American extremist in Somalia battles ex-comrades: “‘I’m on a mission from God,’ minus the blues music”
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 7:31 EDT
An American extremist in Somalia is fighting former comrades in the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgent group, in what he says may be his final stand, he writes.
Alabama-born Omar Hamami — better known as Al-Amriki or “the American” — once fought alongside the hardline Shebab in Somalia, but last year fell out with the fighters who now want to kill him.
He is also wanted by the US government, who have placed a $5 million bounty on his head and is listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
“We were forced to fight in self defence and killed three and wounded others,” he wrote in a message on Twitter, posted late Monday.
“May not find another chance to Tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the message to the ummah (community).”
Hamami, 28, moved to Somalia in 2006 and began to work for Shebab recruiting young trainees through his English-language rap songs and videos, but later split from the main wing of the Shebab.
“They raided our houses and took our stuff, and said they found condoms, alcohol, and documents,” he added, writing from an undisclosed location in Somalia. “Their goal is to kill us regardless of reason.”
Last week he claimed a Shebab gunmen tried to assassinate him while he was drinking tea in a cafe, posting a photograph of himself dripping with blood from where he said the pistol bullet grazed his throat.
“They are sending forces from multiple directions,” he wrote last week. “We are few but might get back up.”
Born in 1984 to a Syrian Muslim father and a white Protestant mother, Hamami was raised as a Christian but began to feel estranged from his upbringing as teenager before moving to Somalia.
“‘I’m on a mission from God’, minus the blues music”, he wrote last week, an apparent reference to the 1980 Blues Brothers film, an American musical comedy.
Europe’s Herschel telescope bows out after successful mission
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 29, 2013 16:53 EDT
Europe’s deep-space Herschel telescope has given up the ghost — running out of coolant after a successful mission to observe the birth of stars and galaxies, the European Space Agency said Monday.
“Herschel has made over 35,000 scientific observations, amassing more than 25,000 hours’ worth of science data from about 600 observing programmes,” it said in a eulogy.
“The archive will become the legacy of the mission. It is expected to provide even more discoveries than have been made during the lifetime of the Herschel mission.”
Launched in May 2009, Herschel carried 2,300 litres of liquid helium coolant, which has been slowly evaporating.
Herschel became the largest and most powerful infrared telescope in space. Its expected lifetime was 3.5 years.
The helium was used to cool the satellite’s instruments to near absolute zero (minus 273.15 degrees Celsius or minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit) to enable it to make its observations.
At 7.5 metres (24.3 feet) high and four metres (13 feet) wide, Herschel had a launch mass of 3.4 tonnes.
It cost 1.1 billion euros ($1.4 billion)
It was named after Sir William Herschel, the German-born British astronomer who discovered Uranus in 1781 and infrared radiation in 1800.
It carried three cameras and spectrometers and a primary mirror 3.5 metres (11.37 feet) across — able to collect almost 20 times more light than any previous infrared space telescope.
Its infrared technology allowed Herschel to see galaxies that were previously hidden from scientists’ view by cosmic dust clouds.
In 2011, it was reported that Herschel found the first confirmed evidence of oxygen molecules in space.
“Herschel has offered us a new view of the hitherto hidden Universe, pointing us to a previously unseen process of star birth and galaxy formation, and allowing us to trace water through the Universe from molecular clouds to newborn stars and their planet-forming discs and belts of comets,” said Goran Pilbratt, ESA Herschel Project Scientist.
The telescope will still be able to communicate with its ground stations for some time, placed in a “parking orbit” around the Sun.
In the USA...
April 29, 2013
After Boston Bombing, American Ties With Russia Improve
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — After President Obama and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke by telephone on Monday, a top Russian official said cooperation between the leaders’ intelligence services had “noticeably intensified in the past few days,” though he said Russia had not been able to provide valuable intelligence about the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Mr. Putin said last week that the Federal Security Service was unable to provide “information which had operative value” about the Tsarnaev brothers, “due to the fact that the Tsarnaevs had not lived in Russia for many years.”
Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, repeated that phrase after the two presidents spoke on Monday, but he said cooperation between the countries’ counterterrorism and intelligence services had improved to new levels as a result of the Boston bombing.
“This aroused praise from Putin and Obama, and their satisfaction,” Mr. Peskov told the Interfax news service, adding that cooperation on intelligence “on the whole promotes mutual confidence in bilateral relations.”
The White House offered a more reserved account of the two leaders’ conversation, noting “the close cooperation that the United States has received from Russia on the Boston Marathon attack.”
Ten days after it was revealed that the suspects were young men with roots in Russia, American investigators are still pushing for more information about the six months that Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent in the violent southern region of Dagestan last year, and some lawmakers have complained that Russia has not been forthcoming with intelligence it gathered on him.
Russia has sought to ratchet up cooperation with the West on global terrorism, a project which could provide new flows of information and quiet longstanding complaints about its often brutal counterterrorism tactics in the North Caucasus. Yuri Ushakov, a top Putin aide, said the two presidents on Monday “reached a practical agreement on most active contacts” between Russian and American intelligence services. He said the conversation — initiated by the American side — focused on intensified cooperation “in the context of the recent Boston bombing.”
Over the weekend the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that during his six-month stay in Russia in 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was seeking to join the Muslim insurgency and had been spotted with known militants. There has been no official comment from the Russian government on these reports, but an unnamed official told the Interfax news service on Monday that “there is no reliable information to this end.”
Russian intelligence services have neither publicly confirmed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev visited Dagestan nor verified American accounts of two warnings sent by the Russian F.S.B. in 2011 identifying Tamerlan as a potentially dangerous Islamic radical.
Mark Galeotti, a specialist in Russian security services at New York University, said cooperation between Russian and American intelligence had been awkward, in part because Americans agents are governed by stricter legal requirements and fear that information they pass to Russia may be misused. Mr. Galeotti said American intelligence officers might hesitate, because “sometimes we just have vague hints about someone, and if we pass it to the Russians, at 2 in the morning, men in balaclava helmets are going to kick down his door.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev had links to slain radical militants: Russian newspaper
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 29, 2013 17:02 EDT
One of the brothers suspected of carrying out the Boston bombings had made links with two figures in the Islamist anti-Kremlin insurgency in the Northern Caucasus, both of whom were killed by Russian security forces, a security source said Monday.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was himself killed during his capture by US authorities, was known to have been in contact with a Dagestan militant named Makhmud Nidal and also a militant of Canadian origin named William Plotnikov, a Russian security source in the Northern Caucasus told AFP.
Plotnikov took part, like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in boxing competitions in both Canada and the United States and the two men also had contacts on social networks, said the source.
Plotnikov was among seven militants killed in a shootout with Russian security forces in July 2012. It was not clear if they ever met on the territory of Dagestan itself.
According to the Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper, which also published details of Plotnikov’s links to Tsarnaev, he was a 21-year-old ethnic Russian who had converted to Islam in Canada.
It said that Tsarnaev’s name first became known to the Russian security forces when Plotnikov was arrested in 2010 in the Dagestani town of Izberbash. He was later released.
Makhmud Nidal meanwhile was a known militant with whom Tamerlan Tsarnaev was seen when he made a trip back to Dagestan from the United States in 2012, the security source told AFP.
They were seen together four times, on each occasion at a mosque known for its Salafist tendencies in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala.
During his visits to the mosque he became the subject of some interest among fellow worshippers owing to an unusual interest in the study of Islam.
Nidal was killed in May 2012 in a “counterterrorist” operation in Makhachkala. After his death, Tsarnaev disappeared from the view of the Russian security services.
The avowed purpose of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s visit to Dagestan in 2012 was to obtain a new Russian passport which in the end he never picked up.
The visit is now being closely scrutinised in Russia and the United States to see if the true aim was to activate contacts with Islamists in Dagestan, which has been dogged by an anti-Kremlin insurgency for years.
A source in the Dagestan centre for fighting extremism, which is part of the federal security service, told the Novaya Gazeta that in the light of the latest information it appeared this was the case.
“Judging by this all, Tamerlan Tsarnaev indeed came to Dagestan with the aim of making contact with militants,” said the source.
But the source added that he had failed to achieve his goal as it takes several months for a willing new militant to go through a “quarantine” period to be accepted by other Islamists as one of their own.
After the deaths of Nidal and Plotnikov, Tameralan Tsarnaev “lost his contacts, got scared and jumped.”
US and Russian security services are looking closely for signs Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother and suspected accomplice, Dzhokhar, had active links to the Islamist underground in the Northern Caucasus or acted on their own.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was wounded in an escape attempt, has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and could face the death penalty if convicted in US federal court.
Their parents, who gave a highly-charged news conference last week, had been planning to return to the United States but went back on their plans due to the ill health of the father Anzor.
The security source told AFP that Anzor and his wife Zubeidat had been taken out of Dagestan by friends and flown to Moscow via the regional Mineralnye Vody airport.
The Northern Caucasus region of Dagestan is home to dozens of ethnic groups and languages and experiences almost daily shootings and bombings that officials blame on local criminals and Islamists with links to neighbouring Chechnya.
April 29, 2013
Investigators Obtain DNA From Widow of Bombing Suspect
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and SERGE F. KOVALESKI
Federal authorities are closely scrutinizing the activities of the wife of the dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect in the days before and after the attacks.
The authorities are looking at a range of possibilities, two senior law enforcement officials said, including that she could have — wittingly or unwittingly — destroyed evidence, helped the bombers evade capture or even played a role in planning the attacks. As part of the investigation, F.B.I. agents are trying to determine whether female DNA found on a piece of a pressure cooker used as an explosive device in the attacks was from Katherine Russell, the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the officials said.
One of the officials said that a fingerprint had also been found on a bomb fragment and that investigators had tried to collect DNA and fingerprint samples from several people whom the authorities are scrutinizing in addition to Ms. Russell.
