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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1077805 times)
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« Reply #5835 on: Apr 19, 2013, 05:59 AM »

04/18/2013 01:36 PM

Looking Beyond Europe: German Firms Wary of Euro Zone

By David Böcking

A new survey of small and medium-sized companies in Germany finds that they are losing interest in the euro zone. Instead, they are placing their bets on countries even further afield, especially fast-growing emerging economies.

The issue of euro-zone bailouts has frequently divided the German business world. "There is no serious alternative to the common euro" claimed an advertising campaign that ran in 2011 and featured the heads of several companies listed on Germany's DAX blue-chip stock exchange index. But the campaign triggered open criticism from representatives of Germany's Mittelstand, the small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) that make up the backbone of the German economy. The Munich-based Foundation for Family Businesses in Germany and Europe reacted by demanding that "exit and expulsion from the currency union must be possible."

Two years later, a survey of German SMEs conducted by Commerzbank, Germany's second-largest bank, shows that they continue to view the euro zone with great skepticism. The survey, which was released Thursday, polled 4,000 Mittelstand companies with annual sales of at least €2.5 million ($3.3 million).

Among the survey's questions were whether these companies have or plan foreign business ties. The results show that the number of companies answering "no" to this question rose from 24 to 36 percent since a similar poll taken in 2007. At the same time, the number of German SMEs currently planning to expand abroad sank sharply in the same period, from 23 to just 9 percent. Indeed, it would seem that the world's former global export champion has become a country of homebodies -- and pessimists.

No fewer than 81 percent of the surveyed companies expect the euro zone's economy to remain weak in the medium term, while only 56 percent fear a weakening global economy. Half of them are even afraid that there will be national bankruptcies among euro-zone countries. Even companies that would in principle be willing to expand abroad share this skeptical stance toward Europe -- and are having second thoughts about any possible expansion plans.

Skepticism about Growth

The survey also shows that German SMEs are skeptical about growth. Eighty-eight percent of them agreed with the statement that the German economy must adapt to the limits on growth. Ulrike Rondolf, a Commerzbank analyst, believes that this stance also reflects the ongoing debate on capitalism. "I think that the companies' assessment corresponds with that of the broader public, which rejects efforts toward higher growth and profits," he says.

However, the poll indicates that companies do not think that completely different economic models, such as those currently being discussed by a commission in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, offer an answer to declining growth rates. Instead, 85 percent of surveyed companies stated that intensifying foreign trade outside the euro zone is a much better way to respond to the crisis. In other words, instead of looking close by -- in the domestic and European markets -- these companies think that better business opportunities are to be sought further afield.

Indeed, quickly growing emerging-market countries are already enormously important for German SMEs. More than a quarter of the surveyed companies sell their products in Russia or China, and almost one-fifth in India and Brazil. However, there are strong discrepancies in exporting strength between western and eastern German states. For example, while two-thirds of all surveyed companies from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg sell goods abroad, the share isn't even half as big in the eastern state of Thuringia.

Under these circumstances, the surveyed companies seem determined to place their bets on global trade as the way out of the crisis -- and this despite the fact that a growing number of companies are expecting more trade barriers, currency risks and problems with protecting intellectual property rights abroad. This could also prompt further discussion about how to stabilize the economy in Germany and Europe.

Other EU countries have also frequently demanded that Germany cut back its high trade account surpluses to the benefit of its neighbors. But only 8 percent of the surveyed companies said they would like to actively reduce exports. However, another demand finds more support: At least 27 percent of the companies back wage increases as a way to stimulate demand in Germany.

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« Reply #5836 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:09 AM »

April 18, 2013

Musharraf, Fleeing Once, Is Brought Back to Court to Face Charges


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf ended his years of exile last month, it was with a vision of himself as a political savior, returning in the nick of time to save Pakistan from chaos.

Instead, he contributed a new and bizarre chapter to the country’s political turmoil on Thursday, fleeing the halls of the High Court after a judge ordered his arrest. Speeding away in a convoy of black S.U.V.'s as a crowd of lawyers mocked him, he hurried to his fortress compound outside the capital, where he was declared under house arrest.

Early Friday, the police escorted Mr. Musharraf from his house to a court in central Islamabad where a magistrate formally charged him. Television pictures showed him saluting briefly as he entered his S.U.V., before returning once again to his Islamabad home. Television stations reported that Mr. Musarraf was due to appear in anti-terrorism court in two days, but it was not clear if that meant Sunday or Monday.

Less than five years after wielding absolute power, the retired four-star general has become the latest example of the Pakistani judiciary’s increasing willingness to pursue previously untouchable levels of society — even to the top ranks of the powerful military.

Rarely has a retired army chief faced imprisonment in Pakistan, and analysts said the move against Mr. Musharraf could open a new rift between the courts and the military.

All this comes at a delicate moment for Pakistan, with elections near and only a temporary caretaker government at the helm. Though army commanders have sworn to stay on the sidelines in this election, there is fear that any tension over Mr. Musharraf’s fate could make the military more politically aggressive.

It was perhaps with that potential conflict in mind that the country’s Supreme Court was reported by Mr. Musharraf’s spokeswoman to have designated his luxury villa — secured by both retired and serving soldiers — as a “sub-jail” late Thursday night.

The tight security at his home, ringed by guard posts and barbed wire, was at first a reflection of repeated Taliban threats to kill the former general. But for now, the imminent danger to Mr. Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, stems from the courts.

At Thursday’s hearing, the High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, refused to extend Mr. Musharraf’s bail in a case focusing on his decision to fire and imprison the country’s top judges when he imposed emergency rule in November 2007.

Resentment toward the former army chief and president still runs deep in the judiciary, which was at the center of the 18-month protest movement that led to his ouster in 2008.

Mr. Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League party hit back at the court, describing the order as “seemingly motivated by personal vendettas,” and hinted at the possibility of a looming clash with the military, warning that the order could “result in unnecessary tension among the various pillars of state and possibly destabilize the country.”

Mr. Musharraf’s lawyers immediately lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, which rejected it..

The court drama represents the low point of a troubled homecoming for the swaggering general, who had vowed to “take the country out of darkness” after returning from four years of self-imposed exile in Dubai, London and the United States.

But instead of the public adulation he was apparently expecting, Mr. Musharraf has been greeted by stiff legal challenges, political hostility and — perhaps most deflating — a widespread sense of public apathy.

Pakistan’s influential television channels have given scant coverage to Mr. Musharraf since his return, and his party has struggled to find strong candidates to field in the general election scheduled for May 11. On Tuesday, the national election commission delivered another blow, disqualifying Mr. Musharraf from the election.

The army, once the source of Mr. Musharraf’s power, has offered little in the way of succor, apart from some armed security.

Meanwhile, Mr. Musharraf faces criminal charges in three cases dating to his period in office — the one related to firing judges and two others related to the deaths of former Prime MinisterBenazir Bhuttoand Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a Baloch tribal leader. Attempts by some critics to charge Mr. Musharraf with treason have not succeeded.

At times, the self-described elite soldier seemed bent on shooting himself in the foot. In an interview with CNN last week, he admitted to having authorized American drone strikes in the tribal belt — a statement that contradicted years of denials of complicity in the drone program, and which was considered politically disastrous in a country where the drones are widely despised.

In returning home in such an apparently ill-considered manner, Mr. Musharraf has placed himself at the mercy of some of his most bitter enemies.

The favorite to win the coming election is Nawaz Sharif, the onetime prime minister whom Mr. Musharraf overthrew to seize power in 1999.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is led by his sworn enemy, Chief JusticeIftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom Mr. Musharraf fired and placed under house arrest in 2007. Justice Siddiqui, who refused him bail on Thursday, is considered a conservative who has been hostile to the military.

Last week, another judge placed Mr. Musharraf on the Exit Control List, which means that he cannot leave the country without court permission.

In his 2006 memoir,"In the Line of Fire,"Mr. Musharraf wrote: “It is not unusual in Pakistan for the general public and the intelligentsia to approach the army chief and ask him to save the nation.” But as the events of Thursday suggested, it is the former army chief who may need saving this time.

