands by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, that it lay them down as a condition of talks. This defiance suggests that the peace process, despite the hope it has engendered on both sides, could be longer and more arduous than at first anticipated.
“Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms,” said Mr. Karayilan, in an interview here in the safe house, which had a freezer full of ice cream and satellite television despite its remote location. “It is the last issue, something to discuss as a last issue to this process.”
The shape of a peace deal is being negotiated in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and in the island prison cell of Abdullah Ocalan, the P.K.K. leader and philosopher-king of Turkey’s Kurdish resistance. But it has fallen to Mr. Karayilan to manage the peace process from his mountain redoubt in this lawless nook of Iraq, where the only authority is that wielded by gun-toting Kurdish rebels who operate checkpoints and live in caves at remote outposts.
The skies above these mountains have gone quiet, for now, as the bombing runs by Turkish planes, their pick of targets aided by imagery provided by American drones, have ceased in order to allow the talks to proceed.
Since a cease-fire was announced in March by Mr. Ocalan, pausing a war that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since it began in 1984, Mr. Karayilan has been holding meetings and conferences with his followers to convince them of the merits of a deal that many of them are reluctant to accept for one overriding reason.
The rank and file, he said, “do not believe and trust the approach of Turkey.”
Mr. Erdogan, whose efforts at peace could establish his legacy as a peacemaker and propel him to the presidency next year, has demanded that the thousands of fighters scattered around Turkey lay down their weapons before withdrawing to safe havens in these mountains.
“We don’t care where those withdrawing leave their weapons or even whether they bury them,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent television interview. “They must put them down and go. Because otherwise this situation is very open to provocation.”
Mr. Erdogan has also resisted new legislation, demanded by Mr. Karayilan’s party, to ensure the safety of retreating rebels. Instead, he has created a so-called committee of wise men, including Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals and leaders, to promote the peace talks.
Mr. Karayilan criticized Mr. Erdogan’s tactics, saying: “It needs a serious approach. Erdogan does not approach it seriously; he doesn’t understand the deep history. Everyone has to know that our guerrilla forces have continued our struggle successfully to this day.”
But Mr. Karayilan’s defiant words are tempered by his desire for peace. The latest cease-fire is the ninth announced by the P.K.K., which was designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe in 1993. Years ago the party gave up its ambition to create a separate Kurdish state, and it now says it will exchange peace for the expansion of Kurdish rights enshrined in a new constitution and the release of thousands of political prisoners from Turkish prisons.
“We want to solve our problems through peace and dialogue,” Mr. Karayilan said. “That is what we believe.”
But, he said, “if they do not accept Kurds as equal citizens, this problem cannot be solved.”
As the commander of the P.K.K., Mr. Karayilan also has influence — if not outright authority — over the group’s offshoot in Syria, the Democratic Union Party, or the P.Y.D., which has taken up arms in that country’s civil war to defend Kurdish areas. He and many other Kurds believe that the close relationship between the West, including the United States, and Turkey has been at the expense of the Kurds.
“In Syria, Kurds represent more secular and democratic groups,” he said. “However, the West is not developing relations with the Kurds in Syria. Why? Because of their relations with Turkey.”
This region, high in the Qandil mountain range, is within Iraq’s territory but beyond the control of any government authority. The rubble of houses that residents say were destroyed in recent years by Turkish warplanes can be seen from the road. On the side of one steep and narrow mountain passage sits the gnarled mess of a car — a memorial, a sign posted nearby says, to a family of seven killed in a Turkish airstrike.
Civilians here say they trust the guerrillas to mediate disputes and provide services. “In the cities, if you have a problem, you go to court,” said Kadir Ibrahim, a villager who said his home had been destroyed by a Turkish airstrike. “Here, the P.K.K. solves the problems. They are very polite. It’s unfair to call them terrorists. They are very polite and peaceful. They are just asking for their rights.”
At a time of revolution across the Middle East, it is time, Kurds say, for them to seize their rights and secure a better future. Millions of Kurds are spread across Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, and they have long dreamed of independence. “Now, the world is different,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Everything is different than before.”
With his bushy mustache and easy smile, Mr. Karayilan, who became commander of the P.K.K. after Mr. Ocalan was arrested in 1999, has an avuncular manner that belies his designation by the American government as a terrorist leader and kingpin (a label the Treasury Department applied to him in 2009 after determining that his organization raised money by smuggling drugs to Europe).
He sat in a back room of the safe house, with a yellow banner of Mr. Ocalan fastened to the wall. The air was sticky, and guerrillas carrying rifles served him tea.
If the war ends, he said, he hopes to return to Turkey to play a political role in advancing Kurdish rights. “After we put violence aside, then a democratic society has to be formed,” Mr. Karayilan said.
If the war does not end, though, he is ready to fight again.
“If this does not happen, there will be a great war,” he said.
April 12, 2013
Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Reflects a Changing Poland
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Almost nothing remains of the old Warsaw Ghetto: just a half-dozen buildings, a synagogue, some fragments of a brick wall. The rest was blown up by the Germans in their onslaught against the Jews who took up arms against them.
Now this Holocaust-era prison of misery and death is undergoing a dramatic transformation in time for the April 19th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, a revolt that ended in death for most of the fighters yet gave the world an enduring symbol of resistance against the odds.
The change in this district of the capital and its place in Polish consciousness is embodied in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews that has risen up in a vast square in the heart of the vanished ghetto, ringed by Holocaust memorials and shabby communist-era apartment buildings.
It celebrates the Jewish life that flourished in Poland for centuries before the Holocaust, and dares to confront Poles with a truth many would once have strongly denied: that this country has had its own dark chapters of anti-Semitism.
Funded largely by Polish taxpayers, the museum's existence is a powerful sign of how far Poland has come in embracing tolerance and its own multicultural past since toppling communism 23 years ago — a new openness bolstered by a blossoming economy.
At the same time, the exhibits will take care to emphasize that Polish acts of persecution never approached the scale of Adolf Hitler's genocide and that the Holocaust was Germany's crime, not a product of any local Polish-Jewish tensions.
Still, many nationalistic Poles prefer an image of their country as a model of heroic resistance to centuries of past oppression, both by Germans and Russians. Many grew up under a communist regime that assumed the right to dictate whose suffering should get attention.
Among painful episodes that the museum will address in the permanent exhibition opening next year are pogroms in the late 19th century, boycotts of Jewish businesses in the 1920s and 1930s, and calls to deport Poland's 3.3 million Jews, the largest per capita Jewish population in any European country.
Its materials promise to tell the story of the Jedwabne massacre in World War II, when about 40 Poles hunted down the town's Jews, shut them in a barn and set it alight, killing more than 300 people. Also to be included is an account of the massacre in the city of Kielce, when 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors were slaughtered a year after the war ended, and the expulsion in 1968 of thousands of people of Jewish ancestry.
Even now, controversy bubbles. Krzysztof Jasiewicz, an eminent professor, recently claimed in a magazine article that the Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves by their behavior over generations. The article provoked widespread academic protest, but drew considerable support in online forums.
Another debate is over the idea of raising a memorial to Polish "Righteous Gentiles" — those who saved Jews during the war — next to the new museum. Poles protected Jews at a huge risk to their own lives and their families, and more than 6,000 are officially honored by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial — by far the largest number in any country occupied by the Nazis.
But critics say that while the Righteous Gentiles deserve a monument, putting it by the museum would be an expression of Polish nationalism that would lead some to falsely believe that most Poles acted as rescuers during World War II.
"These few streets and squares stand as a unique space of memory which should above all pay tribute to Jewish suffering, not Polish heroism," researchers with the Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw said in a public appeal. "Those who want to present the attitude of the Righteous as the typical attitude of Poles during the war deviate from the historical truth."
