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« Reply #5940 on: Apr 24, 2013, 08:20 AM »

April 23, 2013

New Threat in Nigeria as Militants Split Off

By ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nearly four years into Nigeria’s bloody struggle with Islamists in its impoverished north, a new threat has emerged with deadly implications, this time for Westerners as well as Nigerians: local militants who openly claim to be inspired and trained by Al Qaeda and its affiliate in the region.

Having split off from Boko Haram — the dominant Nigerian extremist group responsible for weekly shootings and bombings — this new group, Ansaru, says it eschews the killing of fellow Nigerians.

“Too reckless,” said a young member of Ansaru. His group evidently prefers a more calculated approach: kidnapping and killing foreigners.

Just days before, his group had methodically killed seven foreign construction workers deep in Nigeria’s semidesert north. The seven had been helping to build a road; their bodies were shown in a grainy video, lying on the ground.

The West, which has often regarded the Islamist uprising here as a Nigerian domestic issue, has been explicitly put on notice by Ansaru, adding an international dynamic to a conflict that has already cost more than 3,000 lives.

Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the December kidnapping of a French engineer, who is still missing, and for the abduction of an Italian and a Briton, both construction workers, who were later killed by their captors as a rescue attempt began last year.

It is also likely that the group was involved in the February kidnapping of a French family on the Cameroon-Nigeria border — they were released on Friday, under conditions that are unclear — as well as the kidnapping of a German engineer in Kano killed during a rescue effort last year.

“Any white man who is working with them” — meaning “Zionists,” — “we can kidnap them, everywhere,” said the young man from Ansaru, who called himself Mujahid Abu Nasir.

He had slipped into Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, with a bodyguard, traveling hundreds of miles from Ansaru’s secret headquarters in the north, getting past a major military base here. He said he had come under the authorization of Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, who the United States says has close ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and has designated a global terrorist.

For three hours, with chilling precision, Abu Nasir, in a neatly pressed shirt and polished shoes, laid out Ansaru’s philosophy, after reciting a verse from the Koran promising “hellfire” for nonbelievers: opponents would be killed; Qaeda sympathizers were everywhere in Nigeria; and Westerners would be kidnapped.

He said Ansaru had been motivated by Al Qaeda itself, trained by its affiliate in the region — Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — and was now following in both their footsteps.

Before speaking or touching anything, Abu Nasir carefully put on black gloves and examined a reporter’s pen to make sure there was no camera hidden in it. He said he was the son of a Nigerian aristocrat, and he spoke Arabic, which he said he had perfected at a university in Khartoum, Sudan. He understood English perfectly but would not speak it, on principle.

“By taking these hostages, we are sending a message that they should be careful about giving bad advice to our leaders,” he said of Nigeria’s government, which he called a “puppet” of the West.

Veteran observers of Nigeria’s struggle with Islamists say Ansaru has closer ties to Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, in terms of both training and ideology, than any other extremist group in Nigeria.

“They are as dangerous as Al Qaeda,” said Maikaramba Sadiq of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organization. “They have the same training as Al Qaeda. They have the same approach as Al Qaeda.”

Nigeria’s top counterterrorism official, Maj. Gen. Sarkin-Yaki Bello, agreed. “They have the same objective, to Islamize the Sahel,” he said, referring to the belt of African countries immediately south of the Sahara.

In General Bello’s view, Ansaru is a more sophisticated version of Boko Haram, the group that spawned it: “They speak Arabic better, and they have more international connections.”

Analysts at the United Nations and elsewhere have long suggested links between Boko Haram — which fought a particularly bloody battle with Nigerian security forces in recent days — and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Moreover, Boko Haram is not strictly focused on attacking Nigerians: in 2011, it blew up the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, a rare strike by the group on an international target.

Ansaru began to distance itself from Boko Haram early in 2012, after a Boko Haram attack left dozens dead. A local newspaper reported that Ansaru, in a statement announcing its formation, had expressed displeasure with the death toll.

The clash between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces last week was even deadlier. Much of a fishing town was destroyed, with more than 180 people killed and almost 2,000 homes burned, the governor there said. Some residents were killed in the fierce gun battle and others died in a fire when their homes were set alight, underscoring the ruthlessness of Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces alike.

Still, the two militant groups, Ansaru and Boko Haram, retain ties. “They are with us now,” Abu Nasir said. “Whenever we hear of oppression, we do operations together.”

At the slightest hint of rescue, mistaken or otherwise, Ansaru appears ready to kill its hostages. The seven construction workers — a Briton, a Greek, an Italian and four from Lebanon and Syria — had been building roads and bridges in northern Nigeria for Setraco, a Lebanese construction company, helping to develop the country’s poorest region. The British contractor who was killed, Brendan Vaughan, a burly man in his mid-50s described by his family as a “lovable rogue,” was expecting his first grandchild.

Late on the night of Feb. 16, Ansaru gunmen stormed the compound where Mr. Vaughan and the others were living. They first attacked the local police station and prison in Jama’are to clear the way. Then they blew up the Setraco compound’s wall to gain access to the foreigners’ housing, killing a security guard.

“We were terrified by the blast,” said a Setraco construction worker who gave his name as Hussain. “We heard gunshots everywhere.”

In the morning, when it was all over, Hussain’s supervisor assembled the Nigerian workers. “Our bosses are no longer at work,” he recalled the supervisor’s telling them. Ansaru had taken them away in a coordinated, well-planned assault.

Three weeks later the hostages were dead, shot by their Ansaru captors, who mistakenly believed after reading erroneous Nigerian newspaper reports that they themselves were about to be raided.

To Abu Nasir, Mr. Vaughan was not an earthy, fun-loving, construction worker, but a dangerous spy.

“Among the hostages, the British man had something on his body that would lead the drone to them,” he said. “That is why the group was given orders to eliminate them.”

Abu Nasir said he considered Abu Zeid, a top commander of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to be a personal mentor and “a wise somebody.” Abu Zeid, whose death France says it has confirmed, is said to have been killed by Chadian or French forces in the campaign to uproot Islamist militants in northern Mali.

Abu Nasir spoke of his early recruitment by Al Qaeda, rigorous training in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s desert camps, his leaders’ contacts with Osama bin Laden and the current leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, and disagreements with Boko Haram’s indiscriminate methods.

Underlying Abu Nasir’s words was a Robin Hood version of anticapitalism — “We just hate oppression,” he said — that helped explain the penetration of radical Islamist groups like his in the impoverished cities of Nigeria’s north.

He said he had attended an Islamic college in the northern metropolis of Kano, which has since become a hotbed of Boko Haram radicalism. Then, “for the zeal of seeking knowledge,” he went to Khartoum, he said, where it was “Al Qaeda propagators who initiated me into the clique.”

The recruiters took him to the southern deserts of Algeria and then to Mauritania for a rigorous training course by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. For six months, he said, he trained directly under Abu Zeid. Of five who came with him from Sudan, he said, two died during training. “Everything the security forces get, we get double that,” he said of Ansaru’s training regimen.

Returning to Nigeria in 2008, Abu Nasir said, he went underground in Lagos. “Thousands” are like him, he said, “some who work in government, some businessmen, some teachers.”

“Any leader who does not listen to the warnings of his people, he is going to pay a heavy price,” Abu Nasir said. “We are not going to take one step back.”

Muhammad Awwal Musa contributed reporting.


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« Reply #5941 on: Apr 24, 2013, 08:22 AM »

April 23, 2013

Israel Says It Has Proof That Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons

By DAVID E. SANGER and JODI RUDOREN
IHT

TEL AVIV — Israel declared Tuesday that it had found evidence that the Syrian government repeatedly used chemical weapons last month, arguing that President Bashar al-Assad was testing how the United States and others would react and that it was time for Washington to overcome its deep reluctance to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

In making the declaration — which went somewhat beyond recent suspicions expressed by Britain and France — Israeli officials argued that President Assad had repeatedly crossed what President Obama said last summer would be a “red line.” But Obama administration officials pushed back, saying they would not leap into the conflict on what they viewed as inconclusive evidence, even while working with allies on plans to secure the weapons if it appeared they were about to be used or handed to Hezbollah.

The declaration from Israel’s senior military intelligence analyst was immediately questioned in Washington. Officials said an investigation was necessary, but added that American intelligence agencies had yet to uncover convincing evidence that an attack on March 19, and smaller subsequent attacks, used sarin gas, a deadly agent that Syria is believed to hold in huge stockpiles.

“We are looking for conclusive evidence, if it exists, if there was use of chemical weapons,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said when pressed on the Israeli assessment.

In a briefing in Tel Aviv, an Israeli military official was vague about the exact nature of the evidence, saying that it was drawn from an examination of photographs of victims and some “direct” findings that he would not specify.

Secretary of State John Kerry suggested there were mixed messages emerging from Israel, saying that he spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday morning and that the Israeli leader “was not in a position to confirm” the intelligence assessment. Israeli officials said they would not try to explain the apparent difference between Mr. Netanyahu’s statement and that of his top military intelligence officials.

At the same time, Daniel B. Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel, said that contingency plans to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria were “very much part” of the discussions between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart here on Monday.

The Israeli intelligence analyst, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, told participants at a security conference in Tel Aviv that the Syrian government “has increasingly used chemical weapons.” That echoed accusations that Britain and France made in a letter last week to the secretary general of the United Nations, calling for a deeper investigation.

“The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” General Brun said, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate.”

General Brun’s statements were the most definitive to date by an Israeli official regarding evidence of possible chemical weapons attacks on March 19 near Aleppo, Syria, and Damascus, the capital. Another military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the evidence had been presented to the Obama administration but that it had not fully accepted the analysis.

None of the assertions — by Israel, Britain or France — have included physical proof. Experts say the most definitive way to prove the use of chemical weapons is to collect soil samples promptly at the site and examine suspected victims.

A senior Defense Department official noted that “the use of chemical weapons in an environment like Syria is very difficult to confirm.” He added: “Given the stakes involved, low-confidence assessments by foreign governments cannot be the basis for U.S. action. The president has clearly stated that the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Thus, we must be absolutely confident of use before determining how to respond.”

That will not be easy. The Syrian government, which has accused insurgents of using chemical weapons and has requested that a United Nations forensics team investigate, has refused to allow that team to enter the country because of a dispute over the scope of its inquiry.

Mr. Kerry, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, urged that members of the alliance be ready to respond if it was determined that Syria had in fact used chemical weapons.

