Half of Syrian population 'will need aid by end of year'
UN high commissioner for refugees says crisis may be worst humanitarian disaster it has dealt with
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 April 2013 13.43 BST
More than half the population of Syria is likely to be in need of aid by the end of the year, the UN high commissioner for refugees has warned, while labelling the ever-worsening crisis as the most serious the global body has dealt with.
António Guterres, who has led the UNHCR through the worst of the refugee crises in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the Syrian civil war was more brutal and destructive than both and was already the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.
His assessment came as the UN released new data on the numbers of refugees, which revealed that 6.8 million Syrians need aid. That figure is likely to reach at least 10 million, more than half the pre-war population of the country.
Another UN body, Unicef, says half of those in need are children.
"I don't remember any other crisis where we are having 8,000 per day [fleeing across borders], every day since February," Guterres said in an interview with the Guardian. "There will very likely be 3.5 million by the end of the year. We will have half the population of Syria in dire need of assistance and this is incomprehensible."
With the civil war now into its third year and increasingly taking the shape of a proxy regional war fought across a sectarian faultline, aid groups are making ever more strident predictions of a catastrophic funding shortfall.
Guterres goes further, warning that the modern boundaries of the Middle East and the post-Ottoman agreements that underpin them may unravel if the crisis is not brought to an end.
"The political geography of the modern Middle East emerged from the Sykes-Picot agreement with the exception of the never-resolved Israeli-Palestinian situation," he said of the Anglo-French deal at the end of the first world war that eventually formed the nation states of Syria and Lebanon. "The conflict in Syria might for the first time put that political geography into question."
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, this week both warned of a partition of the country that would inevitably cause grave ramifications in neighbouring Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and beyond. Kerry appeared to advance the US position on Syria by suggesting an "enclave break-up" could only be prevented by getting "everybody on the same page with respect to what post-Assad Syria will look like".
Assad, meanwhile, reiterated his earlier warning that no country in the region would be safe if the Syrian war, in which a majority Sunni opposition is fighting a minority Alawite regime aligned to Shia Islam, led to the collapse of the embattled state's borders.
UNHCR figures show that close to 1.3 million Syrians have fled the country in the past two years. The figure is markedly lower than the numbers that have left Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, but is increasing at a faster rate than at any point in either country.
In addition, there are thought to be at least 3 million internally displaced Syrian refugees, many of whom have limited means to provide for themselves or their families. Communities in Syria's war-ravaged north, west and south are largely without electricity and low on food and running water.
Refugee camps in northern Jordan, southern Turkey and Lebanon's Bekaa valley are overwhelmed with daily arrivals of refugees who have often made precarious journeys to escape nearby battlefields.
"This is the most brutal [conflict], even with very brutal conflicts elsewhere," said Guterres. "If one looks at the impact on the population, or the percentage of the total population in need, I have no doubt that since the end of the cold war it is the worst. And it will become even worse still if there is no solution.
"My belief is that if we take all of these elements, then this is the most dramatic humanitarian crisis that we have ever faced. Then if we look at the geopolitical implications, I have no doubt that this is the most serious that we have ever dealt with."
Lebanon and Iraq are increasingly unable to deal with the Syrian spillover, which is disturbing already fraught sectarian power bases and straining meagre resources during an economic downturn brought on by the crisis.
"There is a real threat to Lebanon and Iraq," said Guterres. "Jordan is under serious economic stress. We have the Palestinian/Israeli question and the fact that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the Golan Heights. In the context of the Sunni-Shia divide, all the key actors are involved. Even compared to Afghanistan, the geopolitical implications and the threat to global stability are profound. It's the most dangerous of all crises."
In an address to the United Nations security council on Thursday, Guterres said there had "not been an inch of progress towards a political solution".
Expanding on that to the Guardian, he said: "It is of enormous frustration that we have come to such a situation in global governance that nobody can address it."
Diplomacy on Syria has failed to bridge a yawning divide in views on what has fuelled the crisis and how best to deal with it. Russia and China, two permanent members of the security council, have blocked moves towards more robust support of the opposition in Syria. The US and Europe have attempted to impose ever tougher sanctions on the Assad regime, but have balked at arming the opposition because of concerns about the influence of al-Qaida groups.
"I lived in a bipolar world," said Guterres. "Until the war in Iraq, I witnessed a unipolar world with one single superpower. Now we are in a clearly established multi-polar world. New actors have emerged – the Brics: China, Russia, Brazil, India. There is no longer a clear set of power relations. There is no way to bring about consensus among global players, or to bring about common action. There is no capacity to produce any solution."
UN appeals for aid to Syria remain desperately under-funded with some agencies, including Unicef, reporting a shortfall of more than 70%. The crisis was eased somewhat on Thursday when Kuwait transferred $300m (£196m) to the UN for Syrian relief. "[It] will be distributed across all of our institutions," said Guterres. Kuwait is the only Gulf country that has honoured its promise through the multilateral aid organisations.
"We can now put some money up front in Syria, but we are all in big trouble. Most of the western countries have huge budget difficulties. Moving towards 3 million refugees, there is no way that this can be dealt with.
"The system is at breaking point. There is limited capacity to take many more. Where are the people going to flee? Into the sea?"
1.35m: the number of refugees fleeing Syria who have sought protection in neighbouring countries, according to the UNHCR
48%: the percentage – at least – of the refugee population who are under 18. Some 77% are women and children
$162.4m: the amount pledged by 4 April to Syria's Regional Response Plan by international donors – just 33% of UNHCR's requirements
10%: the increase in Lebanon's population due to refugee movements. Jordan's is up 6%
April 19, 2013
More U.S. Help for Syrian Rebels Would Hinge on Pledges
By MARK LANDLER and MICHAEL R. GORDON
WASHINGTON — President Obama has agreed to additional nonlethal aid for Syria’s rebels, according to a senior administration official, but the United States also plans to push their political leaders to be inclusive, to protect minorities and to abide by the rule of law.
Secretary of State John Kerry planned to meet with opposition leaders in Istanbul on Saturday, as well as with foreign ministers from nations that are supporting them, to discuss both what the United States plans to do to help the rebels and what it expects from them.
“It’s not a quid pro quo, but we want the opposition to do more,” said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s strategy.
The meeting in Turkey of the so-called Friends of Syria group is taking place against a backdrop of worsening violence in the two-year-old civil war, dire new worries about how to care for millions of displaced Syrians, and further signs of Islamist radicalization in the insurgency as well as intransigence by President Bashar al-Assad. The special Syria envoy of the Arab League and United Nations, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the Security Council on Friday that “the situation is extremely bad” and that he thinks daily about resigning.
The American package, officials said, could include protective military gear like body armor and night-vision goggles, as well as communications equipment — but not weapons. It comes on top of food rations and medicine announced by Mr. Kerry last February.
“The administration will work with opposition leaders to determine their needs,” a senior State Department official said. The package could be double the $60 million in nonlethal aid already committed, another official said.
But Mr. Kerry’s expected announcement, officials said, may not come until after the United States secures a commitment from the Syrian opposition and its supporters that any government that replaces Mr. Assad’s would be inclusive, would protect the rights of his Alawite minority and other sects, and would abide by the rule of law.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Mr. Kerry said his goal was “to get everybody on the same page with respect to what post-Assad might look like — commitment to diversity, pluralism, democracy, inclusivity, protection of minority rights.”
In addition, Mr. Kerry said, the United States wanted the opposition to be “open to the negotiating process to a political settlement” and to “abide by rules with respect to conduct in warfare.”
While the United States and European nations have insisted on democratic principles, American officials have been concerned that some of the opposition’s financial backers in Persian Gulf states have been less particular about the rebel factions they aid.
Among those that Mr. Kerry said he wanted to put “on the same page” are the “Qataris, Saudis, Emirates, Turks,” as well as the Europeans. Nurturing a unified, moderate opposition has been complicated by regional rivalries.
Not everyone in the Obama administration has necessarily been on the same page on policy toward the Syrian resistance. And State Department officials hope that the Istanbul meeting will enable the American side to close ranks as well.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced concern about the growing role of extremists among the anti-Assad fighters in Syria, and said identifying moderate members of the Syrian resistance had become more difficult.
“It’s actually more confusing on the opposition side today than it was six months ago,” General Dempsey said.
During his Senate testimony on Thursday, Mr. Kerry, when asked about General Dempsey’s comments, said one purpose of the Istanbul meeting was to identify and reinforce the moderate opposition.
The United States also wants the opposition to reaffirm that it is prepared to negotiate with representatives of the Assad government on a political transition. Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the opposition, has agreed to begin such talks, but other elements of the opposition have resisted the idea.
The stepped-up American aid comes as Britain and France prepare to increase their own support, with the looming expiration of a European Union embargo on sending arms to Syria. Britain is already supplying robust nonlethal aid, like body armor.
“We need to provide more help and support to the Syrian national opposition,” said Alistair Burt, the British under secretary of state for foreign affairs, who cautioned that the lifting of the embargo did not mean that Britain would supply weapons.
Though Britain has been more forward-leaning than the United States in aiding the rebels, Mr. Burt declined to fault the Obama administration.
“Of course, there’s a degree of caution here,” Mr. Burt said in an interview in Washington on Monday. “A decision on whether to arm or not to arm will have consequences.”
In Syria, the daily litany of civil war violence was punctuated by news of the assassination of the government’s chief coordinator of emergency aid distribution to civilians. Anti-Assad activists said gunmen with silencer-equipped weapons killed the official, Ali Balan, Thursday at a restaurant in the upscale Mezzeh neighborhood of Damascus, which is heavily guarded. The official news agency, Sana, called the killing the work of terrorists, the government’s generic description for armed opponents.
Numerous clashes were reported by activist groups on Friday in the Damascus suburbs, the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, northern Idlib Province and elsewhere. In the Damascus suburbs alone, the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad group, said indiscriminate shelling by government forces may have killed up to 100 people. There was no way to corroborate that assertion.
At the United Nations, Mr. Brahimi, a veteran diplomatic troubleshooter who took the Syrian peace envoy job six months ago, gave no indication that Security Council members were ready to get past their paralysis over the Syria issue. But he told reporters the council “is very much now aware it’s a serious problem — in fact the most serious crisis.”
Mr. Brahimi also dismissed the recurrent speculation, primarily in the Arab news media, that he was resigning, as his predecessor, Kofi Annan, had. But Mr. Brahimi did not hide his frustrations, saying: ”Every day I wake up I think I should resign, but I haven’t so far. One day perhaps I will.”
Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from London; Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon; and Rick Gladstone from New York.
April 19, 2013
New Venezuela President Sworn in, but Officials Will Audit Vote
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
CARACAS, Venezuela — In the carnival-mirror world of Venezuelan politics, Nicolás Maduro was sworn in as president on Friday, just hours after election officials agreed to carry out a partial recount of the vote result, which opponents hoped could lead to its being overturned.
Mr. Maduro was elected Sunday by a narrow margin less than six weeks after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chávez, the charismatic socialist. He beat Henrique Capriles Radonski, who refused to recognize the results and called for a recount, claiming that he was the true winner.
Tensions ran high afterward, with protests, scattered violence and both sides blaming the other for several deaths.
The inauguration was delayed for hours because Mr. Maduro had been in Lima, Peru, until well past midnight at a special meeting of the Union of South American Nations, which had been called to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
Shortly before the meeting began in Lima, the National Electoral Council in Caracas said it would grant Mr. Capriles’s request for a review of the election results. Mr. Capriles said he believed that the review would turn up evidence of irregularities that would “show the country the truth” about the election.
After a meeting of several South American presidents, the organization released a statement recognizing Mr. Maduro as Venezuela’s new president.
The statement also took “positive note” of the decision to carry out the partial recount and called for dialogue and toleration.
The inauguration was attended by many Latin American heads of state, including the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Two allies of Mr. Chávez’s sat side by side: Presidents Raúl Castro of Cuba and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.
The ceremony, in the National Assembly chamber, was marred by a bizarre episode.
Five minutes after Mr. Maduro started speaking, a man in a red jacket ran onto the rostrum, pushed him aside and shouted something into the microphone. The television camera cut away and when it returned a minute later the man was gone, apparently hustled away by guards.
“The security has failed absolutely,” Mr. Maduro said. “They could have shot me here.”
But he soon regained his equilibrium. “Incident overcome,” he said. “Afterward we will speak with this boy. Who knows what desperation he carries.”