Federal authorities took a sample of Ms. Russell’s DNA on Monday in Rhode Island, where she has been staying with her parents, the officials said.
Her lawyer, Amato A. DeLuca, has said that Ms. Russell was shocked when she learned that her husband and brother-in-law were suspected of involvement in the attack. “We want to state what we stated before: Katie continues to assist in the investigation in any way that she can,” he said Monday in an e-mail.
The focus on Ms. Russell is part of the wider effort by the F.B.I. to determine who else may have played a role aiding the bombers. While the authorities do not believe the bombers were tied to a larger terrorist network or had accomplices, they remain skeptical that others did not know of their plans or did not help them destroy evidence. A law enforcement official said that authorities were investigating individuals who may have helped the suspects in some way after the bombings. The official would not elaborate.
Ms. Russell, 24, grew up in North Kingstown, R.I., and is the daughter of a physician. She met Mr. Tsarnaev at Suffolk University, her lawyer said. She converted to Islam and married him in 2010.
Mr. DeLuca has said that Ms. Russell does not speak Russian, so she could not always understand what her husband was saying.
On Monday, another lawyer was added to the defense team of the surviving bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. Judy Clarke, one of the nation’s foremost experts in death penalty cases, took the case at the behest of Mr. Tsarnaev’s three federal public defenders.
Ms. Clarke’s past clients include Susan Smith, who was convicted of drowning her two children, Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Jared Loughner, who killed six people at an event held by Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. All avoided the death penalty and received life sentences instead.
“In light of the circumstances in this case, the defendant requires an attorney with more background, knowledge and experience in federal death penalty cases than that possessed by current counsel,” federal Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler wrote in her order appointing Ms. Clarke, who is based in San Diego.
Katharine Q. Seelye, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and John Eligon contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 30, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the Rhode Island town where Katherine Russell grew up. It is North Kingstown, not North Kingston.
April 29, 2013
Supreme Court Backs State Restrictions on Who Can Ask for Information
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that states were free to let only their own citizens make requests under their freedom of information laws. The court also dismissed a case concerning the right to a speedy trial for poor criminal defendants, after it had been briefed and argued. And the court declined to consider a case concerning part of a tough 2011 Alabama immigration law, leaving in place an appeals court ruling blocking the law.
The lone decision issued Monday was in a case, McBurney v. Young, No. 12-17, brought by Roger Hurlbert, a California man who collects property records for commercial clients, and Mark McBurney, a Rhode Island man who once lived in Virginia and sought information concerning child support payments. They sued after Virginia refused to comply with their requests under its freedom of information law based on their citizenship.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for a unanimous court, said that provisions of the Constitution meant to ensure that citizens of different states are treated the same in many settings did not apply to what he called a noncommercial service whose fixed costs were borne by state taxpayers. Much of the information was available in other ways, he added. “Requiring noncitizens to conduct a few minutes of Internet research in lieu of using a relatively cumbersome state FOIA process,” he wrote, “cannot be said to impose any significant burden.”
Justice Alito wrote that at least seven other states had laws limiting requests for information to their citizens. The Virginia law contains an exception for representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in Virginia and of radio and television stations that broadcast there. It does not address Internet publications.
The New York Times Company, along with many news organizations and advocacy groups, filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs.
SPEEDY TRIAL A January argument that was the occasion for Justice Clarence Thomas’s first remark from the bench in almost seven years failed on Monday to produce a decision. The justices dismissed the case, Boyer v. Louisiana, No. 11-9953, as improvidently granted.
The court offered no opinion explaining the move, but seven justices debated its wisdom. In a concurrence, Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia, said the court had accepted the case on a mistaken understanding of the facts.
The question the justices had agreed to decide was “whether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years” in a capital case “should be weighted against the state for speedy trial purposes.” Justice Alito wrote that it turned out that “the single largest share of the delay in this case was the direct result of defense requests for continuances.”
The delay, moreover, seemed to assist the defendant, Jonathan E. Boyer, who was convicted of only second-degree murder despite overwhelming evidence that he had robbed and killed a driver who had picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, said the case would have provided an important opportunity for the Supreme Court to instruct states “that they have an obligation to protect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.”
Justice Sotomayor said there were “systemic problems in Louisiana,” adding that “conditions of this kind cannot persist without endangering constitutional rights.”
Neither opinion addressed the subject matter of Justice Thomas’s lighthearted remark in January, which seemed to take issue with the competence of lawyers trained at Harvard or Yale. The remark was muffled by cross-talk, and the transcript issued that day rendered it as, “Well — he did not.”
Nine days later, the court issued a revised transcript in which Justice Thomas was reported to have said, “Well, there — see, he did not provide good counsel.”
IMMIGRATION The court declined to hear a case concerning an Alabama law that made it a crime to harbor or transport immigrants not authorized to be in the United States or to induce them to enter or live in the state.
The justices, as is their custom, offered no reasons for turning down the appeal. Justice Scalia noted his dissent, but also offered no reasoning.
The question in the case, Alabama v. United States, No. 12-884, was whether the Alabama law conflicted with a federal law. In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, blocked the state law at the request of the Obama administration, saying that federal immigration law and policy comprehensively address “criminal penalties for these actions undertaken within the borders of the United States, and a state’s attempt to intrude into this area is prohibited because Congress has adopted a calibrated framework.”
April 29, 2013
Next Big Challenge for Health Law: Carrying It Out
By JOHN HARWOOD
WASHINGTON — This month, a political organization aligned with House Republicans sent an e-mail to reporters attacking President Obama’s health care law.
“Young adults on parents’ plan pay more,” said the organization, the YG Network, citing a new employee benefits study. The e-mail’s subject line read “So Much for Popularity.”
Actually, the study did not show those young adults were paying more. It showed insurance companies were, because they had begun providing health coverage to those young adults, as called for under the law.
The missive, inaccurate though it was, illustrates the immense challenge facing the Obama administration as it puts in place the most significant parts of the 2010 law. Few government initiatives reach so many corners of the American economy and society — and have as much potential to generate trouble for the party in the White House.
Among the complex imperatives: pushing reluctant states to set up insurance marketplaces and expand Medicaid programs, keeping an eye on insurance companies as they issue new rate schedules, measuring the law’s effects on small-business hiring, and coaxing healthy young people to buy coverage so the system works economically for everyone else.
Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare and Medicaid under President George Bush and supports the new law, said that 2014, when the law will make it mandatory to have insurance, “is going to be quite a bumpy year.”
Austan Goolsbee, a former chief economist to Mr. Obama, predicted “a big messaging headache the whole year.”
A new example popped up last week, to the delight of Republican opponents of the law. An article by Politico reported “high-level confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides” from the health law.
In fact, lawmakers said, the talks the article referred to concerned preserving the same kind of employer-subsidized health coverage for Congressional employees that workers at private companies can receive under the law. Yet the article sent White House aides and other Democrats scrambling to avoid the appearance of special treatment.
The law poses some modest potential headaches for the overall economy.
It requires, for example, that businesses with 50 or more full-time workers either offer insurance coverage or pay a penalty. Mr. Goolsbee said he would be watching whether companies around that threshold either defer hiring or shift some full-time workers to part-time jobs.
But the number of such companies is small. A vast majority of American workers are employed by larger companies that already offer coverage.
Some younger health care customers will face a significant increase in their insurance premiums, said Karen Ignagni, who leads a major health insurance trade group. That is because the law requires more comprehensive coverage than many of them now have and curbs insurers’ ability to charge more for older customers, who tend to consume more services.
Yet those increases may be offset by subsidies available to lower-income customers and, for women, by rules barring insurers from charging women more.
Most significant is that those increases apply only to the small fraction of Americans who buy health insurance individually.
N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, fears that some lower-income job holders will work less under the law, since their government-financed insurance subsidies will phase out at higher earning levels. But he acknowledged that it was an “open question” how large those effects would be.
Not large, White House economists say. And to the extent that they do happen, they would be offset by reduced marginal tax rates for others who, under current law, lose their Medicaid health coverage as they earn higher incomes.
The law’s supporters also predict that workers with better health care will be more productive. Expanded coverage may ease the “job lock” that now prevents some workers from seeking better employment for fear of losing coverage.
Uncertainty over the law’s future hung over employers and investors throughout 2012. “It impeded the recovery,” said the economist Mark Zandi.
But last June, the Supreme Court upheld the core of the law, and in November Mr. Obama won re-election. Going forward, Mr. Zandi said, “it’s prudent at this point to think it’s all going to be a wash.”
That will not, however, ease pressure on administration officials over a gantlet of hurdles to put the provisions in place.
Fewer than half of the states have indicated that they plan to establish their own health care marketplaces, known as exchanges under the law. Washington is committed to stepping in and establishing them for states that decline to.
Only about half of the states have indicated that they will expand Medicaid under the law, a central ingredient for the goal of providing coverage to those now uninsured. Some people who acquire insurance under the law may have trouble obtaining treatment, because of a shortage of doctors and state-level “scope of practice” laws restricting the ability of others like nurse practitioners to step in.
Most challenging of all is persuading young, healthy Americans — the most profitable customers for insurance companies — to buy their “mandated” coverage next year, even though the penalty for not doing so is a modest $95. White House officials say this group’s participation in health insurance marketplaces is vital to their success because it will offset the cost of less-healthy customers.
The political stakes in meeting these challenges are circumscribed by the long, acrimonious debate that has occurred in the nation’s polarized political culture. White House strategists estimate that 9 in 10 Americans have fixed views one way or the other. They say that only personal experience with the law can move them.
Yet efforts to reach the small group of undecideds will only increase as the 2014 midterm elections draw closer. Ian Prior, a spokesman for the House Republicans’ campaign committee, vowed that his party’s candidates would keep hammering away at Democratic incumbents who supported the law.
