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« Reply #6165 on: May 05, 2013, 07:10 AM »


Israel carries out second air strike in Syria

Unnamed western intelligence sources reportedly claim attack was attempt to stop missiles reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon

Peter Walker, Peter Beaumont and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 10.08 BST   

Link to video: Syria: Damascus blasts purportedly caused by Israel air strike

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/05/syria-damascus-israel-air-strike-video

Israel has carried out a second air strike on Syria, hitting targets in and close to Damascus in what briefings by unnamed western intelligence sources reportedly claimed was an attempt to stop a shipment of advanced, Iranian-made missiles heading to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria's state news agency, Sana, reported explosions at the Jamraya military and scientific research centre near Damascus, saying: "Initial reports point to these explosions being a result of Israeli missiles." The agency spoke of an unspecified number of casualties.

While Israel made no comment, Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV reported several apparent strikes, including one on a military position in a village west of Damascus, about six miles from the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said the Jamraya facility was not hit and that it was an army supply centre which had been targeted. The station quoted Syrian security officials as saying three sites, including military barracks, arms depots and air defence infrastructure, were targeted. Amateur video footage said to have been shot early on Sunday in the Damascus area showed fire lighting up the night sky.

It is the second Israeli air strike on Syria in three days, both reportedly targeting what Israel believes are shipments of advanced weapons, including Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles.

"In last night's attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah," Reuters quoted a "western intelligence source" as saying. There was no way to verify the claim.

Israel has previously stated it will not allow the government of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, to assist the movement of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, to which it is closely allied. A similar air strike by Israel in January also targeted the Jamraya facility.

The Fateh-110 missiles are believed to be significantly more sophisticated than any armaments currently possessed by Hezbollah, with accurate guidance systems and sufficient range to strike Tel Aviv from southern Lebanon.

The earlier air strike was confirmed by sources in Israel, who said it was approved at a security cabinet meeting on Thursday night chaired by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Borrowing the phrase used by Barack Obama to describe any confirmed use of chemical weapons, Israeli officials said they had hit "game-changing" weapons.

Contradictory details emerged about the attack, with some sources saying a convoy had been struck and others a warehouse. It appears that the target was either anti-aircraft weapons or long-range ground-to-ground missiles.

While Israel has stoked fears in recent weeks that the conflict in Syria could lead to the proliferation of chemical weapons, a senior Israeli defence ministry analyst said after the air strike that Syrian chemical weapons stocks remained controlled by the regime.

"Syria has large amounts of chemical weaponry and missiles. Everything there is under [Assad government] control," a defence ministry strategist, Amos Gilad, said in a speech.

Israel has become increasing active in the debate over intervention. It was an Israeli military official who first claimed publicly that western intelligence agencies had evidence of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime.

Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms were to reach Hezbollah. The Lebanese group, which is allied with Iran, fought an inconclusive war with Israel in 2006 and has been accused of rearming with missiles.

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May 4, 2013

Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria

By PETER BAKER, MARK LANDLER, DAVID E. SANGER and ANNE BARNARD
IHT

WASHINGTON — Confronted with evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, President Obama now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.

The origins of this dilemma can be traced in large part to a weekend last August, when alarming intelligence reports suggested the besieged Syrian government might be preparing to use chemical weapons. After months of keeping a distance from the conflict, Mr. Obama felt he had to become more directly engaged.

In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, “Are you crazy?” But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would.

Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.

“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”

As a result, the president seems to be moving closer to providing lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months ago. American officials have even discussed with European allies the prospect of airstrikes to take out Syrian air defenses, airplanes and missile delivery systems, if government use of chemical weapons is confirmed.

An Israeli airstrike in Syria on Thursday, apparently targeting advanced missiles bound for the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, highlighted the volatile situation. With Syrians already dying by the thousands from conventional weapons, Mr. Obama now confronts the most urgent foreign policy issue of his second term, one in which he must weigh humanitarian impulses against the risk to American lives. After about two years of ineffectual diplomacy, whether or how he chooses to follow through on his warning about chemical weapons could shape his remaining time in office.

The evolution of the “red line” and the nine months that followed underscore the improvisational nature of Mr. Obama’s approach to one of the most vexing crises in the world, all the more striking for a president who relishes precision. Palpably reluctant to become entangled in another war in the Middle East, and well aware that most Americans oppose military action, the president has deliberately not explained what his “red line” actually is or how it would change his calculus.

“I’m not convinced it was thought through,” said Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama who is now at the Atlantic Council. “I’m worried about the broader damage to U.S. credibility if we make a statement and then come back with lawyerly language to get around it.”

While Mr. Pavel favors a more active response to the killings in Syria, others worry that Mr. Obama may have trapped himself into going too far. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, told Bloomberg Television that military involvement in Syria would risk “a large-scale disaster for the United States.”

Further complicating the president’s choices is the murky nature of the evidence against Syria, a constant concern because of the lingering memories of mistaken intelligence on Iraq’s weapons a decade ago. American intelligence agencies have medium to high confidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but it is not completely clear who was using them.

The Obama administration recognizes that the rebels and their supporters have an incentive to assume or even exaggerate the use of such weapons because it may be the one thing that could draw in direct Western military intervention against Mr. Assad. The rebels have access to information online about the effects of the weapons, so they may know what symptoms to describe to make their claims seem real.

That makes physical samples crucial — a challenge in a chaotic environment of conflict where there are few functioning health facilities and little reliable electricity, not to mention roads that are often impassable because of the danger of attacks. Still, residents in areas of suspected attacks have collected evidence like urine, soil, dead birds and hair. In one case, a local group dug up the corpse of a man to remove head and nose hair and place it in plastic vials, then posted a video of the process online.

Yet in turning the matter into an international “CSI” case, Mr. Obama may have set a standard of evidence that could never be met.

Disturbing Reports

While concerns about Syria’s chemical arsenal go back years, apprehension rose sharply last July when American intelligence agencies detected signs that the Assad government was moving part of its huge stockpile out of storage. There was some evidence that the Syrian military was mixing chemicals, a possible indication that they were being prepared for use.

The reports grew more disturbing, if still fragmentary, by the weekend of Aug. 18 and 19. Denis McDonough, then the president’s principal deputy national security adviser and now the White House chief of staff, coordinated a series of urgent classified meetings in the West Wing. “It was a catalyzing event,” said one official involved.

The advisers reviewed an array of pre-emptive military options and quickly discounted them as impractical. The evidence was not strong enough to warrant a pre-emptive strike, they concluded, and military officers said the best they could do with airstrikes or commando operations would be to limit the use of chemical weapons already deployed.

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

But they concluded that drawing a firm line might deter Mr. Assad. In addition to secret messages relayed through Russia, Iran and other governments, they decided that the president would publicly address the matter.

Several officials said they recalled no discussion about the “red line” phrase but suspected that it came out of the election-year conversation about Iran and how far to allow its nuclear program to progress before being forced to take action. It was a concept that was “embedded in people’s prefrontal cortex,” one of the officials said.

While surprised at the president’s use of the term in regard to Syria on Aug. 20, advisers concluded that it had succeeded, at least for a while, since months passed with no chemical weapons attack.

But then in December, American intelligence agencies detected substantial movement of stores of chemical weapons. The Syrians seemed to be consolidating the weapons into fewer locations, presumably a way of securing them. There were also signs that they were mixing chemicals, which caused “a hell of a lot of concern” in the White House, as one official put it.

On Dec. 23, seven people were reported killed and about 50 were hospitalized in Homs Province from what doctors said was poisonous gas inhalation after an attack apparently by forces loyal to Mr. Assad, but Western officials had difficulty confirming it. An Israeli military official said the casualties seemed to be “tests of the world’s reaction.”

American and Israeli officials discussed contingency plans for military action but held off, with the Israelis concerned that it would bolster Mr. Assad if foreigners attacked his country, especially Israelis.

If it was a test, another one came on March 19, with attacks in a village west of Aleppo and in a suburb of Damascus. As many as 10 were reported killed in the Aleppo-area attack and about 15 outside Damascus, and 150 others were sickened. Patients described shortness of breath, dilated pupils, convulsions and severe headaches.

The government blamed the rebels for the attack near Aleppo. The rebels, in turn, blamed the government for both episodes. Despite Mr. Obama’s outreach to Russia, Moscow joined Mr. Assad in accusing the rebels.

A ‘Game Changer’

By chance, Mr. Obama was visiting Israel and, standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the next day, he declared that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer,” reiterating his August threat. But the White House was not eager to take action, so when the British and French sent a letter to the United Nations seeking an investigation, the Obama administration embraced the effort.

Within days, an Israeli intelligence official presented PowerPoint slides and gruesome photographs at a security conference in Tel Aviv to make the case that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons and to warn that failing to respond “might signal that this is legitimate.” Almost immediately, Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone with Mr. Netanyahu, who then walked back the conclusion by saying he could not “confirm” it — a statement that Mr. Kerry quickly announced.

At the same time, American and British agents were trying to secure physical samples to test. Majid, a rebel commander who asked to be identified by only his first name, said American intelligence officers in Jordan were provided two sets of hair, soil and urine samples from each of three contested areas near Damascus where rebels have accused the government of using chemical weapons. After positive tests, he said, the officers asked for a third sample, but it could not be delivered along an impassable road.

The British, meanwhile, flew samples first smuggled out to Turkey to a defense facility in England called Porton Down, a chemical weapons research center established during World War I. The British testers were more convinced of the presence of sarin, a nerve agent, than the Americans.

But neither the British nor the Americans could be sure of the “chain of custody,” as Mr. Obama calls it. “It is absolutely unclear who used the stuff, in what quantities and to what effect,” said a British official. Still, with Congressional hearings in the offing, the White House decided to announce in a letter to Congress on April 25 that chemical weapons had been found.

As Mr. Obama contemplates his response, his advisers are trying to determine why Syria would use such weapons. The Syrian military, while strained, still appears capable of making rational decisions about how and where to deploy forces. It is currently engaged in fierce and ostensibly successful offensives in the Damascus area and in Homs Province. Moreover, two alleged massacres in the past week demonstrated that pro-government militias using knives and guns were capable of inflicting many times the deaths attributed to chemical weapons so far.

Weighing a Response

While Mr. Obama has insisted on more definitive evidence before acting, he has also signaled that he may reverse his decision to reject a plan to provide weapons to the rebels first advanced last winter by David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, with the support of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state.

Several things have changed since. Britain and France appear likely to begin supplying weapons to the rebels after the expiration of a European Union arms embargo on Syria at the end of May. White House officials say they are also more confident of Gen. Salim Idris, the commander of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, who has rejected ties to groups linked to Al Qaeda. “This is really a bet on Idris,” a senior administration official said.