He added, “Now they’re going to say that it was part of a setup, a reality show that we created to get the attention of those who weren’t watching.”
The intrusion was noteworthy not simply because of the breach of security at an event attended by numerous heads of state, but also because Mr. Maduro has repeatedly said in recent weeks that his enemies were conspiring to assassinate him or to overthrow his government. But he did not immediately blame the opposition for the episode.
Mr. Maduro, 50, faces many challenges. He must try to keep Mr. Chávez’s movement unified while parrying an energized opposition. He faces serious economic problems like high inflation and shortages of basic goods, rampant violent crime and an electrical grid prone to blackouts.
Most of all he must prove to Venezuelans that he can carry on in place of the magnetic Mr. Chávez, who held office for 14 years and dominated every aspect of political life. He will serve the remainder of Mr. Chávez’s six-year term, which began in January.
In his speech, Mr. Maduro compared Mr. Capriles and his followers to Nazis and the devil. But he also said he was ready for dialogue. “I extend you my hand,” he said, addressing those who voted against him. “I want to work with you.”
The event invited comparisons to a rally in January held on the day that Mr. Chávez was to be sworn in. He could not attend because he was in Cuba following cancer surgery. But tens of thousands of people showed up to take the oath of office in place of their absent president.
On Friday, while there were thousands of people on the streets in red T-shirts, the crowd was a far cry from the one in January. People bunched up at intersections, where there were stages with bands playing, but in between the stages there were few people.
An M.C. on one stage shouted to the crowd gathered nearby: “Where are the Chavistas?” Several dozen people raised their hands and shouted, but the man’s words could also have been taken as a rhetorical question, as if to say, “Where did everyone go?”
Paula Ramón and María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting from Caracas, and Andrea Zarate from Lima, Peru.
Nicolás Maduro accuses opposition of coup plot as poll protests turn deadly
Venezuela's president-elect likens demonstrations to 2002 attempt against Chávez as seven die in post-election violence
Virginia Lopez in Caracas
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 April 2013 19.57 BST
Venezuela's president-elect, Nicolás Maduro, has announced that five people had been killed during violent protests across the country following the dispute election that gave him a 1.6-percentage point victory.
Claiming electoral fraud, the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, has asked for a recount, a request Maduro had originally accepted during a televised speech on Sunday but then dismissed on Tuesday along with high-ranking officials and the head of the electoral commission (CNE), Tibisay Lucena.
Lucena, whose house has been allegedly attacked by protesters, said 54% of the electronic vote had been audited and that the automated system was bullet-proof. Throughout Tuesday, Capriles supporters flocked to the streets to contest the result.
The general attorney, Luisa Ortega Díaz, said seven people had been killed during the clashes and another 61 injured, but gave no further details.
Maduro described the opposition's protest as part of a well-orchestrated coup attempt, likening the street protests to similar events that took place 11 years ago during a short-lived coup that ousted Hugo Chávez for two days. "This is the a foretold chronicle of another coup attempt by the extreme right," Maduro said.
Throughout the day the state-run channel VTV broadcast archival footage of the 2002 coup, while warning viewers that the country could be facing similar destabilising efforts led by the opposition.
On Tuesday, during Maduro's first press conference as president-elect, Venezuelans across the country gathered on balconies and rooftops to bang pots and pans, a common form of protest referred to as "cacerolazo".
While the deafening protest took place, Maduro reported from Miraflores, the presidential palace, that the homes of several government officials had been attacked. He also showed pictures of what appeared to be burning tyres in front of several headquarters of the government party, PSUV, in smaller cities.
Images broadcast on Globovision, an opposition channel, showed tens of thousands of people gathered outside the CNE offices in Merida, while tanks guarded the fringes. Similar images were coming from other cities around the country.
Capriles has asked Venezuelans to peacefully gather at the local headquarters of the CNE to demand a total vote recount.
He has also called for a massive marchfor Wednesday.
Maduro is scheduled to be sworn in this Friday.
In the USA..
April 20, 2013
2nd Bombing Suspect Caught After Frenzied Hunt Paralyzes Boston
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM and MICHAEL COOPER
BOSTON — The teenage suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, whose flight from the police after a furious gunfight overnight prompted an intense manhunt that virtually shut down the Boston area all day, was in serious condition at a Boston hospital Saturday morning after the police found him in nearby Watertown, Mass., officials said.
The suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, was found hiding in a boat just outside the area where the police had been conducting door-to-door searches all day, the Boston police commissioner, Edward Davis, said at a news conference Friday night.
“A man had gone out of his house after being inside the house all day, abiding by our request to stay inside,” Mr. Davis said, referring to the advice officials gave to residents to remain behind locked doors. “He walked outside and saw blood on a boat in the backyard. He then opened the tarp on the top of the boat, and he looked in and saw a man covered with blood. He retreated and called us.”
“Over the course of the next hour or so we exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was inside the boat, and ultimately the hostage rescue team of the F.B.I. made an entry into the boat and removed the suspect, who was still alive,” Mr. Davis said. He said the suspect was in “serious condition” and had apparently been wounded in the gunfight that left his brother dead.
A federal law enforcement official said Mr. Tsarnaev would not be read his Miranda rights because the authorities would invoke the public safety exception to question him extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices and to try to gain intelligence.
The Boston Police Department announced on Twitter: “Suspect in custody. Officers sweeping the area.” Mayor Thomas M. Menino posted: “We got him.”
President Obama praised the law enforcement officials who had taken the suspect into custody in a statement from the White House shortly after 10 p.m., saying, “We’ve closed an important chapter in this tragedy.”
The president said he had directed federal law enforcement officials to continue to investigate, and he urged people not to rush to judgment about the motivations behind the attacks.
Mr. Tsarnaev was discovered just over 26 hours after the F.B.I. circulated pictures of him and his brother and called them suspects in Monday’s bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 170. Events unfolded quickly — and lethally — after that. Law enforcement officials said that within hours of the pictures’ release, the two brothers had shot and killed a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, carjacked a sport utility vehicle and led police on a chase, tossing several pipe bombs from their vehicle.
Then the men got into a pitched gun battle with the police in Watertown, a city about 10 miles west of Boston. More than 200 rounds were fired, and a transit police officer was critically wounded. When the shootout ended, one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, a former boxer, had been fatally wounded. He was wearing explosives, several law enforcement officials said. But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (joe-HARR tsar-NAH-yev) managed to escape — running over his older brother as he sped away, the officials said.
His disappearance, and fears that he could be armed with more explosives, set off an intense manhunt. SWAT teams and Humvees rolled through residential streets. Military helicopters hovered overhead. Bomb squads were called to several locations. And Boston was essentially shut down.
Transit service was suspended. Classes at Harvard, M.I.T., Boston University and other area colleges were canceled. Amtrak halted service into Boston. The Red Sox baseball game scheduled for Friday at Fenway Park was postponed, as was a concert at Symphony Hall. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts urged residents to stay behind locked doors all day — not lifting the request until shortly after 6 p.m., when transit service in the shaken, seemingly deserted region was finally restored.
As hundreds of police officers fanned out across New England looking for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, investigators tried to piece together a fuller picture of the two brothers, to determine more about the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
The F.B.I. had interviewed the older brother, Tamerlan (tam-arr-lawn) Tsarnaev, in 2011 when a foreign government asked the bureau to determine if he had extremist ties, according to a senior law enforcement official. The government knew that he was planning to travel there and feared that he might be a risk, the official said.
The official would not say which government had made the request, but Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s father said his son had traveled to Russia in 2012.
“They had something on him and were concerned about him and him traveling to their region,” the official said.
The F.B.I. conducted a review, examining Web sites that he had visited, trying to determine whether he was spending time with extremists and ultimately interviewing him. The F.B.I. concluded that he was not a threat. “We didn’t find anything on him that was derogatory,” the official said.
The F.B.I. released a statement late Friday confirming that it had scrutinized Mr. Tsarnaev but “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.” It had requested more information from the foreign government, it said, but had not received it.
Now officials are scrutinizing that trip, to see if he might have met with extremists or received training while abroad, current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials said. Kevin R. Brock, a former senior F.B.I. and counterterrorism official, said, “It’s a key thread for investigators and the intelligence community to pull on.”
The brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan, an official said, and were of Chechen heritage. Chechnya, a long-disputed Muslim territory in southern Russia, sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then fought two bloody wars with the government in Moscow. Russian assaults on Chechnya were brutal, killing tens of thousands of civilians as terrorist groups from the region staged attacks in central Russia.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia from the United States early last year and returned six months later, on July 17, a law enforcement official said. His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said that his son had mostly stayed with him at his home in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, but that the two men had also visited Chechnya.
“We went to Chechnya to visit relatives,” Mr. Tsarnaev said in an interview in Russia.
He maintained that his sons were innocent and had been framed, said that during the trip to Chechnya his older son had “only communicated with me and his cousins.”
The hunt for the bombing suspects took a violent turn Thursday night when the two men are believed to have fatally shot an M.I.T. police officer, Sean A. Collier, 26, in his patrol car, the Middlesex County district attorney’s office said. After that, two armed men carjacked a man’s Mercedes S.U.V. nearby and drove off with him.
At one point, the gunmen told the man “to get out of the car or they would kill him,” according to a law enforcement official. But then they apparently changed their plans, and forced the man to drive, the official said. At one point, the older brother took the wheel.
“They revealed to him that they were the two who did the marathon bombings,” the official said, adding that the suspects also made some mention to the man of wanting to head to New York. At one point they drove to another vehicle, which the authorities believe was parked and unoccupied. There, the suspects got out and transferred materials, which the authorities believe included explosives and firearms, from the parked car to the sport utility vehicle.
The victim was released, uninjured, at a gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, law enforcement officials said.
After he called the police, they went off in search of his car, and a frenzied chase began.
The police and the suspects traded gunfire, and “explosive devices were reportedly thrown” from their car, law enforcement officials said. A transit police officer, Richard H. Donohue, was shot in the right leg and critically wounded.
Officer Donohue had nearly bled to death when he arrived at a hospital, said a person familiar with his treatment. The hospital’s trauma team gave him a transfusion and CPR, and got his blood pressure back up, but he was still on a ventilator, the person said.
Finally, the brothers faced off against the police on a Watertown street in what officials and witnesses described as a furious firefight.
A Watertown resident, Andrew Kitzenberg, 29, said he had looked out his third-floor window to see two young men of slight build engaged in “constant gunfire” with police officers. A police vehicle “drove towards the shooters,” he said, and was shot at until it was severely damaged. It rolled out of control, Mr. Kitzenberg said, and crashed into two cars in his driveway.
The gunmen, Mr. Kitzenberg said, had a large, unwieldy bomb that he said looked “like a pressure cooker.”
“They lit it, still in the middle of the gunfire, and threw it,” he said. “But it went 20 yards at most.” It exploded, he said, and one man ran toward the gathered police officers. He was tackled, but it was not clear if he was shot, Mr. Kitzenberg said.
The explosions “lit up the whole house,” another resident, Loretta Kehayias, 65, said. “I screamed. I’ve never seen anything like this, never, never, never.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Kitzenberg said, the other man got back into the sport utility vehicle he had been driving, turned it toward officers and “put the pedal to the metal.” The car “went right through the cops, broke right through and continued west.”
He left behind his brother, who had been gravely wounded and who was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center here.
Dr. David Schoenfeld, who was catching up on paperwork at his home in Watertown after midnight on Friday, had heard the sirens, and then the gunfire and the explosions. So he called Beth Israel Deaconess, where he works in the emergency room, and told it to prepare for trauma patients for the second time this week.
He arrived about 1:10 a.m., he said. Fifteen minutes later, an ambulance carrying Tamerlan Tsarnaev pulled up. He was handcuffed, unconscious, and in cardiac arrest, Dr. Schoenfeld said.
As a throng of police officers looked on, Dr. Schoenfeld and a team of other trauma doctors and nurses began to perform CPR.
“There was talk before the patient arrived about whether or not it was a suspect,” Dr. Schoenfeld said. “But ultimately it doesn’t matter who it is, because we’re going to work as hard as we can for any patient who comes through our door and then sort it out after. Because you’re never going to know until the dust settles who it is.”
