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« Reply #6060 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:13 AM »


Irish government expected to support abortion bill

Cabinet meets to approve bill that could lead to limited abortion in republic, a week after Savita Halappanavar inquest

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 April 2013 09.20 BST

The Irish coalition government is expected to support legislation on Tuesday that will lead to limited abortion in the republic, including terminations in cases where mothers are suicidal.

The cabinet is meeting in Dublin to approve the controversial abortion bill, which has split the main ruling party, Fine Gael. Some Fine Gael backbenchers have indicated they will vote against liberalisation of Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws.

The historic move comes just over a week after an inquest ended into the death of an Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar, who died in an Irish hospital after she was refused an emergency termination.

The case put a global focus on Ireland's abortion laws and piled further pressure on the Fine Gael-Labour government to reform them.

The coalition has already promised to implement the Irish supreme court judgment in the 1992 X case, which found that abortion was legal under the constitution if there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. That court held that this included the threat of suicide.

The X case concerned a 14-year-old who became pregnant after being raped; her legal team fought for her right to have a termination abroad, arguing that their client was suicidal.


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« Reply #6061 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:15 AM »

April 29, 2013

Steering France’s Economy, and Attacked From All Sides

By STEVEN ERLANGER
IHT

PARIS — Pierre Moscovici protects his iPhone with a cover featuring a portrait of Léon Blum, a hero of France’s Socialist Party and three times prime minister, the last after emerging from Buchenwald and Dachau. Mr. Moscovici, France’s minister for finance and the economy, needs a good dose of Mr. Blum’s courage these days, under attack not just from the right but from within his own party.

“France has too much debt,” Mr. Moscovici said bluntly in an interview. “We must reduce deficits to keep our sovereignty and our credibility.”

He is attacked from the right for not being firm enough in cutting public spending and for not digging hard enough to uncover the tax fraud of the disgraced former budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac. He is attacked from the left for being too moderate, too pragmatic and too willing to cut public spending in a period of stagnation. In other words, for being insufficiently socialist.

Mr. Moscovici, 55, rejects both sets of criticism, but as the man in charge of the economy he is clearly an easy target for political sniping and ideological anger. Asked why the French are so angry and depressed, he said: “As I sometimes say, I’m not a psychoanalyst; my mother is.”

The president he serves, François Hollande, is the first Socialist president in 18 years, elected in May on promises of economic growth and job creation. But Mr. Hollande is already the most unpopular president in the Fifth Republic, and a main reason is the parlous state of the economy that Mr. Moscovici oversees.

Growth is almost nil, and unemployment is at record levels, with the number of people looking for work higher now than at any time in France’s postwar history; youth unemployment is at 24.4 percent, with 80 percent of new jobs actually temporary contracts.

At the same time, France is committed to budget deficit targets as a member of the euro zone, and even if the targets are stretched, Mr. Hollande and Mr. Moscovici know they may have to make significant cuts in spending to remain credible with European partners and the markets. In the ambiguous land between “no austerity” and spending cuts, there is much room for metaphor and euphemism.

Even as France is asking Brussels and main partner Germany for more time and space to meet its commitments, Mr. Moscovici likes to talk of a “serious budget” and “structural reforms.” He speaks of the political risks of austerity and the need for politicians to gauge the tolerance of their voters, their political allies — and, in France’s case, its small but powerful unions.

The argument against austerity, pressed by Mr. Hollande with the support of the troubled southern rim of the euro zone, is gaining ground, especially as Germany faces an election and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives face a renewed challenge from the Social Democratic Party. Even Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister and one of austerity’s leading champions, speaks with understanding of the French dilemma.

“Of course, France must continue on the path of structural reforms,” he said on Thursday. “You cannot make changes overnight — that must happen step by step, then it will be credible. Then you can indeed be flexible on the question of in what year you have a deficit.”

Of course the centrality of France to the euro zone means that it will always get more leeway than a smaller country — especially given its overall strengths in demography, infrastructure and innovation. As Mr. Moscovici is fond of pointing out, France is the world’s fifth-largest economy and ranks fourth in attracting foreign investment. While it has problems with labor costs and declining competitiveness, “we are not the sick man of Europe,” he said angrily, accusing much of the Anglo-Saxon and German press of “French-bashing.”

Mr. Moscovici also can get annoyed when discussing the “neoliberalism” and “orthodoxy” of the technocrats of the European Commission, which sets the rules. At one point, when discussing the demands of Eurocrats to keep the annual budget deficit at or below 3 percent of gross domestic product, Mr. Moscovici burst out and said: “There is a mainstream view in the European Commission that is neoliberal, or orthodox. But I’m a socialist, a social democrat!” In France, he said, “we have elections, we have political choices, and we are defending our own way.”

France must be judged on results, he said, not on “the choice of means.” Of course, France broke its vow to reduce its budget deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product this year; it will be 3.7 percent. Paris has promised to reach 3 percent in 2014, though some are skeptical, given the near recession and the growing Europe-wide emphasis on growth over austerity.

Mr. Hollande and Mr. Moscovici argue for “balance,” between fiscal consolidation and growth, between Europe’s demands and France’s contentious politics. “We must refuse austerity, because austerity leads to revolt,” Mr. Moscovici said. “We want to reduce deficits, but do that at a rhythm compatible with growth and employment. If not, people won’t accept it,” he said, pointing to social unrest in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

The image of Europe is also suffering, he said, because of the dominant, moralistic prescription of austerity. The minister for European affairs from 1997-2002, Mr. Moscovici calls himself a “committed European,” but “we don’t want austerity in Europe, either,” he said. “If Europe is perceived — not as disciplined, that’s not a bad word — but if it’s perceived as punishment, then we have a problem.”

But home is the problem. Mr. Hollande’s approval ratings are around 27 percent, the lowest on record, and with the government promising no new taxes on households in 2014, the burden will be on spending cuts — five billion euros in 2014, the first reduction in nominal terms in 30 years, with more to come.

Mr. Moscovici’s aides say that their job now is to say “no” to every other minister; Mr. Moscovici says without specificity that France will proceed with reforms in family support, health care and the sensitive issue of pensions. Despite general unhappiness at increased corporate taxes, the Hollande government promises further flexibility in the labor market and further efforts to reduce French labor costs, trying to restore competitiveness.

But with the Socialist Party itself shaken by the unpopularity of Mr. Hollande and openly debating the wisdom of even these economic cuts and reforms, there is some skepticism that the government will press ahead much further.

Mr. Moscovici is attacked for being a moderate and a pragmatist, but he was a member of the Revolutionary Communist League until 1984, when he was 27 and had graduated from some of France’s finest schools. Entering public service, Mr. Moscovici then joined the Socialists, calling his time in the league “a long time ago.”

Paris-born, he is the descendant of Jewish immigrants; his father was of Romanian origin, his mother Polish, and his four grandparents, he said, were foreigners. “So for me, Europe was always hope, always a common future, always an ideal,” he said. “And if Europe is no more to be any of that, but just common rules that lead to pain, then how can people love Europe? That’s why we need to regain that part of the idea. If we don’t, then we’re in serious trouble.”

***********

French ministers warn socalists against picking fight with Germany

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 29, 2013 9:59 EDT

Top French ministers warned Monday against picking a fight with Germany after their Socialist Party accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of being “selfish” in her drive for eurozone austerity.

With Franco-German relations already at their lowest level in years, senior government officials sought to head off further tensions with Berlin over the leaked draft of a Socialist Party document on Europe.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that while President Francois Hollande’s government welcomed debate on European economic policy, it must not descend into open conflict.

“Debate yes, pugilism no. It is not normal to call into question such or such a leader,” Fabius said on Europe 1 radio. “There is no reason to face off one country against another.”

In the draft leaked on Friday, Hollande’s Socialist Party slammed Merkel for her insistance on austerity as a solution to Europe’s debt crisis.

It accused conservative Merkel, who faces elections on September 22, of being obsessed with “Berlin’s trade balance and her electoral future”.

Senior Socialists have also recently called for a “confrontation” with Berlin to push France’s efforts to focus on economic growth measures over austerity.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said attacks on Germany would do no good.

“This idea that there must be a ‘confrontation’ with Germany is wrong and completely counter-productive,” Moscovici told Le Monde newspaper.

“We cannot hope to move things forward through denunciation, stigmatisation or division,” he said, adding that such attitudes were “a certain way to doom us from the start”.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also insisted on “Franco-German friendship”, telling newspaper La Depeche du Midi that “like all friendships, it does not exclude debate on ideas.”

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert on Monday said the relationship between Germany and France was “essential” and what mattered for Berlin were the actions of the French government.

But some in the German press said the leaked text reflected sour grapes on the part of the French for losing influence in Europe.

“The Socialists were promising to show Europe the way. A year after they moved into (France’s presidential residence) the Elysee, this sounds like a joke,” Berliner Zeitung wrote.

Socialist officials insisted the leaked document was in no way final and did not represent the party’s official view.

“This draft was not meant to make its way into the media,” the party’s European affairs secretary, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, told LCI television.

“If we find out who gave this text to the press, I will ask that they be suspended from the Socialist Party,” he said.

The leak follows months of sniping from the Socialists’ left flank, who have accused Hollande of not being forceful enough in his dealings with Merkel.

Hollande is suffering from record-low ratings in the polls about a year after coming to power, with some in his party saying the president has not done enough to push Socialist priorities.

Franco-German ties have noticeably cooled since Hollande took over last year from right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, who enjoyed especially close ties with Merkel.

Top officials in Sarkozy’s UMP party on Monday accused Hollande of being “personally responsible” for “the continuing and appalling degradation in Franco-German relations.”

In a joint statement, UMP party chief Jean-Francois Cope and ex-prime minister Francois Fillon denounced the “anti-German climate gaining ground in the Socialist Party” and accused Hollande of seeking to isolate Merkel within Europe.