But other administration officials voiced skepticism that funneling weapons to the rebels made any more sense now than it did six months ago. They noted that the rebels are already getting arms from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf nations, yet forces loyal to Mr. Assad have still made inroads in Homs. While General Idris has made gestures to placate Washington, there is plenty of evidence that the opposition is becoming more, not less, radical over time.

In the meantime, the Syrian government and the rebels continue to trade allegations. On April 25, just hours before the White House sent its letter to Congress announcing the findings on chemical weapons, residents in Daraya, a Damascus suburb, heard explosions. A local doctor and a rebel spokesman said no one was killed but described people suffering from vomiting, excessive saliva, spasms or convulsions, burning eyes and itchy skin.

“There is too much fear, especially for those affected. The next day you walk, you see the dead animals on the street. It was so scary,” said the doctor, who called himself Majid. He said he collected urine and hair samples from two victims and consulted two Syrian-American organizations about getting them to the State Department.

Within the administration, the debate over what to do continues.

“The problem here is we react so slowly,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There have been many well-thought-out plans, but they address a certain context. Then the context changes, we see the situation as rapidly deteriorating, and the recommendations are no longer so finely tuned.”

Peter Baker, Mark Landler and David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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« Reply #6166 on: May 05, 2013, 07:13 AM »


Saudi Arabia to allow girls to play sport at private schools

Students must adhere to 'decent' dress code and sharia law, but move is seen as thaw in kingdom's restrictions on women

AP in Riyadh
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 12.47 BST   

Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athlete hails progress - video Link to video: Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athlete hails progress

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/video/2012/aug/09/saudi-arabia-female-athlete-video

Saudi Arabian girls will be allowed to play sport in private schools for the first time in the latest in a series of incremental changes aimed at slowly increasing women's rights in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia's official press agency, SPA, reported on Saturday that private girls' schools are now allowed to hold sport activities in accordance with the rules of sharia law. Students must adhere to "decent dress" codes and Saudi women teachers will be given priority in supervising the activities, according to the education ministry's requirements.

The decision makes sport once again a stage for the push to improve women's rights, nearly a year after two Saudi female athletes made an unprecedented appearance at the Olympics.

"It's about time," said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University. "Everything is being held back in Saudi Arabia as far as women's rights."

Youssef said she saw the decision to allow sport for girls in private schools as part of a package of wider reforms targeting women, but that continued restrictions on sport was a discrimination that had a negative impact on women's health.

SPA quoted an education ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Dakhini, saying the decision to allow girls to play sport in private schools "stems from the teachings of our religion, which allow women such activities in accordance with sharia".

The government had previously quietly tolerated physical education in some private schools, but there is no set curriculum.

The decision, which also means private girls' schools are obliged to provide appropriate places and equipment for sport, is a monumental step that is likely to affect public schools and universities – which are also gender segregated – in the near future, Youssef said.

The Saudi government plays a role in private schools, providing textbooks and directors.

The Saudi deputy minister of education Nora al-Fayez, in charge of women's affairs, was recently quoted in local press saying there was a plan to expand sport education in public schools. It remains unclear if girls would have access to the same level of physical education as boys.

Sport for women in Saudi Arabia has largely been a pastime of elites who can afford expensive health club memberships. They are often attached to hospitals, since women's gyms were closed in 2010 on grounds they were unlicensed.

Saudi Arabia allowed two female athletes to compete in last summer's Olympics only after the International Olympics Committee had put intense pressure on the kingdom to end its practice of sending only male teams to the games. Their participation was not shown on Saudi TV stations.

Women's sport remains nearly an underground activity in the kingdom. Only the largest female university – Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman Unviersity – has a swimming pool, tennis court and exercise area for its students. No other university in Saudi Arabia has sport facilities for its female students and staff.

Women are also bound by strict rules when it comes to their attire, so they cannot, for example, be seen by men while jogging in trousers. Almost all women in Saudi Arabia cover their face with a niqab, and even foreigners are obliged to respect local culture and wear an abaya, a loose black dress.

Female athletes cannot register for sport clubs or league competitions. They are banned from entering national trials, which makes it impossible for them to qualify for international competitions.

The government has turned a blind eye, though, to tournaments where all-female teams play against one another.

King Abdullah is seen as pushing for these reforms. Other Saudi rulers have also quietly tried to modernise the country, with King Faisal's wife opening the first school for girls in the late 1950s.

But the monarch is facing edicts from powerful and influential senior Saudi clerics who are against all types of sporting activities for women. They argue that in order for a woman to remain protected from harassment, she must avoid public roles.

Despite such rhetoric, thousands of women work as doctors and professors in Saudi Arabia. Women will be allowed to run for office and vote for the first time in the 2015 municipal elections. There have also been a number of incremental and significant changes that have afforded women new roles in recent months.

A law was implemented last year to allow women to work as shop assistants, and women now have seats on the country's top advisory council. A woman was licensed to practise law for the first time last month, and a ban was lifted on allowing women to ride motorbikes and bicycles.

But with each move comes restrictions. Women are only allowed to work at shops for women, such as lingerie stores. The 30 women who now serve on the country's Shura Council, which advises the king, were segregated from the 130 men in the chamber, and plans for a proposed barrier that would separate the genders remains under discussion. Moreover, there are no guarantees that women who become licensed lawyers will not face discrimination in the courtroom. Lastly, women may be allowed to ride bikes in parks, but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the abaya.

In other areas, freedoms for women are still severely limited. They are not allowed to drive nor are they allowed to travel or attend school without the permission of a male guardian.

A 52-page report on women's sports in Saudi Arabia issued by Human Rights Watch last year urged the government to set benchmarks for physical education, to set a curriculum and to launch a public outreach campaign about girls' rights to physical education.

"Although religious views opposing prohibition on women's participation in sport are less frequently pronounced than those in favour, government policy is only inching toward realising women's right to sport rather than taking bold steps to realise it," the report said.
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« Reply #6167 on: May 05, 2013, 07:18 AM »


Pakistan elections: why feudal ties no longer bind for voters

On the campaign trail in Punjab, where aristocratic candidates are finding their name and status no longer guarantee victory

Jason Burke in Mianwali Qureshian
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 13.56 BST

The sun is setting when Makhdoom Shahabuddin's SUV rolls into yet another scruffy, dirt-poor agricultural community in his constituency in the deep south of Punjab province.

In sonorous Saraiki, a minority language spoken locally, the former cabinet minister and veteran politician talks of the achievements of the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) and of future plans. "This country should be great, not plundered by its own people," Shahabuddin, a PPP grandee and a local landowner, tells the few-score peasant farmers gathered before the low stage.

The men cheer, swig back the soft drinks distributed by party workers, and disappear into the dusk on motorbikes, camel-drawn carts, donkeys and by foot. Shahabuddin drives off – but not to his sprawling, if spartan, country residence. Instead, he has a series of very different meetings scheduled: secret rendezvous where, to a large extent, the result in the 11 May polls will be determined.

Shahabuddin, 66, nominated as prime minister last year before allegations of graft led the PPP to look elsewhere, has been campaigning across these flat fields and orchards, many of which lie on his own extensive estates, for more than four decades. In 2008 he easily beat his cousin, a landowner and industrialist who stood for a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. But this election, though he is confident of victory, may be his last.

"Politics has become such a dirty game. It's getting so hard," Shahabuddin told the Guardian during three days spent on the campaign trial last week.

For many years, like many other Pakistani aristocrats or "feudals" as they are known locally, Shahabuddin could simply rely on his name and status to bring in votes. The southern Punjab – one of the most impoverished parts of south Asia – has been run by major landowners for centuries. The loyalty of thousands of families used to be unquestioning. Also, as a direct descendant of one of the missionaries who converted the local population to Islam more than 700 years ago, Shahabuddin is revered as a spiritual leader with powers of blessing that can heal illnesses, solve problems and bring fortune.

But now economic development, marginally better education and a generally less deferential culture – reinforced by Pakistan's vibrant, often vitriolic media – mean history and status are no longer enough to win over the 150,000 voters of national assembly seat 194.

"People are simply interested in what they can get. It's all about being on the winning side and you can't have principles or ideologies if that's your only aim," said Shahabuddin's nephew, who is campaigning for simultaneous provincial polls. "It's not as simple as getting development funds for a community. And nor does getting the electricity connected or a road or a bridge built necessarily guarantee votes. It's personal relationships which ensure continued support."

This is where the semi-secret meetings play their crucial role. Cash is not involved. There is nothing illegal. But politics in Pakistan is about a cascade of favours from the most powerful patrons – in this case the ex-cabinet minister candidate – to the lowest – a small trader, bureaucrat, cleric or farmer who is influential in a street or village. Loyalty – expressed in the form of votes – flows back up.
Supporters listen to a speech by Makhdoum Shahabuddin Makhdoum Supporters at village meeting listen to a speech by Makhdoum Shahabudin Makhtoum. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

So though the rowdy, crowded public rallies have an important role to play, crucial work is done sitting on a sofa, not standing on a stage.

One day it is lunch with a former policeman, whose home is surprisingly luxurious given his relatively low salary, then tea with a group of businessmen and finally an evening with a tribal chief with many thousands of followers. The chief was previously loyal to Shahabuddin's rival but hopes for an official post after the polls. The post is appointed by the provincial governor, himself appointed by the ostensibly neutral president, who is also the joint chairman of the PPP, so supporting Shahabuddin becomes the obvious choice.

One stop is at the home of a local notable affiliated to the Makhdoum family's religious shrine but who has held off the customary visit to its leader to pledge his allegiance in the polls. "I have come to you, not you to me," Makhdoum pointedly tells him. It is now up to the recipient to repay the honour of the visit.

There are other issues to contend with. The southern Punjab has been hit by rising violence targeting the Shia Muslim minority, historically loyal to the more inclusive and more "secular" PPP.

A Shia candidate with "nuisance value" is being funded, Shahabuddin says, by his opponent. Further meetings are necessary to neutralise the threat. Simultaneously, however, a deal has been done with the local branch of Jamaat e-Ulema-e-Islami, a party of Sunni hardline religious conservatives blamed by many for encouraging sectarian extremists.

Then there is the national situation. Though many ills are blamed on the provincial government, run by the PML, others are blamed on the outgoing PPP-led federal government. Chief among them are power cuts and a failing economy. An income support programme launched for the poorest families is likely to help win women's votes and the promise of a separate province of South Punjab is popular. But, says Babar Dogar, a political journalist, "people are annoyed at the PPP".