However, Konstanty Gebert, a prominent Polish Jewish commentator, says the monument belongs near the museum and ghetto memorial. Putting it anywhere else, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, "would be incomprehensible at best and an insult at worst. If we begin by seemingly diminishing the importance of Polish heroism, then how can we expect the Poles to accept the darker side? It would be unfair."
In general, state officials, intellectuals and younger Poles have increasingly shown a willingness to make an honest reckoning with the past, something that comes amid a broader interest in celebrating the many contributions Jews made to Polish culture.
The museum, nearly 20 years in the making, will at first hold temporary exhibitions and other cultural events. It will tell the 1,000-year story of Jewish life in Poland, showing how periods of tolerance allowed Polish Jews to develop a flourishing culture and become the largest Jewish community in the world for a time.
"With its opening, the museum will become a physical space that for the first time will present the entire history of Polish Jewry, which I believe is fundamental." said Gebert.
"This change was made possible because Poland is a success story — and the fact that Poles feel good, by and large, about their country and therefore have the courage to also accept that the country has done horrible things in the past."
Visually, the large, glass-paneled museum has already transformed the heart of the former ghetto where the Nazis imprisoned nearly half a million people, subjecting them to killings and starvation before sending them to the gas chambers of Treblinka.
The space around the museum already attracts huge numbers of visitors who pay homage to the ghetto fighters, many with candles or wreaths.
Multitudes come from Israel, where the uprising has long been nurtured as a symbol of national pride to counter the image of Jews meekly filing into the gas chambers. Many survivors of the uprising managed to reach Israel, which became a state three years after the war ended, and some of them founded their own kibbutz, called the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz.
"It makes me shiver to stand on this blood-soaked land," said Ori Horenstein, a 55-year- old lawyer from Tel Aviv who was visiting days before the anniversary. "But it makes me proud to see that there were a few who decided to go down as brave heroes."
Those fighters will be honored during next Friday's ceremonies, to be led by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
The big celebrity, however, will be Simha Rotem, born in 1924 and one of the very few remaining survivors of the uprising. Most were killed in the fighting, though a few dozen managed to escape the ghetto through sewage canals, with Rotem himself leading about 40 others out that way to the city's "Aryan" side.
The uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 young Jewish fighters armed with just pistols and other light arms attacked a German force more than three times its size. In their last testaments they said they knew they were doomed but wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing.
In the end, the fighters held out nearly a month, longer than some German-invaded countries did.
As part of the new desire to celebrate Poland's Jewish past, organizers, led by the city of Warsaw, are making an unprecedented effort to get residents involved in four weeks of commemorative films, lectures, even a communal cleaning of the Jewish cemetery. They wrap up on May 16, the day in 1943 when the Nazis, having killed most of the fighters, celebrated their victory by blowing up the city's Great Synagogue, a jewel of 19th-century architecture.
To raise awareness of what the Jews suffered, hundreds of volunteers will go around the city handing out small paper daffodils for people to pin to their clothes as a sign of respect. On their website, organizers lament that the uprising, "which in the world is a symbol of the struggle for dignity, is little known in Warsaw" and say they want it to become "the common historical awareness of Poles and Jews."
Kremlin warns U.S. against publishing blacklist of Russian human rights violators
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 6:00 EDT
The Kremlin warned Washington on Friday against publishing a list of Russian officials barred from entering the United States because of their alleged abuse of human rights.
Russian media reports said the dozens of names included on the so-called “Magnitsky Act” — named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in prison after revealing a suspected state embezzlement scheme — would be published in the United States later on Friday.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the publication could leave lasting damage on future ties between the two former Cold War foes.
“The appearance of some lists will unquestionably have a very negative impact on Russian-US bilateral relations,” news agencies quoted Peskov as saying.
The list has always been kept secret but is believed to include people involved in Magnitsky’s trial and prosecution as well as officials who have joined the Kremlin’s crackdown on Russians’ political rights.
The Russian officials have had their US accounts frozen and added to a list of people who will be denied entry visas. Some European nations are taking steps to adopt similar measures.
Yet Peskov added that cooperation between the two sides would nonetheless continue on some issues if the list was published.
“Even when under the weight of such possible negative events, and despite the damage these negative events cause, (our relations) still have numerous prospects for further development,” said Peskov.
“There will always be a lot of issues to discuss” between the two sides.
Russia reacted with scathing anger at the US Magnitsky Act and parliament in retaliation agreed legislation barring American families from adopting Russian children.
The Russian foreign ministry has since drawn up its own blacklist of US officials who are alleged to have committed human rights violations.
A former US senior commander at the Guantanamo base in Cuba where the United States keeps terror suspects has already been denied entry by Moscow in a highly publicised case.
Moscow also accuses Washington of inciting Russia’s recent anti-Putin protests and has recently launched a crackdown against non-governmental organisation with foreign funding.
New space race: Putin unveils $50 billion drive for Russian supremacy
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 4:24 EDT
President Vladimir Putin on Friday unveiled a new $50 billion drive for Russia to preserve its status as a top space power, including the construction of a brand new cosmodrome from where humans will fly to space by the end of the decade.
Fifty-two years to the day since Yuri Gagarin became the Soviet Union’s greatest hero by making the first human flight into space, Putin inspected the new Vostochny (Eastern) cosmodrome Russia is building in the Amur region of the Far East.
Putin said in a live link-up with the multinational crew of the International Space Sation (ISS) that Russia hoped to have the first launches from Vostochny in 2015 and the first manned launches in 2018.
“It’s going to be a great launch pad. It took a long time to choose but now work is fully underway,” said Putin in comments broadcast on state television, adding that Vostochny would be fully operational by 2020.
Russia still carries out all manned launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — the same place where Gagarin made his historic flight — but this has been shadowed in recent years by disputes with the Kazakh authorities over the lease terms.
The Russian space programme has been hurt in recent years by a string of launch failures of unmanned probes and satellites but Putin vowed Moscow would continue to ramp up spending.
He said that from 2013-2020, Russia would be spending 1.6 trillion rubles ($51.8 billion, 38 million euros) on its space sector, a growth far greater than any other space power.
Putin complained that the country was behind other states in space activities other than manned flights, which he said had long been the “priority” of the Russian space programme.
“There is a big gap between us and other space powers in the technology for so-called deep-space programmes,” Putin said.
One of Russia’s most embarrassing failures was the loss of its Phobos-Grunt probe to Mars in 2012 which ended up crashing back into Earth rather than even coming close to completing its mission of visiting a Martian moon.
April 11, 2013
Neo-Nazis Organizing in Prisons in Germany
By MELISSA EDDY
BERLIN — They called themselves the A.D. Jail Crew and sought to band together “brothers and sisters” in prisons across Germany to “defend loyalty, comradeship and the ‘old’ values.” Their aim, according to an advertisement found by the authorities who broke up the network, was to provide support for neo-Nazis serving time behind bars.
Three prisoners in the state of Hesse are suspected by prosecutors in Frankfurt of forming a criminal organization and trying to reconstitute a banned organization, and the authorities widened their search on Thursday to include penal institutions across the country.
Details about the A.D. Jail Crew emerged days before the trial of the sole survivor of a trio of neo-Nazis who called themselves the National Socialist Underground opens in Munich. The authorities in Hesse said the name of the suspect, Beate Zschäpe, was included on a list of prisoners who were contacted by those trying to set up the far-right organization.
Ms. Zschäpe is charged with playing a role in the killings of eight men of Turkish background, one Greek man and a policewoman in a crime rampage that set off soul-searching in a country that has taken great pains over the years to publicly account for the crimes of its past.