Salman Masood contributed reporting.
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« Reply #5837 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:13 AM »

Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma

Thousands watch YouTube videos of 45-year-old 'Burmese Bin Laden' who preaches against country's Muslim minority

Kate Hodal in Bangkok, Thursday 18 April 2013 12.08 BST   

Link to video: Burma's Bin Laden, the Buddhist monk who fuels hatred

His name is Wirathu, he calls himself the "Burmese Bin Laden" and he is a Buddhist monk who is stoking religious hatred across Burma.

The saffron-robed 45-year-old regularly shares his hate-filled rants through DVD and social media, in which he warns against Muslims who "target innocent young Burmese girls and rape them", and "indulge in cronyism".

To ears untrained in the Burmese language, his sermons seem steady and calm – almost trance-like – with Wirathu rocking back and forth, eyes downcast. Translate his softly spoken words, however, and it becomes clear how his paranoia and fear, muddled with racist stereotypes and unfounded rumours, have helped to incite violence and spread misinformation in a nation still stumbling towards democracy.

"We are being raped in every town, being sexually harassed in every town, being ganged up on and bullied in every town," Wirathu recently told the Guardian, speaking from the Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay where he is based.

"In every town, there is a crude and savage Muslim majority."

It would be easy to disregard Wirathu as a misinformed monk with militant views, were it not for his popularity. Presiding over some 2,500 monks at this respected monastery, Wirathu has thousands of followers on Facebook and his YouTube videos have been watched tens of thousands of times.

The increasing openness of Burma, which was once tightly controlled under a military junta, has seen a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment spread across the 60 million-strong Buddhist majority – and Wirathu is behind much of it.

Rising to prominence in 2001, when he created a nationalist campaign to boycott Muslim businesses, Wirathu was jailed for 25 years in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim hatred but freed in 2010 under a general amnesty.

Since his release, Wirathu has gone back to preaching hate. Many believe his words inspired the fighting last June between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, where 200 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced.

It was Wirathu who led a rally of monks in Mandalay in September to defend President Thein Sein's controversial plan to send the Rohingya to a third country. One month later, more violence broke out in Rakhine state.

Wirathu says the violence in Rakhine was the spark for the most recent fighting in Burma's central city of Meiktila, where a dispute in a gold shop quickly spiralled into a looting-and-arson spree. More than 40 people were killed and 13,000 forced to flee, most of them Muslims, after mosques, shops and houses were burned down across the city.

Wirathu says part of his concern with Islam is that Buddhist women have been converted by force and then killed for failing to follow Islamic rules. He also believes the halal way of killing cattle "allows familiarity with blood and could escalate to the level where it threatens world peace".

So he is back to leading a nationalist "969" campaign, encouraging Buddhists to "buy Buddhist and shop Buddhist" and demarcate their homes and businesses using numbers related to the Buddha (the number refers to his nine attributes, the six attributes of his teaching and the nine attributes of the Buddhist order), seemingly with the intention of creating an apartheid state.

Wirathu openly blames Muslims for instigating the recent violence. A minority population that makes up just 5% of the nation's total, Wirathu says Burma's Muslims are being financed by Middle Eastern forces: "The local Muslims are crude and savage because the extremists are pulling the strings, providing them with financial, military and technical power," he said.

Not everyone agrees with Wirathu's teachings, including those of his own faith. "He sides a little towards hate," said Abbot Arriya Wuttha Bewuntha of Mandalay's Myawaddy Sayadaw monastery. "This is not the way Buddha taught. What the Buddha taught is that hatred is not good, because Buddha sees everyone as an equal being. The Buddha doesn't see people through religion."

Critics point to Wirathu's lack of education to explain his extremism as little more than ignorance, but his views do have clout in a nation where many businesses are run successfully by Muslims.

The second son of eight children, Wirathu was born in 1968 in a town near Mandalay and only attended school until 14, after which he became a monk. Eager to leave "civilian life rife with its greed and spite", he said he had no intention of marrying: "I didn't want to be with a woman."

Wirathu claims he has read the Qur'an and counts Muslims among his friends, but said: "We're not so close because my Muslim friends don't know how to talk to Buddhist monks … I can accept [being friends] if they consider me an important and respected religious figure."

Despite spending seven years in prison for stoking religious violence, Wirathu won a "freedom of religion" award in February from the UK's foremost Burmese monastery, Sasana Ramsi in London, in the same week that he spread rumours that a Rangoon school would be developed into a mosque.

Analysts warn that Wirathu's seeming freedom to preach as he pleases – in addition to his influence over other monks, who have also started preaching against Islam – should be taken as a wake-up call to the rest of the world. "If a similar hate movement like Burma's '969' movement – which spreads hate speech and hate symbols – [existed] specifically against, say, the Jews in Europe, no European government would tolerate it," Burmese activist and London School of Economics visiting fellow Maung Zarni said.

"Why should the EU not take it seriously, in a major EU-aid recipient country?"

Both Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been criticised for not taking a greater stand against the violence that has racked Burma in recent months. Some have pointed to the seemingly planned nature of many of the attacks; UN special envoy Vijay Nambiar said the violence had a "brutal efficiency" and cited "incendiary propaganda" as stirring up trouble.

Multifaith activists in Burma recently took to the streets to counter the violence, distributing T-shirts and stickers with the message: "There shall be no racial or religious conflicts because of me." But the Buddhist-Muslim tension has already spread far and wide.

In Rangoon, a recent mosque fire that killed 13 children was widely believed to be a case of arson. And in Indonesia, eight Buddhists were beaten to death by Rohingya Muslims at a detention centre, in apparent retribution for incidents of sexual assault by Buddhist inmates against Rohingya women.

Rumours abound that those inciting the fighting, like Wirathu, are pawns for being used by Burma's military generals to stir up trouble in the nascent democracy. But Wirathu insists he is working alone: "These are my own beliefs," he said. "I want the world to know this."

In a chilling sermon last month, Wirathu warned that the "population explosion" of Burma's Muslims could mean only one thing: "They will capture our country in the end."

And just like his namesake, this "Burmese Bin Laden" made a brazen call to arms: "Once we [have] won this battle, we will move on to other Muslim targets."
Preacher of hate

1968 Wirathu is born in Kyaukse, near Mandalay

1984 Joins the monkhood

2001 Starts promoting his nationalist "969" campaign, which includes boycotting Muslim businesses

2003 Jailed for 25 years for inciting religious hatred after distributing anti-Muslim leaflets, leading to 10 Muslims being killed in Kyaukse

2010 Freed under a general amnesty

June 2012 Violence breaks out between ethnic Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine state

September 2012 Wirathu leads a rally of monks in support of President Thein Sein's proposal to send the Rohingya to a third country

October 2012 More violence breaks out in Rakhine state

March 2013 Inter-religious fighting in Meiktila sees 40 killed and nearly 13,000 displaced; "969" stickers and plaques distributed throughout Burma

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« Reply #5838 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:17 AM »

April 18, 2013

North Korea Tones Down Language, Giving Hope for Dialogue


SEOUL, South Korea — By North Korean standards, the invective issued over the past week has bordered on civil. Instead of near daily threats of nuclear annihilation for the “nest of evil” in the United States and promises to “press the button,” the North in recent days has grumbled over a “crafty ploy” and “cunning trick” by America and its allies to strip the North of its nuclear arsenal.

The United States and South Korea, meanwhile, have made a change of their own: putting a new focus on offering talks after weeks of meeting North Korean provocations with harsh warnings that included deploying nuclear-capable stealth bombers on a practice run over South Korea.

Security analysts in South Korea and the United States expressed cautious optimism this week that the shift in tone, however understated, is a sign that after weeks of escalating threats that raised fears of armed conflict, both sides might be ready to calm tensions.

“I wouldn’t say the crisis has passed, but maybe we’re in a less dangerous phase,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former State Department expert on Asia who is now senior director of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consulting firm that specializes in Korea, China and Japan. “The possibility of a serious miscalculation is not as great as a few days ago.”

He attributed North Korea’s reduced bombast partly to what he called their position “at the top of the rhetorical escalatory ladder — where do you go after you threaten to nuke Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Washington? The place to go after that is to carry out your threats, and they are not in the position to do that.”

Even those like Mr. Revere who express hope of at least a short-term quieting, emphasize that too little is known about North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, to predict what could happen next. He could launch a missile test as policy makers in South Korea and the United States have expected, and some South Korean officials privately fear the softening of the North’s tone could be a ploy meant to bolster those in the United States and South Korea who are pushing for a more lenient stance toward the North.