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

April 29, 2013

Grim Economics Shape France’s Military Spending

By STEVEN ERLANGER
IHT

PARIS — France will effectively freeze its military spending for the next several years, cutting nearly 10 percent of defense jobs while using more money for high-tech equipment, in a bid to maintain its ability to conduct overseas operations like the one in Mali, the government said Monday.

A strategic review, the first since 2008, tries to reconcile France’s weak economic growth and declining budgets with its ability to take unilateral military action, preserve its nuclear deterrent, and improve its intelligence and cybersecurity.

While spending about 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, France will remain Europe’s No. 2 in military spending behind Britain. Britain is shrinking its armed forces to 82,000, the lowest number since the Battle of Waterloo, while trying to keep its own nuclear deterrent.

“France wants to maintain its ability to react alone,” President François Hollande said in discussing the report, known as the “Livre Blanc,” or white book, on defense and national security.

The government, having examined the lessons of recent conflicts in Libya and Mali, decided that it could not afford to cut military spending too severely.

The defense budget will remain the same, in nominal terms, for the next three years. But that means that President Hollande’s Socialist government will need to look elsewhere to meet its promises to cut 60 billion euros, or about $79 billion, in state spending over its five-year term. It plans to cut $6.5 billion in 2014 and promises to bring its budget deficit down to 3 percent of gross domestic product.

But the white paper, at more than 150 pages, foresees a reduction of at least 24,000 jobs in addition to the 54,000 announced in the last white paper in 2008, written under the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy. The current white paper also suggests a reduction in rapid deployment forces from 30,000 to between 15,000 and 20,000. But the paper emphasizes the ability to field up to 7,000 troops in three separate areas concurrently, though plans for a second aircraft carrier will be scrapped.

France now has about 228,000 military personnel; 10,000 are expected to be cut soon. An additional 66,700 civilians work in the armed forces.

Mr. Hollande’s government has been as tough in its military actions and foreign policy positions as the Sarkozy government, and the defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, is generally commended for his stewardship of the ministry as well as the Mali intervention.

But Mr. Le Drian, in an interview with The New York Times in February, said the conflicts in Mali and Libya had pointed out deficiencies in intelligence gathering by drones, which he called “incomprehensible,” and in the French ability to refuel aircraft and transport troops, requiring help from European allies and especially from Washington.

He promised that while the French were developing their own drones, Paris would seek to buy some from the United States or Israel; the white paper foresees more efforts at shared assets like transport planes with European allies. He also said he expected new investment in special forces.

“The principal question in the white paper is how to adapt defense to a financial crisis — defense is a matter of sovereignty, and so is the security of the public accounts,” he said in the interview. But he also said new investments “seem to me inevitable, like intelligence and special forces.”

The paper proposes a defense budget of $235 billion between 2014 and 2019, comparable to the 2008 white paper. The equipment budget is foreseen at about $21 billion a year, down from $24 billion forecast in 2008, but still enough to give some optimism to the 4,000 or so defense-related enterprises in France, which employ about 165,000 people.

Political opposition figures said the cuts would damage France’s ability to act independently. Vincent Desportes, an outspoken former director of a military school, said the proposed reduction in deployable forces “makes France a really minor actor in coalition operations.” Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, an opposition member of the parliamentary foreign affairs commission, said that “we have already reduced the army’s size a lot over the past five years.”

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

Small-town France is fast being choked by red tape and growing bureaucracy

Businesses and local government officials feel rules, regulations and directives hinder economic recovery and impinge on daily life

Edward Cody for the Washington Post
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 30 April 2013 12.06 BST   

Although he is rich with 25 years of experience as mayor of Albaret-Sainte-Marie, a little town in the wooded hills of central-southern France, Michel Therond gets advice from the bureaucrats in Paris almost every time he opens the mail.

One day's delivery brings a directive stipulating that the sidewalks must be widened to permit two wheelchairs to cross paths easily. Another says the school cafeteria must be made accessible by elevator. Trees must be trimmed of branches two metres up their trunks, and only government-certified technicians can change a lightbulb on city property.

"We are being strangled," Therond complained, sifting through a pile of rules and regulations on his desk that he largely ignores – and many of which he does not even understand.

France and its southern European neighbours, such as Italy and Greece, are increasingly being buried in such norms, rules and directives. In the past two decades, the number of legal do's and don'ts has become so great that businessmen and economists warn that it is smothering growth just as the continent tries to dig out of its worst slump in a generation.

Comparisons are difficult, but among other advanced economies, the United States, Britain and the Scandinavian countries, which have more hands-off traditions of government, generally suffer less from such excessive regulation, according to the OECD.

The regulations almost always flow from a desire to meet recent and broadly accepted social goals, such as environmental protection, accident prevention or access for the disabled. But as lawmakers pass more legislation and bureaucrats scribble more implementation orders, specialists say, the result looks like a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity at a time when Europe needs it most.

A report last month estimated that France is squirming under 400,000 directives, ranging from the amount of boiled egg a kindergartner can eat at lunch – half an egg – to precise requirements on how far mailboxes can stick out from the wall. The directives have cost little towns, such as Albaret-Sainte-Marie, more than €1.9bn ($2.5bn) over the past four years, the report estimated.

Applied to business with equal bureaucratic fastidiousness, such rules and regulations prove even more expensive in the private sector. They cost the 27 European Union countries an average 3.7% of their gross domestic product a year, more than €7.5bn ($10bn) in the case of France, and hold back an incalculable amount of new investment, according to the OECD.

"The country is in danger of paralysis," warned Alain Lambert, head of the French government's Consultative Commission on Evaluation of Norms.

Therond said the problem has grown acute because France increasingly has a mindset in which all risks must be eliminated, what is called "the principle of precaution". "But you just can't do that," he objected.

Lambert agreed. "We must temper the principle of precaution to restore to French people their right to risk," he said on delivering his report.

Christophe Brunel, who runs the Hotel du Rocher Blanc across the road from city hall, said new regulations for wheelchair access, sanitation and fire prevention that come into effect in 2015 would cost him about €1m to carry out, more than the century-old hotel is worth. The rules, he said, would require him to enlarge corridors and stairways, put in elevators, change doors, update rooms and remodel the kitchen, destroying the charm – and the budget.

"Eighty per cent of small independent hotels in France cannot meet these requirements," he said, suggesting that airport-style chain hotels will be the only lodgings left if such norms are applied.

Reacting to expressions of concern, President François Hollande has promised that his government would carry out a "simplification shock" to reduce the overload of rules and regulations. His prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called in ministers, formed a committee and pledged a purge. But most French people only smiled, recalling that similar promises have come from all of Hollande's predecessors since Charles de Gaulle.

A big part of the problem is public demand. After revelations last month that some meat labelled beef in prepared dishes was actually horsemeat, for instance, Hollande's government was called on the carpet for inadequate regulation of the wholesale meat market. The consumer protection minister, Benoit Hamon, responded with promises of more regulations and tighter inspections.

Another source of overregulation is the "mille-feuille" of government, the layers that start with municipalities, then cantons, and on to inter-communal bodies, departments, regions, parliamentary representation and ministries. Each level plays a role in imposing norms, sometimes contradictory. But with various government bodies providing 23% of the jobs in France, talk of reducing the overlap is largely ignored.

The OECD has recommended that just abolishing departments would produce substantial savings. But in addition to raising unemployment, such a move would rob the central government of its major channel for exercising authority throughout the country since Napoleon's time, anathema in a highly centralised system.

"We have a territory that is layered like lasagna," said Maurice Leroy, a rightist legislator who has joined the call for abolishing departements, "which is not an Italian speciality but a French speciality".

Towns and villages such as Albaret-Sainte-Marie were encouraged in recent legislation to form inter-communal committees to pool resources on such matters as water purification or recreational facilities. Despite the logic, all the new law did was add another bureaucratic layer, according to Herve Boulhol, who heads the OECD's French desk.

Therond said the most outrageous directive to hit his desk recently was a 28 March explanation from the departmental prefecture, 20 pages replete with colour-co-ordinated graphics, of how the area's inter-communal towns and villages are to organise local elections scheduled for next year. The prescriptions are so detailed and arcane, he protested, that he would have to be a constitutional lawyer to understand what the prefecture was driving at.

"Look at this," he said, fingering the thick sheaf of papers. "I defy you to understand what they mean. Nobody could possibly understand it."

The directive joined a pile of papers filed away without action by the city hall secretary, Alain Chastang.

Perhaps more seriously, recently revised rules for building permits have imposed so many additional requirements that construction has been slowed to a trickle since the beginning of the year just as authorities are trying desperately to find jobs for the unemployed, Therond said.

The town's activities centre, for instance, is in need of renovation. But Therond is unable to fix it up because it is on a slope and wheelchair access – with the grade level minutely regulated – would be impossible without a ramp stretching out into neighbouring property.

The second-floor cafeteria for Albaret-Sainte-Marie's 70 students will have to be moved to the ground floor, he said, because the cost of an elevator would be prohibitive for a community of 600 residents with an operating budget of just over €380,000.

Another regulation that brings a rueful smile to Therond's face has to do with water.

The community, high in the Massif Central hills, is blessed with natural spring water. But inspectors found recently that the town's main spring had absorbed too much salt from anti-snow treatment on a nearby highway.

No problem, Therond said, we'll just dig another spring. But wait, the bureaucrats said, experts have to test the new spring for a year before it can be used.

Result: the salty spring water still flows into residents' homes, and Therond has taken to drinking bottled mineral water to prevent hypertension.


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« Reply #6062 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:17 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/29/2013 05:43 PM

Sarkozy's Back: Ex-President Takes Aim at Hollande's Policies

While French President François Hollande deals with dismal jobless figures and turmoil surrounding the recent legalization of gay marriage, his upbeat predecessor goes on the thinly veiled offensive in Montreal. "When I look at those who succeeded me," Nicolas Sarkozy says, "I feel very good."

Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be living proof that politics is an unhealthy profession. One year after he was voted out of office, the former French president was looking better than ever as he put in an appearance at the Montreal Convention Center last Thursday. Well tanned and full of energy, he stood grinning with his feet planted wide apart -- no comparison with the gray-faced and exhausted man who lost last year's French presidential election.

It had been a long time since he last spoke in public. After his defeat at the hands of Socialist Party challenger François Hollande, Sarkozy dropped out of public view. He granted no interviews and gave no speeches. Even his appearance in Canada was closed to the general public. Security guards posted at the entrance chased away journalists and photographers. The roughly 800 individuals attending the event had paid the equivalent of between €170 and €600 ($220 and $780) to hear Sarkozy as part of a series of presentations organized by a Canadian telecommunications company.

The audience consisted of Canadian business leaders, and the occasional Sarkozy fan, who were sitting at elegantly laid-out tables in a large hall with dimmed lights. They were also served dinner: a salad, oversalted duck drumsticks and a dry piece of cake.

In North American fashion, Sarkozy was introduced as "the 23rd president of the French Republic." "I will try to avoid doing two things today," he said after he approached the lectern amid thunderous applause: "Interfering in Canadian politics -- and engaging in French politics." He made a long pause for dramatic effect and grinned: "Although it's not as if I have no desire to do so."

Hollande Losing his Grip

Just a few minutes before Sarkozy stepped up to the microphone, the wire services were abuzz with breaking news: The French jobless total hit an all-time high of 3.22 million people last month.

As former President Sarkozy was being received like a statesman in the French-speaking province of Quebec, everything seemed to be going downhill for President François Hollande in Paris, some 5,400 kilometers (3,350 miles) to the east. The economy is sliding into recession, while the left is accusing Hollande of not being left-wing enough.

To make matters worse, the right is unrelentingly demonstrating against his most important legislative project to date, the same-sex marriage law. A French version of the American Tea Party movement is currently emerging -- one that combines anti-gay sentiment with the feeling that the left has no legitimate claim to power.

It looks as if Hollande is losing his grip on the entire country. A research institute recently reported that, after only one year of leadership, he is the most unpopular French president of the Fifth Republic, with only a 21 percent approval rating. Another survey showed that Sarkozy would win if he ran against Hollande today.

'Life after Politics'

No wonder Sarkozy seemed so pleased. "Yes, there's life after politics," he told the audience. "In all honesty, I feel good. And when I look at those who succeeded me, I even feel very good."

Speaking abroad, Sarkozy styles himself as the defender of Europe and the euro. "If the euro implodes, the EU will explode," he says. "So we have no choice," he warns, "without the European Union, there would be war again in Europe."

The master of ceremonies was Michael Fortier, a Canadian banker and former conservative minister of international trade. Hollande has introduced gay marriage, he said, adding that this surprised many people in Canada: Didn't they do this a long time ago in France?

"France is a country with Christian roots," Sarkozy responded. "When you fly over the country," he said, "you see churches and cathedrals everywhere." This explains the current conflict, he contended. "And during an economic crisis, a president has to be very careful not to divide the country."

Criticism of Hollande

Sarkozy's entire appearance was a commentary on his successor -- even if he never mentioned Hollande by name. It began when Sarkozy praised at length the fine example given by Barack Obama and George W. Bush when they met at the White House following the US presidential election. This was clearly a criticism of Hollande, who didn't even accompany him to his car during the transfer of power at Elysée Palace. The criticism continued with the question of how to best handle China, and the comment that government spending naturally has to be reduced.

But many things were left unsaid: For instance, that Sarkozy is under investigation for alleged illegal election campaign financing. And Sarkozy completely avoided the question that is on everyone's mind: Will he run again for president in 2017? The divided conservatives currently have no alternative candidate.

That afternoon, Sarkozy flew to New York to meet with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Frenchman is currently on many guest lists, and the longer he remains silent, the more popular he becomes back home in France.

"It's not the politics that I love," he admits. "I have often been bored during those endless meetings where nothing is decided. What I love is taking action."

It would appear that time is on his side.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


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« Reply #6063 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:19 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/29/2013 06:16 PM

NSU Aftermath: German Investigators Sharpen Focus on Far Right

For years, German federal law-enforcement officials hesitated to launch terrorism investigations against right-wing extremists. But the NSU debacle has prompted them to launch an unprecedented number of cases and to employ controversial means in an effort to avoid accusations of inaction.

The operation was blanketed under the strictest secrecy. On Aug. 27, 2012, terrorism investigators in the German states of Bavaria and Saxony quietly fanned out to execute search warrants issued by the Federal Court of Justice. One of the targeted individuals visited by state authorities that Monday was extremely well known to experts involved in combating right-wing extremists: Martin Wiese, 37, one of the most notorious neo-Nazis in Germany.

Wiese, the former leader of a far-right militant Kameradschaft group, had been arrested in 2003 on suspicion of involvement in plans to detonate a bomb during the groundbreaking ceremony for a Jewish center in Munich. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for being the ringleader of a terrorist group.

Wiese once again came to the attention of the authorities due to information provided by a fellow far-right extremist, Mario K. (editor's note: German privacy laws prevent his surname from being published). K. had told them about obscure Nazi circles, old networks and new militants, incriminating both Wiese and himself in the process. The Federal Prosecutor's Office then took charge of the investigation and issued search warrants. Although the searches didn't turn up weapons or attack plans, investigators did stumble upon encoded communications.

Before the neo-Nazi terrorist cell known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was uncovered in November 2011, these clues probably wouldn't have prompted Germany's highest investigative body to take such actions. But much has changed since Germany was shocked by the revelation of the NSU's series of racist murders. Believing that there are grounds for suspicion that a "terrorist association" was founded in Bavaria, federal prosecutors are investigating a number of individuals, including Wiese, who denies the allegations against him.

His case is one of 14 investigations that Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range is conducting against suspected neo-Nazi terrorists and their accomplices. This number was released in response to an official request for government information filed by the opposition Left Party. The number sounds dramatic because it is higher than the total of all other investigations into right-wing terror conducted over the last decade. And it raises a number of questions: Must Germany brace itself for more attacks and possibly even murders committed by neo-Nazis? Are imitators of the NSU trio already hatching new plans for strikes?

A 'Paradigm Change'

In fact, this high figure does have something to do with a change in thinking on the part of authorities. They are now taking a closer at the extreme right - and, when in doubt, they now prefer to investigate sooner rather than later. "We have sharpened our focus on indications that could point to the emergence of right-wing terrorist structures," says Hans-Georg Maassen, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

Manfred Murch, the head of the organization's state branch in the northern city-state of Hamburg, speaks of a "paradigm change." While authorities used to primarily investigate right-wing extremism in the wake of concrete crimes, Murch says that investigators are now also looking into "networks and clandestine associations in the neo-Nazi scene" and that the tipping point for this change was the NSU affair.

Clemens Binninger, a domestic policy expert with the parliamentary group of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), concurs, saying that the many new investigations are most likely owed to "the acknowledgement of having done too little in the past."

A glance at the statistics reveals the continued importance of getting to the bottom of the NSU's crimes, including the murders of 10 people -- eight men of Turkish descent, one Greek and one German policewoman - as well as other attacks and a series of unsolved robberies. Of the 14 new investigations, 10 share ties with the broader NSU case. They are directed at alleged supporters of the group, but do not involve the five individuals who will be tried beginning on May 6 in the Munich Higher Regional Court for alleged involvement in the crimes of the NSU terror cell. In addition, there is the investigation against Wiese, for which the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is currently evaluating the evidence.

Yet another series of investigations revolves around Meinolf Schönborn, the former head of the "Nationalist Front," banned in 1992 because of its plans to establish paramilitary units. Schönborn has been among the best-known German neo-Nazis since the 1980s. He and three accomplices are now suspected of having built up a new far-right extremist group called "Neue Ordnung" ("New Order"), though he has contested the allegations to SPIEGEL.

Investigators got on Schönborn's trail in the summer of 2012 after finding a dead neo-Nazi in a guesthouse in Herzberg, a village in the eastern state of Brandenburg roughly 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Berlin (#843430). On the property of the building, which had been leased by Schönborn's girlfriend, investigators found an arsenal of weapons in addition to a mass of partially encrypted computer data that they are still analyzing.

In northern Germany, federal prosecutors are also investigating a handful of neo-Nazis suspected of having planned to obtain weapons to be used in attacks. But it remains unclear how much progress their most recent attempts had made.

Employing 'Fundamentally Questionable Means'

The last case involves a measure that is both atypical and daring in legal terms. The investigations do not focus on particular individuals or a certain grouping, such as the NSU. Instead, federal prosecutors are compiling their own set of files on any clues related to militant right-wing activities, a sort of grab bag to be filled with information about the neo-Nazi scene. Investigators assume that they will at some point be able to fill it with facts pointing toward right-wing terrorist crimes. This new strategy comes as another result of the NSU debacle, in which authorities made a series of embarrassing blunders and failed to see any terrorism. Indeed, it wasn't until an NSU video claiming responsibility for one of the killings was found in November 2011 that officials went from believing the crimes were committed by a Turkish criminal gang to a neo-Nazi terrorist organization, thereby allowing federal authorities to step in.

Still, just how meaningful such clues will be for the new cases remains an open question. Indeed, there are many indications that law-enforcement officials are planning to put the controversial Section 129a of the German Penal Code into use in their battle against right-wing extremism, much like they did for decades while fighting the left-wing extremism of groups such as the Red Army Faction (RAF). The section makes it a punishable offense to be a member of a domestic terrorist organization. But investigators would most likely use it less to gather indictments and more as leverage to illuminate the right-wing extremist scene.