Embarrassed over their failure to detect the National Socialist Underground sooner, the German police and intelligence agencies pledged last year to redouble their efforts to crack down on the far right. But the existence of the prison group and its efforts to organize behind bars raised questions about the seriousness of that commitment.
Justice officials in Hesse defended their actions, saying their discovery of, and swift movement against, the prison network reflected their dedication. They pledged to further tighten controls on communication between prisoners, including increasing cooperation with other German states to monitor prisoners’ mail. The ringleaders sent letters to inmates in prisons in at least seven other states, officials said.
But civil rights groups say that despite the pledges from federal officials, the less aggressive attitudes of the police and local prosecutors in cities and towns across Germany are little changed.
“While the German public focuses on the terror cell and the uncovering of failures by the authorities, the problem continues to repeat itself across the country, in ways small and large,” summed up a report released this week by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a civil liberties group based in Berlin.
To break the A.D. Jail Crew case, the police relied on the expertise of a former neo-Nazi to help them decode an advertisement for the group that appeared last October in the “Jail Mail” section of a magazine called Bikers News, said Hans Liedel, a spokesman for Jörg-Uwe Hahn, the minister for justice in Hesse.
The A.D. stands for Aryan Division, he said. Another tip in the ad was the date when the organization was to be formally called into existence, April 20, Hitler’s birth date. As its emblem, the group had selected a plummeting eagle with the number “14” grasped in its claws, yet another coded reference to the Aryan Division, which begins with the first and fourth letters of the alphabet.
Domestic security officials had put together a handbook to help those working with the prisoners to spot possible rightist extremists, but justice officials said it was not always easy to recognize the symbols. The authorities plan to better document inmates’ tattoos as part of efforts to detect individuals or possible groups that could make trouble and move or separate them from their comrades, Mr. Liedel said.
He rejected charges that the authorities tolerated neo-Nazis. “I don’t rule out that some things are not noticed,” he said. “But that officers knowingly don’t take action, those days are over.”
04/12/2013 10:46 AM
Right Hook: Neo-Nazis Seek New Blood among Cage Fighters
By Markus Deggerich and Maximilian Popp
The brutal combat sport known as free fighting is enjoying growing popularity in Germany. Neo-Nazis are infiltrating the world and using it to spread propaganda and recruit new blood.
Tattooed fighters in hoodies are escorted into the arena, while scantily clad women hold up signs with numbers announcing the next round. The air is thick inside the sold-out Volkshaus arena in Schildau, a town near the eastern German city of Leipzig, and rock music is blaring from loudspeakers. An advertising poster reads: "Saxony Fights." Before the event, two police officers inspected the venue and then left again. Everything is in order, or so it seems.
Several hundred fans hoot when Christopher Henze, a star in the free-fighting world, enters the ring. The 23-year-old has made a name for himself in mixed martial arts, a combat discipline so brutal that it has been banned from German television. Henze relentlessly pounds away at his opponent, quickly drawing blood. Assistants attend to the fighters' eye and nose injuries.
The audience is enthusiastic. A group of fans starts chanting "Hoo-Na-Ra." It sounds like a loud "hurrah," but its meaning is far from benign: It is an abbreviation for "hooligans-Nazis-racists," a battle cry right-wing extremist fans use to spur on the fighters.
Brutal combat matches like the one in Schildau, also known as "free fights" among fans, have become very popular all across Germany. Neo-Nazis take advantage of growing interest in the sport to recruit members of the audience for their radical right-wing ideology and appeal to potential sympathizers.
"We note with great concern the penetration of neo-Nazis into the free-fighting community," says Gordian Meyer-Plath, the head of Saxony's state branch of the
Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which is tasked with monitoring neo-Nazi activities. "Anyone who believes that free fighting is merely about a few crazy people hitting each other in the head underestimate the scope of the problem. Neo-Nazis are deliberately using free fighting for their propaganda."
'Life Means Combat'
The sport seems tailor-made for radical right-wing ideologues. For many fighters, their self-image is about blood and honor, and about wrestling down those who, in their eyes, are weak and unworthy. The free-fighting community also offers a relatively safe place for neo-Nazis to express themselves, largely unhampered by the critical press and radical leftist opponents. Intelligence officials in several German states have identified three recruitment tactics. The neo-Nazis:
meet at supposedly harmless competitions organized by martial arts clubs, where they search for potential "comrades";
use sham companies and clubs to act directly as fight organizers; and
organize illegal fights and training camps, where their own fighters are built up as heroes, so as to impress young visitors.
It isn't just a matter of sports and propaganda. The fighters are also being trained for violent conflicts with political enemies. According to a video with which neo-Nazis advertised "National Martial Arts Days" last year: "A fight as a physical showdown represents more than just an athletic contest between young men. It is the expression of an inner urge, a perception that sets us apart from other people." When 200 right-wing extremists came together in the Lausitz region of eastern Germany, the motto of their meeting was: "Life Means Combat."
Neo-Nazis find opportunities almost every weekend to recruit sympathizers at free-fighting events, such as the "Fourth Greifswald Fight Night," held on the Baltic Sea at Easter. A "Battle of Gladiators" is planned at a venue near the southwestern city of Karlsruhe, and fights are also held in Berlin, Hamburg, Osnabrück in the northwest and Halle in eastern Germany.
"The mixture of rituals of masculinity, camaraderie and violence is extremely appealing," says Winfriede Schreiber, the state intelligence chief in the eastern state of Brandenburg. She and her staff were the first to study the phenomenon.
Schreiber doesn't shy away from unorthodox methods. When she found out that neo-Nazis were planning a combat training camp in the Brandenburg Forest, she had officers disguised as hunters sit on raised hunting towers for several days, while other officers, dressed as forest rangers, drove through the forest in SUVs. This allowed them to document how neo-Nazis were practicing their right hooks in the undergrowth.
The line between the right-wing extremists' glorification of violence and apolitical martial arts isn't always clear right away. For example, the boxing club BC Vorwärts Leipzig is a member of the state sports association in Saxony. According to the bylaws, the association promotes the "pursuit of tolerance, camaraderie, a sense of community and a health-conscious lifestyle," and the group is "strictly neutral, from a political and religious standpoint."
But Thomas P., the association's chairman, is considered an important figure in the neo-Nazi community in Saxony. He ran the neo-Nazi mail-order company Front Records and, for a time, sold an album called "Adolf Hitler Lives," which, in 2010, celebrated the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terror cell accused of 10 murders, most of them racially motivated. More than anything, P. has established himself as an important promoter of the free-fighting community in Saxony.
In 2005, the businessman supported the "Fighting Fellas 28 Wurzen," reports the Network for Democratic Culture based in Wurzen, near Leipzig. P. says today that he has no recollection of the connection. He and his business partner Benjamin B., a Leipzig neo-Nazi, run a sports-management and clothes-trading company. The firm operated the Aryan Brotherhood website until 2012 and, for a time, advertised security services on the site.
B., a muscular 23-year-old with a shaved head, is one of the most successful German free-fighting athletes. He calls himself "The Hooligan," he also manages other fighters, and he was one of the founding members of the supposedly apolitical BC Vorwärts Leipzig. B. denies being a member of the right-wing extremist community. Nevertheless, he was involved in Scenario Lok, a right-wing extremist hooligan fan club for the football club Lokomotive Leipzig. In the past, Scenario Lok has repeatedly attracted attention with its "Sieg Heil" chants and attacks on police officers, and it is also being observed by German domestic intelligence.
