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« Reply #6105 on: May 02, 2013, 06:17 am »


Netherlands: ‘May 4 is not for reconciliation’

Trouw,
2 May 2013

There will be no tributes paid to German soldiers during the Dutch national remembrance day on May 4, which commemorates Dutch citizens who died during the Second World War and in peace missions since 1945.

The national committee clarified its position to avoid confusion after a storm of protest during last year’s celebrations when it emerged that a 15-year old boy was due to recite a poem about his great-uncle, a member of the Nazi SS. After much debate, the committee banned the poem, recalls Trouw.
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« Reply #6106 on: May 02, 2013, 06:20 am »


European Elections: Reinforce the European Parliament, not the Commission

2 May 2013
Dagens Nyheter Stockholm

With what will likely be the automatic appointment of the next European Commission President, the result of May 2014 European elections should endow the Brussels executive with greater legitimacy. But is this desirable, wonders a Swedish columnist.

Annika Ström Melin

In Brussels, preparations for next year’s European elections are well underway. Some are expecting the moon and the stars and are already overwhelmed by euphoria. The most enthusiastic among them predict that the May 2014 vote will be a major milestone for democracy. All of the political groups in the European Parliament have been invited to nominate a candidate to be the next Commission President, and speculation as to who will be chosen is already in full swing.

Will Martin Schulz be the socialist candidate? Is it a provocation to present a list led by a German? Can the members of the PPE – the conservative and Christian democratic group – really choose Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and will he have to give up the leadership of Poland’s national government if they do?

Other questions are being asked: won’t people in today’s Europe be put off by the orthodox federalism espoused by liberal Guy Verhofstadt? Why are there so few women among the likely candidates? And José Manuel Barroso cannot really be planning to sign up for another five years, can he?

We are still hoping that the politicisation of the procedure for the appointment of the next Commission president will amount to a step forward for democracy.

The idea is not new. One of the most eminent specialists on the EU, British academic Simon Hix, the author of What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it (2008) – which has been reprinted several times – has long campaigned for just such a change.

Increasing politicisation

Taking the view that the current culture of consensus has dissuaded EU citizens from demanding more accountability, Hix advocates greater politicisation of EU decisions, and predicts that democracy will be reinforced by open competition between a greater number of candidates for the presidency of the European Commission.

Until now, the president of the European Commission was appointed by heads of state at tense meetings that concluded with shaky agreements on compromise candidates. Breaking with the tradition of secret deliberations behind closed doors will amount to a refreshing change.

However, the European democratic experiment that is now underway poses a multitude of questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. For example, will Martin Schulz lead the social democratic list in Sweden? No, because member states take on the role of voting constituencies in European elections, and that is why the candidates in Sweden will always be Swedes. But although Swedish citizens will not have the option of voting for Martin Schulz, that does not mean that he will not feature on the posters that are stuck up across the country if he becomes the European socialist candidate. This is, to say the least, confusing.

And how do we know what policies will be implemented? Martin Schulz is far more federalist in outlook than many Swedish social democrats, but how will voters know which political line they are supporting? All of this is far from clear.

Baffling electoral procedure

On a purely formal level, the electoral process is not crystal clear either. Under the terms of article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, the appointment of the president of the Commission will take into “account the elections to the European Parliament," but the candidate will be proposed by the European Council of national heads of state. All too complicated.

It is a safe bet that the 2014 election will be a disappointment. Political leaders will continue to have the last word. It is also worth wondering if the president of the Commission should be endowed with more democratic legitimacy, as though he or she was the leader of a national government?

The Commission is a supranational institution with extensive powers and numerous prerogatives. It alone has legislative initiative in the EU, and also benefits from the right of decision over certain European laws. As the body with a brief to supervise the implementation of EU legislation, it also has the power to initiate legal proceedings against countries that fail to abide the rules.

This method of designating the Commission president therefore runs the risk of having an impact that is contrary to its intended effect by increasing the concentration of powers and encouraging legitimate expectations of political action. Whereas in fact, the goal should be to limit and not to increase the influence of the Commission.

European democracy should be better anchored on a national level by reinforcing the role of the European Parliament. Yes, there should be more candidates in the race to succeed José Manuel Barroso and more public debate. But let’s not act as though the Commission was the government of the Union.


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« Reply #6107 on: May 02, 2013, 06:22 am »


Irish abortion bill accused of being misogynistic and offensive

Provision concerning pregnant women with suicidal thoughts condemned as taoiseach insists bill does not change law

Henry McDonald in Dublin
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 May 2013 14.22 BST   

Ireland's draft abortion legislation is offensive and misogynistic when it comes to dealing with women seeking terminations because they are suicidal, an international pro-choice organisation has said.

There has been a mixed reaction to the protection of life in pregnancy bill, which the Irish cabinet approved late on Tuesday night.

Under the proposed legislation, three consultants reviewing the case of a woman with suicidal thoughts while pregnant must all agree that a termination should proceed. There is provision for an appeal by the woman to three further consultants if the first trio does not approve the abortion. The appeal panel must also be unanimous in approval for a termination to be granted under law.

But Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights criticised that part of the bill, saying: "Imposing different standards for assessing threats to life for mental health reasons and threats to life for physical ailments runs contradictory to international medical standards and human rights norms. To suggest that women would fake suicidal tendencies to access abortion is not only deeply offensive and misogynistic, but also in stark violation of women's human right to be treated with dignity.

"The more barriers Ireland creates for women seeking legal abortion, the more likely women in crisis situations will opt to travel abroad than subject themselves to this humiliating process that the bill sets forth. This means that Ireland will continue to be in violation of its human rights obligation to make legal abortion accessible in practice."

Earlier on Wednesday the taoiseach, Enda Kenny, insisted at a government press briefing that the laws on abortion would not be fundamentally altered if the bill passes the Irish parliament.

Kenny said: "The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed. Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth.

"And the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the protection of maternal life bill will continue within the law, to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply in the future."

The Irish premier added that he was determined to reform the law on abortion without dividing the country. There are concerns within the main coalition party, Fine Gael, that any changes to the law risk splitting the party.

A number of Fine Gael backbenchers, particularly those from more conservative, rural constituencies have expressed disquiet about abortion law reform. Fine Gael has come under sustained pressure from anti-abortion groups who have targeted the party reminding many of them that they pledged to be "pro life" and defend the rights of unborn children before the 2011 general election.


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« Reply #6108 on: May 02, 2013, 06:25 am »


Italy: new kid on the block

Enrico Letta's task domestically is not an easy one - and he faces the danger that his government will be short-lived

Editorial
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 May 2013 23.10 BST   

Angela Merkel, whose austerity-driven stewardship of the debt crisis in the eurozone sealed the fate of two centre-left leaders in Europe – José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero and George Papandreou – wished Enrico Letta, the new boy on the European block, a "truly lucky hand". He will need it. Italy's latest prime minister went to Berlin on Tuesday with a heartfelt message: that Europe faced a crisis of legitimacy at the very moment when its citizens needed it the most.

No one looking at the latest opinion polls could disagree with him, but the German chancellor stuck to the script that budget cuts and growth were not contradictory. She should heed Letta's plea to give Italy room for manoeuvre to deliver growth. By this he could mean a relaxation of the deficit targets, which are just under the 3% of GDP ceiling. Size alone dictates respect. Being the eurozone's third-largest economy, Italy has got more chance of being listened to than Greece or Spain. Mr Letta's task domestically is not an easy one. He heads what the Germans would call a grand coalition, dominated by Italy's two biggest mainstream parties – Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) – and Mario Monti's Civic Choice. Left and right do not exert equal pressure on a centre-left premier.