There is one final factor. Over In recent decades Pakistan has changed in ways that leave Shahabuddin – who quotes Winston Churchill, uses words such as "lingo" and "chum", speaks admiringly of British colonial administrators and smokes Benson & Hedges cigarettes – looking increasingly out of place. The inclusion of an image of a bearded cleric, a PPP candidate in local elections, alongside the clean-shaven, besuited Shahabuddin on campaign posters seems an implicit recognition of this.

Another evening, and another mass meeting. Several thousand farmers cram under a tent in a field outside the village of Ghari Aktar Khan. Shahabuddin talks, lists his achievements, is heckled, jokes, prays and is cheered once again.

"That was a grand jalsa [rally]. It will be the talk of the town," he says, driving away. "Democracy is the best system ever invented. Democracy is a truly beautiful thing."

**********

Pakistan's women face battle for the right to vote

Female activists plan to deploy protection teams to polling stations in forthcoming elections

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Saturday 4 May 2013 17.52 BST   

Link to video: Pakistan elections: ex-cricketer Imran Khan offers 'third way'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/04/pakistan-elections-imran-khan-third-way-video

Fears over the safety of women voting in next week's elections in Pakistan are rising after letters have been circulated in regions of the country warning men not to allow their wives, sisters and daughters out to the polling stations.

In an increasingly fraught and violent runup to the 11 May vote, leaflets are appearing stating that it is "un-Islamic" for women to participate in democracy.

Now a group of young female activists are planning to challenge what they call the government's inability to protect women's right to vote by organising their own protection teams at individual polling stations in tense and volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the four provinces of Pakistan, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province.

In what is being called Pakistan's youth election – almost a third of the electorate is between 18 and 29 – a growing tide of young women are determined to overcome cultural and political obstacles to make their voices heard.

Saba Ismail, 23-year-old founder and director of Aware Girls, a peace group for and led by young women to train girls in leadership skills, said they already planned to monitor 30 polling stations with volunteers who would support women who came out to vote and hoped to reach many more.

Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old activist for girl's educational rights who became an international figure after being shot and badly injured in a Taliban assassination attempt last October, was one of those trained by Ismail's group.

"Malala is not the only one who has been so brave, but she is a hero to all of us now," Ismail said. "Such a strong young woman and a true role model, I was very impressed by her. Many women and girls will feel empowered by Malala to come out and vote. It has been made very clear that women in Pakistan should not vote and those in rural areas are the most vulnerable, so we will be putting volunteers out to try and help women feel they can come out on this important day.

"For the 2008 elections, many polling stations were torched and women were told it was vulgar for them to cast a vote. This time we want Pakistan to have a free and fair election and for women to be able to vote in secret, not be told who to vote for by her family.

"Even those few women who are inside the political system are ordered about by their family. They are wives or daughters of men who want them to do their bidding, they are there just to make up quota numbers and have to do what they are told. It would be better to have quality not quantity.

"Recently on Pakistan TV we had three female politicians in the studio for a debate. They were asked questions like 'Should women really be allowed to work because they take more time to come to the office because they put make-up on?'"

Ismail said she was disappointed at the resurgence of the extremists' campaign to stop women voting. Her group has had to move offices twice because of threats made against it.

The army has announced that 70,000 troops will be deployed in the four provinces on election day, along with thousands of police and other security forces. In some areas there are fears that booths may not open amid reports that election workers in Balochistan are refusing to man them because of security fears. Despite that, polls indicate there could be a record turnout, higher than the 44% in the 2008 elections. The elections mark the end of the first full term in office of a democratically elected government in Pakistan's history. Others have been interrupted by coups and blighted by dictatorships.

"War means men get angry and their aggressive behaviour is taken out on the family," Ismail said. "For women they are used not as a way forward for peace but as a strategy, a means to produce more soldiers for more war. In Pakistan women have internalised all into their minds that they are lesser beings. But I believe change will come."

But the next few days seem doomed to get bloodier, with 11 May a showdown between the Taliban and other groups and the strength of Pakistan's pull towards democracy. Last week three political parties which had been publicly threatened by Taliban forces issued a joint statement saying they would not be cowed by violence.

On Friday a candidate of the Awami National party was killed with his three-year-old son by gunmen in Karachi. On the same day in the capital Islamabad, Pakistan's main government prosecutor on the Benazir Bhutto murder case was shot dead. Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali was killed as he was driving to the next hearing in the murder case of the former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007.

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« Reply #6168 on: May 05, 2013, 07:21 AM »

May 4, 2013

Nationalists Protest Jewish Congress in Hungary

By REUTERS

BUDAPEST (Reuters) — Leaders of a far-right Hungarian political party accused Israelis of plotting to buy up large parts of Hungary as several hundred nationalists protested on Saturday before a meeting of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest.

Senior figures from the Jobbik opposition party harangued the crowd with charges that President Shimon Peres of Israel had praised Jews for buying property in Hungary. They said the World Jewish Congress had decided to hold its gathering in Budapest to shame the Hungarian people.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is scheduled to address the assembly’s opening session on Sunday, had ordered the rally to be banned, but a court on Friday ruled the police had overstepped their authority in trying to block it.

The congress, which normally holds its assembly in Jerusalem, chose Hungary this time to highlight the rise of far-right groups and anti-Semitism in Europe. More than half a million Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Hungary’s current population of about 10 million people includes 80,000 to 100,000 Jews.

Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik member of Parliament, told the crowd, “Our country has become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonization while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras.”

A spokesman for the World Jewish Congress, Michael Thaidigsmann, said, “We find it a worrying sign that these people express their anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli ideology in such a public way.”

Some foreign Jews have made or planned investments in Hungary, but those are dwarfed by far larger deals from other European and American businesses.

The charge about Mr. Peres, based on comments he made in 2007 about Israeli businesses abroad, has become a mantra in Jobbik’s discourse about threats it says Hungary faces.


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« Reply #6169 on: May 05, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Malaysia prepares for national election after bitter campaign

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 19:45 EDT

Malaysians vote Sunday in their first election in history with a change of government at stake, as a decades-old regime battles to hold off a hard-charging opposition pledging sweeping reform.

Voting gets under way at 8:00 am (0000 GMT) with tensions high after a bitter campaign in the multi-ethnic country marked by charges of election fraud, divisive racial rhetoric and widespread violence.

Malaysians have keenly awaited, debated, and fretted over the vote since 2008 polls saw a newly united opposition make unprecedented gains against the once-invincible coalition that has had a lock on power since independence in 1957.

The coalition dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and led by premier Najib Razak has been expected to edge the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) alliance captained by charismatic UMNO outcast Anwar Ibrahim.

But recent opinion polls have indicated the race was too close to predict.

Pakatan has capitalised on anger over corruption, authoritarianism and controversial policies that favour majority ethnic Malays, while wooing minorities and a younger generation exposed to alternative views found online.

His back to the wall, Najib has offered limited political reforms to stem the tide.

But they are widely dismissed as cosmetic by Pakatan, which pledges sweeping reform including an end to cronyism and corruption that it says sustains a powerful elite.

The opposition has set the stage for a possibly disputed result with numerous accusations of Barisan electoral fraud.

These include an alleged scheme to fly tens of thousands of people of “dubious” and possibly foreign origin to key constituencies to sway results. The government claims the flights were part of a voter-turnout drive.

Indelible ink applied to voters’ fingers to prevent multiple voting — touted by Najib as a safeguard against fraud — also was found to wash off.

“Unless there’s a major massive fraud tomorrow… we will win,” Anwar told AFP on Saturday.

Anwar, a former deputy premier ousted in a 1998 power struggle and jailed six years on sex charges widely viewed as trumped up, has drawn festival crowds in the tens of thousands on the stump.

But it remains to be seen whether Malaysians will vote out the only government they have ever known, and Najib has played on fears for stability while pledging continued solid economic growth.

His ethnic Malay-dominated regime retains powerful advantages, including control of traditional media and an electoral landscape critics say is biased.

Najib also has exploited racial and religious insecurities by claiming a conservative Islamic party within Pakatan would implement harsh sharia law.

The occasionally fractious opposition, which also includes Anwar’s multi-racial party and a secular one dominated by minority ethnic Chinese, condemns such rhetoric as dangerous racial fear-mongering.

Campaigning has been marred by hundreds of reports of violence, intimidation, arson and two small explosions, although no deaths have been reported.

Polling stations close at 5:00 pm (0900 GMT) with results expected to begin rolling out within hours.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #6170 on: May 05, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blasts ‘devil’ Obama

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 5, 2013 8:55 EDT

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took a swipe at Barack Obama on Saturday, calling him the “grand chief of devils” after the US president declined to recognize his contested re-election.

“Coming out of Central America, Obama let loose with a bunch of impertinent remarks, insolent stuff… He is giving an order, and his blessing, for the fascist rightwing to attack Venezuela’s democracy,” Maduro alleged in an address.

But “we are here defending our institutions, peace, democracy, the people of Venezuela… and we can sit down with anyone, even the grand chief of devils: Obama,” Maduro said.

The socialist’s harsh attack recalled diatribes from his predecessor the late Hugo Chavez aimed at former US president George W. Bush, whom he also called a devil, among other insults.

During a visit to Costa Rica on Friday, Obama would not say whether the United States recognizes Maduro as the winner of last month’s presidential election.

Obama told US Spanish-language network Univision that the entire region “has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition” following the controversial April 14 election.

Maduro defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles, at least officially, by a razor-thin margin in the election to replace the late leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

Capriles, however, has refused to concede defeat, claiming there were irregularities.

“I think our general view has been that it’s up to the people of Venezuela to choose their leaders in legitimate elections,” said Obama, who was in Costa Rica for a summit with Central American leaders.

Maduro, however, begs to differ. He charged the United States with financially backing the Venezuelan opposition.

“It is Obama himself — as the puppet of the imperial power — who is behind the financing in dollars of this right wing that is seeking to destroy Venezuela’s democracy,” Maduro alleged.

Tensions have been running high since the election to replace the larger-than-life Chavez.

The government says nine people died in protests in the days after the election.

Opposition and pro-government lawmakers exchanged punches and kicks in a spectacular brawl at the National Assembly on Tuesday. Maduro said this was “planned” ahead of Obama’s trip to Mexico and Central America.

Each side held dueling May Day marches on Wednesday, with Maduro calling Capriles a “crybaby” who could not accept defeat.


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« Reply #6171 on: May 05, 2013, 07:39 AM »

May 4, 2013

Corporations Find a Friend in the Supreme = Corporate = Corrupt Court

By ADAM LIPTAK
NYT

NOT long after 10 a.m. on March 27, a restless audience waited for the Supreme Court to hear arguments in the second of two historic cases involving same-sex marriage. First, however, Justice Antonin Scalia attended to another matter. He announced that the court was throwing out an antitrust class action that subscribers brought against Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company.