Anti-fascist activists have published a photo online supposedly showing B. at a neo-Nazi demonstration. In another photo, he appears to be posing behind a banner that reads: "Ultras Lok National Resistance."
Efforts to Keep a Low Profile
At the event at the Volkshaus arena in Schildau, Thomas P. and Benjamin B. also played a role. B. appeared in ads for the free-fighting tournament last fall. The network surrounding Thomas P. included two sponsors. The violent show was so popular at the time that it has now entered a second round.
In addition to having political appeal, the fights also seem to be worthwhile from a business standpoint. At the new version of "Saxony Fights" on March 2, standing-room-only tickets cost €14 ($18), while €75 paid for a seat in the ringside VIP section. To get drinks at the bar, fans had to buy drink tickets for at least €10.
The advertisers included a well-known furniture retailer, a local attorney, a tiling business and an escort service. There were also neo-Nazi sponsors, such as the Staffbull Department, an online mail-order company for clothing popular among right-wing extremists.
During an intermission at "Saxony Fights," the organizer stood outside in the cold in front of the Schildau arena and chatted with a few fans who want to see a bigger arena in the future -- a more prominent place for the cage set up for the fights.
But the organizer had good reasons for his choice of venue. In bigger cities, there is always the possibility that resistance develops, he says, and many new rules are imposed on the event at the last minute, leading them to be cancelled.
He would rather stay in Schildau, a small city that rarely attracts attention. He feels welcome there, says the organizer, and notes that "Saxony Fights" is in better hands there.
But the man also had a word of consolation for fans unwilling to resign themselves to the public suspicions about their favorite sport. According to the organizer, negotiations are already underway with a private broadcaster in Russia, where TV executives are apparently not as anxious as their counterparts in Germany. The Russians, they say, have a great interest in seeing the fights transmitted live on TV.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
04/11/2013 01:28 PM
Europe's Bogeyman: 'There Is No Doubt Germanophobia Exists'
Germany's push for austerity during the ongoing euro crisis has prompted Nazi depictions of Chancellor Angela Merkel in many parts of Southern Europe. SPIEGEL speaks with Cambridge University historian Brendan Simms about the "German question" and persistent hatred toward the country.
SPIEGEL: Professor Simms, protesters at demonstrations across Europe hold up signs depicting Angela Merkel with a Hitler mustache. People talk of a Fourth Reich, and the hatred is palpable. Is this just absurd dramatics, or is it a reaction to a true power shift in Germany's favor?
Simms: It is undeniably ridiculous to compare Merkel with Hitler. There's no excuse for doing so. But I differentiate between such demonstrations on the one hand, and on the other hand the entirely relevant subject of the German question, which is part of the European question.
SPIEGEL: We thought the German question disappeared from politics after the reunification of East and West Germany.
Simms: Not at all. What we're seeing today is a resurgence of historical concerns.
SPIEGEL: In an essay in the British magazine New Statesman, you describe Germany's power as a "specter" that is "once again haunting Europe." You also say "Germanophobia" is on the rise throughout the continent.
Simms: There is no doubt Germanophobia exists. Look at Greece, at Italy, even Ireland, a country that has never before expressed hostility toward Germany, but which is now full of anger over increasingly painful cuts to its standard of living, an anger that comes from people feeling they have been hung out to dry. Then, of course, there is also anti-German sentiment that stems from World War II, for example in Greece.
SPIEGEL: We can't help finding this idea that the new Germany has become so very powerful a bit absurd. Just ask the US Army what they think of German military might, as it's played out in Afghanistan, for example.
Simms: Germany's power isn't expressed militarily. It's more of a structural increase in power, which can be clearly seen on an economic level. We also have an entirely new political situation. For the first time in its history, Germany is surrounded only by democratic allies, countries with which it has friendly relations. But this has also blunted Germany's ability to assess risk. Germany's refusal to continue with the planned expansion of NATO, to give serious consideration to a Russian threat or to participate in the intervention in Libya -- all these are symptomatic of this lessened risk-assessment ability.
SPIEGEL: You mean to say that German politicians simply don't dare explain to the public, for example, that Ukraine is also part of Europe?
Simms: There is no critical consensus in Germany on the fact that the European Union's border should indeed lie further east than it does. There is also too little being done for security in the Baltic states and Poland. Things are different in Great Britain. Here, there is an understanding that, in case of a crisis, we are responsible for everyone, and that includes countries such as the Baltic states.
SPIEGEL: You believe military strength is just as important today as it was during the Cold War?
Simms: Of course economic instruments of power have precedence at the moment. But I had an interesting experience recently while giving a talk in Norway. The audience was quite skeptical when I told them Great Britain remains one of the world's five strongest military powers. But I said: "Imagine you had a problem with an aggressor up in the far north, and a call to Washington for assistance met with the reply: 'We're not interested; we're concentrating on the Pacific.' Who would you call then?" There was a long pause, but the answer was clear. No one would call Berlin, but rather London and Paris.
SPIEGEL: And this is why a militarily strong Great Britain is an indispensible part of the EU?
Simms: Far more important than a European Great Britain is a British Europe. Europe needs to catch up on something England and Scotland did in the early 18th century, and the 13 American colonies a bit after that: The member states must create a common constitution for themselves.
SPIEGEL: Isn't the current crisis already forcing the euro-zone countries toward greater unity?
Simms: The problem is that, in this crisis, German politicians tend to emphasize almost exclusively the poor conduct of the countries at the periphery of the EU, and they see changing this conduct as a prerequisite for changing the EU's political structure. By taking this position, they're failing to recognize that this poor conduct was in part a result of a design flaw in the way the euro was implemented, which led to the countries at Europe's periphery being flooded with new, cheap money.
SPIEGEL: Yet isn't Germany's position understandable? It's Germany that has to bail out the other countries.
Simms: My fear is that Germany's policies on this point consist solely of setting the European periphery conditions it can't fulfill. But perhaps that's all the political climate at home allows German politicians to do. The only solution here is a political union, and of course the architecture of that union must ensure that Germany doesn't end up paying for everyone. There need to be strict controls on spending, as the United States has.
SPIEGEL: You claim it would take an external impulse to get the EU to pull together. Isn't this crisis enough of an impulse?
Simms: In the course of history, nations have always rallied together in the face of matters of life and death, not poverty. A shock from outside could take many shapes -- it could be a terrorist act, a Russian threat in the Baltic or a conflict over the supply of energy.
SPIEGEL: In the past, it was the Franco-German engine that drove European integration. Is the weakness of that engine responsible for the EU's current structural crisis?
Simms: From the start, Germany and France had very different expectations. Germany in the 1950s saw Europe as a vehicle for gradually working its way back into the club of civilized nations. France, on the other hand, wanted to rein in Germany and increase its own power. It would be good, both politically and psychologically, if France would admit that it can't ride two horses at the same time. France should make a clear and definite decision in favor of Europe. In fact, the same goes for everyone.
SPIEGEL: It sounds as if you're calling on German politicians to show stronger leadership.
Simms: It's a matter of using the power that already exists responsibly. The European project has always been going in two directions at once. On the one hand, the existence of common European institutions is meant to prevent Germany's power from growing unchecked, while at the same time the idea was to mobilize Germany's strengths. We should not always view Germany only as a dangerous power. We should also ask ourselves how we can best use Germany's strengths for the good of Europe.
SPIEGEL: It's a double bind for German politicians. They're always doing either too little or too much.
Simms: We have a saying: "Damned if they do, damned if they don't." Sometimes they can't seem to do anything right.
SPIEGEL: In your recent book "Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present," you not only write that the German question continues to play a role today; you also seek to prove that this question has dominated European history since the mid-15th century. Is that scientifically sound scholarship, or does it cross the line into obsession?