The trauma team put a breathing tube in the patient’s throat, Dr. Schoenfeld said, then cut open his chest to see if blood or other fluid was collecting around his heart. His handcuffs were removed at some point during the resuscitation attempt, Dr. Schoenfeld said, because “when the patient is in cardiac arrest and we’re doing all these procedures, we need to be able to move their arms around.”
The team was unable to resuscitate him, and pronounced him dead at 1:35 a.m. Only as the doctors prepared to turn the body over to the police did Dr. Schoenfeld look closely at the patient’s face and see that he resembled one of the suspects whose pictures had been released by the F.B.I. “We all obviously had some suspicion given the really large police presence,” he said, “but we didn’t have a clear identification from the police.”
Dr. Schoenfeld, whose emergency room treated a number of people injured in the bombings on Monday, said he had not had time to process what he had been through early Friday.
“I can’t say what I’ll be feeling as I reflect on this later on,” he said in an interview before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. “But right now I’m more concerned with everybody who’s still out there and still in harm’s way.”
He added, “I worry about everybody in the city, that everyone’s going to be O.K.”
Katharine Q. Seelye reported from Boston, and William K. Rashbaum and Michael Cooper from New York. Reporting was contributed by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and John Eligon from Cambridge, Mass.; Jess Bidgood from Watertown, Mass.; Serge F. Kovaleski and Timothy Rohan from Boston; Ravi Somaiya from New York; Eric Schmitt, Michael S. Schmidt and Abby Goodnough from Washington; Andrew Siddons from Montgomery Village, Md.; Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul; Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth from Moscow; and Andrew E. Kramer from Asbest, Russia.
Chechnya connections build picture of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
By Miriam Elder, The Guardian
Saturday, April 20, 2013 3:10 EDT
Boston Marathon bombing suspects never lived in Chechnya but republic’s struggle played a central role in their lives
Fuzzy CCTV footage taken from the sidelines of the Boston Marathon shows them standing side by side, two brothers peering over the heads of the crowd before the two bomb blasts that would kill three and injure dozens in one of the worst attacks on US soil since 9/11.
The images, released by the FBI, bear out the descriptions of the two young men by those who knew them. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has been described as “very relaxed”, appears to be grinning, his dark curls covered by a white baseball cap. His older brother, Tamerlan, shields his eyes with sunglasses, his mouth slightly open as he stares ahead.
The two ethnic Chechens, who were identified on Friday as the chief suspects in the bombings, followed a convoluted path to the United States, like so many from the troubled Russian republic. Although it appears that they never lived in Chechnya, which has spent much of the past two decades racked by war, they maintained close ties to its culture.
There are conflicting reports in regards to the birth places of the Tsarnaev brothers. Local police, cited in Kyrgyz media, suggest that both were born in Kyrgyzstan. But family members in the US said the younger brother, Dzhokhar, was born in Dagestan. The brothers are thought to have spent some of their youth in the city of Tomok, the centre of Kyrgyzstan’s Chechen community, which developed after Josef Stalin expelled hundreds of thousands of Chechens around central Asia during the second world war.
Little is known of the brothers’ time in Kyrgyzstan. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was shot dead by Boston police in the early hours of Friday morning, was born in 1986. His younger brother, 19 and on the run, was born in July 1993. The following year, Chechnya would break out into the first of two wars, as it fought to secede from Russia in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Moscow responded with unbridled brutality, being accused of widespread human rights abuses against the civilian population. The rebels in the mainly Muslim republic grew ever more Islamist.
The Tsarnaev family moved to Dagestan, a Muslim republic neighbouring Chechnya, sometime between 1999 and 2001. According to his page on the Russian social network VKontakte, the younger Tsarnaev attended School Number One in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital. Irina Bandurina, an administrator at the school, said Tsarnaev studied there in 2001, after moving from Kyrgyzstan, and left for the United States in 2002.
The family appears to have settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But according to US law enforcement officials cited by the Wall Street Journal, the two brothers arrived separately: one with his parents in 2002, the other in 2004. The officials said that one or both of the brothers had returned to the Caucasus for some time after emigrating to the US.
Tamerlan is thought to have spent around six months of last year out of the US, during which time he saw his father in Dagestan. Anzor Tsarnaev told the New York Times that during the visit he and his son “went to Chechnya to visit relatives”.
Authorities in Chechnya, in the midst of a massive campaign to show that life in the republic has normalised despite a continuing low-level insurgency, harshly denied any links to the brothers. “Any attempt to make a link between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if found guilty, is in vain,” the republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on Instagram on Friday. “They grew up in the US, their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of evil must be searched for in America.”
Yet the brothers left internet evidence that showed their deep ties to the republic. The last entry on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s page on VKontakte, posted on 19 March, shows a video of his brother humorously imitating various accents from the region, in fluent Russian. It shows that among the three groups to which he belongs are “Chechen’s” and “Chechnya: Everything about the Chechen Republic”.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s links run even deeper. A YouTube account that appears to have been run by the elder Tsarnaev includes a playlist devoted to Timur Mutsuraev, a Chechen singer now in exile who sang of the republic’s battle for freedom from Russia. His account also includes a playlist devoted to “terrorism”, including one video in English entitled “The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan”. He also maintained a playlist devoted to Islam.
Chechnya’s separatist cause struck Tamerlan Tsarnaev deeply, according to a report by photographer Johannes Hirn, who profiled the young Chechen when he was training for a boxing match in 2010. One caption in the report reads: “Unless his native Chechnya becomes independent, Tamerlan says he would rather compete for the United States than for Russia.” The elder Tsarnaev fought for a while as a competitive boxer, taking time off from his studies at Bunker Hill community college in Charleston, Massachusetts.
The report also shows him to have been very religious, and poorly integrated in the US. According to Hirn’s report, the Chechen once said: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” In 2009, Tsarnaev was reportedly arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. His aunt, who lives in Canada, told reporters on Friday that the elder brother had married and that the couple had a three-year-old daughter living in the US.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
5 ways to stay sane during cable TV’s coverage of a tragedy
By Bob Garfield, The Guardian
Friday, April 19, 2013 13:19 EDT
It’s been a big news week – and a long one for ill-served viewers. Here’s a survival guide from one weathered veteran
The marathon coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing has set into motion the all-too-familiar. When something awful happens, the human impulse is get informed instantly. That often means rushing to a TV and gaping at the unfolding drama. It’s an understandable reflex, but usually, a self-defeating one, like scratching a sore or drinking sea water.
It may satisfy the immediate urge, but beware the consequences. CNN’s false report about arrests was as predictable as it was irresponsible; live TV coverage is a world of blunder. So, if you must tune into 24-hour cable news for the latest, there a few things always to bear in mind:
A watched pot never boils. Following violent crimes and disasters, the intensity of the coverage is inversely correlated with the prospects for advancing the story. Incidents last as long as they last – usually, seconds – then they are over. The “when” and “where” and some of the “who” (victims) are immediately obvious. The rest of the “who” (the culprits, the missing), plus the “why” and the “how”, can take days or weeks or months to unravel.
The latest developments usually aren’t. Desperate to add to the endlessly repeated basic facts, reporters will breathlessly pass along tiny bits of detail gleaned from authorities speaking unofficially, possible witnesses and cousins of possible witnesses. Do not be fooled by the urgency in the journalists’ voices. The details are second or third hand and usually wrong. “Unconfirmed report” means “not true”. “Confirmed report” means “probably not true”.
Get your brain a screen saver. That’s what computers use to keep a single image from being etched into the screen. If a tragic news event is caught on video, TV will show you again and again what happened until it is forever burned into your consciousness. Eventually, this denudes even the most shocking footage of any informational or emotional clout – not to mention, meaning – and turns it into little more than a GIF. If you absolutely must hang on to every word, consider switching to the radio.
If you knew what went on in the kitchen, you might not eat at the restaurant. The cable channels have a handful of anchors and a handful of reporters. They may look authoritative, but they don’t constitute anything remotely like a robust news-gathering machine. The channels do employ a whole mess of producers, but their principal job is to book experts and pundits, who may have credentials and make-up, but are basically just guessing.
Bad news does not necessarily have larger significance. When calamity erupts, your favorite network will be live on the scene for hours or days. Logos will be designed. Concern will be etched on the anchors’ faces. Thoughts and prayers will be expressed for victims and their kin. But neither the amount of airtime nor even the body count are reliable measures of intrinsic importance. A fatal spasm of violence (in the west only), or a mass shooting, or even a missing blond person (if cute), will always trump, for instance, a budget vote or telecom lobbying or other events lacking yellow police tape that affect a large percentage of the population every day. As the saying goes: if it bleeds it leads. The corollary is: Citizens United – the supreme court ruling that fundamentally altered the scale and transparency of US political campaign funding – didn’t get a logo.
They shoot horses, don’t they? You’ve seen film of the dance marathons from the 1930s – those desperate people circling the floor for hour on end, day and night, in the hopes of winning some pitiful prize. When you tune into 24-hour cable after a tragedy, ask yourself the question: “There is nothing being accomplished through this awful spectacle, so why am I watching?”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
April 20, 2013
Rape of 5-Year-Old Girl Sets Off New Furor in India
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — Hundreds of demonstrators besieged New Delhi’s police headquarters on Saturday to protest the kidnapping, rape and torture of a 5-year-old girl last week.
The injured girl was moved Friday evening to New Delhi’s finest public hospital on a gurney covered with stuffed toys, and by Saturday she was alert and in stable condition, according to doctors there. She was being given fluids and intravenous antibiotics to fight a blood infection, the doctors said, and further operations will have to wait until the infection has abated.
Meanwhile, the police arrested a 22-year-old garment worker early Saturday morning in Bihar, said Rajan Bhagat, a Delhi police spokesman. The police identified the suspect as Manoj, who, like many Indians, uses only one name. He had recently married and was tracked down with the help of cellphone records in the town where his in-laws live, according to Indian news reports.
The suspect had an apartment in New Delhi in the same building as the girl, whom he is accused of abducting, raping and torturing last Sunday night. The Times of India reported that he told the police he fled his apartment shortly thereafter because he believed that the girl had died. The girl’s parents discovered her on Wednesday in the man’s apartment.
“This is the first time I have seen such barbarism,” R. K. Bansal, medical superintendent of Swami Dayanand Hospital, said Friday in a televised interview. “There were injuries on her lips, cheeks, arms and anus area. Her neck had bruise marks suggesting that attempts were made to strangle her.”
He said a bottle almost eight inches long and pieces of candle had been inserted “into her private parts.”
In December, a woman was gang-raped and tortured and her companion beaten in a case that shocked the nation and led to weeks of spontaneous protests by Indians demanding better security for women. That case led to changes in the country’s rape laws, but horrific sexual assaults continue to be reported around India with regularity. Whether women are less safe in India than in other emerging countries is uncertain, but rape and police competence have become burning political issues.
On Saturday, demonstrators sought to reawaken the outrage that convulsed India in December, but the day’s protests were far smaller and seemed less spontaneous.
Anger at the authorities began to build after the parents of the 5-year-old said that the police had failed to take their complaint seriously, failed to carry out an adequate search and then offered them 2,000 rupees — about $37 — if they would keep quiet about the case. Then on Friday, television news channels showed a large mustachioed police officer slapping a small female protester in the face.
The government’s concerns about the case ratcheted up so quickly on Friday night that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed regrets about the episode. And on Saturday, the president of the Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi — whose house was also the site of protests on Saturday — released a statement condemning the rape and saying that “action and not words are required to ensure that such incidents never happen again.”
Two police officers, including the lead investigator on the case and the one seen slapping the protester, were suspended. The lead investigator is being investigated after being accused of trying to bribe the child’s family to remain silent, said Mr. Bhagat, the police spokesman.
The quick arrest of the suspect may do little to calm the anger surrounding the case since fairly quick police work also led to the arrests of five suspects in the December rape case. Such rapid resolutions are not the norm in India, where highly politicized police forces and a backlogged and inefficient judiciary often mean that cases remain unresolved for years.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
April 21, 2013
Rape of Girl, 5, Draws Focus to Child Assault in India
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — The case of a 5-year-old girl who was raped, tortured and nearly killed last week has shocked India, stirring memories of a gang rape on a medical student in December. Over the weekend as the girl was being treated at a hospital here, doctors tended to another child in a nearby bed.
In a message posted Saturday on her Twitter account after she visited the first girl in her hospital room, Sushma Swaraj, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said, “I saw another 5-year-old girl child in the next room. She is also a rape victim.”