But after his phone call with Mr. Netanyahu he told reporters, “I don’t know yet what the facts are,” adding, “I don’t think anybody knows what they are.”

Israeli military officials insisted at an annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, one of the country’s leading research institutes, that after a month of investigations they now understand what happened. General Brun said, “It is quite clear that they used harmful chemical weapons.” He cited “different signs,” including photographs of Syrians “foaming at the mouth.” In a briefing after those comments, another Israeli military official said it was believed that the attacks involved sarin gas, the same agent used in a 1995 assault on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13.

The Syrian attacks killed “a couple of dozens,” the military official said, in what Israel judged as a test by Mr. Assad of the international community’s response. He said that the government had deployed chemicals a handful of times since then, but that the details and effectiveness of those attacks were sketchier.

“Their fear of using it is much lower than before using it,” the official added. “If somebody would take any reaction, maybe it would deter them from using it again.”

The public statements regarding the attacks, made days after the British and French governments wrote to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations saying they, too, had evidence of chemical weapons, could complicate the situation for Washington.

If the United States has been more reluctant than its allies to come to firm conclusions about chemical weapons, it may be because such proof could force Mr. Obama’s hand. In August, the president told reporters that any evidence that Mr. Assad was moving the weapons or making use of them could prompt the United States to act.

“That would change my calculus,” he said. “That would change my equation.”

Mr. Obama’s aides have since amended his statement, saying that he was referring to major use of chemical weapons — akin to what Saddam Hussein employed against the Kurds two decades ago — or the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups. Mr. Hagel’s spokesman, George Little, said in Amman, Jordan, where Mr. Hagel arrived on Tuesday, that the president’s warnings remained in place.

“We reiterate in the strongest possible terms the obligations of the Syrian regime to safeguard its chemical weapons stockpiles and not to use or transfer such weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah.”

The United States has made efforts to gather evidence from the field in Syria, but with few apparent results. Majid, a rebel commander from the eastern suburbs of Damascus, said recently that his battalion had been contacted, through intermediaries, by the Central Intelligence Agency, requesting samples to be tested for the presence of chemicals. Speaking via Skype from Jordan, and on the condition that he be identified only by his first name for his safety, Majid said that the C.I.A. had requested soil, urine and hair samples from several areas around Damascus.

Reporting was contributed by Thom Shanker from Amman, Jordan; Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; Michael R. Gordon from Brussels; and Eric Schmitt and Peter Baker from Washington.
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« Reply #5942 on: Apr 24, 2013, 08:24 AM »

Mysterious water on Jupiter came from comet smash

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 13:15 EDT

Enigmatic traces of water in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter came from a comet that crashed into the giant planet in 1994, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Tuesday.

Astronomers have been debating the water for 15 years after telltale molecules were spotted by an infrared telescope.

Some argued the water brewed up from lower levels of the gassy planet, but others said it could not have crossed a “cold barrier” separating the stratosphere from the cloud level below.

ESA’s deep-space Herschel telescope has now found that most of the water is concentrated in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere.

The molecules are clustered at high altitude around the sites where 21 fragments from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 whacked into Jupiter in July 1994 in one of the most spectacular recorded events in astronomy.

The collisions left dark scars in Jupiter’s roiling atmosphere that persisted for weeks.

“According to our models, as much as 95 percent of the water in the stratosphere is due to the comet impact,” said Thibault Cavalie of the Bordeaux Astrophysics Laboratory in southwestern France.

Other potential sources, including water vapour disgorged by one of Jupiter’s icy moons or interplanetary particles of icy dust, can be ruled out, he said in a press release issued by ESA.

The study appears in the European journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Comets are believed to be primeval balls of ice and dust left over from the building of the Solar System.

Cometary bombardment is believed by some experts to have provided the infant Earth with its abundance of water, the stuff of life.

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« Reply #5943 on: Apr 24, 2013, 08:37 AM »

In the USA...

Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Experts puzzled as hunt for terror links gleans little

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 19:04 EDT

Federal prosecutors are trying to piece together the complex web of influences that transformed a young man with no confirmed militant training or links, apparently acting alone with only the assistance of his younger brother, into a brutal bomber prepared to kill and maim in pursuit of a cause that remained largely unarticulated.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev has become the focal point of a global FBI investigation into whether any organised group or wider conspiracy lay behind last week’s Boston Marathon bombings. The 26-year-old, who has been identified through fingerprinting as the man killed in the shootout with police in the Watertown suburb of Boston, is widely assumed to have been the mastermind of the marathon outrage, with his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly playing the role of junior partner.

Yet so far the hunt for clues as to the motivation of the Tsarnaev brothers has failed to throw up concrete evidence that they were inspired to militancy by any particular extremist cleric or politician. Nor is there any known link to any nationalist or Islamist group in the Caucasus region that they regarded as their homeland, a link which would suggest they were recruited as foot soldiers and given operational instructions to strike the Boston Marathon.

In the absence of any firm connections to inspirational leaders or terrorist groups, federal investigators and counter-terrorism experts are increasingly of the view that the brothers were acting alone. The surmise is that the elder Tsarnaev largely provided his own motivation and training through the internet.

The idea that the marathon bombings may have been carried out by two men acting as “lone wolves” underlines the daunting task facing counter-terrorism authorities in the US and across the western world. Individual would-be bombers are far more difficult to detect than those operating on behalf of organised groups.

“If there is a link to a terrorist organisation the probability of them being detected is much higher. The same applies for homegrown terrorism – the more people are involved the more likely they will be detected,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA operations officer who acts as a consultant on political violence to several US government branches.

‘Down the rabbit hole’

In this case though, the two brothers appeared, from current understanding of their actions, to have kept their plans entirely to themselves. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was married to Katherine Russell, 24, a convert to Islam who has claimed through her lawyer that she learned her husband and brother-in-law were the accused Boston Marathon bombers from TV.

Yuri Zhukov, a national security fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, said the radicalisation process of Tamerlan Tsarnaev “didn’t fit the profile that security people in this country would detect. He was apparently not connected to Emirate of the Caucasus or Chechen groups in any formal way, as far as we can tell he didn’t receive terrorist training and he didn’t attend a mosque on a regular basis.”

Zhukov has analysed some 30,000 violent attacks waged in the Caucusus region and found that in most cases there is substantial chatter between instigators followed by a claim of responsibility for the incident – none of which has been uncovered in the Boston Marathon bombings. One of the most prominent separatists groups in the region, the Caucasus Emirate in Dagestan, where the brother’s father Anzor Tsarnaev lives, has publicly denied any connection to the Boston attacks.

Counter-terrorism experts are coming increasingly to the view that Tamerlan Tsarnaev radicalised himself, developing his own ideological passions and training himself in the crude arts of the pressure cooker bomb through the internet.

According to accounts of the surviving brother’s responses to questioning, he has insisted that they acted alone and that he knew of no other plots or undetonated bombs. Two US officials involved in interrogations of the suspect told the Associated Press that preliminary evidence was that there were no ties to any Islamist terrorist group.

Sageman said that contrary to the popular perception that most terror attacks are orchestrated and organised, in fact the lone wolf attacker is the contemporary norm. “The huge majority – 90% – of plots in the west since the 1990s have come from people who decide to do it on their own and who don’t have links with the outside.”

Christopher Swift, an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University, sees another common feature in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s profile: his feelings of alienation as someone caught between two worlds, the Central Asia of his birth (he was born into an ethnically Chechen family in Kyrgyzstan on 21 October 1986) and the US where he had lived for the past decade. On 5 September last year he applied for US citizenship, yet seven months later he carried out one of the worst terror attacks on US soil since 9/11.

“In many ways, Tsarnaev’s story was similar to that of the 2005 London bombers: he was married, educated, had a child; he didn’t feel like his life was going anywhere and was looking for something that would give it meaning, and in the course of that he went down a rabbit hole of Salafist jihadi ideology,” Swift said.

‘Everything in the will of God’

Tsarnaev’s self-radicalisation appears to have begun around 2009 and 2010. Before that he displayed the outward characteristics of a secular immigrant to the US – he was a boxing champion who seemed to do well at Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school, though he said in one interview that he had no American friends.

Around 2009 it all started to change. His uncle Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Maryland, said that about that time his nephew started to speak about “God’s business” and putting “everything in the will of God”. He gave up boxing and drinking, and for a brief period began wearing long white linen garments, a neighbour told the Boston Globe.

At about the same time, people who knew Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, witnessed a similar transformation in her. Alyssa Kilzer, who used to go to the Tsarnaev house in Cambridge to have facials from Zubeidat, wrote in a blogpost that in about 2010 she noticed the mother wearing the hijab for the first time.

Zubeidat started invoking Allah and the Qur’an, and began fasting. During one facial session, she recited a conspiracy theory to Kilzer that the attacks had been concocted by the US government to instill hatred towards Muslims – a theory she said her son had taught her.

By early 2011, the transformation in Tamerlan Tsarnaev was so marked that it was picked up by the Russian security services who approached the FBI asking for information on him. The FSB said “he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010″.

So the question remains: why did Tamerlan Tsarnaev become radicalised, and did anyone lure him down that path? Counter-terrorism investigators, seeking clues behind terror attacks, routinely look for evidence of the influence of an extremist cleric or ideologue. For instance, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the military psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, had communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam later killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen.

By contrast, the evidence that Tsarnaev received formal radicalisation is scant at best. Time magazine has reported that the Russian suspicions about him were based on his attendance of a radical mosque in Kotrova Street in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, while visiting his parents in 2011 and again during the six months he spent in Dagestan between January and July last year. But there is no suggestion of any determined ideological grooming.

Forced to leave the mosque

Back at home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the signs of any religious incitement are even more threadbare. Tsarni, the uncle, said he believes his nephew came into contact with a person of Armenian descent who “brainwashed him”, but no such acquaintance has been identified or tracked down.

The mosque in Cambridge where Tsarnaev occasionally prayed, the Islamic Society of Boston in Prospect Street, is an American-Islamic place of worship that prides itself on its moderate theology. “Our mosque is one filled with attendees who are teachers, businessmen, doctors and lawyers, all of whom are committed to the public good,” it said in a statement.

The influence that the ISB appeared to have had on Tamerlan Tsarnaev was to try and reign in his more radical Islamist views. On 16 November 2012, he stood up and interjected during an address in which the immam argued it was appropriate for members of the mosque to celebrate the upcoming American national holiday of Thanksgiving just like the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad; Tsarnaev objected that celebration of secular holidays was forbidden in the faith.

