Egyptians seize pyramid sites for use as cemeteries
By The Observer
Saturday, April 27, 2013 20:35 EDT
By Patrick Kingsley, The Observer
Archaeologists fear for pyramid sites as illegal building gathers pace in wake of Arab spring
In Manshiet Dahshur, 25 miles south of Cairo, the villagers recently extended the boundaries of the cemetery. For Ahmed Rageb, a carpenter who buried his cousin in the annexe, it was a logical decision. “We want to bury the dead,” he said, strolling through the new cemetery after visiting his cousin’s tomb. “The old cemetery is full. And there is no other place to bury my family.”
There is just one problem. The new tombs are perilously close to some of Egypt’s oldest: the pyramids of Dahshur, less famous than their larger cousins at Giza, but just as venerable. This is protected land, and no one is supposed to build here – yet more than 1,000 illegal tombs have appeared in the desert since January.
“What happened was crazy,” said Mohamed Youssef, Dahshur’s chief archaeologist. “They came and took space for about 20 generations.”
The tombs nestle in the dunes below the Red Pyramid, considered the pharaohs’ first successful attempt at a smooth-sided structure. To the south is the Bent Pyramid, named for its warped walls. In the east, nearer the Nile, lies the Black Pyramid – a collapsed colossus on which the villagers are most in danger of encroaching. This is their right, claimed Reda Dabus, a clerk worshipping at the mosque next to the cemetery. “All the people are born here,” Dabus said. “They died here. They should have the right to be buried here.” Inhabitable land is hard to come by in Egypt, where 99% of the population live on 5.5% of the territory.
But it is an argument disputed by local archaeologists, who say there is something darker afoot: looting. “Some of them have a real need for the tombs for their families,” said Youssef, who said that the land had been designated as government property since the late 1970s. “But when you have 1,000 people, some of them will want to do illegal excavation.”
Others agree. “They use the new tombs to hide what they are doing,” explained Ramadan al-Qot, a site inspector who grew up in the village. Observers say the cemetery is the latest in a series of forbidden incursions that have markedly increased since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. More than 500 illegal excavations have taken place at Dahshur since 2011 – an increase mirrored at sites all over the country.
“Dahshur is just a single case study of what’s happening on every archaeological site in Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, who campaigns for greater resources to be allocated to Egypt’s ancient sites. “It’s happened all around the Nile valley, in El Hiba, in Beni Suef. Everywhere.”
In the months following Mubarak’s fall in spring 2011, Nigel Hetherington, a British archaeologist and film-maker, documented dozens of new illegal buildings on ancient sites between Cairo and Dahshur. “They were openly building,” Hetherington said. “They had no fear of being filmed.”
The situation is symptomatic of a deterioration in law and order since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Nationwide, the police, whose brutality was a major cause of the 2011 uprising, no longer had the inclination to patrol either the streets or sites such as Dahshur. “After the revolution,” said Youssef, “the police would not do anything.” This left the inspectors to fend for themselves.
“It’s very dangerous for us,” said al-Qot, three of whose colleagues were hospitalised following a run-in with looters in December. “The thieves hide behind the tombs and shoot at us.”
The retreat of the state is just one explanation for the rise in looting and land grabs. Locals say it is also related to the way that the 2011 uprising prompted many ordinary Egyptians to shed some of their instinctive fear of authority. “The situation changed because the people changed,” said Youssef.
“That’s the reason for the building: the revolution,” agreed Abdo Diab, a carpenter who has built a tomb at Dahshur. “All the people now, we are not afraid of the army or the police or any government.”
“If we want something,” said Dabus, “we do it.”
At Dahshur, that is what has happened. In January, a dozen people who are said to have needed tombs for their relatives started building on restricted pyramid land. The site’s inspectors reported it to the police – but there was no response. “No one demolished their tombs because the government is so weak,” said Youssef. “So the other people realised that there is no punishment.”
Residents from other villages then heard about the free-for-all, and started building too. Then a building contractor allegedly claimed the land and started selling off small plots to those who agreed to pay him to build their tombs.
Soon there was a stampede, as no one wanted to be left out. “When one family built a tomb, the other families wanted new ones too,” said Diab, who also admitted that he had no legal right to build.
But many villagers still differentiated between their actions and the raids organised by armed gangs equipped with expensive diggers. “Some people built tombs to steal archaeology, definitely,” said 28-year-old Walid Ibrahim, picnicking on the boundary between the old and new cemeteries. “But all the old tombs are full and there’s no place to bury our new dead.”
There have been suggestions that both the looting and the government’s failure to tackle it results from the rise of Islamists who are culturally opposed to Egypt’s heathen heritage. One Salafi (or ultra-conservative) preacher recently called for the destruction of the pyramids. “But that’s just one person,” countered Hetherington. “There is some kind of undercurrent in this story [that this is] about Muslims against their foreign past. But it’s not. I’ve met Salafis here, and their views are not mine – but not one of them wanted to blow up the pyramid.”
Hetherington argues that the illegal building stemmed from locals’ economic and social alienation from their ancient heritage. “All they are is a cash cow for tourists,” said Hetherington of the pyramids. “And if you’re not in that business, where’s the benefit? In the past you might have got a spiritual value, because your grandmother was buried there, and you were going to be buried there, or because your mosque was in the temple, and you went to that mosque every day.”
Not any more, locals said. “When I was born, my grandfather and grandmother said that our pharaohs built the pyramids – but that was all they told us,” said Walid Ibrahim. “So many people don’t think about the pyramids. They haven’t any jobs. If the government gave them jobs, they would save the pyramids.”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Big brains, no fur, sinuses … are these clues to our ancestors’ lives as ‘aquatic apes’?
By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, April 27, 2013 9:59 EDT
It is one of the most unusual evolutionary ideas ever proposed: humans are amphibious apes who lost their fur, started to walk upright and developed big brains because they took to living the good life by the water’s edge.
This is the aquatic ape theory and although treated with derision by some academics over the past 50 years, it is still backed by a small, but committed group of scientists. Next week they will hold a major London conference when several speakers, including David Attenborough, will voice support for the theory.
“Humans are very different from other apes,” said Peter Rhys Evans, an organiser of Human Evolution: Past, Present and Future. “We lack fur, walk upright, have big brains and subcutaneous fat and have a descended larynx, a feature common among aquatic animals but not apes.”
Standard evolutionary models suggest these different features appeared at separate times and for different reasons. The aquatic ape theory argues they all occurred because our ancestors decided to live in or near water for hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of years.
The theory was first proposed in 1960 by British biologist Sir Alister Hardy, who believed apes descended from the trees to live, not on the savannah as is usually supposed, but in flooded creeks, river banks and sea shores, some of Earth’s richest sources of food. To keep their heads above water, they evolved an upright stance, freeing their hands to make tools to crack open shellfish. Then they lost their body hair and instead developed a thick layer of subcutaneous fat to keep warm in the water.
Scientists have since added other human attributes of claimed aquatic origin – a recent addition being the sinus, said Rhys Evans, an expert on head and neck physiology at the Royal Marsden hospital, London.
“Humans have particularly large sinuses, spaces in the skull between our cheeks, noses and foreheads,” he added. “But why do we have empty spaces in our heads? It makes no sense until we consider the evolutionary perspective. Then it becomes clear: our sinuses acted as buoyancy aids that helped keep our heads above water.”
Other palaeontologists dismiss parts of the theory. One or two human features could have arisen because our ancestors picked homes near the sea but the entire package of attributes – lack of fur, upright posture, big brains, sinuses and others – is just too much, they add.
“I think that wading in a watery environment is as good an explanation, at the moment, for our upright gait as any other theory for human bipedalism,” said Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London. “But the whole aquatic ape package includes attributes that appeared at very different times in our evolution. If they were all the result of our lives in watery environments, we would have to have spent millions of years there and there is evidence for this – not to mention like crocodiles and other creatures would have made the water a very dangerous place.”
It is not just human physiology that reveals our aquatic past, argue the theory’s supporters. Our brain biochemistry is also revealing. “Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in large amounts in seafood,” said Dr Michael Crawford, of Imperial College London.
“It boosts brain growth in mammals. That is why a dolphin has a much bigger brain than a zebra, though they have roughly the same body sizes. The dolphin has a diet rich in DHA. The crucial point is that without a high DHA diet from seafood we could not have developed our big brains. We got smart from eating fish and living in water.
“More to the point, we now face a world in which sources of DHA – our fish stocks – are threatened. That has crucial consequences for our species. Without plentiful DHA, we face a future of increased mental illness and intellectual deterioration. We need to face up to that urgently. That is the real lesson of the aquatic ape theory.”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...
April 27, 2013A Battered Dream, Then a Violent Path
By DEBORAH SONTAG, DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and SERGE F. KOVALESKI
BOSTON — It was a blow the immigrant boxer could not withstand: after capturing his second consecutive title as the Golden Gloves heavyweight champion of New England in 2010, Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev, 23, was barred from the national Tournament of Champions because he was not a United States citizen.
The cocksure fighter, a flamboyant dresser partial to white fur and snakeskin, had been looking forward to redeeming the loss he suffered the previous year in the first round, when the judges awarded his opponent the decision, drawing boos from spectators who considered Mr. Tsarnaev dominant.
From one year to the next, though, the tournament rules had changed, disqualifying legal permanent residents — not only Mr. Tsarnaev, who was Soviet-born of Chechen and Dagestani heritage, but several other New England contenders, too. His aspirations frustrated, he dropped out of boxing competition entirely, and his life veered in a completely different direction.
Mr. Tsarnaev portrayed his quitting as a reflection of the sport’s incompatibility with his growing devotion to Islam. But as dozens of interviews with friends, acquaintances and relatives from Cambridge, Mass., to Dagestan showed, that devotion, and the suspected radicalization that accompanied it, was a path he followed most avidly only after his more secular dreams were dashed in 2010 and he was left adrift.
His trajectory eventually led the frustrated athlete and his loyal younger brother, Dzhokhar, to bomb one of the most famous athletic events in this country, killing three and wounding more than 200 at the Boston Marathon, the authorities say. They say it led Mr. Tsarnaev, his application for citizenship stalled, and his brother, a new citizen and a seemingly well-adjusted college student, to attack their American hometown on Patriots’ Day, April 15.
Mr. Tsarnaev now lies in the state medical examiner’s office, his body riddled with bullets after a confrontation with the police four days after the bombings. He left behind an American-born wife who had converted to Islam, a 3-year-old daughter with curly hair, a 19-year-old brother charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, and a puzzle: Why did these two young men seemingly turn on the country that had granted them asylum?
Examining their lives for clues, the authorities have focused on Mr. Tsarnaev’s six-month trip to the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan last year. But in Cambridge, sitting on the front steps of the ramshackle, brown-shingled house where the Tsarnaev family lived for a decade, their 79-year-old landlady urged a longer lens.
“He certainly wasn’t radicalized in Dagestan,” the landlady, Joanna Herlihy, said.
Ms. Herlihy, who speaks Russian and was friends with the Tsarnaevs, said she told law enforcement officials that his trip clearly merited scrutiny. But she said that Mr. Tsarnaev’s embrace of Islam had grown more intense before that.
As his religious identification grew fiercer, Mr. Tsarnaev seemed to abandon his once avid pursuit of the American dream. He dropped out of community college and lost interest not just in boxing but also in music; he used to play piano and violin, classical music and rap, and his e-mail address was a clue to how he once saw himself: The_Professor@real-hiphop.com
. He worked only sporadically, sometimes as a pizza deliverer, and he grew first a close-cropped beard and then a flowing one.