“I don’t think the American people want to go back,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, who is the chairman of the House Democrats’ committee. But Democrats say they cannot afford to be passive.
“We already know that, left to its own devices, this doesn’t end up in a good place,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Anyone who thinks this issue is done is fooling themselves.”
Guantanamo gets extra medical staff as hunger strike continues
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 29, 2013 19:08 EDT
Extra medical staff have been sent to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay to help address a hunger strike that has spread to nearly two-thirds of the detainees, authorities said Monday.
With the strike now entering its 12th week, President Barack Obama has faced fresh calls to honor his promise to close the prison at the US base in Cuba, which holds 166 individuals captured as part of the “War on Terror.”
Some 40 US Navy medical personnel, including nurses and specialists, arrived over the weekend, said Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House, a military spokesman at Guantanamo.
“The influx of personnel was planned several weeks ago as increasing numbers of detainees chose to protest their detention,” he said.
House said 100 of the 166 inmates are striking, a number that hasn’t changed since Saturday. Of those, 21 are receiving feeding through nasal tubes, the spokesman said, one more than on Saturday.
Five are hospitalized, he added in the statement, without specifying whether any were in life-threatening condition.
However, he told AFP that none were close to dying, officially denying allegations by British Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington, who wrote on his blog that four prisoners were “close to death” as a result of the strike, citing a “credible source inside Guantanamo.”
One of the at-risk detainees, Worthington said, was Khiali Gul, one of 86 prisoners cleared for release yet jailed indefinitely.
“Every day I expect to hear the worst. I am appalled that President Obama has done nothing, and continues to do nothing,” Worthington told AFP.
Lawyers for the detainees have said around 130 inmates are observing the hunger strike, more than officially acknowledged.
The rapidly growing protest movement began on February 6, when inmates claimed prison officials searched Korans in a way they considered blasphemous, according to their lawyers.
Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam’s holy book.
But the strike has now turned into a larger protest by prisoners against their indefinite incarceration without charge or trial over the past 11 years.
House said recently that while detainees have a right to protest, “it is our mission to provide a safe, secure and humane environment, and we will not allow our detainees to starve themselves to death.”
On Friday, the White House said it continues to closely monitor the hunger strikers and that Obama remained “committed to closing” Guantanamo.
“A fundamental obstacle to closing this detention facility … remains in Congress,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
More and more critics have called for the immediate closure of the facility.
Among them is former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Air Force colonel Morris Davis, who warned that “unless President Obama acts soon, I believe it is likely one or more of the detainees will die.”
Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch, said “there has never been such a critical moment in the history of Guantanamo.”
“It’s an incredible crisis in the American government, both in terms of health and welfare of these men, but there are also very serious national security concerns should someone die in Guantanamo,” she told AFP.
“I think it will be perceived outside of the US as the US government’s responsibility.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, wrote a letter to Obama asking the administration to “renew its efforts” to transfer out the 86 detainees who were cleared for such a move by US military authorities.
She also called for the reassessment of the “security situation on the ground in Yemen, because is my understanding that 56 of the 86 detainees cleared for transfer are Yemeni.”
Obama imposed a moratorium on repatriating Yemenis held at Guantanamo in 2009 after a plot to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was traced back to Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise.
Senators Face ‘Serious Backlash’ After Failure to Support Background Checks
By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 29th, 2013
In a new poll by Public Policy Polling, five Senators in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio are feeling the wrath of the public after failing to support a background checks measure, in what PPP called “serious backlash”. According to the poll, Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Dean Heller (R-NV) face lowered approval ratings and a public less likely to support them in the next election.
Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling, concluded that the lowered approval ratings are a direct result of the failure to support the background check measure, “The background checks vote is a rare one that really is causing these Senators trouble back home. All five of these Senators, as well as Kelly Ayotte, have seen their approval numbers decline in the wake of this vote. And the numbers make it clear that their position on Manchin/Toomey is a major factor causing the downward spiral.”
In Arizona, Republican Senator Flake’s approval rating dropped to 32% with a 51% disapproval. He is now more unpopular than even Mitch McConnell. In Arizona, 70% of the public supports background checks. Fifty-two percent of voters say they’re less likely to support Flake in a future election because of this vote. To demonstrate just how extreme the rejection of background checks is, the poll determined that only 19% of the public say they will be more likely to support Flake in a future election due to his vote.
Contrast Flake’s lowered approval ratings with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Toomey’s, who saw an increase in approval after co-sponsoring the bipartisan background check measure (Manchin/Toomey).
In Ohio, Republican junior Senator Rob Portman plunged a net 18 points in approval, from 35% approval and 25% disapproval to just 26% approval with 34% disapproval (net -8). Portman lost support across the board. No one seems to approve of the Ohio Republican. Some of his loss in approval among Republicans is more likely tied to his support for gay marriage, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
In Alaska, Democratic junior Senator Mark Begich lost approval from Democrats and Independents after failing to support background checks, with 41% approval rating and a 37% disapproval, down from 49% approval and 39% disapproval. Begich got no bounce from Republicans after his vote, so he basically alienated his base for nothing.
Popular Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has lost a net 16 points in approval due to her rejection of background checks. Forty-six percent of voters approve of her now, with 41% now disapproving of her. Prior to the vote, she enjoyed a 54% approval rating and only 33% disapproval. The bad news is that while Murkowski predictably lost Democratic support due to her vote, she also failed to gain Republican support by voting with the NRA.
Nevada Republican junior Senator Dean Heller fared better than the aforementioned, with 44% approval to 41% disapproval, but he lost critical support from Independents.
PPP summed it up, “Taken together these results make it pretty clear that this issue could be a serious liability for the Senators who opposed overwhelmingly popular background checks in the Senate vote earlier this month.”
It should trouble legislators that their failure to support background checks didn’t gain them the support they may have been anticipating, and in fact even cost these five Senators support in states that lean hard right like Alaska. In Febrary, a PPP poll showed that support from the NRA could actually toxic to a candidate, but the NRA also invests money in smear campaigns that target errant legislators in underhanded ways. But legislators seem more afraid of the NRA than they are of their approval ratings, which exemplifies the troubling trend of the will of lobbyists overriding the will of the people.
The Senators may feel the voters will forget, while the NRA won’t, since the lobbying group made a big fuss about scoring the vote. But the problem for the NRA is that now that they’ve scored the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could sneak the measure back in as an amendment, possibly giving NRA wary Senators political cover for a yes vote.
Serbia and Kosovo sign historic agreement
Pact signed in Brussels is first step toward normalising relations between bitter foes
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 30 April 2013 13.59 BST
Good news is sufficiently scarce in Europe, particularly in the western Balkans, for us to allow ourselves a little celebration. The agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, signed in Brussels on 19 April, is indeed historic.
Fourteen years after the end of the war, it provides the first formal basis for normalised relations between the two neighbours, defining the conditions for large-scale devolution of northern Kosovo and its Serb population.
The agreement also opens the way to membership of the EU, raising hopes of a virtuous circle for the whole region. Lastly, it is a very welcome success for European diplomacy, embodied by Catherine Ashton, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy.
Of course, there is still some uncertainty regarding implementation of the agreement, yet to be ratified in the two capitals. Kosovo Serb representatives immediately called for a demonstration in North Mitrovica on 22 April to oppose the deal. But its political and symbolic import cannot be reversed, even if Belgrade still formally refuses to recognise Kosovo. Since July 2010, when the international court of justice concluded that the unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 was legal, Serbia has had no real means of disputing the status of its former province.
The 15-point agreement provides for the merger of the four Serb municipalities in the north (North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic) subject to Kosovo law. This urban district would have powers over economic development, education, healthcare and town planning. One of the stumbling blocks concerned security. The agreement stipulates that only the Kosovo police force will be deployed in the north, but the regional commander will be a Serb and the force will reflect the area's ethnic make-up. Regarding justice, a division of the Kosovo court of appeal will hold a permanent session at North Mitrovica, with mainly Serb judges. As for local councillors, elections will be held this year, also under Kosovo law. The Nato Kosovo Force currently deployed there will play a key role in maintaining law and order during the poll.
The last crucial point is that both parties have agreed not to hinder the other's efforts to gain EU membership. The Kosovo prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, had hoped that Belgrade would not obstruct recognition of his country by international bodies such as the United Nations. But this is out of the question for the Serb government, which has already gone much further than any of its predecessors.
"It's the best possible offer," the Serbian prime minister, Ivica Dacic, told the press at home. To reach agreement it has taken 10 top-level meetings since last summer. The two men's past history gives some idea of how far they have both travelled. Long ago Dacic was the spokesman for the former Serb president, Slobodan Milosevic. Thaçi was a combatant in the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Dialogue started in March 2011 in an attempt to improve the living conditions of residents in the north. The first advances concerned free circulation of people and goods. But the status of northern Kosovo, home to about 40,000 Serbs opposed to the authority of Pristina, remained a major hurdle.
The deadline for negotiations was postponed several times. Ultimately a nationalist government, which came to power after the 2012 general election in Serbia, has recognised de facto that Kosovo is no longer subject to Serb sovereignty. "There is a sort of historical justice, in the sense that the people who start a problem should also resolve it," said Ivan Vejvoda, a former Serb diplomat and vice-president of the German Marshall Fund, speaking on the sidelines of the GlobSec conference at Bratislava, Slovakia. "Dacic is an heir to Milosevic. He has the benefit of a political consensus which [former president] Boris Tadic did not have, because this time three-quarters of Serb MPs support the process. Time, too, has done its work. Public opinion was ready for a solution."