Simms: It's verifiable, and the reasons behind it are predominantly structural. First of all, there was the sheer size of the German lands, their abundance and high population. These factors made it practically inevitable that Germany's neighbors would want to get their hands on large swaths of that land. Then there was the central location. Germany is at the heart of Europe, which means foreign armies have often used the country as a battlefield, or marched through it on their way to somewhere else. Major European powers have often seen Germany as a buffer state between them and their rivals for domination. The Holy Roman Empire was seen as the source of political legitimation-- the kings of England and France all tried to win the crown of the German emperor. Even Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, tried to claim this imperial legacy for himself.
SPIEGEL: In other words, the attempts by other European powers to thwart Germany's hegemonic ambitions have been a constant throughout the history of European politics?
Simms: No, you couldn't really say that. Most of the time, for example in the Thirty Years' War, the cabinet wars of the 18th century or the Napoleonic Wars, other Europeans didn't so much fear Germany as a power in its own right, but rather were concerned with German resources, and keeping these from falling into an opponent's hands.
SPIEGEL: At what point did European powers begin to fear Germany could come to dominate the Continent?
Simms: As far back as the 17th century, a Swedish diplomat argued that Germany possessed all the conditions it needed to "establish absolute dominance over all of Europe." At the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, the Continent's major powers saw to it that Germany was strong enough to fend off attacks, yet not strong enough to pose a threat to peace in Europe. As the drive toward national unification made inroads across Europe in 1848, there were concerns that a unified Germany could destroy the Continent's balance. Worries over Germany's ambitions, though, didn't emerge until the late 19th century. The empire's newly acquired power and willful foreign policies contributed significantly to the outbreak of World War I.
'I Admire Merkel's Equanimity'
SPIEGEL: Not just German strength, but also German weakness or inaction posed a danger to Europe?
Simms: Germany's weakness was always a provocation. It invited invasions, for example by the Ottomans or the French. And a weak Germany also weakened the ability of Europe as a whole to react to dangers from outside. In the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, the Holy Roman Empire failed to protect Hungary and Croatia from Ottoman attacks. It wasn't until the second half of the 20th century, following rearmament, that Germany made an effective contribution to containing the Soviet Union.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't you say that Germany, in its current role as Europe's leading economy, pursues a national policy while also engaging when necessary in shifting coalitions, in the style of Bismarck?
Simms: Certainly neither the Prussian spiked helmet nor the mustache is a valued attribute for German politicians these days. And although I take a critical view of Germany's foreign policy, I admire Angela Merkel's equanimity when faced with people vilifying her as a dictator. But if Germans feel that a sovereign German state must continue to exist in Europe, then there are strong arguments in favor of a strategy for maintaining power that resembles the strategy pursued by Otto von Bismarck's empire: finding allies and preventing enemy alliances from forming.
SPIEGEL: After World War II, the Allies created institutions designed to contain Germany and to keep it small. Are those institutions no longer working?
Simms: I don't believe this is because Germany has changed so greatly. Yes, reunification was a change, but it's far more the case that the world has changed around Germany. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and Germany is doing extremely well economically. But with some countries in Southern Europe experiencing serious problems, the architecture of the common currency forces Germany to lead and the other states to follow the German model. I am not accusing Germany here of having bad intentions.
SPIEGEL: You write that Germany has far too often been wrapped up in legalistic considerations instead of engaging in politics. What exactly is objectionable about that?
Simms: I was primarily referring to the Holy Roman Empire, which focused on its own institutions intensively and at great length. The Holy Roman Empire reflects a very German penchant for legal solutions produced through long negotiating sessions. This is an admirable quality, but it has a serious drawback: too much time spent debating instead of taking action. It's not a coincidence that that empire served as a negative example in the debates that led to the creation of the US Constitution in the 1780s, while the union between England and Scotland served as a positive example.
SPIEGEL: Why, then, is Great Britain pulling back from Europe?
Simms: That's unavoidable and, in fact, can be beneficial for both sides. If Europe is to become a single federal state, then the remaining nation-states -- Switzerland, Great Britain and a few others -- won't be part of it because they don't want to be. I don't see any imperative to participate. The greatest gifts Great Britain can give to Europe are the English language and its political structure.
SPIEGEL: The British are hardly even taken seriously anymore in Europe.
Simms: That is lamentable. But this insistence that it is essential that Great Britain be part of the union has repeatedly led to frustrations. Smaller European countries see us as a counterbalance to France and Germany, which doesn't help to advance the union. Besides, it's self-deception because we are never going to introduce the euro. It also makes it more difficult for the British mainstream to support the EU wholeheartedly.
SPIEGEL: We haven't seen much evidence that they wish to do so.
Simms: Whether you believe it or not, the number of people in Great Britain who hope the euro will collapse is actually very low.
SPIEGEL: Professor Simms, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by editors Hans Hoyng and Christoph Scheuermann.
Cyprus bailout – the key details
A breakdown of the bailout package – set to be approved by eurozone finance ministers in Dublin on Friday – and the economic forecasts on which it is based
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 April 2013 10.13 BST
Eurozone finance ministers are expected to give political approval on Friday to a €10bn (£8.5bn) bailout package for Cyprus with a view to signing a formal agreement later in April. The first loans are expected to reach Nicosia in early May.
Below are details of the package and its economic assumptions according to documents prepared by international lenders for the ministerial meeting and initially obtained by Reuters.
What are Cyprus's total financing needs?
Cyprus's total gross financing needs are estimated at €23bn from the second quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2016. This includes recapitalisation of the banking sector, the redemption of maturing medium- and long-term debt including loans and fiscal needs.
Of this amount:
• The eurozone bailout fund will provide €9bn.
• The International Monetary Fund will provide €1bn.
• Cyprus will come up with €13bn.
What will the €10bn from international lenders be spent on?
• €2.5bn will be spent on recapitalising what is left of the Cypriot banking sector after the closure of Laiki bank and the restructuring of the Bank of Cyprus. The recapitalisation will be financed by the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), through its bonds, without raising the cash on the market.
• €4.1bn will be spent to redeem maturing government debt.
• €3.4bn will cover the fiscal needs of the government in the three-year period.
How will Cyprus make up its contribution?
• Resolution of Laiki bank, losses imposed on junior bondholders and deposit for equity swap of uninsured depositors at Bank of Cyprus – up to €10.6bn.
• Corporate tax hike by 2.5 points to 12.5% and a doubling of a capital gains tax to 30% – up to €600m.
• Gold sales – approximately €400m.
• Rollover of debt held by domestic investors – up to €1bn.
• Privatisation – estimated €1.4bn.
• Lower interest, longer maturity of €2.5bn borrowed from Russia – up to €100m.
According to a proposal by the ESM, loans to Cyprus will have an average maturity of 15 years and a maximum maturity of 20 years.
Growth and fiscal projections to 2016
• Real GDP growth is forecast to come in at -8.7% year on year in 2013. This is predicted to improve to -3.9% in 2015, then 1.1% in 2015 and 1.9% in 2016.
• Gross government debt is forecast to equate to 109% of GDP in 2013, rising to 123% in 2014, 126.3 in 2015 and falling back to 121.9% in 2016.
• The government deficit is projected to be 6% of GDP in 2013, then 7.9% in 2014, 5.7% in 2015 and 2.5% in 2016.
Cameron and Merkel to discuss EU reform in Germany
In unusual move, German chancellor invites UK prime minister and family to stay in country residence outside Berlin
Andrew Sparrow and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 April 2013 09.55 BST
David Cameron is to discuss European reform with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on a visit to Germany on Friday.