The offers of dialogue by the United States and South Korea, while showing some softening, also expose the gulf in expectations between them and North Korea.

The Obama administration continues to demand that Pyongyang commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before negotiations on longer-term solutions to decades of animosity — a starting point the North has rejected repeatedly, including on Thursday.

The South Koreans, “along with their American master, are still talking such nonsense as ‘denuclearization’ in the North in a bid to make a bargain over its nukes,” a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said. “They would be well advised to drop such daydream.”

The North has also put forward its own terms for talks, including the lifting of United Nations sanctions for North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests, a precondition the United States is unlikely to accept.

Still, the fact that North Korea has recently begun at least responding to American and South Korean overtures for dialogue represents a change.

“They are keeping the door open for possible negotiation,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at Sejong Institute, south of Seoul. He said the North might wait to accept the invitation until after the United States and South Korea ended their joint military exercises at the end of April.

Analysts have suggested the North could declare victory to its people once the exercises end, claiming its tough talk drove the Americans to halt what it characterizes as possible plans for invasion. Ending the exercises, and not repeating them, is one of the demands the North put forward on Thursday as a prerequisite for negotiations.

Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said he believed China had played an important role in the toned-down North Korean language, in part by publicly criticizing American military operations in the region in a way that gave the North some face-saving cover for its anxiety over the joint exercises. At the same time, Mr. Ku said, he was sure that China, presumed to be the only country with real leverage with the North, had been privately pressuring the North Koreans to scale back their threats.

One of the first attempts to calm the confrontation came last Thursday when the government of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea ended weeks of tough talk with a vague offer of dialogue. The government also allowed a charity to ship tuberculosis medicines to North Korea, and authorized factory owners from the South to try to meet North Korean officials to discuss reopening a joint industrial park that Pyongyang temporarily closed last week. For now, the North has refused to meet the factory owners.

Then, last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to the region focused on the North Korea crisis, said “our preference would be to get to talks” and supported the South’s efforts to reach out. The United States had earlier postponed a ballistic missile test.

Even before a noticeable drop in bombast late last week, the young Mr. Kim had disappeared from view after weeks of nearly daily appearances on North Korean news and propaganda sites in poses meant to suggest his readiness for combat and his soldiers’ dedication. One photo showed him with his top generals authorizing plans to strike major American cities with missiles.

Mr. Kim returned to public view on Monday when he visited the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang to pay respect to his grandfather, North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, who would have turned 101 that day.

George A. Lopez, professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and an expert on the North Korea sanctions, said it was notable that North Korea had not engaged in any provocative actions during Mr. Kerry’s visit to the region, which coincided with the birthday celebrations for Mr. Kim’s grandfather.

“I’m looking at this as a calculated political choice,” he said. “Maybe we’ve seen the worst of the storm.”

Mr. Lopez also said that if North Korea were to conduct a missile test now — considered by some to be the least provocative action the North could take if it needs to make good on its bluster — the Obama administration was likely to react with measured criticism.

That would not move the two countries toward anything resembling a long-term solution over a nuclear program that the administration says it cannot tolerate, and the North considers its “treasured sword” — its best protection against the United States. But like the recent toning down of language, a muted reaction could suggest movement away from tit-for-tat confrontation.

“We don’t need to move toward some progress,” said Dr. Ku of the U.S.-Korea Institute. “If we could all just get off the ledge, that would be progress.”

Choe Sang-Hun reported from Seoul, and Rick Gladstone from New York.


April 18, 2013

New Details on Disclosure Regarding North Korea


WASHINGTON — The nation’s top intelligence official said Thursday that a one-paragraph assessment about North Korea’s ability to arm a nuclear missile was mistakenly declassified by the Pentagon’s intelligence agency, an inadvertent disclosure that revealed competing views on the country within the United States’ spy agencies.

After the conclusion became public at a Congressional hearing last week, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, issued a statement saying that the position by the Defense Intelligence Agency did not reflect the consensus view of the 15 other intelligence agencies.

But Mr. Clapper, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered new details and a fuller explanation of why the D.I.A.’s conclusion last month — with “moderate confidence” — that North Korea has learned how to shrink a nuclear weapon to fit into a nuclear warhead was at odds with all the other intelligence agencies.

“The difference has to do with the confidence level in the actual ability of the North Koreans to make a weapon that will work in a missile,” Mr. Clapper, said, adding that since the North has yet to test such a weapon, “neither we nor the North Koreans know whether they have such capability.”

Mr. Clapper continued: “D.I.A. has a higher confidence level than the rest of the community on that capability. That’s the difference.”

At issue is a seven-page classified report, one sentence of which was mistakenly labeled unclassified, Mr. Clapper said. The assessment’s existence was made public on April 11 by Representative Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, in a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

In an unusual step hours after the disclosure, Mr. Clapper issued a statement playing down the assessment of the D.I.A., which tends to take a more hawkish view on North Korea, adding that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”

President Obama said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday that he did not believe that North Korea yet had the ability to make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit atop a missile.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, including one this year, and in December shot a ballistic missile as far as the Philippines. American and South Korean intelligence agencies believe that another test — perhaps of a midrange missile called the Musudan that can reach Japan, South Korea and almost as far as Guam — may be conducted in the coming days.

“They have what appears to be the basic ingredients for nuclear-equipped missiles,” Mr. Clapper said Thursday. “If they launch this Musudan missile, that’ll be of great interest to both them and us to see if it actually works because they’ve never launched one.”

Even as he sought to tamp down the D.I.A.’s conclusion, Mr. Clapper said it was common, and even healthy, for the nation’s intelligence agencies to challenge each other’s assumptions and assessments on complicated intelligence issues.

“For those looking to find infighting within the I.C. on North Korea, I’m sorry to disappoint,” Mr. Clapper said, referring to the country’s intelligence community. “To the contrary, this reflects an integrated, collaborative and competitive analysis process that’s open to all views.”

Mr. Clapper added, “We lack uniform agreement on assessing many things in North Korea.”

One area in which there appears to be little disagreement is that North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, is calling the shots in the country.

“There isn’t a lot of upward flow of information or flow of decision options,” Mr. Clapper said. “They’re all pretty much centered in one person.”


April 19, 2013

China’s North Korea Envoy to Visit Washington


BEIJING — China’s special envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, will visit Washington early next week to conduct talks with American officials, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

The visit comes after Secretary of State John Kerry said in Beijing last week that China had a vital role to play in helping rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.

Separately, a senior editor of an influential Chinese newspaper, Study Times, who was suspended from his post after criticizing China’s ties to North Korea, said in an interview Friday that China and the United States needed to work together to solve the North Korean situation.

The editor, Deng Yuwen, who is now a freelance writer, said he doubted that North Korea would agree to join any talks on its denuclearization, even if they got under way.

Referring to the round of negotiations known as the six-party talks, which were suspended in 2008 after North Korea withdrew from them, Mr. Deng said: “I personally don’t think North Korea will participate in the six-party talks.”

The provocative threats from North Korea over the last few months had “forced the U.S. and China together,” Mr. Deng said. “They must work on it together. China cannot handle it by itself, and neither can the U.S.”

The visit to Washington by Mr. Wu, one of China’s senior diplomats, will be his first to the United States since 2010. He will meet with Glyn T. Davies, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, and other American officials.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at the regular press briefing Friday that Mr. Wu would be in Washington at the invitation of Mr. Davies, and would participate in “an in-depth exchange of views” on the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Mr. Wu served as chairman of the six-party talks that involved China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea.

During his visit to Beijing last week, Mr. Kerry said the United States would be interested in talks on North Korea but he set a pre-condition – that North Korea pledge to give up its nuclear weapons. That condition has been rejected by the regime led by President Kim Jung-un.

North Korea has also insisted since Mr. Kerry’s visit to Beijing that if the United States wanted dialogue it must end economic sanctions against Pyongyang and end joint military exercises with South Korea.

Mr. Kerry told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday that the United States was not willing to reward North Korea for merely returning to the negotiating table.

But at the same time, the Secretary of State expressed interest in pursuing whether it might be possible to start negotiations.