Following a second outburst on 18 January this year, Tsarnaev was forced to leave the mosque after others in the congregation shouted out “Leave now!” Tsarnaev had again stood up, this time calling the preacher a “hypocrite” and accusing him of “contaminating people’s mind” by declaring that Martin Luther King was a great person.

After that event, leaders of the Cambridge mosque issued Tsarnaev with an ultimatum: either stop the interruptions and remain silent, or never come again. “While he continued to attend some of the congregational prayers after the January incident, he neither interrupted another sermon nor did he cause any other disturbance,” the statement says.

If there appears to have been no charismatic religious figure behind Tsarnaev’s radicalisation, then what did take him down this “rabbit hole”? There is one important clue in the account given by Alyssa Kilzer of the conversation she had during that facial session with the bombing suspect’s mother, Zubeidat.

When Zubeidat claimed that the 9/11 attacks were an anti-Muslim plot, she said: “My son knows all about it.” Then she added: “You can read on the internet.”

The schematic information that has been gleaned so far about Tsarnaev’s actions and motivations suggest that the most important single influence on him was his own exploration of the internet. A YouTube page under his name shows that he was clearly interested in learning more about Islamic theology, with accounts on it from young men describing their conversion to the faith. About four months ago Tsarnaev “liked” a recorded sermon by an Australian sheikh called Feiz Mohammed in which the Sydney-based sheikh decries Harry Potter, ranting that that the children’s story “glorifies paganism and evil”.

Richard Nielsen, a graduate fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, has looked closely at the YouTube page and said what strikes him about it is its emphasis on doctrinal issues. “A number of the videos are not what a casual observer might think of as ‘Islamist terrorism’ videos. Rather, they are doctrinal videos debating precise points of doctrine about how God deserves to be worshipped.”

There is nothing inherent in Islam that encourages terror attacks, Nielsen said. But it does appear that a particular interpretation of Islamic doctrine was important to Tsarnaev and that “his perception of doctrine was part of his motivation”.

Two videos that have been removed from the page were filed under a subsection called “Terrorism”. Mark Rasch, former head of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, said that it should not be difficult for federal investigators to retrieve the binned files.

“The odds are pretty good they will be able to pull this stuff up. Tsarnaev doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort to conceal what he was doing on the internet,” he said.

Marc Sageman points to another line of inquiry that Tsarnaev was pursuing judging from his surfing of the web: an interest in Chechen nationalism and the abuses Russia was committing in the republic that he then appears to have equated with US operations in Afghanistan. “These jihadi websites connect what Russia is doing in Chechnya with what America is doing in Afghanistan. There is a migration from anti-Russian feeling to anti-western.”

There are echoes of that point in what US officials who have interviewed Tsarnaev’s younger brother Dzhokhar in hospital have told the Washington Post. The surviving suspect of the marathon bombings indicated to them that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were important motivations.

Amid the mounting evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev led himself down the “rabbit hole” of self-radicalisation, with the help of material he found, again for himself, on the internet, the key mystery still continues to ellude experts and investigators: why he chose to convert his increasingly intense religious beliefs into violent actions. It is one thing to be a fervent believer, another entirely to be a bomber.

The clues here are at this stage in the investigation virtually non-existent. When the FBI looked into Tsarnaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian FSB, including in their efforts a full scan of his internet habits and interviews with Tamerlan himself and his relatives, they found no “terrorism activity, domestic or foreign”.

That raises the ultimate challenge for the US and other western powers: the growing suspicion that Tamerlan Tsarnaev decided to place a large black knapsack on his back and plant it close to the finishing line of the marathon, knowing it would sever lives and limbs, purely for his own reasons.

“There is any number of paths towards violence, and this seems to have been their own,” Sageman said. “Two young people dreaming dreams of glory, with a sense of moral outrage, looking for identity, and extremely difficult to detect.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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Republican trio push to militarize U.S. response to domestic terrorism

By Eric W. Dolan
RawStory
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 16:58 EDT

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), John McCain (AZ), and Kelly Ayotte (NH) lashed out at liberals and libertarians on Tuesday, claiming it was dangerous to oppose the notion the United States was a “battlefield.”

The three senators have been pushing for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be treated as an enemy combatant for intelligence purposes. The term enemy combatant was controversially used by the Bush administration to refer to alleged members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, making them neither criminals nor prisoners of war.

Speaking on the Senate floor, the three Republicans said the government should expand the definition of an enemy combatant to include any domestic terrorists inspired by “radical Islam.” They said Tsarnaev should be interrogated as an enemy combatant before being transferred to the civilian justice system, despite the fact he is an American citizen.

“Ultimately, the broader question is whether you view the United States as part of the battlefield in the global fight against terrorists,” McCain remarked. “I know that some don’t. I, however, don’t see how we can avoid this fact… we cannot afford to build a wall between the fight against terrorists abroad and the fight against terrorists who are trying to attack us here at home, including when American citizens are involved in this fight, as some clearly are and will continue to be.”

Graham noted Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was arrested as an “enemy combatant” in 2002 and detained at a U.S. navy prison in South Carolina for nearly four years without charge. He was allegedly tortured while in military custody. Unlike Tsarnaev, Padilla had connections to al-Qaeda.

“We’re at war with a radical ideology that hates everything that we stand for,” Graham added. “As a matter of fact, radical Islam is regenerating. And the way they are coming after us, is to find people in our own backyard and turn them against us.”

Ayotte argued the Obama administration was endangering Americans by not allowing Tsarnaev to be interrogated by the military without a lawyer.

“We have to acknowledge we are at war with radical Islamic jihadists that are seeking to kill us not for anything we’ve done, but for what we believe in and what we stand for,” she said.

**************

Boston bombing raises concerns about communication failures

By Dan Roberts, The Guardian
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 21:29 EDT

Communication failures between US intelligence agencies may have prevented the detection of the suspected Boston bombers, according to senators briefed in secret by the FBI on Tuesday.

The bureau’s deputy director, Sean Joyce, appeared before a closed session of the Senate intelligence committee to address concerns that it did not thoroughly investigate a tip-off from Russian security services in 2011 about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two suspects.

While his reassurances appear to have satisfied a number of those present about the initial FBI investigation, they raised fresh questions about whether information was then effectively passed to other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, which manages border control.

The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, acknowledged on Tuesday that the return of 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev into the US in 2012 was not flagged. “The system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned all investigations had been closed,” Napolitano said at a Senate hearing.

In Moscow, embassy officials said US investigators travelled to southern Russia on Tuesday to speak to the parents of the suspects. The parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev live in Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim province in Russia’s Caucasus, where Islamic militants have waged an insurgency against Russian security sources for years.

Investigators want to find out more about the trip that Tamerlan Tsarnaev made in 2012, and what might have motivated the brothers to carry out their attack on the Boston marathon last week, in which three people died and more than 260 were injured. The surviving suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged at his hospital bed on Monday with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, a count that carries a possible death penalty.

After the FBI briefing on Capitol Hill, some senators emerged with concerns about silos, or “stove pipes” in the law enforcement structure. “I am very concerned that there still seem to be serious problems in sharing information,” Republican Susan Collins told reporters. “It is troubling to me that many years after 9/11 we still have stove pipes that prevent information being shared internally.”

The concerns were echoed by the Republican vice-chairman of the intelligence committee, Saxby Chambliss, who said: “There were a lot of questions on this [from senators]; we need to ask the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and national counter-terrorism centre for more information.”

Democrat senators such as committee chair Dianne Feinstein were more sympathetic. She said she was confident the FBI had not dropped the ball.

The senate intelligence hearing also shed fresh light on the state of the current investigation, which increasingly looks to be focusing on online radicalisation. NBC and the Associated Press reported US officials as saying that preliminary evidence from the interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev suggested the brothers were motivated by religious extremism but were apparently not involved with Islamic terrorist organisations.

“This is a new type of danger we face,” said senator Marco Rubio. “The increasing signs are that these are individuals who were radicalised by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists using internet sources to gather not just their philosophy but also learning components of how to do these things.”

The intelligence community has reacted defensively to criticism this week of the Boston case. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and Pentagon official now at Brookings, said: “You can pretty much count on anything that happens in the US being labelled an intelligence failure within 24 hours.” But he said that agencies received so many tipoffs that it was hard to process them all.

Philip Mudd, who was the top intelligence adviser to the FBI leading up to 2011, said: “We are going to see this again, and we are going to ask ourselves: how did we fail? But before you ask that question, how are you going to boil the 10,000 people you interview down to that one case, and how are you going to deal with the 500 false positives?”

Mudd, who also served as deputy director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre, said the Boston bombings might provoke a reassessment of the dangers of homegrown radicals in the US. “A few years ago we very proudly said we didn’t have a problem in the US with radicalised Muslims – that that was a European problem, a British problem.”

In Boston, public health officials said the number of people injured in the bombings had risen to 264 after people who suffered minor injuries sought care. The condition of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was reported to have improved. He was described as being in a “fair” condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the US attorney’s office in Boston said on Tuesday.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

***********

Boston bombing suspect’s wife helping police: lawyers

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 20:01 EDT

The wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect gunned down in a police shootout, is cooperating with authorities probing the attack, her lawyers said Tuesday.

Katherine Russell, 24, who married Tsarnaev in June 2010 and has a three-year-old child with him, is “doing everything she can to assist (the) ongoing investigation,” her attorneys said in a media statement.

Tsarnaev, 26, and his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar — who is currently hospitalized and facing terror charges — are accused of having carried out the April 15 twin bombing at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

The statement said news that the two brothers may have been behind last week’s carnage came as an “absolute shock” to Russell and her family.

“As a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, Katie deeply mourns the pain and loss to innocent victims, students, law enforcement, families and our community,” it said.

“In the aftermath of this tragedy, she, her daughter and her family are trying to come to terms with these events.”

Tamerlan, the older of the two ethnic Chechen brothers, who had been living in the United States for over a decade, reportedly embraced a more radical form of Islam in recent years and seems to have been the ringleader of the attack.

The FBI questioned Tamerlan in 2011 following a request from Moscow, and is now scrutinizing a six-month-long trip he made to the troubled Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya in 2012.