Ms. Swaraj then said that doctors told her that they had recently discharged a boy who also had been sexually assaulted.
Angry protests and painful questions resurfaced over the weekend in India, just months after the death of the 23-year-old student who had been raped provoked a public outcry and demands for stricter laws against sex crimes and more protections for women.
After several men attacked the student in December, news reports were filled with stories about similarly heinous assaults on women, and India seemed to be experiencing an epidemic of gang rapes. On Sunday, newspapers contained reports from many parts of India about children as young as 4 being raped recently.
A report released Saturday by the Asian Center for Human Rights said 48,338 cases of child rape were reported in India from 2001 to 2011. The number of cases reported annually more than tripled during that time, it said, to 7,112 in 2011 from 2,113 in 2001.
“These are only the tip of the iceberg as the large majority of child rape cases are not reported to the police while children regularly become victims of other forms of sexual assault, too,” the report stated, adding that “sexual offenses against children in India have reached an epidemic proportion.”
Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman, said that the suspect arrested in the case of the 5-year-old tortured last week would appear in a New Delhi courtroom on Monday.
The suspect, Manoj, who uses just one name, lived in a ground-floor apartment in the same building as the family of the 5-year-old. According to interviews that he has given police officials and that have been reported in the Indian news media, he abducted the girl around 6 p.m. on Monday and then fled the apartment shortly after 7 p.m. because he feared he had killed her. He took a train to Bihar, where he was born and where his wife’s parents reside. The girl’s parents reported her missing on Monday, but they said that the police did not take their complaint seriously. The parents found her in the suspect’s apartment on Wednesday after hearing her crying.
The parents said that the police offered them 2,000 rupees, or $37, to keep quiet about the case.
A doctor said Sunday that the girl was conscious, alert and talking to her parents. “She is out of danger,” said Dr. D. K. Sharma, medical superintendent of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. During the assault, candles and part of a bottle were inserted into her body; her doctors treated her for a blood infection and said that she would need further surgery.
One of the few studies to compare domestic violence rates in several countries found that Indian women reported far fewer assaults than women in other countries. But such surveys are difficult to conduct in India, where crowded conditions and multifamily housing make answering questions about sexual violence awkward and difficult.
Unlike the spontaneous eruption of anger in December, the demonstrations across New Delhi on Saturday and Sunday seemed far more deliberately political as protesters complained that the government and the police were not doing enough to prevent sexual crimes.
As they did on Saturday, hundreds of protesters stormed Police Headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday and demanded the resignation of the city’s top police official. They also stood outside the large public hospital where the 5-year-old is being treated. Many of them were members of the Aam Aadmi Party, a nascent political movement led by Arvind Kejriwal, an anticorruption advocate.
With national elections scheduled for next year, the governing coalition seemed keen to show that it was responding immediately to the public outcry. Three police officers have been suspended, two of them becau se of lapses in the initial investigation of the girl’s disappearance and another because he was seen on television slapping a woman who was protesting at the hospital.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress Party, released a statement insisting that the government focus on “actions not words” to stop rape.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a speech that more needed to be done to protect women and children. “It is widely accepted that, as a country, we have vast improvement to make in this vital area,” he said.
In March, Parliament passed a law aimed at accelerating and improving the prosecution of rape cases, but the government has not tackled deep-seated problems hampering India’s police forces, which are generally poorly trained, understaffed and highly politicized.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
Indian police arrest second man over rape of five-year-old girl
Fresh protests in Delhi against treatment of women after men accused of abducting, raping and attempting to murder girl
Associated Press in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 April 2013 09.19 BST
A second suspect was arrested on Monday after the rape of a five-year-old girl who Delhi police say was left for dead in a locked room, a case that has sparked a fresh wave of protests against how Indian authorities handle sex crimes.
Pradeep Kumar was arrested on Monday in the eastern state of Bihar, about 620 miles (1,000km) from Delhi, and was being brought to the capital, police said.
Police said questioning of the first man arrested in the case, Manoj Kumar, led them to the second suspect. Manoj Kumar, 24, who was arrested on Saturday in Bihar and has since been flown back to Delhi. Kumar is a common last name in India and the two men are not related.
The men are accused of abducting, raping and attempting to murder the five-year-old, who went missing on 15 April and was found two days later by neighbours who heard her crying in a locked room in the same New Delhi building where she lives with her family. The girl was alone when she was found, having been left for dead by her attackers, police say.
The girl was in critical condition when she was transferred on Thursday from a local hospital to the largest government-run hospital in the country. DK Sharma, medical superintendent of the state-run hospital in Delhi where the girl was being treated, said on Monday she was responding well to treatment and that her condition had stabilised.
"She is much better today and her wounds are healing well," Sharma told reporters.
The attack came four months after the fatal gang rape of a woman on a Delhi bus prompted outrage across India about the treatment of women in the country.
On Sunday, for the second consecutive day, hundreds of people protested outside police headquarters in the capital, angry over allegations that police failed to act after the girl's parents told them she was missing.
About 100 supporters of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata party demonstrated outside the home of the chief of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, demanding that the government ensure the safety and security of women and girls in the city.
The protesters also demanded that the Delhi police chief be removed from office and that police officials accused of failing to act on the parents' complaint be dismissed.
"Police and other officials that fail to do their jobs and instead engage in abusive behaviour should know that they will be punished," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Police said they detained more than 50 protesters when they tried to break down barricades on the road leading to Gandhi's house. The protesters were released after a few hours.
Police also placed restrictions on gatherings of more than four people on the main avenue in the heart of Delhi after university students said they planned to hold a demonstration there. Despite the police order, about 100 students gathered at the iconic India Gate monument and held a peaceful protest late on Sunday.
Sexual crimes against women and children are reported every day in Indian newspapers, and women often complain about feeling insecure when they leave their homes.
On Sunday, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, called for changes in attitudes toward women in India.
"The gruesome assault on the little girl a few days back reminds us once again of the need to work collectively to root out this sort of depravity from our society," Singh said at a meeting with civil servants.
The gang rape on a Delhi bus in December sparked outrage and spurred the government to pass tough laws for crimes against women, including the death penalty for repeat offenders or for rape attacks that lead to the victim's death.
Activists say passing strong laws is not enough, and that the government must ensure that police and the justice system crack down on crimes against women.
"Enacting strong laws are simply a first step, but it needs the government to focus urgently on implementation if it is serious about protecting children and other victims of sexual abuse," Human Rights Watch's Ganguly said.
April 22, 2013, 7:23 am
More Child Rapes Being Reported In Delhi, Police Say
By RAKSHA KUMAR
A girl at a protest near India Gate in New Delhi on Sunday.Manish Swarup/Associated Press A girl at a protest near India Gate in New Delhi on Sunday.
The case of a five-year old girl in East Delhi who was raped this month, sparking protests across the city, is the fifth reported case of sexual abuse of a minor in the city in just one week in April, according to police records. However, Rajan Bhagat, a public relations officer with the Delhi Police, said that it was not necessarily the number of crimes that had increased in the city, but the number of reported cases.
“Yes, the number of incidents in 2013 has increased,’’ he said. “The reason for that is the increased awareness. The number of crimes committed is not increasing.”
Mr. Bhagat said that that he could not spell out the number of child abuse cases in Delhi. Although the Delhi police does have overall figures for rapes reported in 2013 in Delhi, they do not have specific figures for rapes of minors.
In 2011, 2,582 rape victims in India were under 14 years of age, or about ten percent of the total number of reported rape cases.
The National Crime Records Bureau does not have any specific data on crimes against children for the year 2012-2013 on its website.
A protester outside the police headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday.Raveendran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images A protester outside the police headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday.
Here are the other recent incidents the police have recorded:
A two-and-half year old girl was raped in the southwest Delhi subdistrict of Najafgarh on April 18. A 25-year-old man named Rajdhir has been arrested.
A 5-year-old girl was sodomised at her school in the east Delhi area of Jagatpuri on April 17, according to police records. The accused is her kindergarten teacher, whose name was given only as Pramod, 32, and he has been arrested, the police said.
A 15-year-old student was gang-raped on April 17 in east Delhi. One of the accused was related to her, the police said. She was abducted from New Ashok Nagar area while she was on her way to school. One of the accused, Pradeep, 28, has been arrested and two others remain at large.
In the Sultanpuri area of west Delhi, a 10-year girl playing outside her home was lured away by neighbor, Rakesh Kaushal, into a stationary bus and raped on April 14, the police said. Mr. Kaushal has been arrested.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
April 22, 2013, 3:01 am
India Considers Banning Pornography as Reported Sexual Assault Rises
By NEHA THIRANI BAGRI and HEATHER TIMMONS
NEW DELHI —India’s Supreme Court, already deliberating a major, potentially government-destroying corruption case and a tense diplomatic incident involving the prosecution of Italian marines, took up a new and highly contentious topic last week — whether pornography leads to sexual assault of women and should, therefore, be completely banned in India.
The Supreme Court’s interest in the issue comes in response to a petition that asks the government to enact a law that would make even viewing pornographic materials a non-bailable offense. Distributing pornographic materials is already illegal in India, but the related laws are vague and rarely enforced.
“I believe that watching porn corrupts people, and many of the crimes that happen to women, girls and children, such as sex-trafficking, are mostly related to pornography,” said Kamlesh Vaswani, the author of the petition and an intellectual property rights lawyer who said he became interested in the issue after seeing the impact of pornography in his hometown of Indore.
India has been reeling from reports of rape and sexual violence directed at women and girls. The fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi on Dec. 16 prompted the government to pass strict new laws about sexual crimes, but reported rapes have risen sharply this year and many say the police response remains inadequate. Last weekend, Delhi again erupted in protests after the parents of a five-year old girl said that the police refused to register a complaint that their daughter was raped and a police officer was filmed slapping a female protestor.
The Supreme Court has asked the Ministry of Information and Technology, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of Home Affairs to respond by April 29 to the petition’s allegations that existing laws are not protecting women from the negative fallout of pornography.
As Internet penetration grows in India with the availability of high-speed data services and the spread of smartphones, pornography is spreading rapidly here, even though publishing or distributing it, in print or on the Web, is illegal under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act of 2000.
There is some evidence that Indians are more actively seeking pornography on the Internet than citizens of many other countries:
Google searches for the word “porn,” as a proportion of total Google searches, have increased five times between 2004 and 2013 in India, according to Google Trends. Over that period, India ranked fourth worldwide, after Papua New Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Pakistan.
New Delhi, population 16 million, was the city with the highest-worldwide percentage of searches for “porn” in 2012. Dallas was the second highest.
One of every five mobile users in India wants adult content on his 3G-enabled phone, one 2011 study by IMRB concludes, and pornography Web sites rank among the most popular in India. Sunny Leone, an Indian-origin Canadian porn star, became a popular in India after appearing on the “Bigg Boss” house here in 2011.
It’s a far cry from just a decade or so ago, when the sight of a naked woman on a movie screen, much less at home on the television, was rare here, outside of a few seedy cinemas and the occasional, much-circulated video.
“Pornography corrupts the mind and causes sexual excitement to grow,” said Vijay Panjwani, the lawyer who argued the petition on behalf on Mr. Vaswani in front of the Supreme Court last week. “When a release is not found it leads to acts of sexual violence against women.”
Whether viewing pornography can be directly tied to sexual violence or rape is highly debatable. A common criticism of pornography is that it has a lasting effect on the minds of regular viewers by shaping the way they think about sex and encouraging aggressive behavior.
“What happens when a culture is saturated with sexually explicit images eroticizing male domination and female subordination?” asked Gail Dines, a sociology professor, and Robert Jensen, a journalism professor, in an op-ed for The New York Times. They argue that most pornography contains images of physical and verbal abuse of female performers and skews the viewers’ attitudes towards sex.
Some sociologists say that in India, the negative effects of viewing pornography are exacerbated because of a social environment that discourages regular interaction between young men and women.
“India is a society in a phase of transition that is based on a high segregation of men and women,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi. “In this environment viewing pornography creates heightened sexual desire and aggression in young men who have no normal interaction with women and that can often lead to violent behavior.”
The porn industry also has many defenders. The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85 percent over a period of 25 years while access to pornography has increased, according to research by Anthony D’Amato and Glenn Reynolds, both law professors.