He seemed isolated, too. Since his return from Dagestan, he, his wife and his child were the only Tsarnaevs living full time in the three-bedroom apartment on Ms. Herlihy’s third floor.
Mr. Tsarnaev’s two younger sisters had long since married and moved out; his parents, now separated, had returned to Dagestan, his mother soon after a felony arrest on shoplifting charges; and his brother had left for the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, returning home only on the occasional weekend, as he did recently after damaging his 1999 green Honda Civic by texting while driving.
“When Dzhokhar used to come home on Friday night from the dormitory, Tamerlan used to hug him and kiss him — hold him, like, because he was a big, big boy, Tamerlan,” their mother, Zubeidat, 45, said last week, adding that her older son had been “handsome like Hercules.”
Not long after he gave up his boxing career, Mr. Tsarnaev married Katherine Russell of Rhode Island in a brief Islamic ceremony at a Dorchester mosque in June 2010. She has declined to speak publicly since the attacks.
His wife primarily supported the family through her job as a home health aide, scraping together about $1,200 a month to pay the rent. While she worked, Mr. Tsarnaev looked after their daughter, Zahira, who was learning to ride the tricycle still parked beside the house, neighbors said. The family’s income was supplemented by public assistance and food stamps from September 2011 to November 2012, state officials said.
It was probably not the life that Anzor Tsarnaev had imagined for his oldest child, who, even as a boy, before he developed the broad-shouldered physique that his mother described as “a masterpiece,” dreamed of becoming a famous boxer.
But then the father’s life had not gone as planned, either. Once an official in the prosecutor’s office in Kyrgyzstan, he had been reduced to working as an unlicensed mechanic in the back lot of a rug store in Cambridge.
“He was out there in the snow and cold, freezing his hands to do this work on people’s cars,” said Chris Walter, owner of the store, Yayla Tribal Rug. “I did not charge him for the space because he was a poor, struggling guy with a good heart.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born on Oct. 21, 1986, five years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in Kalmykia, a barren stretch of Russian territory by the Caspian Sea. A photograph of him as a baby shows a cherubic child wearing a knit cap with a pompom, perched on the lap of his unsmiling mother, who has spiky black bangs and an artful pile of hair. Strikingly, she did not cover her head then, as she does now; she began wearing a hijab only a few years ago, in the United States, prodded by her son just as she was prodding him, too, to deepen his faith.
When he was still little, his parents moved from Kalmykia to Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, where their other three children were born. They left there during the economic crisis of the late 1990s and spent a few brief months in Chechnya, then fled before the full-scale Russian military invasion in 1999. They sought shelter next in his mother’s native Dagestan.
In an interview there, Patimat Suleimanova, her sister-in-law, said the family had repeatedly been on the run from war and hardship in those days. “In search of peace, they kept moving,” she said.
Finally, Anzor Tsarnaev sought political asylum in the United States. He arrived first, with his younger son, in the spring of 2002. His older son, a young man of 16, followed with the rest of the family in July 2003.
Their neighborhood in Cambridge was run-down, with car repair lots where condominiums have since arisen. But the city has long been especially welcoming to immigrants and refugees; its high school has students from 75 countries.
The schools superintendent, Jeffrey Young, described Cambridge as “beyond tolerant.”
“How is it that someone could grow up in a place like this and end up in a place like that?” he said of the Tsarnaevs.
Unlike his little brother, who was well integrated into the community by the time he started high school, Mr. Tsarnaev was a genuine newcomer when he entered the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, from which he graduated in 2006. Enrolled in the large English as a Second Language program, he made friends mostly with other international students, and his demeanor was reserved, one former classmate, Luis Vasquez, said.
“The view on him was that he was a boxer and you would not want to mess with him,” Mr. Vasquez, now 25 and a candidate for the Cambridge City Council, said. “He told me that he wanted to represent the U.S. in boxing. He wanted to do the Olympics and then turn pro.”
Jumping right into boxing after his arrival in the United States, he called attention to himself immediately in more ways than one. During registration for a tournament in Lowell, he sat down at a piano and lost himself for 20 minutes in a piece of classical music. The impromptu performance, so out of place in that world, finished to a burst of applause from surprised onlookers.
“He just walked over from the line and started playing like he was in the Boston Pops,” his trainer at the time, Gene McCarthy, 77, recalled.
Having trained in Dagestan, where sport fighting has an impassioned following, Mr. Tsarnaev boxed straight-legged like a European and not crouched, American-style. He also incorporated showy gymnastics into his training and fighting, walking on his hands, falling into splits, tumbling into corners. So as he started working out in Boston-area clubs — and winning novice tournament fights — he made an impression, although not an entirely positive one.
“For a big man, he was very agile,” said Tom Lee, president of the South Boston Boxing Club. “He moved like a gazelle and was strong like a horse. He was a big puncher. But he was an underachiever because he did not dedicate himself to the proper training regimen.”
In 2009, Mr. Tsarnaev won the New England Golden Gloves championship in the 201-pound division, which qualified him for the national tournament in Salt Lake City in May. Introducing what would become his signature style, he showed up overdressed, wearing a white silk scarf, black leather pants and mirrored sunglasses.
Stepping into the ring, as The Lowell Sun described it, Mr. Tsarnaev floored Lamar Fenner of Chicago with an explosive punch that required an eight-count from the referee, and then he seemed to control the rest of the fight.
Bob Russo, then the coach of the New England team, said: “We thought he won. The crowd thought he won. But he didn’t.”
Mr. Fenner’s mother, Marsha, said her son had called her the night of his “bout with the bomber,” thrilled to have defeated an opponent he described as unnervingly strong. Her son, who died of heart problems last year at 29, ended up coming in second in the tournament and turning professional, she said.
If Mr. Tsarnaev was chastened by the defeat, it did not temper his behavior. During a preliminary round of the New England Golden Gloves in 2010, in a breach of boxing etiquette, he entered the locker room to taunt not only the fighter he was about to face but also the fighter’s trainer. Wearing a cowboy hat and alligator-skin cowboy boots, he gave the two men a disdainful once-over and said: “You’re nothing. I’m taking you down.”
The trainer, Hector Torres, was furious and subsequently lodged a complaint, arguing that Mr. Tsarnaev should not be allowed to participate in the competition because he was not a citizen.
As it happened, Golden Gloves of America was just then changing its policy. It used to permit legal immigrants to compete in its national tournament three out of every four years, barring them only during Olympic qualifying years, James Beasley, the executive director, said. But it decided in 2010 that the policy was confusing and moved to end all participation by noncitizens in the Tournament of Champions.
So Mr. Tsarnaev, New England heavyweight champion for the second year in a row, was stymied. The immigrant champions in three other weight classes in New England were blocked from advancing, too, Mr. Russo said.
Mr. Tsarnaev was devastated. He was not getting any younger. And he was more than a year away from being even eligible to apply for American citizenship, and there appeared to be a potential obstacle in his path.
The previous summer, Mr. Tsarnaev had been arrested after a report of domestic violence.
His girlfriend at the time had called 911, “hysterically crying,” to say he had beaten her up, according to the Cambridge police report. Mr. Tsarnaev told the officers that he had slapped her face because she had been yelling at him about “another girl.”
Eventually, charges against him would be dismissed, the records show, so the episode would not have endangered his eventual citizenship application.
But his life was changing. He married. He had a child. And he largely withdrew from Cambridge social life, and from many of the friendships he had enjoyed. “He had liked to party,” said Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, his former brother-in-law, who lost touch with him in 2010. “But there was always the sense that he felt a little guilty that he was having too much fun, maybe.”
In 2011, the Russian security service cautioned the F.B.I., and later the C.I.A., that “since 2010” Mr. Tsarnaev had “changed drastically,” becoming “a follower of radical Islam.” The Russians said he was planning a trip to his homeland to connect with underground militant groups. An F.B.I. investigation turned up no ties to extremists, the bureau has said.
In early 2012, Mr. Tsarnaev left his wife and child for a six-month visit to Russia. His parents, speaking in Dagestan, portrayed it as an innocuous visit to reconnect with family and to replace his nearly expired passport from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan with a Russian one. His father said he had kept his son close by his side as they visited relatives, including in Chechnya, and renovated a storefront into a perfume shop.
But American officials say Mr. Tsarnaev arrived in Russia months before his father returned to Dagestan and so did not have the continuous tight supervision described by his father.
Also, Mr. Tsarnaev, with no apparent sense of urgency about his travel documents, waited months to apply for a Russian passport, and returned to the United States before the passport was ready for him.
After his return, Mr. Tsarnaev applied for American citizenship, a year after he was eligible to do so. But the F.B.I. investigation, though closed, had caused his application to be stalled. Underscoring how detached he had become, he no longer had any valid passport, or international travel document, and Cambridge, to which he had a hard time readapting, was now his de facto home more than ever.
He grew a five-inch beard, which he shaved off before the bombings, and interrupted prayers at his mosque on two occasions with outbursts denouncing the idea that Muslims should observe American secular holidays. He engaged neighbors in affable conversations about skiing one week and heated ones about American imperialism the next.
At a neighborhood pizzeria, wearing a head covering that matched his jacket, he explained to Albrecht Ammon, 18, that “the Koran is great and flawless, and the Bible is ripped off from the Koran, and the U.S. used the Bible as an excuse to invade different countries.”
“I asked him about radical Muslims that blow themselves up and say, ‘It’s for Allah,’ ” Mr. Ammon said. “And he said he wasn’t one of those Muslims.”
Deborah Sontag and Serge F. Kovaleski reported from Boston, and David M. Herszenhorn from Makhachkala, Russia. Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz, John Eligon, Ian Lovett and Dina Kraft from Boston; Andrew Roth from Makhachkala; Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Julia Preston from New York; and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow. Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
April 27, 2013Shifting Focus, Federal Agents Arrest New Suspect in Ricin Case
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
A former taekwondo instructor was taken into custody early Saturday by federal authorities in Mississippi, accused of mailing letters containing the poison ricin to the president, a United States senator and a local judge.
The arrest of J. Everett Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo is the second in two weeks in connection with the case. An earlier suspect, an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis, of Corinth, Miss., was released after no evidence was found linking him to the letters. Mr. Curtis’s lawyer had said during a hearing in federal court that Mr. Dutschke appeared to have framed Mr. Curtis.
Deborah Madden, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Jackson, said Mr. Dutschke was arrested at home shortly before 1 a.m. A law enforcement official in Tupelo said his arrest was uneventful.
“He walked out, and they took him into custody,” said Sgt. James Hood of the Tupelo Police Department. “No problem or anything.”
A lawyer for Mr. Dutschke did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Saturday. Mr. Dutschke has been charged with “developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent” for use as a weapon. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Oxford on Monday.
The arrest is the latest chapter in a bizarre case that began during the tense week of the Boston Marathon bombing. The authorities announced that letters addressed to President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, had been found to contain a “suspicious granular substance,” which was later determined to be ricin, a deadly poison. A similar letter with the substance was also sent to Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County Justice Court.
The letters spoke of “Missing Pieces” and were signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” both standard parts of e-mail messages sent to public officials by Mr. Curtis, who had been on a one-man campaign for more than a decade to expose what he said was an illicit organ-harvesting scheme at a Tupelo hospital.
Mr. Curtis was arrested on April 17. While he was in custody, federal agents searched his home as well as the home of a former wife, but found no evidence tying him to the letters.