If Mr Letta calculates he can make concessions on his own party's agenda, the same is not true about the compromises he will demand from the PdL. He knows that Mr Berlusconi, who is not in cabinet but exerts a big influence over it, will pull the plug on the government as soon as he knows he has the votes. Mr Letta should at least be well-informed of Mr Berlusconi's intentions. His uncle, Gianni Letta, is one of Mr Berlusconi's trusted advisers.

Mr Letta has started well – in Mr Berlusconi's eyes – by suspending a planned increase in sales tax and a housing levy. But unlike Mr Berlusconi, he knows that growth will not be stimulated by tax cuts alone. And so he has to find other means, while filling a budget hole between €10bn and €12bn. Both left and right have a vested interest in blocking reforms, such as streamlining Italy's parliamentary model and abolishing the provinces. Much depends on how disciplined his own party is. Splits in it could feed Mr Berlusconi's own calculations on when next to strike.

Mr Letta starts with some advantages. Borrowing costs have fallen to their lowest levels in three years. But France, the second stop on his European tour, is an object lesson in what to avoid. Mr Hollande is suffering now from the wildly optimistic growth assumptions he made before his election. Mr Letta will have to have his feet more firmly on the ground. The danger remains that, through no fault of his own, his government is short-lived.
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« Reply #6109 on: May 02, 2013, 06:30 am »


Golden Dawn food rally raises tensions in Athens

• Far right party to distribute treats to 'Greeks only'
• Officials fear damage to country's image abroad

Helena Smith in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 May 2013 19.22 BST   

The mayor's office in Athens is poised for a major stand-off over food handouts in Syntagma square on Thursday after the far-right Golden Dawn party vowed to press ahead with the distribution of Easter treats to "Greeks only" amid mounting European pressure for the group to be outlawed.

Pledging to defy a ban by the capital's mayor, the extremists said they would go ahead with the handout of traditional Orthodox Easter fare, including lamb and eggs, to Greeks afflicted by draconian austerity.

"It is food that is aimed for the thousands of Greek families blighted by the genocidal policies of the memorandum," said the party, referring to the loan agreement Athens has signed with international creditors to keep the debt-crippled country afloat.

The neo-fascist organisation said the event was aimed solely at those Greeks who could not afford to enjoy Easter because of budget cuts and record levels of unemployment.

"Priority will be given to families with three or more children," it said in a statement. "We remind the mayor that in Greece we still have a democracy."

Catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last June, the ultra-nationalists have seen their support surge by deftly playing on popular dissatisfaction over policies blamed for poverty.

A Hamas-style distribution campaign of food and clothes for the needy has topped the party's outreach programme – and increasingly added to its appeal. Polls show the group now firmly entrenched as Greece's third biggest political force.

The ascent of the far right has embarrassed Greek officials, with the coalition government accused of not doing enough to stem a rise in racially motivated attacks in recent months. Athens' left-leaning mayor Giorgos Kaminis, a progressive on immigration issues, has led the drive to deflect the criticism.

In a statement he said: "We are making it absolutely clear that the city of Athens views the planned gathering tomorrow as illegal and it will do whatever is required for it not to take place."

A similar, Greek-only food drive last year was met with applause and widespread attendance.

Emboldened by their growing popularity, the far-right party have also conducted "Greek only" blood drives around the country and taken, increasingly, to storming state-run hospitals to root out foreign staff.

Last week, protesters who gathered outside a hospital in Tripoli, in the southern Peloponnese, were attacked when they attempted to demonstrate against Golden Dawn members collecting blood. A journalist recording the event was brutally beaten, according to witnesses.

With Greece beginning to convey a semblance of stability after three years at the centre of Europe's great economic crisis – and the country preparing for a bumper tourist season – Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' coalition is keen that Athens' image abroad is not further sullied by supporters of a party whose leadership denies the Holocaust and whose symbol resembles the swastika.

The determination of authorities to stop Thursday's food drive comes on the back of a withering report by the EU's human rights commissioner, which for the first time raises the prospect of the extremist group being banned.

Using language rarely deployed by an EU official, the commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, described Golden Dawn as a "neo-Nazi and violent political party". His 32-page report, compiled after a visit to Greece earlier this year, called for the party to be prohibited under legally binding international human rights conventions signed by the country.

The commissioner said local authorities had the right to curb or sanction individuals who actively support or engage in hate crimes under treaties including the European convention on human rights.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch warned that xenophobic violence had reached "alarming proportions" in parts of Greece and accused authorities of failing to do enough to stop the attacks.

Thousands of anti-austerity protesters marked May Day, gathering in front of the sandstone building that houses the Greek parliament in Syntagma square.

In contrast to other demonstrations, the protests were peaceful. But the patience of austerity-weary Greeks is wearing thin.

Analysts speak of the risk of unpredictable events shattering the fragile calm. With both Golden Dawn and municipal authorities digging in their heels, officials were tonight praying that Thursday's food drive would not be the trigger.

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

May 1, 2013

Greeks Strike Against Austerity as World Observes Labor Day

By NIKI KITSANTONIS and ALAN COWELL
IHT

ATHENS — As workers around the world observed the international Labor Day holiday with demonstrations and rallies, thousands of Greeks walked off their jobs on Wednesday in the second general strike against government austerity measures this year, shutting down tax offices, leaving state hospitals to operate with emergency employees and disrupting public transportation.

The Greek protest came as workers in Asia, including Bangladeshis infuriated by the lethal collapse of a garment factory, demonstrated in cities including the capitals of Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. In Istanbul, riot police officers sprayed throngs of people with water and tear gas as they gathered for a rally, defying an official ban.

Labor unions in Spain called for rallies in more than 80 cities, news reports said, while protests were also scheduled in Portugal. In France, the bitterly divided labor movement called for hundreds of demonstrations across the country, with rival union confederations holding separate marches.

But, initial reports said, most protests went off quietly, including those in Athens.

On the streets of Paris, the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, held its annual May 1 march through the city center, seeking to draw support from disaffected voters at a time when French growth has faltered, unemployment is at record levels and the Socialist government is caught between demands from the right for greater cuts in public spending and complaints from the left that it is not socialist enough.

Ms. Le Pen’s supporters waved French red, white and blue flags outside the Palais Garnier opera house in central Paris. She said the country was “sinking in an absurd policy of endless austerity.”

Inveighing against the influence of big business, the European Union in general and Germany in particular, she ascribed French woes to “always saying yes to Brussels; to Berlin, of course; and in all circumstances to the magnates of high finance.” The crowd seemed smaller than it was a year ago, when the country was seized with election fever. Since then, however, many Europeans have sensed a deepening malaise with no prospect of a rapid return to a sense of well-being.

Such are Europe’s woes that the newly elected Pope Francis urged business and political leaders on Wednesday to do more to create jobs.

“And here I think of the difficulties that, in various countries, today afflict the world of work and businesses,” he told tens of thousands of people gathered for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice,” the pope said. “I wish to extend an invitation to solidarity to everyone, and I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment.”

The nationwide walkout in Greece was called by the country’s two main labor unions, which represent two and a half million workers and have led resistance to three years of economic overhauls that have cut salaries and pensions while increasing taxes.

With public anger giving way to resignation after a seemingly inexorable cycle of belt tightening in exchange for foreign rescue loans, the unions called for mass participation in the strike to protest “a catastrophic austerity drive” that has driven unemployment above 27 percent — the highest rate in the European Union — and to slightly less than 60 percent among those younger than 25.

The unions’ appeal failed to draw a large crowd, however, with about 10,000 Greeks taking to the streets of the capital, according to police estimates, for a demonstration that was both peaceful and one of the smallest in recent months. “There were no problems,” a police spokesman said as roads reopened to traffic and municipal garbage trucks swept discarded protest leaflets and coffee cups.