Almost no one in the courtroom paid attention, despite Justice Scalia’s characteristically animated delivery, and the next day’s news coverage was dominated by accounts of the arguments on same-sex marriage. That was no surprise: the Supreme Court’s business decisions are almost always overshadowed by cases on controversial social issues.

But the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.

In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.

Whether the Roberts court is unusually friendly to business has been the subject of repeated discussion, much of it based on anecdotes and studies based on small slices of empirical evidence. The new study, by contrast, takes a careful and comprehensive look at some 2,000 decisions from 1946 to 2011.

Published last month in The Minnesota Law Review, the study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over those 65 years by the proportion of their pro-business votes; all five of the current court’s more conservative members were in the top 10. But the study’s most striking finding was that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business interests since 1946 are the most recent conservative additions to the court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both appointed by President George W. Bush.

The study was prepared by Lee Epstein, who teaches law and political science at the University of Southern California; William M. Landes, an economist at the University of Chicago; and Judge Richard A. Posner, of the federal appeals court in Chicago, who teaches law at the University of Chicago.

In the Comcast case, subscribers seeking $875 million in damages charged that the company had swapped territory with other cable companies to gain market power and raise prices. But the legal issue before the court was technical. It concerned the sort of evidence needed to allow two million subscribers in the Philadelphia area to band together as a class.

Justice Scalia said the plaintiffs’ evidence was not enough to allow them to proceed as a class. They could still, he said, pursue their complaints individually. But the difficulty of mounting such suits over insignificant sums would not make them very attractive to most lawyers.

The decision, however, went far beyond the Comcast subscribers. By reaffirming Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a 2011 blockbuster case in which the court threw out a large employment sex discrimination class, the Comcast case limited class actions more broadly.

The question of whether plaintiffs have enough in common to sue as a class is different from whether they deserve to win. The first question is generally resolved early in the case. The second one may await trial.

But the Wal-Mart and Comcast decisions said the two questions often overlap and may call for an early answer. The decisions essentially required early scrutiny — by a judge, not a jury — of the ultimate legal question in high-stakes cases, sometimes before all the relevant evidence has been gathered. This delighted business groups, which have pushed to limit class actions.

“The court is telling lower courts across the country they really do have to fulfill their gate-keeping function and keep these meritless classes out of the courts,” said Kate Comerford Todd, a lawyer with the litigation unit of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Justices deeply unhappy with a decision sometimes read their dissents from the bench. It happens perhaps three times a year. Justice Scalia, in remarks at George Washington University in February, said such oral dissents were a way to call attention to a grave misstep.

“I only do it in really significant cases,” he said, “where I think the court’s decision is going to have a really bad effect upon the law and upon society, a really, really big case.”

By that standard, the dissenters thought the Comcast decision was very bad indeed. It gave rise to two oral dissents, from the two senior members of the court’s liberal wing, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justice Ginsburg accused the justices in the majority of unseemly judicial gamesmanship. She said they had reframed the legal issue in the case so they could rule for Comcast. “Thus the plaintiffs had no unclouded opportunity to brief and argue with precision the issue the court decides against them,” she said. “And that’s not cricket.”

THE Supreme Court decides one case at a time, and its jurisprudence is the sum of incremental and sometimes inconsistent rulings driven by quirky facts and shifting judicial alliances.

The law, that is to say, does not always move in a straight line, and the Roberts court’s decisions have not all favored corporations. Employees suing over retaliation for raising discrimination claims have fared quite well, for example. Nor has the court always been receptive to companies claiming that state rules and injury awards from state juries should be struck down because they are in conflict with federal laws.

But the court’s general track record, particularly in low-profile but important procedural rulings, has been decidedly pro-business, said Arthur R. Miller, a law professor at New York University. The upshot, he said, is that businesses are free to run their operations without fear of liability for the harm they cause to consumers, employees and people injured by their products.

“The Supreme Court has altered federal procedure in dramatic ways, one step at a time, to favor the business community,” he said, by, among other things, “increased grants of summary judgment, tightening scientific evidence, rejecting class actions, heightening the pleading barrier and wholesale diversions into arbitration.”

In a despairing overview published last month in The New York University Law Review, Professor Miller criticized many rulings from the Roberts court, including the Wal-Mart decision, which rejected a class of some 1.5 million female employees, and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which allowed companies to escape class actions by insisting on one-by-one arbitrations, even over trivial amounts, in standard-form contracts.

Jason M. Halper, a lawyer at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in New York, said the collective message of those and related cases was clear: “When you take all of them together, the effect is certainly to make the use of class actions much more difficult.”

It is easy to understand why companies hate class actions. Once a class is certified, the damages sought are often so enormous that the only rational calculation is to settle even if the chances of losing at trial are small. The costs of litigation — for lawyers, experts and the exchange of information — are also far larger in class actions. And it is not always clear that the plaintiffs, as opposed to their lawyers, receive very much in the settlements.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers, on the other hand, say class actions are the only way to vindicate small harms caused to many people. The victim of, say, a fraudulent charge for a few dollars on a billing statement will never sue. But a lawyer representing a million such people has an incentive to press the claim.

“Realistically,” Professor Miller wrote, “the choice for class members is between collective access to the judicial system or no access at all.”

So the Supreme Court’s rulings making it harder to cross the class-certification threshold have had profound consequences in the legal balance of power between businesses and people who say they have been harmed.

Arbitration, in which the two sides agree to resolve disputes outside of court using informal procedures, is more complicated.

Depending on how they are structured, arbitrations can offer benefits in speed and cost to both sides, though the car rental companies or cellphone stores that have customers sign nonnegotiable contracts presumably do not have their best interests at heart.

Minor claims in arbitration raise harder questions. In theory, there is no reason that consumers and others could not join together in a mass arbitration, just as they file class actions in court.

But the AT&T Mobility decision limited that recourse for consumers. The case was brought by a California couple who objected to a $30 charge for what was presented as a free cellphone. They had signed a “take it or leave it” form that required them to resolve disputes through arbitration and barred them from banding together with others, whether in arbitration or in court.

The Supreme Court said the contract was lawful, and in doing so it gave businesses a powerful tool.

“The decision basically lets companies escape class actions, so long as they do so by means of arbitration agreements,” Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said on the day of the decision. “This is a game-changer for businesses. It’s one of the most important and favorable cases for businesses in a very long time.”

The central legal issues in the Wal-Mart, AT&T Mobility and Comcast cases were decided by 5-to-4 votes. In each, the justices in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents and the dissenters by Democratic ones.

Since World War II, the Minnesota Law Review study found, “justices appointed by Republican presidents are notably more favorable to business than justices appointed by Democratic presidents.” Indeed, it said, “on the current court, no Republican-appointed justice is less favorable to business than any Democrat.”

That does not mean that the Roberts court’s pro-business decisions are always decided by 5-to-4 votes. They are often lopsided or unanimous.

That is a consequence, Judge Posner said in an e-mail, of broader trends: “American society as a whole is more pro-business than it was before Reagan and this is reflected in the votes of Democratic as well as Republican Supreme Court justices.”

In March, for instance, the court unanimously rejected an attempt by class-action lawyers in Arkansas to keep their case out of federal court by promising that their clients would accept less money than they might deserve. (The case had been filed in Miller County, Ark., where courts, according to business groups, are notorious for coercing large settlements from out-of-state defendants.)

But sometimes unanimity masks division. The most important business decision of the current term, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, severely limited human rights suits against corporations based on charges of complicity in abuses abroad. All nine justices agreed that the particular suit before them had to be dismissed, largely because every significant aspect of the case was foreign: the plaintiffs were Nigerian, the companies they sued were based in England and the Netherlands, and the atrocities the companies were said to have aided took place in Nigeria.

Yet the court split 5 to 4 along the usual lines about how far to leave the door open to similar suits. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, suggested that it would be the rare case indeed that was proper. Certainly, he said, it should not be enough that a multinational corporation does business in the United States. “Corporations are often present in many countries,” he wrote, “and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices.”

Justice Breyer, in dissent, said such suits could play an important role in bringing to justice “torturers and perpetrators of genocide.”

THE Minnesota Law Review study did not rely on the common political science technique of coding each Supreme Court decision as conservative or liberal. To draw its main conclusions, it relied on a simpler formula, looking at cases with a business on one but not both sides. (The adversary might be an employee, job applicant, shareholder, union, environmental group or government agency.)

A vote for the business was counted as a pro-business vote.

By that standard, the study found, “the Roberts court is indeed highly pro-business — the conservatives extremely so and the liberals only moderately liberal.” Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, who spoke up in the Comcast case, were only slightly less likely to vote for business than the median justice in the survey but were in the bottom six for such votes in 5-to-4 decisions.

The arrival of Chief Justice Roberts in 2005 and Justice Alito in 2006 seem to have affected the behavior of the justices already on the court. The probability that the other three more conservative members of the court — Justices Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — would vote for business grew to 56 percent from 52 percent. And the probability that Justices Ginsburg and Breyer would do so dropped to 32 percent from 38 percent.

Scholars who look at doctrine rather than data also say there is something distinctive about the current court.

“The Roberts court is the most pro-business court since the mid-1930s,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine. “I think this helps understand it far more than traditional liberal and conservative labels.”

Others are wary of generalizations. Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said the Roberts court was “not particularly welcoming to efforts by plaintiffs’ lawyers to open new avenues of litigation, but it has not done much to cut back on those avenues already established by prior cases.”

Business groups have been enthusiastic litigants in the Roberts court. Adam D. Chandler, a recent Yale Law School graduate and a Justice Department lawyer, published a new study along these lines on Scotusblog (noting that his views were not those of his employer). Looking at friend-of-the-court briefs supporting petitions seeking Supreme Court review over a roughly three-year period ended in August 2012, he found that pro-business and anti-regulatory groups accounted for more than three-quarters of the top 16 filers.

“My data indicate that, as the court shapes its docket, it hears conservative voices far more often than liberal ones, and the disparity is growing,” he wrote.

He found that the Chamber of Commerce was “the country’s pre-eminent petition pusher,” with 54 filings in the period. It also had an enviable success rate: the court grants one out of every hundred petitions; for ones supported by the chamber, it granted 32 percent.

Ms. Todd, the chamber lawyer, said her group would continue to be active. The aftermaths of the Wal-Mart and AT&T Mobility decisions, on class actions and arbitration, “are really where a lot of our focus and resources are going right now,” she said.

“These cases have a huge impact on the business community and on the American economy more broadly,” Ms. Todd said.

The Comcast decision is just over a month old. But lower courts have already relied on it to reject class actions contending harm from defective trucks, poisoned drinking water, discrimination against disabled workers, misrepresentations in insurance policies and improperly docked wages.