“That’s the first word of negotiation or thought of that we’ve heard from them since all of this has begun,” Mr. Kerry told the panel. “So I’m prepared to look at that as, you know, at least a beginning gambit – not acceptable, obviously, and we have to go further.”

The Obama administration expressed gratitude to China for its support of stiffer economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations after North Korea detonated its third nuclear bomb in February. It was the first such detonation under the leadership of Mr. Kim, who came to power in December 2012.

But the administration has been frustrated by the seeming unwillingness or inability of China, North Korea’s main ally and economic patron, to clamp down on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has expanded since the end of the six-party talks.

For its part, China seems to reluctant to change its fundamental policy of preventing the collapse of North Korea, an outcome that could result in the unification of the Korean peninsula and potentially put a close American military ally on China’s doorstep..

In efforts to encourage China to take bolder action against North Korea, Mr. Kerry spoke warmly of his talks in Beijing, his first as Secretary of State.

He told the congressional panel that China was worried about the provocative actions of North Korea. “The last thing they would want, I’m convinced is a war on their doorstep of a completely destabilized Korean peninsula,” he said.

In another sign of diplomatic efforts to deal with North Korea, the South Korean news agency, Yonhap reported Friday that the South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, would meet with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, in Beijing next week to discuss North Korea.

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« Reply #5839 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:20 AM »

April 18, 2013

South Korean Intelligence Officers Are Accused of Political Meddling


SEOUL, South Korea — At least two agents from the South Korean National Intelligence Service illegally posted comments online criticizing the political opposition ahead of the December presidential election, the police said on Thursday in an interim report on an investigation into accusations of political meddling.

The police said it remained unclear whether the two agents were part of an operation to influence the Dec. 19 election, as the opposition Democratic United Party claimed. But the findings were a blow to President Park Geun-hye, who had vehemently accused her opposition rival, Moon Jae-in, of a political offensive when his party first made accusations of illegal campaign activities by intelligence agents.

Ms. Park, the governing party candidate, won the election by a margin of one million votes.

The case revived long-held suspicions among South Koreans over the role of the National Intelligence Service. The country’s former military dictators — including Ms. Park’s father, the late President Park Chung-hee — had used the agency, once known by its infamous acronym, K.C.I.A., to torture and silence dissidents and influence domestic politics.

After the country democratized in the early 1990s, the agency, which has changed its name a few times, repeatedly vowed not to intervene in politics.

On Thursday, Lee Kwang-seok, chief of the Suseo Police Station in Seoul, admitted difficulties investigating the secretive agency. The supervisor of the two agents, who are from the intelligence service’s psychological intelligence bureau, refused to be questioned, Mr. Lee said.

The police asked prosecutors to formally indict the two agents, whose names were not released, on charges of violating a law that requires intelligence officers to maintain political neutrality. A third person, not affiliated with the agency, faces a criminal charge of helping the agents in their online operation.

The police, citing a lack of evidence, stopped short of accusing the agents of a more politically volatile crime of violating the country’s election law, a decision the opposition party called a whitewash.

Political parties had earlier agreed to conduct a separate parliamentary inquiry. Prosecutors have also barred the former intelligence service director, Won Sei-hoon, a close ally of former President Lee Myung-bak, from leaving the country.

There was no immediate reaction from Ms. Park’s office or the intelligence service. The agency had earlier denied interfering in the election. It said its officers’ online activities had been part of its normal psychological operations aimed at North Korea.

Park Yong-jin, spokesman for the Democratic United Party, said Thursday that the case showed that the agency was “'a chambermaid of political power,” and compared the campaign activities of which it is accused to a “coup d'état.”

Mr. Park also accused the national police of dragging their feet in investigating the case, out of fear of offending President Park. The police said the investigation was continuing.

The case began when police officers and officials from the National Election Commission knocked on the door of a room in an office and residential complex in southern Seoul on Dec. 11, just over a week before the election. They were responding to a tip from the opposition party that a 29-year-old agent was running an illegal online election campaign operation from there.

But they could not even enter the room, as the agent had locked herself in. A political standoff erupted. The opposition accused the intelligence service of blocking an investigation. Ms. Park and her party accused the opposition of harassing the woman. The police took two days to obtain two computers from the woman and another two days before questioning her for the first time.

Three days before the election, the police said they had found no evidence of illegal online activities. After the election, however, the police said further investigations revealed that the woman used 16 Internet user IDs to upload numerous comments often criticizing opposition candidates on politically sensitive issues. Still later, they questioned a second agent and a person who was said to have been hired by the agents to assist them in their work.
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« Reply #5840 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:21 AM »

04/18/2013 01:52 PM

Risky 'Abenomics': Can Japan Jumpstart Its Economy?

By Wieland Wagner

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic plan has rallied the Nikkei index and offered hope to those weighed down by the country's economic problems. But critics fear it could lead to national bankruptcy.

It's Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, and there's the usual hustle and bustle in the shopping district of Akihabara. Young Japanese women with blond hair and brightly colored costumes are dancing in the streets. They are promoting manga cafés, where occasionally even the customers are dressed as cartoon characters.

In a high-rise building towering above the milling masses of consumers, a brokerage house has invited housewives, pensioners and employees to a seminar for small investors. They are fervently seeking tips for how they can lucratively invest their savings, and every seat is taken. The hot topic up for discussion: "Abenomics -- who has profited, who will be the next to profit?"

"Abenomics" is a Japanese term coined from the family name of Shinzo Abe, the recently-elected Japanese prime minister, and the English word "economics." Scenes like the one here in Tokyo can be witnessed all across Japan as investors flock to such events to earn from the "Abe economy," the new doctrine of salvation from their head of government.

Fresh off a Comeback

Indeed, the 58-year-old politician succeeded in making a comeback last December that virtually no one believed he and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could achieve. After a series of failures and health problems, he stepped down as prime minister in Sept. 2007. He has reinvented himself, and is presenting himself as Japan's savior who will lead the country out of its ongoing economic misery.

For a long time, Abe primarily made waves by intending to amend Japan's pacifist constitution. Now, however, he has recognized that his country first has to arm itself economically to catch up with rivals like China and South Korea.

Abe received a fitting strategy to achieve this from Koichi Hamada, a professor emeritus of economics at Yale University in the US, who now is serving as a government adviser.

Hamada believes that one entity is primarily to blame for Japan's malaise: the Bank of Japan (BOJ). For years, the central bank was unable to halt the country's chronic deflation. Since prices were dropping, companies were earning less or even going bankrupt. This in turn caused wages to decline. The Japanese hardly had any money left to buy goods and services.

As a result, companies' profits fell even further. In order to break out of this deflationary spiral, Abe forced the nominally independent BOJ to capitulate. He appointed a new central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda. The 68-year-old began his career in the Finance Ministry and occasionally likes to relax by reading Western philosophers such as Aristotle. Among central bankers, he stands out as being unusually talkative -- and just as unusually willing to experiment.

Taking Risks

Indeed, the new head of the BOJ has targeted an inflation target of two percent. In expectation of rising prices, at least according to the theory, companies will boost their investments and consumers will spend more money again.

Kuroda hopes to achieve his objective within two years -- and he promises "to do everything possible" to make it a reality. In other words, the central bank intends to print yen practically without restraint and to double the amount of money in circulation. On top of that, the bank plans to purchase Japanese sovereign bonds at the astonishing rate of over 7 trillion yen (over €50 billion/$65 billion) per month -- roughly twice as much as before. In the future, the BOJ wants to purchase over 70 percent of all newly issued sovereign bonds -- pushing down yields in the process.

It's a risky strategy. Japan has amassed a Fujiyama of debt, more than twice the country's entire annual gross domestic product (GDP). In contrast to Greece, Japan has borrowed most of its money from its own people -- over 90 percent of the bonds are held by the country's citizens. But now Japan's monetary watchdogs are joining the gamblers. For instance, the new head of the central bank is considering purchasing an increasing number of risky securities such as real estate funds.

This abundance of Japanese liquidity is threatening to spill over to Europe. Indeed, to avoid the prospect of falling yields, Japanese investors could rush to place their capital in foreign bonds. In anticipation of the new trend, lending rates in European countries like Spain have already begun to fall.

