April 24, 2013
Rising Violence in Iraq Spurs Fears of New Sectarian War
By TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD — In what appeared to be a new phase in an intensifying conflict that has raised fears of greater bloodshed and a wider sectarian war, Iraqi soldiers opened fire from helicopters on Sunni gunmen hiding in a northern village on Wednesday, officials said.
The air attack was among clashes throughout the country between forces of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and Sunni gunmen that left at least 27 people dead and dozens wounded. The Sunni tribesmen were continuing a fight that began on Tuesday after the Iraqi Army stormed a Sunni protest encampment in the village of Hawija, leaving dozens dead and injured.
Several others were killed on Wednesday in explosions, including the detonation of a car bomb at a public market in the evening in a Shiite neighborhood north of Baghdad, and a roadside bomb attack on an army patrol in Tikrit, also in the north.
The deadliest battles occurred near Hawija and Sulaiman Pek, northern towns near Kirkuk, and battles were still raging in the early evening. In Hawija, the army shut off electricity, and troops shouted through loudspeakers, urging civilians to evacuate, witnesses said. Government helicopters also fired at Sunni gunmen on the ground in Sulaiman Pek.
The Sunni uprising, having now turned violent, represents a significant challenge to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose consolidation of power over the security forces and the judiciary, and his targeting of high-level Sunni leaders for arrest, has raised alarms among world powers. Mr. Maliki has presided over an unwieldy power-sharing government, which nominally gives prominent roles to Sunnis but in reality has resulted in political stasis, and he has signaled in recent months that he would prefer to move to a majority government, dominated almost solely by Shiites. On Tuesday, two Sunni ministers quit to protest the raid in Hawija, and the largest bloc of Sunni lawmakers suspended participation in Parliament.
Mr. Maliki made no public comments on the situation Wednesday, but on Tuesday, after being pressed by American officials and the United Nations, he said he would open an investigation into the events in Hawija, and promised to hold military officers accountable for any mistakes.
The deteriorating situation in Iraq highlights the sectarian tensions that have risen across the region, particularly amid the raging civil war in Syria. There, a largely Sunni rebellion is seeking to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is dominated by Alawites, who belong to a branch of Shiite Islam. In Iraq, the central government has aligned with the Syrian government and its greatest ally, Iran, while Sunnis here have sided with the rebels, and they now appear to be emboldened by the events in Syria to challenge their own government.
The sectarian fissure is evident in the rhetoric of the Sunni rebellion here: militants over the last few days have referred to Iraq’s army as a force loyal to Iran, while many Shiites here have cast the formerly peaceful Sunni protesters as Muslim extremists beholden to Al Qaeda.
In other areas of the country, militants, their faces covered in checkered kaffiyehs, attacked army positions. In Tuz Khormato, also near Kirkuk, militants ambushed an army convoy, killing four soldiers and setting fire to vehicles. In Baji, north of Tikrit, gunmen also attacked a convoy, resulting in a gunfight that left five militants and one soldier dead, according to a security official in Tikrit.
Amid the mayhem, Sunni leaders of protests, which have been going on since December and grew from a deep sense of marginalization at the hands of the Shiite-controlled government, said they would now resort to violence to achieve their aims. This has raised fears that Friday, traditionally the day when protests are at their most fevered, could result in even deadlier clashes.
In Hawija — which has long been a hide-out for an insurgent group made up of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and called the Men of the Army of Naqshbandia Order — a spokesman for the protesters said they would regroup as an “armed wing” of the Naqshbandia group.
“We started to collect money from tribal and civic leaders to buy weapons and face the army,” said Abdul Malik al-Jabouri, the spokesman.
In Anbar Province, the epicenter of the Sunni grievances and the protest movement, leaders on Tuesday gave an ultimatum to security forces stationed in the area: leave within 48 hours, or armed tribesman would attack their bases. In the last day, protest camps in Anbar — in Ramadi, the provincial capital, and in Falluja — have become bases for armed militants.
“We lost faith in the government,” said Ahmed Abdul Rahman, a sheik and imam at a mosque in Ramadi, who in the past had been a voice of moderation. “Now most of the people in Anbar are carrying weapons. Anybody who says that it’s still a peaceful demonstration is lying.”
The clashes on Tuesday in Hawija killed nearly 50 people, mostly civilians, and injured more than 100, according to a final tally released Wednesday by Kirkuk’s health department. Many of the wounded were transferred to cities in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, where the quality of medical facilities is better.
The clashes there represented the deadliest violence to result from months of protests in Sunni cities across the country. Security forces had surrounded the camp for days after gunmen attacked a checkpoint and then, officials said, retreated to safety amid the protest gathering.
Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting from Baghdad, and employees of The New York Times from Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahuddin, Diyala and Anbar Provinces.
Bush ‘comfortable’ with decision to invade Iraq
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 23:11 EDT
Former US president George W. Bush urged his younger brother Jeb to aim for the White House in a 2016 campaign that could enshrine his family as America’s ultimate political dynasty.
“He’d be a marvelous candidate if he chooses to do so,” Bush said, when asked about Jeb’s presidential prospects in an ABC News interview aired Wednesday on the eve of the dedication of his presidential library in Texas.
“He doesn’t need my counsel ’cause he knows what it is, which is ‘run,’” Bush said. “But whether he does or not, it’s a very personal decision.”
The elder Bush also set tongues wagging in the interview by speculating that Jeb Bush could even face former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, should she chose to make another run at the Democratic nomination.
“It would be a fantastic photo,” Bush quipped, but warned that the likely 2016 field would not become clear until after the mid-term elections.
In the interview, Bush also said he remains “comfortable” with the decision to invade Iraq, even as a new spate of bloody violence hit the country and rocked politics in Baghdad.
“I am comfortable in the decision-making process. I think the removal of Saddam Hussein was the right decision for not only our own security but for giving people a chance to live in a free society,” Bush said.
“But history will ultimately decide that, and I won’t be around to see it.
“As far as I’m concerned, the debate is over. I mean, I did what I did. And historians will ultimately judge those decisions.”
But he will give history a shove in Dallas on Thursday when he opens his presidential library, showcasing his self-image as a leader of a land under attack who made tough decisions that kept Americans alive.
From a steel beam twisted in the inferno of the World Trade Center, to footage of the twin towers collapsing in ash clouds, the September 11 attacks loom large over the museum of Bush’s 2001-2009 administration.
Visitors will find an apt proxy for the man himself: the museum at Southern Methodist University pulses with energy and patriotism but Bush skeptics may find a lack of nuance and absence of self doubt.
Bush has chosen to ask a direct question of the tourists and historians of tomorrow: ‘what would you have done in my shoes on terrorism and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 economic crash?’
The airy limestone building will be dedicated with President Barack Obama and all living ex-US presidents on hand.
Dignitaries will enter a “Freedom Hall” before viewing exhibits detailing Bush policy on issues like education and tax cuts.
But suddenly, they will turn a corner to confront a chunk of wreckage from Ground Zero and walls bearing names of 9/11 victims.
The story is of a president who thought he was going be occupied with domestic policy only to find himself defending the homeland from Al-Qaeda.
The centerpiece of the Bush library is an interactive exhibit known as “Decision Points Theater.”
Bombarded by footage of breaking news, and offered short videos of “advice” from actors posing as officials and military top brass, visitors use touch screens to make their own decisions on the crises that defined Bush.
The ex-president then pops up on a screen to justify the real steps he took on four key issues, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent troop surge, Katrina and the financial crisis.
Bush left office in 2009 as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent history, with a Gallup approval rating of just 34 percent.
Scholars polled by Siena College in 2010 put Bush in the bottom five of all US leaders.
His absence from the scene seems to have improved his image slightly: in a CNN/ORC poll Wednesday, 42 percent said Bush’s presidency was a success.
But critics say Bush invaded Iraq on false pretenses, mismanaged the occupation and thereby weakened America’s global power and moral standing.
The aftermath of Katrina in 2005 remains a masterclass in how not to handle natural disasters.
And Bush’s failure to spot an onrushing financial meltdown led to the greatest recession since the 1930s.
Yet, former Bush aides hope the opening of the library will mark the first step in a reappraisal.
They look to presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, who limped out the White House but were later rehabilitated by history.
However, Professor Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas, said Bush’s reputation is out of his hands.
Transformations “haven’t occurred after an effective PR effort by a president or his supporters,” he said.
Afghan policewomen face assault and sexual harassment: Human Rights Watch
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:14 EDT
An international rights group called Thursday for Afghan authorities to provide separate toilets and changing rooms at police stations for women officers, saying they face harassment and assault at work.
Addressing the concerns of policewomen is necessary to address the “rampant violence” against women in wider Afghan society, said Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The group said policewomen have no access to “suitable and safe” restrooms and orders by top officials to provide them had been ignored.
“The government of Afghanistan should take immediate action to ensure that the country’s female police officers have access to separate, safe and lockable restroom facilities in police stations,” it said in a statement.
The group said the country’s 1,500 female police face sexual harassment and assault by their male colleagues.
It cited “numerous” media reports of the rape of female officers by male colleagues and said the lack of separate secure toilets makes women particularly vulnerable.
“This is not just about toilets,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “It’s about the government’s recognition that women have a crucial role to play in law enforcement in Afghanistan.”
Women make up just one percent of the war-torn country’s 160,000-strong Western-funded police force. The number is set to increase about five-fold under government plans.
Women in male-dominated Afghanistan still suffer from domestic violence and other abuse 12 years after the fall of the Taliban, which banned them from attending school or any form of public activity during their 1996-2001 rule.
The Taliban were toppled by a US-led invasion but are waging an insurgency aimed at regaining power.
President Hamid Karzai’s Western-backed government has passed a law, on “elimination of violence against women”, to ensure greater protection.
But “the law has not been adequately enforced, in part because of the lack of female police officers to assist female crime victims, including other police officers”, HRW said.
Bangladesh’s garment industry blamed as disaster toll hits 175
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:08 EDT
Survivors cried out to rescuers Thursday from the rubble of a block of garment factories in Bangladesh that collapsed killing 175 people, sparking criticism of their Western clients.
As the plaintive appeals from the site of Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster filtered through the concrete, relatives desperate for news of their loved ones descended on the scene clutching their photographs.
Flags flew at half-mast and a day of national mourning was declared after the latest tragedy to strike Bangladesh’s garment industry, a key driver of the impoverished nation’s economy that has a shocking safety record.
More than 1,000 people were injured when the eight-storey building, housing five garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka, imploded on Wednesday, after managers allegedly ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.
“The death toll is now 175,” said Wali Asraf, a senior police officer in the disaster control room.
Authorities say they do not know how many people are still trapped under the mountain of concrete, but firefighters said they could still hear desperate cries for help from multiple places.
“I just heard someone saying ‘please save me’,” said Mamun Mahmud, a senior fire-fighting official, adding that about 1,500 people had so far been rescued alive.
Mahbubur Rahman, the operations director of the fire service, told AFP that rescuers had stopped using heavy clearing equipment to avoid jeopardising the chances of survival for those trapped alive.
“We’re digging carefully and using only small machines to cut through the pancaked floors,” he said.
Body after body was laid out on the ground of a nearby school as thousands of people filed past them to find their missing relatives.
“I’ve seen all the bodies. My sister was not among them. She is also not in any of the hospitals,” said Mukta Begum, holding the photo of her younger sibling Suryaban, a garment worker.
The accident has again highlighted safety problems and poor working conditions that plague the textile industry in Bangladesh, the world’s second-biggest clothing exporter.
Last November a blaze at a factory making clothing for Walmart and other Western labels in Dhaka left 111 people dead, with survivors describing how fire exits were kept locked by site managers.
Tessel Pauli, a spokeswoman for the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, said the latest disaster was “symptomatic” of problems in Bangladesh, where foreign buyers are accused of jeopardising safety in their search for profit.
“These accidents represent a failure of these brands to make safety a priority. They know what needs to be done and they are not doing it,” Pauli told AFP.
Bangladeshi unions and rights activists also reacted furiously, calling for an end to the impunity accorded to manufacturers.
Tens of thousands of garment workers on Thursday held a protest at a nearby industrial area, forcing hundreds of factories to close for the day.
Low-cost British clothing chain Primark said one of its suppliers was based in the Rana Plaza, in the town of Savar, that collapsed at about 9am (0300 GMT) on Wednesday.
“The company is shocked and deeply saddened by this appalling incident at Savar, near Dhaka, and expresses its condolences to all of those involved,” it said in a statement.
Walmart said it was investigating to see if any factories in the Rana Plaza building had been among its suppliers. Spanish fashion label Mango and Benetton of Italy said none of their Bangladeshi suppliers were involved.
Survivors say the building developed cracks on Tuesday evening, triggering an evacuation of the roughly 3,000 garment workers employed there, but that they had been ordered back to the production lines.
“The managers forced us to rejoin and just one hour after we entered the factory the building collapsed with a huge noise,” said a 24-year-old worker who gave her first name as Mousumi.
Local police chief M Asaduzzaman told AFP that cases have been filed against the owner of the building, a ruling party official, and the garment factory owners for death due to gross negligence.
Mustafizur Rahman, head of a police unit created to handle industrial problems, said the factory owners were in hiding after ignoring a warning not to reopen the building.
“After looking at the cracks on Tuesday, we told them to keep the plants shut. They defied our call,” he told AFP.