• This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde
Telegraph comes in from the cold with pro-Putin advertorial
Tuesday 30 April 2013 15.35 BST guardian.co.uk
The Daily Telegraph is one of the papers wailing most fervently about the government's royal charter-backed regulator (Jacob Rees-Mogg: "The government and parliament have decided to license the press and to coerce newspapers into agreeing ... [financial penalties] for those who resist state licensing could be severe.") and one of the titles behind last week's rival charter proposal from the industry. But what's this, in Tuesday's Telegraph? Why, a sponsored supplement featuring editorial from Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a pro-Putin newspaper that describes itself as being "published by the new Russian state" and enjoying "official status, because acts of state come into effect upon their publication there". So, um ... state licensed, in other words. Highlights include a cosy Ministry of Truth, anyone?
François Hollande's vision of an anti-austerity Europe was just a dream
Italian and German politics have stymied French socialists' plans for a shift in the balance of European power
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 April 2013 14.43 BST
François Hollande had planned it all and it sure looked good on paper. In just over a year, the balance of power in Europe would shift and the French president would manage to impose his anti-austerity views on the rest of the continent. He would only be a lone voice in Europe for a matter of months. He would soon find strong allies in Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Italian left, who would sweep Italy off her feet, and in the German Social Democrats who would finally oust Angela Merkel from power. He would then triumphantly introduce his pro-growth agenda, adjusting monetary policy with a mix of quantitative easing and a dash of inflation. All the things Germany had always vehemently said no to.
Except that now, Hollande's plan can go straight in the bin. We know what happened to Bersani in Italy. After two months of failing to form a government, he humiliatingly had to step down and the 87-year-old president, Giorgio Napolitano, certainly not amused to have to come to the rescue, asked Bersani's number two, Enrico Letta, to look beyond the left. Italy was this week endowed with a broad left-to-right coalition with a few key Berlusconi men. Hardly a strong ally for Hollande. As for Germany and the chances of the Social Democrats beating Merkel in September, poll after poll (the latest showing Merkel with a 13-point lead) suggest she is here to stay.
And if things weren't bad enough, Hollande has had to deal this week with the embarrassing leak of a document cooked up by some caudillos in his party personally attacking "the selfish intransigence of Chancellor Merkel". The idea was probably to flex France's muscles ahead of June's EU summit and to try to convince Merkel to water down her austerity ideology. However, the leak has proved disastrous and the French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, a former German teacher, and EU commissioner Michel Barnier, had to resort to Twitter and sent tweets in German, reaffirming the special Franco-German relationship. This felt like damage limitation. Needless to say, the German political class and media were not impressed.
Andreas Schockenhoff, a German MP from the CDU, said: "It just shows how confused French socialists are. A year after their arrival to power, they haven't found any solutions to France's economic and financial problems." The financial newspaper Handelsblatt underlined "the panic and divisions among the French socialists". The Berliner Zeitung was damning. "French socialists had said they'd show Europe the way. A year after Hollande's election, it sounds like a joke."
Pressures mount on UK defence spending
Tuesday 30 April 2013 17.05 BST guardian.co.uk
• future of nuclear arsenal questioned
• Britain faces choice of renewing Trident or being effective military partner - US warning
• France cuts its armed forces
There is a bitter-sweet irony in the minister now demanding government departments, including the Ministry of Defence, to cut their budgets, being the one handling the "alternatives to Trident" review.
The responsibility falls on Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury. He took over the task after Nick Harvey, the armed forces minister, was sacked last September.
Plans to spend billions of pounds on a like-for-like replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear submarine fleet are based on "outdated and ludicrous" ideas about deterrence, Harvey told a UN conference earlier this month.
"In the decade or so from 2017-18, the current plan is to spend between £25bn and £30bn building four vast new submarines whose sole purpose will be to patrol the high seas 24/7 waggling our nuclear bomb at – er – no one in particular. For another 30 years we'll spend £3bn a year in today's money operating them, and one day it will cost several billion more to decommission our nukes", he wrote in the Guardian.
Meanwhile, David Cameron and Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, continue to insist that maintaining a Trident fleet with a submarine equipped with ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads "continuously at sea" is the only effective deterrent.
It is hard to imagine a British government agreeing to make significant cuts in its nuclear arsenal — even harder, perhaps, now that the French (socialist) government in its defence white paper published on Tuesday emphatically committed itself to maintain its own arsenal of sea and air-launched nuclear weapons.
The French nuclear arsenal is "completely ring-fenced", French officials emphasised on Tuesday. Yet both the British and French economies are suffering and how money is spent on their armed forces should be subjected to the most careful scrutiny.
Though the French defence budget is not being cut as much as the British (which is facing cuts of more than 8%), the cost of equipment will mean they are shedding manpower, just as the British armed forces, the army in particular, is doing.
And while Britain is building two large aircraft carriers, which the Commons public accounts committee has warned could cost as much as £12bn, France has abandoned its plan to build a second carrier.
Britain and France showed in Libya and Mali they are still incapable of operating in even limited conflicts without US help - for intelligence-gathering and refuelling aircraft, communications, drones, and bombs.
"While the United States would like to be able to rely more on its European allies, many experts doubt that even the strongest among them, Britain and France, could carry out their part of another Libya operation now, and certainly not in a few years", the New York Times observed earlier this month.
It added: "The situation in Britain is so bad that American officials are quietly urging it to drop its expensive nuclear deterrent".
It quoted a senior American official as saying: "They can't afford Trident and they need to confront the choice: either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else or a real military partner".
That is a hugely significant comment, from Britain's closest ally.
The US now accounts for nearly three-quarters of Nato's expenditure. The once trumpeted French-German brigade, remains unused. When the French wanted to deploy it in Mali, the Germans objected.
General Vincent Desportes, former head of France's School of War, warned that France's decision to "sanctify" its nuclear deterrent to the detriment of conventional forces meant "we will end up with a model that doesn't work, namely the nuclear bomb plus gendarmes."
Britain is in danger of going down that path.
05/01/2013 10:46 AM
Divided Cyprus: Banking Crisis Awakens Hopes for Reconciliation
By Ulrike Putz in Gemikonagi
The Greek half of Cyprus has been hard-hit by the banking crisis -- and now hopes are growing in the Turkish north for reconciliation. If the two populations could resolve their dispute, they could likely access large natural gas reserves estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of euros.
Gemikonagi is one of the less picturesque locales along the Mediterranean. A conveyor belt stretches far out past pebble beaches and over the blue sea, a remnant of the town's past as a lading port for ores. The main drag has a few bunched up döner kebab stands and some slot-machine gambling joints. Until just recently, this backwater in the far western part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) used to be a popular place for Greek Cypriots who wanted to find cheap eats and gamble away their euro bills on this side of the divided island. That is, of course, until the crisis arrived.
The banking crisis in the southern part of island is now also hitting its northern part -- and hard. For years, thousands of Turkish Cypriots have been commuting to jobs located in the Greek part of the island. But now many of them are forced to fear for their jobs -- in exactly the same way that the casinos in Gemikonagi not have to worry about losing their Greek clientele, which calls the town Karavostasi.
The most prominent structure in Gemikonagi is a soldiers' club. Its red-and-white, ground-to-roof paint job is a testament to the pride of Turkish Cypriots. Inside, over a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, a caption reads "The homeland comes first." Given the rest of the decorations, one could easily deduce that no one here is truly interested in reconciliation. There are dozens of photographs to keep alive the memories of the historical atrocities between the two ethnic groups that culminated in 1974 with a Greek putsch and the subsequent intervention of the Turkish military. Since then, the third-largest Mediterranean island has been divided. In the north, there is the TRNC, though Turkey is the only country to officially recognize it. In the south lies the Republic of Cyprus, which represents the entire island on the international stage and is also a European Union member state.
But the impression of the deep, old enmity that the pictures in the military club conjure up is also deceptive. In reality, relations between the sections of Cyprus separately occupied by Greeks and Turks are considerably more complex. This is evidenced by the fact that a majority of Gemikonagi residents voted in favor of the island's reunification and the peace plan put forth by then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004. But while Turkish Cypriots were hoping that joint EU accession would bring along an economic upswing, their Greek Cypriot neighbors threw a wrench in these plans by responding with a clear "no" to the reunification vote.
'An Important Opportunity'
In 2008, when the Greek part of the island adopted the euro, the Turkish inhabitants of the northern part of the island felt duped. And, of course, this makes their schadenfreude regarding the southern part's current economic woes all the greater. "With the referendum, the Greeks left us out in the cold. They wanted to profit from the euro by themselves," says Efem Okiran, who runs a flower store in Gemikonagi. But now his neighbors can see what good that's done for them -- and where they've ended up. "For 10 years, they made money thanks to the EU," Okiran adds. "And now they're supposed to bleed for 10 years."
Other observers are less gloating. They say the crisis could even have a hand in severing the Gordian knot of the Cyprus conflict. At the moment, the central issue involves the natural gas fields lying off the island that were discovered in 2011 and have been claimed by both sides. Recently, the government in Ankara warned in very strong terms that it wanted to help overcome the financial crisis by selling the rights to the gas deposits claimed by both sides.
Experts suspect that roughly 2,700 billion cubic meters of natural gas lie beneath the waters south of Cyprus. In comparison, Norway, a giant in the natural gas landscape, boasts a possible output of some 7,900 billion cubic meters. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has put a price tag of more than €600 billion ($790 billion) on Cyprus' untapped gas reserves. However, exploiting this treasure could prove to be exceedingly difficult -- also on account of possible conflicts with other countries in the region. Israel, Lebanon and even Turkey have all staked a claim to these underwater natural gas reserves.