Although the strike brought much of Greek daily life to a halt on Wednesday, public transit services were running on a limited basis to allow Greeks to join rallies. In Athens, as in other major cities, police units were out in force to guard against violence that has marred demonstrations near the Parliament building in the past.

Ferries remained in ports and trains in depots, but flights operated normally because air traffic controllers did not join the strike.

The strike came just a few days after officials in the euro zone approved the release of 2.8 billion euros, or $3.7 billion, in rescue financing for Greece after Parliament ratified a new raft of economic reforms, including a politically contentious decision to lay off 15,000 civil servants by the end of next year.

The financing had been due in March but was delayed after talks between the government and officials of Greece’s troika of foreign lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — broke down over the troika’s demands for the civil service cuts.

The country’s governing coalition, which has come under strain as it pushes its painful austerity agenda, must now enforce agreed-upon measures, laying off 2,000 civil servants by the end of June and pushing forward a stalled project to privatize state assets. It faces strong opposition by its main political rival, the leftist party Syriza, which wants Greece to renege on its loan agreement with the troika and is neck and neck in opinion polls with the conservative New Democracy, the head of the shaky three-party coalition.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have extended to Greece two foreign bailouts worth $317 billion over the past three years, meting out the aid in installments in exchange for austerity measures and overhauls.

Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article overstated the effect of the worker strike in Greece. Schools were already closed for the Greek Orthodox Easter break; they did not close because of the strike.


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« Reply #6110 on: May 02, 2013, 06:43 am »


A guide to the Pakistan election

Simon Tisdall assesses the electoral landscape, the process, the key players and possible game-changers in the 11 May poll

Simon Tisdall   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 May 2013 12.46 BST   

Pakistan's general election on 11 May will mark the first time a democratically elected government in the country has been succeeded by another. Since independence from Britain in 1947, civilian rule has been repeatedly overturned by military coups, the last led by President-General Pervez Musharraf who held power from 1999 until 2008, when democracy was restored.

The election is also remarkable for its unpredictability following a significant constitutional devolution of central government power in 2010 under the presidency of Asif Ali Zardari, and the linked development a more open, freer public discourse. Demographic pressures, economic and security worries, the advent of social media, and numerous new challenges to the hegemony of the established parties have added to the uncertainty.

The electoral landscape

Pakistan's population totals roughly 190 million, of whom an estimated two-thirds are under 30. About 92 million of the total are adults aged 18 or over, and of them, 84.4 million are registered voters. An estimated 40 million young Pakistanis will be eligible to vote for the first time. The absence of a recent census, large-scale, ongoing shifts in population from the countryside to the cities, and a lack of reliable nationwide opinion polls and polling data mean that any predictions are mostly guesses.
Pakistan population estimates by age group

The issues that may shape the outcome are more clear-cut. Pakistan's economy has been battered by three years of successive floods from 2010 to 2012 that damaged the country's agricultural heartlands. Energy cuts are endemic, with some rural areas receiving only four hours of electricity a day. Clean water and food, adequate education and healthcare remain beyond the reach of many Pakistanis. Crime and unemployment are big issues in the cities.

A low or no-skill workforce, low productivity, lack of competitiveness, poor infrastructure, unaffordably high public spending, lack of foreign investment, endemic corruption and physical insecurity combine to threaten the prospects of future generations. Foreign exchange reserves are falling, the fiscal deficit is rising, and IMF bailout help is again being sought. Little wonder the government is all but broke; in Pakistan, less than 1% of the population is registered to pay income tax.
The process

Pakistan's elections largely follow the Westminster first-past-the post system, although 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities and allocated by PR. Candidates on 11 May will seek seats in the lower chamber of national assembly and in the four provincial assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province).
Pakistan map

A total of 172 out of 272 directly elected seats is required for a governing majority in the national assembly, although no single party is expected to achieve that. At present a caretaker government is in place. An independent election commission has been created to oversee the polls, and outside organisations such as the EU have agreed to send observers. Most commentators expect the election to produce another coalition government after a possibly prolonged period of wrangling.

Concern has been expressed about the reliability of electoral rolls given rapid population shifts and the possibility of deliberate fraud. Some voter lists have been computerised for the first time. Intimidation of voters by extremist religious or separatist groups is another worry.

Five terrorist attacks since 11 Apri have killed 24 people, including lethal bomb explosions at election rallies in Peshawar and Khuzdar.

The players

Pakistan election: Asif Ali Zardari

• The centre-left, secular Pakistan People's party (PPP) of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, remains Pakistan's foremost political force. It led the outgoing government in coalition with other parties, controls the Sindh assembly, and participates in ruling coalitions running all the other provinces bar Punjab. Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, holds the presidency (he is due to stand down in September), and their son, Bilawal, is the party's new leading light. But the PPP is expected to pay a price for governmental failures and could fall foul to a US-style "throw the bums out" mood among disillusioned voters.

Pakistan election: Nawaz Sharif

• The conservative, right-leaning PML-N, or Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is led by Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister ousted in 1999 by Musharraf and the only figure outside the PPP with tested national appeal. Sharif could do well. All the same, the PML-N remains based principally in its Punjab stronghold, where Nawaz's brother, Shahbaz, is chief minister, and it is unclear how well it is placed to withstand the challenges presented by iconoclastic new entrants, especially Imran Khan (below).
Pakistan election: Imran Khan

• Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is an insurgent new party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan, which has tapped into popular anger and frustration with the main parties. Making good use of social media and public rallies, the party strongly opposes the US alliance, campaigns for an end to American drone strikes, and has adopted a conservative profile favouring an "Islamic democratic welfare state". But its ability to translate street-level success into parliamentary seats is as yet untested.

• The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is a leading religious party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood that boycotted the 2008 elections but is taking part this time on an Islamist-nationalist platform. It is a member of the Defence of Pakistan Council that includes other conservative parties such as PTI and leaders of the Punjab-based, nominally-banned Lashkar-e-Taiba. It is to be differentiated from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-e-Fazl (JUI-F), a clerical party that was part of the MMA coalition of religious parties that was defeated in 2008, but still exercises limited influence.

• Other parties include the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), originally formed by Urdu-speaking migrants from present-day India known as Mohajirs; the Awami National party (ANP), a secular Pashtun nationalist grouping which control Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the Baluchistan National party-Mengal (BNP), which advocates greater autonomy for Baluchistan; the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, comprising former supporters of Musharraf; and Musharraf's new All Pakistan Muslim League, which appears still-born following his arrest.

Game-changers

Pakistan election: General Ashfaq Kayani

• The military: so far the army appears to have stayed out of the election process, fulfilling a pledge of non-interference by the chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani (pictured). If true, this marks a change from the past, when the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency covertly encouraged political proxies to further their own agendas. The military remains Pakistan's single most powerful institution. But tarnished by the unpopular Musharraf, and in the context of a more open, less controlled public discourse, it has been forced to tread more carefully.

Pakistan election: Iftikhar Chaudhry

• The judiciary: activist judges led by the supreme court chief justice, Iftikar Chaudhry (pictured), have succeeded in freeing themselves from governmental control since the Musharraf period, when many were arrested. Chaudhry is a self-styled champion of democratic legal rights and while he has sometimes over-reached, he has made judicial independence an uncomfortable reality for politicians. Pakistan's last two prime ministers were both bested by the supreme court. Now Musharraf has fallen foul of the court, too. If post-election legal disputes ensue, it is possible the next government will require Chaudhry's blessing.