Both predominantly Muslim regions are home to fierce Islamist and separatist groups. One of the most prominent Islamist groups has denied any involvement in the Boston attacks, saying it is only at war with Russia.

*************

Janet Napolitano: U.S. ‘pinged’ when Boston suspect flew to Russia

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 17:20 EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday the US government’s security system “pinged” when one of the Boston bombing suspects flew to Russia last year.

Her comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing came as lawmakers have questioned why US authorities were not keeping a closer eye on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, even after he was questioned by the FBI in 2011.

The confusion over what US officials knew about the six-month trip by Tsarnaev — who was killed last week in a shootout with police days after the deadly blasts at the Boston Marathon — was expected to be raised at two closed-door intelligence briefings Tuesday in the Senate and House.

Napolitano told an earlier hearing on immigration that “the system pinged when he was leaving the United States” for Russia in 2012.

But she added that “by the time he returned, all investigations in the matter had been closed.”

Investigators are probing the six-month trip made by Tamerlan to Russia’s troubled regions of Dagestan and Chechnya — home to fierce Islamist and separatist groups — and whether he was radicalized or trained there.

A year earlier, Tsarnaev had been questioned by the FBI at the request of Moscow, but investigators apparently concluded he was not a threat.

“We will learn lessons from this attack, just as we have from past instances of terrorism,” Napolitano said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had said Monday that a senior official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation told him US authorities missed Tsarnaev’s trip because his name was misspelled in the system, possibly on a plane ticket.

Graham pressed Napolitano on the issue Tuesday.

Napolitano acknowledged “there was a mismatch there,” adding that an immigration reform bill now under consideration would cut down on such problems by requiring passports to be readable electronically.

It was not immediately clear whether Tsarnaev’s departure set off a government alert because he was on a terror watchlist or on a broader, central repository of some 500,000 names, known as the TIDE database, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center.

“What I was told two days ago is not holding up to scrutiny,” a frustrated Graham told reporters after the immigration hearing.

“How could the Homeland Security Department know this guy was leaving the country and the FBI not? Somebody needs to fix that.”

Republican Senator John McCain said he is calling for congressional hearings to determine whether US authorities missed warning signs about the suspect.

“Apparently there’s two different stories here. That needs to be reconciled, that’s why we’ll have hearings,” McCain said.

Tamerlan’s 19-year-old brother and alleged accomplice Dzhokhar was captured Friday and is being held on terror charges.

*************

Judge concerned by NYPD officers’ testimony in stop and frisk trial

By Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 19:02 EDT

The federal judge presiding over the landmark case against the New York police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy has complained that witnesses have perjured themselves during the hearings.

Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered two officers to come back to court this week, after expressing concerns about their earlier testimony. In heated exchanges with the officers’ lawyers, she alleged that other witnesses had committed perjury.

The two officers returned to court on Monday, in order to be seen by Leroy Downs, an African American resident of Staten Island who claims they violated his rights in a 2008 stop. The officers had first testified last week. One said he could not recall the stop, while the other said it did not happen. Downs’ detailed description of the alleged encounter, as well as earlier complaints about the incident that were upheld, has called the officers’ testimony into question and underscored ongoing challenges in the landmark trial.

The drama began last week, as officers James Mahoney and Scott Giacona took the witness stand. The pair were questioned about a stop alleged to have taken place on 20 August 2008, while the men were part of a plainclothes Brooklyn gang unit temporarily assigned to work on Staten Island. The officers were accused of stopping, frisking and searching Downs outside his home. Downs filed a complaint about the incident with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an institution tasked with investigating allegations of police abuse. In January 2009, the officers testified under oath about the stop in an interview with the CCRB.

Both men told the CCRB that they did not recall stopping and frisking Downs. The CCRB ultimately upheld a complaint against both officers for failing to provide their badge numbers during the encounter, after being asked to do so.

In testimony last week, Mahoney repeated his claim that he did not recall the stop. Giacona, meanwhile, was shown a photograph of Downs on the day the stop happened. When asked if he recognized the man or had ever stopped him, Giacona said: “No.”

The two officers and Downs had been scheduled to testify on the same day, which would have placed all three in the same room at the same time, but due to a reordering of the witness list the police officers testified earlier in the week and Downs took the stand on Friday. He described the stop in detail, and said that he later recognized the two officers when he went to file a complaint at the 120th precinct.

Scheindlin was visibly disturbed by the discrepancies between Downs’ account and the that of the officers. “It’s kind of an important point since they swore under oath that this never happened,” she said. “If the court concludes that any witness has perjured him or herself, that’s a serious problem.” She ordered the officers to appear again on Monday. “I’m directing the city: reproduce these two officers. Call their precincts. Get them in here,” Scheindlin said.

Scheindlin then indicated that she believes she has already heard perjured testimony in the trial, which is now entering its sixth week.

“Do I think I’ve heard some perjured testimony in the last four weeks? From somebody? From all the witnesses I’ve heard?” Judge Scheindlin asked. “Yeah, I think somebody, of all those four weeks, I think I’ve heard it already. Proving it is a different issue. You don’t know who I’m referring to. It could be a plaintiff witness. It could be a defense witness. I think I’ve already heard it.”

On Monday morning, Mahoney, Giacona and Downs all returned to court. The officers denied having ever seen Downs before, while Downs insisted they were the officers who had stopped him. “Those were the two,” he said. The episode raises an ongoing tension in the historic stop-and-frisk trial: how to assess the testimony provided.

Andrew Quinn of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, representing the officers on Monday, said: “It’s not unusual for officers in a gang unit to have thousands of interactions,” arguing that his clients could not be expected to remember every single street-level encounter.

Darius Charney, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, said: “While for an officer it may be no big deal because they’ve done hundreds of thousands of stops over the years and one stop isn’t a big deal to them, that stop is a very big deal to the people who are stopped.

“To hear Mr Downs’ detailed description of what happened to him, his efforts to file a complaint and find out who these officers are, to suggest that he’s just making it all up is outrageous, and I think that’s what the judge was reacting to.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
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« Reply #5944 on: Apr 25, 2013, 05:58 AM »


April 24, 2013

Russian Opposition Leader Asserts Innocence at Trial

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
IHT

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader and one of the most prominent politicians to go on trial in modern Russia, used his first full day in court on Wednesday to say the trial would prove his innocence, even if the judge convicted him.

The trial, streamed on the Internet, has promised to be an important touchstone in President Vladimir V. Putin’s long career, as prosecutors have not previously indicted a high profile politician. But it has gotten off to a languid start.

It began last week in the provincial city of Kirov, east of Moscow. But within an hour of opening, Judge Sergei A. Blinov granted a request by the defense lawyers for an adjournment so they could better prepare for trial. They requested a month, he gave them a week and they appealed.

A higher court on Tuesday rejected that appeal, clearing the way for opening statements to begin on Wednesday. Mr. Navalny, who is a lawyer, spoke at times in his own defense.

“I am certain my innocence will be clear to everybody who is present in this chamber and everybody watching,” Mr. Navalny told the court, according to a transcript posted by the Rapsi legal news agency. “To all those involved in the illegal investigation, sooner or later you will face a severe but just punishment.”

Others who have challenged Mr. Putin have faced prosecution, most notably the Yukos oil tycoon, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who remains in prison. But the case against Mr. Navalny is the first in post-Soviet Russia against a high-profile political figure.

Mr. Navalny is charged with embezzling $500,000 from a state-controlled timber company in Kirov while working as an adviser to the regional governor in 2009.

Prosecutors initially dismissed the case. But federal officials revived it after Mr. Navalny became the most prominent leader of the street protests in Moscow last year.

He used his first day in court for a flurry of motions seemingly intended to highlight the apparent absurdity of a four-year-old case in a provincial city far from Moscow surfacing in the wake of last winter’s protests, but ostensibly unrelated to the street protests. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee, a branch of the prosecutor’s office, said in an interview in Izvestia newspaper that investigators focused on Mr. Navalny because he was accusing state officials of corruption while claiming to be “clean” himself.

Mr. Navalny objected that the key witness against him, Vyacheslav Opalev, the former boss of a state timber company, is a man who by all likelihood has an ulterior motive for accusing him of criminal acts; Mr. Navalny had once advised the regional governor to liquidate Mr. Opalev’s company and dismiss its director.

“I don’t understand how a case can be built on the testimony of one man who, in fact at my initiative, was deprived of his job,” Mr. Navalny said.

Mr. Navalny’s lawyers also asked for another delay, according to the Rapsi report.

They also asked the judge to order the prosecutor general to withdraw the case for additional investigation to clarify ambiguities.

Mr. Navalny asked the prosecutor whether he was accused of stealing $500,000 worth of timber or the cash proceeds from the sale of the timber. The prosecution declined to specify, according to the transcript.

In a telephone interview, Olga Mikhailova, Mr. Navalny’s lead lawyer, called the adjournment requests more than just typical early legal maneuvers in a trial. Seemingly every day, she said, documents have been showing up in the already voluminous file without the court’s providing time for the defense team to study them. The file against Mr. Navalny, she said, had grown to 32 binders, from 28 binders, just in the past two weeks.

The trial will resume Thursday.

**********************

Alexei Navalny trial: key prosecution witness contradicts himself in court

Inconsistencies in Vyacheslav Opalev's testimony show prosecutors framed me, says opposition leader Navalny

Associated Press in Kirov
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 April 2013 11.04 BST   

A key prosecution witness whose testimony triggered charges of embezzlement against a Russian opposition leader has contradicted himself in court, but insisted that any inconsistencies were due to stress.

Alexei Navalny, who led protests against Vladimir Putin and exposed alleged corruption in government, said that the contradiction showed that the prosecutors had framed him.

The witness, Vyacheslav Opalev, was given a four-year suspended sentence in December after pleading guilty to conspiring with Navalny to steal timber from a state-owned company.

On Thursday, Opalev told the court he was forced into a deal by Navalny to buy timber at artificially low prices, rather than colluding with him to steal it, as he had declared in his written statement submitted last year.

Navalny is accused of heading a criminal group that embezzled 16m roubles (£330,000) worth of timber from that state-owned company while working as an adviser to the Kirov provincial governor in 2009. The charges could send him to prison for 10 years and would ban him from running for public office. Navalny insists the charges are revenge for his exposure of high-level corruption and a campaign against Putin and his party.