Law enforcement officials said on Saturday that the letters had been carefully written to mimic Mr. Curtis’s characteristic phrasing and concerns. Though they regretted having arrested a man they now consider innocent, they had wanted to move quickly to prevent more poisoned letters from being sent, one official said.
Mr. Curtis’s brother Jack said that neither he nor other relatives immediately dismissed the charges as false, given Mr. Curtis’s history of mental illness.
“We could understand, especially with the things that were tied to his initials,” he said. “I could see why somebody would think it was Kevin. But when they said President Obama, I thought, ‘Somebody messed up because he likes Obama.’ ”
The family said that Mr. Curtis might have been framed, and Jack Curtis said he told the authorities to look at Mr. Dutschke, who used to work for him and had long had an antagonistic relationship with Mr. Curtis.
In a hearing in federal court last Monday, Mr. Curtis’s lawyer mentioned Mr. Dutschke by name. Mr. Dutschke and Mr. Curtis had feuded, mostly online, on a variety of topics, including their music careers, Mr. Curtis’s admittedly false claim of being a member of Mensa, and Mr. Dutschke’s unwillingness to publish the organ-harvesting accusations in a local newsletter.
Mr. Dutschke, a bright but often abrasive man who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature, was arrested this year on charges of molesting three under-age girls, one as young as 7. He pleaded not guilty this month.
On Tuesday, Mr. Curtis was released, the charges against him dropped. At a news conference, Mr. Curtis said he did not blame the authorities but added that “this past week has been a nightmare for me and my family.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, federal agents searched Mr. Dutschke’s home and his former school, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus. James D. Moore, the prosecuting attorney for Lee County, said evidence had been found but he would not characterize its nature.
As he became the focus of the inquiry, Mr. Dutschke denied having anything to do with the ricin letters but tried to keep a low profile, to the point where the authorities briefly lost track of him.
The strangeness of the whole series of events was not shocking to some who know both men.
“There’s been bad blood between those two for years,” Mr. Moore said. Of their entanglement in this case, he added, “Hindsight’s 20/20, but knowing these two guys, I ain’t surprised.”
Thomas Kaplan and Scott Shane contributed reporting.
Former Russian Olympics official personally mocked by Putin says he was ‘poisoned’
By Miriam Elder, The Guardian
Sunday, April 28, 2013 20:51 EDT
A former Olympic official who fled Russia after President Vladimir Putin criticised him for delays and cost overruns before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi claims he has been poisoned.
Akhmed Bilalov, fired as deputy head of the Russian Olympic Committee in February, said on Saturday that doctors had discovered elevated mercury levels in his blood. He is receiving treatment in Germany.
“They have found elevated levels of mercury in my body,” Bilalov told the Interfax news agency, confirming Russian press reports. “I didn’t want to announce this before, but now that the press has found out, I’m forced to confirm it.”
Bilalov was axed after Putin toured Olympic sites in the southern city of Sochi a year before the launch of the Games. Amid widespread reports of construction delays and cost overruns, the president singled out Bilalov for a public dressing down over an unfinished ski jump at Roza Khutor, the cost of which had ballooned from 1.2bn to 8bn roubles (£24.8m to £165m). Video footage of Putin ridiculing Bilalov quickly went viral.
Bilalov, a native of the republic of Dagestan, was subsequently stripped of his positions, including as head of a state-owned company building ski resorts across the Caucasus region. He fled the country shortly after.
In April, a criminal case was opened against Bilalov for allegedly misspending more than £60,000 from the state company, including for travel to London during the 2012 Olympics. Prosecutors are also investigating him for allegedly embezzling £1.7m from the company.
The former Olympic official said he believed the source of the mercury was his office in central Moscow. He told Interfax he “began to feel bad in the middle of autumn last year”, adding that he felt satisfactory after receiving treatment.
According to Gazeta.ru, an online news portal that saw a copy of Bilalov’s medical report, the former official is at a clinic in Baden-Baden. Doctors found four times the normal amount of mercury in his blood. A source close to Bilalov told Gazeta that other employees at his Moscow office were being tested. “Everyone is in shock,” the source said.
Bilalov said: “I don’t want to blame anyone or speculate on how the mercury appeared in my Moscow office. I have no idea. Upon returning to Moscow, I plan to approach law enforcement agencies so they can help sort out this situation.”
With less than a year until the launch, the Russian event has been fraught with scandal and controversy. The budget has swollen to five times original estimates and, at $51bn, it will be the world’s most expensive Winter Games. Allegations of corruption, worker mistreatment and environmental damage have also surfaced.
Iceland votes in centre-right party that presided over financial crash
Independence party, which ruled over collapse of banking sector five years ago, recovers to win largest share of the vote
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 April 2013 13.03 BST
Icelandic voters have dumped the Social Democrats from power, returning a centre-right government that ruled over the country's disastrous financial collapse just five years ago.
Once a European financial hub, the north Atlantic island has been limping along for years after the crash that brought it to its knees in just a matter of days.
"We are offering a different road, a road to growth, protecting social security, better welfare and job creation," said Bjarni Benediktsson, the favourite to become the next prime minister after his Independence party took first place in the vote, as the results were coming in.
"What we won't compromise about is cutting taxes and lifting the living standards of people," said Benediktsson, 43, a former professional footballer.
The victory caps a remarkable comeback for Benediktsson. Just two weeks ago he considered resigning after record low poll ratings prompted calls for him to hand over his party's leadership to his deputy.
Hailing from a wealthy family with extensive business interests, Benediktsson, an avid trout and salmon fisher, was considered out of touch and tainted by the financial collapse.
Instead of stepping aside, he fought back with a rare personal television interview, giving voters a glimpse of his human side and propping up his party's ratings.
His Independence party took 26.5% of the vote, giving it 19 seats in the 63-seat parliament. The Progressive party collected 22%, winning 18 seats, while the ruling Social Democrats got 13.5% and nine seats, according to results with over two-thirds of the vote counted.
Benediktsson's first task will be to form a coalition, although a tie-up with Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson's Progressive party, an ally in several governments over the past three decades, is a widely expected outcome.
In a country where Nordic civility prevails, the president walks about without security and members of parliament are listed in the telephone directory, coalitions are usually formed in just days.
"Historically two-party coalitions are the strongest and … if you look at the [results board] the choice seems to be clear," Benediktsson said. "We'll go into coalition with whomever we can govern with."
The Independence party has been part of every government between 1980 and 2009, presiding over the privatisation of the banks, the financial sector's liberalisation and its eventual demise.
Campaigning on a platform of tax cuts, it promised relief to households whose inflation-indexed mortgages have kept growing, despite several writeoffs since the crash.
It also argued that foreign creditors of its failed banks, now locked into the country because of capital controls, will have to accept a massive writeoff, perhaps as much as 75%, before they would be let out.
The writeoff and the refinancing of other corporate debt, for example to Landsbanki and Reykjavik Energy, could let Iceland ease capital controls within 12 to 18 months, Benediktsson predicted.
Still, Gunnlaugsson was not yet ready to concede the premiership: "Sometimes the biggest party delegates the prime minister, sometimes not. We've seen all sorts of governments."
The vote was also a de facto rejection of EU membership as staunchly independent-minded voters rejected the Social Democrats' argument that joining the bloc was the only way for long-term security.
With a population of just 320,000, Iceland became a European financial centre 10 years ago when its liberalised banks borrowed heavily on ultra cheap overseas markets and lured British and Dutch savers with high returns.
Amassing assets worth more than 10 times Iceland's GDP, Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir collapsed in quick succession, dragging the entire country into a financial abyss in October 2008.
April 28, 2013
An Italian Leader and a Political Acrobat
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME — To select the cabinet that he presented Saturday to President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy, Prime Minister Enrico Letta, the new head of government, relied on what are widely acknowledged as his consummate skills: an ability to negotiate and a gift for building bridges, even between forces that barely speak to each other.
By all accounts, his new post will sorely test these talents.
Mr. Letta, who was sworn in on Sunday, must steer a government that has the bipartisan — if reluctant — support of the two largest opposing political forces in Parliament during an exceptionally difficult moment for Italy, which is buffeted by economic and social unrest. At the same time, he must try to hold together the pieces of his center-left Democratic Party, which imploded after national elections in February that left Italy without a governing majority. Mr. Letta comes from the moderate wing of the party, but a significant left-wing faction is openly bridling at Mr. Letta’s compromise government.
Friends and colleagues say that if anyone can pull it off, Mr. Letta can.
“He’s the person Italy needs now,” said Massimo Bergami, a friend and dean of the business school at the University of Bologna, pointing to Mr. Letta’s institutional experience, background in international affairs and ability to “talk with people with different backgrounds, and understand different positions.”
Mr. Letta must also address the demands of the European Union to stay the course of fiscal responsibility in the face of the Italian public’s widespread animosity toward austerity measures. His European credentials are firm, both as a former member of the European Parliament and through a network of contacts and relationships cultivated over the years from his associations with various research groups.
The new prime minister “is a committed Europhile” who believes that “Italy has no future outside of the European Union,” said Lucio Caracciolo, the editor of the bimonthly Italian geopolitical magazine Limes, who has written two books with Mr. Letta.
At the same time, Mr. Letta is not deaf to the country’s growing malaise. “I think he’s realized very clearly that we have to fight a battle inside the European Union against the austerity policies that have led to the deindustrialization of our country and those on the periphery,” Mr. Caracciolo said.
At 46, Mr. Letta is the third-youngest prime minister since World War II. His age works in his favor in a nation where demands for change and generational renewal are resonating as the battle cry of the disenfranchised, and largely unemployed, youth.
Born in Pisa, Mr. Letta studied political science at the city’s university and did graduate work in international law at the prestigious Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies there. The new education minister, Maria Chiara Carrozza, was dean of the university until this year.
His political roots lie in the once-powerful Christian Democratic Party, felled by corruption scandals in the early 1990s. Even as the party was collapsing, Mr. Letta served as president of the European Young Christian Democrats for four years, strengthening connections with centrist parties throughout the Continent that are still in place today.
Mr. Letta stayed through various incarnations of what is now the Democratic Party, becoming its deputy secretary in 2009. He was first elected to Italy’s Parliament in 2001 and to the European Parliament in 2004, serving two years.
But his political career has been defined by his association with Beniamino Andreatta, a Christian Democrat economist and the founder of Arel, a research group where Mr. Letta now serves as secretary general. When Mr. Andreatta became foreign minister in 1993, Mr. Letta was his chief of staff. He later headed a commission on the euro in the years before it became the common currency.
In 1998, he was named minister for European affairs inMassimo D’Alema’s center-left government, then industry minister in 1999, a post he held in two other short-lived governments.
Mr. Letta comes by his reputation as a mediator through personality and perseverance, people who know him say, but also by way of example: an uncle, Gianni Letta, is among the most trusted advisers of former Prime MinisterSilvio Berlusconi, the center-right leader, and has for years been Mr. Berlusconi’s principal ambassador in thorny political negotiations.
Both Lettas have held the important office of secretary of the council of ministers, handing off power to each other in successive governments.
“He’s very serious, competent, sober, almost austere in his manner,” said Alessia Mosca, a Democratic Party lawmaker who also worked at Arel and has known Mr. Letta for years. She described him as a thoughtful decision maker, “with the ability to look at problems with a fresh outlook.”
“And he tends to act through facts, not just words,” she said.