Some of the plaintiffs in those cases will now pursue their claims in individual suits. But many will not, and the businesses accused of wrongdoing will, thanks to the Roberts court, breathe a little easier.

**********

May 4, 2013

The Dark Side, Carefully Masked

By MICHAEL WINES and IAN LOVETT
NYT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On the day after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev tapped out an early-afternoon text message to a classmate at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Want to hang out? he queried. Sure, his friend replied.

In Boston, the police and the F.B.I. were mounting investigations that would end three days later with Mr. Tsarnaev’s capture and his brother’s death. But on that Tuesday afternoon, he lounged in his friend’s apartment for a couple of hours, trying to best him in FIFA Soccer on a PlayStation. That night, he worked out at a campus gym.

On Thursday afternoon, he ate with friends at a dormitory grill. By early Friday, he was the target of the largest dragnet in Massachusetts history.

To even his closest friends, Mr. Tsarnaev was a smart, athletic 19-year-old with a barbed wit and a laid-back demeanor, fond of soccer and parties, all too fond of marijuana. They seldom, if ever, saw his second, almost watertight life: his disintegrating family, his overbearing brother, the gathering blackness in his most private moments.

There were glimpses. But Mr. Tsarnaev was a master of concealment. “I have had almost two weeks to think about it, and it still makes no more sense than the day I found out it was him,” Jason Rowe, Mr. Tsarnaev’s freshman roommate, said in an interview. “Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.”

Mr. Tsarnaev now lies in a prison medical facility, charged by federal authorities with using a weapon of mass destruction — the bombs, packed with explosives extracted from fireworks — that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others on April 15. In the face of compelling evidence, many friends still find it hard to believe that the teenager they knew — the “cool guy,” the “great student” with a “heart of gold,” the kid who “would not provoke violence” — could willfully commit such an atrocity.

But there were oblique signs that the gulf between the private and the public person was widening. Between raunchy jokes and posts about girls and cars on Twitter, Mr. Tsarnaev described terrifying nightmares about murder and destruction. In the last year, he alluded to disaffection with his American life and the American mind-set.

And as the date of the marathon drew close, he dropped cryptic hints of a plan of action, and the righteousness of an unspoken cause.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in July 1993 in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, the youngest of four children in a family that roamed for decades across the Caucasus and Central Asia looking for a stable home.

He spoke only broken English in 2002 when his father, Anzor, an ethnic Chechen, brought him to Massachusetts from the mostly Muslim region of Dagestan in Russia, eventually winning asylum by claiming political persecution. But by the time he entered Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2007, he spoke with barely a trace of an accent, blending seamlessly into a student body that was a mélange of immigrants and American-born students of all colors.

By all accounts, he thrived there. Jahar, as his fellow students called him — the rough pronunciation of his Caucasian name, adopted as his nickname — became a star student, winning a $2,500 scholarship upon his graduation in 2011. He loved literature and world history, particularly studies of his former homelands.

In sophomore year, he joined the school’s wrestling team as a novice and quickly grew so strong and skillful, one teammate said, that he could take down even coaches. His teammates say they looked up to him as a teacher and motivator. “We’d be running stairs for hours,” said another, Zeaed Abu-Rubieh, now 21. “Every time I’d stop, when I was thinking about leaving, he’d push me forward, physically push me. And he was strong. He’d say: ‘Go on. Run. You can do it.’ He believed in people.”

His teammates eventually voted him captain. One of the coaches, Peter Payack, said he deserved it. Despite the draining four-hour daily practice and trips at sunrise to weekend meets, he said, Mr. Tsarnaev maintained his academic record and proved a model of good sportsmanship and steady temperament.

“You always see people’s personality traits over the course of a season,” he said. “If somebody is short-tempered, if they lose a match, maybe they throw a chair. There’s somebody who’s moody, or like a loner. He was none of those things.

“After a match, there’s a prime opportunity to be mad, to say the ref robbed you. He just accepted what was done. If he lost a match, he’d put his arms out: ‘Well, I tried my best.’ And when he won, he’d pump his fist, both fists at head level: ‘Yeah, I won!’ But it was never anything excessive.”

As with almost everyone, however, Mr. Payack’s relationship with Mr. Tsarnaev went so far, and no further.

Mr. Tsarnaev was a skilled deflector of curiosity about his personal affairs. He rarely talked about his background except to say that he was Chechen or had lived in Russia. He was popular — “he had a lot of girls hitting on him,” said Junes Umarov, 18, a close friend who is also of Chechen descent — but even other close friends could not say whether he had a girlfriend. Almost no one knew anything about his family beyond a few brief sightings of his older brother, Tamerlan.

Every year, the Rindge and Latin wrestling team asks each senior to bring a relative to the last match of the year to walk onto the gym floor, receive a flower and snap a picture. Cambridge has its share of broken families and work-at-night parents; wrestlers can struggle to find the right person.

On the night of Mr. Tsarnaev’s last match, Mr. Payack said, “one of the coaches walked him out. No father, no brother, nothing.”

Few were granted a peek at Mr. Tsarnaev’s other life. But what little they saw was revealing.

Mr. Umarov has known Mr. Tsarnaev since 2004, shortly after his family came to the United States. Young Dzhokhar sometimes stayed at his home for weeks during summers, goofing around with Junes and his siblings.

Visits to the Tsarnaev household were different. “Every time we went to Dzhokhar’s house, his brother would make us work, do a bunch of push-ups, get us in shape, because we were staying inside playing video games all day,” Mr. Umarov said. “His brother never gave him wrong advice. So he looked up to his brother.”

A second Chechen friend since boyhood, 18-year-old Baudy Mazaev, said that the older brother and their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, “had a deep religious epiphany” about two or three years ago. At the time, Tamerlan’s new devotion only irritated Dzhokhar, he said.

During one visit about two years ago, he said, Tamerlan ordered him and Dzhokhar to sit and forced the two teenagers to read a book about the fundamentals of Islam and prayer. After that, he said, they began avoiding the apartment.

“He’d say: ‘Let’s not go to my house. Tamerlan will just make us read,’ ” he said. “And he was a big dude, so we kind of had to listen to him.”

During one exchange of text messages, he said, Dzhokhar indicated that Tamerlan was in the apartment with him. When Mr. Mazaev was slow to reply, he added: “Hey, stop ignoring me. Come back. Don’t make me suffer alone.”

Yet the conversion did not seem to diminish him in his younger brother’s eyes. “I know he respected him as the elder, especially once his father went to Russia,” Mr. Mazaev said. “He was his older brother and the only male of the house, so he was more dependent on him.”

While the younger brother prayed daily during lunch breaks at Rindge and Latin, and at least on occasion in his university dormitory, he never appeared especially devout, even telling one teacher, “I’m really not into that.” Up to his arrest, he drank and smoked marijuana — more marijuana than most high school or college students, friends said — despite what he said was Tamerlan’s clear disapproval.

The Dzhokhar that Mr. Mazaev and Mr. Umarov were allowed to see — in Mr. Umarov’s case, as recently as March — was the same Dzhokhar they had known for a decade.

Inside, however, some things were changing.

In February 2011, roughly when the boys’ mother embraced Islam, she separated from her husband, Anzor, a tough man trained in the law in Russia who was reduced in Cambridge to fixing cars in a parking lot. The two divorced that September, and Anzor returned to Russia, followed later by his ex-wife.

Tamerlan filled the void as head of the family’s American branch. On Twitter, Dzhokhar wrote that he missed his father.

That and other comments on his Twitter account, opened in October 2011 shortly after he arrived as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, sometimes revealed a young man more troubled and blunt-spoken than he seemed in person.

In college Mr. Tsarnaev’s grades plummeted, even as he boasted online of skipping classes and receiving a test “with all the answers on it.” He wrote of plagues of nightmares, three “zombie apocalypse” dreams in July and two in December, one of which depicted the end of the world. In February, he wrote, “I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap #intensedream.”

He gained American citizenship on Sept. 11, 2012, “and he was pretty excited about it,” said his first-year dorm mate, Mr. Rowe. Yet the previous March, he had written “a decade in america already, I want out,” followed in April by “how I miss my homeland #dagestan #chechnya.” And days before his citizenship ceremony, he expressed wonder at why more people did not realize that the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center “was an inside job.”

That and other comments hint at a defensiveness about the confluence of Islam and terrorism that was odd for a young man who earlier had said he was “not into that.” But both those and later, darker posts — “If you have the knowledge and inspiration all that’s left is to take action,” he wrote a week before the bombings — look foreboding only in retrospect.

As does Mr. Tsarnaev.

Just a year ago, Mr. Tsarnaev had wanted to become an engineer, and worried about his grades, said Sanjaya Lamichhane, a high-school wrestling teammate and former UMass Dartmouth classmate.

But as April began, Mr. Tsarnaev apparently declared that he no longer cared. After Mr. Tsarnaev emerged as a suspect in the bombing, Mr. Lamichhane said, a mutual friend from the University of Massachusetts recounted his last conversation with Mr. Tsarnaev, two weeks before the marathon. Mr. Tsarnaev told their friend, “God is all that matters. It doesn’t matter about school and engineering,” Mr. Lamichhane said. “He said, ‘When it comes to school and being an engineer, you can cheat easily. But when it comes to going to heaven, you can’t cheat.’ ”

He declined to name the mutual friend, who he said did not want to speak to reporters.

Mr. Payack, the wrestling coach, has run 12 Boston Marathons. His love of the race is a given among his wrestlers.

Early this year, Mr. Tsarnaev unexpectedly returned to his high school, wrestling shoes in hand, to grapple with the team.

“We’re all laughing; everyone’s pulling his hair and saying you ought to do cornrows,” Mr. Payack said. “Eight weeks later, he blows up the marathon. Why would he embrace us if he wants to blow us up?”

On April 15, Mr. Payack was more than a block from the finish line, hurrying to watch his son complete the race when the first bomb went off. He still has difficulty hearing in one ear.

One night, exactly one month before that, Mr. Tsarnaev appeared at Mr. Umarov’s home in Chelsea, not far from Cambridge, with a friend. They carried a load of fireworks. The three chatted about college over burgers at a Five Guys restaurant and then headed for Admiral’s Hill, a former Navy barracks on the waterfront, to set off the fireworks: pinwheels, Roman candles and other largely innocuous types.

Then they went home. “That’s the last time I saw Dzhokhar,” Mr. Umarov said.

The afternoon of April 15, Mr. Tsarnaev’s other Chechen friend Mr. Mazaev received a text message from him. The marathon had been bombed, and the city was in chaos. “Yo buddy are yu ok man?” Mr. Tsarnaev asked.

“Two bombs went off,” Mr. Mazaev replied. “People losing limbs.”