Pakistan election: Taliban members

• Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP): The Pakistani Taliban are committed to the forcible overthrow of secular, pro-western governance and the establishment of an Islamist state based on sharia law – and they will wreck the elections if they can. Although a minority, Pakistan's connivance with the US-led Nato campaign in Afghanistan, and the resulting violent overspill (including the killing of Osama bin Laden), has fed the TTP cause. Other extreme political, religious and separatist groups threaten disruption in Baluchistan, where turnout is usually low as a result of intimidation, in Lahore, Karachi, and in the lawless Federally-Administered Tribal Territories (Fata), where organising any kind of vote is highly problematic.
The Facebook election?

Social media including Twitter and Facebook are having an impact, albeit unquantifiable, on the election, especially among affluent younger voters. According to one study, Imran Khan's new PTI party is leading the way. PTI's website is one of the top 160 most visited in Pakistan, with the older parties trailing far behind. Facebook is the most frequently visited website in the country. But the digital revolution has some way to go. Fewer than one in 10 Pakistanis enjoy internet access, one of the lowest penetration rates in the world.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
05/02/2013 01:26 PM

From Playboy to Radical: Imran Khan Takes on Pakistan's Old Guard

By Susanne Koelbl

Cricket world champion and former playboy Imran Khan found his way to Islam through a mystic. Now he wants to become Pakistan's prime minister and free his country of corruption and the Americans.

Imran Khan comes out of his room, wearing old athletic shoes, a worn sweater and sweatpants, even though he is about to meet with top officials from his party. "Appearances aren't that important to me," he says. When asked if that applies to politics as well as sports, he replies, "To everything." Imran Khan follows his own rules.

Rule No. 1: You can only lose if you give up.

Rule No. 2: If you don't give up, you're unbeatable.

A professional cricket player for 21 years, Khan was one of the world's most successful athletes. And now, at 60, he is the current star in the campaign for Pakistan's national elections on May 11. According to the polls, he is already more popular than the president and the prime minister combined.

Khan is battling the extremely powerful system of the established parties, and in doing so is upending Pakistani politics. He wants to ensure that large landowners pay taxes in the future, make peace with the Taliban and insurgent Pashtuns and remove the country from the Americans' sphere of influence, a popular position in a nation where anti-Americanism is so pronounced. He also wants Pakistan to reconcile with its neighbor India and with Iran, as a potential future nuclear power. In short, Khan wants to do everything differently than all other Pakistani governments in the 65 years since the country gained independence.

In 1992 Khan, then captain of the national cricket team, won one of those rare moments of pride and glamor in the history of his country when he led the team to victory in the World Cup against England. The victory cemented his fame.

Now Khan's party office is in a separate bungalow next to his house high above Islamabad. Seven men await him there, some wearing nice suits and others in polo shirts or traditional garments. One of them is former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a longstanding supporter of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007.

Khan's Pakistan Movement for Justice Party, or Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), aims to attack the country's self-righteous elites, easy targets in a complicated country largely dominated by the military, in which citizens are constantly exposed to exploitation by the rich and powerful as well as to the deadly violence of extremists and separatists. To make matters worse, Pakistan now faces the renewed threat of national bankruptcy.

Taking on Corruption

It sounds like a curse when Khan, in his smoky voice, describes in his campaign speeches how he intends to run the corrupt people in power out of office, the people who are looting the country and yet live in shameless luxury. He has published basic information about his own assets, as well as his last tax return, on his party website, and all of his top officials are required to do the same. Khan says he is not one for compromises, and that if he doesn't become prime minister, he'll enter the opposition. He vows that he will not form a coalition with his political rivals.

Khan is sitting in the front of the car, in the passenger seat, on the road to Lahore. He says the same thing every day, to himself, to his fellow party members and to journalists: "We will win. I know we will." He behaves as if his visions were almost a reality, and are in fact unstoppable. Recently, at a large rally, he used his smartphone to tweet: "Overwhelming! N (former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) and PPP (the Pakistan People's Party) need to know! Change is already here! No one can stop the PTI tsunami!"

On this particular Saturday morning, he looks a little worse for the wear. His dark hair is thinning on the back of his head, but he still has charisma. No other politician in Pakistan can bring such large crowds into the streets. Khan looks like a cross between rock star and Robin Hood as he steps up to the microphone in his leather jacket and turned-up collar. "We can collect 3,000 billion rupees (€23 billion, or $30 billion) in taxes. We need no help from abroad. We would rather die than beg," he proclaims.

He maintains a presence in the streets, and he has a Facebook page. For weeks, Khan has been traveling all over Pakistan, usually by car, giving speeches in places like Faisalabad and Toba Tek Singh. He dispenses with bodyguards, an exception in this country where top politicians receive death threats and many are murdered.

"I feel the same enthusiasm I felt going into the World Cup in 1992," Khan tweets. "It's back again today, but now it's getting more intense the closer we get to the day we change the fate of our country."

But all indications are that Khan will not in fact assume power. The political system is controlled by the established parties. According to election forecasts, the PTI is likely to come in second or even third place. Foreign diplomats are already paying visits to the former and presumably next prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, anxious to be in favor with the right man.

In the end, Khan's popularity probably won't be enough, because the dynasties, consisting of a few dozen families, use the old parties to ensure that they remain in power. Party members enjoy lifelong benefits, and the closer an official is to the old guard -- at the feeding trough, so to speak -- the more he personally benefits.

These are the methods of President Asif Ali Zardari's PPP, but also of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Even minor supporters can hope for crumbs: government contracts, jobs, a little money. This is still better than nothing in a country that has no functioning social network aside from the one fueled by corruption. This is why outsiders like Khan, people who want to upend the system, hardly stand a chance.

'You Learn to Fight'

Khan shrugs his shoulders. He believes in himself, in God and in his success, and that God wants him to succeed. He isn't worried about the polls. When in doubt, he turns to his second rule: "If you don't give up, you're unbeatable."

Cricket and politics have little in common, says Khan. But there is one thing they share, he adds, and it's important: "You learn to fight, and to pull yourself up after setbacks, analyze the situation and go on the offensive again." The veteran athlete's eyes seem to twinkle behind his sunglasses.

Pakistanis are captivated by Khan's charm. In March, 100,000 people turned up at a rally in Iqbal Park in Lahore, forming a sea of people in the provincial capital of the Punjab, normally a stronghold of his rival Sharif. The fans waited for hours to see Khan in person, fighting for seats near the front, desperate to touch him, shake his hand or sit next to him for a second.

How important are his looks in Pakistani politics? Khan smiles. Yes, he says, some were indeed envious of him in the past. And of course he knows that his looks are still a factor today.

Khan is back in Islamabad. He has a theory. He says that he wants to end the fighting in the tribal regions of northwest Pakistan within 90 days, and that this would be the key to peace in Pakistan. Khan himself is a Pashtun and has ancestors that came from the so-called tribal belt, the semi-autonomous region in northwestern Pakistan populated almost entirely by Pashtuns.

The Pashtuns in the region see the Pakistanis as America's mercenaries, says Khan. The government takes money from the United States, and in return the Americans are given free rein to wage war in Pakistan. Their drones fire missiles at terrorists in the tribal regions, often killing civilians. Tribal leaders don't believe that the Americans are truly fighting terror. Instead, they are convinced that they want to destroy Islam. That's why the Pashtuns have now joined forces with al-Qaida and the Taliban to combat the Pakistani government. "We'll solve our problem when we part ways with the Americans," Khan claims.

Rivals accuse him of being a terrorist in disguise, a secret weapon for the Taliban. Others say he is the army's candidate, especially after the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, who had just returned from exile, endorsed the former cricketer. Khan has already had three meetings with the former head of the notorious Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

It is certainly true that Khan has a great deal of understanding for the insurgent Pashtuns. He is also on good terms with military leaders.

From Jetsetter to Recluse

He is tall and light-skinned, likes to wear jeans and speaks the sophisticated English he learned at Oxford. In the 1980s, he was friendly with celebrities like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall. Acquaintances described his apartment in downtown London as a mixture between a hippy pad and a harem tent. He says that he has enjoyed the life of a bachelor to the fullest.