Mr. Letta is a firm believer in the welfare state while supporting pro-business, open-market policies, said Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffè, a professor of strategic management at the Bocconi University School of Management in Milan who counts Mr. Letta as a friend. “He is more corporation than union,” following the “logic of supporting economic forces, finding a way to support business needs” while preserving social welfare, he said. “The key element is negotiation, finding the middle ground.”
On his personal Web page, Mr. Letta also reveals a taste for Italian pop music; for Dylan Dog, a popular comic book character who wrangles with ghouls; and contemporary Italian thriller writers. He is a die-hard fan of A. C. Milan, the soccer team owned by Mr. Berlusconi, and he plays subbuteo soccer, a tabletop game.
Mr. Letta, who earned about $185,000 last year, also discloses his tax returns, heeding calls for a greater transparency from politicians, efforts that earned the antiestablishment Five Star Movement a quarter of the national vote in the February elections. In 2005, Mr. Letta founded veDrò, a networking community and workshop of ideas for Italy’s future that brings together dozens of experts in various fields. It holds a conference every August in Dro, a town on Lake Garda, drawing hundreds of participants and experts in various fields.
“We wanted to create a context where people could communicate, without judgment, and share a common view” of Italy’s future, regardless of political beliefs, said Professor Bergami of the University of Bologna, one of the co-founders. In its efforts to find common ground, veDrò anticipates the sort of political acrobatics that Mr. Letta is expected to execute in the coming months.
“For the future of the country you have to be able to put people together, instead of to separate,” Professor Bergami said.
But even with Mr. Letta’s acknowledged ability to negotiate, there is no certainty that this compromise government will last long.
Still, even the collapse of his government is unlikely to hurt Mr. Letta’s political future. “He is a diplomat, so it is difficult to burn him,” Professor Carnevale Maffè said. “That’s why he’s the best choice.”
04/29/2013 12:57 PM
World From Berlin: Italy's New Cabinet Gives Rise to 'Skeptical Hope'
Italy's new left-right government, sworn in on Sunday, is younger than previous cabinets, has more women and contains a mix of technocrats and politicians. It's a promising start, write German commentators. But they note that it faces huge pressures, and will need to deliver results quickly.
Italy finally has a new government, more than two months after the general election. It represents a balance of power between the center-left and center-right, includes a record seven women including a black minister, and is significantly younger than previous Italian cabinets.
New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) faces severe political and economic pressures and will have to score quick successes in the coming months. He needs to satisfy voters who are sick of economic stagnation and cutbacks while meeting the demands of investors for painful structural reforms -- and keeping the rival parties in his coalition happy.
Meanwhile, party grandees like Silvio Berlusconi of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party will continue to pull strings in the background.
The swearing in of the cabinet on Sunday was overshadowed by a gun attack in which an unemployed man shot and injured two police officers and a passerby outside the prime minister's office in Rome. Officials said the shooting was an isolated incident, but it highlighted the tensions Letta faces.
"This is another sign of despair," said lower house speaker Laura Boldrini. "Politicians have to come back to providing concrete answers to people's needs."
Letta is due to speak in parliament ahead of the confidence vote on Monday afternoon.
The election in February, in which the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo became the strongest political force, amounted to a massive protest vote against Italy's political elites and made the formation of a government a difficult, drawn-out process. Grillo's 5-Star Movement is not represented in the government.
Given those challenges, the fact that Italy now has any kind of government at all is good news, write German media commentators. Whether it will last its full five-year term is quite another question though, they add.
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The fact that Italy finally has a government again is good news in itself. The fact that it doesn't consist of 'technocrats,' and that politicians are the ones taking political responsibility again, is equally positive. The wrangling during the second half of Mario Monti's term showed that people without party affiliation can't perform miracles either."
"But doubts remain whether the new and younger cabinet will really be able to bring about the turnaround Italy needs. It's just a detail, but it fans such doubts, that Letta wasn't able to push through his plan to drastically cut the size of the cabinet. It has 21 instead of 12 portfolios because the Democratic Party and Berlusconi's PdL refused to abandon ther 'combinazioni.' The reform of electoral law, one of the most important points in the task list formulated by (Italian President Girogio) Napolitano, will remain a stumbling block because it is so closely intertwined with the distribution of power. The failed attempts to elect a new president showed how riven the PD is by power disputes. Berlusconi's people are subject to the mood swings of the capricious party patriarch who also finances them -- and are likely to engage in power struggles and position-jockeying over who will take over from the ageing 'Il Cavaliere.'"
"Prime Minister Letta had already made his European policy clear before his government was formed: He regards a policy focused on austerity as a dead end and will therefore reinforce the Southern European nations including France who are becoming increasingly open in their resistance to Germany's recipe for saving the euro zone. That said, the reins have long since been loosened: first by the European Central Bank and its monetary policy, and now also by the European Commission which is allowing the debtor nations more time to implement their restructuring plans."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"Italy's government doubtless represents a first. Prime Minister Enrico Letta, chosen by the elederly president, is very young by Italian standards, as is his cabinet. Even though, as was to be expected, there wasn't a real reduction in the number of ministerial posts, it has some noteworthy features, such as the number of women and experts in the cabinet. Emma Bonino of the libertarian Radical Party has been made foreign minister -- she is known for her unflinching stance on human rights and she's likely to be a red rag to the obediently pious brand of Vatican Catholicism. Everything is balanced. The PD is represented, but not too massively. The cabinet contains a number of experts and in that sense follows in the footsteps of the technocrat government of Mario Monti, but without the authoritarian tone of the specialists."
"Yes, this cabinet could turn into something. One should stress the word 'could,' however: Because there's still not much to suggest that it will. The old godfathers stand behind the parties carrying this government. One finds it hard to seriously believe all of them that they are ready to step back and give the national interest priority over their own party political games. Let us be skeptically hopeful, though."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Letta's PD and Silvio Berlusconi with his PdL refrained from dispatching their hardliners into the cabinet. That permitted the creation of a government that combines the old and the new and could therefore get the transformation going somewhat smoothly. It's important that the new ministers embody the urgently required generational change, and that this cabinet has more women than ever (before seen in an Italian government), including a minister of African descent. Newcomers from the parties, a few established politicians, specialists with no party affiliation -- with this cabinet, Letta is fulfilling the wishes of his voters and demands of the 5-Star protest movement of Beppe Grillo."
"Letta could bridge the gap between the opposing camps of the center-right and center-left -- that hasn't been possible for the last 20 years. If Letta's government can contribute to a reconciliation of the political camps, and to a more balanced tone of political discourse, the benefit would be enormous."
"Given the unpredictability of Italian politics, it's impossible to forecast how long Letta's government will last. It could be anything from a few months to a few years. It won't be an easy time, the PdL is likely to make blackmail attempts and complicate policymaking especially in areas affecting Silvio berlusconi's interests -- in particular regarding the introduction of a wealth tax or a new anti-corruption law. Besides, Letta isn't safe from traitors in his own party. His political life will depend on how quickly and constructively this experimental cabinet can deliver results."
-- David Crossland
Italy's first black minister attacked by Northern League
Rightwing party labels appointment of DRC-born Cecile Kyenge as 'the symbol of a hypocritical, do-gooding left'
John Hooper in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 April 2013 15.59 BST
Italy's first-ever black minister was immediately at the centre of a virulent controversy as her appointment was deplored by the rightwing Northern League.
Cecile Kyenge, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, takes on a new portfolio for racial integration. She is one of two naturalised Italians in the government, both elected for the centre-left Democratic party (PD).
The other is a former international canoeist, Josefa Idem. The inclusion in the cabinet of blonde, German-born Idem, who won an Olympic gold medal and five world championships for Italy, caused no similar controversy.
Matteo Salvini, secretary of the League in Lombardy, called the 48-year-old Kyenge "the symbol of a hypocritical, do-gooding left that would like to abolish the crime of illegal immigration and only thinks about immigrants' rights and not their duties". He said the League was ready to mount "total opposition" to her in parliament.
The AC Milan and Italy striker, Mario Balotelli, called her appointment "a further, big step towards a more civilised and responsible Italian society". Kyenge said her top priorities included changing Italy's citizenship laws, which are based on descent rather than place of birth.
"Anyone who is born and grows up in Italy is an Italian," she told Repubblica TV.
But any attempt to reform the citizenship rules could open a rift between the PD and its coalition partner, Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom People (PdL) movement.
An eye specialist who has lived in Italy since her late teens, Kyenge has been at the centre of controversy since winning a seat in parliament in February's general election. A politician of Moroccan descent was chosen for the same constituency.
In a discussion of their election on Facebook, the Northern League secretary in her home town wrote: "We ought to do like the Japanese kamikaze [in] the second world war: before the ultimate gesture, kill at least 20 of them."
The Northern League denies it is xenophobic, insisting it is only opposed to illegal immigration. Kyenge came to Italy to study at university and married an Italian.
Poland: ‘Let us forgive ourselves’
29 April 2013
Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Wołyń massacre, priests of the Ukrainian Church Council are calling on Poles and Ukrainians to once again express forgiveness for “a chain of evil that goes back several hundred years”.
In 1943-1944, Ukrainian nationalists killed up to 100,000 Poles in Wołyń, which before WWII belonged to Poland. As many as 20,000 Ukrainians are estimated to have died in Polish retaliatory attacks.
Gazeta Wyborcza notes that
this unprecedented appeal […] has the potential to cool tensions ahead of July’s anniversary, which always proves to be a difficult test for Polish-Ukrainian relations
gazeta.pl > Gazeta Wyborcza > World > World
Ukrainian Churches of Volyn massacre: Say you forgive
Marcin Wojciechowski, Kiev
04/29/2013, Updated: 29/4/2013 9:16
Before 70 Volyn tragedy anniversary of the clergy of Christian communities gathered in operation in Volyn Council of Churches write message.
"We urge the Poles and Ukrainians to again say: 'Forgive us, and we forgive you, and the chain of evil, who went to so many centuries, occurs, stop with good works." So we should say, so teach your children and grandchildren, so the act. " The message is unprecedented. Signed by representatives of several Orthodox Church in Ukraine, including estranged Patriarchate of Moscow and Kiev, Greek Catholics, Protestants, and - most importantly - the bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Volyn.
It was not yet as consistent and clear response, representatives of different religions. This voice has a chance to lower the temperature in July, the anniversary of Volyn, which are always a difficult test for the Polish-Ukrainian relations.
The tragic events of the years 1943 to 1944 were killed at the hands of Ukrainian nationalists to 100 thousand. Poles and retaliatory actions to 20 thousand. Ukrainians.
- It's easier to talk about the drama on the grounds of a Christian than a political or historical - explains the "Gazeta" journalist Anton Borkiwskij Lviv. - If you seriously believe you understand if you have committed a sin, you have to admit it and ask for forgiveness. Politicians and historians often cling to the wrong nation, so there is no chance of advancement.
A large part of public opinion in Poland believes that Ukraine has never admitted that there was in Volyn planned by the radical nationalists of the Ukrainian OUN-UPA anti-Polish ethnic cleansing.
Ukrainian historians represent these events as a civil war, class conflict, and even legitimate act to form their own state. Polish historians, although they acknowledge that the pre-war Polish policy towards Ukrainians was discriminatory, it is emphasized that there is no justification for the mass extermination of civilians, women and children.
Clerics of Volyn clearly condemn the killing of their resumes as a way of resolving disputes. They appeal to the wound Volyn not forget, but to draw the proper conclusions from it. They express the joy that the Polish-Ukrainian relations are getting better. They appeal not to destroy their attitude "intransigent" on both sides.