***************Matalan supplier among manufacturers in Bangladesh building collapse
Manufacturer housed in building that collapsed – killing at least 76 – previously supplied discount fashion chain
Syed Zain Al-Mahmood in Dhaka and Rebecca Smithers
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 16.57 BST
Link to video: Dhaka building collapse kills dozens in Bangladeshhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/24/dhaka-building-collapse-bangladesh-video
At least 76 garment workers have been confirmed dead in Bangladesh after an eight-storey building containing clothing manufacturing units collapsed, officials say. It has been confirmed that one of the manufacturers has previously supplied the UK discount fashion chain Matalan.
Mohammed Neazuddin, Bangladesh's health secretary, confirmed the deaths of the 76 people, and police said hundreds more remained trapped under the rubble.
The building, in Savar, about 12 miles north of Dhaka, the capital, collapsed at 9am on Wednesday morning, after production had started at the building. An official at a nearby hospital where most of the injured were taken said most of the dead appeared to be female workers.
Bangladeshi army units and fire service personnel are conducting rescue operations with help from local volunteers. A fire service official said they had rescued about 1,000 people from under the rubble.
Among the businesses in the collapsed building in Savar were New Wave – which has two garment factories there, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms – and Phantom Apparels Ltd.
A spokeswoman for Matalan, which has 212 stores in the UK selling fashion for men, women and children, and homeware, said: "We can confirm that New Wave has been a supplier to Matalan, although we don't have any current production with them. We are deeply saddened by the news and we have been trying to get in touch with our contacts since we heard to check if we are able to assist them."
Matalan describes itself on its website as being "one of the UK's leading clothing and homeware retailers, offering quality fashion and homeware at up to half the equivalent high-street price".
Dilara Begum, a garment worker who survived the accident, said workers had been ordered to leave after a crack appeared in the wall of the building on Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning supervisors had asked them to return to work, saying the building had been inspected and declared safe.
"The whole world seemed to shake and then all was dark," said Begum, who worked at the Phantom factory, on the fourth floor of the building. She said she had been pulled out of the rubble by local people.
The commercial building, called Rana Plaza, developed cracks at about 9am on Tuesday. It housed four garment factories, where an estimated 5,000 workers were employed, plus a bank and some shops. The bank sent its staff home on Tuesday, locals said.
The incident is the latest in a series of industrial accidents in Bangladesh. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashions Limited factory killed 111 workers. An inquiry blamed the factory management for criminal negligence.
In 2005, the Spectrum sweater factory in Dhaka collapsed, killing 64 people and injuring 80.
Laia Blanch, international programmes officer with the charity War on Want, which campaigns for better working conditions for overseas workers in the garment and other industries, said: "It is dreadful that … governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations' shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers and companies act to stop these scandalous human tragedies?"
Sam Maher, of Labour Behind the Label, said: "It's unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring has failed to protect workers' lives."
She added: "Right now the families of the victims are grieving and the community is in shock. But shortly they, and the hundreds injured in the collapse, will be without income and without support. Compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening."
**********Dhaka: many dead as garment factory building that supplied west collapses
Hundreds of workers feared to have died at plant in Bangladesh where staff were 'told to return to work' despite crack in wall
Syed Zain Al-Mahmood in Dhaka, Jason Burke and Rebecca Smithers
The Guardian, Thursday 25 April 2013
Hundreds of garment workers employed in factories that supplied high-street shops in the west, including Primark, the discount clothing store, are feared dead after an eight-storey building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on Wednesday.
Officials said the death toll had topped 160 by Thursday morning and 2,000 people had been rescued from the ruins.
One rescue worker said about 2,000 people were working on the upper floors of the factory, the Rana Plaza in the suburb of Savar, when the collapse occurred at about 9am on Wednesday, just after work had started for the day. He added that about 1,000 had been pulled from the rubble. Other estimates for the number of workers in the building as a whole were as high as 5,000.
Primark issued a statement on Wednesday saying the company was "shocked and saddened" and confirmed that one of its suppliers "occupied the second floor" of the building.
Bangladesh's booming garment industry is one of the country's biggest employers and foreign exchange earners but has been plagued by fires, building collapses and other accidents for many years despite a drive to improve safety standards. In November 2012 112 workers died in a blaze at a factory in a nearby suburb, putting a spotlight on global retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh building collapse Rescuers gather after the eight-storey building, housing several firms making clothes, collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph: AM Ahad/AP
Dilara Begum, a garment worker who survived the accident, said workers had been ordered to leave after a crack appeared in the wall of the building on Tuesday but on Wednesday morning supervisors had told them to return to work, saying the building had been inspected and declared safe.
"We didn't want to go in but the supervisors threatened to dock pay if we didn't return to work," she told the Guardian.
Mohammad Asaduzzaman, in charge of the area's police station, said factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected in the block on Tuesday. A bank based in the block sent its staff home on Tuesday, locals said, fearful of a collapse.
There was no warning before the rear of the building fell in, followed by most of the upper floors, survivors said.
"I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard a deafening sound, but couldn't understand what was happening. I ran and was hit by something on my head," said Zohra, another worker, who was pulled from the rubble by local people.
Volunteers and relatives of buried victims were using hands and basic tools to shift mountains of rubble on Wednesday evening as rescue teams of firefighters and soldiers attempted to reach survivors.
Bodies shrouded in white cloth were laid out in rows in the front yard of a nearby school.
Mohammed al-Amin, a local shopkeeper who had volunteered to help the rescue teams, said at least 50 bodies had been identified and taken away by family members. Many others remained unidentified.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, declared Thursday a day of mourning in the country.
At least one factory in the collapsed building has previously supplied the UK discount store Matalan.
Among the businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd, New Wave Style Ltd, New Wave Bottoms Ltd and New Wave Brothers Ltd – the latter all part of the same New Wave group which on its website named 27 main buyers, including firms from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada and the United States. A spokeswoman for Matalan, which has 212 stores in the UK selling fashion for men, women and children, and homeware, said: "We can confirm that New Wave has been a supplier to Matalan, although we don't have any current production with them. We are deeply saddened by the news and we have been trying to get in touch with our contacts since we heard to check if we are able to assist them."
There were five garment factories – employing mostly women – in the building. They included Ether Tex Ltd, whose chairman told Reuters he was unaware of any warnings not to open the workshops.
"There was some crack at the second floor but my factory was on the fifth floor," Muhammad Anisur Rahman said. "The owner of the building told our floor manager that it is not a problem and so you can open the factory."
Sheikh Abdul Mannan, a senior official at Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha, the government agency responsible for building safety in Dhaka, said the building broke national building regulations.
"We are investigating whether proper planning permissions were taken," he said.
November's factory fire raised questions about how much control western brands have over their supply chains for clothes sourced from Bangladesh. Wages as low as $38.50 a month have helped propel the country to the second largest apparel exporter in the world.
Buildings in the crowded city of Dhaka are sometimes erected without permission and many do not comply with construction regulations.
Savar is a relatively new manufacturing zone and was once swampland.
Laia Blanch, international programmes officer with the charity War on Want, which campaigns for better working conditions for overseas workers in the garment and other industries, said: "It is dreadful that … governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations' shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers and companies act to stop these scandalous human tragedies?"
Sam Maher, of Labour Behind the Label, said: "It's unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring has failed to protect workers' lives."
Reforms were promised after the 2005 collapse of the Spectrum factory in which 64 died.
Primark – owned by Associated British Foods – confirmed that it is currently being supplied by New Wave. The retailer has a total of 257 stores worldwide and in the UK has become symbolic of cheap, "throwaway" fashion which is sold and worn in high volume. It has opened 15 new stores in the past six months, including six in Spain, four in the UK, two in Germany, two in Austria and one in the Netherlands. It is also set to make its first foray into France by the end of the year.
A company spokesman said Primark "has been engaged for several years with NGOs and other retailers to review the Bangladeshi industry's approach to factory standards. Primark will push for this review to also include building integrity."
Primark's ethical trade team was urgently working "to collect information, assess which communities the workers come from, and to provide support where possible", the spokesman added.
Last week Primark revealed a 24% jump in sales, as its successful formula of embracing the high street over the internet has paid off.
Cambodia tests mass use of repellents in fight against malaria
As world malaria day highlights efforts to combat the disease, the country makes plans to eliminate it by 2025
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 April 2013 10.58 BST
Cambodia's mortality rate from malaria has dropped sharply in the past 20 years and the government has ambitious plans to eliminate malaria entirely by 2025.
The free distribution of insecticide-treated bednets – used by 95% of the population – has made a big impact on bringing down the death rate from malaria to 1.5 cases per 100,000 people last year.
However, although bednets have significantly reduced the spread of malaria, the disease is increasingly transmitted outdoors and outside sleeping hours, not just in Cambodia but worldwide.
Despite progress in recent years, malaria infects about 219 million people around the world each year, killing an estimated 655,000.
The next phase in Cambodia's battle against malaria is a two-year project to test the effectiveness of the mass use of repellents so their use may be incorporated in the government's strategic anti-malaria plan.
The trial, which began in January last year in the remote north-east province of Ratanakiri, involves about 50,000 marginalised and very poor ethnic minority people, who are slowly losing their farm land under pressure from developers. The communities spend a large part of their time in the forest, carrying out slash and burn forest farming and hunting. They cannot afford to buy nets or repellents.
Half of the people will receive repellents and bednets, the other half – the control group – will receive just the bednets. About 6,000 people are being sampled for blood collection surveys twice a year.
One of the project's novel features is a mobile molecular biology field lab to provide people with test results in less than 12 hours and treatment within 24 hours.
Charlotte Gryseels, a social scientist at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), in Antwerp, Belgium, who is working on the project in Ratanakiri, says it is not enough to simply give people the repellent and ask them to use it for a study. Although it is too early for definitive conclusions, she says the study has so far yielded interesting findings.
"The repellent has proven very useful in protecting them from the high insect nuisance in the forest," she said. "Not only mosquitoes, but other insects like leeches and ants. Use is higher in those places of high insect nuisance [forest and farms], and as forest activities are mostly performed by men, we think the repellent is used more often by men."
However, women and children, who spend more time in the huts on the farm or in the village, tend to be bothered less by insects and see less benefit in using the repellent all the time. "It is also true that women report more often than men that they find the smell of the repellent bothersome. They often tell us they don't like it when their husbands come back from the forest smelling of the repellent and sleeping next to them," said Gryseels.
Parents often delegate the job of applying the repellent gel to older children while they get on with household chores or working on the farms. Sometimes they forget to apply it to the children because they are too busy or too tired.
Marc Coosemans, a professor and project co-ordinator at ITM, says that, since the project concerns human behaviour, its starting point should be a personal question. "What will I do in that situation? Do I have the time? It's a very personal thing, not like treating your house or using a bednet," he said. "People are the same everywhere, although culture can make a difference. But if you ask yourself 'what would I do', that question will already provide 80% to 90% of the answer."
Worldwide infection rates
About 90% of malaria cases occur in Africa, where the disease kills one child every minute and costs the continent at least $12bn (£7.8bn) each year in lost productivity. Asia-Pacific carries the second highest burden, with 20 malaria-endemic countries accounting for approximately 30m cases and 42,000 deaths each year. Five countries – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Burma and Papua New Guinea – bear the largest burden of the disease in the region, accounting for 89% of cases.
The emergence of resistance to the most effective antimalarials – Artemisinin-based combination therapies – in areas of the Greater Mekong sub-region threatens to reverse global progress.
Lynne Featherstone, Britain's international development minister, who is visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, warned on Thursday that impressive progress made in tackling malaria is at risk without sustained international commitment.
Global efforts to tackle the disease contributed to a 33% fall in malaria mortality rates in Africa between 2000 and 2010. However, donor funding for anti-malaria programmes is levelling off and in danger of falling. The UK is spending £39.5m on bednets and treatment in DRC over six years.
April 24, 2013
As Bird Flu Spreads to Taiwan, Governments Act to Prepare
By BREE FENG and DENISE GRADY
BEIJING — The new strain of avian influenza that has infected more than 100 people in China in the last two months has, for the first time, been reported outside mainland China.
Officials in Taiwan reported one case in a 53-year-old Taiwanese citizen who traveled regularly to the Chinese city of Suzhou for work, where he probably contracted the virus. He fell ill on April 12, three days after returning to Taiwan. Tests revealed on Wednesday that he was infected with the H7N9 bird flu virus. As of Tuesday, Chinese officials had reported 108 cases and 22 deaths from the new flu.
The case has set off alarms in Taiwan, where the Central Epidemic Command Center says that it has “continued to strengthen surveillance and fever screening of travelers arriving from China.”
The patient in Taiwan, described as severely ill, is being treated in a special isolation room, and 139 people who had contact with him — including 110 health workers — are being watched for symptoms. So far, there is no evidence that any have contracted the disease, which has not been found to spread from person to person.
Officials elsewhere in the region are increasingly jittery about the spread of the virus from China. On Wednesday, Japan said it was racing to make changes that would essentially allow local governments to consign bird flu patients or suspected patients to hospitals, and order them to stay away from their workplaces. The Japanese government took similar precautions during epidemics of the H5N1 and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, viruses in the last decade.
Hong Kong, scarred by an outbreak of SARS in 2003 that started with an infected visitor from mainland China and that killed 299 Hong Kong residents, has also been making preparations. Concerns have focused on the annual influx of vacationers from all over mainland China next week during the annual May Day holiday. But with nearly three dozen flights arriving on a typical day from Shanghai during the rest of the year, the possibility of the disease spreading has been a worry for health policy makers.