The case stems from Navalny's role as an adviser to the governor of the region that includes the city of Kirov. Charges were first brought in May 2011, alleging that Navalny had forced Opalev, director of the state-owned timber company Kirovles, to sign a disadvantageous contract that deprived the company of 1.3m roubles (£27,000).

Investigators dismissed those charges in April 2012, and then reopened them less than two months later. The new indictment says that Navalny conspired with Opalev to launder the proceeds from the sale of timber through a holding company headed by co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov.

On Thursday, Opalev did not mention his role in the conspiracy, saying that he had "been under a lot of stress" in the past two years and had "forgotten a lot of things and would like to forget everything as soon as possible".

The prosecutors then asked the judge – and he approved their request – to read out Opalev's written statement, which he submitted last year, in order, they said, to clear out "inconsistencies" in his Thursday testimony.

Opalev's guilty plea last year was crucial for filing charges against Navalny. Opalev's written statement listed in detail his dealings with Navalny. This stood in stark contrast to his inability to remember any of the details when facing the court on Thursday. He insisted, however, that he stood by his written statement.

Navalny told the court that Opalev's written statement "was written at the investigators' request in order to falsify the case".

**********

April 25, 2013

Russian NGO Slapped With Fine as 'Foreign Agent'

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's only independent election monitoring group was fined 300,000 rubles ($10,000) on Thursday for failing to register as a foreign agent — the first enforcement by Russian authorities of a much-disputed law.

The Russian parliament passed legislation in November obliging nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding and are involved in loosely defined political activities to register as foreign agents. Rights defenders and civil society activists see it as a tool intended to erode their credibility.

Golos' executive director Grigory Melkonyants told The Associated Press that it would appeal the decision in a higher court.

Golos was fined for receiving €50,000 ($65,470) in award money from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, which supports people persecuted because of their opinions. The organization claimed that it transferred the money back as soon as it reached its account.

Melkonyants said Golos was amazed that the judge made the ruling after spending no more than 15 minutes away deliberating.

"It seems that she knew in advance which decision she would come to no matter what evidence we showed in court," he said.

Golos' election observers who worked at polling stations all over the country presented overwhelming evidence suggesting widespread vote-rigging at the 2011 parliamentary election.



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« Reply #5945 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:04 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/24/2013 04:31 PM

World from Berlin: Hollande Has 'Divided France in Two'

The French parliament's Tuesday decision to approve a same-sex marriage bill sparked violent protests in Paris. In Germany, too, the split opinions on the editorial pages mirror the left-right schism that has left French society divided.

At times in recent months, the political debate in France took on the overtones of a classic culture war, the likes of which are more familiar to Americans than Europeans. Parts of the country have been left deeply divided after leftist President François Hollande of the Socialist Party succeeded in pushing through his campaign pledge to legalize same-sex marriage.

Despite bitter protests from the opposition and members of the Catholic Church, on Tuesday Paris moved to make France the world's 14th country to introduce full-fledged same-sex marriage rights. Just hours after parliament passed Hollande's "Marriage for All" legislation, granting the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples, violent protests erupted.

In Paris, protesters threw fireworks, bottles and stones at police officers. Security officials responded by deploying tear gas to push back the crowds, and at least 12 arrests were made late Tuesday night. Photos taken at the scene show emergency workers carrying out police officers apparently injured in the melee, but only one officer has been injured according to official statements.

News agencies report that initially, around 3,500 people gathered peacefully to demonstrate against the new law, which, in addition to permitting marriage, also extends the right to adopt children to married gay and lesbian couples. Just before 10 p.m., the organizers asked protesters to go home, but several hundred people remained and reportedly began throwing objects at police. The protests were finally ended at around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

As expected, the National Assembly passed the law Tuesday afternoon with a large majority of 331 to 225. However, members of the conservative opposition said they would launch a constitutional challenge to the new legislation. As the vote grew closer, the protests grew even more radical. On Monday, the chairman of the National Assembly received a threatening letter containing gun powder.

The 'War of the Two Frances '

In Germany, which has had civil unions legislation on the books since 2001 and had its own minor debate on equalizing same-sex and heterosexual marriages that was eventually quashed by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, the media has eyed events in neighboring France very closely.

In a poignant article published on Saturday, the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the fierce protests evoke what historian Emile Poulat has christened the "War of the Two Frances." "Since France, 'the eldest daughter of the Church,' first separated religion from schools in 1882, and then from the state in 1905, the dispute smoulders on between those who justify this 'secularism' and 'modernity' and those who see it as an attack on the God-given and established social order," the paper wrote. The "conflict that is dividing French society breaks out again and again -- like now, over the … introduction of same-sex marriage," the paper said. Members of the Catholic Church, other religions and the non-religious are joined by the shared worry that, "by eroding the traditional marriage and the family, the secular left is abandoning one of the foundations of Western Christian society."

France's leap into same-sex marriage is also a dominant issue for German editorial pages on Wednesday. While most papers seem to agree that Hollande may have erred in not forging a more constructive debate on the topic, they diverge, like much of France itself, on the basis of their left or right political leanings.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The democratic state has decided. Its decision should be accepted by the opponents of the law. Instead, some of the organizers of the protests are trying to replace the parliamentary opposition and their parties with the anger of many citizens, both on the streets and online. This has long since ceased to be about same-sex marriage. It is now about the legitimacy of the president and parliament."

"Neither the Socialists nor the conservative opposition UMP (Union for a Popular Movement party) seem capable of taking the expectations, hopes and fears of the French people and expressing them in laws and government actions. This frustrates many citizens, who are already disturbed by the upheavals and crises caused by globalization. A striking number of the gay marriage opponents say their protest is directed generally at a world that they think is ultra-individualistic, consumer-obsessed and addicted to the power of money."

"Protest movements can break old structures and force politicians to listen to citizens, but they can also degenerate into fundamentalism. Then they threaten the representative democracies with which the Europeans have fared so well. The new French movement should bear this in mind and accept the following principle: They may have the freedom to protest on the street, but laws are made in parliament."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"The opponents are still having trouble keeping up with the speed of this kind of gender theory-fuelled progress. The departure from the hetero-normative concept of the nuclear family (father, mother, two kids) stipulated by law … is a tough pill to swallow for many. The conviction that children should grow up within a framework they consider to be 'natural,' is deeply rooted in a lot of people -- not just Catholics. This explains why 58 percent of French support gay marriage but 53 percent oppose adoptions by gays and lesbians."

"Hollande failed to lead a public debate and promote his law. If he had, he might have been able to keep the dispute from taking on characteristics of a culture war. The opposition now plans to contest the law with the Constitutional Council, even though its chances of winning are very low. The opponents also want to continue their protests, with a major demonstration in Paris planned for May 26. They are seriously hoping to transform their movement into a 'reverse of 1968,' but they ultimately lack the right issues and substance. UMP has held out the prospect of overturning the law if it returns to power in 2017, but by then many same-sex couples will have married in France. And same-sex marriage will be the new norm, just as it has become in the eight other European countries where it already exists."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The public outrage is stunning because there are no longer any legislative barriers against the implementation of François Hollande's campaign promise. A majority is a majority."

"But did the French government act too rashly in granting equal rights to gays and lesbians? Shouldn't family related issues be reformed with special caution?"

"Maybe. But the fact is that the same thing that applied to other human rights issues holds true for gay marriage too. When women were granted the right to vote, opponents were also frustrated. When slavery was abolished in the United States, it hurt slave traders' feelings. The integration of gays and lesbians into the institution of marriage was long overdue. And it still is in Germany."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Few would have believed that the 'Marriage for All' law would mobilize resistance that is now being compared by some to the May 1968 revolt against Charles de Gaulle. And with this issue, of all things, people have succeeded in breaking the left's monopoly on mass protests -- indeed, the demonstrations held by supporters of the same-sex marriage law seemed weak by comparison. Hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of Paris, usurping the usual modern, 'imaginative' protests methods of the left. They included Catholics, Muslims, Jews and a surprising number of young people. The opposition may have failed in parliament, but they succeeded on the streets. They found an issue with which they could link the dissatisfaction the French have with the policies of their president and his government. Hollande had wanted to be a conciliatory president after the confrontations of the Sarkozy years. Instead, he has divided the country in two."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff


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« Reply #5946 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:08 AM »


Crisis for Europe as trust hits record low

Poll in European Union's six biggest countries finds Euroscepticism is soaring amid bailouts and spending cuts

Ian Traynor, Europe editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 24 April 2013 20.30 BST   

Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the union's worst ever crisis, new data shows.

After financial, currency and debt crises, wrenching budget and spending cuts, rich nations' bailouts of the poor, and surrenders of sovereign powers over policymaking to international technocrats, Euroscepticism is soaring to a degree that is likely to feed populist anti-EU politics and frustrate European leaders' efforts to arrest the collapse in support for their project.

Figures from Eurobarometer, the EU's polling organisation, analysed by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a thinktank, show a vertiginous decline in trust in the EU in countries such as Spain, Germany and Italy that are historically very pro-European.

The six countries surveyed – Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, and Poland – are the EU's biggest, jointly making up more than two out of three EU citizens or around 350 million of the EU's 500 million population.

The findings, published exclusively in the Guardian in Britain and in collaboration with other leading newspapers in the other five countries, represent a nightmare for Europe's leaders, whether in the wealthy north or in the bailout-battered south, suggesting a much bigger crisis of political and democratic legitimacy.
EU lack of trust Credit: Guardian graphics

"The damage is so deep that it does not matter whether you come from a creditor, debtor country, euro would-be member or the UK: everybody is worse off," said José Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the ECFR's Madrid office. "Citizens now think that their national democracy is being subverted by the way the euro crisis is conducted."

EU leaders are aware of the problem, utterly at odds over what to do about it, and have yet to come up with any coherent policy proposals addressing the mismatch between the pooling of economic and fiscal powers and the democratic mandate deemed necessary to underpin such radical policy shifts.

José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, said on Tuesdaythis week the European "dream" was under threat from a "resurgence of populism and nationalism" across the EU. "At a time when so many Europeans are faced with unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of 'European fatigue' has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding. Who does what, who decides what, who controls whom and what? And where are we heading to?"

The most dramatic fall in faith in the EU has occurred in Spain, where the banking and housing market collapse, eurozone bailout and runaway unemployment have combined to produce 72% "tending not to trust" the EU, with only 20% "tending to trust".

The data compares trust and mistrust in the EU at the end of last year with levels in 2007, before the financial crisis, to reveal a precipitate fall in support for the EU of the kind that is common in Britain but is much more rarely seen on the continent.