After the Synod of Bishops of the Church's message and mission of the Greek Catholic Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate, is another document Ukrainian Christian community on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the tragedy in Volyn. But first, in which the addition of Ukrainian national denominations also signed the local head of the Roman Catholic Church.
A few weeks ago it was difficult to agree on a common message, because it blocked the Roman Catholic Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv.
- Voice of the hierarchy is the proof that it is possible to agree on the basis of Christian values and someone who is trying to take religion nationally, it simply denies - says Borkiwskij.
Celebrating anniversary of the Katyn Volyn traditionally held on the 11th of July, as it was in 1943 was the culmination of the Ukrainian attacks on Polish villages. In Warsaw, the official ceremony will take place, and in Volyn interstate. Separate ceremonies announcing so. Borderlands environment. They believe that the Polish state does not care about their interests and uses too soft language to describe events in Volhynia and Galicia in 1943-44.
Before 70 anniversary of Volyn
Message Volyn Council of Churches in the 70th Volyn tragedy anniversary
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
This year marks 70 years since one of the greatest tragedies in our history - the bloody confrontation between Ukrainians and Poles in Volyn, as well as other lands. It is very difficult and painful it is to look for the causes of today is guilty of the terrible events that took place in the history between Ukrainians and Poles. We all need to evaluate these events with regret and bitterness in the light of the Christian commandments of love of God and neighbor. Time heals the deep wound, but we should not forget the past, but to draw the proper conclusions from it.
Receiving the gift of life should be condemned! All people are children of God, the Creator of all, so he gave the commandment "Thou shalt not kill."
Yes, we are their descendants and live in the land where it happened. But we have no right to judge, much less punish or take revenge. We are mainly Christians and Christ calls us the words of the apostle Paul, "one evil for evil Repay no. Strive to do good to all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men! Beloved , do not avenge yourselves righteousness "(Romans 12: 17-19).
Let us pray to the Most High for forgiveness for both the oppressed and the oppressors. Let us pay tribute to these heroes - and the Poles, and Ukrainians - who did not look at nationality, saved others, often risking their own lives.
In recent decades, Poland and Ukraine joined friendly and partner relations. However, the intransigence of individuals and groups can rekindle faded harm. Do not let the enemy of the human race again to disturb our people!
Let the historians of scientific integrity, without prejudice, examine these horrific events. A daily neighborly relations of Poles and Ukrainians on both banks of the Bug let rise no human hand made statue of the tragedy.
We invite the Poles and Ukrainians to again say, "Forgive us, and we forgive you, and the chain of evil, who went to so many centuries, occurs, stop good deeds". So we should say, so teach your children and grandchildren, so the act. Today, we are left to pray and ask the Lord to not commit to a similar tragedy in our country.
* Metropolitan Nifont, Bishop of Volhynia, Ukrainian Orthodox Church
* Metropolitan Mychail, Bishop of Volhynia, Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate
* Bishop Volodymyr, Bishop włodzimiersko-Volyn, Ukrainian Orthodox Church
* Bishop Stanislaw Szyrokoradiuk, apostolic administrator of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Luck
* Bishop Josaphat, Exarch of Lutsk, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
* Bishop Mykhailo Ivanovych Błyzniuk, Chairman of the Volyn Union of Evangelical Christians-Pentecostal
* Pastor Yaroslav Leontijowycz Trout, chairman of the Volyn Association of Evangelical Christians-Baptists
* Myron Wiaczesławowycz Wowk, senior pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in the circuit Volyn
April 25, 2013
Translated by Fr. Bogdan Pańczak
************The neon signs shining a light on cold-war Poland
The grey buildings of cold-war Poland were adorned with incongruously bright neon signs. The designs illuminate a moment lost in time
In pictures: Poland's neon signs
The Guardian, Sunday 28 April 2013 19.30 BST
I once had a Polish friend who turned down my offer of a limited-edition, orange-flavoured Kit Kat on the grounds that it was "far too communist".
Pressed further, he explained that the only (cheap, low-quality) chocolate available to him as a child had its taste masked by orange flavouring. Hence his concept of western decadence – all that was denied him as a child – was of a magical place where chocolate always tasted of chocolate.
He would no doubt have something equally disparaging to say about these extraordinary images by the fine art photographer and author Ilona Karwinska. A mixture of her own pictures and archival photographs, they capture another attempt by Poland's communist regime to prove that anything the west could do, they could do better.
The neon lights that adorn everything from shopfronts to theatres and cinemas date from the 1950s, when Poland was at an economic standstill and the propaganda of the cold war was at its height. While the motivation behind these incredible designs may have been little more than a cynical attempt to boost the economy by aping the consumerism of western Europe, there is no denying the sheer quality of the work. This unique archive provides a rare window into a moment lost in time, and represents a typographer's dream.
David Crowley of the Royal College of Art raves about how the collection preserves "a unique and significant moment in Poland's history" – one where necessity truly proved the mother of invention. Not that my Polish friend would agree.
*********Polish cold war neon - in pictures
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 April 2013 19.30 BST
Photographer Ilona Karwinska has documented the neon signs of the cold war era in Poland. Her passion for the subject has culminated in the opening of a museum to preserve and document this classic socialist art form: neonmuzeum.org
Click to view: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2013/apr/28/polish-cold-war-neon-in-pictures
In Spain they are all indignados nowadays
The indignado protests that flared up two years ago have become a Spanish state of mind
The Guardian, Sunday 28 April 2013 20.50 BST
You have taken everything from me! These were the words of Inocencia Lucha, a 47-year-old Spanish woman who recently walked into her bank in Almassora, Valencia, poured petrol over her body and set herself on fire. She was indebted to the bank, living on €360 (£303) a month, and had just received an eviction notice. Behind Spain's new unemployment figures, with 27% of the population now out of work, lie many such stories of desperation: in the last three months there have been 14 suicides where economic hardship was a factor reported in the media.
It is nearly two years since the indignados ("the outraged") took over public squares around the country to protest against the economy being run for the benefits of the banks and not the people. Now, from the Mortgage Victims' Platform (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca) to the Citizens' Tide – (Marea Ciudadana) a coalition of 350 organisations, from health workers to trade unions and youth groups, that have mobilised hundreds of thousands against privatisation and austerity – more people are making the journey from private sadness to public indignation. There is a dawning realisation that recovery is not, as the politicians promised, just around the corner. All signs point to a "lost decade"; figures published last week show a large increase in the number of those out of work for more than two years, indicating a newly growing underclass. The unemployment rate is a staggering 40% for some regions in Andalucia and 57% for young people; one in five people live below the poverty line.
Spinoza says that sadness arises from a disconnection from our potençia – our power to act. It is no coincidence, then, that the powerful use the language of shame to keep us impotent: unemployment and debt are the fault of the individual alone, they say, and social sadness a private affair. This is no doubt why María Dolores de Cospedal, general secretary of the ruling Partido Popular (PP), recently boasted that its supporters "would go hungry" rather than fail to pay their mortgage. (This, it must be pointed out, is one way to weaken your voter base.)
Cospedal was targeting the Mortgage Victims' Platform, which, through its campaigning, is transforming the isolating stigma of eviction into a groundswell of popular outrage that is fuelling practical action. Widespread mis-selling of mortgages contributed to the huge foreclosure crisis – running at 500 eviction orders a day – that is leaving families destitute and homeless. In just a few years the PAH has defended hundreds of homes from eviction and forced banks to renegotiate. Ada Colau, its spokesperson, is now a household name after calling the representative of the Spanish Banking Association "a criminal" during a hearing in Congress: "He is not an expert," she said. "The representatives of the banks are the cause of the problem."
The PAH trudged pavements for more than a year to gather 1.4m signatures, forcing the government to debate its proposal to change the draconian mortgage law where you can lose your house and still carry mortgage debt with you for life. Its other demands include a halt to evictions and social rent. This week the PP gutted the legislative proposal, despite a recent ruling by the Luxembourg court of justice that found Spanish mortgage laws contravened EU directives. Huge popular support for the PAH demands have put PP politicians on the offensive: politicians have described the group as "Nazis" and "terrorist sympathisers" because activists were doorstepping them in their homes to pressure them to pass the new law.
But it is the Spanish political class itself that is close to being discredited. Corruption scandals have implicated many key members and former colleagues of the government, including the prime minister, in taking undeclared money from the construction and property development industries responsible for the housing bubble. Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, has become known as Mariano Plasma after giving press conferences via a TV screen so the media could not ask questions; during last Friday's sombre economic announcements he made no appearance at all.
Given the lack of accountability in the political process, social movements are finding other, creative ways to give voice to those suffering from the crisis, including the young people who have been forced to look for work abroad. According to El Pais, 260,000 people aged between 16 and 30 left Spain last year. An indignado group, Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without Future), is collecting portraits of these young Spaniards, holding up signs detailing their stories of unemployment, exile and insecurity under the slogan: "We didn't leave; they threw us out."
Meanwhile Madrilonia, an indignado blog, declares the entire economic model broken; the authors are not waiting around for someone to fix it but building their own alternatives, from the Catalan network of co-operatives to the Casa Precaria in Madrid that advises people on how to go about creating their own jobs through worker co-operatives.
Couple social deprivation with a democratic process that most people feel alienated from and you have a recipe for social unrest. The only question is whether protest will successfully create meaningful forms of political participation and democratic control over economic decision-making. The Citizen's Tide coalition, for example, is pushing for an audit of Spain's national debt under the slogan "We don't owe, we won't pay", and a referendum that will allow the population to register its opinion on austerity measures and privatisation. On 1 June it will join other social movements across southern Europe in street mobilisations against austerity and the Troika. Meanwhile, PAH members are increasingly turning to civil disobedience. The number of repossessed, bank-owned blocks of flats occupied by evicted families is growing.
Two years ago the indignados occupied the plazas of cities across Spain to protest against the crisis and demand a "real democracy". Now, it seems, indignation is becoming a generalised condition.
German role in steering euro crisis could lead to disaster, warns expert
Frankfurt professor's concerns echo recent alarms being sounded across Europe over Berlin's stance on EU fiscal policy
Ian Traynor in Leuven
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 April 2013 15.37 BST
One of Germany's most influential political thinkers has delivered a stark warning that its post-second world war liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted and its dominant role in managing Europe's debt crisis could lead to disaster.
Jürgen Habermas, the Frankfurt professor whose political thinking has helped shape Germany over the past 50 years, called for the EU to be turned into a supranational democracy and the eurozone to become a fully fledged political union, while lambasting the "technocratic" handling of the crisis by Brussels and European leaders.
In his first big speech on the euro crisis, delivered at Leuven University, east of Brussels, Habermas called for a revival of Europe's doomed constitutional ambitions, arguing that the disconnect between what needed to be done in economic policy and what was deemed to be politically feasible for voters was one of the biggest perils facing the continent. "Postponing democracy is rather a dangerous move," he said.
At 83, Habermas has long been revered as a guru and mentor to the post-1968 generation of centre-left German politicians. He is a champion of a democratically underpinned European federation, and has reserved some of his most trenchant criticism for Berlin's role in the three-year crisis.
"The German government holds the key to the fate of the European Union in its hands. The main question is whether Germany is not only in a position to take the initiative, but also whether it could have an interest in doing so," he said.