Today Khan lives with his four dogs in the gently sloping mountains of Bani Gala, above Rawal Lake near Islamabad. "It's the ultimate place for me," he says. He doesn't drink, he prays five times a day, and his meetings with fellow party members are never attended by a woman. His marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, the beautiful daughter of a British billionaire, ended in divorce nine years ago. She left him, he says, because she couldn't live in Pakistan. Khan speaks of her as if she had just left the villa, surrounded by orange groves, five minutes ago.

Khan's path from jetsetter to recluse began in 1985, after his mother died of cancer. "No one was as close to me as she was," says Khan. He became obsessed with raising money around the world to establish Pakistan's first modern cancer hospital, in Lahore, which now treats the poor for free. He also met Mian Bashir, a Sufi mystic.

One day, when they were having lunch together at a friend's house, Bashir told Khan that when he was a child, his mother had read a specific Sura from the Koran to him every evening. Bashir saw and knew things that a person shouldn't actually be able to know, says Khan. In all the years after their first meeting, he adds, Bashir was never wrong, even when, unfortunately, he predicted Khan's separation from Jemima.

What exactly is a victory? Khan probably won't win this election, but he has already changed the country. Officials have to be elected in his party, in contrast to the standard practice of being appointed on the basis of loyalty and enthusiasm.

As Khan and his fellow party members sit on the terrace, a servant brings them platters of vegetables, rice, beans and salad. They chat and laugh together. If it doesn't work this time he'll continue the fight, says Khan. You can only lose if you give up.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #6111 on: May 02, 2013, 06:47 am »

UN rapporteur: India’s laws not tough enough on violence against women

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 16:54 EDT

India’s new sex crime laws do not go far enough to protect women or tackle gender inequality, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women said on Wednesday.

The legislation was passed following the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in mid-December that sparked nationwide demonstrations over the lack of safety for women.

New measures passed by Indian lawmakers in March increased punishments for sex offenders to include the death penalty if a victim dies, and broadened the definition of sexual assault.

But Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, said the laws were still not tough enough.

She told a news conference it was unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive framework “to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost”.

Her comments echoed those of other Indian women’s activists who praised the intent of the legislation but said it still had huge holes.

Campaigners are unhappy about lawmakers’ refusal to criminalise marital rape or increase the punishment for acid attacks on women from a minimum seven-year jail term.

The UN official, who toured several Indian states to obtain first-hand reports about violence against women, said she would release her findings to the world body next year.

She said she had heard on her 10-day visit about “sexual violence, domestic violence, cast-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour” and other offences.

She quoted one person on her trip as describing violence against women as spanning the “life cycle from womb to the tomb”.

Her trip came in the wake of a call in December by UN rights chief Navi Pillay for India to help rid itself of the “scourge” of rape after the 23-year-old bus victim died of injuries inflicted by six drunken men.

Manjoo said demonstrations in the wake of her death seemed not to have had any effect in curbing sex crimes.

“Sexual violence and harassment in India is (still) widespread, and is perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace,” she said.

“There is a generalised sense of insecurity in public spaces, amenities, transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.”

A total of 228,650 incidents of crime against women were reported in India during 2011 as compared to 213,585 the previous year, according to the latest figures of the government’s National Crime Records Bureau.

Manjoo said women belonging to minority Muslim and Christian communities are also subjected to “indiscriminate attacks” during religious rioting in India.

“This issue is of particular concern to many as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity in the Gujarat riots of 2002,” she said.

The anti-Muslim riots in the western state left more than 2,000 mainly Muslim people dead in an orgy of violence and arson, according to rights groups. The Gujarat government puts the death toll at about 1,000.

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« Reply #6112 on: May 02, 2013, 06:50 am »

Textile factories reopen after Bangladesh disaster

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 2, 2013 7:15 EDT

Bangladesh’s textile industry reopened for business on Thursday following an eight-day shutdown triggered by the collapse of a factory compound that killed at least 427 people, employees said.

Millions of staff began returning to their workplaces around the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka where they usually churn out clothing for top Western retailers such as Walmart and H&M, but which have closed since last Wednesday’s disaster.

“All factories have opened today and the workers have returned to work,” said Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

“We don’t have any reports of protests or violence,” he told AFP.

Workers walked out en masse on April 24 following the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza compound in a northwestern suburb of Dhaka, the latest in a string of deadly disasters to hit the $20 billion industry.

There have been a series of attacks on factories over the last week and anger over the conditions of garment workers — many of whom earn less than 40 dollars a month — was the main focus of May Day rallies on Wednesday.

Some three million people are employed in the country’s 4,500 textile plants which are a mainstay of the impoverished country’s economy. The shutdown is estimated to have the industry about $25 million a day, according to Azim.

Police confirmed that there had so far been no reports of further violence overnight.

“So far the situation is peaceful,” said Shymal Mukherjee, deputy police chief of Dhaka district told AFP.

Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had urged employees to return to work and criticised reported attacks on some factories.

She called on workers to stay calm, “keep mills and factories operative, otherwise you will end up losing your jobs”.

Army spokesman Major Mahmud, who uses one name, told AFP that 17 more bodies had been recovered from the rubble of the collapsed building overnight, raising the confirmed death toll to 427.

The overall toll is expected to top 500 as officials said on Wednesday that 149 people were still unaccounted for.

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China and the industry accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports and more than 40 percent of its industrial workforce.

**********

May 1, 2013

Some Retailers Rethink Role in Bangladesh

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
IHT

Ever since a building with garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh last week, killing more than 400 people, Western apparel companies with ties to the country have scrambled to address public concerns about working conditions there.

Benetton repeatedly revised its accounts of goods produced at one of the factories, while officials at Gap, the Children’s Place and other retailers huddled to figure out how to improve conditions, and some debated whether to remain in Bangladesh at all.

At least one big American company, however, had already decided to leave the country — pushed by the last devastating disaster, a fire just six months ago that killed 112 people.

The Walt Disney Company, considered the world’s largest licenser with sales of nearly $40 billion, in March ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh. A Disney official told The New York Times on Wednesday that the company had sent a letter to thousands of licensees and vendors on March 4 setting out new rules for overseas production.

Less than 1 percent of the factories used by Disney’s contractors are in Bangladesh, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The company’s efforts had accelerated because of the November fire at a factory that labor advocates asserted had made Disney apparel. The Disney ban also extends to other countries, including Pakistan, where a fire last September killed 262 garment workers.

Disney’s move reflects the difficult calculus that companies with operations in countries like Bangladesh are facing as they balance profit and reputation against the backdrop of a wrenching human disaster.

Bangladesh has some of the lowest wages in the world, its government is eager to lure Western companies and their jobs, and many labor groups want those big corporations to stay to improve conditions, not cut their losses and run.

But as the recent string of disasters has shown, there are great perils to operating there.

“These are complicated global issues and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” said Bob Chapek, president of Disney Consumer Products. “Disney is a publicly held company accountable to its shareholders, and after much thought and discussion we felt this was the most responsible way to manage the challenges associated with our supply chain.”

The public disclosure of Disney’s directive came two days after officials from two dozen retailers and apparel companies, including Walmart, Gap, Carrefour and Li & Fung, met near Frankfurt with representatives from the German government and nongovernment organizations to try to negotiate a plan to ensure safety at the more than 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh.

With 3.6 million garment workers and more than $18 billion in apparel exports last year, Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China.

Walmart, Gap and other companies said on Wednesday that they were already taking action, including paying for Bangladesh factory managers to be trained in fire safety. But labor advocacy groups are pushing them to do more, especially to help finance factory improvements like fire escapes.