The Hong Kong government has put on standby several hundred hospital beds specially designed after SARS for the isolation and treatment of highly infectious respiratory diseases. A system of infrared scanners operating at the territory’s borders ever since the SARS outbreak checks arrivals for fever, and nurses take aside anyone who seems sick for further questioning and sometimes testing.
In a news conference Wednesday in Beijing, a World Health Organization official described this type of bird flu as “unusually dangerous.”
The virus is “definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we’ve seen,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, an assistant director general at the World Health Organization.
“The potential development of human-to-human spread cannot be ruled out,” the health organization said in a statement.
In the United States, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received samples of the virus from China and have shared them with five other laboratories to study the virus and work on a vaccine.
Health officials in the United States have not advised against travel to China.
Scientists think people catch the virus from poultry, not from other humans. But if it could spread among people, a deadly pandemic could result. Researchers say it is worrisome that the new virus may be better than other types of bird flu at jumping from birds to humans.
The H5N1 bird flu virus, which emerged about a decade ago, has killed 371 people, nearly 60 percent of the 622 known to be infected since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Because of its apparently high death rate, that virus touched off global fears of a lethal pandemic and led to the slaughter of millions of birds. But it could not be stamped out.
The patient in Taiwan said he had not been exposed to birds or eaten undercooked poultry or eggs. Cases like his have puzzled scientists and led some to suspect that an animal other than birds is harboring the virus and spreading it to humans. But so far no other animals have been found to be infected.
Bree Feng reported from Beijing, and Denise Grady from New York. Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong.
April 24, 2013
U.S. General Sees Hope for Chinese Help on Korea
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — After three days of talks here, America’s top military officer said Wednesday that he believed China wanted to limit the nuclear ambitions of North Korea but that it remained unclear how China would work toward that goal.
Contrary to suggestions by some in the United States that China is not interested in solving the North Korean problem, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the “Chinese leadership is as concerned as we are with North Korea’s march toward nuclearization and ballistic missile technology.”
“And they have given us an assurance that they are working on it, as we are.” He added, “But I didn’t gain any insights into particularly how they would do that.”
General Dempsey met Tuesday with the Chinese leadership, including President Xi Jinping and Gen. Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which runs the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Force.
They were the most senior-level talks between the American and Chinese militaries in nearly two years. Because of the long gap in direct communication, and the growing distrust between the two sides over China’s fast military modernization and assertive behavior in the East China and South China Seas, General Dempsey arrived with a major set of issues concerning China’s military behavior.
As a symbol of how China’s maritime power is growing, a senior Chinese military officer announced Tuesday in the middle of General Dempsey’s visit that China would build a second aircraft carrier and that it would be more sophisticated than the first carrier launched last year. The officer, Song Xue, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese Navy, said the “next aircraft carrier we need will be larger and carry more fighters.”
At a news conference with reporters based in China, General Dempsey said he warned the Chinese military leaders that the United States would abide by its alliance with Japan in the dispute between China and Japan over who owns the islands known as the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.
Chinese vessels have been challenging Japanese ships off the islands, which are administered by Japan, since the dispute erupted in September. Xi Jinping, who was vice president at the time, advised the United States to keep out of the argument.
On Tuesday, eight Chinese patrol ships approached the islands, the largest contingent to appear at one time since September. The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, said the Chinese ships had forced Japanese fishing boats out of the waters around the islands.
Western defense analysts have said the Chinese continue to send surveillance vessels close by the islands to test whether the United States will live up to its alliance obligations with Japan.
General Dempsey said he left no doubt in his discussions with Chinese officials that “we do have certain treaty obligations with Japan that we would honor.”
On the contentious issue of cyberattacks, General Dempsey said he asked the Chinese “to put a team of their best and brightest” together to work with the Americans on seeking rules of conduct on computer security.
In the past month, the Obama administration has criticized China for what it calls mounting evidence that the Chinese military was involved in the widespread theft of data from American computer networks, particularly those of American corporations.
China’s leadership appears to have heard the Obama administration’s admonitions that it will not tolerate the practice of cyberattacks aimed at intellectual property and gaining commercial secrets from American businesses, American officials say.
The Chinese agreed during a recent visit of Secretary of State John Kerry to join a “cyber working group” with the Americans. “There has to be some kind of code of conduct established,” General Dempsey said.
But the Chinese apparently did not give any answers to General Dempsey on whether they intended to stop these activities, as specifically requested by the Obama administration.
At the start of General Dempsey’s visit on Monday, a senior Chinese general, Fang Fenghui, said that breaches in cybersecurity could result in as much damage as a nuclear attack.
April 25, 2013
South Korea Warns North of ‘Grave Measure’ in Factory Dispute
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea gave North Korea until Friday to respond to its proposal for dialogue or face a “grave measure” by the South on the future of a jointly operated industrial complex that has been the only remaining symbol of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.
A statement Thursday from the South’s Unification Ministry stopped short of saying whether it was contemplating withdrawing 176 South Korean managers still remaining in the factory park in North Korea or even terminating the joint economic project, which had survived years of political tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.
The future of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, located in the North Korean border town of the same name, has been in doubt ever since North Korea pulled out all its 53,000 workers on April 9 in anger over joint American-South Korean military drills. It also blocked South Korean managers or supplies from entering the economic zone.
The number of South Korean managers dwindled from the usual 900 to 176 as of Wednesday as supplies were running out. On Thursday, the South Korean government said that those who still stayed in Kaesong, hoping for the reopening of the complex, would not be able to remain much longer.
It said when it tried on Wednesday to send a letter to the North through the border asking it to allow emergency food and medical supplies to be sent to South Koreans in Kaesong, the North did not even accept the document.
On Thursday, it again proposed an official dialogue with the North and demanded the North respond by Friday.
“Our government’s position remains firm and unchanged — that the Kaesong factory park should be safely maintained and developed,” said Kim Hyung-suk, a Unification Ministry spokesman, in a nationally televised statement. “But we make it clear that if they again reject our proposal for government-to-government talk, we will have no option but to take a grave measure.”
He said he would leave it to the “imagination” what that measure might be.
His comment came a day after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said she had no intention of succumbing to North Korea’s “unreasonable” demands over the Kaesong complex.
“I want an early resolution of this but my government will never try to patch things up, as they used to do in the past, with hurried compromises like an unprincipled provision of aid,” she was quoted as saying in a meeting with senior editors of domestic media on Wednesday.
There was no immediate response from the North. It had earlier rejected the South’s proposal for dialogue, calling it a “cunning trick,” and said that South Koreans in Kaesong were free to leave. It also demanded that the South first apologize for taunting its leadership.
North Korea has said its decision to suspend operations at Kaesong was also due to insults from South Korean media analysts who have suggested that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, would not dare shutter the Kaesong complex because he did not want to lose an important source of badly needed hard currency.
The factory complex began operating in late 2004. The 123 South Korean factories there produced $470 million worth of textiles and other labor-intensive products last year and provided the North with $90 million a year in wages for its workers.
The complex, where South Korea’s manufacturing know-how was paired with cheap North Korean labor and the North’s Communist authorities experienced the first taste of South Korean capitalism, has been held up as a test case for how reunification of the two Koreas might look.
As relations deteriorated in recent years, however, the industrial park has also become a contentious issue in South Korea. Some conservative South Koreans argued that the complex extended a lifeline to the North Korean regime, which the South blamed for military provocations, including the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
For several weeks, tensions have remained high on the peninsula as the North issued a torrent of threats to attack the United States and South Korea out of anger over United Nations sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test.
The North Korean blockade pushed many of the South Korean companies that owned factories in Kaesong to the brink of bankruptcy. The South Korean government on Wednesday offered financial aid for those companies.
On Thursday, South Korean factory owners issued a joint statement urging the two Korean governments to live up to their promise to protect investments in Kaesong.
The factory park was a child of South Korea’s now-defunct “Sunshine Policy” of encouraging economic cooperation with the North to ease military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. Dozens of South Korean companies were encouraged to relocate their labor-intensive factories to Kaesong to use lower-cost North Korean workers.
April 24, 2013
South Korea Offers Aid to Business in Shuttered North Korean Complex
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Wednesday announced financial aid for 123 South Korean factories left stranded in an industrial zone in North Korea as the North showed no signs of allowing the complex to reopen.
North Korea pulled all its 53,000 workers out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, located in the North Korean town of the same name, on April 9 out of anger over joint American-South Korean military drills. It also blocked South Korean managers and supplies from entering the joint factory park.
The moves raised doubts over the future of the complex, the last remaining symbol of economic ties between the two Koreas, and pushed some of the South Korean companies that owned factories there to the brink of bankruptcy.
The financial assistance announced on Wednesday included $8 billion in special loans and $14.3 million in bank loans whose repayments will be postponed with government help. The companies will also get tax relief and unemployment allowances if any of their South Korean workers are laid off because of the trouble in Kaesong.
“We will do our best to minimize the damages for the companies that have factories in Kaesong,” said Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry of South Korea. He indicated that more aid would be provided if the shutdown continued.
The factory park began producing goods eight years ago when South Korea was pushing its “Sunshine Policy” of encouraging economic cooperation with the North to ease military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. Dozens of South Korean companies were encouraged to relocate their labor-intensive factories to Kaesong to use lower-cost North Korean workers.
About 900 South Korean managers used to supervise their factories in Kaesong. As of Wednesday, 176 of them still stayed there, hoping the North would send its workers back in soon.
The North has rejected the South’s proposal for dialogue to settle the dispute over the factory park.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 24, 2013
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect given name for a spokesman for the the Unification Ministry of South Korea. He is Kim Hyung-suk, not Kyung-suk.
April 24, 2013
Australia Arrests the Professed Head of LulzSec, Which Claims a C.I.A. Hacking
By MATT SIEGEL
SYDNEY, Australia — The federal police in Australia have arrested the professed leader of a prominent international hacking collective known as LulzSec, which is perhaps best known for its assertions of being behind a cyberattack that shut down the Central Intelligence Agency’s public Web site in 2011.
The Australian Federal Police said that they arrested the 24-year-old Australian citizen on Tuesday night in connection with an attack on an unspecified Australian government Web site this month. The unidentified man, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on two hacking-related charges, is said to have used his position as an I.T. specialist at a Sydney-based company to access confidential information from clients including the Australian government.
“The A.F.P. has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior,” Glen McEwen, manager of cybercrime operations for the Australian Federal Police, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “There were no denials of his claims of being the leader.”
“The A.F.P. believes this man’s skill sets and access to this kind of information presented a considerable risk to Australian society,” Mr. McEwen added.
LulzSec, which draws its name from a combination of “lulz” — an Internet coinage derived from “lol” for “laughing out loud” — and “security,” is a diffuse online community of so-called hacktivists.
These hackers differ from mainstream computer criminals in that they claim to be motivated by ideals as opposed to financial gain. The group is reported to have grown out of Anonymous, another ideologically motivated hacking group, and has claimed responsibility for computer attacks on Sony Pictures, Nintendo and a British newspaper, The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Both groups first gained widespread publicity in 2010 when they waged a series of coordinated cyberattacks in retaliation for efforts to shut down the Web site of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.
LulzSec is also said to have breached a number of Australian government and university Web sites in 2011. Anonymous claimed responsibility for taking down roughly 10 Australian government Web sites as part of a protest against plans to compel Australian Internet service providers to make private user data available to the country’s security services.
The Australian police said that the arrested man, who goes by the online moniker Aush0k, had repeatedly asserted in online forums that he was the group’s leader. The suspect’s online activities had brought him to the attention of international law enforcement authorities before the attack that led to his arrest, the federal police said.
His arrest added to a recent string of setbacks for the organization, whose members have been increasingly been targets of law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe.
Last year, it was revealed that LulzSec’s previous leader, Hector Xavier Monsegur, known online as Sabu, had been providing federal law enforcement officials with information on the hacking group as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in 2011.
More recently, an American member of LulzSec, Cody Kretsinger, was sentenced last week by a Los Angeles court to one year in prison for his role in a LulzSec attack on Sony Pictures. Mr. Kretsinger, who used the online moniker Recursion, also pleaded guilty as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Lu Guang's The Polluted Landscape: the camera never lies, even in China - audio slideshow
Interview and editing: Eric Hilaire; photographs: Lu Guang/Greenpeace; interpreter and voiceover: Fish Yu Xin
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 April 2013 09.30 BST
Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang goes deep into China's ravaged heartlands and documents the environmental crisis that has been triggered by the nation's dizzyingly rapid economic growth and development. Exposing the droughts caused by open-cast coal mines in Inner Mongolia, documenting under-reported oil spills and sidestepping censorship over chemical pollution of rivers, Guang is a fearless documenter of truth – and his message is starting to gather force among many Chinese who question the benefits of growth when the environmental costs are so high
Please click here to see for yourself the utter destruction of the Mongolian environment:http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/audioslideshow/2013/apr/25/lu-guang-polluted-landscpae-audio-slideshow
April 24, 2013
Syria Campaigns to Persuade U.S. to Change Sides
By ANNE BARNARD
DAMASCUS, Syria — As Islamists increasingly fill the ranks of Syrian rebels, President Bashar al-Assad is waging an energized campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war. Some government supporters and officials believe they are already coaxing — or at least frightening — the West into holding back stronger support for the opposition.
Confident they can sell their message, government officials have eased their reluctance to allow foreign reporters into Syria, paraded prisoners they described as extremist fighters and relied unofficially on a Syrian-American businessman to help tap into American fears of groups like Al Qaeda.
“We are partners in fighting terrorism,” Syria’s prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, said.