In a highly unusual move, Merkel has invited the prime minister and his family to stay at her residence in Meseberg, outside Berlin – the German equivalent of the prime minister's country residence, Chequers.
It is the first time Cameron's wife, Samantha, and their three children have accompanied him on an official visit. Also unusually, Merkel's husband, Joachim Sauer, will be present at the gathering.
The two leaders will talk over "all aspects" of European reform as well as the forthcoming G8 summit and the situation in Syria, the a spokesman for the prime minister said.
Germany has reacted coolly to Cameron's calls for a renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU. He was dealt a major blow this month when Merkel and the French president, François Hollande, snubbed a UK exercise to assess the impact of EU laws and regulations on Britain and the rest of Europe. The "balance of competences" review was dubbed a questionnaire by Berlin and Paris.
Merkel has made no secret of her concerns about Cameron's plans to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU before staging a referendum on its continuing membership. But the personal nature of the arrangements for the Meseberg visit suggest Merkel may be seeking to build bridges with Cameron and keep him onside during such a difficult time for the eurozone.
Earlier this week Cameron said British voters' support for EU membership was "wafer-thin". In joint interviews with five European newspapers, he said the EU "sometimes overreached itself with directives and interventions and interference", and stressed the need for a more flexible Europe.
But he also insisted he was not demanding change simply for the sake of Britain. Reform was in the interests of the EU as a whole, he said.
"What I want to do is achieve a reform of the European Union," he said. "We're in a global race where we have to compete with [countries such as] India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. We need a Europe that is more open, that is more competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that it's putting on businesses, particularly small businesses. We want a world that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is the aim."
Cameron also said in his interview he was convinced there would be a need for treaty change in the EU in the future, even though the French and the Germans have expressed their opposition to a full overhaul of the laws governing the EU.
In his Bloomberg speech in January, Cameron committed himself to changing Britain's relationship with the EU and then holding an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest. Without a full treaty renegotiation, he might find it hard to secure significant reforms.
On Friday, Michael Meister, deputy parliamentary chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, said Germany was "open for arguments" about moving some powers back into the hands of member states.
"We want to unify Europe and we have to do it together, and I think there are a lot of common ideas with the British side and the German side on it," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"It's a good thing that we have an idea of a private competitive economy and that's much different from other countries in Europe."
Meister said he recognised the need for compromises. "I think we are open for arguments why it makes sense and follows the principle of subsidiarity to move something back [to member state control]," he said.
"But then you need good arguments … to show there is no reason to move it on a common level. We are now 27 [member states], and maybe from the middle of the year 28 countries, and I think we need compromises which develop the EU in the future because all the single nations are not powerful enough to stay in a global competition."
Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire and a member of the Fresh Start Group, which wants to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU, also said she accepted the need for compromise.
"I don't think anybody on the backbenches or the frontbenches of any party thinks laying down the law is at all possible or plausible or desirable," she told the Today programme. "So, compromise is of course the way you do anything.
"The Foreign Office have not traditionally been incredibly brave or ambitious in negotiations and we certainly need to be braver in sticking to our corner. I think David Cameron has been and will continue to be, so I think we are in a very good place."
No 10 said it was trying to reschedule a meeting with Hollande after Cameron pulled out of talks in Paris on Monday after the death of Lady Thatcher.
Greece: ‘Cold War for €54bn’
12 April 2013
The issue of German reparations to Greece for the Nazi occupation during World War II is creating new tensions between the two countries.
While German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said that the matter "was settled long ago" and it is "out of the question to pay reparations," Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has said that "whether the problem is resolved or not is a matter for international law."
For its part, the left-of-centre Syriza coalition is calling for the release of a confidential report on reparations, the existance of which was revealed by the To Vima weekly. Athens is seeking compensation totalling €108bn for infrastructure destroyed during the war, plus €54bn related to a loan Greece provided to Germany in 1942.
French court allows auction of sacred Hopi masks
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 7:13 EDT
A French court on Friday rejected a request for an injunction against the auction in Paris of ceremonial masks originating from Arizona’s Hopi tribe, despite opponents saying the sale amounted to “sacrilege”.
A French lawyer for the tribe, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, told AFP the court had refused to halt the sale of around 70 brightly coloured “Kachina” visages and headdresses by auction house Neret-Minet, which was due to start at 1230 GMT.
High-profile figures including actor Robert Redford and the US ambassador to Paris had called for the sale to be cancelled or delayed, saying the masks are sacred objects to the Native American tribe.
The auction has outraged members of the 18,000-strong Hopi tribe, who say the items are blessed with divine spirits. Two Arizona museums had also called for the sale to be cancelled.
Neret-Minet said there were no grounds to halt the sale because the items were acquired legally by a French collector during a 30-year residence in the United States.
In a letter of support, Hollywood star Redford wrote that the masks “belong to the Hopi and the Hopi alone”.
“To auction these would be, in my opinion, a sacrilege — a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions.
“I would hope that these sacred items can be returned to the Hopi tribe where they belong. They are not for auction,” added Redford, who described himself “as a close friend” of the tribe.
In a statement released late Thursday, US ambassador to Paris Charles Rivkin had also urged a postponement of the sale.
“Hopi representatives have requested a delay in the sale in order to better identify and determine the provenance of the objects,” he said. “A delay would allow the creators of these sacred objects the chance to determine their possible rights.”
The sale of sacred Native American artefacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990 — legislation which has allowed the Hopi tribe to recover items held by American museums in the past — but the law does not extend to sales overseas.
Servan-Schreiber had argued that French law also bans the sale of certain sacred objects out of “strict observance of respect for the dead.”
Hopi president LeRoy Shingoitewa told AFP recently that the auction was highly offensive.
“The objects that are being auctioned are considered sacred because they are part of our religious beliefs,” he said. “They are used in a manner that helps us to help our people in this world to get harmony, to get blessings.
“These are not considered among our people to be art,” he said “We want to stop the auction. We want the sacred objects returned back to the Hopi.”
April 11, 2013
Court Rules for Women in Western Wall Dispute
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — In the latest twist in the struggle for the character of the Western Wall, a magistrates’ court here ruled on Thursday that five women who had been detained at the Jewish holy site that morning for wearing prayer shawls and singing aloud were not disturbing public order, as the police had asserted.
The women, activists with Women of the Wall, a feminist and pluralist religious group, were released without conditions; the police had requested that they be barred from attending their group’s monthly prayer at the wall for the next three months.
The courtroom turnaround came days after Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, outlined a proposal for easing tensions at the site between Orthodox and more progressive worshipers. The compromise involves expanding the existing area of prayer to create a section with unfettered access for Jews wishing to pray in a less Orthodox, more egalitarian style. Contention over rituals has peaked in recent months and caused discord between the Israeli authorities and Jewish leaders abroad.
The focus on freedoms at the site also comes amid a broader rift in Israeli society between the ultra-Orthodox minority and other religious and secular communities. Many Israelis object to what they see as the undue influence of the ultra-Orthodox in politics and public life. The new government formed last month excluded the ultra-Orthodox parties that have been part of most governing coalitions since the late 1970s.
The Jewish Agency, which links Israel with Jewish communities abroad, said in a statement that Thursday’s arrests had shown “the urgent need to reach a permanent solution and make the Western Wall once again a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”
Mr. Sharansky added that he hoped that the good will generated by his proposal “will be translated into practical steps in the coming weeks.”
Women of the Wall called Thursday’s decision by Judge Sharon Lari-Bavli “a groundbreaking precedent.”
Lesley Sachs, the director of the group and one of the five women detained on Thursday, said, “We hope that the police will think twice before arresting women mid-prayer at the Western Wall again.”