“Companies feel tremendous pressure now,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory-monitoring group based in Washington. “The apparel brands and retailers face a greater level of reputation risk of being associated with abusive and dangerous conditions in Bangladesh than ever before.”

On Wednesday, thousands of people continued to gather around the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. As emergency personnel dug through the rubble for yet another day, many relatives of the missing carried signs, holding out diminishing hope that a loved one would be found. A mass burial of unclaimed bodies was conducted as the death count climbed above 400.

In Rome, Pope Francis voiced sympathy for Bangladeshi garment workers on Wednesday, saying he was shocked to learn that many of them earned just $40 a month. “This is called slave labor,” he said.

European Union officials called for immediate safety improvements, and said they were considering changes in Bangladesh’s duty-free and quota-free status to encourage more responsible management by the country’s garment industry.

With some labor groups urging Western companies to stay and fix problems rather than leave, Disney said in its letter to licensees that it would pursue “a responsible transition that mitigates the impact to affected workers and business.” It set out a yearlong transitional period for its contractors to phase out production in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Belarus, Ecuador and Venezuela by March 31, 2014.

In that letter, Josh Silverman, executive vice president for global licensing for Disney Consumer Products, wrote that because Disney did not do manufacturing itself and licensed its brand for so many goods produced in so many countries, “we must rely more heavily upon our licensees and vendors to help ensure working conditions that are consistent with Disney’s standards.”

In deciding in which countries to permit production, the company relied heavily on the World Bank’s Governing Indicators, which evaluate performance on issues like government effectiveness, rule of law, accountability and control of corruption. Disney decided to prohibit production in several dozen countries that had a combined low score on the World Bank indicators.

Western retailers and brands that sell apparel made in Bangladesh say they use only factories that monitoring firms have inspected and approved. One prominent monitoring group, the Business Social Compliance Initiative, based in Brussels, has acknowledged that it had approved two of the factories inside Rana Plaza, although it said its inspections did not consider the structural soundness of the building.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said on Wednesday that her country’s government building inspectors were so ineffectual that it was vital that Western companies make sure that their inspectors also examined the structural integrity of factory buildings.

Adam M. Kanzer, managing director and general counsel at Domini Social Investments, praised Disney’s move.

“Disney is trying to focus their effort where they feel they have sufficient leverage and buying power and where they’re really involved,” he said. “They don’t have much of a presence in Bangladesh. At the same time, I feel that Western companies that have a significant economic presence in Bangladesh should stay there and try to fix these problems.”

After the Tazreen fire last November, Bangladeshi labor groups said they had found Disney-brand apparel and production documents inside the factory. Disney officials deny that any licensees had production there.

On Wednesday, Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, said his company “has been advocating for improved fire safety with the Bangladeshi government, with industry groups and with suppliers.” He added, “We know that continued engagement is critical to ensure that reliable, proactive measures are in place to reduce the chance of factory fires.”

The Children’s Place, a New Jersey-based apparel chain of 1,100 stores that obtains about 15 percent of its total goods from Bangladesh, said it was working with Bangladeshi officials, retailers and nongovernment organizations to avoid future safety problems. The company said it “will be active in supporting important, systemic reform.”

The Disney letter listed 172 countries where it would allow its contractors to produce branded merchandise, emblazoned with popular characters like Wreck-it Ralph, Buzz Lightyear, the Little Mermaid and Mickey Mouse, as well as toys and other goods. But in 101 of those countries, it said it would let licensees do production only if independent monitors approved the factories.

A Disney official said production in Haiti and Cambodia would be allowed only in factories cooperating with the Better Work program, a partnership of the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation, that works with government officials, factory owners and labor groups to ensure safe and decent workplace conditions.

The Disney official said the company would consider permitting its licensees to again produce in Bangladesh and Pakistan if those countries get the Better Work program to help their factories.

Dan Rees, director of Better Work, said that before his group would get involved in Bangladesh, the country needed to enact stronger labor protections and stop suppressing trade unions.

“Disney has sent a strong message to the excluded countries that if they’re willing to take responsibility for labor standards, Disney will take another look at them in the future,” he said.

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« Reply #6113 on: May 02, 2013, 06:53 am »

North Korea sentences Kenneth Bae to 15 years' hard labour for unspecified crimes

Regime may be hoping to bargain with US over American citizen held since November 2012 on vague charge of crimes against state

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 May 2013 08.20 BST   

A North Korean court has sentenced the US citizen Kenneth Bae to 15 years, hard labour after finding him guilty of unspecified crimes against the state in a move possibly intended to force concessions from Washington.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea's far north-eastern region bordering China and Russia. His trial at the country's supreme court began on Tuesday, according to the official KCNA news agency, which referred to Bae as Pae Jun-ho, the North Korean rendering of his name. The sentence was announced on Thursday.

Bae, a tour operator from the US state of Washington, was accused of attempting to overthrow the government, a crime that carries a possible death penalty. In its latest dispatch KCNA did not state the exact nature of his alleged crimes. South Korean human rights campaigners have speculated that authorities were angered by photographs Bae had reportedly taken of starving children and the public executions of dissenters.

The guilty sentence, which had been expected, could further stoke tensions between the North and the US despite signs that the regime has stepped back from its fiery rhetoric of the last month.

Pyongyang threatened a nuclear attack against the US mainland – although experts say it is incapable of launching such a weapon – in protest at UN sanctions imposed after it conducted an atomic test in February. North Korea had also voiced anger over annual military drills involving the South and the US that ended this week.

As news of the verdict became public, speculation was mounting that the regime would use Bae, 44, as a bargaining chip to secure diplomatic and financial concessions from the Obama administration.

In January Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, and the Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, attempted to secure Bae's release during a visit to North Korea but they were not allowed to meet him.

Last week the US state department called for Bae's immediate release and said it was working on his case with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which looks after US interests in the North.

KCNA said Bae, described by friends as a devout Christian, had attempted to overthrow the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it," the KCNA said at the weekend, referring to the North by its official name the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "His crimes were proved by evidence."

Bae is one of several Americans who have been detained in North Korea in recent years. In 2009 journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years' hard labour after illegally crossing the border from China while making a documentary about defectors.

The women were freed later the same year after Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to negotiate their release, an intervention the North treated as a major propaganda victory.

There are reportedly no plans so far to send a similarly high-profile envoy to the North to act on behalf of Bae, who runs a travel agency called Nation Tours and had visited North Korea several times without incident.

Reports have said Bae is a member of the Joseph Connection, a Christian group based in Ohio. North Korea has traditionally taken a dim view of Christian groups because of their well-documented role in helping defectors cross the border into China.

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

North Koreans tune in for a glimpse of the outside world

News outlets run by defectors and sympathetic South Koreans are keeping people in the loop

Tania Branigan in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 May 2013 19.20 BST   

Lee Seok-young can still remember the first tune he heard crouched beneath the blankets late one night, twisting the dial of his radio until he caught a station across the border. Crackling through, at the lowest volume, was the South Korean love song Ten Thousand Roses.

For Lee, then 18, it was a curious, tantalising echo from another world: "All the songs I had heard were ideological. This was about the lives of people," he said.

North Korea has the world's least free media, according to Freedom House and Reporters without Borders. TVs and radios are fixed to receive only state broadcasts, then sealed. Officials mount overnight raids to find and punish those who tamper with their sets, and those caught consuming foreign media are likely to face forced labour. Very few people have internet access. But since the early 1990s, "the near complete information blockade the government managed to maintain has eroded," noted a report on North Korean media consumption (pdf) by InterMedia last year.

Those near the Chinese or South Korean border surreptitiously tune in to foreign radio and television broadcasts. Families watch imported dramas on illicit DVDs or USB sticks. Others contact friends and relatives working outside the North via smuggled Chinese mobile phones, which work in border areas.