Given these circumstances, chances are that the gas will not be extracted until both parts of the island -- as well as its protective powers, Greece and Turkey -- have reached an agreement over it. Leaders in Turkey hope that the cash-strapped Greek-Cypriots will need the money they could get from extracting the gas so desperately that they will finally join it in hammering out a political solution to the Cyprus conflict that is also agreeable to the Turks.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has already noted that the financial crisis has presented an "important opportunity" to end the island's division. A step in the right direction, he adds, would be to lift all embargos. Turkey currently forbids airplanes and ships from the Republic of Cyprus from steering toward its airports and ports. On the other side, the EU has imposed an embargo on airplanes and ships from the TRNC.
Turkey's push to end the Cyprus crisis also has economic motivations. The situation on the island, where some 30,000 Turkish soldiers are based, is one of the biggest obstacles on Turkey's path to EU accession.
Spanish economy shrinks as housing market continues to fall
GDP fell by 0.5% in first quarter, in line with forecasts that recovery will be delayed until end of the year
Phillip Inman, economics correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 April 2013 19.42 BST
Spain is heading for another year of recession after figures showed GDP contracted in the first three months of 2013 amid a widespread slowdown in consumer spending, rising unemployment and predictions of further declines in house prices.
The economy shrank by 0.5% in the first quarter, according to Spain's national statistics office, in line with government predictions that a recovery will be delayed until the end of the year.
One analyst said the economy, which started to decline in the summer of 2011, was on course to repeat last year's 1.9% contraction before stabilising in 2014.
The gloomy outlook followed a raft of weak figures showing that Spain remains in the grip of a deep recession. A report by the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's showed that the housing market continued to be a drag on growth. House prices have already fallen by more than 40% in some areas, sparking a wave of repossessions. Tens of thousands of families are unable to sell their homes while they remain in negative equity.
"Spanish households are feeling the pain most severely," said the S&P economist Sophie Tahiri. "We predict prices will fall by 8% this year and by another 5% in 2014, as precarious economic conditions deter buyers and as swathes of unsold housing stock drag on prices."
Imports fell sharply, indicating a slump in consumer and business demand. A strong rise in exports provided the only glimmer of hope, helping to prevent even deeper falls in unemployment and generating much-needed foreign income. The rise in exports also cut the country's longstanding budget deficit to its lowest level since the banking crash.
A 4.4% increase in exports in February and an 8.2% slide in imports helped slash Spain's current account deficit to €1.3bn, less than a quarter of the figure reported a year earlier.
Exports have risen 38.6% on the previous year, according to Mads Koefoed, an economist at Saxo Bank, and are expected to continue rising as Spanish goods become more competitive following a fall in wages.
Spain's central bank has revised down its growth forecast for 2013 from a decline of 0.5% to a 1.3% fall. It now predicts growth of 0.5% in 2014.
The government has also revised down its public spending deficit forecast for 2013, to 6.3% of GDP. It predicts the deficit will be 5.5% of GDP in 2014, 4.1% the following year and 2.7% in 2016, which would mean meeting the EU budget deficit target two years later than was first demanded by Brussels.
Annalisa Piazza, an economist at Newedge Strategy, said consumers were likely to spend another year with their hands in their pockets, discouraging businesses from spending or investing.
"Domestic demand will remain a drag on growth in 2013, shaving nearly four percentage points off GDP. Domestic demand will start to be supportive for growth only in 2016," she said.
The government says the worst of the slump has passed and expects quarterly growth before the end of this year. The finance ministry expects that the export-led recovery will limit further rises in unemployment and kickstart growth.
"All the indicators which look forward in Spain point to recovery, and a much better economy than one year ago," said the economy minister, Luis de Guindos.
Greece suffers more misery as retails sales slump by nearly a third
With a eurozone record of 27.5% of Greeks unemployed, the country's retailers say the economy has gone into freefall
Helena Smith in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 April 2013 20.22 BST
Barely a day after securing more international aid in exchange for yet more draconian reforms, Greece got a bitter taste of the price of austerity on Tuesday, when statistics showed that retail sales had shrunk by more than 30% over the past three years.
The impact of spending and budget cuts on private consumption has had a devastating effect on commerce, the engine of the Greek economy, according to the debt-stricken country's statistics agency, Elstat.
With some 27.5% of Greeks officially unemployed – a eurozone record – retail sales dropped by 14.4% year on year in February, following a slump of 16.8% in January.
"The economy is in freefall. Not since the second world war has the situation been as bad," said Prof Valia Saranitou, at the national confederation of Greek commerce (ESEE).
"An unprecedented 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses have closed in an economy that works on internal demand," she told the Guardian, adding that Greece's widely praised exports rebound had been grossly exaggerated.
Since the eruption of Europe's debt crisis in Athens in late 2009, retail sales had plummeted by more than a third – 34% – the statistics service said.
The decline in the real economy – and on the shop floor – reflects the huge drop in disposable income suffered by ordinary Greeks since the outbreak of the crisis.
Although the nation has narrowly averted bankruptcy with the help of the biggest bailout in global history – €240bn (£203bn) in rescue funds from the European Union and International Monetary Fund since May 2010 – prospects of the country returning to capital markets any time soon remain far from assured.
The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, highlighted the country's plight, telling ministers on Tuesday there was not a day to lose in the nation's battle to keep bankruptcy at bay.
05/01/2013 12:19 PM
Prospects for Peace: 'The Differences Lie Between Turkey and Cyprus'
In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides discusses prospects for fresh talks on a peace and reunification deal with Northern Cyprus and the growing humanitarian catastrophe in nearby Syria.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The conditions imposed by the international donors contributing to the bailout stripped Cyprus of a substantial part of its sovereignty. Are you still taken seriously as a foreign minister?
Kasoulides: It depends on what sort of political message you portray and whether what you say seems to be valid and serious among your partners. I do not feel like someone representing a country with limited sovereignty. From the foreign policy point of view, I feel liberated to speak my mind without any other consideration, because there is very little to lose.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Turkish government is pushing for the immediate start of talks on a solution to the Cyprus conflict. Is an agreement imminent?
Kasoulides: This is an effort to take advantage of the weak economic situation in Cyprus, as well as in Greece, in order to get a settlement closer to Turkish terms. But we cannot deal primarily with this question as long as the economic problems of the Greek Cypriots are not faced. The economic problems require the full attention of our government, and Turkey should have shown an understanding for our situation before calling for a resumption of talks.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you fear a fiasco like that of 2004, when a vast majority of the Greek Cypriots voted against the plan by then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to resolve the conflict?
Kasoulides: Our credentials from the past are well-known. President Nicos Anastasiades then supported the Annan plan against a lot of resistance. The Annan plan is over. We cannot afford to fail again. No government in Cyprus can succeed in agreeing to a settlement without having the public opinion on its side. So we are in favor of talks, but they need to be prepared well.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean?
Kasoulides: Preparation starts with the analysis that the previous method of negotiations has not delivered the desired results. One of the reasons is that everybody pretends that the issue is just a difference between the two communities in Cyprus. But it is obvious that the differences lie between Turkey and Cyprus. So, there should be a way to involve Turkey in these efforts. Of course, the talks should be officially conducted between the representatives of the two communities and under the auspices of the UN secretary general, but somewhere one should be able to talk to Turkey and listen to Turkey. A second condition for talks is to create the right climate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What trust-building measures do you recommend?
Kasoulides: We are suggesting two things: Since the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, Turkey has blocked the political dialogue between the EU and NATO as well as Cyprus' membership in various international organizations. That is why we have been against any closer military cooperation between Turkey and the EU. If Turkey stops blocking the Republic of Cyprus from joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program, then we will offer to lift our objection to an administrative agreement between Turkey and the European Defense Agency. We are also ready to put on the table certain chapters of the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU that have so far been blocked by Cyprus.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what would that mean in concrete terms for the people of both sides of the island?
Kasoulides: We are suggesting the following: We would allow the Turkish Cypriots to trade directly with EU countries under the custom supervision of the EU from the port of Famagusta. In return, the city of Varosha would be given back to us by the Turkish side. Such a package would improve the climate tremendously. Such a gesture would strengthen our president so that he could enter into negotiations and be able to deliver.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: One of the biggest foreign policy tragedies is happening less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from Cyprus. Around 70,000 people have already been killed in the civil war in Syria. Is the European Union making the right decisions?
Kasoulides: No, I do not think so. The time has come for the EU to take bold decisions about the most practical way to end the hostilities and the massive loss of lives. There are so many refugees that they overburden countries like Jordan or Turkey, and they create very serious problems in Lebanon. So the big question we need to ask is how we can achieve a political solution through dialogue. Is this possible with the situation on the ground being what it is? What changes, in terms of the strength of both sides, is needed in order to lead both to the negotiating table?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You don't sound very optimistic that a political solution can still be reached.
Kasoulides: At the moment, we are concentrating on the humanitarian issue on the one hand, which is right, and on the efforts for a political solution on the other. The questions I just mentioned must be asked, and we must make sure that sticking to efforts to find a political solution, without changes on the equilibrium on the ground, is realistic.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: France and Great Britain are pressing for arms deliveries to the Syrian rebels. Do you support this?
Kasoulides: I see the merits of that position and I think that the EU should examine very seriously what they are proposing. At the same time, we should undertake diplomatic activity to warn that this may happen soon. Iran should be convinced to stop supporting one side, because such support makes the chances for a political solution at least corresponding to the aspirations of the Syrian people more remote. Otherwise the other side will need to be supported as well.
Interview conducted by Christoph Schult
04/30/2013 06:36 PM
High-Profile Catalyst: Tough Times Ahead for German Tax Evaders
The case of Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness is heating up the German election campaign and presenting a challenge to the courts, which have gone easy on wealthy tax offenders until now. The high-profile case is likely to mean harsher punishments in the future.