David Loftus, an actor and author of “Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography,” argues that the effect of watching pornography depends on the viewer and not on the content. “The men who have difficulties with pornography, much like many who cannot relate well to others and turn to crime, tend to come from dysfunctional backgrounds, where stringent rules, hypocrisy, unhappiness and even violence abounded,” he wrote.
As a growing number of Indians watch pornography, the government has tried heavy-handed attempts to suppress popular Web sites. In June of 2009, for example, the government asked all Internet service providers to block a cartoon Web site called Savita Bhabhi, about a bored housewife on the grounds that it was obscene.
But some government ministers are among the growing audience: In February 2012, three ministers resigned because they were caught on camera watching porn on a mobile phone during a session of the Karnataka state assembly.
Do you think making it illegal to watch pornography could curb sexual assault in India, or make the problem worse? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Indian PM Manmohan Singh: women's status and safety a growing concern
India must make vast improvements to protect women, says prime minister amid protests over rape of five-year-old girl
Jason Burke, South Asia correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 April 2013 17.06 BST
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has called for a collective effort to protect women in the country as protests continued in Delhi after the rape of a five-year old girl last week.
The victim, left for dead after being imprisoned and starved for two days in an apartment in the Indian capital, was said to be improving by doctors. The girl had sustained serious internal injuries during a series of assaults.
The attack revived memories of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in the capital in December. The incident triggered worldwide outrage and calls for legal and policing reforms. It also prompted a debate within India on the causes of the rising rate of sexual assault in the emerging economic power.
Police were heavily criticised after the December incident and have also been the focus of protesters' anger this time.
In the latest case, officers allegedly initially refused to investigate after the girl, from a working class family, disappeared while playing early in the evening outside her home. She was eventually found by neighbours. When the case was picked up by the local media, the parents were offered 2,000 rupees (£25) to drop the case, relatives of the victim have said. A labourer who had been staying nearby has been arrested for attack.
"The gruesome assault on a little child a few days back reminds us of the need to work collectively to root out this sort of depravity from our society," the prime minister said.
A series of laws have been passed stiffening penalties for sexual assault and making sexual harassment a crime. However "eve-teasing" – as the physical or verbal molestation of women in public places is euphemistically known – is endemic.
"Our government has moved with speed in strengthening the law to be able to deal more effectively with offences against women," Singh told an audience of civil servants on Sunday. "The safety, security and status of women in our country is a matter of concern. We have to make vast improvements in this area."
India's political leaders have struggled to respond to public anger over the continuing attacks on women and Singh's speech is unlikely to allay criticism that his government has not done enough to protect women.
The incident damaged the country's image, causing a drop in tourism, a major employer and significant foreign exchange earner.
Protesters from the Bharatiya Janata party, the main opposition, clashed with police outside the official residence of Sonia gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party.
A senior police officer has been suspended after images of him slapping a protester were broadcast.
International campaign groups today called for reforms.
"This case shows the appalling extent of indifference in the police to violence against women and girls, and the inadequacy of internal processes to ensure professional conduct" said G Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India.
There have been a spate of incidents involving sexual violence to minors in recent days. In the past 36 hours, there have been reports of rapes of a four-year-old girl by a 14-year-old neighbour in Fatehabad district in the northern state of Haryana, a five-year-old girl in Ghansour town near Seoni in central Madhya Pradesh, and a six-year-old girl was raped in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr. Two rapes of 12 year olds were also reported. Another incident in Delhi involved a 13-year-old who attempted to kill herself after being assaulted by eight men and abused over a nine-day period last month.
In a further incident last week, a woman was repeatedly raped in a moving car by men who gave her a lift in the south of the city after she found herself locked out of a relative's home.
India gives top security protection to country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 22, 2013 6:42 EDT
The Indian government is to provide the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, head of energy giant Reliance Industries, with full-time security from armed commandos, media reports said Monday.
India’s home ministry approved the move, the Times of India said, two months after a letter threatening to harm Ambani was hand-delivered to his office in Mumbai, allegedly from the banned Indian Mujahideen militant group.
Citing an unnamed government source, the newspaper said Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde had approved the so-called “Z category” top-grade security for Ambani, which is usually reserved for prominent political leaders.
The businessman will now be accompanied by vehicles containing commandos armed with sophisticated weapons wherever he travels in the city or elsewhere in India, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said.
The Central Reserve Police Force has earmarked a 28-member team for the task, according to PTI.
A Reliance spokesman declined to speak on the matter and Mumbai police were not immediately available for comment.
Anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal was among those unimpressed by the move. “Such a rich man can’t hire his own security guards. And no media had the courage to question this?” he wrote on Twitter.
The Indian Mujahideen had reportedly threatened to harm Ambani for backing Hindu nationalist Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to make a bid to become prime minister in polls next year.
Reliance is a major investor in Gujarat, the scene of anti-Muslim violence in 2002 soon after Modi became leader, which left around 2,000 people dead.
The letter also accused Ambani of grabbing public land intended for the Muslim community to build his 27-storey residence in the city, believed to be the world’s most expensive private home, reports say.
PTI said the city police force was also planning to strengthen security around the South Mumbai tower.
‘No frills’ Indian hospitals offer $800 heart surgery
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 22, 2013 7:44 EDT
What if hospitals were run like a mix of Wal-Mart and a low-cost airline? The result might be something like the chain of “no-frills” Narayana Hrudayalaya clinics in southern India.
Using pre-fabricated buildings, stripping out air-conditioning and even training visitors to help with post-operative care, the group believes it can cut the cost of heart surgery to an astonishing 800 dollars.
“Today healthcare has got phenomenal services to offer. Almost every disease can be cured and if you can’t cure patients, you can give them meaningful life,” says company founder Devi Shetty, one of the world’s most famous heart surgeons.
“But what percentage of the people of this planet can afford it? A hundred years after the first heart surgery, less than 10 percent of the world’s population can,” he told AFP from his office in hi-tech hub Bangalore.
Already famous for his “heart factory” in Bangalore, which does the highest number of cardiac operations in the world, the latest Narayana Hrudayalaya (“Temple of the Heart”) projects are ultra low-cost facilities.
The first is a single-storey hospital in Mysore, two hours drive from Bangalore, which was built for about 400 million rupees (7.4 million dollars) in only 10 months and recently opened its doors.
Set amid palm trees and with five operating theatres for cardiac, brain and kidney procedures, Shetty boasts how it was built at a fraction of the cost of equivalents in the rich world.
“Near Stanford (in the US), they are building a 200-300 bed hospital. They are likely to spend over 600 million dollars,” he said.
“There is a hospital coming up in London. They are likely to spend over a billion pounds,” added the father of four, who has a large print of mother Teresa on his wall — one of his most famous patients.
“Our target is to build and equip a hospital for six million dollars and build it in six months.”
The Mysore facility represents his vision for the future of healthcare in India — and a model likely to burnish India’s reputation as a centre for low-cost innovation in the developing world.
Air-conditioning is restricted to operating theatres and intensive care units. Ventilation comes from large windows on the wards.
Relatives or friends visiting in-patients undergo a four-hour nursing course and are expected to change bandages and do other simple tasks.
In its architecture, Shetty rejected the generic multi-storey model, which requires costly foundations and steel reinforcements as well as lifts and complex fire safety equipment.
Much of the building was pre-fabricated off site and then quickly assembled.
– Roll-out plans –
The Mysore facility will be followed by others in the cities of Bhubaneswar and Siliguri.
Each will owe its existence to Shetty’s original success story, his pioneering cardiac hospital in Bangalore which opened in 2001.
About 30 heart surgeries are performed there daily, the highest in the world, at a break-even cost of 1,800 dollars. Most patients are charged more than this, but some of the poorest are treated for free.
Its success has made Shetty a wealthy man and earned him international renown. Al-Jazeera recently broadcast a six-part series on the hospital whose wards are packed with low-income farmers and labourers.
In the crammed waiting room, families from across South Asia wait for appointments with the boss who juggles them between stints in theatre.
“We saw him on TV recently and we could see his commitment to poor people and middle class people like us,” said Ranjan Bhattacharya, a civil servant, who had brought his ill wife 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) by train from northeast India.
In its dealings with suppliers, the hospital group works like a large supermarket, buying expensive items such as heart valves in bulk.
By running the operating theatres from early morning to late at night, six days a week, it is inspired by low-cost airlines which keep their planes in the air as much as possible.
The British-trained surgeon sniffs at the output of Western counterparts who might do a handful of operations a week. Each of his surgeons does up to four a day on a fraction of the wages of those in the West.
“Essentially we realised that as you do more numbers, your results get better and your cost goes down,” he said.
– Systemic ‘collapse’ –
Public spending on health in India amounts to just four percent of GDP, less than Afghanistan, according to the World Health Organization.
A lack of private insurance and a public system that has “collapsed” according to the country’s rural development minister means an estimated 70 percent of healthcare spending is borne by Indians out of their own pockets.
So is Shetty a sharp-witted businessman who has spotted a gap in the market or a philanthropist?
“We believe that charity is not scalable. If you give anything free of cost, it is a matter of time before you run out of money, and people are not asking for anything free,” he said.
His first foreign venture is a hospital on the Cayman Islands, targeting locals who would normally travel to the US for expensive treatment, and he says he would love to expand into Africa.
From 6,000 beds now in 17 clinics, he aims to expand privately-run Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals to a group with 30,000 beds in the next five years.
“The current regulatory structures, the current policies and business strategies (for healthcare) that we have are wrong. If they were right, we should have reached 90 percent of the world’s population,” he said.
Land famine threatens Delhi's colonial heritage of Lutyens architecture
Indian authorities propose high-rise homes in area of 1920s and 30s bungalows designed by Edwin Lutyens
Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 April 2013
It was built as the capital of the jewel in the imperial crown and has survived monsoons, droughts, riots, communist politicians and acid rain.
But now some of the stunning architecture of "Lutyens' Delhi", nearly 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of government buildings, parks and homes named after the British architect who masterminded their design, faces a new threat: a scheme by local authorities to relax planning restrictions to allow high-rise constructions.
The change would affect the zone of elegant 1920s and 1930s bungalows built for the few thousand civil servants who governed hundreds of millions of Indians under the British Raj.
Lutyens' Delhi has its origins in the decision by the British to move the capital of India from Calcutta (today's Kolkata), the steamy port city in the east, to Delhi, the historic city of the Mughal emperors.
The decision was announced by King George V at the vast Delhi Durbar, a parade and celebration of British power, in 1911. At the time, India's rulers had no inkling that they would be forced to leave India only 36 years later, exhausted by the second world war and unable to quell demands for independence.
Along with new government buildings, a team of British and Indian architects working under the direction of Edwin Landseer Lutyens designed bungalows for British administrators and their families.
Many of the 1,000 or so bungalows, all in matching neo-classical style, were built with several acres of garden around them. In 1988 and again in 2003 a protected zone was expanded. It now comprises a huge swath of some of the most valuable land in India – and in the world.
It is this area that is now under attack, conservationists claim.
"Give them an inch and they will take a mile. This zone is less than 2% of the city. If they want to build they can build elsewhere," said Krishnan Menon, a conservation architect and urban planner who heads the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. However, others believe preserving Lutyens' Delhi in its pristine state would be wrong in a seething city where millions sleep in crowded slums.
Sohail Hashmi, a writer and historian who leads heritage walks in Delhi, said that Lutyens' Delhi was created by imperialists to give an impression of power in a colony. "The only bit of land left in this city is there, in the centre, where government officials are sitting in houses surrounded by three or four acres. If I were running this city I would keep one street to show what Lutyens' Delhi looked like and the rest you could take over and build homes," Hashmi said.
Others fear the influence of Delhi's voracious property developers. On the rare occasions where properties in the protected central zone change hands – less than a tenth are privately owned – they sell for huge sums. Prices in central Delhi are higher than those in prime areas of London or New York. One telecoms magnate recently paid £20m for a mildewed modernist one-storey home. Other homes nearby are on the market for between £30m and £60m.
Some government properties are worth extraordinary amounts of money. A plot housing 100 mid-ranking army officers in accommodation almost overlooking Rashtrapati Bhawan, the vast edifice first built for the viceroy of India and now used by the president as an official residence, has an estimated value of £600m.
A plan to build a national army museum in the centre of the zone is also opposed by conservationists.