"Foreign radio is essentially the only real-time source of sensitive outside news and information available in North Korea and even entertainment media, such as South Korean DVDs, can offer North Koreans a fascinating glimpse of life in the South and a much-needed escape from their own hardships," said Nathaniel Kretchun, author of the InterMedia study.

Two decades after he first tuned in, Lee is at the other end of the broadcasts, living in Seoul and working as director of Free North Korea Radio. It is one of several media organisations run on a shoestring by defectors, sympathetic South Koreans and other volunteers who transmit news into the North and extract information from the secretive country – with websites such as the DailyNK winkling out details that foreign media, such as the BBC's controversial Panorama programme, struggle to obtain.

Their influence is multiplied by word of mouth. In his day, said Lee, you would only talk about such things with your siblings. Even husbands and wives might fear sharing secrets, noted another defector, in case they later divorced.

But those who have left more recently, and North Koreans working in China, say people now discuss what they have heard with good friends or even consume foreign media together. One man interviewed by InterMedia protected himself by watching illicit DVDs with off-duty security officials.
Park In-ho Park In-ho from Daily NK (left) with reporter Lee Sang-yong. Photograph: Dirtyvictory

Listening to foreign radio is liable to particularly heavy punishment because it is often directly political. It is also less immediately appealing than South Korean soap operas, lacking their glossy production values and exciting storylines. And North Koreans, weary of propaganda, often warm to such shows precisely because they are not aimed at them.

But even entertainment offers clues that the outside world is not the way it has been portrayed; and some, like Lee, are drawn to search for more sensitive material.

By listening to music stations, "I learned things were not as I had been taught … South Korea seemed less of an enemy, more like the same people – and like a very free country," he said.

"It's about creating doubt. Maybe when you first listen to us you are a 100% believer. But you listen and then maybe you believe 90%.

"North Koreans think their life is hard because of the US and South Korea so they never really blame the government. Information from outside showing how the world lives or showing [internal] corruption can bring change."

There are more professional stations, such as Voice of America and the Korean Broadcasting System. Often, people simply listen to whatever they can find. But Lee believes that defectors have a better understanding of how to address North Koreans, and that many in the North are intrigued to learn about those who have left the country. The broadcasts go out between midnight and 2am, when people in the North have the best chance of listening without interruption. Listeners glue the seals from their devices back on if they hear rumours of crackdowns.

Authorities have now turned their attention to Chinese-made DVD players with USB ports, the Daily NK reported. Although the machines are legal – the regime appears to have believed that North Koreans would use them to watch domestic propaganda films – officials disable the USB connections.

But penalties appear less punitively enforced than in the past and some bribe their way out of trouble. The periodic campaigns slow rather than halt foreign media consumption and can even be counterproductive: "The fact that the government is telling you so strongly not to listen makes some people curious," said Lee.

Though the station focuses on transmitting to the North, it also has sources inside the country who feed it information about what is happening there, usually via Chinese mobile phones. Calls must last just a few minutes, to avoid being traced.

DailyNK uses similar methods, finding suitable North Koreans outside the North and training them before their return. Park In-ho, its president and co-founder, tells journalists their first job is survival; reporting is secondary. The North's state news agency has denounced the site as "reptile media", while Lee believes his brother – who stayed in the North – was killed due to his work.

Both Free North Korea Radio and DailyNK pay their North Korean staff and the money is a powerful draw in a country where many find it hard to feed their families. Yet Park says realising their reporting has an impact also gives the journalists real pride.

DailyNK's ultimate aim is to help the world understand the North better, fostering better policy-making by offering hard facts in place of stereotypes and opinions. "A lot of people think it's still like it was in the 80s or 90s. It's changed, but they don't know about it," he said.

If the site wanted to make a splash, he added, "we could report on Kim Jong-un's underpants." Instead, the group focuses on daily life: rice prices, ideological campaigns, the state of farming.

It is funded by a US non-profit foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, while Free North Korea runs on donations and the fees its staff receive for lecturing and consulting on the North. "It's not like broadcasting for two or three years will bring it [the regime] down. We are thinking very, very long term," said Lee. "But who else is going to do it if not us?"



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« Reply #6114 on: May 02, 2013, 06:55 am »

May 1, 2013

China Is Seen Nearing U.S.’s Military Power in Region

By MARTIN FACKLER
IHT

TOKYO — China’s growing industrial might is likely to allow it to mount an increasingly formidable challenge to the military supremacy of the United States in the waters around China that include Japan and Taiwan, though it will probably seek to avoid an outright armed conflict, according to a detailed new report by a group of American researchers.

The report by the nine researchers, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the most likely outcome for the next two decades showed China narrowing the gap with the United States in military abilities, in areas including building aircraft carriers and stealth fighter jets. At the same time, the report, to be released Friday, said China’s economic interdependence with the United States and the rest of Asia would probably prevent it from becoming a full-blown, cold-war-style foe, or from using military force to try to drive the United States from the region.

One of the authors, Michael D. Swaine, an expert on Chinese defense policy, called the report one of the first attempts to predict the longer-term consequences of China’s rise for a region whose growing economic prosperity has been largely a result of the peace and stability brought by American military hegemony. He said one conclusion was that the appearance of a new rival meant that, for better or for worse, the current American-dominated status quo might not last much longer.

“We wanted to ask, how should the United States deal with this possibility?” said Mr. Swaine, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, based in Washington. “Can the United States continue with business as usual in the western Pacific, or must it start thinking of alternative ways to reassure the region about security?”

The other authors included scholars, former government officials and other Carnegie analysts.

The report, an advance copy of which was seen by The New York Times, said the consequences of the region’s shifting strategic balance might be felt most strongly by Japan, an Asian economic power that has long relied for its security on its alliance with the United States. The report found that in most projections, Japan would probably respond to China’s growing power by clinging more closely to the United States, as it has done recently during a heated argument with China over islands in the East China Sea that both countries claim. At the same time, despite the stance of its hawkish new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s fiscal troubles and political paralysis will probably prevent it from significantly bolstering military spending, as some in Washington have hoped it will do to help offset China’s increasing capabilities, the report said.

In the most extreme instances, the report predicted, doubts about the ability or commitment of the United States to remain the region’s dominant military power could one day grow strong enough to drive Japan to more drastic measures, like either embracing China or building its own independent deterrent, including nuclear weapons.

For the whole region, the report found the most likely outcome to be what it called an “eroding balance” — essentially, a continuation of the current situation, in which American hegemony is slowly undermined by China’s increasing military abilities and growing willingness to assert its interests. The report said the biggest risk in this environment would be an accidental escalation of a limited dispute, like the current clash with Japan over the disputed islands.

At the same time, the report said that for the foreseeable future, China would not follow the former Soviet Union in becoming a global rival to the United States. Rather, it said, China would remain a regional power with a narrow strategic focus on territorial disputes with its immediate neighbors. Even so, the report warned, that would still make it a serious challenge to the United States, which has vowed to increase its military presence in Asia despite budget cuts.

“Can the United States maintain its primacy of the past 60 years?” asked Mr. Swaine. “The United States says so, but whether it actually can is not entirely clear.”


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

China reports 25th death from H7N9 bird flu

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 2, 2013 7:33 EDT

The death toll from the H7N9 bird flu virus has risen to 25, state media said Thursday after a man died in central China’s Hunan Province.

The 55-year-old surnamed Jiao died on Wednesday morning after receiving medical treatment, state news agency Xinhua said, citing local authorities.

More than 120 people have been diagnosed with the virus since it was first reported in late March, with most cases confined to eastern China.

The only one reported outside the mainland has been in Taiwan, although that victim was infected in China.