Ulla Jelpke, the domestic policy spokeswomen for the Left Party's parliamentary faction, senses that an effort to exert political influence on the judiciary lies behind this new strategy. "The federal government denied the mere existence of neo-fascist terrorists for much too long and labeled them as confused individual perpetrators," she says. "After the uncovering of the NSU, it is now seeing to it that the terrorism stick of Section 129a is being eagerly brandished against the right." Nevertheless, she adds, this approach remains questionable.

Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, agrees. "The fact that the section is being used against the far right doesn't make it any prettier," says the criminal law expert. It has often been the case, he adds, that Germany's highest court has ruled that state authorities have used "fundamentally questionable means" in cases involving Section 129a.

Indeed, the state can avail itself of an entire arsenal of surveillance means when investigating individuals suspected of forming a terrorist association. Investigators are allowed to wiretap the telephones of suspects, sometimes for years, as well as store huge amounts of computer data. They can place tracking devices on cars and bugs in homes, install cameras on house doors, analyze DNA and test odor samples. The section provides an expedited method of placing indicted individuals in pre-trial detention, and it also allows for prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Reintroducing Restricted Practices

But despite the massive expenses, the results have ultimately been paltry: Sooner or later, almost all cases involving Section 129a have petered out. This results from a groundbreaking decision handed down by the Federal Court of Justice in the fall of 2007 that curbed the use of Section 129. The court reminded investigators that the law on the formation of a terrorist organization states that the stipulated offenses must be "intended to seriously intimidate the population" and that terrorism is defined as when a group uses violence "to significantly impair or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a state or an international organization."

In the wake of this decision, Section 129a was limited to playing a niche role. Between 2008 and 2011, federal prosecutors only launched five related investigations -- three against left-wing extremists and two against right-wing ones. But then the NSU case exploded in November 2011. And, since then, everything is different again.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

***********

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/29/2013 07:36 PM

Top Papers Left Out: Court Faces Fresh Trouble Over Press Seats

The Munich court where the NSU neo-Nazi terror trial is due to start on May 6 faces fresh controversy over media accreditation after several major German newspapers failed to obtain seats in a lottery of press passes. It was the second attempt to allocate seats after Turkish media had been left out in the first round.

The Munich court overseeing the biggest neo-Nazi trial in German history on Monday faced new complaints over its media accreditation process when leading German newspapers failed to obtain passes for the 50-seat press gallery.

Last month, Turkish journalists had been left out when the court allocated passes on a first come, first served policy. That caused an outcry because most of the victims of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror cell were of Turkish descent. The last surviving member of the NSU, Beate Zschäpe, faces trial from May 6, along with four alleged accomplices.

The court postponed the start of the trial from its original date on April 17 to sort the problem out after the Federal Constitutional Court, responding to a complaint from a Turkish newspaper, ordered it to allocate seats to foreign journalists.

In an attempt to be completely fair, it decided to raffle the press passes. The venerable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and another national broadsheet, Die Welt, failed to get press accreditation in the lottery conducted on Monday. Die Tageszeitung, another well-known German newspaper, also failed to get a seat.

All three said on Monday they were considering legal action against the allocation. Publications that obtained seats in the raffle included lesser known newspapers such as local paper Hallo Munich and women's magazine Brigitte.

"The most important trial this year and the three big national quality papers in the country are left out, unlike the classified ad paper Hallo München -- that's absurd," said Jan-Eric Peters, editor-in-chief of the Die Welt newspaper group. "We're considering legal action to clarify this."

Four seats have been reserved exclusively for the Turkish media. Not a single major English-language media organization, with the exceptions of Al-Jazeera and German press agency, has been assigned a seat in the gallery.


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« Reply #6064 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:21 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/29/2013 04:07 PM

Big Tests Ahead: Italy Tries Fresh Start With Fragile Government

By Fiona Ehlers

Two months after the election, Italy finally has a new government. It is made up of parties bitterly opposed to each other, much like the political situation in Greece. Can it prevent political chaos and keep Silvio Berlusconi from rising again?

Author Edoardo Nesi is sitting in his home in Prato near Florence on April 25, which is Italy's national holiday marking the country's liberation from the fascists. He's reading the newspaper and looking at the photos from the previous day. The images show the designated prime minister, Enrico Letta, in a Fiat Ulysse -- a dove-gray family station wagon. Letta is driving the car himself. He leaves the guards of honor behind him and heads straight to Quirinal Palace, the Italian president's official residence. Nesi finds that remarkable. A man sets off to shape the destiny of his troubled country -- it's a comforting image that seems like a promise of better things to come.

It took nearly 60 days for Italy's politicians to agree on a prime minister. The new cabinet was sworn in on Sunday. Led by Letta of the center-left Democratic Party, the government includes ministers from Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party. Italy, like Greece, now has a coalition made up of opposing parties whose political platforms could not be more different from each other.

Nesi, 48, took part in Monday's vote of confidence on the new government. He was elected to parliament for the first time. In fact, half of the seats in parliament are filled by new members, many of them younger than their predecessors -- and there are more women among the parliamentarians. In the first few weeks after the election, Nesi felt out of place and useless. He wrote a text about this feeling, which the Italian daily La Repubblica printed on its front page. He wrote about "the lost time, in which you wait to finally do something for your country, following the brave, childish desire that brought you to parliament, hoping to somehow be useful to your country. You tell yourself that it's not like that. That it cannot be that way. You wait."

Nesi used to be a textile manufacturer. His family made fine wool cloth in the traditional manufacturing city of Prato before their goods were rendered obsolete by less expensive Chinese products. Nesi has had to reinvent himself a number of times. For instance, nine years ago he sold the family business, became a writer and translated David Foster Wallace's weighty novel "Infinite Jest." He was awarded Italy's coveted Strega Prize for literature for his autobiographical novel "The Story of My People. On the Anger and Love of an Industrialist from the Provinces." Since February, he has been a member of parliament in Mario Monti's moderate Civic Choice party, which was the big loser in the February elections, getting just under 10 percent of the vote.

Now, Nesi is no longer bored. Quite a lot has happened over the past week, although not much of it is positive. For nearly 20 years, Berlusconi was widely seen as the man primarily responsible for Italy's political and economic mess. But now the deeply-divided left has only itself to blame for the chaos of recent weeks. Both presidential candidates backed by PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani failed to garner sufficient votes, leaving him with no alternative but to resign.

It also appeared that a number of members of parliament still failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation. During the vote for president, they wrote on their ballots the name of legendary football player and coach Giovanni Trapattoni -- or Rocco Siffredi, the former porn star. They thought it was funny.

Nesi observed these antics from a distance and was astonished. He sat in the lower house of parliament next to representatives from Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, who rarely speak with politicians from the establishment and only confer among themselves. He drifted back and forth between the parliamentary chamber and the Transatlantico, a marble hall as big as a tennis court, with a bar and a hair salon. He noticed the whispering of the TV anchorwomen, with their full lips and identical noses -- and he saw how the men engaged in medieval courtship dances, linked arms for a few steps, then continued to dance with the next partner. When he looked at the floor made of yellow marble, he found it magnificent and fragile at the same time, and asked himself why people could not treat this precious country just as gingerly.

Today, he is disenchanted, but also proud. He witnessed a political milestone when the newly reelected head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, 87, lambasted parliament for its "irresponsibility" and "ineptitude." Nesi heard how he threatened to resign if the politicians continued to refuse to face up to reality and "turn a deaf ear" to the challenges facing the country. The most thunderous applause came from those who were targeted by the criticism. It was as if they were expecting an absolution -- but none was forthcoming. Nesi was pleased with the president's speech. So were many other Italians.

Government Offers Only Brief Reprieve

How long will it last, this forced marriage of the warring political camps that Napolitano has demanded? Not long. Letta wants to restore credibility to politics. He intends to reform the electoral law and put an end to the European austerity measures -- although he is just as committed to the European project as his predecessor, Mario Monti. Yet Letta's hands are tied because the positions of his coalition partners are so diverse. His government offers barely more than a brief reprieve -- perhaps for a year, perhaps only until this fall. Indeed, the last few days have revealed two things: The left has failed, at least for the time being, and Berlusconi, the great survivor, is still pulling the political strings.

His party, which seemed doomed just a few months ago, has triumphed once again. According to opinion polls, it is currently the strongest political force. On the day of Letta's appointment, Berlusconi had more important things to do: He flew to Dallas to help inaugurate the George W. Bush Museum. If new elections were held in October, Berlusconi would be 77 years old, while Matteo Renzi, his probable opponent from the PD, would be 38. When will Renzi, the mayor of Florence, finally challenge Berlusconi?

"If this election has shown anything, it's Italians' desire for change," writes one of the country's best-known bloggers. "And now the answer is: Letta. That's a little bit like smoking a joint at Woodstock, rolling in the mud and waiting for Jimi Hendrix. And who steps onto the stage? Orietta Berti and Drupi" -- in the English-speaking world, roughly the equivalent of Peggy March and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Or as the vice director of the School of Governance at Rome's LUISS University put it: Even Letta can't put a stop to the bloated political machine because he is, of course, part of it. "If your frying pan has a hole in it," he quips, "you don't attach a new handle because it wouldn't change a thing."

Former entrepreneur and political newcomer Nesi says that he'll continue to watch the shenanigans for a while. It's a bit too early to leave politics, he says. After all, as he points out, it also took him a while to master the art of writing.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


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« Reply #6065 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:29 AM »

Germany’s top Catholic calls for female deacons

By Eric W. Dolan
RawStory
Monday, April 29, 2013 19:48 EDT

The head of the Catholic Church in Germany on Monday called for women to be ordained as deacons, a major shift in doctrine for the male-dominated hierarchy.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg called for the change after a large 4-day conference on potential reforms, according to the German news website The Local. He said female deacons should not be considered “taboo.”

Though women played an important role in the early church, Roman Catholic law currently only allows baptized men to be deacons. As the lowest level of clergy, deacons can preach, baptize, witness marriages and perform other religious services.

Sister Florence Deacon of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) recently called on Pope Francis to promote women to positions of power within the church.