“Yeah man we good mashallah,” Mr. Tsarnaev wrote back, using an Arabic phrase often spoken upon hearing good news. “I automatically thought of yu man Boston and what not.”

Mr. Mazaev replied, “It’s crazy I was bouta go watch that with friends but slept through it today.”

The response: “Alrighty man stay safe my man, keep in touch.”

Four days later, with Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar on the run, Mr. Mazaev tapped out another message on his iPhone: “Jahar man if u can read this just turn urself in for the sake of ur parents. Ull be so much safer there’s no reason for all of this just do it for everyone’s sake,” it read in part. “DON’T MAKE IT ANY WORSE.”

Mr. Tsarnaev never replied.

Reporting was contributed by Jennifer Preston, Serge F. Kovaleski and Emily Rueb from New York; Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Dina Kraft from Cambridge; Kitty Bennett from St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Leanne Poirier from North Dartmouth, Mass.



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« Reply #6172 on: May 06, 2013, 06:05 AM »

Syria accuses Israel of declaring war after further air strikes

Israel's night raid on 'missiles destined for Hezbollah' deepens fears of conflict spreading beyond Syrian border across region

Julian Borger and Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 6 May 2013   

Link to video: Syria: China calls for restraint following Israeli air strikes

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/06/syria-china-israeli-strikes-video

The Syrian government said that Israeli air strikes against military targets around Damascus amounted to a "declaration of war" and threatened retaliation, in the latest sign that the fighting is spilling across the Syrian border and risks sparking a wider regional conflict.

Israel made no official comment on the strikes early on Sunday, which were the second in two days and the third and heaviest this year. Security sources said they were aimed at preventing the transfer of advanced Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon for possible use against Israel.

After the attack, Israel deployed two batteries of Iron Dome anti-ballistic missiles, designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles, to the north of the country, and the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, delayed a trip to China to chair a meeting of his security cabinet.

The Iranian army's ground forces commander, Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, said Iran was ready to train the Syrian army if necessary, something Israeli and western officials say has been going on for some time, but observers said that the increasingly public and bellicose declarations from Syria's neighbours showed the conflict's potential for spreading.

In a further development, UN human rights investigators have said they have "strong suspicions" that Syrian rebel forces might have used the nerve agent sarin.

Carla del Ponte, one of the lead investigators, said the UN independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law. But she told Swiss-Italian television: "Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."

Del Ponte gave no details as to when or where sarin may have been used. The report followed claims last month that president Bashar al-Assad had used sarin gas in the conflict, but there has so far been no proof of its use.

The Damascus regime's deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, told CNN the Israeli air strikes at the weekend represented "a declaration of war" and betokened an alliance between Islamist terrorists and Israel. He said Syria would retaliate in its own time and in its own way.

Omran Zoabi, the information minister, said: "Syria is a country that does not accept insults and it doesn't accept humiliation."

Israeli military analysts said the missiles had been fired from outside Syrian airspace to avoid engaging Syria's reportedly formidable air defences. The Lebanese army said that Israeli planes had flown above Lebanon, an act that drew condemnation from the country's president, Michel Suleiman.
Syria locator

The office of the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, also denounced the attack, declaring it illegal and a threat to "security and stability in the region". Meanwhile, Nabil Elaraby, chief of the Arab League, appealed to the UN security council to "move immediately to stop the Israeli aggressions on Syria".

The air strikes lit up the night sky above west Damascus in the early hours of Sunday. Witnesses described a string of blasts that caused fiery clouds in the sky above Mount Qassioun, from where government artillery has been pounding rebel-held areas. "The explosion was very, very strong," a Damascus-based activist, Maath al-Shami, told the Associated Press.

Mohammed Saeed, another activist who lives in the Damascus suburb of Douma, said: "The explosions were so strong that earth shook under us." He said the smell of the fire caused by the air raid near Qasioun was detectable kilometres away.

Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles had hit a military and scientific research centre in Jamraya near Damascus and caused casualties. Syrian officials had claimed that the first Israeli missile strikes in January had hit the same target, but that was denied at the time by US officials, who said the raids had been aimed at a missile shipment intended for Hezbollah.

While avoiding direct confirmation that Israel had struck, Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister, told Israel Radio: "The policy of preventing leakage of significant weaponry and advanced systems to Hezbollah is right, otherwise we could encounter it here in Israel."

A senior Israeli official was quoted by AP as saying the air strikes were aimed at destroying Fateh-110 missiles, a solid-fuelled Iranian weapon with a 200 mile range and precision guidance systems, far more effective than anything in Hezbollah's existing arsenal. Its Farsi name means "conqueror".

Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general, said: "The context according to reports I have seen is similar to January: a shipment of strategic weapons which would be a game-changer in a conflict with Hezbollah. There is great concern here about the spillover from Syria and particularly about strategic weapons – not just chemical weapons, but also missiles.

"Israel did act and will act whenever it feels its national security interests are threatened, be it on the joint border with Syria – which has been quiet until now but may not remain that way – or with the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah."

When Barack Obama visited Israel in March, Netanyahu asked for US help in stopping the spread of Syrian missiles and chemical weapons. "These missiles are not just a problem for Israel," a senior Israeli official told the Guardian.

Israeli officials also acknowledged that such air strikes could spark a new, highly destructive cross-border war with Hezbollah.

Emile Hokayem, a regional analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said there were credible reports that, following the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006, advanced Iranian missiles intended to help rearm the Lebanese Shia militia had been stockpiled in Syria under a joint custody arrangement.

"In 2006-07 Hezbollah was restocking obviously and the Syrians had an interest in a conflict-management role to keep some control," Hokayem said. "This quality weaponry was prepositioned in Syria, under some kind of joint custody. We don't know the exact mechanisms, but it would clearly have been a very dangerous sovereignty for Assad to allow the Hezbollahis and Iran to do this without Syrian control."

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of military intelligence who heads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told Army Radio that Syria risked serious damage to its already battered military capabilities if it responded to the latest air strikes.

"Assad knows that the rebels have made him the primary target, and if he tries to deflect the fire towards Israel, chances are that he will be attacked by both the rebels and Israel," Yadlin said.

The air strikes were also a signal to Iran, Yadlin said, making it clear to Tehran that "when at least some of the players define red lines, and they are crossed, they take it seriously".

Netanyahu has urged the US and other nations to set a "red line" for Iran's nuclear programme, beyond which it could face military strikes on facilities Israel says are developing the components of a nuclear weapon

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May 5, 2013

Airstrikes Tied to Israel May Be Message to Iranians

By JODI RUDOREN and ISABEL KERSHNER
IHT

JERUSALEM — The twin airstrikes in Damascus on Friday and Sunday attributed to Israel appear to be more about Jerusalem’s broad, mostly covert battle with Iran and Hezbollah than about the bloody civil war raging in Syria.

Despite intensifying concern over the future of Syria, Israeli political and military leaders steadfastly maintain that they have no interest in entangling themselves in their neighbor’s conflict. But the airstrikes on military warehouses and other military installations underscore their determination to prevent advanced weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia allied with Iran.

The increased frequency and intensity of the attacks also demonstrates Israel’s desire to take advantage of the chaotic situation, security experts say, as well as its calculation that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are too preoccupied and weakened by the raging conflict in Syria to retaliate strongly against even a brazen escalation.

But several warned there was a risk of Israeli overreach, particularly given the fiery rhetoric with which Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah responded, a stark contrast to the silence that greeted some earlier attacks.

“The real question is how much humble pie can Assad eat and still keep his svelte figure,” said Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, speaking of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “The risks of action in Israel’s perception are lower today than they have been in the past. Everybody’s now testing each other and gauging what each one can get away with.”

Analysts said they did not see the airstrikes as the opening of a new war front, or as an attempt to prop up the Syrian rebels against the Syrian government of Mr. Assad. Rather, they tended to see it more as an extension of the long-running “shadow war” against Iran and Hezbollah, a tit-for-tat of terror attacks and assassinations that has stretched over decades and around the world.

“This shouldn’t be seen as Israel intervening on behalf of the rebels or against Bashar,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya. “This is an escalation in a conflict we know about, and that is the conflict between Israel and Iran.”

Israeli officials contacted in the prime minister’s office, military command and defense and foreign ministries refused to discuss the strikes on Sunday, strictly following a protocol designed to give adversaries face-saving room to avoid a response. But wire services cited anonymous Israeli sources who confirmed Israel’s responsibility.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Sunday night for a six-day mission to China, which many interpreted as a sign that Israel did not plan to step up its campaign in coming days — or expect a serious attack.

But Mr. Netanyahu delayed his departure for two hours to meet with his security cabinet, as Israel deployed two Iron Dome missile-defense batteries around northern cities and restricted civilian flights in its northern airspace. Israeli news organizations also reported that the security-alert level was heightened at Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world and that requests for gas masks had quadrupled since the strikes.

“The state of Israel is protecting its interests and will continue doing so,” Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, said on Army Radio on Sunday. “We will do everything, anywhere in order to protect those interests.”

In apparently targeting weapons warehouses and shipments bound for Lebanon, Israel did exactly what it has been promising since the war began. The back-to-back strikes made an emphatic statement that Israel’s red lines were real, even as the Obama administration debates how to respond to the use of chemical weapons that President Obama had described as a “game-changer” that could trigger American intervention.

Israel may be banking on the idea that Hezbollah is saving its Iranian-provided firepower to attack Israel in retaliation for any Israeli or United States attack on the Iranian nuclear program.

But the circumstances on the ground in Syria have shifted considerably since Israel’s January attack on a convoy of Russian SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, so these strikes may have wider implications for the civil war and beyond.

“This is the kind of thing you know how it begins but not how it ends,” said Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon at Tel Aviv University. “Israel is still not involved in the war in Syria,” he added, “but it is getting closer.”

Israel and Syria have been in a mostly silent standoff for decades, technically at war but maintaining an uneasy peace along their 43-mile border. A far more significant foe is Hezbollah, Israel’s opponent in a 34-day air-and-ground battle in 2006 that was widely deemed a failure. Determined not to repeat those mistakes, the Israeli Army has been preparing for what it sees as an inevitable next round in Lebanon, including a huge surprise drill last week in which 2,000 reservists were summoned to Israel’s north.

“There hasn’t been a week in the last several months that didn’t deal with something that might take us to a place of escalation and a war that comes from there,” a top general said in a recent interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity, following military protocol. “We are trying to be as responsible as we can, to limit the use of force as much as we can, but we live in a neighborhood where it’s needed.”

As Mr. Assad’s grip on Syria has loosened in the last year, Israeli fears have mounted that he would become increasingly dependent on Iran and Hezbollah while controlling a shrinking piece of territory, with the rest of the country in the hands of jihadists and other groups Israel feels less confident of containing.

Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the timing of the attacks suggested that the Israelis had seen a confluence of “operational necessity and strategic convenience.”

“The strike sends a clear message to Hezbollah and Iran that we know you have these capabilities and we’ll go after you if you try to change the military balance,” Mr. Hokayem said. “It adds clarity, where the American dithering over chemical weapons added confusion.”

Ehud Yaari, an Arab affairs analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 news and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Sunday that all the targets in Damascus were Hezbollah-controlled (though reports from the ground indicate that as many as 100 Syrian soldiers were killed, perhaps inadvertently). That underscored the view that these strikes were part of the shadow war with Iran and Hezbollah.

Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general and former chief of staff to Israel’s minister of defense, said response to the airstrikes is more likely to come in the form of a bombing of Israeli interests abroad than missiles fired at Tel Aviv from the north. Moshe Maoz, a Hebrew University professor of Middle Eastern Studies, said Iran was now the crucial actor regarding what might happen next.

“Israel may be testing Iran,” Professor Maoz said. “Iran is the key. If Hezbollah gets a green light from Iran to retaliate, or if Syria does, Israel won’t be idle. It could lead to a regional war.”

Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Cairo.

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Turkish PM blasts ‘butcher’ Assad in scathing speech on Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 5, 2013 16:31 EDT

AFP – Turkey’s prime minister on Sunday delivered his most virulent attack so far on Bashar al-Assad, calling the Syrian president a “butcher” and warning that he will be held to account for the deaths of tens of thousands of his citizens.

“If God permits, we will see this butcher, this murderer receive his judgement in this world … and we will praise (God) for it,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“You will pay a very, very heavy price for showing your courage to the babies in the cradle, the courage you cannot show others,” he told a cheering crowd of lawmakers and party activists in a town near Ankara.

Erdogan’s harsh words came after reported Israeli air strikes on a military target near Damascus, which Israeli sources said hit Iranian weapons destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian regime.

Ankara’s first open challenge to Damascus to respond to Israeli operations came in February, when the Jewish state implicitly confirmed that its warplanes had hit a military complex near Damascus.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu then mocked the Syrian army for its failure to retaliate.

“Why doesn’t it throw even a pebble?” he said.

Ankara cut contact with Damascus after its calls for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which is now in its third year and has killed more than 70,000 people, went unheeded.

Turkey has sided with the rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime, taken in around 400,000 refugees as well as army defectors and repeatedly called on the international community to act on the unfolding crisis.

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May 5, 2013

Attacks Fuel Debate Over U.S.-Led Effort

By DAVID E. SANGER
IHT

WASHINGTON — The apparent ease with which Israel struck missile sites and, by Syrian accounts, a major military research center near Damascus in recent days has stoked debate in Washington about whether American-led airstrikes are the logical next step to cripple President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to counter the rebel forces or use chemical weapons.

That option was already being debated in secret by the United States, Britain and France in the days leading to the Israeli strikes, according to American and foreign officials involved in the discussions. On Sunday, Senator John McCain, who has long advocated a much deeper American role in the Syrian civil war, argued that the Israeli attacks, at least one of which appears to have been launched from outside Syrian airspace, weakens the argument that Syria’s air defense system would be a major challenge.

“The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” He went on to say that the United States would be capable of disabling the Syrian air defenses on the ground “with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.” Patriot missile batteries already installed in Turkey, he argued, could defend a safe zone to protect rebels and refugees.

The Pentagon developed such options months ago, but in recent weeks, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Central Command, which runs military operations in the Middle East, have been asked to refine them and explore how strikes would be coordinated with allies, much as they were in the opening days of the attacks on Libya that ultimately drove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power, according to several senior administration officials.

But President Obama has been reluctant to follow the course he took in that case, aides say, partly because of concerns about the strength of air defenses in Syria and partly because the opposition forces include so many jihadist elements.

So far, Mr. Obama has said he would intervene only if it turned out that Syria had used chemical weapons — the current investigation into the use of sarin gas focuses on Aleppo and Damascus, the capital, in March — or if such use was imminent. Now, one adviser to Mr. Obama said, “it’s become pretty clear to everyone that Assad is calculating whether those weapons might save him.”

The result is that the narrow goal of preventing the use of chemical weapons is beginning to merge with the broader goals of toppling Mr. Assad and seeking an end to a carnage that is already far greater than what took place in Libya, when Mr. Obama justified American intervention on humanitarian grounds.

“We have to work even harder with our allies and the opposition to accelerate Assad’s exit while there is still a Syria to save,” William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, said at a symposium at Princeton University on Saturday, as accounts of the Israeli strikes were beginning to emerge.

“There is a mounting urgency to this effort as both the human and strategic costs grow,” he said. Mr. Obama, in Costa Rica on Friday, all but ruled out placing American forces into Syria, which seemed to eliminate the option of parachuting in Special Forces to secure the 15 to 20 major chemical weapons sites. That has led to a more intense examination of offshore strikes, similar to those conducted by Israel, but aimed at the delivery vehicles for chemical weapons: missiles and aircraft.

Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France, did not specifically address on Monday the possibility of military intervention in Syria, saying at a scheduled news conference in Hong Kong that, “There is only one solution, it is to get back to a political solution, and we French ask now to the secretary general of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to be involved himself.”

Mr. Fabius said France was in continuing discussions with Russia about Syria. “We are urging our American friends to be more involved” in diplomatic efforts to find a political solution, he said.

On Sunday, a senior administration official said that “there are many options short of American boots on the ground, and there hasn’t been a lean in any particular direction to this point.”

“If there’s a decision to intervene, it’s pretty darn easy to suggest airstrikes if U.S. troops aren’t going to jump in to the conflict,” he added. “But the reality is that any number of options — to include airstrikes — would probably be combined with other measures if more direct engagement is where we’re heading. This isn’t exactly a pick-one-from-the-menu scenario.”

These issues are certain to come up on Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-day visit to Moscow this week, one that Mr. Burns said would be used to argue that Russia’s long allegiance to Mr. Assad is now turning against its government’s interests, with a prolonged conflict only worsening the chances that the Syrian conflict will widen and promote extremism, including in the Caucasus region.

But Russia would almost certainly veto any effort to obtain United Nations Security Council authorization to take military action. So far, Mr. Obama has avoided seeking such authorization, and that is one reason that past or future use of chemical weapons could serve as a legal argument for conducting strikes, assuming they were limited to crippling Mr. Assad’s ability to drop those weapons on Syrian cities.

So far among the most reluctant members of the administration to intervene heavily in Syria has been Mr. Obama himself. He declined to arm the rebels last fall, despite urging from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the C.I.A. director at the time, David H. Petraeus.

On Sunday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said he believed the administration was getting closer to a decision. “The idea of getting weapons in — if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we will give them to them,” Mr. Leahy said on “Meet the Press.” Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that arming the rebels was under consideration.

In fact that debate has begun to shift in favor of more action, administration officials say. Mr. Obama’s legalistic parsing of whether his “red line” for intervention was crossed when evidence arose of a limited use of sarin gas has prompted many of his allies — led by Israeli officials — to question the credibility of his warnings.

One administration official acknowledged late last week that the critique had “begun to sting,” but said that Mr. Obama was determined to go slowly, awaiting a definitive intelligence report on who was responsible for the presence of sarin before deciding on a next step.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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May 6, 2013

Syrian Rebels Say They Downed Helicopter Amid New Claims on Chemical Weapons

By ANNE BARNARD and ALAN COWELL
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels said on Monday that they had shot down a government helicopter in the east of the country, killing eight security troops, as new accusations emerged that insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad may have used an illegal nerve agent in the country’s grinding civil war. The rebels denied the assertion.

The latest battlefield accounts, focusing on the east and north of the battered country, came after Mr. Assad’s government publicly assailed Israel for an air attack on military targets near Damascus, the capital, early on Sunday, saying the strike “opened the door to all possibilities,” deepening apprehension that the civil war could spill beyond Syria’s frontiers.

Before the Israeli attack, a key question defining outside attitudes to the more than two-year-old conflict was whether chemical weapons had been used, drawing Western powers more directly into the war. Mr. Obama has said he would intervene only if it turned out that Syria had used chemical weapons or if such use was imminent.

But there have been separate claims that the insurgents, backed by many Western and some key Arab nations, have used chemical weapons.

In an interview over the weekend with Swiss-Italian television, Carla del Ponte, one of the leading figures in a Geneva-based United Nations investigation, said there were strong suspicions that the rebels seeking Mr. Assad’s overthrow had themselves used sarin, a nerve agent, but there was no “incontrovertible proof” that they had.

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals,” she said, and “according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

“This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added. She did not elaborate on where the chemicals might have been used. Ms. del Ponte is one of four investigators mandated by the 47-nation United Nations Human Rights Council in August 2011 to report periodically on the Syrian situation. Their next report is set for publication in late May, officials in Geneva said, but it was not immediately clear whether it would document findings relating to chemical weapons.

It was also unclear whether Ms. del Ponte was speaking on behalf of all four investigators.

The insurgents called the reported findings of the investigation a “big lie.”

Maj. Gen. Adnan Sillo, a defector from the Syrian military who had previously headed a chemical warfare unit, said Ms. del Ponte’s accusation came at a time when Syria had already crossed the “red line” laid down by President Obama as a warning to Mr. Assad not to deploy such weapons.

“This claim is a big lie,” he said.

“The Syrian regime has used the chemical weapons against civilians many times,” most recently near Idlib in the north of the country, he said. “And there is no doubt that the regime will use it more often as this is its strategy in the war since the beginning of oppressing the uprising, to move gradually.”

The dispute over chemical weapons came as the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and draws information from a network of activists within Syria, posted video on Monday showing combatants standing in front of what appeared to be the wreckage of a helicopter.

The Observatory said eight government troops were aboard the helicopter when it came down in the east of the country. The claim was significant since air power has given Mr. Assad’s forces a significant edge, prompting the insurgents action against both aircraft and air bases.

On Sunday, the Observatory said, rebel forces occupied part of the Mannagh military air base in northern Syria near the border with Turkey after days of clashes, prompting renewed airstrikes by government forces seeking to dislodge them.

The claims relating to both the use of sarin gas and the shooting down of the helicopter could not be immediately corroborated because of restrictions on independent reporting in Syria.

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Alan Cowell from London. Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Antakya, Turkey.

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UN chief urges respect for ‘national sovereignty’ after Israeli bombs Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 5, 2013 20:20 EDT

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed Sunday for restraint to avoid an escalation in Syria’s civil war, expressing “grave concern” over Israeli air raids.