Experts fear the possibility of the virus mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

The World Health Organization has said so far there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission but warned H7N9 was “one of the most lethal” influenza viruses ever seen.

Chinese health officials have acknowledged so-called “family clusters”, where members of a single family have become infected, but have not established any confirmed instances of human-to-human transmission.

Most of the cases reported have not yet resulted in death, and some patients been discharged from hospital after apparently recovering.


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« Reply #6115 on: May 02, 2013, 06:56 am »

May 1, 2013

Myanmar: Order Restored After Sectarian Violence

By REUTERS

Hundreds of police officers and troops restored order in central Myanmar on Wednesday after a new outbreak of sectarian violence in which one man was killed. During the unrest, Buddhist mobs destroyed property owned by Muslims after a minor street episode. Nine other people were injured in Oakkan and nearby villages, 60 miles north of the commercial capital of Yangon, said the deputy police commissioner of Yangon, Thet Lwin. The police arrested 18 people who had been charged with theft, assault and arson as well as gathering in a mob, he said.
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« Reply #6116 on: May 02, 2013, 06:57 am »

May 2, 2013

Malaysia's Anwar Raises Voter Fraud Alarm Ahead of Election

By REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Thursday that tens of thousands of "dubious" voters may have been flown in to key states to boost the government's chances in this weekend's election, an accusation denied by the ruling coalition.

Electoral fraud is a sensitive issue in Malaysia, where a civil society movement has sprung up to demand electoral reforms in increasingly large street protests. A narrow victory by the ruling coalition on Sunday could trigger allegations of cheating and calls for more street protests.

Anwar said the Prime Minister's Office had been involved in arranging charter flights for voters supplied by national carrier, Malaysian Airlines. He accused the government of flying at least 40,500 individuals since April 25 on chartered flights from the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak to mainland areas.

While Sabah and Sarawak are government strongholds, the mainland peninsula is home to several closely contested states, such as Selangor near Kuala Lumpur which fell to the opposition in 2008.

"The timing of this surge in arrivals and its sheer size naturally raise the question of whether they have been transported here surreptitiously to vote in favor of the National Front," Anwar said in an emailed statement.

A government spokesman denied the accusation. He said the flights were part of a normal "get out the vote" campaign and had been paid for by "friends" of the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition.

The National Front faces a resurgent opposition led by Anwar, who was finance minister in the 1990s and later jailed for six years on corruption and sodomy charges he said were trumped up. It could be the closest election since the Southeast Asian country won independence from Britain in 1957.

Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, secretary general of the United Malays National Organisation, which dominates the ruling coalition, said the flights were normal electoral practice.

"The flights in question were organized and paid for by friends of Barisan Nasional. They brought registered voters to their home districts so that they may vote in the upcoming election," he said in a statement.

Anwar released what he said were leaked e-mails from Malaysian Airlines officials showing the flag carrier had proposed a schedule to ferry voters and election workers in chartered planes from Sabah and Sarawak to mainland Malaysia.

Reuters has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the documents. Malaysia Airlines declined to comment.

Anwar's alliance surged to its best-ever election result in 2008, gaining support from ethnic Chinese and Indians disillusioned with race-based policies favoring majority Malays and discontent over a lack of political and economic reform.

Sabah is a key entry point for foreigners from the Philippines and Indonesia, who have fuelled a five-fold surge in Sabah's population since the early 1970s and turned it into a vote bank for the ruling coalition.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry is currently under way in Sabah to investigate allegations that immigrants were given identity cards in exchange for voting for the government under a secret plan approved by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in the 1980s.

(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage and Yantoultra Ngui; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Nick Macfie)
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« Reply #6117 on: May 02, 2013, 06:58 am »

May 1, 2013

Congo: Rebel Group Suspends Peace Talks

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The rebel group M23 has suspended peace talks with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a rebel spokesman said Wednesday, increasing fears of renewed violence in the country’s troubled east. The rebels say it is meaningless to negotiate peace when the United Nations is about to deploy a brigade authorized to attack them in eastern Congo, according to Rene Abandi, leader of the M23 delegation that was meeting with the Congolese government in neighboring Uganda.
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« Reply #6118 on: May 02, 2013, 07:00 am »

May 1, 2013

Egypt: Critic of Morsi Is Jailed

By BEN HUBBARD
IHT

Egyptian authorities jailed an anti-Islamist activist late Tuesday on charges that included insulting President Mohamed Morsi, state news media said. After turning himself in to prosecutors, the activist, Ahmed Douma, was transferred to a prison to be held for four days. Mr. Douma has been a vocal critic of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, using social media and joining anti-Islamist protests. Human rights groups have accused Mr. Morsi and his allies of targeting their critics in politically motivated prosecutions — a charge Mr. Morsi’s aides deny.
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« Reply #6119 on: May 02, 2013, 07:01 am »

Tunisian army clashes with armed jihadists

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 16:57 EDT

Tunisian troops clashed on Wednesday with around 50 armed jihadists in the remote Mount Chaambi border region, a security source said, the first such operation since the revolution in January 2011.

“The group consists of more than 50 Salafi jihadists,” the source told AFP, adding that they were well armed and some were veteran Islamist militants who had come from northern Mali.

An AFP journalist nearby reported hearing an exchange of gunfire in the area, close to Tunisia’s border with Algeria, which was surrounded by soldiers and patrolled by helicopters.

The group is commanded by an Algerian and two Tunisians originally from the regional capital, Kasserine, the security source said.

On Monday, Tunisian forces began their hunt for the group holed up in the mountainous region. Authorities simply described them as “terrorists,” refusing to give any further details because the operation was ongoing.

The gunmen laid homemade land mines in parts of the region which have already wounded around 10 soldiers and members of the national guard, some seriously, during the operation to flush them out.

The group originally consisted of 11 fighters for whom the Tunisian security forces have been searching since December, when they attacked the Bou Chebka border post and killed a member of the national guard.

“They then recruited some youths from Kasserine and men who had come from Mali,” said the security source, without explaining how he got the information.

“Yesterday (Tuesday) we found grenades, military and homemade bombs, documents on how to make homemade bombs, coded documents, maps and mobile phones being used to make calls abroad,” he added.

Unlike earlier in the week, Wednesday’s operations were being carried out by the army, which has the only units capable of detecting land mines. The national guard, or auxiliary police, are playing a secondary role.

Bassem Haj Yahia, a guard who lost a leg after one of the bombs exploded, said the army was facing an organised and well-armed adversary.

“It’s like they are installed in a small village where they have their hideouts, a training site and some equipment,” he told private radio station Mosaique FM.

The standoff in Mount Chaambi is the worst of its kind since clashes in 2007 between the army and Islamists in Soliman, near Tunis, under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. A soldier, two policeman and 11 Islamists died.

Since the mass uprising that toppled Ben Ali more than two years ago, radical Islamists suppressed by the former dictator have become increasingly assertive and been blamed for a wave of deadly attacks across the country.

The current government, led by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, has fully recognised in recent months the jihadist threat facing Tunisia. It has warned that groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were infiltrating its borders.

The danger posed by militant Islamists and the porosity of the region’s borders was starkly illustrated by the deadly hostage attack on Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant in January. Eleven of the 32 assailants were Tunisian.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said this week that terrorism had “no future” in Tunisia, insisting that the will of the people and the security of the country would triumph.

But the opposition strongly criticised the government on Wednesday, accusing it of failing since coming to power to rein in the Salafists, despite the security problems they have caused since the revolution.

“The government, and the interior ministry in particular, takes responsibility for not providing these (security) units with the means of intervention and prevention needed to properly carry out their mission,” said secular opposition party Al-Massar.

“The country is sinking into the vortex of terrorism (which) threatens its integrity and the security of its citizens,” it warned.


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