“Today young women in the United States are leaving the church in larger numbers than young men, and parents are questioning raising their daughters in a church that doesn’t seem to value women’s participation,” she said. “We hope Pope Francis hears their concerns and appoints significant numbers of women to major leadership posts in the universal church.”

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« Reply #6066 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:30 AM »


Iceland: ‘Mandate from president expected today’

Morgunblaðið,
30 April 2013

On April 30, three days after general elections, Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson will appoint a prime minister charged with the task of forming of a new government.

The two likely choices are Bjarni Benediktsson, 43, head of the Independence Party, which obtained 26.7 per cent of the vote and 19 of the 63 seats in Iceland's parliament, the Alþingi, and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, 38, leader of the Progressive Party, which also obtained 19 seats, but with the lesser score of 24.43 per cent. Nonetheless, Gunnlaugsson has laid claim to the post on the ground that support for his party has more than doubled since general elections were last held in 2009.

In any case, the two parties are expected to form a coalition, as they did in the 1990s and the 2000s.
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« Reply #6067 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:39 AM »

April 29, 2013

A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage

By JOHN TAGLIABUE
IHT

OSLO — This is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden. It even has designs on the American market.

“I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Pal Mikkelsen, in his office at a huge plant on the edge of town that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”

Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.

The problem is not unique to Oslo, a city of 1.4 million people. Across Northern Europe, where the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has exploded in recent decades, demand for trash far outstrips supply. “Northern Europe has a huge generating capacity,” said Mr. Mikkelsen, 50, a mechanical engineer who for the last year has been the managing director of Oslo’s waste-to-energy agency.

Yet the fastidious population of Northern Europe produces only about 150 million tons of waste a year, he said, far too little to supply incinerating plants that can handle more than 700 million tons. “And the Swedes continue to build” more plants, he said, a look of exasperation on his face, “as do Austria and Germany.”

Stockholm, to the east, has become such a competitor that it has even managed to persuade some Norwegian municipalities to deliver their waste there. By ship and by truck, countless tons of garbage make their way from regions that have an excess to others that have the capacity to burn it and produce energy.

“There’s a European waste market — it’s a commodity,” said Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program. “It’s a growing market.”

Most people approve of the idea. “Yes, absolutely,” said Terje Worren, 36, a software consultant, who admitted to heating his house with oil and his water with electricity. “It utilizes waste in a good away.”

The English like it, too, though they are not big players in the garbage-for-energy industry. The Yorkshire-based company that handles garbage collection for cities like Leeds, in the north of England, now ships as much as 1,000 tons a month of garbage — or, since the bad stuff has been sorted out, “refuse-derived fuel” — to countries in Northern Europe, including Norway, according to Donna Cox, a Leeds city spokeswoman.

A British tax on landfill makes it cheaper to send it to places like Oslo. “It helps us in reducing the escalating costs of the landfill tax,” Ms. Cox wrote in an e-mail.

For some, it might seem bizarre that Oslo would resort to importing garbage to produce energy. Norway ranks among the world’s 10 largest exporters of oil and gas, and has abundant coal reserves and a network of more than 1,100 hydroelectric plants in its water-rich mountains. Yet Mr. Mikkelsen said garbage burning was “a game of renewable energy, to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

Of course, other areas of Europe are producing abundant amounts of garbage, including southern Italy, where cities like Naples paid towns in Germany and the Netherlands to accept garbage, helping to defuse a Neapolitan garbage crisis. Yet though Oslo considered the Italian garbage, it preferred to stick with what it said was the cleaner and safer English waste. “It’s a sensitive question,” Mr. Mikkelsen said.

Garbage may be, well, garbage in some parts of the world, but in Oslo it is very high-tech. Households separate their garbage, putting food waste in green plastic bags, plastics in blue bags and glass elsewhere. The bags are handed out free at groceries and other stores.

The larger of Mr. Mikkelsen’s two waste-to-energy plants uses computerized sensors to separate the color-coded garbage bags that race across conveyor belts and into incinerators. The building’s curved exterior, with lighting that is visible from a long distance to motorists driving by, competes architecturally with Oslo’s striking new opera house.

Still, not everybody is comfortable with this garbage addiction. “From an environmental point of view, it’s a huge problem,” said Lars Haltbrekken, the chairman of Norway’s oldest environmental group, an affiliate of the Friends of the Earth. “There is pressure to produce more and more waste, as long as there is this overcapacity.”

In a hierarchy of environmental goals, Mr. Haltbrekken said, producing less garbage should take first place, while generating energy from garbage should be at the bottom. “The problem is that our lowest priority conflicts with our highest one,” he said.

“So now we import waste from Leeds and other places, and we also had discussions with Naples,” he added. “We said, ‘O.K., so we’re helping the Neapolitans,’ but that’s not a long-term strategy.”

Maybe not, city planners say, but for now it is a necessity. “Recycling and energy recovery have to go hand in hand,” said Ms. Rooth Olbergsveen, of the city’s waste recovery agency. Recycling has made strides, she said, and the separation of organic garbage, like food waste, has begun enabling Oslo to produce biogas, which is now powering some buses in downtown Oslo.

Mr. Haltbrekken acknowledged that he does not benefit from garbage-generated energy. His home near the center of town, built about 1890, is heated by burning wood pellets, and his water is heated electrically. In general, he said, Friends of the Earth supports the city’s environmental goals.

Yet he added, “In the short-term view, of course, it’s better to burn the garbage in Oslo than to leave it in Leeds or Bristol.”

But “in the long term,” he said, “no.”


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« Reply #6068 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Five doctors jailed in Kosovo for illegal organ harvesting and transplants

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 29, 2013 14:26 EDT

An EU-led court in Kosovo on Monday sentenced five doctors to up to eight years in prison for illegal organ harvesting and transplants.

Former Kosovo health minister Ilir Rrecaj — who admitted during the trial that he knew that illegal kidney transplants were carried out at the Medicus clinic in Pristina in 2008, but denied covering them up — was acquitted.

Prominent Pristina urologist Lutfi Dervishi got the stiffest term of eight years for “organised crime and human trafficking,” the judge said in the verdict.

His son Arban Dervishi was sentenced to seven years and three months while the other three defendants received between one and three years imprisonment.

Two defendants in the trial that opened in 2011 were acquitted.

The indictment says that at least 30 illegal kidney removals and transplants were carried out at the clinic in the Kosovo capital in 2008.

Police raided the clinic after a Turkish man collapsed at Pristina airport waiting for a flight back to Istanbul after having had a kidney removed.

The donors were recruited from poor Eastern European and Central Asian countries who were promised about 15,000 euros ($19,540) for their organs, while recipients would pay up to 100,000 euros each.

The recipients were mainly Israelis.

The indictment names Israeli national Moshe Harel as the mastermind of a network for recruiting donors and finding recipients, while Turkish doctor Yusuf Sonmez is said to have performed organ removal surgery at the clinic.

Sonmez is also indicted in Turkey on similar charges.

But the two were not among those on trial in Pristina as they were not available to the court.

The case is being tried by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo, set up to help the local judiciary handle sensitive cases after the territory declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Prosecutor Johnathan Ratel had requested testimony from Dick Marty, the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on alleged organ trafficking during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

But the request was rejected by the procedural board of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

In a 2011 report, Marty said there were “credible, convergent indications” that the Medicus case was linked to war-time organ trafficking.

Marty had alleged that senior commanders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including current prime minister Hashim Thaci, had been involved in organised crime and organ trafficking during and after the war.

The report set out claims that organs were taken from prisoners, many of them Serbs, held by the independence-seeking KLA rebels in Albania in the late 1990s.

Both Kosovo and Albania denied the accusations and rejected the report.

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« Reply #6069 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:50 AM »

April 29, 2013

Afghan Leader Confirms Cash Deliveries by C.I.A.

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday that the Central Intelligence Agency has been dropping off bags of cash at his office for a decade, saying the money was used for “various purposes” and expressing gratitude to the United States for making the payments.

Mr. Karzai described the sums delivered by the C.I.A. as a “small amount,” though he offered few other details. But former and current advisers of the Afghan leader have said the C.I.A. cash deliveries have totaled tens of millions of dollars over the past decade and have been used to pay off warlords, lawmakers and others whose support the Afghan leader depends upon.

The payments are not universally supported in the United States government. American diplomats and soldiers expressed dismay on Monday about the C.I.A.’s cash deliveries, which some said fueled corruption. They spoke privately because the C.I.A. effort is classified.

Others were not so restrained. “We’ve all suspected it,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and a critic of the war effort in Afghanistan. “But for President Karzai to admit it out loud brings us into a bizarro world.”

Mr. Karzai’s comments, made at a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he is traveling, were not without precedent. When it emerged in 2010 that one of his top aides was taking bags of cash from Iran, Mr. Karzai readily confirmed those reports and expressed gratitude for the money. Iran cut off its payments last year after Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States over Iran’s objections.

The C.I.A. money continues to flow, Mr. Karzai said Monday. “Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years,” he told reporters in response to a question. “Not a big amount. A small amount, which has been used for various purposes.” He said the money was paid monthly.

Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday’s comments from Mr. Karzai said the cash from the C.I.A. was basically used as a slush fund, similarly to the way the Iranian money was. Some went to pay supporters; some went to cover other expenses that officials would prefer to keep off the books, like secret diplomatic trips, officials have said.

After Mr. Karzai’s statement on Monday, the presidential palace in Kabul said in a statement that the C.I.A. cash “has been used for different purposes, such as in operations, assisting wounded Afghan soldiers and paying rent.” The statement continued, “The assistance has been very useful, and we are thankful to them for it.”

The C.I.A. payments open a window to an element of the war that has often gone unnoticed: the agency’s use of cash to clandestinely buy the loyalty of Afghans. The agency paid powerful warlords to fight against the Taliban during the 2001 invasion. It then continued paying Afghans to keep battling the Taliban and help track down the remnants of Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali, who was assassinated in 2011, was among those paid by the agency, for instance.