There have already been repeated controversies as residents of the bungalows – mainly members of parliament – have made unauthorised alterations. In one famous case in 2004, a politician added a giant glass pyramid. More recently, a member of the Indian parliament's upper house built a Hindu temple within his home. "There is a huge mismatch. One of the nice things about the bungalows is they have a very quiet, rather modest voice. You can't just use it for a senior minister. It just doesn't work. But the bungalow has become a symbol of power so they all want one," Charles Correa, one of India's best-known architects, said.
Correa said that although it was very difficult to modernise individual bungalows without damaging the aesthetic effect across the whole zone, it would be possible to reconcile development with preservation if the process were properly managed. "You must be ruthless about what you can save and what you can't. But that means you can't allow bureaucrats and politicians to decide that the edges can be nibbled away. That's just ridiculous," he said.
The conservationists hope that Unesco, the United Nation's cultural organisation, will give Lutyens' Delhi coveted world heritage site status under the category of inhabited historic towns. This would make radical change almost impossible. A decision is possible later this year, they say. "It's our values against those of the developers and the moneybags. It's a tough battle," said Menon.
One ally may be the bureaucrats themselves. Previous plans to redevelop the central area of the city have simply disappeared, victims of the notorious sloth and complexity of Indian bureaucracy.
April 21, 2013
Taliban Attacks in Northwest Pakistan Are Reshaping Ballot
By DECLAN WALSH
NOWSHERA, Pakistan — When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school’s rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.
Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region’s provincial assembly, addressed potential voters — poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.
“They say it’s not safe around here,” said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. “We’d better get going.”
Electioneering has taken a dark twist in northwest Pakistan, where a concerted campaign of Taliban attacks against the main secular party is violently reshaping the democratic landscape before parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11.
In the past 10 days, militants have carried out four bombings and one grenade attack against Mr. Khan’s Awami National Party, which has governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province since 2008, and whose secular ideology is repugnant to the Taliban’s vision of imposing an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan.
In the worst attack, last Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 19 people and wounded dozens in central Peshawar, narrowly missing the former railways minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
The Taliban have warned voters to stay away from rallies organized by the three main secular parties — the Awami Party, President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
But so far, they have concentrated their fire on the Awami Party, restricting its candidates’ ability to campaign freely, and tilting the field in favor of more conservative parties, analysts say.
“The most effective campaign is being run by the Taliban,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier with the army’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, who comes from the northwest. “They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want.”
This election was never going to be easy for the Awami Party, which has already attracted sharp criticism for poor governing skills and corruption while in office — deficiencies that analysts, and some party insiders, say will hurt it during the balloting. But now the Taliban seem determined to wipe out the party as a political contender.
In the past five years, militants have killed 700 Awami officials and supporters, including two lawmakers and a senior minister, officials say — more casualties than any other party in Pakistan.
In the southern city of Karachi, where the party enjoys support in ethnic Pashtun neighborhoods, about 40 activists have been killed in the past six months, effectively shutting down the party’s activities there. The Awami Party’s leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan — who himself survived an attack by a suicide bomber in 2009 — is said to be leading the campaign from the safety of the federal capital, Islamabad.
For his candidates out in the towns and villages of the northwest, campaigning has become a furtive and fearful affair.
In Nowshera, a small town 25 miles east of Peshawar, Mr. Khan holds small rallies, often at night and with little notice. He quietly sends advance teams of supporters to check out potential sites. And he is always accompanied by a contingent of private guards and regular police officers, all heavily armed. “Every time my team leaves my house, we are not just praying for election success — we are praying for our lives,” he said as he drove down a cobblestone lane that snaked between high-walled houses.
Once peaceful, the Nowshera district, which has a substantial military presence, has been increasingly affected by Taliban violence, suffering 26 attacks in 2012 and 5 so far this year, according to the police. Last month, a car bomb explosion at a refugee camp killed 16 people and wounded 31. In February, militants assaulted a police checkpoint, and then threw grenades at a police vehicle on a major highway, killing one officer. In some towns, Taliban fighters have forced shops selling movies to close.
As he bumped through the night, driving between rallies held in courtyards and in small village squares, Mr. Khan pointed to a school that was bombed by the Taliban last year. He helped pay to have it rebuilt. “These days, you never know what can happen,” he said.
Mr. Khan, a burly man with an irreverent sense of humor, did not mention the Taliban in his campaign speeches. The talk was of bread-and-butter issues, not bullets: access to drinking water, electricity and gas. “I don’t want to depress people,” he said, citing increased sales of anti-anxiety medication in local pharmacies.
But such candidates are silent on delicate issues for another reason, too: they fear antagonizing local militants.
Nowshera shares a border with Darra Adam Khel, a tribal district famed for its gunsmiths, where militants have engaged in firefights with the security forces. Just a few miles away lies the infamous Akora Khattack madrasa, where several generations of Taliban leaders have received their education.
The problem is exacerbated by arguments among Pakistan’s politicians about how to handle the Taliban. Mr. Khan’s main rival is a candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of Imran Khan, the former cricket star. With his glamorous youth appeal and vocal opposition to American policies, particularly drone strikes, his party is expected to do well in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
But critics accuse Mr. Khan of being soft on the Taliban because he advocates talks with the militants, not fighting. In a television interview on April 15, Mr. Khan said that the Taliban were bombing his opponents “because they supported America’s war.”
Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who is a favorite to become the next prime minister, has also been measured in his criticism of militancy.
“If Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif think this is only happening to someone else, they are mistaken,” said Mr. Munir, the retired officer, referring to the attacks on secular candidates. “If they do not speak out now, their time will come later.”
The Awami Party leadership has sometimes hurt its own cause. Mr. Bilour, the former minister who survived the bombing last week in Peshawar, ingratiated himself with the Taliban last year by offering a $100,000 bounty to anyone who killed an obscure American filmmaker who had released a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
The offer was made one day after a mob protesting the film had stormed through Peshawar, destroying several movie theaters, including one belonging to his family. But while the Taliban embraced Mr. Bilour’s offer, they ultimately offered little protection.
In December, the militants killed his brother Bashir Bilour, a politician; after last week’s attack, the militants said they had intended to kill Mr. Bilour’s nephew, who is standing for election in his father’s election district.
After his recent night of campaigning in Nowshera, Mr. Khan, the Awami candidate, reached his home at midnight, finally relaxing over a cigarette and a cup of tea. This election was never going to be easy, he admitted — voters were already skeptical of corruption in politics, and his opponent, a doughty veteran of several elections, would be tough to beat. But since the Taliban entered the fray, his odds had slimmed even further. “I want to make a difference,” he pleaded. “But like this, our hands are tied.”
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Bangladesh faces shutdown as part of protest over opposition arrests
Supporters say charges of inciting violence and vandalism used to detain seven senior politicians are trumped up
Jason Burke and Saad Hammadi in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 April 2013 07.00 BST
An alliance of opposition parties in Bangladesh has called for a 36-hour general shutdown, or hartal in protest at the continued detention of seven senior officials of the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP).
The protest, due to start on Tuesday, is the latest in a series in the increasingly politically volatile south Asian state. All businesses and shops will be expected to close.
Though intensive strikes, demonstrations and clashes in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country have diminished in recent weeks, tensions remain high.
The seven BNP officials were detained in April on charges of inciting violence and vandalism in the country during the unrest earlier this year. Supporters say the charges are trumped up.
Much of the unrest in recent months in the poor but developing country was initially provoked by the first verdicts passed by the new international war crimes tribunal, set up by Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister and daughter of the wartime leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to investigate atrocities committed during the 1971 conflict.
The tribunal is deeply controversial as those who are largely targeted belong to Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party which is a key ally of the BNP. The leader of the opposition BNP, Khaleda Zia, the widow of the independence war's best-known military commander, has accused Hasina of using the tribunal to hound political enemies.
However, BNP activists say their concern is not with the tribunal itself but with constitutional changes implemented by the current government which will allow it to hold on to power until coming elections later this year or early in 2014, rather than hand over first to a caretaker administration.
"The government is trying to weaken the party by arresting its leaders and activists," said Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, a standing committee member of the BNP. "Our movements and protests will not submit to such threats. The country is moving towards a massive unrest. We want the election to be held under a neutral government."
Three prisoners arrested at the same time as the seven still detained are scheduled to be freed on bail on Monday. They face similar charges and include Moudud Ahmed, a 73-year-old former prime minister and lawyer, who needs medical treatment.
Hasna Moudud, his wife, told the Guardian that she was still concerned. "He has not been released yet. There are still charges against him. We cannot be sure that he will be freed until he is actually released. I am very worried about him and I am very worried about democracy in Bangladesh," she said.
Bangladesh's home affairs minister, MK Alamgir, said the opposition activists who had been charged had "incited the people, led the people to commit arsons, set fire on public vehicles and derail the trains."
"Charges have been presented before the court. It is for the court to decide whether he [Moudud Ahmed] is guilty or not. Prima facie he is guilty, that is why he is being prosecuted," he told the Guardian.
Instability is likely to worsen as the polls approach, many fear. "The two major political parties and their alliances are strongly opposed to each other. They have very strong positions that they don't want to compromise," said Iftekhar Uz-Zaman, executive director of the Bangladesh chapter of the Berlin-based anti-corruption campaign group, Transparency International.
The current administration has already been criticised for detaining four bloggers and the acting editor of Amar Desh, a pro-opposition newspaper. The repeated countrywide shutdowns worry local businessmen, especially those working in the massive garment manufacturing sector. The emergence of a youthful progressive movement named after the Shahbag Square in the centre of Dhaka where most of its protests have been held and of a radical conservative Muslim party called Hefazat-e-Islam have added fuel to the political turmoil in Bangladesh.
Zia, leader of the BNP, has been charged with encouraging and exploiting the rightwing anger to undermine the current government.
The economy has been hit by more than two weeks of shutdowns imposed by various political groups in March alone.
"Hartal is a basic political right but it's very unfortunate that "the two major political parties try to [make] political mileage by inciting violence," said Uz-Zaman. Analysts fear that political stability will deteriorate further without some degree of consensus over the holding of the next election between the two mainstream parties.
Myanmar accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by human rights watchdog
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 22, 2013 6:35 EDT
Myanmar has waged “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims, a top rights watchdog said Monday, citing evidence of mass graves and forced displacement affecting tens of thousands.
The Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by the country also known as Burma, have faced crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, deportation and forced transfer, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
Myanmar officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged mobs, backed by state security forces, to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim villages in October in the western state of Rakhine, HRW said.
The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
The report was released on the same day that the European Union was expected to lift all remaining sanctions against Myanmar, except an arms embargo, in a move that Robertson said was “premature and unfortunate” and would diminish the EU’s leverage with the regime.
He called on all international donors, including the United States, to step up pressure on Myanmar to promote democratic change in the former pariah state, which ended decades of military rule in 2011.
The situation in Rakhine “if allowed to fester will ultimately threaten the larger effort towards reforms”, Robertson told reporters in Bangkok.
Myanmar presidential spokesman Ye Htut accused HRW of timing its report to coincide with the EU sanctions decision.
“The government will not pay attention to such a one-sided report,” he said in comments posted on his Facebook page.
He said that the authorities would instead await the findings of an official commission set up to investigate the violence, whose release has been delayed several times.
HRW noted that while ethnic cleansing was not a formal legal term, it was generally defined as a policy by one ethnic or religious group to remove another group from certain areas through violence and terror.
In Rakhine, more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been forcibly displaced, denied access to humanitarian aid and are unable to return home, the group said.
According to government figures cited by HRW, 211 people have died in two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence in Rakhine since June 2012, but the rights monitor said it believed the real figure was much higher.
In a report based on more than 100 interviews, it said that it had uncovered evidence of four mass graves in Rakhine.
In one episode in June, according to HRW, a government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a camp for displaced Rohingya, describing it as an attempt to scare them into leaving.
In the deadliest incident, according to the rights watchdog, about 50-70 Rohingya, including 28 children, were reportedly killed in a village after police and soldiers disarmed them and failed to protect them from a mob.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Thousands have fled Myanmar since June on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia after Bangladesh refused them entry.
Other Muslims were also targeted in violence last month in central Myanmar, where at least 43 people were killed.
The BBC on Monday released footage which appeared to show police standing by as Buddhist rioters, including monks, attacked Muslims in the town of Meiktila in March.
The British broadcaster said in one case police looked on as a severely burned man lay on the ground unaided.
Robertson said that “impunity” for abuses in Rakhine had encouraged extremists in other parts of the country.