Omran al-Zoubi, the information minister, said: “It’s a war for civilization, identity and culture. Syria, if you want, is the last real secular state in the Arab world.”
Despite hopes in Damascus, President Obama has not backed off his demand that Mr. Assad step down. The administration has also kept up economic pressure on his government and has increased nonlethal aid to the opposition while calling for a negotiated settlement to the fighting.
But the United States has signaled growing discomfort with the rising influence of radical Islamists on the battlefield, and it remains unwilling to arm the rebels or to consider stepping in more forcefully without conclusive evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, as some Israeli officials assert.
There is frustration with the West’s inability to help nurture a secular military or political opposition to replace Mr. Assad.
It is difficult to see behind the propaganda of either side because government officials or the rebels — depending on the territory — control access. Information is a strategic weapon in the stalemated conflict, as both sides seek support from suffering Syrians and foreign countries.
The government’s new strategy was on display during a two-week visit to Damascus by journalists for The New York Times.
Exhibit A was a group of blindfolded prisoners who shuffled into a dimly lighted courtyard one recent evening, each clutching the shirt of the man in front of him. Security officials billed them as vicious Islamic extremists who came from all over the world to wage jihad in Syria.
The men turned out to be five Syrians, a Palestinian and an Iraqi, and they described a range of goals, from Islamic rule to representative democracy.
In Damascus, officials and supporters sounded several themes: They believe they can win the war, and see no need to moderate the military crackdown. They expect Mr. Assad to run for re-election next year, and some say he can win, brushing off doubts about how voting will work in a country where nearly half the people have been forced from their homes.
Some officials and members of the Syrian elite even say — however far-fetched — they can persuade the West to embrace their president as a champion of common values and interests, even as he presses a military strategy widely criticized as striking civilian targets indiscriminately.
Most of all, the war seems to have inspired some of Mr. Assad’s supporters. Some prominent Syrians, long frustrated by corruption and favoritism, say they have a newly compelling reason to stick by the government.
Now, they say, they are fighting for an idea: preserving Syria’s mosaic of religions and cultures.
And they see themselves, with their well-traveled, secular lifestyles, as ideally equipped to connect to the West.
That is the mission of Khaled Mahjoub, a Syrian-American businessman.
At the nearly deserted Four Seasons Hotel, Mr. Mahjoub ordered Lebanese rosé. Syrians, he said, embrace joy at the hardest times. He smoked a thick cigar as Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” played softly in the background, mixing with the clap of mortar rounds headed for the Damascus suburbs.
“Syrian tobacco,” he said. “One hundred percent organic.”
For Mr. Mahjoub, who builds environmentally sustainable housing, blames “Bedouin petrodollars” for rising extremism and quotes from “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Mr. Assad is fighting an enemy driven by the ideology of Al Qaeda, “the same enemy that did 9/11.”
Mr. Mahjoub, who has known Mr. Assad since attending the Syrian capital’s Lycée Français with Mr. Assad’s brother, Basil, said the president and the system he inherited from his father, Hafez, bear some responsibility for the tumult. Economic stagnation sent too many Syrians to work in Saudi Arabia, where they absorbed extremist views, he said, and security forces have made mistakes, too.
“But that,” he said, “doesn’t justify burning the farm.”
Government officials said America and its allies orchestrated the uprising to punish Syria for opposing Israel. They also spoke of common interests. Syria, the prime minister said, is defending moderate Islam against “the dark Islam.”
Opponents say the government itself has fueled sectarianism, first by favoring Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect, now by using code words like “Wahhabis” and “Al Qaeda” to blame the Sunni Muslim majority for the violence.
Officials said that if Mr. Assad fell, Europe would face an arc of Islamist-led states from Turkey to Libya. They urged Washington to investigate whether Turkey was funneling jihadists to Syria in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which mandates international cooperation against terrorism.
Their biggest priority, though, was the visit with the prisoners.
The prisoners were driven from several jails to a security building. They had been held and interrogated for months without charges.
One prisoner called for global Islamic rule; others spoke of being brainwashed to kill for money. Another wanted democratic representation in the government.
At first, a wiry senior security official had promised his American guests something less ambiguous. “They will tell you they’re against you, ” he said. He declined to identify himself, or to specify what percentage of prisoners were foreigners. He said that as of August, the government had identified 600 slain foreign fighters. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people.
Few dispute that foreign fighters who want Islamic rule — and many more Syrians joining them for ideological or pragmatic reasons — are influential in Syria’s armed opposition. The United States has blacklisted as a terrorist organization one rebel group, the Nusra Front, which merged with Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Still, foreign fighters form a fraction of the tens of thousands of rebels. Powerful rebel commanders in Aleppo and Idlib say they took up arms to defend their homes and villages after security forces fired on peaceful protesters. From the start, many fighters reflected the traditional piety of their communities. Ideological jihadists became prominent later, after the opposition had trouble gaining arms — while the jihadists have had willing donors.
The prisoners were interviewed in front of their jailers. One limped. They denied being coerced — or mistreated, except, one said, when he “made mistakes.” But there was no way to know whether their stories were true, evasive or scripted.
The first prisoner presented was Bahaa Mahmoud al-Baash, a Palestinian resident of Syria. He called for a Muslim caliphate “not only in Syria, but in the whole world.” He said he had trained suicide attackers in Iraq and added, smiling and glancing at security officials, “I will fight the Americans to my last.”
He has made similar remarks on Britain’s Sky News and Syrian state television.
Three Syrians described a transition they could not fully explain: They had no opinions on the uprising, but were later brainwashed by preachers who paid them to demonstrate, then to kidnap, rape and kill. Two said they followed orders to rape and kill female relatives of government employees, fearing that otherwise their leaders would kill their families.
They expressed love for Mr. Assad, and urged associates to surrender.
A fourth Syrian, Abdulmoneim Mohammed Tayura, used to sell walnuts in a heavily bombarded Damascus suburb, Barzeh. He said he demonstrated, and later fought “to topple the regime.”
What did he want next? “To be represented in the upcoming government.”
Ali Hussein al-Shumarri, from Iraq, said he fought the United States there, then came to Syria for “jihad for the sake of God” and to “topple the regime.”
To Syrian officials, the conclusion is obvious. Mr. Zoubi, the information minister, asked if Washington “really believes” the rebels are “revolutionaries,” not “terrorists.”
“If they really believe, that is a disaster,” he said. “If they know they are not revolutionaries and consciously support Al Qaeda, that is a bigger disaster.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
April 24, 2013
U.S. Sees No Conclusive Evidence of Chemical Arms Use by Syria
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration shares the suspicions of several of its allies that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, a senior official said Wednesday, but it lacks the conclusive evidence that President Obama has said would lead to American intervention.
Faced with mounting pressure to act against Syria — including a new assertion by an Israeli military intelligence official on Tuesday that Syria repeatedly used chemical weapons — the United States is waiting for the results of an exhaustive analysis of soil, hair and other material to determine whether chemical warfare agents have been used.
Even if that investigation proves the use of chemicals, this official said, the White House must determine who used them and whether they were used deliberately or accidentally. He did not offer a timetable for that process.
“It is precisely because this is a red line that we have to establish with airtight certainty that this happened,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so he could discuss internal deliberations. “The bar on the United States is higher than on anyone else, both because of our capabilities and because of our history in Iraq.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking in Cairo during a Middle East tour that has been dominated by worries about Syria, said, “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another.”
Some analysts say they worry that if the United States waits too long, it will embolden President Bashar al-Assad, who has steadily escalated the lethality of the weapons used against the opposition. The government’s use of chemical weapons in isolated episodes, these experts said, would be a way to test international reaction before using them on a wider scale.
Moreover, analysts said, the investigation, which is being conducted by the United Nations, has been hobbled because its inspectors have not been allowed into Syria. Also, the scope of that investigation does not extend to who used the weapons, merely whether chemical agents were used. The United States is also conducting its own assessment, as are Israel and other countries.
Last August, Mr. Obama threatened the Syrian government with unspecified American action if there was any evidence that chemical weapons were being used or moved on a large scale. On Tuesday, Israel’s top military intelligence analyst, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, told a security conference in Tel Aviv that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, and he criticized the international community for not doing more in response.
“The president’s red line appears to have been crossed,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “The administration has to take some time to decide what to do about it.”
“But if they end up leaving the impression that the president is not willing to enforce his red line,” said Mr. Indyk, who is now at the Brookings Institution, “that will have consequences in the region, particularly when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as for our ability to deter Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
Administration officials said their assessment of chemical weapons in Syria was not much different from that of Britain and France, which sent letters to the United Nations’ secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, last month urging a thorough investigation of the accusations.
Although Britain and France laid out allegations of chemical weapons attacks in three places in Syria — Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus on March 19, and an earlier episode in Homs in December — neither country said it was certain that chemical weapons had been used, according to copies of the letters obtained by The New York Times.
Even within Israel, the military’s assessment has not been fully embraced by government officials and analysts who follow Syria. Several officials said Wednesday that while they did not doubt the evidence, they worried that the general’s speech would be used to pressure Washington.
“Every intelligence branch can submit its own assessment,” said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The issue of chemical weapons is being examined by Israel and the United States at the most senior levels, and is still being discussed.”
Another official said that was the reason that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday that he could not confirm the assessment.
“There’s a difference between what the I.D.F. feels is the truth as they see it and what we feel is appropriate for the dialogue between the two governments,” he said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. “Don’t read into this an effort to force America’s hand.”
Mr. Hagel, in Egypt, declared that Washington would not be rushed into action by foreign intelligence reports, even those from allies. The administration, he said, has to be “very careful” before drawing conclusions and, if necessary, changing its policy, and should await a full review by United States intelligence agencies.
Administration officials said that the Pentagon had prepared a menu of military options for Mr. Obama if he concluded that there was incontrovertible evidence that chemical weapons had been used. Those options, one official said, could include missile strikes on Syrian aircraft from American ships in the Mediterranean or commando raids.
Last fall, the United States military secretly sent a task force of 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help deal with an influx of refugees from neighboring Syria, as well as the possibility that Syria could lose control of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
On Tuesday, at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Mr. Kerry said that the alliance should plan for the possibility of a chemical weapons attack by Syria. Turkey, a NATO member that borders the country, would be most at risk from such an attack. Mr. Kerry later clarified that he had not been calling for a specific NATO role in responding to Syria.
Experts on chemical warfare said the administration’s methodical approach was warranted. The evidence that has emerged so far is suggestive of chemical attacks, they said, but not conclusive. Syrian government forces could have used riot-control gas that, while extremely powerful, does not qualify as a chemical warfare agent, like sarin gas.
“It’s not a smoking gun, at least so far,” said Keith Ward, an expert on chemical warfare who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and the Navy and is now advising Human Rights Watch.
Critics, while acknowledging the murkiness of the situation, said the White House was setting the bar too high. “They’re not going to be able to have that smoking gun,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy.
Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Cairo, and Jodi Rudoren and David E. Sanger from Jerusalem.
April 24, 2013
Minaret on a Storied Syrian Mosque Falls
By HWAIDA SAAD and RICK GLADSTONE
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fighting between Syrian insurgents and government forces in Aleppo left one of the Middle East’s most storied mosques severely damaged on Wednesday, its soaring minaret toppled by explosives. Each side accused the other of responsibility for the destruction at the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo’s walled ancient city, a Unesco World Heritage site.
The mosque is considered an archaeological treasure but has been a battleground for months. It was first heavily damaged by fighting last October, and President Bashar al-Assad promised a restoration. But the military later retreated from the mosque and rebel fighters have occupied it since early this year.
Syria’s state media said the Nusra Front, an Islamic militant faction of the insurgency, had placed explosives inside the minaret, which dated from the 11th century. Anti-Assad activist groups at the site posted YouTube videos showing the rubble of the collapsed minaret strewn about the mosque’s tiled courtyard, with rebel fighters saying it had been hit by outside artillery fire as part of an attempt by Mr. Assad’s forces to rout them and retake the mosque.
“If he attacks all of the mosque, we will stay here, we will stick with our position, we won’t abandon our Islam even if all the world does,” one military commander says in a video.
Unesco has repeatedly pleaded for all combatants to pull back from the mosque and other World Heritage sites hit by fighting in Syria’s civil war. Last month, the director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, issued a public appeal in which she said she had “called upon all those involved in the conflict to ensure the respect and protection of this heritage.”
Fighting was reported elsewhere in Syria on Wednesday, including a town east of Damascus that insurgents had regarded as strategically important because it was a way station for their weapons and food. Activists reached by telephone and Skype said government forces were trying to seize the town, Otaiba, after weeks of clashes, which if successful would complicate the ability of the rebels in the area to resupply themselves.
Hundreds of Syrians have been reported killed over the past week in a Damascus suburb, Jdaidet al-Fadl, which anti-Assad groups have called a war atrocity and government news media have described as a campaign to purge the area of terrorists, using Mr. Assad’s description for his armed opponents.
The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed and millions displaced since the conflict began as a peaceful protest against Mr. Assad’s government in March 2011. It is now a civil war that has pitted his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against an opposition drawn largely from the Sunni majority.
The fighting has threatened to destabilize Syria’s neighbors, particularly Lebanon, where the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which supports Mr. Assad, has sent fighters into Syria. The Syrian town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, has become a focal point of sectarian tensions and potential clashes between Hezbollah militants and Syrian rebels.
On Wednesday, Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, the departing president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main anti-Assad political group, angrily criticized Hassan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hezbollah, over his support for Mr. Assad and urged him to renounce the alliance.