But the cash deliveries to Mr. Karzai’s office are of a different magnitude with a far wider impact, helping the palace finance the vast patronage networks that Mr. Karzai has used to build his power base. The payments appear to run directly counter to American efforts to clean up endemic corruption and encourage the Afghan government to be more responsive to the needs of its constituents.

“I thought we were trying to clean up waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Chaffetz, whose House subcommittee has investigated corruption in the country. “We have no credibility on this issue when we’re complicit ourselves. I’m sure it was more than a few hundred dollars.”

In Afghanistan, reaction to reports of the payments ranged from conspiratorial to bemused. A former adviser to Mr. Karzai said the palace was rife with speculation that the details of the payments had been leaked to settle a bureaucratic or diplomatic score, either by Afghans or by American officials.

Outside official circles, some Afghans offered a lighter take. “They make it sound as if it was a charity money dashed by a spy agency,” wrote Sayed Salahuddin, an Afghan journalist, on Twitter, referring to the palace statement that money had been used to help wounded soldiers. “They must have ‘treated’ many people.”
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« Reply #6070 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:53 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
April 30, 2013, 3:28 am

4-Year-Old Rape Victim Dies in India

By BETWA SHARMA and MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE

NEW DELHI — A four-year-old girl who was raped and dumped near a crematorium in central India died on Monday evening from cardiac arrest, hospital authorities said Tuesday.

The girl, the daughter of day laborers, was lured from her home in the town of Ghansor in Madhya Pradesh state on April 17, and found the next day by her parents, bleeding profusely, the police said.

Her kidnapper seized her after promising to buy her bananas from a nearby shop, a police official said Tuesday.

She had been in a coma since April 18, Ashok Tank, a doctor who cared for her at CARE Nagpur Hospital, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. She suffered severe brain injuries and severe injuries to her vagina, he said, and was on a ventilator.

“Her heart and lungs stopped functioning,” Dr. Tank said. “It is very inhuman that such a young girl was subjected to sexual abuse.”

The girl was transferred from a hospital in Madhya Pradesh to CARE in nearby Maharashtra state on April 20.

The police have arrested Firoz Khan, 27, a welder who worked at the nearby Jhabua Power Plant, in the attack. They have also arrested a second man, Rakesh Chaudhary, 25, who allegedly brought the girl to her attacker, but did not rape her himself.

“The investigation is going on,” said Mithlesh K Shukla, superintendent of police for the Seoni district. “They will be charged soon and we will ensure that they get the strictest punishment.”

The number of reported sexual assaults of girls under the age of 18 has climbed steadily in India since the 1990s, and reported rapes of girls under the age of 10 have more than doubled to 875 from 1990 to 2011.

Some experts believe this is because more families are coming forward to report the crimes, while others blame a combination of social and cultural factors, including massive migration of unskilled labor from rural areas to urban centers, and the breakdown of the traditional closely-knit Indian family. On Monday, one Indian religious leader said a rise in rapes was due to increased consumption of meat and alcohol.

In India’s capital city of Delhi, just in the month of April, the police said several juvenile girls have been raped. The rape of a five-year old girl in Delhi ignited sometimes violent protests earlier this month in the nation’s capital, but as of Tuesday at noon, there was little public reaction in Madhya Pradesh over the recent death.

“The value of life for a little girl whether in Delhi or Madhya Pradesh is the same,” said Varun Amar, a lawyer from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. “So why are people not coming on to the streets when this girl has died?”

“The girl from Delhi got 24-7 coverage, but this girl’s death has hardly been covered,” he said.


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« Reply #6071 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:59 AM »

April 29, 2013

As Election in Iran Nears, Ahmadinejad’s Critics Are Piling On

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — Just six weeks before Iran’s presidential election, politicians and clerics have declared open season on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government, in one instance calling him a “coward” and likening him to a “drunk driver.”

The invective is the latest manifestation of infighting that broke out months ago between Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies and a loose coalition of clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders.

Night after night during prime-time talk shows on state television — under the firm control of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents — critics tear into what they see as the government’s mismanagement of the economy, blaming the president and not international sanctions for its poor performance.

In an interview this month on the country’s most watched station, Channel 3, an economist showed a bar chart intended to illustrate how Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies had led to massive job losses.

“Surprisingly,” the show’s host added, “this happened at a time of record oil revenues for Iran,” even though Iran’s oil revenues have now fallen off because of the sanctions, imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Newspapers of all political affiliations and the semiofficial news agencies have enthusiastically joined the chorus. On Monday the Shargh newspaper published pictures of poorly attended speeches by Mr. Ahmadinejad, in near-empty stadiums. Last week, the moderate Web site Asr-e Iran published an opinion poll saying that 91.5 percent of Iranians disapproved of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic policies.

The change in tone signals a hardening among Iran’s top leadership toward Mr. Ahmadinejad, who by law cannot run for another term but who is championing the candidacy of a protégé, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, in the June election. “It seems that there are controlled, plotted attacks against the president and his entourage,” said Saeed Allahbehdasthi, a political analyst. “Anybody can talk against him now.”

The criticism stands in sharp contrast to 2009, when the top leadership and the security forces rallied around Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose landslide election victory was challenged as fraudulent by millions of protesters.

A well-orchestrated narrative that was spun out through state and semiofficial news media labeled anyone doubting Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory part of a “sedition” aimed at toppling the Islamic Republic. Eventually, hundreds of prominent journalists, dissidents, activists and ordinary people were arrested, and many of them were tried in televised mass court cases.

But a rift opened between the former allies over the president’s support for his aide, Mr. Mashaei. On the campaign trail, Mr. Mashaei has stressed nationalist themes rather than Islamic ones, alarming the traditionalists who oppose any revival of nationalism as a threat to their power base.

In appearances around the country, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies have been met with protests against Mr. Mashaei by members of paramilitary forces overseen by the Revolutionary Guards.

Last week, while visiting western Khuzestan Province, Mr. Ahmadinejad responded to the criticisms by saying that if he revealed too much, others would “give him hell.” He accused “some individuals” of exerting pressures “in order to keep the country, its wealth and people in their hands.”

“They want us to forget about the revolution’s goals so that they can make money and become rich,” he said.

The remarks drew an angry response from the chief of staff of the armed forces, Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, who said the president was “disturbing the minds of the people.” A state-run newspaper, Kayhan, dared Mr. Ahmadinejad to name those he said were involved in corrupt activities. “The country doesn’t need a cowardly president,” the paper’s influential editor in chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, wrote in an editorial.

But many prominent Iranians admit to worrying about the president’s threats to reveal inner-circle secrets. “I do not deny the fact that I really fear Ahmadinejad’s ‘shall I tells’ the way one should fear and flee from a truck driven by a drunk driver,” a presidential candidate, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said last week.

Although Iran’s judiciary has closed over a hundred newspapers and magazines in the last decade, it has remained silent throughout the barrage of criticism of the president. The judiciary is led by Sadegh Larijani, one of five political brothers with whom Mr. Ahmadinejad has a long-running feud.

“It seems that security forces and the Intelligence Ministry have given media the go-ahead to damage Mr. Ahmadinejad, as they do not want his representative to enter these elections,” said an analyst who asked to remain anonymous because of the leadership’s sensitivity to criticism.

While Mr. Mashaei has not yet officially announced his candidacy, several clerics and former foreign ministers and intelligence officials have entered the race. On Sunday, one former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, told a group of visitors that he had not ruled out running.

Candidates for the presidency must officially register with the Interior Ministry from May 7 to May 11, and then will be vetted by the Guardian Council. That group, which consists of 12 members appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the head of the judiciary will decide on May 21 who will be allowed to participate.

“Anyone who thinks they can run can do so,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech on Saturday. “But they should avoid giving baseless promises or paint a rosy picture of the issues.”


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« Reply #6072 on: Apr 30, 2013, 07:10 AM »

China commits billions in aid to Africa as part of charm offensive

Database reveals government has backed 1,700 projects on continent since 2000 in apparent attempt to win favour. The country's financial commitments are significantly larger than previous estimates

Claire Provost and Rich Harris   
The Guardian, Monday 29 April 2013 17.58 BST   

China has committed $75bn (£48bn) on aid and development projects in Africa in the past decade, according to research which reveals the scale of what some have called Beijing's escalating soft power "charm offensive" to secure political and economic clout on the continent.

The Chinese government releases very little information on its foreign aid activities, which remain state secrets. In one of the most ambitious attempts to date to chip away at this secrecy, US researchers have launched the largest public database of Chinese development finance in Africa, detailing almost 1,700 projects in 50 countries between 2000 and 2011.

China's financial commitments are significantly larger than previous estimates of the country's development finance, though still less than the estimated $90bn the US committed over that period. Researchers at AidData, at the College of William and Mary, have spent 18 months compiling and encoding thousands of media reports to construct the database, and hope users will contribute further detail on the projects.

The data, which challenges what has for years been the dominant story – Beijing's unrelenting quest for natural resources – is likely to fuel ongoing debate over China's motives in Africa.

There are few mining projects in the database and, while transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, the data also reveals how China has put hundreds of millions of dollars towards health, education and cultural projects.

In Liberia, China has put millions towards the installation of solar traffic lights in Monrovia and financed a malaria prevention centre. In Mozambique, China's projects include a National School for Visual Arts in Maputo. In Algeria, construction has begun on a multimillion dollar 1,400-seat opera house in the Ouled Fayet suburbs of western Algiers.

China has also sent thousands of doctors and teachers to work in Africa, welcomed many more students to learn in China or in Chinese language classes abroad and rolled out a continent-wide network of sports stadiums and concert halls.

"The dominant narrative has been one of China's insatiable desire for resources. But in fact this database suggests there may be many more things going on," said Vijaya Ramachandran, senior fellow at the Washington DC-based thinktank Centre for Global Development and co-author of a report on the AidData project.