Psychology and the Economy

Until now, the Abenomics strategy has been mostly just words, but they have had quite an impact. They have seemingly erased the financial gloom that has pulled down Japan, once Asia's top economy, since the inflated real estate and stock prices of the late 1980s and early 1990s burst, marking the end of the so-called Japanese asset price bubble.

Even during the election campaign, Abe underscored the enormous degree to which the economy is influenced by psychology. With his threat to take away the central bank's independence, he kindled hopes of an enormous flood of money, causing large numbers of investors to dump their yen and buy dollars.

The yen, which has long made Japanese cars and televisions expensive abroad, has fallen by over 25 percent against the dollar since last autumn.

Not surprisingly, the cheaper yen has boosted entire sectors of the real economy. It's suddenly worthwhile for export companies like Toyota to manufacture in Japan again. The automotive giant is considering ramping up its domestic production from April to September by 200,000, to a total of 2.5 million vehicles.

The prospect of higher company profits has created a bullish mood on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Since the beginning of the year, the benchmark Nikkei index has risen by over 25 percent to its highest level in four-and-a-half years. And it's primarily foreign funds that have rediscovered Japan as an investment objective.

Expensive Imports

But Abe can't cure Japan's economic woes with the low yen alone. In fact, he's running the risk of being drawn into a devaluation race with countries like South Korea, which are afraid that their exports may now no longer be competitively priced. But not all aspects of falling exchange rates are a bonanza for the Japanese. The lower the yen falls, the more expensive their imports become -- particularly fossil fuels to generate electricity. After all, 52 out of the country's 54 nuclear reactors have been shut down since the disaster at Fukushima.

Now, Japan is nearly totally dependent on foreign oil and gas. In order to put more money into consumers' pockets despite this development, Abe recently intervened in the annual wage negotiations between companies and workers. He called on companies to pay higher wages to the "hard-working people." A number of sectors, primarily large supermarket chains, obediently decided to reward their workforces with increases in pay for the first time in years, although it often amounted to only one-time bonuses.

Such good deeds win supporters for Abenomics -- and Abe needs all the support he can get if he is to win a majority in the upper house of parliament, the House of Councillors, as he hopes in the upcoming election in July.

Other countries are anxiously watching his economic experiment. Will the third largest industrial power on earth once again become the global engine of growth? The US economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman praises Abe's government for "finally doing what Japan should have done a long time ago." Nevertheless, billionaire investor George Soros warned of an "avalanche" if Japanese investors transferred their savings abroad out of fear of a weak yen.

'It's a Bubble'

There are also prominent dissenters in Tokyo who fear that all the fuss surrounding Abenomics is merely wallpapering over Japan's structural crisis. "It's a bubble," says Yasunari Ueno. Ueno, the chief market economist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo, has been urging structural reforms for years.

In his office in the Tokyo banking quarter, Ueno mulls over the latest statistics -- and they look grim. Japan's population is rapidly aging. By the year 2040, nearly one-third of all Japanese will be over the age of 65, and the number of inhabitants is expected to decline by 20 million.

"Who will ensure the necessary economic growth?" he asks. Ueno contends that supporters of Abenomics deny that the demographic decline is the main reason for deflation -- and he says that they offer no recipe for reversing the trend.

In June, the government is planning to complement Abenomics with a long-term financing concept and growth strategy. But many Japanese companies lack new ideas and innovative products -- and that's not something that Abe can simply ordain.

The once proud electronics giant Panasonic is suffering bitter losses from its production of televisions. Its competitor Sharp is simply fighting to survive. It's been forced to share sections of its production plants with Apple and the Taiwanese cut-rate manufacturer Foxconn. And Sharp was so strapped for cash that it recently had to sell an equity stake in the company to Samsung, its feared rival from South Korea. Sharp plans to halve its workforce to 700 at its headquarters in Osaka.

Forecasting Bankruptcy

The cheaper yen can hardly stop this decline. Abenomics came ten years too late, at least according to Takeshi Fujimaki, who has predicted in his new book that the Japanese state will soon be bankrupt. The title of his book is "Hitotamari mo nai Nihon," or "Helpless Japan."

The author receives his guest at his modern villa in Tokyo which, including the garden, offers enough space for half a dozen normal Japanese single-family dwellings. Fujimaki knows how to make money. He worked for years as the star trader at the US financial firm J.P. Morgan, and he now runs his own investment company.

Abenomics, says Fujimaki, is accelerating Japan's downfall. He calmly calculates that Tokyo will have to sell new sovereign bonds worth 44 trillion yen every year to finance its budget. But he argues that if the central bank fuels inflation, the interest rates for the sovereign bonds will also rise -- along with Japan's mountain of debt.

To avoid defaulting, he predicts that the BOJ will ultimately have to print more money. "This will cause hyperinflation like there was in Germany in 1923," he says, pointing out that there are also advantages to a national bankruptcy. "Our young people won't have to pay off any more debts, and will instead be unencumbered to rebuild Japan."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.

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« Reply #5841 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:23 AM »

April 18, 2013

Experts Look Beyond Birds in Investigation of Flu Strain in China


BEIJING — China is investigating four possible cases of human-to-human transmission of a deadly bird flu that has killed 17 people, but so far there has been “no sustained” evidence of transmission between people, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Three families in Shanghai and two young children in Beijing were being examined as possible examples of human-to-human transmission, Gregory Hartl, the spokesman for W.H.O. in Geneva, said in a telephone interview.

“Even if two family members are positive, it is not necessarily the case they got it from each other,” Mr. Hartl said. “They may have gotten it from the same bird.”

As investigators looked at the possibility of human-to-human transmission, there was mounting concern that the new virus, known as H7N9, may not originate in poultry but in other animals, he said.

To that end, a team of international influenza experts from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva and a regional office in Manila, as well as scientists from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who were invited by China to help investigate the virus, arrived in Beijing on Thursday. The experts would be looking at possible sources for the virus other than birds, Mr. Hartl said.

A Chinese expert on the disease, Feng Zijian, the director of the health emergency center at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that an estimated 40 percent of people infected with the virus said they never had contact with poultry.

Mr. Hartl concurred with Mr. Feng about that statistic. “It is not clear all cases so far have had contact with poultry,” Mr. Hartl said.

Because it seemed possible that the virus originated in animals other than poultry, the international investigating team would be casting a wide net for possible sources, Mr. Hartl said.

Seventeen people have died since China told the W.H.O. in March of the bird flu outbreak, according to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua. There were 83 cases of infection, the news agency said.

Even as the international investigators would be seeking other sources of infection, China’s agricultural authorities were insisting the H7N9 virus was still confined to live poultry markets. The news agency said that 47,801 samples had been collected from 1,000 poultry markets, habitats and farms from across China, and that agricultural authorities said that 39 tested positive for H7N9.

Mr. Hartl noted that the percentage of positives was very low.

Early suspicions that pigs might be the carrier of the virus have not been confirmed, Mr. Hartl said. Pigs were tested soon after the outbreak was announced, he said, and there were no positive results.

The Chinese authorities had informed the W.H.O. about three families in Shanghai where more than one person was infected with the virus, Mr. Hartl said. In two, two people were infected, he said, and in the other, three were infected. In that case, an 87-year-old man and his 55-year-old son died, and his other son, 69, was sick, Mr. Hartl said.

The two children infected in Beijing, a boy and a girl, were neighbors and often played together, Mr. Hartl said. It is possible, he said, that they may have picked up the virus from the same infected bird.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Feng played down the possibility of “effective” human-to-human transmission.

“Effective human-to-human transmission is the case when a disease becomes a human flu virus, as seen in the case of H1N1, where groups of people would be infected at once, such as in schools and communities,” Mr. Feng said. “Effective human-to-human transmission means one patient could infect many and the virus continues to pass on to first, second and third patients. Effective human-to-human transmission has a clear chain of infection.”

The H1N1 virus was a new flu virus strain that caused a worldwide pandemic in humans from June 2009 to August 2010.

There was “currently no evidence showing that H7N9 carries continuous infecting power,” Mr. Feng said.

Mia Li contributed research.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 18, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a new strain of avian flu. It is H7N9, not H7H9.

It also incorrectly described the two infected children in Beijing as boys. One is a boy and one is a girl.

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« Reply #5842 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:25 AM »

April 18, 2013

U.S. Arms Deal With Israel and 2 Arab Nations Is Near


WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is expected to finalize a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week that will provide missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help them counter any future threat from Iran.