“Is it satisfying to you that the Syrian regime shells its citizens with fighter planes and Scud missiles, mixing the blood and flesh of children with the bread?” Sheik Moaz asked in a speech, posted on his Facebook page. Citing a call by two Sunni scholars this week for a holy war in Syria, Sheik Moaz said it was a “response to the chilling events that are occurring, from the butchering of civilians and the gushing of blood, to the screams of the women in the prisons.”
Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut.
April 24, 2013
Tribal Clashes at Universities Add to Tensions in Jordan
By RANA F. SWEIS
AMMAN — They may begin with a slur, a passing glance or an accidental shove: Student brawls that turn into tribal confrontations have become an increasingly worrying phenomenon on university campuses across Jordan.
Already tested by tensions between “East Bank” tribes and ‘West Bank” Palestinians, and contested by pro-democracy activists, the country’s authorities now must respond to rising inter-tribal hostilities among the young.
“Tribal violence at universities is reaching an alarming level,” said Mohammad Nsour, a lawyer and associate professor at the faculty of law at the University of Jordan. “It has reached a level where we are reminded of the sectarian violence in Lebanon and Iraq.”
With 264,000 students enrolled in public and private universities, according to the ministry of higher education, the descent into tribalism threatens to undermine both the rule of law and Jordan’s respected academic institutions.
Nearly two years ago, academics and social experts drew up a comprehensive strategy to combat campus violence. Their report found that failures of law enforcement had enabled a hard core of troublemakers to incite repeated disturbances with impunity.
“You have to enforce the law, even ruthlessly,” said Hasan Barari, professor of international studies at the University of Jordan and a political analyst. “But there is no will.”
“At the university level, there are certain things that can be done that can mitigate the phenomena, and no one is doing that,” he added.
Nearly 40 major fights have taken place this year at universities across the kingdom, according to data reported this month by Thabhtoona, a national campaign for students’ rights. That compares with 80 such outbreaks all of last year, 61 in 2011 and 29 in 2010.
Mr. Nsour said admission policies have contributed to campus violence. Universities had been obliged to accept exceptionally underprivileged students, refugees and some unqualified students supported by the Royal Court, he said, seeding the ground for future trouble.
These students “cannot cope academically, but they still feel they can violate the system because they were not accepted based on merit,” he said. “They become frustrated and take it out on other students.”
There is a deep concern that tribal tensions in the universities will turn into a wider societal problem.
Lacking natural resources to build the economy, the government has consistently focused on developing its human potential. The literacy rate among Jordanians aged 15 to 24 stands at more than 90 percent, according to the World Bank. Jordan’s higher education system is highly regarded throughout the region.
Yet, with nearly 70 percent of the population under age 30, and unemployment mainly affecting the young, the country faces a major social and economic challenge. According to the World Bank, 25.6 percent of 20-to-24-year-olds are unemployed, of whom more than half hold a secondary certificate or a higher level of education.
Since the start of 2012, there have been some 50 protests by unemployed youths, according to Labor Watch, a local nongovernmental organization.
“This is the second consecutive year that we are suffering from violence across university campuses,” said Mustafa Al Adwan, secretary general at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, “and it is not only in a certain area or type of university, it is a nationwide problem.”
The death of an engineering student, Osama Duheisat, 21, in a tribal brawl this month at Mutah, a public university in the impoverished southern city of Karak, spilled over into widespread protests outside the campus.
“Sometimes we think it’s a social phenomena and not only related to universities,” Mr. Adwan said. “After a brawl between two students the problem extends to the areas surrounding the university.”
Hundreds of students across several universities held rallies last week to protest violence on their campuses, holding large photos of Mr. Duheisat, who is believed to have simply been a bystander at a brawl that ended in classes being suspended for two days.
Mustafa, 20, a student who did not want his last name used because he feared retribution, said he recently found himself in the middle of a fight at his university.
“I was as far away as possible from the fight that took place between two young men and it suddenly grew, became tribal and many people became involved,” said Mustafa, whom his professor described as an exemplary student.
“That same day, I was sitting in class and then a young man entered our classroom before the professor arrived,” he said. “A student pointed at me and said, ‘He is originally from the north.”’
He said the man dragged him outside the classroom, then assaulted him.
“I had nothing to do with the brawl between the two students, but it was retribution and revenge between tribes from the north and the south,” he said. “They found someone from the north in the classroom, and that was me.”
No measures had been taken against the person who assaulted him, who remained on the campus, he added.
Mr. Adwan, the education ministry official, said: “Our youth, who represent our future, are increasingly finding it hard to accept the other. What will this mean for our society in the future? We need to seriously resolve this issue. It is time to implement the laws.”
April 24, 2013
Boom Times in Paraguay Leave Many Behind
By SIMON ROMERO
ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Walk into the headquarters of the central bank of Paraguay, a sprawling seven-story structure surrounded by flowering silk floss trees, and the message is clear: officials proudly display charts showing a dizzying economic boom, with growth reaching 13 percent this year, making Paraguay the fastest-growing country in the Americas.
But just a few minutes away by car one recent morning, grandmothers waded through raw sewage in the labyrinthine slum of La Chacarita, scavenging copper wire and aluminum cans to sell at scrap yards.
“Tell me about this growth,” said Cecilia Aguirre, 60, grasping a plastic bag holding her day’s takings, worth about $4. Squinting under the hot sun, she said she worked every day to feed the four grandchildren who live in her home. Asked about Paraguay’s robust economy, she added, “I’ve heard of no such thing in my lifetime.”
Indeed, Paraguay’s economic boom, fueled by bountiful harvests of export commodities like soybeans and corn, exists only in pockets. In parts of Asunción, showrooms are selling out of Porsches and Audis, and cranes are putting the finishing touches on luxury towers like the Ícono, a 37-story skyscraper of SoHo-inspired lofts.
Yet much of the country, which has long figured among South America’s poorest and most unequal nations, remains left behind. More than 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the central bank, and Paraguay ranks near the bottom among South American countries in reducing poverty over the last decade, according to the United Nations.
Social spending for antipoverty projects is minimal, largely because taxation is lacking. Paraguay did not even have an income tax until this year, but even though the new across-the-board rate is low, at 10 percent, few people are expected to pay it, as exemptions and loopholes abound. The result: the economic boom may be accentuating the festering inequality in one of Latin America’s most politically unstable nations.
“Nearly all of the growth is driven by highly mechanized agriculture, which generates few jobs for the population,” said Andrew Dickson, an expert on Paraguay’s development policies at the University of Birmingham in Britain. “With a government that finances itself largely through value-added taxes and taxes on imports, you have a situation rather like a low-income African country.”
Paraguay is a landlocked nation about the size of California, sandwiched between southern Brazil and northern Argentina, with a population of 6.5 million. About 77 percent of its arable land is controlled by 1 percent of the nation’s landowners, according to the last agricultural census, and land disputes simmer in various parts of the country.
Activists claim that for decades large tracts of land were illegally distributed by corrupt officials, leaving many land titles in question. In one particularly bloody clash last June, 11 peasants and six police officers were killed at a soy estate in Curuguaty, in eastern Paraguay.
Legislators seized on that episode as a way to oust Fernando Lugo, the former Roman Catholic bishop who was elected president in 2008, ending six decades of one-party rule. Mr. Lugo had initially been expected to focus on reducing inequality, but faced obstacles in doing so.
Paraguay’s new president is one of the nation’s wealthiest men, the tobacco magnate Horacio Cartes, who was elected Sunday after promoting conservative, business-friendly policies during his campaign. He recognized poverty as an issue but has been vague about any plans for reducing it beyond trying to create more jobs through private investment.
The government’s economists remain bullish about growth, arguing that Paraguay, devastated by a 19th-century war that wiped out most of its male population and ruled throughout much of the 20th century by Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, one of the world’s longest-ruling dictators, is emerging from decades of ostracism in the global economy.
Paraguay sold $500 million of bonds in January in international markets, a rare source of financing for a nation overlooked by many foreign bankers for decades. Inflation and unemployment remain low, at less than 2 percent and less than 6 percent, respectively, and the overall poverty rate has fallen to about 32 percent in 2011 from 44 percent in 2003, said Roland Horst, a board member at the central bank.
“We do have a peasant issue now and then,” Mr. Horst said in an interview. “But there is less tension than 10 years ago.” He said the government had been trying to reduce poverty, noting that a program of giving small cash stipends to people in extreme poverty, begun in 2005, now included more than 75,000 families. Other economists, however, dispute such sunny assessments, arguing that the economy remains subject to wide swings, surging this year thanks in part to favorable weather conditions for certain crops, after contracting slightly in 2012 when farmers struggled with a drought.
They also contend that Paraguay’s social welfare programs remain meager compared with antipoverty projects in neighboring countries, which have lifted tens of millions of people out of abject living conditions. They blame Paraguay’s relatively weak state, with tax collection corresponding to only about 18 percent of gross domestic product, a figure lower than that of African nations like Congo and Chad.
“The statistics showing historically low unemployment are a farce,” said Luis Rojas Villagra, an economist at the National University, who estimates that as much as half of Paraguay’s work force is unemployed or underemployed in jobs with degrading wages and working conditions.
“How is it possible to reconcile the fact that hundreds of people survive each day by sifting through garbage in the municipal dump of Asunción while Paraguayans are also the biggest per-capita spenders in Punta del Este?” said Mr. Rojas Villagra, referring to the Uruguayan resort city where rich Paraguayans vacation alongside moneyed Argentines and Brazilians.
Such contrasts persist across Paraguay’s economy. Pockets of luxury, for instance, are expanding near Ciudad del Este, the city on the Brazilian border renowned as a smuggler’s haven.
One development, the Paraná Country Club, includes mansions selling for more than $3 million, largely to soybean growers or business executives from Brazil who have opened factories in Paraguay, a migration of manufacturing that is starting to resemble that of companies from the United States opening factories in low-wage Mexican border cities.
“2013 is starting to look like an amazing year,” said Thelma Amaral, an architect who designs homes near Ciudad del Este.
But elsewhere, including the soybean regions at the root of the growth, examples abound of disparities and disputes, largely over land. A small leftist rebel group, the Paraguayan People’s Army, has been picking off security forces in remote areas. Last weekend, the group killed at least one police officer and wounded several others.
In December, gunmen shot dead Vidal Vega, a leader of the peasant movement involved in the deadly clash at Curuguaty. He had been expected to be a witness at the criminal trial intended to shed light on the massacre. The inquiry into his killing, as in similar cases of peasant leaders killed in Paraguay in recent years, has turned up few leads.
04/24/2013 03:55 PM
'Sextremist' Training: Climbing into the Ring with Femen
By Fabian Reinbold
Women's rights activists with Femen have arrived in Germany, and they have patriarchy in their crosshairs. They're holding training sessions for young women, teaching them how to evade security at protests -- all while bearing their breasts in the name of feminism.
Josephine Witt catches the man off-guard. Her first swing hits him in the face, then she pummels his stomach and beats his ribs. The 19-year-old drives her opponent in front of her, and he forgets for 10 or 20 seconds to hit back. "Keep her busy, Sven!" cries the trainer. Witt's boxing gloves shoot through the air. A wreath of sunflowers adorns her hair. Welcome to boxing training with Femen.
The topless women's rights activists have arrived in Germany. Young women have founded chapters in Berlin and Hamburg, modeling themselves after Femen founder, Ukrainian Anna Hutsol. The militant feminists have taken to the red-light district of Hamburg, protested against the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party in Berlin and most recently screamed at Russian President Vladimir Putin at Hanover's industrial trade fair.
The self-described "sextremists" have trainings for these kinds of protests, including one at a Hamburg boxing club. "We want to learn how to fall correctly, how to quickly dodge security people," says Irina Khanova, who was born in Russia and lives in Hamburg. Even passers-by have attacked the women. "We have to be able to get our message across as long as possible." The trainer nods. "The make-up has to go. You can keep the flower garland."
Femen's mission is to attack the German patriarchy. But all its activities raise a few questions: What exactly is the "message" of the topless protests? The images of young, screaming, half-naked women make the headlines, and the harsh tone ("Fuck Islamism," for example) is provocative. The group is perfect at dominating the media game. But is this the new feminism, or merely a sensationalist gimmick?
Keeping the Cameras Interested
On the Saturday training day, Femen's public relations machine is there every step of the way. A camera team from northern German public broadcaster NDR stays all day. Early in the day in the TV studios, the seven young women -- most of them university students -- paint their fighting slogans onto each other.
Witt has "Fuck Dictator" painted on her breasts, like at the recent anti-Putin protest. Hellen, 23, chooses "Woman Spring is Coming," while Anne's upper body says "Destroy Sex Industry." Khanova, who at 33 is the oldest of the group, gives orders: Spread your legs further apart, put your fist vertical in the air, keep the flower garlands parallel to the camera lens. A photographer records everything -- the group's Facebook page is updated with new photos daily.
Then the women are off to Hamburg's main square, where they undress and scream for the TV cameras: "Feeeeemeeennn!" Pedestrians start to whip out their own cameras, some of them smirking. "Oh, the Ukrainians. They're fighting for women over there," says one man.
False, dear sir. The Femen fight is underway in Germany, as well. "The patriarchy in Germany has to be overthrown, too," says Khanova. "We're part of a worldwide movement, and want to address global problems in Germany," adds Witt.