Only a fraction of the database's projects (totalling $16bn) would count as official development assistance under the rules set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Ramachandran, however, insists China is still playing an important role in closing funding gaps in Africa. "China is a major emerging player in development finance and we need to get a handle on what it is doing," she said.

While aid from OECD countries stagnates or shrinks under the pressure of budgets and an increasingly sceptical public, a host of new emerging donors – including Brazil, Venezuela, and Iran – are expanding their work in other developing countries. These countries have largely resisted calls to disclose data or abide by international aid transparency standards. This lack of information has fuelled wild speculation over what the donors are doing – and why.

While some insist the bottom line is China's thirst for natural resources, others argue Beijing's development projects on the continent – from infrastructure to debt relief to providing medical support – are also part of a public diplomacy strategy to build up goodwill and international support for the future.

New Chinese development projects are often announced during high-level visits from state officials, although many never make it past the ceremonial pledges. Researchers found evidence that almost 1,000 projects totalling $48.6bn, are under way or complete. The rest either remain in the pipeline or will never happen.

Many of the cultural and sporting projects across the continent are probably "upfront sweeteners" to win government favour, a "downpayment" for future commercial deals, suggests Stephen Chan, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

But Chan rejects the idea that China has a master strategy in Africa. "There are 54 countries in Africa. You're off your head if you think there's one single agenda."

Deborah Bräutigam, head of the international development programme at Johns Hopkins University, said suggestions that China's aid to Africa was all about natural resources were "widespread misconceptions". "There are a lot of reasons countries give aid and China is no different," she said.

Chinese education and training programmes, for example, target students from across the continent. "These are all about diplomacy, about soft power ... like the Alliance Française and the British Council ... all about presenting China as an important global player. All the big countries do this," she added.

Other programmes can be linked to China's trade agenda. Chinese medical teams have worked in Africa since 1963, but recently their objective has expanded to include promotion of China's pharmaceuticals such as antimalarials, according to Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said a combination of economic interests and the need to expand its political influence and improve its international image was driving Chinese health aid in Africa.

Beijing has also sought to improve its image on the continent by financing the rapid expansion of Chinese media outlets across the continent to counter negative images of China and Africa with upbeat stories. This is an explicit part of China's official Africa policy, released in 2006, which encourages exchange and co-operation between African and Chinese media to "enhance mutual understanding and enable objective and balanced media coverage of each other".

The database includes Chinese projects to train journalists in Angola and Zimbabwe, as well as an exchange programme for journalists in China and Ghana.

It contains records of Chinese-backed projects in all but the four African states that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan: Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe and Swaziland.

But last year Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who coined the term "soft power", said China would see little return on its investments until it relaxed its control over information.

"Great powers try to use culture and narrative to create soft power that promotes their national interests, but it's not an easy sell when the message is inconsistent with their domestic realities ... in an information age in which credibility is the scarcest resource, the best propaganda is not propaganda," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "China is clamping down on the internet and jailing human rights lawyers, once again torpedoing its soft-power campaign."

Chinese education and training programmes, for example, target students from across the continent. "These are all about diplomacy, about soft power ... like the Alliance Française and the British Council ... all about presenting China as an important global player. All the big countries do this," she added.

Other programmes can be linked to China's trade agenda. Chinese medical teams have worked in Africa since 1963, but recently their objective has expanded to include promotion of China's pharmaceuticals such as antimalarials, according to Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said a combination of economic interests and the need to expand its political influence and improve its international image was driving Chinese health aid in Africa.

Beijing has also sought to improve its image on the continent by financing the rapid expansion of Chinese media outlets across the continent to counter negative images of China and Africa with upbeat stories. This is an explicit part of China's official Africa policy, released in 2006, which encourages exchange and co-operation between African and Chinese media to "enhance mutual understanding and enable objective and balanced media coverage of each other".

**********


The Eight Principles of Chinese aid

In 1964, the Chinese government declared the Eight Principles for Economic Aid and Technical Assistance to Other Countries, which still inform development policy today:

    Equality and mutual benefit form the basis of Chinese aid
    China respects sovereignty, never attaches conditions or asks for privileges
    China helps lighten the burden with interest-free or low-interest loans and by extending repayment terms when necessary
    The purpose of aid is to help countries become self-reliant
    Projects that require less investment but yield quicker results are favoured
    China provides quality equipment and materials manufactured in China at international market prices
    China will help recipient countries master the techniques of any technical assistance
    Chinese experts will have the same standard of living as those of the recipient country and are not allowed to make special demands

***********

Chinese firm steps up investment in Ethiopia with 'shoe city'

Shoemaker Huajian says new $2bn manufacturing zone will transfer skills to locals so they can become the future managers

Elissa Jobson in Addis Ababa
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 April 2013 09.30 BST   

Helen Hai, vice-president of Chinese footwear manufacturer the Huajian Group, has a bold ambition. Within a decade, she wants Ethiopia to be a global hub for the shoe industry, supplying the African, European and American markets.

"We are not coming all the way here just to reduce our costs by 10 to 20%," Hai says. "Our aim is in 10 years' time to have a new cluster of shoe making here. We want to build a whole supply chain … I want everything to be produced here."

Huajian has a factory near Addis Ababa employing 600 people, which opened in January 2012, and has committed to jointly invest $2bn (£1.3bn) over the next decade to create a light manufacturing special economic zone in Ethiopia, creating employment for around 100,000 Ethiopians. The company, which employs 25,000 workers in China, expects to be able to provide around 30,000 jobs in Addis Ababa by 2022.

Huajian's partner in this project is the China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund), a private equity facility promoting Chinese investment in the continent. Born out of the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, the fund was launched in June 2007 with $1bn provided by the China Development Bank. A further injection of $2bn was made early last year.

CADFund focuses on funding agriculture, infrastructure, natural resources and industrial park projects like that planned by Huajian, and has invested in a diverse range of ventures including a power plant in Ghana, a port in Nigeria, cotton farms in Malawi and a $100m car plant in South Africa.

Hai's vision is on its way to becoming a reality: a lease has been signed on 300 hectares (741 acres) of land in Lebu, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, where Huajian plans to build a "shoe city", providing accommodation for up to 200,000 workers and factory space for other producers of footwear, handbags and accessories. The complex will offer help and advice to entrepreneurs setting up companies. "[It will be] a one-stop shop for manufacturers that are similar to us," Hai, who expects construction on the site to begin this year, says.

"One thing in my strategy is very clear: that I don't want to compete with locals," Hai says. "I want to help them grow because when local producers grow, the whole market is growing. If it is just myself growing here in five years' time, I will leave."

One area where she feels the company could make a difference is in leather tanning. "The sheepskin and goatskin are good but local people don't know how to manage cowskin," Hai says. "I want to offer my skills to help the locals. I don't want to have my own tannery because I don't want to create problems. I want to be friendly."

This kind of warm and fuzzy talk from a Chinese company may surprise some analysts, academics and journalists who often characterise China's involvement in Africa as voracious neocolonial pillaging. Hai admits that her strategy is not necessarily pursued by every Chinese private enterprise operating in the continent.

Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner at Ernst & Young Ethiopia, welcomes Huajian's plan to build a complete supply chain for the shoe industry and applauds its efforts to transfer skills. "That should be the goal. You create clusters around one or two major foreign or Ethiopian investors, throughout the country, based on competitive and comparative advantages," he says. "Huajian could be the anchor but all around are Ethiopian companies. It should be made clear to investors that they need to help build local capacity."

The company cites employee welfare as a priority. In China, Huajian has a modest outfit 40km (25 miles) south of the capital, Beijing, employing 1,700 workers and exporting more than $1m worth of shoes each month to the US and the UK. In Dongguan, in the southern province of Guangdong, the majority of the staff come from poor rural areas. The company provides accommodation, hot meals, clothing and laundry services, as well as free childcare. A similar package is offered to its Ethiopian workers who, in addition, earn 10% above the average local wage.

The Huajian factory near Addis Ababa employs 130 Chinese workers, all in supervisory roles. The number of expatriates on the payroll has come down from 200 when production began in January 2012, and Huajian plans to reduce it further. "For me, localisation is so important. I don't see myself managing this factory in five to eight years' time. I see someone local standing here talking to you," Hai says.

The company has selected 130 university graduates from southern Ethiopia to spend a year in China at its training facility. About 270 more will be recruited later. "They are going to be the future managers," Hai says. "They are going to be a new force."



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« Reply #6073 on: Apr 30, 2013, 07:16 AM »


Syrian Electronic Army: Assad's cyber warriors

Phishing attack is latest by pro-Assad hackers operating out of Dubai, who target sites with views opposed to their own

Luke Harding and Charles Arthur   
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 April 2013   

In recent weeks, the self-styled Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has launched hacking attacks on the BBC, the Associated Press (AP) and most recently the Guardian. Last week the group succeeded in hijacking AP's main Twitter account, with 1.9 million followers. It falsely claimed that President Obama had been injured in an explosion. AP corrected the message, but not before $130bn had been briefly wiped off the value of stocks.

Online pro-revolution activists have been one of the defining features of the ongoing Arab Spring. In Syria, opposition activists have played a crucial role in the struggle against President Bashar al-Assad. Over the past two years they have uploaded numerous videos of anti-Assad demonstrations to YouTube, posted gruesome footage of victims killed by government forces, and helped shape political perceptions in the west, as EU leaders inch towards arming Syria's moderate opposition.

But unlike Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – whose former regimes were caught badly off guard – Assad's government has been fighting back. It has created an increasingly rambunctious group of counter-revolutionary hackers. These hackers have a twin function: to punish western news organisations seen as critical of Syria's regime, and to spread Damascus's alternative narrative.This says that the war in Syria isn't a popular uprising against a brutal, despotic family-military dynasty but rather an attempt by Islamist terrorists to turn Syria into a crazy al-Qaida fiefdom.