A weeklong visit to the region by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will culminate a year of secret negotiations on a deal that Congressional officials said will be second only to the $29.5 billion sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia announced in 2010. But the delicate balancing act that was necessary in weighing the differing interests of each nation made it among the most complex ever negotiated.

While one goal was to ensure that Israel continues to field the most capable armed forces in the region to deter Iran and counter a range of threats, it was equally important to improve the capabilities of two important Arab military partners. Another challenge, senior administration officials said, was coming up with a package that could help Israel deal with various security challenges — but devised so it would not be viewed as an American endorsement of accelerated planning by Israel to strike alone at Tehran’s suspected nuclear facilities.

The objective, one senior administration official said, was “not just to boost Israel’s capabilities, but also to boost the capabilities of our Persian Gulf partners so they, too, would be able to address the Iranian threat — and also provide a greater network of coordinated assets around the region to handle a range of contingencies.”

Those other security risks, officials said, include the roiling civil war in Syria — a country with chemical weapons that could be used by the Assad government or seized by rebels — and militant violence in the Sinai Peninsula.

Under the agreement, each country would be allowed to purchase advanced armaments from American contractors. In the case of Israel, there is also substantial American financial assistance, topping $3 billion in military aid this fiscal year.

Israel would buy new missiles designed to take out an adversary’s air-defense radars, as well as advanced radars for its own warplanes, new refueling tanker planes and — in the first sale to any foreign military — the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates would buy 26 F-16 warplanes, a package that could reach $5 billion alone, along with precision missiles that could be launched from those jets at distant ground targets. Saudi Arabia would buy the same class of advanced missile.

The expectation is that the arms sale, which was outlined to Congress on Thursday, will encounter little opposition from lawmakers, especially from members representing the many districts where defense contractors are concerned about the impact of cutbacks in the Pentagon’s own weapons budget. But Congressional officials said members were seeking assurances that the package was in keeping with American policy to guarantee Israel’s “qualitative military edge” while not recklessly emboldening Israeli hawks.

American policy acknowledges that a sovereign Israel has the right to defend itself, but “the president believes there is still time and space for diplomacy to work” in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, one senior administration official said.

Under the terms of the deal, Israel would be allowed to buy the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey, an aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter but fly with the speeds and range of an airplane. Israel could use the Osprey for patrolling its borders, coastline and out to sea, and for moving troops to troubled areas.

A new generation of KC-135 refueling tanker planes would let Israel’s warplanes stay in the air longer, an ability essential for any long-range mission — like a strike by Iran. The tankers would also be useful for air patrols protecting Israeli borders.

Israel also would receive antiradiation missiles. Launched from a warplane, they can home in on an adversary’s air-defense radar signals and destroy those sites. New, advanced radars for Israel’s military jets also would be in the package.

Administration officials declined to identify the new missile to be sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, except to say that it is an advanced class of precision “standoff munitions” — those designed to be launched from warplanes safely distant from ground targets.

The missile would fit the 84 F-15s that Saudi Arabia is currently buying under the previous arms deal, and it would be carried by the 26 F-16s the United Arab Emirates would buy under the new one. The missile, one senior official said, is to “address the threat posed by Iran.”

Officials said Israel was assured that use of the advanced missiles would be monitored by United States Air Force personnel who train alongside both the Saudi and emirates militaries, and that any deployment would occur only after consultation with the Americans. One administration official said the missiles would fall under “enhanced end-use monitoring.”

Over the past year of negotiations, Leon E. Panetta, the former defense secretary, met more than a dozen times with Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart, and had 18 additional telephone discussions on the arms deal. President Obama visited Israel last month, where he promised the United States would provide more security assistance, including advanced military technology, to Israel.

After being sworn in as the new defense secretary, Mr. Hagel held his first face-to-face discussion with any foreign counterpart to discuss the deal with Mr. Barak.

During his coming trip to Israel, Mr. Hagel will move to finalize the arms deal with Mr. Barak’s successor, Moshe Yaalon. Mr. Hagel will finalize the deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in visits to the two countries later next week.

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« Reply #5843 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:27 AM »

April 18, 2013

Officials in Israel Stress Readiness for a Lone Strike on Iran


JERUSALEM — With Chuck Hagel scheduled to begin his first visit to Israel as secretary of defense on Sunday, Israeli defense and military officials issued explicit warnings this week that Israel was prepared and had the capability to carry out a lone military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Thursday. Israel has “different vulnerabilities and different capabilities” from the United States, he said. “We have to make our own calculations, when we lose the capacity to defend ourselves by ourselves.”

Israeli officials have been expressing growing frustration with what they view as ineffective international efforts to halt what Israel and the West see as an Iranian quest for nuclear weapons. Despite economic sanctions and rounds of diplomatic talks, the officials say, the Iranian centrifuges continue to spin.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, said in an interview that Iran was abusing the diplomatic process to further its uranium enrichment program and that it was “high time” for the international community to issue Iran “a deadline or a timetable, or even a military threat.”

Iran, according to Mr. Steinitz, is about halfway to reaching the “red line” that Mr. Netanyahu drew on a cartoonlike diagram of a bomb before the United Nations last fall, representing the amount of medium-enriched uranium it would need to build a bomb. Iran has denied it intends to build a nuclear weapon and has said that it needs the enriched uranium for energy and medical uses.

The chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, on Thursday dismissed Israel’s threats as bluster that should not be taken seriously. Speaking on the sidelines of the Army Day parade in Tehran, he added that the United States would be deterred by Iran’s military might and not enter into war with it, according to the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency.

Though Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have continuously emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself by its own means, talk of possible action has been rare in recent months. Israel, during this time, has sought to lower tensions with the United States over Israel’s calls for red lines and in the face of vehement American opposition to an uncoordinated Israeli strike.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister until last month, quietly dropped his aggressive stance, focusing instead on the need to cooperate with Washington. President Shimon Peres spoke out openly against the idea of a lone Israeli strike, saying that the limited damage that Israel could inflict meant that it had to “proceed together with America.”

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to reassure the Israelis during a visit this month, pledging that the United States would stand with Israel against the Iranian threat “and as the president has said many times, he doesn’t bluff.”

Israel’s new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said in a speech for Independence Day on Tuesday that Israel should not lead the campaign against Iran, a role better left to the United States and the West. But he added that Israel could be the first target of a nuclear Iran, and that Israel “should prepare for the possibility that it will have to defend itself by its own means.”

Mr. Yaalon, a former military chief of staff who served in the last government as the minister of strategic affairs, is said by officials and experts to have been generally cautious on Iran. But Amos Yadlin, the former military intelligence chief who now directs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, wrote of Mr. Yaalon in an article last month, “The defense minister is known to believe that an attack on Iran is less dangerous than an Iran with military nuclear capability.”

Israel’s current military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said in an Independence Day interview with Ynet, a Hebrew news Web site, “We have the ability to cope with the danger that Iran poses to us, and permit me not to get dragged into the operational details.”

Asked by Israel Radio whether the Israeli military had the ability to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities alone if there was no other choice, General Gantz replied, “Unequivocally, yes.”

Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said in an interview that the Israeli statements “echoed the mood of the country” in the same week that it marked Remembrance Day for its fallen soldiers and celebrated 65 years of independence. But he said the statements could also be seen as “signaling Israel’s displeasure with international efforts to block progress on the Iranian nuclear program” ahead of Mr. Hagel’s visit.

As for whether the statements were an indication of Israeli intentions or were meant to goad world leaders into more action, Professor Inbar said: “I don’t know. It could be both.”

Mr. Steinitz, the minister of strategic affairs, argued that it was easier to intercept a nuclear project at the enrichment phase than after a decision to actually to build a bomb. Assembling a bomb might take several more months, “but this can be done in a little room like this office,” he said. “It is very hard to detect and supervise. Once the Iranians have completed enrichment, they are actually on the verge of a bomb.”

“We have to learn a lesson from what happened with North Korea,” Mr. Steinitz added. “To think that fanatic regimes will be rational when they have nuclear weapons — such fanatic regimes cannot be trusted.”

He said Mr. Netanyahu’s red line translated into about 250 to 300 kilograms of uranium (or about 550 to 660 pounds) enriched to 20 percent.