“The central government has taken no action to punish those responsible or reverse the ethnic cleansing of the forcibly displaced Muslims,” he said.
Human Rights Watch and other campaign groups have urged democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out more forcefully on the plight of Myanmar’s minorities, in the buildup to general elections due to take place in 2015.
Last week in Tokyo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said she felt “sad” at the anti-Muslim bloodshed and urged respect for the “rule of law
Japan shrine visit angers South Korea
Seoul cancels visit by foreign minister after Taro Aso, deputy prime minister under Shinzo Abe, leads trip to war memorial
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 April 2013 05.44 BST
South Korea has abruptly cancelled a trip to Tokyo by its foreign minister in protest at visits to a controversial war shrine over the weekend by Japanese cabinet ministers, including the deputy prime minister.
Visits to the Yasukuni shrine – which honours 14 class-A war criminals among 2.5 million other Japanese war dead – have traditionally angered China and South Korea, which view the site as a symbol of Japanese militarism.
Four ministers in the conservative administration of Shinzo Abe paid visits to the shrine, including his finance minister, Taro Aso.
The separate visits, to mark the beginning of the shrine's annual spring festival, come amid tensions with China over a longstanding territorial dispute in the East China sea.
Beijing did not immediately respond but South Korea said on Monday that its foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, would not be making a two-day visit to Tokyo due to begin this Friday.
"Amid this kind of atmosphere our stance is that it will be difficult to hold a productive discussion and Yun decided not to visit to Japan this time," an unnamed South Korean official told the Yonhap news agency.
Abe did not visit the shrine but sent a decorative branch of a cypress tree as a ritual offering, with his name and title written beneath, according to media reports.
China is unlikely to overlook the visit while the two rivals continue to stake rival claims to the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.
For many in China and South Korea, visits to Yasukuni in central Tokyo are proof that Japan's modern leaders have yet to atone for their country's military misadventures on the Asian mainland in the first half of the 20th century.
Despite his nationalist leanings Abe did not visit during his previous year-long premiership from 2006 to avoid inflaming opinion in Beijing and Seoul.
He later said he regretted the decision and with his popularity ratings high at home speculation is mounting that he may be less willing to consider sensibilities in China and South Korea, particularly if his party wins key upper house elections in July, giving it control of both Diet chambers.
Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, has a reputation for angering Japan's neighbours; in 2003, he praised the country's 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula and has refused to apologise for his family firm's past use of Korean forced labourers and allied prisoners of war.
Aso, a former prime minister, wants class-A war criminals "delisted" from Yasukuni, thereby removing the biggest obstacle to members of the imperial family resuming their annual visits.
On Sunday, he bowed in the Shinto shrine's worship hall and left without speaking to reporters.
The other visitors included Keiji Furuya, a state minister in charge of resolving the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea during the cold war. "It is natural for a lawmaker to offer heartfelt condolences for spirits of the war dead who sacrificed their lives for the nation," he said.
Abe visited the shrine in 2012 while leader of the then main opposition Liberal Democratic party, drawing criticism from China.
In late March, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the objections over Yasukuni centred on a desire for Japan to "face up to and reflect on its history of aggression and respect the feelings of people from the victimised countries, including China".
Anger of wartime sex slaves haunts Japan and South Korea
Women forced into working in frontline military brothels keep up pressure on Japan for direct compensation for war ordeal
Justin McCurry in Gyeonggi province
The Guardian, Thursday 18 October 2012 13.57 BST
Kang Il-chul was 16 when Japanese military police arrived at her home in South Korea and told her she was being conscripted. The year was 1943, and her country was just two years away from liberation after 35 years of brutal Japanese colonial rule.
Kang spent the remainder of the war in occupied China, as one of tens of thousands of Asian women forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers in frontline, makeshift brothels. "I was put in a tiny room and made to sleep with about 10 to 20 soldiers a day," says Kang, pausing to display the scars on her head – the result of frequent beatings by the military police. "I was punched and beaten so much that my body was covered in bruises. I still get headaches."
Almost 70 years after Japan's defeat, the treatment of such "comfort women" still haunts its relations with South Korea as the region, embroiled in long-standing territorial disputes, once again confronts the legacy of Japanese militarism. Lingering resentment over atrocities committed during the second world war – and the perception that Japan has failed to show enough remorse for its actions – help explain the periodical outbreaks of anti-Japanese rage in the region, and the angry reactions to high-profile visits to Yasukuni, the controversial war shrine in Tokyo.
"Historical grievances in Korea do not depend on who is in charge in Japan," says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. "They simmer on and on until every once in a while they boil over. Tokyo is living in a dream world if it believes that these matters are resolved and not worth addressing," he said.
Earlier this week, South Korea repeated its demand that Japan acknowledge its use of former sex slaves and compensate them. "Japan's legal responsibility has not been settled," the country's deputy chief envoy to the UN, Shin Dong-ik, told a UN committee. "Those acts were a crime against humanity."
Those grievances came to the fore again recently when South Korea's president, Lee Myung-bak, made a politically charged trip to Dokdo – a pair of remote, rocky islands also claimed by Japan, where they are known as Takeshima. The visit was not just intended to demonstrate his country's de facto control over the territory. Lee linked his visit to Tokyo's failure to apologise for the use of sex slaves, and challenged Japan's emperor, Akihito, to issue a mea culpa on the country's behalf.
Japan retaliated last week by deciding not to renew a $57bn (£35.5bn) currency swap with South Korea – a measure designed to protect both countries against financial crisis – although officials in Seoul and Tokyo said the decision was made on economic grounds and the territorial dispute was not a factor.
Lee's remarks were in part a vote-winning exercise for his conservative Saenuri party before December's presidential election, but also proof that wartime history still weighs heavily on the South Korean national psyche – and finds voice in an enduring suspicion of Japan.
There is disagreement on the exact number of women forced into prostitution by Japan. Campaigners believe between 50,000 and 200,000 women – mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, south-east Asians and a small number of Japanese and Europeans – were forced or tricked into working in military brothels between 1932 and 1945.
Fearing ostracism in their own countries, most took their secret to the grave. But in 1991, Kim Hak-soon, a South Korean, became the first to testify about her wartime forced prostitution experiences in public. "We must record these sins that were forced upon us," she said.
Since then, more than 230 women have identified themselves as former sex slaves. Only about 60 are still alive. Eight, including Kang, live at the House of Sharing, a facility that opened in 1992 in the hills south of Seoul.
The women, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s, say they have yet to receive an official apology or compensation from Japan over their treatment.
The Japanese government initially denied the existence of "comfort stations", as the brothels were known. But in 1993 Yohei Kono, the-then chief cabinet secretary, acknowledged and apologised for the first time for Japan's use of sex slaves during the second world war.
Japan refused to directly compensate the women, saying all claims were settled by postwar peace treaties. In 1995 it set up the privately run Asian women's fund, which drew on donations, but many women rejected any redress unless it came directly from the Japanese state. The fund was disbanded in 2007.
Kono's statement infuriated Japanese conservatives. They recently gained an ally in the country's supposedly progressive prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who, despite conceding that individual testimony indicated the coercion of Asian women into sexual slavery, claimed no documentary evidence existed.
His main opponent in the next general election, the Liberal Democratic party leader, Shinzo Abe, has even called for the Kono statement to be revised.
The spread of frontline brothels followed the Japanese imperial army's sweep through large parts of China and south-east Asia. As colonial ruler of the Korean peninsula since 1910, Japan had easy access to local women, targeting poor, uneducated and single females aged between 13 and 19.
On display in a museum near the women's residence are photographs, documents and exhibits that shed light on their wretched existence before they were abandoned by fleeing Japanese troops at the end of the war.
Typically, they were forced to have sex with 10 to 30 men a day in dimly lit rooms furnished only with beds. Condoms were washed and re-used and offered little protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Medical examinations were infrequent, and many women became addicted to the mercury 606 used to treat syphilis. Forced abortions were commonplace.
Surprisingly, the Japanese comprise about two-thirds of the estimated 15,000 people who visit the House of Sharing every year. In the past, the residents were happy to meet members of the public, but in recent weeks some have refused to talk to Japanese visitors. "They wonder why Japanese visitors don't go home and tell everyone the truth about the comfort women," said a Japanese member of staff who did not wish to be named.
After the war, Kang settled in north-west China where she married a local man and worked as a nurse. She did not return to South Korea until 2000, and these days speaks her native tongue with a heavy Chinese accent.
She and other former comfort women have maintained pressure on Japan during weekly demonstrations outside its embassy in Seoul. Last December they conducted their 1,000th protest.
The 85-year-old, who was given the Japanese name Tamako Okada while working in military brothels, said Japan's recent backpedalling would only prolong the agony of former sex slaves. "To hear Japan's leaders accuse us of being liars makes me sad and angry," she said. "I have nothing against ordinary Japanese people. This is their government's fault. The prime minister says there is no proof that we existed. But I am living proof."
Japan's war apologies
Earlier this month, a large billboard appeared in Times Square in New York. Beneath the question, "Do you remember?" is a black-and-white photograph from 1971 of the former German chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling before a monument to victims of the Warsaw Uprising. That simple gesture, the signs says, "promoted reconciliation in Europe".
It continues: "In 2012, Korean women forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII are still waiting for a heartfelt apology from Japan."
Japan is often accused of never matching Germany's remorse for its wartime conduct. In fact, Japanese leaders, and its current emperor, have issued several apologies and expressed remorse. In addition to compensation agreed in postwar peace treaties, Japan points out that it has since extended generous aid and development packages to its former victims.
On the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995, the then socialist prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, said: "Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asia.
"In the hope that no such mistake will be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humanity, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology."
Two years earlier, Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary, acknowledged that the Japanese military had coerced Asian women into sexual slavery.
The Kono statement, according to a recent editorial in the Korean press, deserves praise for "extending its sincere apologies and remorse to all those who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women".
But it is the nature, and perceived insincerity, of the apologies that continues to trouble China and South Korea.
For the 60 or so surviving comfort women, previous expressions of remorse do not go far enough; instead, they are demanding an official apology and compensation directly from the Japanese government.
In 2007, they won support from the US House of Representatives, which passed a resolution urging Japan to "formally acknowledge, apologise, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the coercion of young women into sexual slavery.
Demands for a formal apology and compensation will continue, at least as long as Japan, in Lee Myung-bak's words, refuses to summon the "courage and wisdom to look squarely at history".
China earthquake: experience could not save those too slow or too small
Sichuan quake leaves 200 people dead or missing, 11,800 injured and an estimated 100,000 homeless as clean up begins
Tania Branigan in Longmen
The Guardian, Sunday 21 April 2013 19.32 BST
Hours after they dug out Wang Qiong's body they buried her again on a mountain slope close by what remained of her home: a heap of rubble and heavy concrete slabs. Her dazed, red-eyed widower and 12-year-old younger daughter clambered over the ruins on Sunday, salvaging stray items: a toy giraffe; a single trainer; letters.
Wang's elder daughter barely had time to comfort them before she left to tend to the stream of patients at a nearby hospital. "Mum, I need to help other people now," the nurse said as she left her mother's graveside.
More than 200 people are dead or missing after the powerful earthquake rocked Sichuan, south-west China, at 8.02am on Saturday – arousing memories of the devastating shock along the same faultline that killed tens of thousands in the province five years ago next month.
Another 11,800 are injured, almost 1,000 seriously, and an estimated 100,000 homeless. Blocked roads and damaged communications have hampered efforts to rescue survivors and provide emergency shelter and supplies, with aftershocks of 5.4 magnitude triggering repeated landslides.
Wang's sister-in-law, Zhang Dexiang, was working at a brick factory when the quake struck "We started work as usual at 8am, but all the machines began jumping," she said. "We panicked and ran outside. We all rushed back home but by the time I got here there was nothing left. When we dug [Wang] out, she was already dead."
Wang, 45, was a warm, gentle woman, loved for her kindness to children and the elderly. Due to a disability, she stayed at home raising pigs while the rest of the household went out to work; she was the only one there when the house collapsed around her.
Now her family are sheltering under a tarpaulin with the meagre possessions they retrieved: a few wooden stools and a couple of quilts. "We have nothing," said Zhang.