Football fans in the western German city of Dortmund consoled themselves with several revenge fantasies last Tuesday when their top player transferred to the country's most prominent team, FC Bayern Munich. The first was to wish a home game loss on the Munich team when it played FC Barcelona that evening. The second was the fervent wish that the traitorous player would play for Bayern next year, but that the team's current President Uli Hoeness would be denied the pleasure of watching. Why? Because they probably don't get cable sports channels in prison.
As we now know, the Dortmunders won't be getting their first wish, after Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 4:0 last week. But the second one could come true, and instead of requiring a revenge fantasy to make it happen, all it could take is the state's monopoly on the use of force -- even if Hoeness, now Germany's most famous tax evader, was sitting in the stands in the match against Barcelona, thanks to a suspended arrest warrant and bail posted at €5 million. Although Hoeness submitted a voluntary declaration to report his hidden assets in Switzerland, he apparently made such a mess of it that it might not save him, after all.
If that's the case, the public prosecutor's office in Munich will have to investigate him as if he had never come clean. And that could put him closer to prison than any other high-profile tax evader since Peter Graf, the father of tennis star Steffi Graf.
It's a full-blown drama, complete with all the requisite elements, starting with pride and stigma. And then there is the arrogance of a public figure, one who is now more likely than ever to face public scorn and ridicule. And, finally, pity and malice will also play a role, especially when a figure like Hoeness, with all of his big talk and noble claims, comes crashing down. It has become clear that the Hoeness case is also about to make waves in the political world, especially given his close ties to many politicians.
High-profile politicians have sought his advice and basked in the sunshine of his popularity, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, who heads the CDU's conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück. But now Hoeness' sunshine is about to turn into a shadow, one that will also be cast over Berlin. For the contenders in the upcoming federal election, the trick will be placing their respective opponents in that shadow while remaining in the sunlight.
A Campaign Issue
As the campaign for this fall's general election gets started, one of the biggest issues is the question of justice. Could it be that the opposition was right when it torpedoed the government's plan for a tax treaty with Switzerland? A treaty that would have guaranteed anonymity to tax evaders like Hoeness? And should those who submit voluntary declarations go unpunished, even when they have defrauded the German treasury of millions over the years?
The SPD has been only too pleased to address the issue, gratified that the government finally provided a target for popular anger. With scandals involving Swiss banks, tax evasion and illicit earnings, the SPD was able to paint the issues as a battle of good against evil, with the CDU, CSU and their coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), standing accused of betraying the public.
But the government immediately staked out its own claim to the issue. After SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel demanded that tax evaders be permitted to avoid prosecution in minor cases by turning themselves in, the governing coalition also publicly declared its support for the idea. Now the CSU's Seehofer is also calling for limiting voluntary declarations "to certain, minor cases," adding that leniency would be completely inappropriate when "a lot of money and criminal energy are involved." Even the FDP, which generally favors lower taxes and is therefore notoriously suspected of having a weak spot for tax fugitives, wants to take a closer look at the issue of voluntary declaration.
All of this could continue to fuel the election campaign for days, perhaps even weeks, but then politicians will start latching onto other issues. The Hoeness case, on the other hand, is primarily an issue for the judiciary. If charges are filed against Hoeness, the issue of whether the courts are ready to take a tougher position on tax evasion will come to a head. Although the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) already made it clear in 2008 that it planned to deal more harshly with tax evaders, its position hasn't trickled down to courtrooms throughout the country yet.
In 2008, the judges on the BGH decided that, as a rule, a person who has evaded taxes on €1 million or more should go to prison. So far, however, there have been only exceptions to the rule. In the end, even tax evaders who allegedly failed to pay taxes on €4-5 million have somehow managed to escape with suspended sentences.
A Landmark Case?
But perhaps the change decreed by the BGH merely needed an impetus or a catalyst, a case as spectacular as that of former Deutsche Post CEO Klaus Zumwinkel several years ago. The €3 million that the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Hoeness had paid in back taxes is clearly well over the critical €1 million threshold, even with the special allowances that those who submit voluntary declarations usually build in. In other words, his case could be the precedent that sets everything in motion.
One thing is clear: By keeping his money in Switzerland, Hoeness was long in good company. After World War II, wealthy Germans began stashing funds in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, fearing inflation or currency reform, that the Russians were coming or that the SPD would come into power. It was essentially a community of anxious Germans investing their money abroad. And then there were the owners of small and mid-sized companies, who refused to accept that while they were often working 12-hour days, the government was, in their view, giving their money away to the wrong people, namely their lazier countrymen or foreigners.
Many were the pillars of society, with the "Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany pinned to their jackets while their wallets were tucked inside," as the head of the German tax union (DSTG), Thomas Eigenthaler, scoffs. This explains why, at the time when Hoeness began depositing his money in Swiss bank accounts, the German legal system was extremely indulgent with the respected citizens who were secretly cashing in.
It began with the fact that the option of voluntary declaration existed in the first place -- and still exists today. It enables a tax evader to avoid prosecution by simply paying back taxes and, if the sum exceeds €50,000, an additional 5-percent fee to the treasury. "Tax evasion is the only offense where the government dispenses with its right to prosecute and would rather take the money," says union leader Eigenthaler. Jürgen Wessing, a Düsseldorf expert on the criminal code for tax offences, agrees: "It's alright as long as the money comes in."
And even when a tax evader was actually caught without having turned himself in, his chances of avoiding a prison sentence were good. Horse breeder Paul Schockemöhle, who owed 22.6 million deutsche marks in back taxes, was given an 11-month sentence, but on probation. Tennis star Boris Becker owed 3.8 million deutsche marks and was sentenced to two years on probation and a fine of €500,000. Singer Freddy Quinn, who had cheated the state out of 1.8 million deutsche marks, also received two years on probation, plus a fine.
Those who had the money to pay their back taxes and fines could buy their freedom. In 2008, a businessman from Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt, owed the government €7.5 million and still avoided a prison sentence. After he had paid €15 million and handed two years on probation, the case was closed.
Despite Tougher Rules, Little Has Changed
But then came the decision by the BGH's criminal division, under its chairman Armin Nack, and suddenly tax evaders were shaking in their boots. The court ruled that anyone found guilty of tax evasion to the tune of €1 million or more should be given a prison term without probation. When a Bavarian developer evaded paying taxes and social security contributions in the millions, the BGH confirmed that the man should be sent to prison. Suddenly, men and women with a little secret realized they could go to jail as quickly in real life as they could in the game of Monopoly.
Despite the high court's tough stance, however, little changed in the regional courts or the social structure of German prisons at first. Those incarcerated there still include offenders like the retiree from the northern state of Lower Saxony who unsuccessfully tried to blackmail a cosmetics company and was sent to prison for more than three years. Or the marriage swindler who bagged €375,000 and was sentenced to five-and-a-half years by a Munich regional court. And then there was a man who was given a three-year sentence for growing marijuana in his attic apartment, earning all of €17,000 in the process.
Ask any number of attorneys specializing in criminal tax offences and you will be told that none of them, supposedly, is familiar with any cases of higher-stakes tax evaders (in the millions) who are now likely to go to prison because of the BGH decision. That is, at least not when it comes to the classic pattern of hiding assets in Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Luxembourg, or failing to pay capital gains tax, as in Hoeness' case. No one in this class has gone to prison, and that includes the thousands of tax evaders whose names appeared on various CDs containing information on their offshore bank accounts. Former Deutsche Post CEO Zumwinkel, for example, owed €970,000 in back taxes, putting him just below the limit.
As much as the BGH may have startled and deterred people with its 2008 decision, the stark reality in German criminal tax evasion cases is that most cases don't even make it to trial. Instead, the tax authorities' offices in charge of penalties and fines settle the matters themselves. The rule of thumb is that cases involving €50,000 or less don't even reach the public prosecutor's office. The tax authority submits a petition for a penalty order, which the court then reviews, depending on the individual circumstances. In practice, this means that these cases are generally rubber-stamped.
The public prosecutor becomes involved when there is more than €50,000 at stake, but even then many cases end without charges being filed or penalty orders being issued. A quick penalty order is popular among tax investigators and public prosecutors because it enables them to increase their case numbers, which is good for their careers. For example, a regional tax authority in the Rhineland processed one of the many CDs containing data from Credit Suisse completely on its own.
And even if a public prosecutor does file charges, it still doesn't mean that he expects the case to go to trial. Even after the BGH decision, "70 to 80 percent of cases are still settled to avoid a public trial," says Munich tax attorney Jan Olaf Leisner. The few trials that normally materialize -- usually only with damages of €200,000 or more -- also end up being relatively short because agreements have often been reached in advance. "The judges, too, are literally begging for a pre-trial settlement negotiation," says an experienced tax attorney.
The parties negotiate for the usual reasons that lawyers invented the term "judicial economy." But in tax matters, the reasons are especially valid. The cases are complicated, which makes the legal situation confusing, so much so that it often exceeds the expertise of prosecutors and judges. On the other side are tax evaders determined to keep themselves and their names out of a courtroom -- and who can afford the best attorneys to do so, even when these experts bill them at daily rates of €3,500. Prosecutors still willing to battle with these specialists can quickly expect to see trials lasting 50 or 60 days. "If each of these cases went to trial, the legal system would be crippled, given current staffing levels," says tax union leader Eigenthaler.
In addition, the investigators are often reliant on help from the defendants, especially given the sheer volume of material involved. For example, the documents on HSBC Bank's Luxembourg division acquired by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are filled with dry data -- names, amounts, account numbers -- ranging from 1998 to 2004.
Merely being in possession of such data isn't enough to successfully prosecute a case. Prosecutors must prove that the defendant actually evaded taxes, as well as the amount involved. If they lack evidence, they can expect little assistance from their counterparts abroad, even today. But why should a culprit help prosecutors without a guarantee that he will not be doing time in a 10-square-meter cell with a steel toilet?