In Spain, trust in the EU fell from 65% to 20% over the five-year period while mistrust soared to 72% from 23%.

In five of the six countries, including Britain, mistrust prevailed over trust by sizeable margins, whereas in 2007 – with the exception of the UK – the opposite was the case.

Five years ago, 56% of Germans "tended to trust" the EU, whereas 59% now "tend to mistrust". In France, mistrust has risen from 41% to 56%. In Italy, where public confidence in Europe has traditionally been higher than in the national political class, mistrust of the EU has almost doubled from 28% to 53%.

Even in Poland, which enthusiastically joined the EU less than a decade ago and is the single biggest beneficiary from the transfers of tens of billions of euros from Brussels, support has plummeted from 68% to 48%, although it remains the sole country surveyed where more people trust than mistrust the union.

In Britain, where Eurobarometer regularly finds majority Euroscepticism, the mistrust grew from 49% to 69%, the highest level with the exception of the extraordinary turnaround in Spain.

A separate, more detailed study published this week on the impact of the currency and debt crisis and the austerity policies that have followed also found steep falls across the EU in faith in democracy and national political elites.

The study for the Cabinet Office by the European Social Survey, linking university researchers across the EU, found that soaring unemployment, anxiety and insecurity had eroded faith in politics.

"Overall levels of political trust and satisfaction with democracy [declined] across much of Europe, but this varied markedly between countries. It was significant in Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Finland, particularly notable in France, Ireland, Slovenia and Spain, and reached truly alarming proportions in the case of Greece," it said.

The financial crisis "not only eroded the objective economic conditions of many citizens, but also created widespread anxiety about a country's future even among those who did not experience hardship directly".

Faced with this erosion of political support and the battering traditional politics is taking from populist newcomers such as Beppe Grillo's Five Star movement in Italy, policymakers appear at a loss.

On Monday, Barroso said the austerity policies being applied, mainly under pressure from Berlin, had reached the "limits of political and social acceptance" and were "unsustainable" in their current form. On Tuesday, though, the commission in Brussels sought to row back on his remarks.

Within the eurozone, the key response to the crisis, apart from bailouts, has been to embark on a systematic surrender of budgetary and fiscal powers from national governments and parliaments to Brussels, as well as having countries being bailed out overseen by a "troika" of technocrats and economists from the commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These are "federalising" steps in a long process of eurozone integration that might see it transformed from a currency into a political union.

"The EU has hit home and is here to stay as a watchdog of budgets, labour markets, pensions etc. This is unprecedented, and risky," said Torreblanca. "Unless it is fixed, it will feed the vicious circle between anti-EU populism and technocracy which we are currently seeing operating."

Barroso argued strongly in two speeches this week that federalism was the only answer to Europe's crisis of finances and of confidence. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, brushing off widespread fears of a new German "hegemony" in Europe and the eurozone, also said that governments had to give up much more power to Brussels.

"We still haven't found the answer to the question of whether we're actually now prepared to unite on common economic parameters inside the single currency area," she said in a Berlin debate with the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk. "If we want to have a common currency, a common Europe, we have to be ready to give up our hard-won habits … That means we have to be prepared to accept that in the end Europe has the final word in certain things. Otherwise we can't keep on building this Europe … To an extent, we have to jump over our own shadows. I'm ready for that."

But Tusk delivered an unusually stark warning that German prescriptions could bring increasing nationalism and populism across the EU in a backlash that was already well under way.

"We can't escape this dilemma: how do you get a new model of sovereignty so that limited national sovereignty in the EU is not dominated by the biggest countries like Germany, for example," he said pointedly. "Under the surface, this fear will be everywhere: in Warsaw, in Athens, in Stockholm. It will be everywhere without exception."

Aart de Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German thinktank, also warned that the drive to surrender more key national powers to Brussels would backfire. "Public support for the EU has been falling since 2007. So it is risky to go for federalism as it can cause a backlash and unleash greater populism."


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« Reply #5947 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:12 AM »


Racially motivated attacks on the rise in Greece, human rights groups say

Figures for 2012 show 154 reported cases of racist violence, including 25 in which victims said perpetrators were police

Associated Press in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 18.31 BST   

The number of racially motivated attacks increased in Greece last year, as did the severity of the violence involved, human rights groups have said.

The Racist Violence Recording Network reported 154 cases of racist violence in 2012, including 25 in which the victims said the perpetrators were police. The figures were released a week after more than 30 Bangladeshi workers suffered shotgun wounds on a strawberry farm in southern Greece during a dispute with foremen over back pay.

Kostis Papaioannou, the head of the National Commission for Human Rights, said the number of attacks recorded had increased 20% from the previous year. But, he noted, the true number could be much higher because many victims are afraid to come forward, fearing further mistreatment by authorities or deportation for entering the country illegally.

There have been numerous reports of police, who are at the forefront of a government crackdown on foreigners in the country illegally, mistreating immigrants during routine document checks on the street or during detentions. The police have repeatedly said they investigate all reported cases of mistreatment.

The network, composed of 30 aid and human rights groups, records cases only when it has spoken to the victim themselves.

The 2012 figures show "some very interesting and very worrying tendencies regarding racist violence in Greece", Papaioannou said. "We have both an increase in the numbers of attacks but also – which is really worrying too – we have an escalation in the intensity of this violence."

The incidents have spiralled as Greece's economy has worsened over the past few years. Relying on international rescue loans to remain solvent, the country has imposed deep spending cuts that have sent unemployment soaring to around 27%.

The vast majority of attacks occurred in Athens, mainly in inner city neighbourhoods. Immigrants are often set upon by groups of men wielding metal bars, chains, brass knuckles, broken bottles, knives and wooden clubs. The victims suffer from broken bones, damage to sight and hearing and extensive bruising, the network said.

One fatality was recorded last year – a 31-year-old Egyptian man who died of head injuries 17 days after falling into a coma following a severe beating, the network said.

Reza Golami, the head of an association of Afghans living in Greece, said many migrants have become too afraid to leave their homes.

"There live with fear inside them, whether it's the fear of the police or the fear of racists," he said. "They don't dare leave their homes to buy a loaf of bread. This is not something that affects men alone, but even women and small children. We have witnessed hundreds of such cases."

Authorities have vowed to crack down on hate crimes in the financially struggling country. Greece is main entry point for migrants entering the EU illegally, and there has been a surge in popular support for Golden Dawn, an extreme-right xenophobic party, as the financial crisis has deepened.

The government has set up a special unit within the police to deal with racist crimes – a move the rights groups welcomed but said didn't go far enough.


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« Reply #5948 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:15 AM »


Relief in Italy, but the challenges ahead are huge

After weeks of undignified political scrapping, a grand coalition government led by Enrico Letta could offer a glimmer of hope

Lizzy Davies   
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 20.11 BST   

Investors greeted the news from Rome's highest hill with relief on Wednesday. Italy's two-year borrowing costs fell to their lowest level since the country joined the euro in 1999. Like many ordinary Italians, they appeared cautiously buoyed by the fact that Europe's fourth-largest economy was inching towards a new government after two months of unprecedented gridlock.

On paper, there does not seem much to cheer about. If Enrico Letta does, in coming days, manage to form a grand coalition government with the centre-right and centrists, it has hard to see how that government can be anything other than fragile, fractious and condemned to be relatively short-lived.

Moreover, Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire former prime minister who has inched ahead in polls during the recent weeks of chaos, will regain his influence on Italian politics through his centre-right party's role in government.

Those are the negatives; they are certainly not negligible. But, after weeks of undignified political scrapping in which Italy's politicians failed to respond to the basic needs of their increasingly indignant citizens, many Italians aren't in a fussy mood.

Unemployment is at 11.6%, and among the young it is 37.8%. More than 31,000 companies, mostly small and medium enterprises, went bust in the first quarter of this year, the highest figure since 2004. In recent weeks a number of suicides apparently linked to financial despair have hit the headlines.

Against this dismal backdrop, a coalition government under Letta, however imperfect, could offer a glimmer of hope. The deputy Democratic party leader – a fan, it emerged on Wednesday, of both Subbuteo and Dire Straits – has a reassuringly low-key style. He arrived to meet Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, in his own Fiat complete with child seats fitted in the back. The chauffeured Auto Blu that politicians tend to use have become hated symbols of the political elite.

The challenges ahead are indeed huge, but some believe Letta stands as good a chance as anyone in trying to tackle them. He is known as a capable mediator who, despite his relative youth, has been around the Italian political block and understands the machinations of his own, deeply divided party.

A committed European, he led a treasury minatory committee to prepare Italy's entry into the euro and served in the European parliament from 2004 to 2006, where he sat on its committee for economic and monetary affairs.

On Wednesday he was not shy about speaking of the pressure that was now upon him. "I feel a strong responsibility on my shoulders, stronger … than my shoulders' ability to support it," he told the press at the presidential palace.

Italians, certainly, will be hoping he was being falsely modest.


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« Reply #5949 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:17 AM »


Angola deal to repay debt to Russia exposes EU tax havens

Case provides vivid example of plundering that can take place in developing nations with complicity of European banks and tax havens

Georgi Gotev for EurActiv, part of the Guardian development network   
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 14.57 BST   

A newly published report on a corrupt deal for the repayment of the Angola debt to Russia in the early 1990s was presented at the European parliament on Tuesday as a vivid example of the plundering that can take place in developing nations with the complicity of European banks and tax havens.

The Portuguese socialist MEP Ana Gomes and the Open Society Foundation hosted the public event at which the report, Deception in high places: the corrupt Angola-Russia debt deal, was presented.

Its author is Andrew Feinstein, a former South African member of parliament and current director of Corruption Watch UK. Gomes praised Feinstein for producing the report despite potential legal challenges, and said his Angolan partners had taken "serious personal risk".

The report provides a detailed account of the web of financial transactions involving Angola's $5bn (£3bn) debt to Russia, which evolved into the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds to middlemen and senior government officials.

Millions of dollars were transferred through banks based in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cyprus, the Netherlands, the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man to the benefit of powerful Angolan and Russian figures, the report shows.

As Feinstein explained, it had been much easier to trace the Angolan officials who benefited from the criminal transaction.

The biggest alleged beneficiary is José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been the Angolan president since 1979. Documents show that Dos Santos received $36.25m from the diverted funds, and four other Angolan officials named in the report took between $3.35m and $13.25m.