Criticism from Muslims and Feminists
The group has earned its fair share of criticism. After a protest at a Berlin mosque as part of "Topless Jihad Day," Muslim women accused Femen of patronizing them. And after they painted the infamous Nazi slogan "Work will set you free" on the gate to Herbertstrasse, one of Hamburg's main streets for prostitution, in protest against forced sex work, there was head-shaking in the German mainstream and caustic criticism from the feminist scene. The move was dismissed as ridiculous and senseless at best, and condemned as borderline anti-Semitic and Islamophobic at worst.
The activists themselves don't understand that strain of criticism. "Muslim women have earned the same freedom that we have," says Witt, a philosophy student. There are no plans to halt the "Topless Jihad" protests. And yes, they think exploitation in the sex industry is in fact comparable to the forced labor of the Jews. "The scene is leading a theoretical discussion," Witt adds. "We're bringing activism back."
The short manifesto of Femen is as follows: Patriarchy relies on political tyranny, the sex industry and religion. In other words, Putin, Herbertstrasse and the mosque.
Its ideology was also summed up on one Facebook post: "Female nudity, free from the patriarchal system, is the gravedigger of this system, as a militant declaration and a sacred symbol of women's liberation." In addition, no one listened to the women when they were clothed. The Ukrainian group tried it that way for two years with no great success. Since then, the tops have been falling.
Are Fat, Older Women Prohibited?
During the big debates over sexism, racism and anti-Semitism in Germany this year, Femen was there. For a handful of women who want to be provocative, that's no small achievement. But does all of it serve to promote equal rights?
One accusation is that the activists are playing into sexual objectification and the dominant ideals of beauty. In practice, Femen members are almost exclusively young, thin women. This has become a topic of discussion within the group, as well. Many fear they are scaring away other women. Khanova counters that everyone is welcome to participate, but that older women often find their activism too outrageous.
All you have to be able to do is scream. After the boxing training session, Femen rehearses its form of protest. A blue gymnastics mat serves as an arena for the fight against patriarchy. Witt dashes off, and the moment she has two legs firmly planted on the mat, she raises her arm and roars, "Fuck Putin!" through the gym, so loud you'd think she were screaming all the way to Moscow itself. Four others play the role of the security guards. They grab Witt, she squirms and struggles and keeps screaming just as loud. Seven, eight, nine "Fuck Putins" -- by Femen standards, that's a pretty good protest.
Khanova praises her, and repeats that they have to spread the message as long as possible. She admits she doesn't know how long that's going to work with the Femen method. "Society is desensitized, we have to be more and more provocative," she says. But she doesn't want to worry about it. "It'll keep going as long as it does."
In the USA...
Politico’s wholly sexist narrative of the ‘woman in power’ at the New York Times
By Emily Bell, The Guardian
Thursday, April 25, 2013 3:41 EDT
The New York Times executive editor is apparently stubborn and snappy. Why must we focus on women’s character traits?
Happy newsrooms are all alike. Every unhappy newsroom is unhappy in its own way. The New York Times newsroom is unhappy because its editor is not very nice. Allegedly. This startling revelation comes from a piece posted on Politico yesterday that instantly lost the internet but gained fans at the NYT.
The litany of complaints against Jill Abramson, the Times’s executive editor, is indeed jaw-dropping.
She is apparently, on occasion, stubborn and condescending. She snaps at people in meetings (sometimes). Once, she asked why an editor was still in a meeting instead of leaving to fix a problem that had been identified. Worst of all, she had such a strong disagreement with her managing editor over the direction of the news pages that he slapped the wall and walked out. The fact that he was allowed to walk back in again might mean that the tirelessly unpleasant Abramson was having an off day.
Dean Baquet, the managing editor in question, does admit in the piece that walking out was not perhaps the best thing for a senior editor like him to do. The very popular Baquet also admits to a history of wall-punching. Abramson, though apparently non-violent, is judged “impossible”, according to the unsourced Politico hatchet job. Impossible, stubborn, condescending, snappy. Yes, it is undoubtedly the case that Jill Abramson is a newspaper editor. Not just any newspaper editor – a female newspaper editor.
The lame nature of the reporting suggests it might be better just to ignore the piece entirely, but it deserves attention, as it fuels an exasperating and wholly sexist narrative about women in power. The souls of the New York Times who found themselves describing Abramson’s shortcomings in terms of her manner and mood should be sentenced to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as punishment. As we know, this manifesto for women in the boardroom tells us that the correlation between women being judged ‘likeable’ and their position in a hierarchy are inversely proportionate.
For a news organization such as Politico to run a piece focused so tightly on Abramson’s personality is disappointing. It might have highlighted the fact she has just had the most successful week of her professional life. Her news organization picked up four Pulitzer Prizes, the third highest haul in the Times’s history, and the coverage of the Boston bombings was, by wide acknowledgment, exceptionally good, when others were rocky and error-strewn.
For every anonymous source anxious to talk about Abramson’s mood swings, and absences, there could have been a counterbalancing one to talk about how Abramson is more present on the news floor than a number of her predecessors. For every person who talks about the exhausting nature of her management style, there is another who might point out that the news operation is the strongest it has been for a long time. You might even find people who think there is more than a whiff of sexism apparent in the building, and the critiques. None of this, however, feeds the story of a woman in charge who tells people what to do in a manner they don’t like.
If one redacts ‘Jill’ from Politico’s piece and replaces it with ‘Jack’, the absurdity and sexism becomes all the more obvious:
“It’s frustrating because he is such a smart person. When Jack is on his game, he is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” one staffer said. “But he’s not a naturally charismatic person — he’s not approachable.” You see? When was the last time the approachability of a male editor made for copy?
The issue is not what is going on in the New York Times newsroom, but how we choose to talk and write about it. In Sandberg’s book, she references the Howard-Heidi experiment, where students rate a description of a person’s accomplishments. When the piece is read with the name of the real author attached (Heidi Roizen), she is described as being ‘selfish’ and not the kind of person you would want to work for. When a false identity ‘Howard’ was attached to the piece, students rated him as ‘likeable’.
What Byers did not cover was the sense that there is widespread and ingrained sexism in journalism, where a woman’s character traits are central to a critique of she does the job. Men, who are equally awful in just as many ways, are judged more on output and success. At no point are we asked to stop and consider whether Abramson’s abrasive attitude has actually led to the Times becoming a better newspaper, even though the subjective view suggests it has.
Nice people do not necessarily make good editors, whatever their gender. In fact, the opposite might be true. But fewer women will want to even try if the expectations of them in power are so completely different from men in the same jobs and the public judgment so arbitrary and misogynistic.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
When The Ends Justify The Means, You Often Don’t Get The Ends
By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 8:38 EDT
Actually getting bad guys behind bars is beside the point for the “tough on terrorism” posturers.
Update: Looks like a lot of my stated concerns are already going to be a problem.
Tsarnaev made his admissions to FBI agents who interviewed him at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds. He had not yet been given a Miranda warning.
Tsarnaev’s attorneys are certain to challenge the legal admissibility of those admissions, and other information he gave them, such as claiming that he and his brothers acted alone, and that his brother was radicalized in an extreme form of Islam in part because he opposed US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But in an interview with the Globe, a senior police official said authorities are not worried about the initial admission to authorities being thrown out, because they have a strong witness: the man who was abducted by the Tsarnaev brothers last Thursday night.
In other words, they openly sacrificed actual evidence in order to not Mirandize the suspect. “Toughness” won out over successful evidence-gathering. They’ll probably be able to make a successful case anyway, but that this risk was taken should be disturbing to us all.
With a plodding inevitability, a debate has risen over how many constitutionally guaranteed rights the government is going to strip from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a bid to look “tough” on terrorism. Right wing nutters like Lindsay Graham are hollering about designating Tsarnaev, who probably worked alone with this brother and who is an American citizen, an ”enemy combatant”, something the Obama administration has already said no to. Not that the administration is playing this all above board, of course, with the idiotic decision not to take 15 seconds to Mirandize Tsarnaev, instead taking the gamble that any evidence he provides in his non-Mirandized state can be successfully excused in court under the “public safety” exception.
Liberals are hopping mad, of course, as they should be. I recommend Rick Perlstein’s piece in The Nation on how this entire situation represents a strong rightward tilt in how our country understands civil liberties. An excerpt:
Instead, the nation has surrendered to an inherently right-wing idea, one that I’ve written of here in the context of the gun control debate: the notion that the world is easily parsed into god guys and bad guys, never the twain should meet—and the corollary notion, which I’ve also written about recently, that once the world has been so divided, vanquishing the bad guys licenses any procedural abuse.
As he notes, it’s part of a larger “ends justify the means” mentality that is distinctly un-American. But I’ll go a step further than that and say none of this is about the ends at all. I’d argue that suspending someone’s constitutional rights is an end in and of itself for those who are doing it, and in fact given the choice between prosecuting an accused terrorist by the book and winning the case and prosecuting an accused terrorist illegally and losing, they would actually choose the latter. Because that’s how important “looking tough” has become.
After all, by not Mirandizing Tsarnaev, they are running a very real risk that much of what he tells the police right now will not be admissable in court. I’m sure that doesn’t bother anyone, because there’s so much more evidence tying him to the crime that his testimony doesn’t matter. Of course, that brings up the important question: If his testimony doesn’t matter, then Mirandizing him shouldn’t be that scary a risk. The chance that he shuts up has to be weighed against being able to present a clean case in court that gives the defense few opportunities to appeal.
This isn’t about the ends at all, because the best way to serve the desired end—successfully prosecuting guilty terrorists—is to go by the book. That’s why Timothy McVeigh is a dead man today and Eric Rudolph languishes in prison. No, what we have here is a bunch of politicians who’ve decided that striking a “tough” posture of denying someone constitutional protections matter more than successfully prosecuting terrorists.
That’s why I think the debate over whether or not Zero Dark Thirty showed torture “working” is, while interesting, also somewhat irrelevant. The point of torture is to torture, not to get useful information—that’s just the cover story. The case was made, effectively and repeatedly, that torture is counterproductive in interrogations. Supporters of torture could give a fuck. The torture is end in and of itself. This is all about appearing “tough” and has nothing whatsoever to do with successful prosecutions. Please understand this: Lindsay Graham isn’t too concerned about making sure Tsarnaev spends a day in prison after being successfully sentenced. This is all about using terrorism as a pretext to demagogue for an authoritarian government that doesn’t recognize human rights, full stop. Democrats play along in their way, as well, standing up for counterproductive strategies like not Mirandizing a suspect for fear that voters will think they’re too interested in successful prosecutions and not interested enough in posturing about like assholes during the process.
If this were a TV show, in other words, it would be one where the bad cop who breaks all the rules is a hero even if he is really bad at getting the bad guy in the end. Whether or not justice is served has become irrelevant, as long as we get to fetishize an unjust process. It reflects a political process that has been completely overwhelmed by prioritizing image over policy. The results of the justice process have been shifted to the the garbage bin. No one can be bothered to care about petty shit like justice being done when everyone has a “tough” posture to strike for the cameras.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library Takes the Lazy Road to Rewriting History
By: Becky Sarwate
Apr. 23rd, 2013
The present is a tough, emotional place to be right now. The pain and reflection upon our increasingly violent, stratified society, can be summarized neatly in the Boston Marathon bombings that happened early last week. If the ongoing investigation into its genesis, has left you drained, maybe it’s time to take a step farther into the past.
In fact the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which will open later this week, invites the former POTUS’s fellow Americans and other visitors to be transported back to the early aughts The goal being of reassessing some of Dubya’s most disastrous policy decisions. In a New York Times piece entitled, Rewinding History, Bush Museum Lets You Decide, Peter Baker writes: “In a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?”
Folks, this news manages to be thoroughly frustrating, exhausting and yet somehow vindicating all at once. Am I alone inferring that there is an admission here, an acknowledgment that perhaps things could have gone better? You don’t say! This is a far cry from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s contention that there is no “Bush baggage” standing between him and a 2016 Presidential run.
At the same time, it’s hard not to reach for the migraine pills at the contemplation of this: in 2013, the choices of the Bush II regime are up for public discussion and an actual vote. If only that option has existed in 2001. How many lives would be saved, how many resources unwasted, jobs protected and how would the economy look today if we’d been informed and included in policy deliberations? Instead, under the cover of “War on Terror” necessity, most of us were forced to stand by idly as our Constitutional rights were suspended (the disingenuous Patriot Act.) While unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy were doled out alongside the expenses of two armed conflicts. American citizens were left stranded in crisis by an overstrained, disorganized FEMA and its chain of command (Hurricane Katrina).
Interactive museums which afford the opportunity to revisit important historical decisions can be an enjoyable and important educational exercise. However, the prospective entertainment value of this particular museum suffers from the recency effect. The policies of George Bush do not exist in a “long ago in a land far away” vacuum and in many real ways, the country continues to pay for the price for some of the most egregious bungling in recorded antiquity.
And apparently the museum opening does not put a celebratory end to the Bush administration’s attempt to reframe historical events. Right on cue, Baker reports “A six-minute introductory video narrated by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledges disputes over Iraq and interrogation techniques while defending them as efforts to protect the country. ‘If you were in a position of authority on Sept. 11,’ she says, ‘every day after was Sept. 12.’”
Great Condi, except let’s try this once more with feeling: the Iraq war of choice was unrelated in every way to the events of 9/11. Saddam Hussein had nil to do with the devastating terrorist attacks that rocked New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania that fateful day. We had every right to head in Afghanistan to take care of some Al Qaeda business, but your team’s consistent attempts to create justification for the unjustifiable quagmire that Iraq became is a bad rerun very few of us want to watch anymore.