"The leadership role that falls to Germany today is not only awakening historical ghosts all around us, but also tempts us to choose a unilateral national course or even to succumb to power fantasies of a 'German Europe'.
Euro coins and banknotes Habermas says the EU elite’s response to the currency crisis has been to construct a technocracy without democratic roots. Photograph: Reuters
"We Germans should have learned from the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century that it is in our national interest to avoid permanently the dilemma of a semi-hegemonic status that can hardly hold up without sliding into conflicts."
Habermas's wakeup call came at the end of a week of similar alarms being sounded on both sides of the country's borders. The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, in the presence of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin last week, said there were worries about German domination of the EU "everywhere, without exception".
A leaked draft policy paper from France's governing socialist party on Friday was redolent with fear of and hostility to Merkel and her policy prescriptions in the euro crisis.
Habermas demanded a sea change in German policy, away from insisting on "stabilising" the budgets of vulnerable eurozone countries by slashing social security systems and public services, to a policy of "solidarity" entailing common eurozone liability, mutualised debt, and euro bonds.
He located Germany's traditional EU enthusiasm in the post-Nazi quest for international rehabilitation through reconciliation with France and driving European unification processes, all occurring under the protection and promotion of the US in cold-war western Europe until the Soviet collapse in 1989.
Habermas said: "The German population at large could develop a liberal self-understanding for the first time. This arduous transformation of a political mentality cannot be taken for granted … Germany not only has an interest in a policy of solidarity, it has even a corresponding normative obligation … What is required is a co-operative effort from a shared political perspective to promote growth and competitiveness in the eurozone as a whole."
Such an effort would require Germany and several other countries to accept short- and medium-term redistribution in its long-term interest, he added, "a classic example of solidarity".
The structural imbalances between the economies of greatly divergent eurozone countries at the root of the crisis were certain to worsen under the policies being pursued, Habermas argued, because governments were making decisions "exclusively from [their] own national perspective. Until now, the German government has clung steadfastly to this dogma".
He said the EU elite's response to the crisis had been to construct a "technocracy without democratic roots", trapping Europe in a dilemma of legitimacy and accountability, between "the economic policies required to preserve the euro and, on the other, the political steps to closer integration. The steps that are necessary are unpopular and meet with spontaneous popular resistance".
04/29/2013 12:37 PMEU Social Affairs Commissioner: 'Wages in Germany Must Increase'
Wages in Germany must increase and the government should establish a nationwide minimum wage, says EU Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor. In an interview with a German daily, he calls for a radical change in policy in the euro crisis and argues for a shift away from the country's export model.
European Union Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor is calling on Germany and other euro-zone donor countries to change course in combating the European debt crisis. Austerity in Southern Europe alone will not fix the problem, Andor told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in an interview published Monday -- the north also needs to spend more. He suggests shifting the focus from reforms, austerity and consolidation of national budgets toward economic stimulus. "Saving alone does not create growth. That requires additional investment and demand," said Andor.
The official, who is Hungary's representative on the European Commission, also recommended that weakening economies like Spain, Italy and France be given more time to bring down their debts. "Growth can be stimulated when countries get more time to reduce their deficits so that they can invest more," he said. "If we do not allow for growth, I don't see how we can expect to see the debt decline."
He argued that Germany should increase wages in order to stimulate domestic demand, and that a broad-based minimum wage should be implemented. Germany currently has no standard legal minimum wage, with pay levels often determined through collective bargaining agreements within individual industries. Last week, the announcement that a minimum wage of €7.5 ($9.
in the western part of Germany and €6.5 in the east would be established for barbers and hairdressers made national news.
"Belgium and France have been complaining about German wage dumping," Andor added.
Because of Germany's high export surpluses, argues Andor, it isn't justifiable for the country to have an unfair competitive advantage on wages. Countries with export surpluses must adapt, just as the debtor countries have been forced to do, the 46-year-old politician said. "If not, the currency union will drift apart. Cohesion is already half lost."
German Demand Would Help EU
Germany has come under criticism in recent years for its relatively restrained wage increases. Some politicians from economically weaker countries have argued that higher domestic demand in Germany would help the euro zone as a whole.
But Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, warned in February against excessive wage increases, saying that if wages rise too fast, companies would reduce employment and invest less. Dramatically increasing wages would only temporarily boost consumer demand, it argued, and in the long run, real incomes and consumer spending would actually decrease. Ultimately, this would slow domestic demand and overall economic strength, experts argue.
Andor also expressed concern that there could be mass migration to the north from the south of the European Union if the situation isn't improved. "Some people compare the situation to America in the 19th century, when there was a mass migration from the south to the prosperous north after the Civil War. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to create growth in the crisis countries," Andor said.
He also argued that the debate over the influx of refugees to Germany and other Northern European countries from Bulgaria and Romania had been blown out of proportion. The organization of German cities and municipalities recently complained that impoverished economic refugees from the country had become a social burden to them. Addressing that criticism, Andor said, "Yes, perhaps social systems will be challenged, but it is also true that the majority of immigrants work. Our data shows that the employment rate of immigrants is higher than those living there and that they claim fewer social benefits."
Pakistan's campaign trail politicians use stealth to outwit Taliban threats
Parliamentary candidates resort to 'corner meetings' to convey message ahead of next month's polls
Jon Boone in Dera Ismail Khan
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 April 2013 13.20 BST
In a country where politicians strive to hold vast political rallies with huge crowds of supporters, it is hard to imagine a campaign event more low key than the one held recently in an almost pitch-black backstreet in Dera Ismail Khan.
Illuminated only by the headlights of a nearby car, the candidate standing for a seat in Pakistan's parliament made a brief speech to the hundred or so supporters mustered at short notice, before being ushered back to his armoured car by a team of bodyguards wearing white bulletproof vests over their white cotton shalwar kameez.
Ever since the Pakistani Taliban declared war on politicians from the country's three mainstream secular parties last month, such "corner meetings" have become the new normal for politicians such as Waqar Ahmed Khan, a sitting senator from the Pakistan People's party (PPP).
"He knows he has to be careful," said Mansoor Akbar Kundi, the vice-chancellor of the city's university and a friend of Khan. "The Taliban threat makes activists and candidates like Waqar less active than they would otherwise be. They just can't penetrate among the masses like they could in the past."
Khan plays down the threat, saying the shabby city is not as badly hit as other areas in the predominantly Pashtun lands bordering Afghanistan, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
But just a few hours earlier, an activist from another party had been killed when his car was fired at. The incident barely registered in the national media of a country growing used to a relentless campaign of violence against politicians. So far more than 50 people have been killed, including one candidate, and 200 injured. The Pakistani Taliban are determined to use fear and violence to rig historic elections due to be held on 11 May in favour of rightwing religious parties that sympathise with the militants – and many analysts think they are succeeding.
Politicians can's say they weren't warned. Last month, the Taliban released a video telling the public to stay away from rallies held by the PPP, the Awami National party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumio Movement (MQM). All three are secular, have shared power during the last tumultuous five years and backed military campaigns against militants.
The ANP has been the worst hit so far, with several party workers killed. On 17 April, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a party meeting in Peshawar, killing 16 people. The Taliban said they were targeting Haroon Ahmad Bilour, a party leader whose father was killed by a suicide bombing in December. Party leaders even fear they will be denied a sympathy vote – although it is a secret ballot, polling stations known to be ANP strongholds could be targeted.
The onslaught has had a dramatic impact on a campaign that can often feel lacklustre, even in a large town such as Dera Ismail Khan.
Secular politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife, while rightwing and Islamist parties have been holding traditional rallies with few security concerns. Instead of rallies and public gatherings, politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife. The ANP has announced it will only hold small, closed-door party gatherings.
The ANP, traditionally a secular liberal party that has long taken a tough line against the Taliban, could be wiped out by the blizzard of violence. The attacks have forced it to close dozens of election offices in recent weeks. The party was already thought likely to suffer at the polls after a being widely criticised during its five years heading the provincial government in KPK.
"We will never know whether the ANP has lost or gained support because their supporters will be too frightened to vote," said Ijaz Khan, a professor of international relations at Peshawar University. "The elections cannot now be free and fair, and that means the result in KPK and FATA will forever be suspect."
Some candidates from parties targeted by the Taliban have opted to contest seats as independents, or have jumped ship to religious parties (although even in normal circumstances Pakistan's ultra-pragmatic politicians often move between parties).
Although senior ANP leaders have been issued police protection, the party said not enough had been done to protect its activists and candidates. "Police are a help, but we have seen that suicide bombers are able to cross through all checkpoints and get extremely close to where our candidates are," said Bushra Gohar, a vice-president of the ANP. "It shows there are real weaknesses in their security plan."
The Taliban have justified their war saying the secular parties had "committed genocide of our tribal people and Muslims while remaining in power for five years". Analysts say the Taliban are not just seeking revenge, however, but also trying to ensure that the next parliament is as sympathetic as possible to their cause.
"If there is a more right-of-centre government it will decrease further the level of co-operation Pakistani will extend to the US in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban," said Khan.
Rightwing and religious parties that have called for peace talks with the Taliban have been left largely untouched by suicide bombers.
"When you live in the jungle you have to live by the rules of the jungle," smirked Mehmood Bettani, a candidate for a provincial assembly seat with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal, a leading religious party. He moves freely around Dera Ismail Khan with none of the elaborate security of his secular opponents. "Privately we might talk about the problems of the Taliban, but you can't say it publicly or you risk being attacked."
The MQM, the dominant force in Karachi, has also suffered. Several party activists and one candidate have been killed from the party, which last year organised a "referendum" inviting the public to denounce the Taliban.
And the Taliban threat is a big headache for the PPP, which is widely expected to be punished at the ballot box after five years leading a coalition government that has presided over a faltering economy, electricity crises and persistent Taliban violence.
The PPP cancelled a mass gathering planned for the beginning of April that had been intended to kick off their campaign.
One of the PPP's few weapons is the star power of the Bhuttos, who established the party in 1967.
But after two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by the Taliban on the campaign trail in 2007, the heir to the name of party founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is his inexperienced grandson Bilawal.
Officials for the party, which saw one of its provincial assembly candidates, Adnan Aslam, killed in April, have made clear that the 24-year-old Oxford graduate will not be hitting the campaign trail or appearing at events where the Taliban could get close to him.
The PPP recently issued a video message from Bilawal, who complained he could not campaign publicly because his mother's murderers were trying to kill him too.
"I wanted to contest polls living among you; I wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers … but we are at war against a mindset," he said.
Not enough politicians from the right have condemned the violence, critics say. Their rhetoric often appears designed to appeal to the Taliban, or at least to those Pakistanis who have some sympathy for militants and like the idea of pulling out of "America's war" in the region.
"They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar, the ANP leader. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process."
On Sunday Imran Khan told a huge rally in Dera Ismail Khan, which gathered without incident, that he would withdraw all troops fighting the Taliban in FATA if his party was elected to power.
"They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process."
24 April Peshawar – bomb outside PPP leader's home kills four; Dera Ismail Khan – bomb hits convoy of independent candidate; Karachi – bomb kills five MQM party activists
18 April Charsadda – ANP leader injured by remote controlled bomb
16 April Peshawar – suicide bomb attack on ANP leaders kills 17, wounds 60
14 April Swat – ANP candidate killed by bomb; Charsadda – ANP candidate wounded by bomb
11 April Hyderabad – MQM candidate gunned down
31 March Bannu – bomb attack kills two, injures six including ANP candidate
30 March Karachi – bomb kills district ANP leader
22 December Peshawar: Bashir Ahmad Bilour, an ANP senior leader, among eight killed and 17 wounded by suicide bomber
April 28, 2013
With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.