“They abuse the diplomatic process to get closer,” he said of the Iranians. “Instead of giving up they take another step — sometimes a little step, sometimes a bigger one.”

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« Reply #5844 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:29 AM »

April 18, 2013

Syria Faces New Claim on Chemical Arms


Britain and France have written separately to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations that there is credible information suggesting Syria’s government has used chemical weapons in the civil war on multiple occasions since last December, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there had been an exchange of letters with the secretary general starting on March 25 about the information, which they would not reveal in detail. They spoke a day after Mr. Ban said that Syria had still not given a United Nations forensics team permission to enter the country, despite Syria’s own request last month for an investigation into its claim that insurgents had used chemical weapons in the war.

The assertions by Britain and France are stronger than that of the United States, which has said that it is assessing claims of chemical weapons use in Syria, but has not come to any conclusions. President Obama has said the use of such weapons in the war would constitute a “game changer” that could lead to an American military response.

Israeli officials have also said they believe there is evidence that Syrian forces have used the weapons, which the government of President Bashar al-Assad is known to have stockpiled. But there has been no direct independent evidence presented to confirm the assertions.

Mr. Assad’s government has insisted that any United Nations investigation be focused only on one purported use of chemical weapons it says was carried out by insurgent forces in the Aleppo area on March 19 and which it says killed at least 26 people. Syria’s opposition has ridiculed the accusation, asserting its fighters would never use such weapons even if they knew how.

Western nations have also cast strong doubts on the Syrian government’s claim, and have said that any investigation should also include claims by anti-Assad activists that the government has used chemical weapons in the city of Homs and the Damascus suburbs.

Mr. Ban told reporters on Wednesday that an investigative team he had assembled was “ready to deploy quickly, as soon as we have the Syrian government’s consent.” But he also said that “the mission needs to investigate all the allegations made by the member states,” which suggested there would be no quick solution to the deadlock.

Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for Mr. Ban, said he could not comment on a report in The Washington Post that the British and French correspondence with Mr. Ban contained information about soil samples and witness interviews that bolstered  suspicion that Syrian forces had used the weapons. But Mr. Nesirky noted that “the secretary general has already said publicly that the governments of Syria, the United Kingdom and France have presented allegations with supporting information and requested a speedy investigation.”

In Washington, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that American intelligence agencies were assessing claims that the Syrian government had used chemical agents, but would not be more definitive.

“We receive many claims of chemical warfare use in Syria each day,” he said, “and we take them all seriously and we do all we can to investigate them.” A spokesman for the C.I.A. would not comment on the French and British reports.

When asked whether any of these claims, if confirmed, would cross Mr. Obama’s threshold for military intervention in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, Mr. Clapper insisted that “was a policy question and not one for intelligence to comment on.”

Mr. Clapper’s testimony reflected a growing assessment within the American intelligence community that the Syrian government may have used some kind of chemical agents, like a powerful tear gas, but not the most deadly ones, like sarin.

These assessments are based on witness accounts, medical results from Syrian civilians who may have been exposed to chemical agents who were treated in Turkey, and preliminary testing of soil samples taken from Syria. But officials say there is no consensus and that more testing is needed. Some administration officials believe the Syrian government may be testing the West to see what chemical agents it can use and in what amounts before it would trigger Western intervention.

The questions over possible chemical weapons use in Syria were overshadowed at the United Nations on Thursday by dire new predictions of a worsening humanitarian crisis caused by the war, and frustrations that aid agencies are running out of money. Kuwait provided some respite with an announcement it had given $300 million to the international relief effort for refugees and other Syrian war victims. Kuwait’s donation, $275 million to nine United Nations agencies and $25 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, was announced at a news briefing at the Geneva offices of the United Nations.

Access to deprived Syrians inside the country has also emerged as a major problem, aid officials said. Valerie Amos, the top United Nations humanitarian official, told a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday that Syria had imposed a new and onerous requirement that all aid trucks allowed into the country must be approved by two government ministers.

The number of Syrian refugees has risen to nearly 1.4 million this week from 30,000 a year ago, the United Nations refugee agency reported, a quarter more than it had predicted for the end of June. The number of refugees could double or triple to around three million by the end of the year, said António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.
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« Reply #5845 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:33 AM »

Somalia's young army recruits face uphill battle for credibility

Faced with al-Shabaab attacks, soldiers trained by the Ugandan military need not only guns but better organisation to safeguard Somalia

Jessica Hatcher in Mogadishu, Friday 19 April 2013 07.00 BST   

Captain Muhudun Ahmed Muhamud has faced the same weaponry – rocket-propelled grenades – that brought down two Black Hawk helicopters during the US special forces assault on Bakara market in Mogadishu in 1993.

Muhamud, 21, succeeded where "Operation Restore Hope", which killed around 1,000 Somalis, could not; in 2011, he led a company of 100 men to oust insurgents from the market area, playing an important role in the liberation of the capital from Islamic extremists al-Shabaab. Muhamud lost six men in the operation. "Soldiers have died, officers have died, but still we will defend," he says.

Born in 1991, the year Mohamed Siad Barre's government fell, Muhamud has only ever known Somalia at war. In 2007, he was among the first batch of national army recruits to be trained abroad after the state collapsed.

"The international community showed no serious interest in prioritising training of Somali troops as a way of solving the Somalia problem, so Uganda took it on," says Lt Col Paddy Nkunda, spokesman for the Ugandan military. Now, men like Muhamud have come of age for the Somali national army (SNA) to fight its own battles.

Muhamud joined the forces in 2007 aged 15 to avoid the persecution that led many other young men to flee: "If al-Shabaab captured you, they'd tell you 'you're government'. If the government captured you, they'd say, 'you're al-Shabaab,'" he says.

A frail peace under the governance of the Islamic Courts Union shattered at the end of 2006, after an Ethiopian invasion. The group splintered, only for some elements to reemerge as al-Shabaab.

On 14 April, al-Shabaab killed 30 people in one of its deadliest attacks since the group was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011. The bomb attacks were condemned by Human Rights Watch as "war crimes". Suicide bombers targeted the supreme court, while a car bomb detonated near the airport was aimed at aid workers.

"It [the attack] demonstrates that at least some Somali institutions are woefully insecure, and that amid recent optimism in the city a sense of complacency has grown that urgently needs to be addressed," says James Smith, analyst at the Rift Valley Institute.

The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that despite recent gains, "the continuing instability in parts of Somalia and access restrictions for humanitarian workers remain major obstacles for aid delivery" (pdf).

Many NGOs compromise their neutrality and accept military support to get things done. Some negotiate with al-Shabaab, which banned aid agencies in 2011. Despite being on the back foot, al-Shabaab has retaken two towns since March.

Selling arms to Somalia had been embargoed by the UN since 1992, shortly before the failed US attempt to "restore order" among warlords vying for power. A temporary and partial lifting of the embargo in March means the country is now allowed to buy small arms. This is a significant show of trust by the security council in the new federal government, which has only been in place since August; an important step in preparing the country to safeguard itself.

Ed Pomfret, Somalia campaign manager for Oxfam, argues that developing the means for the security forces to respect human rights will do more for security than additional weaponry. Rape is rife, and according to Human Rights Watch, many are carried out by men in uniform.

"Building the capacity of the security forces is about more than just guns. They need support to develop clear and effective ways of implementing command and control so that ordinary people can rely on the security forces to protect them," Pomfrey says.

But soldiers can't soldier without guns, and the SNA doesn't have enough. Officers are being trained by Ugandan troops (now deployed under the African Union mission Amisom) on sand dunes. Simulating an assault, they pound up a ridge and drop to the ground at the top. Silence. Then they take aim. But many aren't even carrying guns; some pretend to shoot with sticks, others mime with two outstretched fingers.

On the sand slope down to the Indian Ocean, a few hundred of the thousand new SNA recruits are being trained to march by Somali officers, without Amisom support. "They're training them in drama not military skills. If you engage them with the enemy, they will lose because they'll shoot each other," Ugandan intelligence officer Michael Baguma says. "It's inhuman. This is sacrifice of these young boys."

Muhamud commands attention despite his slight build, is fluent in English, Somali and Kiswahili, and communicates easily with his Ugandan mentor, Major James Bua. "They offer that sense of hope for the army," says Bua of his charges.