The wreckage of the 6.6 magnitude quake lay strewn across the area around the epicentre near Ya'an city: a car crushed by a huge boulder; cracks in the roads and toppled telegraph poles; ceilings and walls that had slammed to the ground; pavements thick with bricks strewn by slumping buildings; a house now useless but so new that its windows still bore tape when they crashed from their frames. In one sagging building, an enormous hog, loosed by the quake, rooted through its master's destroyed kitchen.
The area is known for its beauty: its river gorges, thick bamboo groves and lush green paddy fields. But the steep wooded slopes bore the red scars of landslides, and aftershocks continued to shake the ground on Sunday, further unnerving survivors.
The Sichuan meteorological observatory warned that rain was likely in the quake zone over the next three days. The county government for Lushan, badly hit by the disaster, said water had already been drained from five reservoirs that had suffered cracks and leakage to protect residents.
The Chinese premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone, where he met rescuers and survivors. "Treat and heal your wounds with peace of mind," the state news agency Xinhua quoted Li as telling patients at a hospital. "The government will take care of all the costs for those severely wounded."
State media said that rescuers had pulled a three-month-old baby alive from the rubble of her mountain home, although her mother had died in the quake. In another development, a 12-year-old girl reportedly emerged from a coma as she was treated at a military hospital in Chengdu after she was dug out of the ruins of their house.
Thousands of troops have swarmed the area, clearing roads, restoring communications, helping specialist teams to search for survivors and setting up camps for the homeless. Xinhua said 18,000 soldiers had been dispatched.
But landslides reblocked cleared roads, officials said. Military and rescue vehicles also congested the narrow mountain road from Ya'an city to Lushan, which was closed to all but emergency vehicles for hours.
Hundreds of armed police marched in single file, bearing shovels, to Baoxing, one of the worst hit areas, before the route was repaired late on Sunday. At least 26 died there and 40,000 are homeless, the state news agency reported.
Xinhua warned that rescuers had yet to reach some parts of the quake zone. But Chen Yong, the vice director of the Ya'an city government earthquake response office, told reporters that he believed the death toll was unlikely to rise dramatically.
Casualties include two rescuers who were in a vehicle that plunged off a 300-metre cliff in Baoxing county, Xinhua said.
China's foreign ministry said foreign rescue teams and medical and relief supplies were not needed, citing the problems with traffic and communications in the quake zone.
"The Lushan county centre is getting back to normal, but the need is still considerable in terms of shelter and materials," said Kevin Xia of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "Supplies have had difficulty getting into the region because of the traffic jams. Most of our supplies are still on the way."
Throughout the disaster zone, survivors sat along the roadside, some with bloodied bandages, under crude shelters they had arranged themselves or emergency tents from rescuers.
Though relief teams quickly set up camps in some areas, survivors were still begging workers for tents. Xinhua reported shortages of drinking water and at one junction, a group of children and old people held up cardboard signs pleading for water.
Li Baojun, deputy head of the disaster relief department of the civil affairs ministry, said 30,000 tents, 50,000 quilts and 10,000 camp beds would be transported to the provincial capital Chengdu for distribution to affected areas as soon as possible.
Disease prevention work has already started, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said, and psychological help will be provided for vulnerable people.
One woman described how her legs had turned to jelly as she watched her house fall down – but beamed as she recalled the moment she saw her children emerge unscathed.
"We heard an explosion in the mountains first, like an eruption from a volcano," said 40-year-old Peng Guiwu, wearing a neighbour's clothes because she had not dressed when the shock hit.
"Then dust started falling and the houses were groaning and everything started collapsing. My husband and I grabbed our kids and ran. Everything was moving," she added, showing the scars on her legs and arm where furniture had smashed into her as she escaped. "I was scared to death – the children were so frightened they clung to us."
Though 2008's earthquake was many times the power of Saturday's, and far more deadly, it left Ya'an and the surrounding area largely unscathed.
"Last time there were only a few tiles that came loose and we repaired it very quickly," said Peng, whose house now bears a long crack down its front. "But we learnt from that earthquake. We used quilts to cover our heads."
Many residents said the training and information programmes that followed the last earthquake had taught them what to do: leave at once, protect your heads, gather well away from buildings. That helped to ensure that a mother escaped with her seven-day-old baby unscathed; and that a 15-year-old boy carried his little sister to safety while his mother was out.
But Peng's neighbour lost her little girl in the quake, and was lying injured in hospital. Tan Xuelan, 84, could not move as the house collapsed around her and was saved by the kindness of a neighbour, who returned to carry her to safety. And Wang, who found it hard to walk due to her disability, was crushed before she could make it out of the door.
Experience was not enough to save those who were too small, too slow or simply too unlucky.
Paraguay votes on new leader after ex-president’s impeachment
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 21, 2013 20:08 EDT
AFP – Voters in Paraguay cast ballots Sunday to choose a new leader, turning the page on a political crisis that saw leftist president Fernando Lugo impeached 10 months ago.
Polls closed at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) and election officials said early results would be made available at around 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Monday).
Leading candidates Horacio Cartes, a 56-year-old conservative tobacco baron, and the Liberal Party’s Efrain Alegre, 50, traded accusations of corruption and drug trafficking in a charged and highly negative campaign.
Exit polls showed Cartes with about a 10-point lead, signaling a likely return to power of the Colorado Party.
The conservative Colorados held Paraguay’s presidency for 60 years until being ousted by Lugo in 2008, thanks to a united liberal coalition.
A mostly rural country of 6.5 million bordered by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, Paraguay is seeking a replacement for Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who was ousted 10 months ago by the opposition-controlled legislature after a police eviction of farmers left 17 people dead.
Lugo’s administration was also rocked by a sex scandal, after he was forced to admit to having fathered two children out of wedlock while he was still a priest, and he faces at least two other as-yet unresolved paternity suits.
Now, the leftist coalition that swept him to power has split, although Lugo is again on the ballot — this time as a Senate candidate.
Paraguay’s 3.5 million voters are also casting ballots for the country’s legislature and 17 governors.
Since Lugo’s impeachment, the country has been led by Liberal Federico Franco, who is not running for re-election.
Shortly before voting got underway, the incumbent president declared that he was prepared to honor the will of the Paraguayan voters.
“I will hand over power to whomever wins this elections,” a process Franco said is needed to bolster Paraguay’s badly battered institutions after months of political crisis.
Franco, Lugo’s former vice president, took over as president in June. The inauguration for his successor is scheduled for August 15.
Most Latin American countries saw Lugo’s impeachment as a legislative coup d’etat, and Paraguay’s membership in the Mercosur common trade bloc and the Unasur regional group has been suspended.
During the election campaign, Alegre — a self-styled crusader against crime and corruption — highlighted Cartes’s brief 1985 jail stint for his role in a currency smuggling affair, while Cartes accused Alegre of embezzling $25 million in government funds.
The leftist Alegre, 50, was an activist who fought passionately against the dictatorship of Paraguay’s strongman, who ruled the country between 1954 and 1989.
By contrast, Cartes, one of Paraguay’s wealthiest men, is a relative newcomer on the political scene. He did not join the Colorado party until 2009, and says he only voted for the first time the following year.
Paraguay is plagued by drug-trafficking, smuggling, and pirating of copyrighted materials like music and movies, and corruption is pervasive.
In one recent incident, a conservative Colorado Party senator whas shown on television striking an agreement with two Liberal Party members to pay $25 per vote in the central Caaguazu department.
Senator Silvio Ovelar, who was suspended Friday for two months without pay, told a press conference he was trying to expose corruption on the part of his Liberal rivals but that the move had backfired.
Brazil's green flagbearer Marina Silva ready to get back in the race
Environmental campaigner has launched a sustainability party with an eye on the presidential election
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Monday 22 April 2013 11.36 BST
Marina Silva is what the enlightened future was supposed to look like. Smart, determined, effective and focused on indigenous culture, education and environmental conservation, the former minister and presidential candidate was once a symbol of hope for what Brazil and the world could be.
But despite her prominent global profile – evidenced by the fact that she was the only Brazilian to carry the Olympic flag during London's opening ceremony – Silva has recently fallen into the shadows domestically, and the sustainability agenda she champions has been sidelined by a government that is using the global economic crisis to push forward with mining, monoculture and infrastructure investment.
These are tough times to be an environmental campaigner, but Silva has responded with a characteristically groundbreaking move. Earlier this year, she formed a political party that aims to channel the power of social networks against big corporate interests obsessed with growth at all costs.
It has collected more than 100,000 signatures in its first month, a considerable step towards the 560,000 needed to put forward a candidate in next year's presidential election.
Silva secured 20m votes at the last poll, in 2010 – the largest vote for any Green candidate anywhere in the world – but lost to the current president, Dilma Rousseff.
Silva has not yet formally declared her intention to run again in 2014, but in an interview with the Guardian she said she felt it was essential to stand against a government that she believes has lost its way.
"I don't know whether it will be harder this time, but I know it will be more important because many people now have given up hope," she said during a visit to a school in Rio de Janeiro. "We live in a period of grave crisis – economic, social, environmental, political and ethical. It's a crisis of our civilisation. It's not easy for people to face up to something like that. The effort to shift the world in a better direction has lost momentum."
The creation of the party, Sustainability Network, is the latest move in a remarkable career. One of 11 children in a family of rubber-tappers from the impoverished north of Brazil, Silva worked as a maid, then entered university and became a student and union activist. She was an associate of Chico Mendes, the environmental activist murdered for his campaign to protect the Amazon, and prominent in the Workers' party, which won power for the first time in 2002 under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Marina Silva at the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony Marina Silva was among the flag-bearers at the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Photograph: Chamussy/Niviere/Sipa/Rex Features
As environment minister, she won plaudits for introducing the most effective strategy against deforestation the country has ever seen, for changing the Brazil's policy on climate change, for creating extensive new protected areas, and for the establishment of the Amazonian fund.
But she quit the government in 2008 when the agriculture ministry and big-cattle and soy-growing regions such as Mato Grosso pressed the president to relax restrictions on land use.
"I left because of the big tensions in the government over deforestation measures," she said. "Our policies had started to produce good results and there was a strategic move to dismantle them."
Her case has parallels with other South American nations where left-leaning governments came to power with promises to protect the environment and respect the rights of indigenous people that proved difficult to keep. In Ecuador, Alberto Acosta – who headed the panel that rewrote the country's "green constitution" – recently stood against his former ideological ally, Rafael Correa, because he believed the president had abandoned his principles.
Whether governments have changed course because of the economic crisis or cynical realpolitik is uncertain, said Silva.
"I don't know if they were ever genuine about the environment or whether they just used it for electoral convenience. Lula really made a difference in society. But the old left has difficulty accepting new ideas. The revolutionaries of our era are the conservationists."
Under Lula's successor, Rousseff, she believes the rollback has been more pronounced, particularly since the revision of the forest code last year.
Such criticism and the likelihood that Silva will run again for president in 2014 meant many Brazilian eyebrows were raised when she was chosen to carry the Olympic flag in London. Some commentators thought this was an intrusion into domestic politics.
Silva believes they missed the point.
"It was immensely gratifying to see the British have the sensibility to make the sustainability issue one of the great causes of humanity," she said. "I also felt immense responsibility to be the representative of Brazil, which is the country best placed to promote these issues and break with the old ideas. We must not let the economic crisis affect the environment. We must invest in the new economy. There is no time to waste."
Not everyone is convinced. Silva remains popular, but her religious zeal – she has switched from Catholicism to evangelical Christianity – has turned off some potential supporters.
Her message mixes environmental advocacy with an appeal for greater use of the internet to engage voters who previously felt distant or disenfranchised from the political process.
"The new party recognises that people no longer want to be mere spectators. They want to be actors," she said. "We want to show how to transform reality in the direction of sustainable development. Brazil is the best place for this … The people recognise that, but not the government."
However, in these times of economic concern, it is unclear whether the public will respond to her as they did last time. Polls suggest Silva is a long way behind Rousseff, who has adopted many of her rival's proposals on education.
Declaring determination as more important than optimism or pessimism, Silva said her past campaigns had shown how surprises can be achieved.
"People don't understand how I got 20m votes. I say we were like a samba school. Everyone was preparing separately in their own homes, but they were practising the same song and everyone knew their roles. So when it was carnival time, it all worked beautifully."
A new party has begun. But half a million signatures must be collected before the new party can re-enter the presidential parade. The future offered by Marina Silva continues to look enlightened, but – for the moment, at least – as distant as ever.
Additional reporting by Marcela Bial