The judge said the people disturbing public order on Thursday were a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters who were demonstrating against the women. The police said an ultra-Orthodox man was also arrested after he grabbed a book from one of the women and burned it.
For years, members of Women of the Wall have been challenging the constraints imposed on them by the strictly Orthodox authority that administers the Western Wall plaza as well as a 2003 ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court. That ruling, which came after a lengthy legal battle, prohibited women from wearing the type of prayer shawls traditionally limited to men or from reading aloud from the Torah in the interest of public order.
The Orthodox rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who has said that he will not oppose Mr. Sharansky’s proposal, said he regretted what he described as a “provocation” by the women on Thursday. He said in a statement that their goal was to sow “contention,” to offend the sensibilities of other worshipers and to turn the plaza into “a battlefield of extremisms.”
The first such arrest of a woman took place there in 2009, when an Israeli medical student publicly wrapped herself in a prayer shawl.
A more recent spate of arrests stirred growing outrage in Israel and among Jews abroad, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assign Mr. Sharansky to find ways of making the Western Wall more accommodating to different branches of Judaism.
Mr. Sharansky’s proposal has yet to be approved by the Israeli government. The plan, which involves construction in what is now an archaeological park and an important area for Muslims, in the vicinity of Al Aksa Mosque compound, could take years to be realized.
In the meantime, the friction looks set to continue. The police said they would appeal Thursday’s magistrates’ court ruling, saying it contradicted the higher court ruling of a decade ago.
Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said the police found the ruling “unacceptable.”
April 11, 2013
Military in Syria Is Accused of Massacre
By RICK GLADSTONE and ALAN COWELL
Syrian military forces have moved aggressively to retake territory lost to the insurgency in the country’s south over the past few days, antigovernment activists reported Thursday, and in one contested town at least 60 civilians, including women and children, were killed in what the opposition called a government-ordered atrocity motivated by revenge.
The reported massacre, which could not be independently verified, took place in the town of Sanamayn, about halfway between Damascus and the southern city of Dara’a. The town sits astride a vital highway that rebel forces have been fighting to control in recent weeks.
Brigades affiliated with the Free Syrian Army had seized a number of towns south of Sanamayn, and this month took control of a military base near Dara’a, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began more than two years ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain with a network of contacts inside Syria, said military forces had started the assault against Sanamayn on Wednesday, shelling and shooting randomly and burning or wrecking at least 20 houses. Victims included at least seven women and five people under the age of 18, the group said.
An anti-Assad activist reached independently by telephone who identified himself by only one name, Qaysar, for safety reasons, said some of the victims had been “summarily executed or stabbed or burned.” He said Sanamayn’s residents included displaced families uprooted by the civil war mayhem that has afflicted other parts of Syria, including some Damascus suburbs. As of Thursday, he said, the town remained encircled by government forces.
Syria’s main political opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, described the reported killings in Sanamayn as a massacre by a military that “slaughters civilians in retaliation for its defeats.”
The statement, issued from its Cairo headquarters, said the killings were committed “for no other reason than to satisfy the hunger for killing and the thirst for blood which control the hearts of the members of the criminal Assad regime.”
There was no reporting about Sanamayn in Syria’s state-run news media. Both sides have increasingly accused each other of atrocities in the conflict, which by United Nations calculations has left more than 70,000 people dead, but prominent human rights advocacy groups have contended that most of the killings are committed by government forces, which are increasingly using heavy weapons and warplanes.
One of those groups, Human Rights Watch, on Thursday accused the Syrian authorities of war crimes and of ordering indiscriminate and, in some cases, deliberate airstrikes against civilians. The targets included hospitals and bakeries where civilians were standing in line for bread, the group said.
But it also castigated the Free Syrian Army, and other armed adversaries of the Assad government, saying insurgents did not take sufficient care to avoid deploying forces and setting up headquarters in or near densely populated areas.
“An attacking party is not relieved from the obligation to take into account the risk to civilians from an attack on the grounds that the defending party has located military targets within or near populated areas,” said Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York.
Syrian state news media Web sites did not report any government response to the accusations. But the government has regularly characterized its military actions in the conflict as justified responses to terrorism.
YouTube videos uploaded by Syria’s antagonists aimed at proving the other side’s malevolence have become an important dimension of the increasingly sectarian conflict, which has pitted Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority against insurgents drawn from the country’s Sunni majority. While many of the videos depict the aftermath of graphic violence and are difficult to verify, some could become future evidence in war-crimes prosecutions, particularly those that clearly show those committing the atrocities. The Syrian Observatory released two of them on Thursday.
One shows a tortured, half-naked prisoner in the custody of pro-Assad militia members who repeatedly stab him, cut off his fingers then shoot him to death. The other shows two government soldiers burning two corpses of their enemy, with one saying “this is the fate of those assaulting the Alawite sect.”
Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Liam Stack from New York.
April 11, 2013
Rebel Victory in Syria Might Not Stop Conflict, U.S. Officials Say
By MARK LANDLER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — As it cobbles together additional aid for rebel fighters there, the Obama administration believes Syria could face a protracted, bloody conflict, even if the rebels succeed in ousting President Bashar al-Assad, several officials said Thursday.
The top American intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., said that even if Mr. Assad’s government fell, sectarian fighting would most likely engulf the country for a year or more. The American ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, warned that without a negotiated political transition, supporters of the Assad government, “fearing death, would fight to the death.”
Those bleak assessments, delivered in separate hearings before the House and the Senate, underscore the grinding nature of the conflict in Syria and the administration’s pessimism that outside intervention will avert further humanitarian tragedy.
“I agree with you that the prospects in Syria are not good,” said Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who along with Mr. Ford faced sharp questioning from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over what the members said was an inadequate American response to the continuing bloodshed.
President Obama has signed off in principle on more aid for the military wing of the opposition, which could include battlefield gear like body armor and night-vision goggles. The United States has already pledged medicine and food, and is training rebels covertly in Jordan.
But the officials reiterated the administration’s refusal to provide weapons to the armed opposition — a decision that critics say has left the rebels exposed to the government’s superior firepower and has sowed deep bitterness among the Syrian people toward the United States.
“I can understand why a fighter in Syria is not comforted by the fact that he might get a flak jacket, especially when he’s being pounded with Scud missiles and air power,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has called for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria.
Administration officials said the rebels had made slow but steady gains against the forces of the Assad government, and now controlled significantly more territory than five months ago. But they also warned about the rising danger of extremist groups, which Mr. Ford said were being bolstered by the “pernicious” influence of Iran.
“There is a real competition under way now between extremists and moderates in Syria,” said Mr. Ford, who had just returned from London, where he met with leaders of the opposition. “We need to weigh in on behalf of those who promote freedom and tolerance.”
Mr. Ford said the United States was also urging the Syrian opposition to reach out to minority groups, including Christians and the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Mr. Assad and many of his closest advisers and loyalists belong.
“There needs to be a negotiated political settlement because if there is not a negotiated settlement, our sense is that regime supporters, fearing death, would fight to the death,” he said.
Mr. Obama discussed Syria on Thursday in a White House meeting with the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who urged the president to show “stronger leadership” in dealing with conflict.
The president, acknowledging that the situation there was at a “critical juncture,” said, “It is important for us to bring about an effective political transition that would respect the rights of all Syrians.”
In the short term, Mr. Obama added, it was important “to try to eliminate some of the carnage.”
Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the most likely situation was a Syria divided along geographical and sectarian lines, with militias fighting for at least a year to 18 months after an exit by Mr. Assad.