Mohamed Nur, a Nigerian police corporal who is training Somali policemen, says he was astonished to find Mogadishu safer than parts of Nigeria, and while patrolling Mogadishu at night has witnessed a revival of life after dark.

At 10pm, Nur's Amisom armoured vehicle pulls up at a crossroads in Furayaasha, once the key-forging district of Mogadishu. A couple of young boys stand in a doorway, waiting to pay 2,000 Somali shillings (80p) to take a turn on a PlayStation. The console's owner, 24-year old Abdiweli, is making $12 (£7) a day, having bought it with a TV screen for $300. "We could never do this with al-Shabaab. They would have destroyed it," Abdiweli says.

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« Reply #5846 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Guatemala judge drops ex-dictator’s genocide trial

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 18, 2013 20:05 EDT

The current genocide trial against ex-Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was dropped Thursday in a surprise legal move, but a judge is likely to launch fresh proceedings, officials said.

The development, on account of procedural reasons, will delay public deliberations over events that have divided the country for 30 years.

The 86-year-old retired general, who insists he was not aware the army was committing massacres, is accused of ordering the execution of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya people in the Quiche region during his 1982-1983 regime.

Although the current proceedings were scrapped, Judge Carol Patricia Flores said she had been ordered by the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court to pick up the case again.

“The proceedings are being canceled,” she said. “I am not doing this because I want to but because it has been ordered by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court,” because of a pending legal ruling.

Flores was initially in charge of the trial but was recused from the case by defense lawyers over claims of bias.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez then took over pre-trial proceedings in November 2011, and ordered the public trial against the former dictator.

Flores must now set a date to decide, once again, whether Rios Montt should face a public trial.

The genocide trial would be the first of its kind arising from the 36-year civil war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces and ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 dead or “disappeared,” according to the United Nations.

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« Reply #5847 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:39 AM »

April 19, 2013

Venezuela to Expand Audit of Votes


CARACAS, Venezuela — Election officials on Thursday agreed to a request by Venezuela’s losing presidential candidate to conduct an expanded audit of the results from the recent election won by a protégé of Hugo Chávez.

The head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, who made the announcement, said that the audit would take a month to complete.

The Chávez protégé, Nicolás Maduro, who was declared the winner of Sunday’s election by a margin of less than 2 percent, is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday despite the decision to carry out the audit.

The electoral council’s decision was an unusual concession to the losing candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who has refused to recognize the results of the election and called for a recount.

The majority of the five-member electoral council are viewed as supporters of the government, and many here had considered a decision favorable to Mr. Capriles unlikely.

Mr. Maduro had agreed to an expanded audit on the night of the election, but the next day government officials reversed course and said they opposed it.

“With this we are where we want to be,” a smiling Mr. Capriles said in a news conference shortly after the late-night announcement. “Here the C.N.E. has put forward the possibility of resolving a political crisis in this country.”

Digital voting machines in Venezuela print out a paper voucher that records each voter’s choice. Voters then deposit the voucher in a sealed cardboard box. Under election law, when voting is finished, an audit is automatically conducted in 54 percent of the precincts, where the boxes are opened and the votes recorded on the vouchers are counted to verify the digital count.

The electoral council said that it would now go ahead and audit the remaining 46 percent of precincts, a process that will take a month.

Mr. Capriles said the audit should also include scrutiny of notebooks where voters sign in and leave a thumbprint, to ensure there are no irregularities.

Paula Ramón contributed reporting.
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« Reply #5848 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Paraguay presidential race sinks to new low amid corruption scandal

Fraud allegations circling frontrunners Horacio Cartes and Efrain Alegre do little to improve Paraguay's tarnished reputation

Jonathan Gilbert in Asunción and Jonathan Watts, Friday 19 April 2013 11.40 BST   

Even by the historically dire standards of corruption in Latin America, the two frontrunners in this weekend's presidential election in Paraguay may well represent a new low.

In the far right is the favourite, Horacio Cartes, a homophobe who has been jailed after accusations of currency fraud, investigated for alleged tax evasion and widely accused of drug trafficking.

His main challenger, Efrain Alegre, meanwhile, is fighting off claims that his centre-right Liberal party used millions of dollars in public funds to buy an electoral alliance that gives him an outside chance of an upset.

Unless there is a shock win for one of the other candidates – all of whom are far behind – this political mud looks likely to stick on a government that is something of a pariah in Latin America due to its long history of counterfeiting and smuggling and the ousting last year of Fernando Lugo, its first leftwing president in six decades.

An average of the most recent polls gave a six-point lead to Cartes, a 57-year-old tobacco grower standing as candidate for the Colorado party.
Paraguayan presidential candidate Efrain Alegre Efrain Alegre, presidential prospect for the ruling Liberal party, greets supporters in Asunción. Photograph: Lucas Nunez/Reuters

His popularity appears to have been barely dented by a recent homophobic outburst – he said he would rather shoot himself in the testicles than accept a son who wanted to marry another man – and revelations about his shady history, including photographs of him in handcuffs in 1980 when he was charged with currency fraud, a drug bust of a plane on his property, and allegations in Argentina and Brazil that he is a major source of illegal cigarettes in their countries.

"Narco-politics will reign" if Cartes wins, warns his ruling party opponent, Alegre, who calls his rival "the maximum expression of the smuggling, mafia and pirating model" of development.

Alegre's efforts to claim the moral high ground have been undermined by reports that the government brought $11.5m of land from the father of another political leader, Jorge Oviedo, days before entering an electoral pact. Rather than face impeachment, Oviedo has resigned his post as president of Congress.

This has been campaign gold for Cartes. "You can't keep handling public money as if it were private," he taunted his rival "We are going to put an end to that custom of robbery. It is what has destroyed Paraguay."

Voters may be disillusioned, but many say they will cast their ballots according to old loyalties. "There's nobody clean in Paraguay," said Hugo Díaz, 77, a former farm administrator who plans to vote for Alegre, but only because of family allegiances.

Supporters of the Colorado party – the traditional party of landowners, the elite and those in their patronage – said they expected to see better business prospects. The economy, which is dependent on soy exports and the manufacture of fake goods, slumped into minus territory last year but is forecast to achieve double-digit growth in 2013.

"Cartes was a successful businessman," said Carlos Acosta, 52, a concierge who was listening to a campaign speech on the radio. "There will be economic progress with him."

Acosta is one of nearly two million Colorado members, a support base that is the result of "patronage and clientelism", said Peter Lambert, a specialist in Paraguay at the University of Bath. "Access to opportunity in Paraguay still comes from allegiance to the Colorado party," he said.

Despite the strong whiff of corruption, the chances of smaller party candidates such as Mario Ferreiro to make a breakthrough appear slim.

José Morínigo, a pollster and former Lugo government official, gave Alegre a 1.9 percentage-point lead over Cartes. "Money rules here," he said. "It's more than likely the Liberal and Colorado parties will buy votes. I see a limited possibility for a true participatory democracy."

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« Reply #5849 on: Apr 19, 2013, 06:45 AM »

NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers three new planets in ‘habitable zone’

By David Edwards
Thursday, April 18, 2013 16:01 EDT

Scientists on Thursday announced that NASA’s Kepler satellite telescope had found three new planets that may be the best hopes yet of hosting life outside of Earth.

According to NPR, Bay Area Environmental Research Institute research scientist Thomas Barclay said that the planet most like Earth orbits Kepler-69, which he described as a “sun-like star.”

That planet is “around 70 percent bigger than Earth, so what we call super-Earth-sized,” Barclay said. “This represents the first super-Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a star like our sun.”

Two other planets were found to be orbiting Kepler-62, a dimmer star. Kepler-62f was thought to be about 40 percent larger than Earth and possibly rocky. Kepler-62e appeared to be 60 percent larger than Earth and could be a tropical “water world” with no land masses.

Although it’s unlikely that an advanced society exists the on Kepler-62e, noted two habitable worlds so close together created some interesting possibilities.

“With no land masses and no chance for fire, it’s hard for us to visualize how any intelligent inhabitants could build a technological society on a totally oceanic world, but imagine for a moment growing up on a planet from which you could see the lights of cities on another,”’s Dave Brody explained. “Surely, that would give you good reason to build spaceships.”

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