The deal was intended to clear the debt owed to Russia for support provided by the former Soviet Union during Angola's 1975-90 civil war. In 1996, Russia decided that Angola would not be able to repay the entire $5bn debt, agreeing to accept $1.5bn instead.

While it is not uncommon for a creditor to engage a financially reputable middleman to collect debts, the report says that in this case the intermediary chosen was a company specially set up for the occasion, Abalone Investments, which had no assets and was registered on the Isle of Man.

Abalone was owned by two businessmen with a history of making money in deals with Angola: Arcadi Gaydamak and Pierre Falcone. They opened an escrow account at the Swiss bank SBS, which later became UBS, Switzerland's largest bank.

In Feinstein's words, UBS appeared to execute the transfers from Abalone's account without subjecting them to any meaningful internal review, or referring them to the authorities, despite the potential illicit risks involved.

In the first phase of the operation, between October 1997 and July 2000, Angola transferred $774m to Abalone's UBS accounts. Of that money, Gaydamak received $138m and Falcone $124m. UBS used this account to pay Angolan official José Leitão da Costa $3.35m.

"This raises the question why UBS didn't flag or report this obviously suspicious payment," Feinstein said.

Cypriot account named after Russian bank

Even though Abalone took no risk with the operation, the Russian side accepted far less of the agreed debt, leaving more money to the middlemen, the report says. On one occasion, Russia asked Angola to pay its debts directly to Russian bank Sberinvest. Gaydamak opened an account in Cyprus to which he gave the name "Sberinvest" and the Angolan money went there, without the knowledge of Falcone.

Angolan officials transferred $618m to the Sberinvest account in Cyprus, believing they were paying the Russians. Together with the earlier transfers of funds to the Abalone UBS account, these amounts should have erased Angola's debts.

But that didn't happen, Feinstein claims, because significant amounts remained with the middlemen, the Angolan beneficiaries and others who are not yet identified.

Both Angola and Russia lost from the operations. In the second phase of the debt repayment operation, Abalone was paying Moscow with Russian debt instruments at their face value, even though their market value was 10 times lower.

"The central point is that a number of individuals, some of which have not yet been identified, made vast profits at the expense of the people of Angola and Russia," Feinstein said.

He added that it was because of the facilitating role of banks, tax havens and the veil provided by front companies that national resources were stolen from the poorest citizens with impunity.

Feinstein's report makes several recommendations to Angola, Switzerland, the EU and its member states, and the financial sector to initiate investigations and take legal measures to prevent wrongdoing. In particular, he recommends that the EU's accounting directive, which will require reporting of payments to governments in the extractive and forestry sector, be extended to include the banking sector.

Gomes said she would send a copy of the report to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, and to European commission president José Manuel Barroso.


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« Reply #5950 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:21 AM »


Is Sweden right to ban PPPs?

Public/private partnerships can be controversial but is Sweden denying greater efficiencies by keeping transport infrastructure a government-only operation?

Björn Hasselgren
Guardian Professional, Thursday 25 April 2013 10.07 BST   

Sweden has extraordinarily strong public finances and continuously looks for efficiency gains in all sectors. But is it missing out on even greater efficiency by declaring a ban on public-private partnerships for transport spending?

It seems likely that, on this, the Swedish government is missing out; as long as transport infrastructure remains defined as a government-only operation, appropriate levels of spending on infrastructure remain a political issue.

But, to gain the greatest efficiency, all possible ways of improving government-financed infrastructure should be sought.

In many countries, partnerships seem to be the answer to finding the right levels of spending. But Sweden has put a ban on PPPs.

The Swedish government has done a tremendous job in keeping public finances in good order during the financial crisis of 2008-12. With a sound macro-financial framework, which limits public spending, Sweden's finances are strong, and many finance ministers envy Sweden's Anders Borg, the finance minister.

However, one area that has become a greater priority in Sweden, as in many other countries, is transport infrastructure. Many argue that for too long the government has spent too little on this. Now, perhaps surprisingly, the government has announced a €60bn (£51bn) boost for transport investment and maintenance.

And this is where the peculiarity begins. In general, the Swedish government is eager to boost efficiency in the government sector and transport infrastructure has been part of this agenda. Agencies have been merged, while competition and innovative procurement have been strongly favoured.

But these policies in support of efficiency come to a surprising halt when anything like PPPs is mentioned. This is also the case for all new policies.

Why is this? One reason reiterated by the government is that it always borrows more cheaply than the private sector. This is often true in the short run, even if it contradicts basic economic reasoning in the long run.

The government also argues that there are uncertainties as to what extent PPPs in general can bring efficiency gains compared to other forms for construction and design. This is peculiar since a number of studies show efficiency gains to be captured from PPPs. Some studies, for example from the UK National Audit Office, the European Investment Bank and the US Congressional Budget Office speak of faster construction and lower costs than in comparable public sector projects.

Of course, there are difficulties connected to PPPs, such as transferring either too many or too few risks from the public sector to the private sector, and a lack of transparency. But the UK's PF2-inititativeseems to be a good way to address some of these.

Efficiencies in PPPs are generally seen in the construction phase, where there is generally stronger incentive for cost reduction and lean processes. If contracts are well-designed, the cost of construction and maintenance over the whole life of a project can be kept down.

Another possibility with PPPs is to align incentives and visions together with other parties in relation to construction processes. PPPs are generally well-defined and goal-oriented in a way that fosters efficiency, innovation and expediency. All sought for in transport infrastructure.

It seems highly unlikely that a few government officials and politicians in Sweden have got it right and more or less everyone else is wrong.

Sweden could probably gain from opening for more innovation and alternative financing in transport infrastructure. PPPs may not play the only role in such a policy – but they could certainly have a place.


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« Reply #5951 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:24 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/25/2013 12:02 PM

Rental Disobedience: Resident Groups Combat Spike in Evictions

By Alexander Tieg

Skyrocketing rents in many German cities are pitting residents against real estate developers and landlords. The recent death of an elderly woman forced out of her apartment has emboldened alliances to protest evictions with sit-ins.

On the morning of the eviction, an hour after the bailiff has changed the locks, 10 protesters are standing in a small community garden between the apartment building and the subway station. One of them says: "I'm furious and sad and disappointed that we couldn't prevent it from happening." Another one says: "It's too bad Rosemarie wasn't here." A woman named Sara Walther says: "Rosemarie didn't have the strength to come."

Rosemarie Fliess died in a homeless shelter on April 11, two days after her landlord enforced an eviction action against her.

The fate of the 67-year-old retiree, who had difficulty walking, has ratcheted up the debate over forced evictions in the German capital. For months, furious local residents have staged protests when bailiffs and police officers have thrown delinquent tenants out of their apartments. Now Rosemarie Fliess has become something of a symbolic figure, giving protesters the ammunition to shout "Eviction kills!"

Rising rents have politicized citizens, though not just in Berlin. In Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt, residents are protesting against the consequences of the real estate boom, while the courts are dealing with thousands of eviction cases. The scarcity and high cost of housing is now an issue in Germany's federal election campaign, as well as a factor fueling conflict in the streets, such as during the May 1 demonstrations in Berlin.

The two sides in this conflict consist of an alliance of leftist activists, immigrants, retirees and families, on one side, and real estate investors and landlords, on the other.

Sara Walther, 57, is a spokeswoman for the alliance. She won't reveal her real name, saying that the collective and its cause are more important than her identity. "The majority of the population thinks that actions for eviction are shit." She and her fellow activists, who call their movement "Preventing Forced Evictions," are fighting against a system that can make people homeless virtually overnight.

They are a mobile protest group that shows up at evictions throughout the city as well as calliong for sit-ins and demonstrations. Using a list of more than 400 mobile-phone numbers, the group sends text messages to drum up support from its sympathizers. The dates of the protests are announced online. Walther calls it "civil disobedience." The group's appearances are now accompanied by a large police contingent.

Steffen Haase is a spokesman for the other side, the DDIV association of German real estate managers. "Many delinquent renters largely have themselves to blame for the fact that they are being evicted," says Haase, claiming that they ignore termination notices and warnings sent to them by mail. "But no one ends up classically homeless because of an eviction," he adds. "People who are evicted are admitted to a residential facility."

That was also supposed to happen in the case of Rosemarie Fliess. The retiree was determined to keep her one-and-a-half room apartment. Though mentally ill, she refused to accept treatment from the outpatient mental health service the landlord had brought in. After Fliess had failed to contact the social welfare office, the agency terminated rent payments for her apartment. That was when the landlord obtained the eviction order. Fliess was forced to move to a homeless shelter, where she died a short time later. In a YouTube video, the operator of the shelter characterized her death as "murder by the authority of the state."

Reaching a Boiling Point

There are no records kept on how often forced evictions take place in Berlin. According to the results of an inquiry of the city-state's parliament, however, district courts reported 9,934 actions for eviction to the social welfare offices in 2010. The number of evictions that actually occurred is unknown. In Hamburg, by comparison, more than a third of 4,428 actions ended in eviction in 2012.

Such actions often result from disputes between tenants and landlords over such issues as the residents' behavior, the owner's personal needs or overdue rent. It is typical for a tenant to believe that he or she is entitled to withhold rent because of deficiencies in the apartment, explains a judge with a Berlin court of appeal. Judges dealing with landlord-tenant disputes see these issues in court on a daily basis, he adds.

Ali Gülbol is one of those routine cases. A painter by trade, he has lived in Berlin's Kreuzberg district since he was born. In his case, his rent was being raised, and he initially refused to pay the increase. Gülbol, 42, lost his case and was ordered to pay the outstanding amount of €3,700 ($4,800). Bülbol claims that his landlord subsequently terminated the lease because he was late in transferring the outstanding funds.

Another attempt to fight the eviction in court failed in August 2012. "I would have accepted having to pay a thousand more because I was late in transferring the money," Gülbol says. "But putting an entire family on the street because of that is going too far."

On Feb. 14, Gülbol, his wife, Necmiye, and their three children were thrown out of their apartment. The alliance marshaled about 1,000 protesters, and the Berlin police sent 831 officers to oversee the eviction and used 32 cameras to film the crowd. A police helicopter was overhead for more than three hours. The bailiff, disguised as a police officer, was only able to reach the apartment through a rear courtyard. "I felt like a dangerous criminal whose apartment was being raided," Gülbol says.