“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.
Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.
At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.
American and Afghan officials familiar with the payments said the agency’s main goal in providing the cash has been to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government. The officials spoke about the money only on the condition of anonymity.
It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Mr. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have only grown as the cash has piled up. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Mr. Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought.
Over Iran’s objections, he signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States last year, directly leading the Iranians to halt their payments, two senior Afghan officials said. Now, Mr. Karzai is seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the C.I.A. to target operatives of Al Qaeda and insurgent commanders, potentially upending a critical part of the Obama administration’s plans for fighting militants as conventional military forces pull back this year.
But the C.I.A. has continued to pay, believing it needs Mr. Karzai’s ear to run its clandestine war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to American and Afghan officials.
Like the Iranian cash, much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.
The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. And while there is no evidence that Mr. Karzai has personally taken any of the money — Afghan officials say the cash is handled by his National Security Council — the payments do in some cases work directly at odds with the aims of other parts of the American government in Afghanistan, even if they do not appear to violate American law.
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president.
“We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” the American official said.
The C.I.A. then kept paying the Afghans to keep fighting. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was paid by the C.I.A. to run the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia used by the agency to combat militants, until his assassination in 2011.
A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, Afghan officials said.
While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.
Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, where the United States built the government that Mr. Karzai runs. To accomplish that task, it had to bring to heel many of the warlords the C.I.A. had paid during and after the 2001 invasion.
By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.
Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said.
The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said.
Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations.
Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.
Mr. Dostum, who declined requests for comment, had previously said he was given $80,000 a month to serve as Mr. Karzai’s emissary in northern Afghanistan. “I asked for a year up front in cash so that I could build my dream house,” he was quoted as saying in a 2009 interview with Time magazine.
Some of the cash also probably ends up in the pockets of the Karzai aides who handle it, Afghan and Western officials said, though they would not identify any by name.
That is not a significant concern for the C.I.A., said American officials familiar with the agency’s operations. “They’ll work with criminals if they think they have to,” one American former official said.
Interestingly, the cash from Tehran appears to have been handled with greater transparency than the dollars from the C.I.A., Afghan officials said. The Iranian payments were routed through Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff. Some of the money was deposited in an account in the president’s name at a state-run bank, and some was kept at the palace. The sum delivered would then be announced at the next cabinet meeting. The Iranians gave $3 million to well over $10 million a year, Afghan officials said.
When word of the Iranian cash leaked out in October 2010, Mr. Karzai told reporters that he was grateful for it. He then added: “The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices.”
At the time, Mr. Karzai’s aides said he was referring to the billions in formal aid the United States gives. But the former adviser said in a recent interview that the president was in fact referring to the C.I.A.’s bags of cash.
No one mentions the agency’s money at cabinet meetings. It is handled by a small clique at the National Security Council, including its administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, Afghan officials said.
Mr. Salehi, though, is better known for being arrested in 2010 in connection with a sprawling, American-led investigation that tied together Afghan cash smuggling, Taliban finances and the opium trade. Mr. Karzai had him released within hours, and the C.I.A. then helped persuade the Obama administration to back off its anticorruption push, American officials said.
After his release, Mr. Salehi jokingly came up with a motto that succinctly summed up America’s conflicting priorities. He was, he began telling colleagues, “an enemy of the F.B.I., and a hero to the C.I.A.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 29, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the job title that Khalil Roman held in Afghanistan from 2002 until 2005. He was President Hamid Karzai’s deputy chief of staff, not his chief of staff.
April 28, 2013
Taliban Start Spring Afghan Offensive With Bombing
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban insurgents marked the start of their spring offensive on Sunday by claiming responsibility for a remote-controlled roadside bomb blast that killed three police officers.
In past years, spring has marked a significant upsurge in fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces along with their local allies. This fighting season is a key test, as the international coalition is scheduled to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces next year.
In Sunday's attack in Ghazni province in southern Afghanistan, a bomb exploded under police vehicles traveling to the district of Zana Khan to take part in a military operation against insurgents, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the province's deputy governor, told The Associated Press.
He said the blast destroyed the vehicle carrying Col. Mohammad Hussain, the deputy provincial police chief, killing him and two other officers. Ahmadi said two officers also were wounded in the insurgent operation, which he said clearly targeted Hussain.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility in an email sent to news media. He called the bombing the first attack in the Taliban spring offensive.
April already has been the deadliest month this year for attacks across the country, where Afghan security forces are increasingly taking the lead on the battlefield in the war that has lasted more than 11 years.
Insurgents have escalated attacks recently in a bid to gain power and influence ahead of next year's presidential election and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. U.S.-backed efforts to try to reconcile the Islamic militant movement with the Afghan government are gaining little traction.
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 Americans. A top priority of the U.S. force, which is slated to drop to about 32,000 by February 2014, is boosting the strength and confidence of Afghan forces.
Also Sunday, the U.S. Air Force said the coalition plane that crashed on Saturday in southern Afghanistan, killing four service members, was a MC-12 Liberty aircraft.
The twin-engine turboprop plane provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or direct support to ground forces. It crashed in Zabul province, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of Kandahar Air Field, the Air Force statement said.
The four Air Force service members were deployed to the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron with the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Air Field, the statement said. Their bodies were recovered. The cause of the crash is under investigation, but NATO has said initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity in the area where the plane went down.
Taliban has named its spring offensive after Khalid ibn al-Walid, a companion of Islam's Prophet Muhammad who became a legendary Muslim military commander known as the "Drawn Sword of God." The insurgents said their forces planned to infiltrate enemy ranks to conduct "insider attacks" and target military and diplomatic sites with suicide bombers.
In the eastern province of Nangarhar, two local officials said insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy as it passed through two nearby villages on Sunday and that four Afghan civilians were killed in the crossfire when the soldiers fired back. The U.S.-led international military coalition said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties in the province on Sunday but could not immediately confirm them.
The coalition also said Afghan and foreign forces arrested six insurgents on Sunday — three in Helmand province, one in Baghlan province and two in Kandahar province. The report said the two taken into custody in Kandahar city included a local Taliban leader who allegedly coordinated assassinations, sniper ambushes and other attacks against coalition and Afghan forces.
« Last Edit: Apr 29, 2013, 05:33 AM by Rad »
Bangladeshi garment factory death toll rises as owner arrested on border
Police hold fugitive politician fleeing to India as fire in ruins of collapsed building hinders search for hundreds more workers
Syed Zain Al-Mahmood in Dhaka and Luke Harding
The Guardian, Sunday 28 April 2013 20.35 BST
Link to video: Bangladesh building collapse: owner arrested as death toll rises– videohttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/28/bangladesh-building-collapse-owner-arrested-video
When the building he owned collapsed, entombing hundreds of garment workers beneath its choking rubble, Mohammed Sohel Rana vanished. He abandoned his home in Savar, 12 miles north of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and drove off. While rescuers frantically dug out the living and the dead, Rana was nowhere to be seen.
On Sunday, however, Bangladeshi police caught up with the fugitive politician, arresting him in the border town of Benapole, 250 miles away. He had been trying to escape into neighbouring India. Instead, a group of commandos flew Rana back to Dhaka by helicopter.
"Acting on a tipoff, we apprehended Sohel Rana, the man who is responsible for the [Dhaka suburb of] Savar tragedy," Colonel Mokhlesur Rahman said. Flanked by two policemen, Rana was wearing an ash-blue shirt with white spots. He looked dishevelled and fidgety.
Many say the owner should now be executed for his role in the tragedy, in which nearly 400 people are so far known to have died. "He should be hanged for causing the deaths of so many people," Masuma Akter, whose brother is still missing, told the Guardian.
Rana's arrest sparked celebrations at the site of the eight-storey complex, Rana Plaza, where relatives are still desperately waiting for news of missing loved ones. On Sunday evening, police charged Rana with criminal negligence and illegal construction.
Smoke, meanwhile, billowed from the wrecked site, sending rescue teams scurrying for safety. A fire service official at the scene said a fire started after army engineers tried to cut through a column to gain access to an air pocket where four people were believed to be trapped.
The fire illustrated the difficulties rescuers face in getting people out of the tangled mass of steel and concrete. Shams Uddin, a firefighter, said his team had been trying since morning to rescue a woman named Shahana, but their efforts failed when the fire broke out.
"We were talking to her, giving her oxygen, while we cut through the concrete," he said. "But after hanging on for four days, she died in the fire. Three of my men were also injured and are now in hospital."
Rana's dramatic capture raises a broader question: whether Wednesday's disaster was all the fault of one man, or, as some suggest, was the product of Bangladesh's dysfunctional system, where politics and business are closely connected, corruption is rife, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.
Rana, the son of a poor door-to-door salesman, entered local politics and became a member of the ruling Awami League's youth front. He has also worked for its bitter rival, the Bangladesh National party (BNP).
"Whatever party is in power, he is there," Ashrafuddin Khan Imu, another Awami League leader, told news agencies. Most recently, Imu said, Rana had been working for a local member of parliament, Talukder Touhid Jang Murad.
Rana's influential political contacts allowed him to circumvent the rules and to get rich. He reportedly bought several government-owned properties at a discount and in 2010 constructed Rana Plaza on the site of a pond. The building was supposed to be five storeys high; Rana added an extra three. Two local engineers and the mayor – a political ally – signed off on the project.
On Wednesday, Rana confidently insisted the building was safe, despite the discovery of ominous cracks. He told 3,200 workers employed by five garment companies that they had nothing to worry about and should return to their jobs. "The building has minor damage. There is nothing serious," he insisted. "It will stand for a hundred years." At 8am, the shift began. Forty-five minutes later, the building collapsed.
Bangladesh's garment industry accounts for 80% of the country's total exports, and last year generated $20bn (£13bn). But it is also frequently caught up in the country's venomous political struggles and strikes are frequent. These, in turn, place pressure on managers to deliver orders for western companies. The owners of garment factories are reluctant to send their workforces home.
There was some good news earlier in the day, as five survivors were pulled alive from the rubble more than 100 hours after the collapse, bringing to more than 2,400 the number of people rescued. But rescuers say hope is fading for the hundreds who are still missing after the accident.
The death toll continued to rise on Sunday evening, as army and fire service teams prepared to move in with heavy equipment to clear large chunks of fallen masonry.
Families of those missing have been pleading with the authorities not to use heavy machinery, fearing that survivors could be crushed underneath.
On Saturday, police also arrested the owner of Phantom Apparels Ltd, a clothing company that was housed on the fifth floor of the Rana Plaza. The company lists the Spanish fashion label Mango and other international retailers among its clients.
The arrest brings to three the number of clothing company owners arrested over the deaths. A spokesman for the garment manufacturers' association said all three had given themselves up to police voluntarily.
Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, keen to distance her party from the disaster, had demanded Rana's arrest. Her home minister had initially suggested that the building might have come down after opposition supporters shook the walls. The statement was swiftly withdrawn.
The outlook for Rana now does not look favourable. His political allies have abandoned him, Bangladesh's most powerful garment industry association says he ignored its warnings to shut the building, and the prime minister herself called for his arrest.
April 28, 2013Tears and Rage as Hope Fades in Bangladesh
By JIM YARDLEY
SAVAR, Bangladesh — The mother stood at the edge of the wreckage, pressing her lips to photos of her two children — Asma, who had worked in a garment factory on the fourth floor, and Sultan, who worked on the fifth.