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) sprang up in 2011 at the beginning of the anti-Assad revolution. According to defectors from inside its ranks, the group moved last year from Damascus to a secret base in Dubai. (Some pro-regime volunteers remain inside Syria, but they are at greater risk there of being unmasked and killed.) The Syrian government is widely believed to be behind the SEA's activities. In a speech to Damascus universityin 2011, Assad likened these anonymous online warriors to his frontline troops: "The army consists of the brothers of every Syrian citizen … Young people have an important role to play at this stage, because they have proven themselves to be an active power. There is the electronic army, which has been a real army in virtual reality."

Opposition activists claim Assad's billionaire cousin, Rami Makhlouf, bankrolls the SEA and masterminded its move out of Syria. The SEA now operates out of one of Makhlouf's shadowy Dubai companies, they add, citing information from a former SEA activist, who defected and is now in hiding. Makhlouf pays for food and accommodation. Pro-Assad activists earn around $500-$1,000 for high-profile attacks on western targets – a huge sum for most Syrians. The SEA mainly comprises Alawites from Assad's embattled minority Shia sect, but also includes Sunnis – most of whom back the opposition – and Christians. It receives sporadic technical assistance from Russia, Assad's key backer, opposition sources allege.Like their Syrian counterparts, Kremlin bloggers actively target Vladimir Putin's critics, with Russian hackers among the best in the world.

"There are a lot of [pro-regime] Syrian hackers inside Syria and outside Syria," Tareq al-Jaza'eere, an opposition cyber-activist, said. "The Syrian government gives them money to fight an electronic war against the rebels. They are doing hacks. They are doing social media. Their message is there is no revolution. They say there is a terrorist gang fighting the government."

Al-Jaza'eere added: "The SEA sometimes works according to orders from Damascus. Sometimes they work on their own. They attack websites like the Guardian or the BBC because they don't want them to tell the truth." Asked which side was winning this noisy cyber-battle, he said: "We are. The SEA are making fools of themselves."

Analysts say the SEA's hacking attacks are crude but effective.

The outfit's official website, hosted in Syria, boasts of its numerous successes and shows activists in military fatigues sitting in front of a bank of computers. Their faces are cropped out. It says that its hackers are organised into battalions, with names such as Wolf, the Pro and the Shadow. The site features two "martyrs": young men in T-shirts and mirrored sunglasses who are said to have died for the regime's cause. It also links to pro-Assad Facebook pages.

All the SEA attacks have been carried out via "phishing" emails which lure recipients into thinking that they are at the login site for their email, so that the hackers can capture email addresses and passwords. The phishing sites used against the Guardian were registered in Cyprus, though they pointed to a site in the US which "hosts a whole load of malware", according to Rik Ferguson of the security company Trend Micro. Ferguson described the hackers' work as ""very visible" and commented: "They aren't terrible at what they do, but you'd have to say from their choice of targets – the GuardianBooks Twitter account, the BBC Weather account – that the hacks aren't serving any great purpose." Other accounts hacked include BBC Arabic Online, Deutsche Welle, France 24 and Human Rights Watch.

The attacks differ sharply from those on the Washington Post and New York Times, where Chinese state-sponsored hackers silently broke into the systems in 2012 and monitored activities and connections within them for up to four months before being discovered. That is believed to have been done through documents carrying malware which infected specific users' computers when clicked on.

The SEA site says it fights "fabricated news" spread by the Arab and western media about what is happening in Syria. One member of the SEA told the website vice.com: "We're all Syrian youths who each have our specialised computer skills, such as hacking and graphic design. Our mission is to defend our proud and beloved country Syria against a bloody media war that has been waged against her. The controlled media of certain countries continues to publish lies and fabricated news about Syria."


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« Reply #6074 on: Apr 30, 2013, 07:22 AM »

April 29, 2013

Massacre in Nigeria Spurs Outcry Over Military Tactics

By ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Days later, the survivors’ faces tensed at the memory of the grim evening: soldiers dousing thatched-roof homes with gasoline, setting them on fire and shooting residents when they tried to flee. As the village went up in smoke, one said, a soldier threw a child back into the flames.

Even by the scorched-earth standards of the Nigerian military’s campaign against Islamist insurgents stalking the nation’s north, what happened on the muddy shores of Lake Chad this month appears exceptional.

The village, Baga, found itself in the cross hairs of Nigerian soldiers enraged by the killing of one of their own, said survivors who fled here to the capital of Borno State, 100 miles south. Their home had paid a heavy price: as many as 200 civilians, maybe more, were killed during the military’s rampage, according to refugees, senior relief workers, civilian officials and human rights organizations.

The apparent size of the civilian death toll — staunchly denied by Nigerian military officials, some of whom blame the insurgent group, Boko Haram, for the carnage — has prompted an unusual uproar.

Though heavy civilian casualties are routine in the military’s confrontation with Boko Haram, with dozens dying in poor neighborhoods since 2010 as the army searches for “suspects,” Nigeria’s politicians usually have little to say about them. Past massacres of civilians in retaliation for soldier deaths have passed largely with impunity.

This time, there have been calls in Nigeria’s national assembly for an investigation, and the government has come under harsh criticism at home and abroad, including the United States. The military has said it has begun its own inquiry, and some longstanding observers of the country’s heavy-handed fight against Islamist militants say a tipping point may have been reached.

“This is coming at a time when we have had similar situations” elsewhere, said Kole Shettima, chairman of the Center for Democracy and Development in the capital, Abuja. “People are tired of the excuses the military is giving, and that’s why they are demanding an investigation. This time it’s different. There is a crisis of legitimacy in the military.”

But in a country where corruption abounds and accountability is rare, others wondered whether it would truly become a watershed moment — or get brushed aside as an unfortunate side effect of fighting a dangerous insurgency.

“This Baga is just on a bigger scale, but they have been doing this for ages,” the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, one of the first officials to reach Baga afterward, said of the military. “They’ve not adhered to the rules of engagement,” said Mr. Shettima, who is not related to the democracy advocate. “When you burn down shops and massacre civilians, you are pushing them to join the camp of Boko Haram.”

Yet, he continued, “we are in a Catch-22 situation.” Boko Haram is a deadly insurgent force that needs to be confronted, the governor said, but not by a military that terrorizes its own people. “We need them to carry out their duties in a civilized manner.”

Some Baga residents who did not perish in the flames drowned while attempting to escape into Lake Chad, refugees here in the state capital said. Others were attacked by hippopotamuses in the shallow waters, officials said. Soldiers shot people as they ran from the burning houses, refugees said.

“Many dead, many dead,” said Mohammed Muhammed, 40, a taxi driver from Baga. “People running into the flames, I saw that. If they didn’t run into the flames, the army will shoot them.” As flames enveloped the houses — “they used petroleum,” he said of the soldiers — he fled into the surrounding desert scrub.

“If you come out” from the flaming houses “they will shoot you,” he said. “Please, sir, charge them in the international court!” he shouted.

Isa Kukulala, 26, a lanky bus driver who had left Baga that morning, gave a similar account: “They poured petrol on the properties. At the same time, they are shooting sporadically, inside the fire. They took a small child from his mother and threw him inside the fire. This is what I have witnessed.”

Hundreds of residents fled into the bush, where they lived for days in harsh conditions, and are only now trickling back into the town. “The aged people, the people that couldn’t run, most of those people were burned,” said Antony Emmanuel, a fish buyer. “Small children, their parents left them, they were burned.”

Borno State officials have said hundreds of houses were destroyed in the blaze.

The army has effectively blocked many journalists from getting to Baga — it is in a zone where Boko Haram exercises partial control — and it kept out relief agencies until the middle of last week. Cellphone service has been cut off. In a brief statement a week after the episode, Brig. Gen. Austin Edokpaye, the commander of the multinational joint task force — Nigeria shares intelligence with neighboring countries, though its soldiers generally do the shooting — said one soldier was killed “while 30 Boko Haram terrorists lost their lives” and “unfortunately six civilians” were killed. Ten “other civilians were injured in the cross-fire,” he said.

Nigeria’s director of defense information, Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, angrily rejected the accounts of residents and others. He said that “the burning, the killing is done by Boko Haram, not by the soldiers. Anybody blaming the soldiers must be a sympathizer with Boko Haram.” He said that “Boko Haram was using the houses to shoot out at soldiers.”

But the picture given by civilian officials in relief agencies and state government, along with the one presented by refugees, was very different, with the vast majority of deaths attributed to the military.

“More than 200 dead, this is what people in the town confirmed,” said a senior relief official who asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution by the military. “Actually, my boys told me the number is far higher than the 200 reported,” the relief official said.

A senior official under the governor, Mr. Shettima, who is not affiliated with the governing party, said: “The soldiers went on a rampage. Because, you know, that’s what soldiers do in Nigeria. It’s really crazy here.”

General Olukolade responded angrily to such assertions, saying, “The politicians intend to create a haven for Boko Haram around our state.”

In the accounts of refugees and officials, the killings started after a few gunmen, most likely Boko Haram members, engaged a detachment from Baga’s military post in a firefight on the evening of April 16.

“Two people came, they said they were Jama’atu,” said Mohammed Bella Sani, a fisherman from Baga, using Boko Haram’s name for itself. Boko Haram has a heavy presence in that area of fluid national borders, officials say, and has even chased away all government presence, including officials and police officers, from many rural districts.

In Baga, the soldiers went for reinforcements after one among them was killed, residents said. “A team of soldiers came back shouting, and they started firing indiscriminately,” Mr. Sani said.

“They set my neighbor’s house on fire, and people started running back to save the neighbor,” said Mallam Ali, a bus driver. And the soldiers began shooting into the crowd, he said.

“They were firing from the armored vehicles,” said Alhadji Adamua, a clothing seller at Baga’s market. “I saw them putting fire on people’s houses. They are the security of the state. They have no right to kill anybody. They are supposed to protect the people.”


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