With all this in mind, I am placing the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum very low on my bucket list of travel destinations, perhaps slightly ahead of Antarctica and the Bermuda Triangle. May the Bush legacy be rewarded for another expensive, high tech effort to insist the Emperor is wearing clothes with our collective disregard.
We Shall Overcome Voter Suppression: More States Are Making It Easier to Vote
By: Adalia Woodbury
Apr. 25th, 2013
Although Republicans in some states continue to battle against voting rights, there is reason to believe that American voters will win the war. For one thing, some Republicans (hard to believe but true) are working with Democrats to expand access to the vote.
Since the 2012 elections some states like North Carolina and Arkansas continue down the road of a Tea Party utopia in which the top 1% makes all political decisions, including choosing elected representatives, while the rest of us just say bahhh. In fact, North Carolina’s House Appropriations Committee passed its version of a more restrictive Voter ID bill on Tuesday.
According to the Brennan Center of Justice, 31 states introduced at least 80 laws intended to restrict voting rights.
Sixty-two of those laws are pending in 25 states. Twenty-five of those bills (in 12 states) are “active” meaning they made it passed introduction and referral to the appropriate committee. Two of these laws passed in 2 states.
Now for the good news which begins with pushback against efforts to suppress the vote.
After Florida’s policies resulted in long waits, for some voters as long as 7 hours, Rick Scott did an about face on the policies he supported (and fought for in court challenges) before the election.
We need to have bipartisan legislation that deals with three issues,” Scott told CNN interviewer Soledad O’Brien. “One, the length of our ballot. Two, we’ve got to allow our supervisors more flexibility in the size of their polling locations and, three, the number of days we have. We’ve got to look back at the number of days of early voting we had.
Subsequenty, the state’s House of Representatives reversed it’s pre-2012 laws that reduced voting hours, restricted early voting and reduced the options for polling places.
Earlier this month in Wisconsin, voters stood up to the Koch Brothers and ALEC showing overwhelming support to keep same day registration in an advisory referendum.
Efforts to impose restrictive voter ID requirements in New Hampshire were stepped back in March, by the State House’s Election Law Committee.
“The Election Law Committee voted, 11-7, to recommend the House pass a bill that would leave in place the voter ID law as it operated during November’s election, but repeal provisions that will tighten the list of acceptable forms of ID starting this fall.”
More states introduced more laws to expand access to the vote.
Forty-five states introduced 195 laws to make voting access easier, with 155 of them still pending in 37 states. Forty-one of these laws are “active” in 21 states.
Registering to vote will be easier now that New Mexico passed a law allowing automated registration at the DMV. Oklahoma modified it’s photo ID law to make voting more accessible in the state. Virginia passed a law that allows on-line registration.
One of the key obstacles to voting in 2012 were laws intended to create longer voting lines. In fact, a recent study on wait times identified a nexus between state policies and the amount of time voters would wait before casting their ballot.
What this suggests is that the factors leading to long lines in at the polls start with state-level laws, policies, and practices that persist from year-to-year. What these laws, policies, and practices are remain to be specified. However, the persistence of long lines in the same states across time suggests that simply leaving it to the initiative of local election officials to solve the long-line problem in states such as Florida will result in only marginal improvements, at best. In other words, in a state like Florida, even the best-performing counties are probably limited in how much better they could perform because of parameters imposed by state law. (my emphasis)
Aside from Florida, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia introduced laws intended to reduce wait times and bills remain active in Connecticut and Maryland.
Other proposals to increase voter access include:
laws to modernize voter registration
relax Voter ID/Proof of Citizenship laws
Increase automation in the voting process
13 states introduced bill to either establish or enhance on-line registration
Same Day registration is being considered in 17 states.
Four states introduced bills to allow portability of a voter’s registration within the state.
Nineteen states proposed laws to introduce or increase in person early voting. (This includes bills awaiting signature by the governors of New Jersey and Maryland.)
Delaware passed a bill to restore voting rights for people with criminal convictions. 14 other states introduced similar laws.
At least 10 states introduced bills to allow students under 18 to pre-register.
There is still a lot of work to do. while some state’s persist in trying to take the vote backwards, others are determined to move access to a fundamental right in a free society forward.
Russia's online wavemakers
Two brave bloggers risk life and limb to challenge Russia's press restrictions and get their stories told.
Witness Last Modified: 11 Mar 2013 10:27
Filmmakers: Richard Setbon and Evgeny Rudnii
Sergei Mukhamedov is a young Moscow blogger with his hand on the pulse of Russia’s capital city. He rails against the restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Vladimir Putin.
"Moscow is a very tough town. So many people live here. Where do they live an work? How do they survive? Moscow is like an ant hill, so hard to grasp. But for a blogger, Moscow is a gold mine. There is so much going on. It's like nowhere else in Russia."
- Sergei Mukhamedov, a blogger
Working alone he scans the Twittersphere for story tips. He dashes to where the action is, making sure he is first on the scene to break a story and gets it out immediately onto the internet.
His reports expose corruption and deal with the issues faced by ordinary citizens. When he sees a tweet about unusual activities at a national bank, he dashes there only to find it being closing down taking with it their poor clients’ savings.
His quick response not only exposes corruption at the bank but his story posts even helps the bank’s clients in faraway Siberia get their money out before their branch is closed there too.
Irina Gundareva is an investigative journalist at a newspaper in Chelyabinsk, Siberia. She will not accept her stories being censored - and when she feels she cannot do a story fully in her own paper, she takes to the blogosphere.
"My whole career I’ve tried to be free. I would always change jobs when I encountered censorship”,she says.
Determined to expose corruption and injustice, she has braved harassment and threats from officials and businessmen in order to report truthfully on her blog. She takes us to the city’s outskirts and the garbage dump where, at great personal risk, she reports on the criminals with connections to the local government who are using migrant slave labourers to recycle garbage for profit.
These two stories weave together to show us the energy, commitment and passion of Russia’s new online wavemakers, determined to get their stories told.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IOEc0uKvss
April 25, 2013White House Says It Believes Syria Has Used Chemical Arms
By MARK LANDLER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday that it believes the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in its civil war, an assessment that could test President Obama’s repeated warnings that such an attack could precipitate American intervention in Syria.
The White House, in a letter to Congressional leaders, said the nation’s intelligence agencies assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale.
But it said more conclusive evidence was needed before Mr. Obama would take action, referring obliquely to both the Bush administration’s use of faulty intelligence in the march to war in Iraq and the ramifications of any decision to enter another conflict in the Middle East.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the agencies actually expressed more certainty about the use of these weapons than the White House indicated in its letter. She said Thursday that they voiced medium to high confidence in their assessment, which officials said was based on the testing of soil samples and blood drawn from people who had been wounded.
American officials said the attacks, which occurred last month in a village near Aleppo and in the outskirts of Damascus, had not been definitively connected to Mr. Assad. The White House said the “chain of custody” of the weapons was not clear, raising questions about whether the attacks were deliberate or accidental.
“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient,” the White House said in the letter, which was signed by its legislative director, Miguel E. Rodriguez. “Only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making.”
That meticulously legal language did not disguise a thorny political and foreign policy problem for Mr. Obama: he has long resisted the calls to arm the Syrian rebels and has expressed deep doubts about the wisdom of intervening in an Arab nation so riven with sectarian strife, although he has also issued pointed warnings to Syria.
In a statement last summer, Mr. Obama did not offer a technical definition of his “red line” for taking action, but said it was when “we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.” In Jerusalem last month, he said proof that Syria had used such weapons would be a “game changer” for American involvement.
The Pentagon, administration officials said, has prepared the president a menu of options that include commando raids that would secure chemical weapons stockpiles and strikes on Syrian planes from American ships in the Mediterranean. Last year, the United States secretly sent a 150-member task force to Jordan to help deal with the possibility that Syria would lose control of its stockpiles. Mr. Obama could also provide more robust aid to the rebels, including weapons.
White House officials gave no indication of what Mr. Obama might do, except to say that any American action would be taken in concert with its allies.
While lawmakers from both parties swiftly declared that the president’s red line had been breached, they differed on what he should do about it.
“The political reality is that he put himself in that position that if the ‘red line’ is crossed — he made it very clear — it would change his behavior,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said. The intelligence “is a compelling argument for the president to take the measures that a lot of us have been arguing for all along,” he said.
The timing of the White House disclosure also suggested the pressures it is facing. It came the same day that the British government said that it had “limited but persuasive” evidence of the use of chemical weapons, and two days after an Israeli military intelligence official asserted that Syria had repeatedly used chemical weapons.
In a letter to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, several weeks ago calling for a United Nations investigation, Britain laid out evidence of the attacks in Aleppo and near Damascus as well as an earlier one in Homs.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, reported that dozens of victims were treated at hospitals for shortness of breath, convulsions and dilation of the pupils, common symptoms of exposure to chemical warfare agents. Doctors reported eye irritation and fatigue after close exposure to the patients.
Citing its links to contacts in the Syrian opposition, Britain said there were reports of 15 deaths in the suburban Damascus attack and up to 10 in Aleppo, where the government and rebels have each accused the other of using chemical weapons.
“Fortunately the deaths have not been high,” Senator Feinstein said, “but there have been deaths.”
The United States has also pushed for a United Nations investigation, but it made clear on Thursday that it has collected enough evidence on its own and with Britain and other countries to make its assessment. An official said the United States was also suspicious about the attack in Homs.
While several officials said the intelligence agencies expressed medium to high confidence about its overall assessment, two intelligence officials noted that there were components of the assessment about which the agencies were less certain. They did not offer details.
Administration officials had begun the week casting doubt on the claims made by the Israeli official, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, about chemical weapons. “Suspicions are one thing; evidence is another,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday on a visit to Egypt.
But by then, a senior administration official said, the intelligence agencies had already become more confident of their assessment, after several weeks of examining the evidence. With Secretary of State John Kerry scheduled to brief senators on Syria on Thursday, the White House decided on Wednesday evening to get ahead of that meeting.
The administration’s disclosure came in a response to Mr. McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who wrote to the White House asking whether Mr. Assad or his supporters had used chemical weapons during the two-year-long war.
“Given the fact that we have been developing additional information within our intelligence community,” a White House official said to reporters, “we felt it was the right and prudent thing to do to respond in an unclassified form to this letter.”
Lawmakers generally welcomed the White House’s disclosure, though some suggested that the administration was still inclined to play down the implications of the assessment.
“It is important that we read the intelligence as it is laid out, not as we would like it to be,” said Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington; Thom Shanker from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and David E. Sanger from Jerusalem.
April 26, 2013British Leader Speaks of ‘Limited’ but ‘Growing’ Evidence of Chemical Weapons in Syria
By ALAN COWELL and HWAIDA SAAD
LONDON — As fighting flared in northern areas of Damascus after fierce clashes to the east, Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday echoed the Obama administration’s cautious assessment of the use of chemical munitions in Syria, saying there was “limited” but “growing evidence” that such weapons had been used, probably by government forces.
There was no indication that the British leader, speaking on a BBC television show, was referring to the latest fighting around Damascus, the capital, in which Syrian state media claimed on Thursday that government forces had overrun a strategic, rebel-held town controlling a key insurgent supply corridor to the east of the capital.
On Friday, anti-government activists produced video footage said to show heavy clashes between government forces and rebels in the Barzeh area of northern Damascus, with gray and black smoke rising from battered high-rises into the early morning sky. The provenance of video could not be independently verified.
While the fighting swirled on the ground — with explosions clearly audible from the center of Damascus on Friday — much Western attention has been focused on whether chemical weapons have been used to the extent that they might trigger foreign military intervention, a possibility that Mr. Cameron sought to rule out on Friday.
The British government, like Washington, is concerned to avoid a repetition of events leading to the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when the presence of unconventional weapons, cited as justification for military action, was never corroborated.
The White House said on Thursday that the nation’s intelligence agencies had assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale.
But it said more conclusive evidence was needed before Mr. Obama would take action, referring obliquely to both the Bush administration’s use of faulty intelligence in the march to war in Iraq and the ramifications of any decision to enter another conflict in the Middle East.
On Friday, Mr. Cameron said that while evidence was limited, “there’s growing evidence that we have seen, too, of the use of chemical weapons, probably by the regime. It is extremely serious, this is a war crime, and we should take it very seriously.”
Mr. Cameron said British authorities were trying to avoid “rushing into print” about the use of chemical weapons.
“But this is extremely serious, and I think what President Obama said was absolutely right — that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more,” he said.
But he repeated that Britain had no appetite to intervene militarily, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I don’t want to see that and I don’t think that is likely to happen,” he said. “But I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome. But we need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions.”
He was speaking a day after Syria’s state news media said that government forces had “restored complete control” in a strategic, bitterly contested town east of Damascus, offering new claims — disputed by rebel fighters on the ground — that loyalist troops were reversing the flow of battle in some areas, severing a crucial insurgent supply line on the approaches to the capital.
SANA, the official news agency, said that soldiers fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad had overwhelmed the opposition in the town, Otaiba, and had “discovered a number of tunnels which were used by terrorists to move and transfer weapons and ammunition.”
Terrorist is the word used by Mr. Assad to describe armed opponents, backed by the West and many Arab states, seeking his overthrow in a revolt that is now more than two years old.
Rebel fighters on the ground said on Thursday that, despite the official claims, the insurgents were still holding on to some parts of Otaiba.
An activist who had been involved in the fighting and who spoke on the condition that he be identified only as Ammar said the claimed capture of the town was an exaggeration. “Both sides are still fighting,” the activist said. “The regime are attacking from the east side, the Free Syrian Army from the west side.”