By establishing the €1-million threshold, the BGH judges in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe also imposed a strict restraint on prosecutors' room for negotiation, which they didn't exactly welcome. "It drew the public's attention to tax evasion," says the head of a law firm that focuses on white-collar crime. "But we didn't need the limit. It makes the whole thing that much more difficult for us."
What to do, for example, with a man who investigators in the western city of Bochum could only prove owed €100,000 in back taxes, but who then voluntarily disclosed another million that no one would otherwise have noticed? Should he be sent to prison? And a wealthy retiree who, well over 80 and ailing, was so cooperative that he gave investigators the current balance in his Swiss bank account? Lock him up?
'More Prison Sentences in the Future'
Given these issues, investigators have dealt with the BGH decision the way tax accountants deal with amendments to tax laws. They looked for creative ways to circumvent the hurdle presented by the €1-million threshold -- or better yet, to remain below it. The trick is to push the tax liability below the €1-million limit, a process attorneys call "tuning it down."
It means turning €2 million in back taxes into less than a million -- by both sides agreeing, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the legal situation is apparently unclear. Or that a portion of the tax liability must fall within a period that is already under the statute of limitations. Investigators have also been generous when it comes to possible grounds for leniency. But now the BGH has introduced clarity in the form of stricter guidelines. Today, when someone has evaded taxes on more than €1 million, even a confession is not necessarily treated as a mitigating circumstance, nor is the fact that a would-be tax offender used a tax accountant.
The BGH, for its part, is constantly fine-tuning its decision. It's what usually happens when a new principle is decreed from above and the lower courts continue to defend their old practices. But because the BGH is more powerful than the lower courts, things have indeed changed in practice, at least a little. "The penalty orders are getting higher," says Munich tax law attorney Christian Pelz, noting that investigators can now apply more pressure by simply citing the BGH decision. "People in the judiciary first had to internalize the BGH decision," says Düsseldorf tax expert Wessing. "But there will be more prison sentences in the future."
Wessing's calendar is his early warning system. There were times when he spent only 10 days a year in courtrooms, with everything else settled out of court. Last year, however, he spent 50 days in court. The Bochum public prosecutor's office, known for reaching high settlement amounts, has reportedly been informed by the regional court's criminal division that it no longer has as much room for negotiation, there must be more indictments and the court can no longer play along with settlement deals the way it has in the past.
Now, amid this delicate but difficult transition period, the Hoeness case has burst onto the scene. The status quo could have remained in place as long as only elderly, unknown small and mid-sized business owners were tried in the nation's courts instead of high-profile tax evaders. But the Hoeness case changed that.
He is unlucky enough to be one of Germany's most famous men, garnering his case public attention. If his voluntary declaration indeed fails to save him, everyone will pay close attention to if, how and why the numbers are finessed in the preliminary investigation, and to whether mitigating circumstances are found. This heightened attention would make any deal with the courts more difficult and perhaps even impossible. The real danger for Hoeness is that his case will become part of an end game that pits principle against practice, and the high court against the lower courts.
And when it comes to principles, the high court wants to see high-stakes tax evaders go to prison.
BY JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, CONNY NEUMANN, HORAND KNAUP, BARBARA SCHMID AND JÖRG SCHMIT
04/30/2013 05:19 PM
Fodder for the Front: German Jihadists on Syria's Battlefields
By Kurt Pelda
Jihadists from Germany are engaging in combat, and dying, on the side of the rebels in Syria. Authorities fear the young and inexperienced fighters will be radicalized before they return to Europe, assuming they survive at all.
A young man in his mid-twenties with a stubbly beard is driving a delivery van through the rubble-strewn streets of the northern Syrian town of Azaz. He speaks excellent German and calls himself Yousuf. The man in the passenger seat is around the same age and also sports a beard. He won't even reveal his first name, but he also speaks nearly perfect German.
"After we go back home, we don't want any problems with Germany's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies," says Yousuf. This also explains why the two men refuse to divulge what city in Germany they come from. "Before we entered Syria, the Turks had already put our passport information into their system," he adds. "They know exactly who we are. If they pass that on to the Germans, we're sunk, even though we're just here on a humanitarian mission."
A humanitarian mission? That's the euphemism foreign jihadists use when they try to explain their presence in Syria.
There are reportedly a few hundred Muslims from Western countries who are fighting alongside the rebels to topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. It's a relatively small number compared to the perhaps 100,000 insurgents in the country.
"We know that jihadists from Germany, who we have already been observing here at home, are currently in Syria and fighting there," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said last week. German intelligence agencies are primarily concerned that such men will be trained during the civil war and later return to the West as radicalized extremists -- assuming they survive.
'I've Come to Help my Muslim Brothers'
Jamal Mohamed Abd al-Kadir, a 24-year-old Canadian who was also in Azaz, often referred to his humanitarian mission -- before he was killed in battle. His family originally came from a village near the Kurdish-Syrian city of Afrin, but Abd al-Kadir grew up in Montreal. He was a university student when war erupted in Syria.
"Assad, this monster, is destroying his country and the entire world is merely watching," the young man with the wavy black hair exclaimed back in September. "That's why I've come here to help my Muslim brothers."
A photo from Abd al-Kadir's college days shows him at home, with his hair in a ponytail and wearing blue jeans. Nothing about him matched the usual image in the West of the hardcore jihadist. The brainwashing that he was subjected to in the Salafist battalions in northern Syria quickly produced the desired effect. Only a few weeks after he arrived in Syria, he said: "Your media in the West is constantly lying. You always talk about al-Qaida, but in reality it's your countries that are the real terrorists. They kill Muslim Afghans and Palestinians."
Later, Abd al-Kadir transferred to the radical Support Front for the People of Greater Syria, widely referred to as the Al-Nusra Front. "The people in the Support Front quickly realized that the Canadian was a clever fellow," says one of Abd al-Kadir's former fellow fighters. "And they always have a use for people like that. They brought him to Damascus, and that's where he was killed," he recalls, adding that "he was his parents' only son, and they had tried to convince him to drop the 'holy war' and come back home."
The 'Land of Sham'
The men of the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, who see their group as part of al-Qaida, are not particularly concerned about losses among their own ranks. In a small shop in Azaz, one of the group's commanders is sitting with a young Libyan who has just arrived.
First, he explains to the new arrival that in the Support Front they don't use the name "Syria," but rather the "Land of Sham." Both "Land of Sham" and "Greater Syria" are nationalist terms that refer to a geographical space covering nearly the entire Levant, which the fighters hope to transform into one big Islamic state.
Then the older man says to the younger one: "I hope that you will soon die in battle and go to paradise."
Many foreign jihadists are between the ages of 18 and 28 and of Arab descent, or at least from Muslim families -- and have no combat experience whatsoever. They are essentially cannon fodder. They come from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, from North Africa, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and North America. Most of them receive rudimentary training in camps, primarily in northern Syria.
The Libyans have a special status. Speaking via Skype, a physician from the western Libyan city of Zawiya talks about how he lost a relative in Syria. "When our young men leave Libya, they are very rarely radical Islamists," he says, "but when they return, we hardly recognize them anymore. They have been brainwashed."
Libya is without a doubt the most important source of arms for the Syrian resistance. For the Libyans, it's not about the prospect of exporting ideology or gaining strategic interests. Rather, they know what it means when a dictator is prepared to kill his own people.
Airfare for Kalashnikovs
The Libyan recruits nearly always take the same route to Syria: They fly with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Libyans require no visa to enter Turkey. From Istanbul, they catch a connecting flight to Antakya or Gaziantep, and then continue overland to border towns like Reyhanli and Kilis. They often receive help from Islamic networks.
"In Zawiya there is a Salafist sheikh of the most radical sort who is known all over town and helps them," says the Libyan physician. "Anyone who has no money to pay for the trip, " he contends, "brings along his Kalashnikov and hands it over to the sheikh's people" -- who then sell the weapon.
Although most foreign fighters in Syria are extremely young and inexperienced, there are a few veteran fighters. One of them is a 52-year-old Egyptian with a bushy beard. He would rather not mention his name, but he does talk about how he fought alongside the Afghan mujahedeen to expel the Soviets.
After his return from Afghanistan in 1992, he says he was arrested and imprisoned for 15 years under Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "In Syria, young people are forced to do everything they're told -- they can't freely choose their future," he says, referring to the lives of his Syrian brethren under Assad: "In Europe, though, young people are perfectly free to choose their own path in life."
In Europe, he believes, they could have a better chance of following the way of the Prophet Muhammad than in Syria under the dictator Assad. He says that there is more breathing room there, even for Islamists -- which is why he is waging jihad to make Syria a bit more like Europe.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
04/30/2013 08:17 PM
Royal Succession in Amsterdam: Holland Greets Its New King and Queen
By Gesa Mayr in Amsterdam
Following the succession of his mother Beatrix on Tuesday, Willem-Alexander became King of the Netherlands in a grand ceremony that drew royals from around the world and up to a million spectators. Most celebrated the coronation, but anti-monarchists also protested the historic day.
Breaking with tradition, the King of the Netherlands didn't bring an actual gift for his mother on Tuesday. Until then, the presentation of a gift during coronation ceremonies had been a tradition in the house of Oranje-Nassau. Queen Juliana gave her mother Wilhelmina a Military William Order, the highest honor of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And Beatrix gave her mother Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day, which has been celebrated ever since on every April 30th.
But Willem-Alexander still managed to give his mother the best possible present on Tuesday: a worthy farewell. "Dear Mother," he said in his speech. "As Queen you were fully conscious of the responsibilities attached to your position. You were utterly dedicated to the duties of your office. But you were also a daughter, a wife, a mother and head of the family. And you have always sought to do full justice to each of those responsibilities. Sometimes you felt torn, but you combined your many duties with great inspiration."