“There are literally hundreds of these militia groups that are fighting on a local basis in the north and east of the country,” he said. “They are gaining more control of the area.”
But Mr. Clapper acknowledged that American intelligence agencies were not venturing a guess about when or how Mr. Assad might go, given continuing support from Russia and Iran, and the Syrian leader’s own belief that he can ride out the civil war.
“His own perspective is that he believes he’s got the upper hand, that he’s winning,” Mr. Clapper said. “He’s also said that he was born in Syria and he’s going to die there.”
Asked how the United States and its allies would respond if Syria used chemical weapons — a “red line” that Mr. Obama has said could potentially set off an American military intervention — Mr. Clapper said the capabilities of the United States and other countries in the region “could be brought to bear.”
How well the United States and its allies — including Israel and Jordan, officials said — could secure Syria’s chemical weapons sites “would be very, very situational-dependent,” he said.
Mubarak forces 'had official approval' to fire live rounds at Suez protesters
Latest leak shows high-level sanction for violence in which 24 protesters died – and raises hopes of jailing perpetrators
Patrick Kingsley and Louisa Loveluck in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 19.14 BST
Senior interior ministry officials sanctioned the use of live ammunition against protesters in Suez during the opening days of Egypt's revolution, according to a leaked fact-finding report commissioned by the president.
Under the watch of the interior ministry's most senior representative in the region, police fired indiscriminately at crowds from the roof of a police station, according to the report, and senior police officers allowed their deputies to remove weaponry from official stores without presenting identification. The report also describes how a military officer ordered plainclothes police to carry firearms through the streets even after police had been officially evacuated from the city.
These are the latest revelations from a tranche of a report commissioned by the president, Mohamed Morsi, that has been leaked to the Guardian. The new material covers the events of January and early February 2011 in Suez, the first large city to hold major protests against the rule of the then president, Hosni Mubarak.
Earlier leaks documented allegations that the military were involved in torture, killings and forced disappearances during the uprising.
According to the new material, senior interior ministry officials were responsible for the order to use live ammunition to disperse large gatherings, resulting in the deaths of 24 protesters. It claims that high-level officials including Ashraf Abdallah – the ministry's most senior representative in the region – remained in Suez for the opening days of the uprising, and were present in the city as gunmen stationed on the roof of a police station shot "extensively and indiscriminately" into crowds of demonstrators.
Extensive police brutality in Suez has long been alleged by residents and rights campaigners. But the report is significant because it is the first hint of an official state acknowledgment of the crimes. No police officer has ever been jailed for their treatment of protesters, nor has it ever been proved that their behaviour was sanctioned centrally.
"This report is incredibly important because it contains internal orders from the ministry of the interior," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch. "That is incredibly important evidence that hasn't come to light yet. The key question is whether or not police were ordered to arm themselves with live ammunition – and the report concludes that the ministry of interior classified the protest as riots, and that then justified an excessive response on the part of the police."
The chapter documents an "excessive use of force" in densely populated residential areas, with police using tear gas, bird shot and live ammunition. According to one witness, the scene resembled "war in the streets" – and overall the report creates an impression of a chaotic police response that was nevertheless sanctioned by central powers.
In at least one instance, security forces targeted with live rounds citizens standing on balconies as they threw water bottles to the crowds below, testimony compiled by the report alleges. In other evidence, witnesses describe how three noncommissioned officers were joined on the roof of a police station by a chief inspector, and fired machine guns and pistols into the crowds below.
The strength and intensity of the protests in Suez took officials by surprise, and it is where the first deaths of revolutionaries occurred. Fearing the kind of unrest that had swept Tunisia's president from power 10 days before, security officials in Suez issued instructions on 24 January that sanctioned extensive police surveillance and deployments in areas where large crowds could gather.
Police in Suez were the first security officials to kill protesters during the revolution – but none has since been sent to jail. According to the relative of a dead protester who gave testimony to the commission, security officials would later try to avoid culpability by refusing to hand over bodies from the city's mortuary in order to minimise the likelihood that complaints would be filed against them.
Throughout the uprising, armed police in plainclothes roamed the streets of Suez, according to interior ministry documents compiled in the report. In one video seen by the committee, a man identified as a plainclothes police officer is shown firing erratically in the streets. The report claims the practice of disguising armed security personnel in civilian clothes continued even after 29 January when the police were officially evacuated from the city.
The report also alleges that shotguns and other weapons were handed over to police conscripts without IDs. Although security experts could not confirm whether this represents an explicit breach of protocol, they argued that it reflected the chaotic nature of decision-making within police stations as the security services struggled to bring protests under control.
Rights activists hope the leaking of the report will lead to the conviction of the many Suez policemen and officials who remain at large.
"One of the main problems over the past two years has been the difficulty in identifying the perpetrators. In this report, a number of police officers and sub-officers who are not included in current trials are explicitly identified," said Karim Ennarah, a researcher on police and criminal justice at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "All should be suspended and, based on the evidence contained in the report, should be prosecuted."
He added: "The findings of the report, based on witness accounts, an inspection of areas surrounding police stations, and a review of the ammunition issue orders and deployment orders, prove excessive use of firearms doesn't even come close to what has been documented in Suez.
"This was nothing short of cold-blooded murder. Police officers identified in the report can be charged for murder, at the very least attempted murder if a direct link cannot be established between weapons used and deaths."
But this week, that did not look likely. One lawyer involved in an ongoing trial of police accused of crimes in Suez during the 2011 uprising – and who was also involved in the drafting of the report – said his findings had not been taken into account by the trial judge. "If the prosecution had done their job, they would have investigated and used it. But I don't think they have done anything," said Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer.
The report was presented to the president himself in January, but so far it has not been officially published, creating the impression that Morsi wishes to sweep its damning contents under the carpet.
The presidency told the Guardian on Wednesday that he had not yet read it because it was still be investigated by the prosecutor general. There is a feeling that Morsi wants to avoid angering senior members of the military and police, on whose support the success of his administration depends.
But campaigners stressed it was essential that the report's recommendations were first published officially and then acted on. Any other response, they said, would give the police the green light to continue to behave with impunity.
"This report needs to be made public by the president. It needs to be published so that it can have that official stamp of endorsement," said Morayef. "If we haven't even had a [presidential] condemnation of the repressive response by police during the revolution, then that's what creates this impression that they [still] have absolute discretion."
Egypt's interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Egyptian doctors ordered to operate on wounded protesters ‘without anesthetic’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 12, 2013 6:27 EDT
The Egyptian military ordered senior doctors to operate without anaesthetic on protesters injured during demonstrations against military rule, according to extracts of a leaked report published in the Guardian newspaper on Friday.
The report into military and police malpractice since 2011, commissioned by President Mohamed Morsi, also found evidence that medical staff and soldiers attacked demonstrators inside the same Cairo hospital, the British newspaper reported.
Earlier leaks of the report accused the military of torture and forced disappearances during the uprising against the rule of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The latest chapter deals with the treatment of protesters at the Kobri el-Qoba military hospital in Cairo in May 2012.
According to the Guardian, the investigation was told that a senior military doctor told doctors to operate without anaesthetic or sterilisation.
Another witness described how military doctors, soldiers and medics “assaulted protesters by severely beating them and verbally assaulting them”.
“I can’t overestimate the importance of this report,” Heba Morayef, the director of Human Rights Watch in Egypt, told the newspaper.
“The army always said they took the side of protesters and never fired a bullet against them. This report is the first time that there has been any official condemnation of the military’s responsibility for torture, killing, or disappearances,” he added.
Egypt’s president promoted military commanders on Thursday in show of support for the army amid rumours of tensions between the Islamist leader and the once ruling generals.