Civilians had fled the town, the activist said, acknowledging that the fighting had disrupted rebel supply chains. “We have convoys stopped now because roads have been closed and we can’t use them for the time being.”
A government victory in the town could prove a setback to the rebel effort to amass forces for a thrust closer to Damascus, where government forces remain in control. It would also provide loyalist forces with a morale-bolstering success after a string of losses between Damascus and the Jordanian frontier to the south.
In the contested western Syria town of Qusayr near the Lebanon border, an anti-Assad activist reached through Skype said government forces had bombed the town center with helicopters six times on Thursday, killing and wounding an unspecified number of residents and destroying 25 houses. “We weren’t pulling bodies out,” said the activist, who identified himself as Hadi Abdulla. “We were collecting bits and pieces and putting limbs together.” The Syrian Observatory said at least 10 people were killed.
Qusayr has become a sectarian flash point that has threatened to expand the war into Lebanon. The Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah has sent fighters there in recent weeks, and rebels, who are drawn mostly from Syria’s Sunni majority, have threatened to retaliate across the border in response.
Elsewhere, international concern escalated over the fate of two high-ranking Syrian church clergymen from Aleppo who were kidnapped on Monday. Colleagues of the kidnap victims — the Greek Orthodox archbishop, Paul Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox archbishop, Yohanna Ibrahim — said they remained captive, contradicting unconfirmed reports earlier in the week that they had been freed. Their whereabouts and kidnappers were unknown.
Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, a supporter of the Syrian government, said on Thursday during a visit to Beirut that Russia condemned the kidnapping and was making efforts to secure the release of the two clergymen.
Alan Cowell reported from London and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon. Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut; Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Rick Gladstone from New York.
**********Syria: 'victims of chemical attack foam at mouth' - video
Unverified footage purports to show victims of a chemical attack in Syria foaming at the mouth. The video claims to show victims of a Syrian regime assault on Aleppo on 13 April, and was posted online by Niazi Habash, a British-trained doctor. He said the victims showed symptoms of exposure to chemicals, including breathing difficulties, foaming at the mouth and pinprick pupils
Warning: contains disturbing imageshttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/26/syria-chemical-foam-mouth-video
April 26, 2013Syrian Officials Deny Use of Chemical Weapons
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Two Syrian officials have denied the government has used chemical weapons against rebel forces, saying the regime had no need for them.
The denials follow assertions by the White House and other top Obama administration officials that U.S. intelligence had concluded with "varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in its civil war.
A Syrian government official said the government did not and will not use chemical weapons even if it had them. He spoke to The Associated Press Friday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.
Syrian official Sharif Shehadeh called the U.S. claims "lies" and likened them to false accusations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction ahead of the U.S. invasion of that country.
04/23/2013 03:53 PMOrder Amid Chaos: Syrian City Embodies Absurdity of Civil War
By Christoph Reuter
The city of Zabadani is full of surprises. Rebels have established a city council, a prison and court system, a financial office and even a Facebook page. And their efforts are not unusual: Locally operating rebel governments are springing up across the country, becoming an important new force in the Syrian civil war.
With just one hour to go before daybreak, the city emerges from between the mountain slopes. The sentry gives a hand signal and the rebels' couriers suddenly freeze. All that can be heard is the sound of exhausted breathing and a pebble rolling down the hill. The first man in the group surveys the landscape with night-vision goggles and speaks quietly into his radio set. "Everything quiet?" The answer crackles back that yes, everything's quiet, none of the enemy guards has stirred from their position. The army of dictator Bashar Assad can listen in on their radio communications, but they can't locate the devices. Another hand signal and the rebels gradually continue their descent into the valley, toward Zabadani.
Nestled between fruit orchards along a river, the city was once the summer getaway of Damascus residents who fled here on weekends to escape the brutal heat of the capital. Restaurants catering to day-trippers lined up alongside holiday apartments. The king of Saudi Arabia owns an estate on the city's outskirts. "We didn't take to the streets out of poverty," the bookkeeper of the underground city council says later of the uprising's beginning two years ago. The demonstrations were followed by gunfire, attacks perpetrated by the army, house-to-house combat, ceasefires and renewed fighting.
Today Zabadani is a large, almost completely black smudge in the night, framed by the lights of the military outposts on the mountain crests. The city has been completely surrounded for nearly 14 months, shot at by tanks from the 4th and 18th Divisions. It's reachable only on moonless nights after long marches through the mountains.
Zabadani is a singular arena in this war, with strange fronts and grotesque alliances. Yet the fight for control of the city in the valley shows how people are adapting to the horror of this seemingly endless war. It also shows how far both sides are from giving up.
'Light Isn't Good'
Cherry trees are blossoming in white, and the night wind blows their fragrance toward us. Suddenly, two shots from a military post ring out through the night. There's still no need for concern, the leader of the group says. "Sometimes the soldiers shoot just to let us know they're awake -- so no one attacks them."
A shadow appears amid the darkness of the first rows of houses, and murmured morning greetings are audible. The journey continues in a car with no windshield and no lights, a frighteningly speedy drive through complete darkness into the city of ruins. "Light isn't good," the driver says as he veers into black. It makes you bait for snipers, he says. "Ankar" introduces himself. He's a lawyer, but at the moment what's far more important is that he can see surprisingly well in the dark. We're heading for an alley between tall houses. A shimmer of light appears from a basement apartment.
In the morning, the men in the basement are awoken by the sounds of shell fire from the surrounding area. At first the city appears to be empty, with only cats crossing the streets. But then the occasional person scurries past outside, and a few shops even open up, albeit with a sparse range of goods. Three rebels lean against the wall of a house.
In peacetime, 40,000 people lived in Zabadani, Muslims and Christians. Only 3,000 remain -- out of defiance, fear or because they're defending the city. Anyone left stays in the basements or on the ground floors. All buildings are abandoned above the first floor. Land was expensive in the valley, so property developed upward. And the fact that many buildings are five stories high has become a life-saving circumstance. "A direct hit from a tank shell destroys about one floor," says one of the rebels, who as a construction engineer is familiar with such calculations. "Since they almost always attack from above, we just hide out underground for a while."
The city is being demolished floor by floor. The army shells Zabadani with a certain regularity, in the morning and in the late afternoon for one to two hours. A few people die every week.
Yet over time the city has developed a tough and sophisticated independent existence. More than a year ago, 50 representatives from the big Zabadani families met to elect a 15-person city council. It now organizes food deliveries, the underground hospital, law enforcement, courts and even the nighttime disposal of rubble. Only when the streets are clear can you drive through them in the dark.
'We Have Files for Everything'
The council has a budget and a Facebook profile where it registers the money, most of which comes from Syrians in exile. The profile also reports what it does with the money, which has to be carried in cash over the mountains. There's a basement prison where two soldiers and two burglars are sitting, and even an evidence room for the courts. In its door hangs a standard 21-by-30 centimeter paper listing everything that is required and prohibited: No member of the court may physically or verbally abuse people, and no one can make decisions without authorization.
The prison warden and the chairman of the justice committee, the first a farmer and the second an attorney, describe a new system of law under absurd circumstances. "We have files for every proceeding," says the attorney. "We inventory the stolen goods so that the owners can claim them. We investigated two cases of homicide." The murder cases occurred when two groups of rebels mistook each other for government troops and fired at each other.
"And we're planning to get uniforms for the police," the attorney continues, "and photo IDs!" It's preliminary, he concedes, adding that right now they are happy simply to survive until the next day. "That's exactly why we need institutions and rules, not just people. If one of us dies, the next one has to be able to take over without everything collapsing."
A few piles of rubble further, the council's bookkeeper sits at a computer in his basement quarters. He opens Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, pulls files with receipts from the shelves and explains his system, which takes care of more than 20,000 people with small donations. He's responsible for the most important task of the council: the financial administration and the humanitarian aid for residents and refugees in nearby villages. Around 150 middlemen were elected by their families and clans to safeguard distribution. Every family gets 3,000 lira, about €20, every one to two months. "It's not much, but they should know that we're there."
Local Councils Become Syria's Third Power
Everywhere in Syria where the government has lost control, these kinds of councils have been emerging over the past year. Their strength of working locally is also their weakness, though. They are splitting the country up into hundreds of autonomous zones. But between the fighting rebels and the desolate opposition in exile, they're growing to be the third power in the equation. More than a hundred delegates from all over Syria came to a conference in Ankara last December, planning to organize themselves across the country. They receive support from the US State Department.
Yet theirs is a battle against time. There are four floors to Zabadani's underground hospital, located in a former furniture warehouse. The top two levels have already been reduced to rubble, and a few days ago a shell penetrated the next level down. Two floors are all that separate the doctors and patients in their sick bay from destruction. "We have to move again soon," says dentist Mohammed Chair Charita. "But where to? We've already moved three times."
In the operating room, a surgeon and a nurse attend to a man who can only whisper that he was lucky. Twenty-two days ago, he was pulled from his taxi at a military checkpoint near the neighboring city of Bludan and interrogated by security officers. Why did he work for the terrorists? Was he conspiring with Israel and al-Qaida? "Absurd," he murmurs. "If I was wanted by the regime, I'd never have come to their checkpoint."
Assad's henchmen tortured him for days with electrical shocks until they bound him up and threw him out on the street. Farmers took him in and brought him to Zabadani last night. The electrodes left pitch-black, dead tissue on his toes and the backs of his hands.
There are seven doctors, including a neurosurgeon. Anyone who is too gravely injured to be treated here has to be carried on foot across the border into Lebanon. "Many don't survive," says the surgeon as he takes his lunch break in a neighboring cellar.
Others join the conversation, talking about their urgent needs. The debate ends with the apathy of the West and the recent oath of allegiance the radical group al-Nusra swore to al-Qaida. "Crazy," a young anesthesiologist says. "We are completely against that kind of madness. But they fight against Assad -- and they die. The United States has declared them terrorists, but…." He walks to the next room and comes back with a first-aid backpack for combat missions. "This here is all of America's aid to Zabadani. A backpack. It arrived three days ago. What right does America have to judge?"
Ceasefire with State Security
They can't win the war against the tanks, confesses Abu Adnan, commander of the Hamsa battalion, Zabadani's largest rebel group. "We're down here. They are above." Nonetheless, they have won themselves a few life-saving seconds of time. At every position where army tanks are stationed, rebel scouts hide among the trees and bushes. At the most important positions, the rebels have installed cameras that transmit to an underground control room in Zabadani. All it takes is the sound of the tank's motor starting up for an alarm to sound: "Kassif! Kassif! Kassif!" Grenades! The shrill warning cry from the radio drives everyone to the nearest doorway within seconds.
A tank has blasted away half of the tower of the orthodox St. Mark's Church. The roof of a mosque more than a thousand years old collapsed after several shellings. The Catholic church, the convent, the train station and the cultural center have also been laid to waste. At the cemetery, men were up half the night collecting skulls and bones from the street to order to bury them back in a pit between the graves. Only one building in the middle of the city remains untouched by the shelling: the regime's General State Security center, where 20 men are holding out under the command of one Colonel Assam. State security is actually part of the system of government-sanctioned terror in Syria. But in Zabadani, Colonel Assam and his troops stay clear of battle. They didn't imprison or kill demonstrators, nor did they defect. They simply held their ground.
"They do nothing to us, we do nothing to them," as rebel commander Abu Adnan describes the arrangement. Officially, of course, he would rather see them defect to their side. But, he says, "as long as they're here, the regime doesn't shut off the power or shoot scud missiles or poison gas at us." The location of Zabadani's telecommunications office in a basement directly next to the state security center allows them, for the time being, to maintain its phone line.
The rebels have posted guards in front of the building so no one tries to get to Colonel Assam's men. In pairs and unarmed -- as per the deal they made with the city council -- they are permitted to shop in the morning for groceries at the remaining shops. And the colonel can relay to Damascus that he has everything under control as usual.
Neither Side Wants Complete War
This continuation of war by other means sounds more unusual than it really is. In some places there are even ceasefires. The army is so thinned out that it can send troops only if they're withdrawn from somewhere else. The city council in Zabadani has also been using intermediaries to negotiate a ceasefire with the commander of the 4th Division. The fruit trees are blossoming and the beekeepers have to bring their bee colonies outside without being shot at.
But something else is crucial -- both sides need the mountain passes. Near Zabadani in the village of Ain Hur run the paths and tunnels used by Hezbollah, which is allied with Assad's regime. Through these channels, they transport missiles and other weapons from their depots in Damascus to Lebanon and send convoys of fighters back to Syria. Further south runs the highway that connects Damascus and Beirut, the regime's last secure route out of the country. If the rebels were to attack here, the entire territory would become a war zone.
No one is interested in that. After all, the trapped residents of Zabadani need their paths to transport medicine, weapons and food through the snow-capped mountains to the beleaguered city. None of Zabadani's courier squads set off alone. Each is followed by at least one man on rearguard to make sure they are not being followed by soldiers.
On one of these nights, the departure of a rebel group is suddenly called off when they learn the army has planned an ambush. The rebel scouts saw the soldiers hiding. Both sides are simultaneously hunters and prey. Over the radio rebels warn incoming couriers to hide for a while between the rocks. They wait for hours until the soldiers retreat and the incoming group of rebels can continue. They arrive in the city just in time, before day breaks again in Zabadani.
With research by Abdulkader Adhoun. Translated from the German by Andrew Bowen and Charly Wilder