Willem-Alexander was alluding to difficult times during her reign as Queen. Street protests coincided with Queen Beatrix's coronation and many crises followed in the country. The speech also evoked memories of problems within the royal house itself, like when Willem-Alexander's father, Prince Claus, fell ill or when he himself became better known for his drinking escapades than for his competency as a prince. And it alluded to his brother Friso, who has been in a coma since a skiing accident in Austria in 2012. "Even in times of personal sorrow, you supported us all in the most loving and dependable manner," he added.
Long Applause for Beatrix
The remarks were followed by a very, very long applause, and the 75-year-old Queen had to fight to hold back tears. Both inside the Nieuwe Kerk church and outside on Dam Square, the people came to celebrate Beatrix in Amsterdam. It was a great contrast to her coronation 33 years ago when smoke bombs were thrown. But on Tuesday, the atmosphere was entirely positive inside the church. Thousands of spectators emerged on the square to watch the events, and at times the police were forced to close off the square. It was a good day to abdicate the throne and a good day to become the King of the Netherlands.
"De Koning!," "The King," the master of ceremonies said, greeting Willem-Alexander inside the church. Since 10:07 a.m., when his mother signed the Act of Abdication, the 46-year-old has been the King of the Netherlands.
The coronation ceremony was magnificent. Máxima wore royal blue and a tiara. Her cobalt dress had been specially made by Amsterdam designer Jan Taminiau, and Beatrix had provided her with the Mellorio sapphire tiara she wore, a family heirloom. King Willem II had ordered the tiara, which is encrusted with sapphires, for his wife Emma. Meanwhile, the king himself wore a tail coat and an ermine mantle, much to the chagrin of animal activists.
Beatrix also wore blue and a hat. She came across as relaxed, almost relieved, giving justice to her nickname "Princess Glimlach," or "Princess Smile". She cheerfully sat in the first row next to her granddaughters Amalia, Alexia and Ariane.
Tension could be seen in the faces of the new king and queen. Willem-Alexander was unusually serious and his wife Máxima seemed to be fighting to hold back tears. They held each others' hands very tightly.
Prince Charles and Camilla also traveled to the coronation, as well as princes and princesses from Denmark, Thailand and Qatar. Even Japan's Princess Masako, known for her public shyness, attended. However, only crown princes and princesses were invited. Protocol holds that the new king and queen must first be introduced to the other monarchs around the world before meeting other members of the royal families.
Willem-Alexander swore to protect the constitution of the Netherlands, to defend the country's independence and to promote the common good. Both the crown and the insignias remained untouched -- a custom that goes back to old times. The Netherlands had been a republic up until 1813.
Protests over Monarchy
Not everyone in Holland celebrated the country's new head of state on Tuesday. About 1.5 kilometers away from Dam Square, opponents of the monarchy protested at Waterlooplein square. A few dozen anti-royalists gathered at the site, all wearing white, the antithesis of orange, the royal color. Authorities gave no official estimates for attendance at protests in the city. City officials had made provisions to limit protests to six different sites, prompting organizers to call for individual protests. As individuals, they noted, people could not be stopped from protesting and showing their antipathy for the royals. Nevertheless, some individual protesters were pulled out of Dam Square by police in the end.
Ultimately, the royal succession cost €12 million. As king, Willem-Alexander will be paid €825,000 a year, tax-free. The protesters came armed with a number of similar figures. They claim it's undemocratic and that every person should be equal under the law.
As opponents of the monarchy handed out stickers calling for its abolishment, the royal entourage made it's way to the next event on the day's busy schedule. Tuesday evening, the new King of the Netherlands is to greet his people from onboard a ship. Then the party in Amsterdam will continue late into the night, with Dutch violinist André Rieu holding a concert together with his orchestra.
As for Princess Máxima, she will have to be a little more restrained in her role as queen and the king's wife. "She is conscious of the personal constraints her position sometimes entails," the king said in his coronation speech. "She stands ready to apply the full range of her abilities in the service of my reign and the Kingdom at large." And that, it must be said, is Máxima's gift to the new king.
What Queen Elizabeth can learn from Queen Beatrix
Britain's monarch enjoys huge popular support – but therein lies the royals' vulnerability. They should look to the Netherlands
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 April 2013 20.30 BST
Today the Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix, quietly abdicated in favour of her son. The Dutch people took to the streets with Orange joy. There were no republican riots, as there were when she took the throne in 1980. The inauguration of her son, Willem-Alexander, though in a church, took place without religious ceremony. The paraphernalia of monarchy – crowns, orbs and sceptres – remained firmly on the shelf. In Britain, the Guardian struggled mightily with its conscience but could not resist an approving editorial.
Comparing monarchies is as fruitless as comparing faiths. They are cut from the same tribal cloth. If ruthlessly examined, they yield only a tapestry of myth, romance and chauvinist pride. But they have remarkable potency. As a student I remember visiting Washington with a companion of fiercely leftwing republican opinion. An American suggested he must be embarrassed to be ruled by a hereditary queen. He seized the American by the collar and shouted, "Don't you insult my country!"
British monarchs do not abdicate voluntarily. At the time of the royal wedding last year a YouGov/Prospect poll showed 60% in favour of the Queen staying on even after her 85th birthday, and just 25% feeling she should step down. Indeed, abdication might imply there is more to the job than symbolic figurehead. The next step might be other tests of fitness and, before we know it, we have medicals, sackings and headhunters. The key to hereditary monarchy is to be devoid of superior legitimacy.
Yet we should watch the Dutch. They are the nearest mainland Europe gets to "honorary Brits". In the dark ages, Holland was the starting point of the Anglo-Saxon occupation of eastern England. One derivation of the word England comes from the angle between Holland and Denmark. Apart from their dire-sounding language, we are as one people.
The Dutch offered a focus and haven of resistance to the power of Holy Rome, of Hapsburgs and Bourbons. They were a federation of city states looking out to the open-minded sea rather than in to a European hinterland of suspicion and autocracy. Dutch trading posts, like British ones, were concerned with money, while the Portuguese, Spanish and French were concerned with church and territory. By the 17th century, says Simon Schama in his Embarrassment of Riches, the Dutch had the highest living standards and most advanced civilisation on Earth.
Though both Oliver Cromwell and Charles II fought a desultory war with the Dutch in the mid-17th century, it was a war of trade, not of peoples. Then came the seismic moment. The last king to conquer England was not William the Conqueror, as schoolchildren are taught, but William of Orange, in 1688. The toppling of James II for marrying a Catholic and fathering a son was a blatant military conquest, no less for being eventually unopposed.
William seized a foreign throne as a private individual in the name of his wife, Mary Stuart. The conquest was certainly welcomed, but it was a usurpation backed by no more than a letter cobbled together by William's London agent. Nor was his wife to be sole monarch. He would be king, and use England as a base to defend Holland against the French.
Lisa Jardine, in her book Going Dutch, points out how astute Britons can be in rewriting their history to suit their myths. The conquest was duly dubbed "the glorious revolution", and has been ever since. Its reality, however, is best seen in the great ceiling at the royal hospital in Greenwich, where William is depicted, every inch a potentate, crushing not the Stuart divine right of kings but Louis of France. As before, England was lucky in its choice of conquerors.
For all William's pomp, Dutch monarchs remained steadfastly bourgeois. The House of Orange were hereditary stadholders (city holders). They became kings with the Napoleonic wars in 1813, and even now are inaugurated, not crowned. Their subservience to the institutions of a civic, then democratic, state has long been total. As with all monarchical nations – mostly in northern Europe – it is this subservience that allowed them to survive. They remain monarchies because they are rich and stable; they are not rich and stable because they are monarchies.
Yet this stability is delicate. Figureheads must be just that, public celebrities in tune with the mood, style and outlook of their citizens. The Dutch are strongly egalitarian. Populists such as the late Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders amass serious followings and are not always royalists. The Edelman Trust Barometer recently indicated an extraordinarily low regard in the Netherlands for the ethics of government and business. This may explain why, though the Dutch are in revolt against euro-austerity, the cap on bank bonuses, slashing of public salaries and cuts to (elitist) cultural subsidies are popular. The country's politics is in disarray, with five elections in 11 years.
At such times, monarchy can benefit from a yearning for continuity and identity. But it takes only a scandal or a mishap to lead to a surge in anti-monarchist sentiment. The current fragility of the scandal-hit Spanish crown is a case in point. The popularity of Queen Beatrix was largely personal. Anti-monarchical outbursts attended the recent revelation of Willem-Alexander's Mozambique property venture. Heredity is always on borrowed time, borrowed from history.
I doubt if the British monarchy need worry about foreign experience. The last time the Commons voted on it after Britain's abdication crisis in 1936, when a republican motion got just five votes. Opposition to monarchy rose to nearly a third after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, but by the time of the royal wedding last year, abolitionism was down to 13%. The monarchy is like Apple. The shares do fine when there is a new product on the way – such as the forthcoming royal baby.
Yet monarchy must regularly recalibrate its ceremony, its call on the public's emotional support. The Dutch abdication showed an appealing informality. In Britain, where monarchy's one validation is in opinion polls, the Queen enjoys overwhelming popularity. But when she goes, someone should take a serious look at the coronation and its archaic mystique and ritual.
Democratic kingship may be medieval, irrational in its essence, but it remains extraordinarily modern in appeal. Therein lies its vulnerability. To stay modern requires constant course-correction. As the Dutch this week give monarchy a touch on the tiller, the British would do well to take note.
Pakistan: Court Bars Musharraf From Office for Life
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: April 30, 2013
A Pakistani court on Tuesday barred Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former military ruler, from running for public office for life. Judges had previously barred Mr. Musharraf from running in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11. The lifetime ban from Peshawar High Court came after an appeal by Mr. Musharraf’s lawyer to allow him to run in the coming elections. Mr. Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after four years in self-imposed exile.