To protect others from suffering similar fates, Gülbol has become active in the alliance. When he met Rosemarie Fliess during a sit-in, he says, she told him that they used to lock unwanted people into ghettos. The streets are the new ghettos, she said.

At a memorial rally on the day after Fliess's death, 350 people went to her old apartment, placed flowers in front of the door and lit candles. Sara Walther spoke a few words through a megaphone. "Rosemarie died of a broken heart," she said at the end of her speech.

The conflicts have already begun to affect the housing market. Some landlords dread the attention a forced eviction can now bring. Three evictions were cancelled in the last few days. In a fourth case, an agreement is still not in sight, and the attorney has since asked the alliance for "out-of-court support."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #5952 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:26 AM »

April 25, 2013

Spain's Jobless Above 6 Million for First Time

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MADRID (AP) — With over 6 million unemployed for the first time ever, Spain's jobless rate shot up to a record 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, the National Statistics Institute said Thursday, in another grim picture of the recession-wracked country.

The agency said the number of people unemployed rose by 237,400 people in the first three months of the year, a 1.1 percent increase from the previous quarter. The total out of work stood at 6.2 million people, the first time the number has breached the 6-million mark.

Unsurprisingly, the details of the report make for grim reading.

The number of people considered long-term unemployed — out of a job for more than a year — increased to 3.5 million while the unemployment rate for those aged under 25 was a staggering 57 percent. The government body also said its survey found the number of households without any one working had risen by 72,400 to a 1.91 million.

"The situation is really bad, with all the cuts that there have been, there are families that are going through a bad time because a lot of families have all the members unemployed and they don't have any income," said shop assistant Rodrigo Limpias , 30.

Labor Ministry employment secretary Engracia Hidalgo described the figures as "dramatic" but said the government was working non-stop to try make Spain a job creator once again.

Spain has been in recession for much of the past four years as it struggles to deal with the collapse of its once-booming real estate sector in 2008. In the previous decade its economy was thriving, generating millions of jobs.

In just over a year in office, the conservative government has launched a series of financial and labor reforms and pursued a raft of spending cuts and tax increases that have managed to reduce a swollen deficit. Even so, the country had the highest budget deficit among the 17 European Union countries that use the euro in 2012.

"This is getting worse every day. (The government) has no solution, there are more and more people unemployed and we don't have enough to eat," said Maria Carmen Huerta, 55, an unemployed IT worker.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has acknowledged that 2013 will be a bad year but insists that it would have been worse without the reforms. The International Monetary Fund indicated last week that Spain's economy will contract by 1.6 percent this year.

The government is predicting that Spain will return to growth, which should help the labor market. Rajoy has promised reforms to be presented Friday that will "make the economy more flexible, more competitive and will turn those predictions around."

Opposition parties said the unemployment figures highlight how Rajoy's austerity policies are damaging the economy.

"6 million people unemployed is 6 million reasons for the government to withdraw the labor reform and change its economic policy," said Oscar Lopez of the leading opposition Socialist party.

But the EU's top economic official, Commissioner Olli Rehn said "Spain should maintain the reform momentum by including comprehensive and concrete policy measures" in its programs.

He said that "despite significant progress in 2012, there are still excessive macroeconomic imbalances" with high domestic and external debt continuing to pose risks for growth and financial stability.
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« Reply #5953 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:30 AM »


April 24, 2013

Europe Struggles in Shale Gas Race

By MARK SCOTT
IHT

IN eastern Poland, politicians are still hoping to join the shale gas energy revolution, but lately they have had to curb their enthusiasm.

Large reserves of the gas discovered two years ago were initially projected to meet Poland’s energy needs for 300 years, but estimates have since been slashed by more than 80 percent. International energy giants like Exxon Mobil and Talisman Energy of Canada have scaled back their investments after disappointing early attempts at extraction. And competition from other fossil fuels, like abundant coal supplies, has made it unprofitable to tap many of the country’s new energy fields.

“Poland is certainly not Texas,” said Kash Burchett, a European energy analyst at the consulting firm IHS in London. “Shale gas in Europe is unlikely to revolutionize the energy industry like it has done in the U.S.”

Across the Continent, both policy makers and the public remain wary of the potential environmental impact of technologies like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract shale gas. The fact that Europe is much more densely populated than the United States also makes it difficult to win government approval to tap the new energy deposits, which are often near major cities. Further complicating matters are shortages of technical expertise and drilling rigs, and regulations that differ widely among countries.

“The opportunity is there, but the early exploration efforts have been disappointing,” said Stephen O’Rourke, a senior gas supply analyst at the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie in Edinburgh, who estimates that European shale gas may meet a mere 5 percent of demand within the European Union by 2030. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

A slowdown in Europe’s efforts to exploit its shale gas reserves, roughly 10 percent of the world’s deposits, could not come at a worse time for Europe’s companies, which are already suffering from a continental debt crisis and anemic growth and are becoming increasingly uncompetitive compared with rivals in the United States.

In America, energy-intensive industries like manufacturing and chemical production have benefited from a drastic fall in fuel costs because of a domestic energy boom in shale oil and gas. Natural gas prices, for example, have fallen by almost 67 percent over the five years, and the United States is on track to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017, according to the International Energy Agency.

Fuel costs for European companies, by contrast, remain roughly double those of their American competitors, while many countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, are dependent on natural gas imports from Russia. Also, the Continent’s fossil fuel production has fallen steadily over the last 10 years, even as global demand rises.

Although it has some of the largest deposits of unconventional gas in Europe, France banned fracking in 2011, and Bulgaria and the Netherlands have followed suit with similar measures. Political leaders remain concerned over the potential environmental harm from the technology, while campaigners also have questioned efforts to promote fossil fuels over green technologies like wind and solar power.

“Shale gas isn’t a long-term solution to Europe’s energy security issues,” said Antoine Simon, a campaigner at the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe in Brussels. “We should be looking to develop our renewables sector.”

Even in countries that support unconventional natural gas, exploration has not been easy.

After early-stage drilling in 2011 caused small earthquakes near the seaside resort of Blackpool in northern England, the British government stopped the practice of fracking. The ban was lifted late last year, though analysts doubt whether British shale gas will be able to compete against natural gas imports, including potentially those from the United States.

The cost of extracting European shale gas, for example, is roughly double that of American reserves, according to Wood Mackenzie estimates, and other alternatives, like liquefied natural gas, which can be imported on ships from Qatar and elsewhere, also are a cheaper option for many of Europe’s energy-hungry companies.

Competition will only become more cutthroat. As American companies turn their attention to exporting domestic natural gas, Europe, with its higher energy prices, is seen as an attractive market. Last month, Houston-based Cheniere Energy signed a long-term energy contract — the first of its kind — with the British energy company Centrica to ship shale gas from Louisiana starting in 2018. Similar deals are expected to follow.

“Future gas supplies from the U.S. will help diversify our energy mix,” Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, said in a statement.

Despite the uphill challenge, some companies are still looking to profit from Europe’s unconventional natural gas reserves. In Germany, Exxon Mobil, which became a major shale gas player in the United States after acquiring the domestic producer XTO Energy for $31 billion in 2009, continues to drill test wells despite a ban on fracking in parts of the country.

“It is too early to say how much shale gas may be produced,” said Tristan Aspray, European exploration operations manager at Exxon Mobil. “The rate of growth of production in the future will almost certainly be less than the U.S.”

And earlier this year, Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, signed a contract with the Ukrainian government worth a reported $10 billion. It plans to explore for shale gas reserves in Ukraine, which is eager to reduce its reliance on Russian imports.

The 50-year agreement, which is dependent on whether preliminary drilling can find shale gas deposits, is expected to be followed by a similar deal with the American energy giant Chevron. The new energy contract, though, has run into vocal opposition from Ukrainian environmentalists and local politicians.

“The primary obstacle to shale gas in Europe is politics,” said Mr. Burchett of IHS. “If you don’t have permission to drill, you can’t move forward.”


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« Reply #5954 on: Apr 25, 2013, 06:37 AM »

England prepares to vaccinate a million children as measles cases surge

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:20 EDT

England aims to inject a million youngsters with measles vaccine following a surge in cases of the potentially fatal disease, public health authorities said Thursday.

The rise in cases appears to be due to a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s when fears over a discredited link between the MMR vaccine and autism were at their height, Public Health England (PHE) said.

The MMR vaccine immunises against measles, mumps and rubella.

Figures released Thursday by Public Health England (PHE) said there had been 587 cases this year to the end of March, following a record annual high of almost 2,000 cases in 2012.

It comes amid an outbreak in neighbouring Wales, centred around the south coast city of Swansea, where the number of people who have contracted the disease between November and April now stands at 886.

In London, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was time to “slay the myth” about the injection, which dates back to discredited research published in 1998 claiming a link between autism and the jab.

The new £20-million campaign in England aims to reach a million people, with the priority on the estimated third of a million youngsters aged 10 to 16 — around eight percent — who are completely unvaccinated.

The further estimated third of a million who need further MMR jabs for full protection come next, with the remaining third of a million youngsters above and below the age group who need vaccinating.

Speaking to parliament’s health scrutiny committee, Hunt said Wednesday: “We need to use this as a moment to slay the myth about MMR and I do detect a turning point in terms of the public’s attitudes towards this.

“But there is still that critical 11 to 15-year-old age group that may not have been vaccinated because they were toddlers at precisely the time when the MMR scare was so appallingly whipped up.

“I want to reassure you, we are taking this extremely seriously.”

Experts believe the rise in measles cases can be mostly attributed to the proportion of unprotected 10 to 16 year olds who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s when concern around the vaccine was widespread, according to the PHE.

At this time measles had been eliminated in Britain, but coverage fell nationally to less than 80 percent in 2005, with even lower uptake in some parts of the kingdom.

After many years of low vaccination uptake, measles became re-established in 2007.

“Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so we are very disappointed that measles cases have recently increased in England,” said PHE immunisation head Mary Ramsay.

“Those who have not been vaccinated should urgently seek at least one dose of MMR vaccination which will give them 95 per cent protection against measles. A second dose is then needed to provide almost complete protection.”

According to the latest World Health Organization figures, 158,000 people, the majority of them young children, died in 2011 worldwide from the virus.

The figure has dropped 71 percent since 2000, when 548,000 deaths were recorded.


* child-with-measles-via-Shutterstock-615x345.jpg (43.14 KB, 615x345 - viewed 40 times.)
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