For five days after the building collapsed, rescue teams had retrieved corpses and survivors, but not her son and daughter. Tears on her cheeks, she began to shout: at a soldier sweating beneath a hard hat, at the shattered building, at her god, and finally at her children, calling out their names, beckoning to them, “Today, I’m here! But you haven’t come back!”
Thousands of people surrounded the site on Sunday, watching the huge rescue operation, even as hopes faded that many more victims would be found alive. For nearly 12 hours, rescuers tried to save a trapped woman, lowering dry food and juice to her as they carefully cut through the wreckage trying to reach her. But then a fire broke out, apparently killing the woman, leaving many firefighters in tears.
With national outrage boiling over, Bangladeshi paramilitary officers tracked down and arrested Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, who was hiding near the Indian border, and returned him by helicopter to Dhaka. When loudspeakers at the rescue site announced his capture earlier in the day, local news reports said, the crowd broke out in cheers.
The collapse of the building, the Rana Plaza, is considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. It is known to have claimed at least 377 lives, and hundreds more workers are thought to be missing still, buried in the rubble.
The Rana Plaza building contained five garment factories, employing more than 3,000 workers, who were making clothing for European and American consumers. Labor activists, citing customs records, company Web sites or labels discovered in the wreckage, say that the factories produced clothing for JC Penney; Cato Fashions; Benetton; Primark, the low-cost British store chain; and other retailers.
Everywhere near the building, the stench of death was overpowering. Men in surgical masks sprayed disinfectant in the air. Others sprayed air freshener. At one point, the police said, searches inside the structure were suspended because some rescuers were overcome by dust and the odor of decomposing bodies.
Savar is a crowded industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and the disaster has overwhelmed local institutions. A high school near Rana Plaza is now a staging ground for the identification of corpses. Nazma Begum, 25, stood beside a crude coffin that contained the remains of her sister, Shamima. She was standing guard over it until her father arrived to take the sister back to their home village to be buried. Sticks of burning incense had been wedged into the coffin to fight the awful smell.
“I had hoped that my sister was still alive,” she said softly. “But that hope is now shattered.”
Like so many young women in the country, the two sisters had gotten work in garment factories to help support their families. Ms. Begum makes about $85 a month; her sister made $56. Now Ms. Begum wants to quit her job. She has heard rumors that the building where she works is unsafe.
Just then a group of young men placed another coffin nearby, slid open the wooden lid and sprayed the body with disinfectant. A man on a megaphone made an announcement: “We have a new body,” he said, as a crowd surged toward the coffin. “You can come and see the body to identify it.”
For days, rescuers crawled though pancaked spaces on their hands and knees, afraid that using heavy machinery would collapse the building further. Lowered precariously into holes, they called out through the rubble and the darkness, listening for the voices of survivors. Many were saved in the painstaking process.
“We were shouting, asking if anyone was alive,” said Sharif ul-Islam, 35, a firefighter. “We would say, ‘If anyone is alive, please make a sound! We will come to you!’ ”
Finding and identifying all the missing may take weeks or longer. Thousands of homemade posters for missing loved ones have been affixed to the walls outside the school, to nearby buildings, to the branches of trees, to the gate of Enam Medical College and Hospital, where so many victims are being treated.
The posters have a poignant similarity: One husband, Mohammed Siddique, is looking for his wife, Shahida Akter. She is smiling in her photograph, posing with a cellphone. Another husband is looking for Alpana Rani. She is smiling in her photograph, too, holding her daughter.
In his ground-floor office, the director of Enam Hospital, Dr. Mohammed Anawarul Quader Nazim, said that more than 650 survivors had been brought in since the Wednesday morning disaster. The scope of injuries was horrifying: fractured skulls, crushed rib cages, severed livers, ruptured spleens. One survivor lost both legs. So many people suffered crushed limbs that his hospital sent a medical team to the wreckage to help handle on-site amputations. He keeps a list of amputees on his desk: A teenage girl named Sania lost her right leg. Another teenager, Anna, lost her right hand.
Upstairs in the Intensive Care Unit, Laboni Khanam, 22, lay in a bed, dazed. She was rescued after being trapped for 36 hours, but to save her life, rescuers had to amputate her left arm, which was pinned beneath a pillar. She begged them to save her arm but they told her they had no choice. They gave her an anesthetic but the agony was excruciating.
“I can’t describe how painful it was,” she recalled. “My life is ruined now.”
With so many lives ruined or lost, public anger has largely focused on Mr. Rana, the building’s owner. Garment industry leaders have blamed him for lying about the structural safety of the building; when cracks were discovered the day before the disaster, Mr. Rana is accused of assuring factory bosses that the building was safe to operate.
After his arrest, Mr. Rana blamed the owners of the garment factories for insisting on operating the morning of the disaster.
“I did not force the owners,” he said, according to bdnews24.com, an online news source in Bangladesh. “It was them who forced me, saying they would face huge losses, and shipments would be canceled if the factories were closed for even one day.”
The Rana Plaza disaster, coming five months after 112 garment workers died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory, has brought renewed criticism of the failure of Western brands to ensure safe working conditions in the factories they use in Bangladesh. In recent days, different Western brands have expressed sorrow over the accident but none, as yet, has endorsed proposals for tougher independent safety inspection programs.
Soon, the rescue efforts at Rana Plaza will likely come to a close and the operation will shift toward clearing the rubble. Late on Sunday night, rescuers started using two cranes and other heavy machinery. Officials are suggesting that few, if any, are likely still alive.
Yet there are still thousands of people clinging to hope. A young wife who managed to escape the fourth floor was sitting on the ground, holding a photo of her husband, who had been working on the third floor. And another woman sat less than 50 yards from the building, crying, surrounded by invoices from garment orders that were scattered on the ground.
When a soldier asked her to move somewhere safer and farther away from the wreckage, she wailed at him. She had two sons somewhere inside the building.
“It would be better if you killed me,” she said, “than if you asked me to go away.”
April 28, 2013
Clashes in Iraq Carry Worries of a New Civil War
By TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD — In the final days before the United States withdrew its troops from Iraq, American intelligence officers worried that a future Sunni insurgency here might be led not by Al Qaeda but by an organization whose leaders are former high-level members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
Now, after large numbers of Sunni tribesmen clashed with government forces last week, Iraqis of all sects are asking two questions: Is the country headed toward a new civil war? And, if so, will the group of former Baathists lead one side of it?
The group, the Men of the Army of the Naqshbandia Order, commonly known by the initials of its Arabic name, J.R.T.N., has emerged as a potential alternative to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for Sunnis who have long felt deeply marginalized under Iraq’s Shiite-led government and are taking up arms once again. Passions were ignited last week after a raid by security forces on a Sunni protest camp in the northern village of Hawija, a stronghold for the group, left dozens dead.
Biding its time, as Al Qaeda has continued to carry out car bombings and suicide attacks, the group has armed itself. It has enlisted recruits from the ranks of Mr. Hussein’s Republican Guard units and devised a well-executed media campaign, with an online magazine, pamphlets and a social media presence, to hone its message that its members are the protectors of Sunni Arab nationalism and guardians against Iranian influence.
“They are playing the long game,” said Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has researched the Naqshbandia group. “This is the next step in the long game. J.R.T.N. is very well positioned to exploit what’s going on.”
Iraq careers from one crisis to another — clashes between Sunni gunmen and government forces continued over the weekend — but diplomats and experts say events may have finally pushed the country to the brink of a new civil war. Martin Kobler, the United Nations’ representative in Iraq, recently warned that the country “could head towards the unknown.” The International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organization, said Iraq “has begun a perilous, downward slide toward confrontation.”
The fear that has gripped Iraq reflects the shifting nature of the recent violence. Random explosions have only a limited ability to challenge the authority of the state, partly because so many leaders, Sunnis and other citizens have disavowed such attacks. But what Iraqis are seeing now is entirely different: large numbers of Sunni men are picking up weapons, forming militia units and pledging to fight the government.
The likelihood of a civil war could hinge on two things: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s ability to defuse the crisis by offering meaningful concessions to Sunnis, in the form of judicial overhaul and the release of Sunni prisoners held without charges; and the ability of groups like the Naqshbandia organization to persuade Sunnis to embark on a campaign of armed resistance.
In the wake of the Hawija raid, which set off a wave of revenge attacks against Iraqi security forces, some Sunnis say they are ready to join armed groups like the Naqshbandia organization to fight a government that they regard as loyal to Iran and unwilling to accommodate a meaningful role for Sunnis in public life. Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, lost the recent sectarian civil war here. But now their anger at the government has converged with a sense of empowerment wrought by the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Sunnis are fighting to topple the government, reviving their impulse for insurrection.
“What happened in Hawija is a trap that the government is falling into, to impose the same thing that is happening in Syria,” said Ghazi al-Zaidi, 62, a Sunni in Diyala Province. “The violence is going to inflame Iraqis to prepare for a revolution against the government, and bring more sympathy to those who are forming forces that will fight against the government.”
In its statements in recent days, the Naqshbandia group, which is said to be led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Mr. Hussein’s top adviser and the highest-ranking member of the former government to elude capture, has sounded emboldened. It has said once-peaceful protesters have “joined our army and are fighting” under the group’s banner and has vowed to march on Baghdad.
“The orders were issued to our groups and to our people to complete all preparation to march into our beloved capital, Baghdad, and we will strike relentlessly and with an iron fist on the heads of the traitors, agents and Safavid enemies of Arabism and Islam,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web site. (The term “Safavid” is used to refer to Iran, which was ruled by the Safavid Empire in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, and is perceived by Sunnis to dominate Iraq and its Shiite government.)
The group has connections to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, but also to the Baath Party, and it portrays itself as a guardian of Arab nationalism. In 2011, Mr. Knights predicted that the group could lead “Iraq’s next insurgency.” He described the outfit as having learned from the mistakes of Al Qaeda by creating a “hybrid of Islamist themes and nationalist military expertise.”
While it carried out attacks against Iraqi security forces and so-called collaborators with the central government, including the Sunni Awakening, the units of fighters who were paid to switch sides and fight alongside the United States against Al Qaeda, the group pointedly refrained from attacking civilians.
“J.R.T.N. has hardly ever been linked to a mass casualty attack,” Mr. Knights said. But he added that the group had, on occasion, contracted with Al Qaeda to carry out car bombings.
Many of the attacks by the group have occurred in the tribal regions around Hawija, and analysts say its members have played a role in the protests in Sunni-dominated cities that began in December and were largely peaceful until last week. The episode that set off the confrontation in Hawija — an attack on an Iraqi Army checkpoint that left one soldier dead — is believed to have been carried out by gunmen with the Naqshbandia group, who then took refuge among the large group of protesters in the village.
Referring to members of the group and the clash in Hawija, Mr. Knights said, “They either instigated it or exploited it very quickly.”
The group draws its strength from northern Iraq, near Hawija, but also has support in other areas like Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces. It has made some inroads in Anbar Province, the historical center of Sunni resistance in Iraq, where on Friday, leaders called on the formation of tribal armies. Anbar is also a stronghold for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and could be the scene of a struggle between the groups as they seek to exploit popular anger.
“If J.R.T.N. becomes the face of violent Sunni resistance, then the Anbar sheiks could go along with it,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, an Iraq expert and an analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an employee of The New York Times from Diyala Province, Iraq.