Israel launched air strikes earlier that hit three military sites near Damascus, the second such reported attack in a 48-hour period targeting the transfer of arms to Lebanon-based Hezbollah, raising fresh concerns of a regional spillover.

“The secretary-general calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict,” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.

Nesirky said the United Nations was unable to independently verify the raids, and had no details about them, but Ban “expresses grave concern over reports of air strikes in Syria by the Israeli Air Force.”

“The secretary-general urges respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region, and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions,” Nesirky said.

Ban spoke by telephone with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi about the reports, which have triggered fears of further escalation in a conflict that has already killed more than 70,000 people in just over two years.

The two men “shared their grave concern about the reported air strikes in Syria and the risks for regional security,” Nesirky said.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is set to purse the talks on the sidelines of the Somalia conference in London on Tuesday.






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« Last Edit: May 06, 2013, 06:19 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6173 on: May 06, 2013, 06:12 AM »


Kenyan Mau Mau: official policy was to cover up brutal mistreatment

The Kenyan rebellion case could be groundbreaking in making the connection between wrongdoing and government action

Huw Bennett   
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 17.36 BST   

Situated largely in the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru areas of Kenya's central highlands, the Mau Mau rebellion consisted of a diverse movement rather than a cohesive organisation. Support for the rebellion came from those who objected to Britain's imperial presence, from agricultural workers denied land ownership, and from Nairobi's unemployed. The Kikuyu, Embu and Meru populations stood at about 1.4 million, and early intelligence assessments deemed the vast majority suspect.

Among all the conflicts experienced by Britain during its end of empire, Kenya is now regarded as the most violent. There were two major reasons for this. The conflict was above all a civil war within the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru ethnicities. Most of the violence was inflicted and suffered by people from these groups. Secondly, the security forces adopted a counter-insurgency strategy based on collective punishment. Africans living in the so-called Kenya Emergency areas were deemed guilty until proven innocent. Those who demonstrated loyalty to the colonial regime, perhaps by joining the home guard militia, received preferential treatment. The majority of Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people were either sent to detention camps or, on an even greater scale, forced into new villages under close surveillance.

The claimants in the court case offer a small glimpse into the experiences of thousands of people over 50 years ago. But why have such grave allegations, including sexual assaults, beatings and torture, taken so long to reach a court room? Until recently association with the Mau Mau remained illegal in Kenya, and having been detained put the claimants at risk of prosecution if they came forward. Only when contacted by the Kenya human rights commission did they become aware of the legal remedies open to them. They have presented a strong case that the abuses they suffered – acknowledged by the Foreign Office to be true – stemmed from systemic factors instead of individual criminality.

Atrocities and torture during armed conflicts always raise a vital question: were the abuses caused by "rotten apple" deviants, or by policy? In his two judgments, Justice McCoombe has ruled that a reasonable case can be made for attributing torture in Kenya to government decision-making. The evidence base for such a stance was already strong before the lawyers entered court 73 in April 2011. Historical research by David Anderson, Caroline Elkins and myself concluded the security forces inflicted indiscriminate suffering from 1952 to the Emergency's end in 1960. The 1,500 Kenya files discovered among the secret Hanslope Archive add further grim details to the patterns already identified. Both the colonial authorities in Kenya and the government in Britain knew the interrogation and detention practices carried out by their agents were resulting in widespread abuses. The reaction was to cover up rather than clean up the brutal mistreatment.

After October 2012's ruling that the case could proceed to full trial, the Foreign Office decided to appeal McCoombe's decision. The appeal has been postponed while negotiations take place between the two sides. For the claimants an out-of-court settlement would bring a sense of justice. Their stated objectives are an apology and compensation to pay for medical treatment. For the government, ceasing to deny responsibility for patently dishonourable acts would remove a source of ongoing embarrassment, hardly helped by the new Kenyan president's father having been incarcerated during the Emergency.

When other countries have examined their past through the courts, important changes in the public understanding of the nation's history arise. In addition, a large number of claims may come from other conflicts where Britain applied counter-insurgency measures. The prime minister received praise for apologising for the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland in 1972, while hundreds of Iraqis have been compensated for human rights abuses suffered from 2003. Why will the government apologise for some episodes and not others? The Kenya case could be groundbreaking in making the connection between wrongdoing and official policy. Public inquiries, civil litigation and compensation are sometimes condemned for their intrusion on military and intelligence affairs in the last decade. We should remember they are only necessary because, from 1950s Kenya to the War on Terror, the criminal law has failed to hold the state to account.

• Dr Huw Bennett is a lecturer in the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, and an expert witness in the Mau Mau court case. His first book, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency, is published by Cambridge University Press.

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Kenya: evil and the empire

For elderly Kenyans variously beaten, castrated and detained in Britain's gulag, there can be no adequate compensation

Editorial
The Guardian, Sunday 5 May 2013 22.50 BST   

For a long time the denial was total, with even archival staff told that the damning files about Kenya belonged to somebody other than the Foreign Office. After the papers were finally dragged into the daylight, Whitehall accepted that the racially tinged barbarism they documented was a very bad business. It continued to fight litigation, however, because of supposed fears about the impossibility of a fair case, half a century on from the Mau Mau revolt. Last year, a judge dismissed this concern, pointing to "voluminous" evidence dutifully logged by a regime that ruled with the filing cabinet as well as the iron rod. A last-ditch Foreign Office attempt to bat the issue remained in play, but now the government seems ready to shift from fighting to folding, by moving to settle with victims of British abuse.

For elderly Kenyans who were variously beaten, castrated and detained in "Britain's gulag", there can be no adequate compensation for a trauma that may have shaped a lifetime, but a payment coupled to a frank confession might help draw a line, the process post-apartheid South Africa called truth and reconciliation. For the surviving victims, this is, surely, the least that justice demands.

But is there any broader purpose in stirring up the distant past? The case against securing apologies from people without personal culpability after hauling long-dead officials over the coals is not hard to make, but it is blind to the chains that link present and past. Britain's place in the world was established through imperialism, and although that place is not what it was, that same history explains why the average citizen in London still enjoys privileges and opportunities completely unknown to the average citizen in Nairobi. The first I in ICI was for imperial, testament to the role that sales to the colonies played in the building of British industry; the flow of funds around an empire on which the sun never set made sterling a reserve currency and London a world financial centre. Go further back, and the UK's proud claim to be "a trading nation" was established with consignments of the bloodstained crops of cotton and sugar, to say nothing of the human cargo that went with them.

All this, of course, goes way beyond Kenya, which was only colonised the best part of a century after trading in slaves was abolished. The point is merely that it is attendant on countries that have prospered through brute power to be honest and reflective about this. Britain may have run its empire on looser reins than some, and certainly jettisoned it more quickly. It did not, however, do so without a nasty fight in several places. The Mau Mau case is important because it reminds us of this – and of how reliably the impulse to assert national authority beyond national borders slips from the arrogant to the violent.



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« Reply #6174 on: May 06, 2013, 06:13 AM »


Egyptian voices – conservative and progressive – clamour to be heard

As a segregated hotel opens in the tourist resort of Hurghada, secular Egyptians make a point of asserting themselves

Patrick Kingsley   
guardian.co.uk, Friday 3 May 2013 17.27 BST   

Last weekend, the owners of the 4Win hotel in Hurghada uncorked the entire contents of their drinks cabinet, and poured it down their stairs. Attended by a Salafi sheikh, and by supporters chanting "Allah is great", the event was a first for Hurghada. It marked the opening of the first hotel in the Red Sea resort – a westernised tourist town where much of the signage is in English and Russian – that promises to cater for religiously conservative guests.

"At the moment, many Middle Eastern men won't come to Hurghada because they won't get the privacy they require," said 4Win's manager and co-owner, Abdelbasset Omar. "We're trying to fill that gap in the market."

Omar said female guests will stay on a segregated, women-only floor guarded by female security personnel, and will also have the option of swimming in a segregated pool. The bar is alcohol-free, while images of musicians Elvis Presley and Shakira – the residue of the hotel's previous life as a conventional establishment – have been removed from the walls. But the transformation is not entirely complete: paid-for pornography channels have not yet been removed from the hotel's televisions.

"It gives me the chance to enjoy tourism in my own country in a way that does not contradict my beliefs," said one of the hotel's first guests, Abdel Rahman – an electronics engineer from Cairo. "Especially the privacy for women – they can enjoy swimming now with no problems."

"I'm very glad that this hotel has been opened," said Sheikh Khaled Saeed, who spoke at the hotel's opening. "It helps better reflect a real image of Egyptian society."

Western tourism in Egypt has fallen since the 2011 uprising – one local hotelier said his hotel's occupancy was down by 50%, while nationwide numbers have fallen by over a fifth in the past two years. In this light, 4Win's existence is partly seen as a clever attempt to make up for the shortfall with a different kind of tourist. "It's a smart move," said Adel Ibrahim, the owner of Canary Hotel, another Hurghada inn. "It'll attract conservative guests – both from the Gulf countries and from Egypt."

4Win is not Egypt's first no-alcohol hotel, and nor were such businesses unheard of before Egypt's 2011 uprising. But for some, the hotel – particularly its touristy location, and its segregated nature – is nevertheless one of several developments that suggest Egypt has become more Islamised since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. "The previous regime wouldn't have allowed this kind of hotel because such a hotel wouldn't have reflected the image that Mubarak would have wanted to have of Egypt," said Omar. "Now Islamists have a bigger chance to express themselves," said Abdel Rahman.

Islamists are not a homogenous bloc. In fact, ultra-orthodox Salafist politicians are increasingly at odds with the less doctrinal Muslim Brotherhood, whose associates are Egypt's largest political force. But more generally, both their members and their ideas have nevertheless become increasingly visible.

Between them, Islamist parties have a majority in parliament – however divided they may now be. President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood affiliate, seeks to introduce the controversial sukuk, an Islamist version of a government bond. Islamic singers – banned under Mubarak – are making a comeback. Alcohol restrictions have been tightened – while in a middle-class district of east Cairo, a new segregated Salafi cafe has garnered much media attention. Elsewhere in Hurghada this week, threats from Islamists forced the closure of an anti-Islamist play.

But elsewhere, liberals and leftists emphasised that the 2011 uprising has amplified progressive voices as well conservative ones. "To highlight what the Salafis or the Muslim Brotherhood are doing misses out the larger picture," said professor Khaled Fahmy, a prominent commentator and head of history at the American University in Cairo. "For sure, since the revolution we have seen a religious discourse that is very pronounced and even extremist. But we have also seen an amazing effervescence of art, of music and of poetry."

Fahmy pointed to the graffiti artists whose murals now cover many Egyptian city centres; political poets such as Mostafa Ibrahim; and arts events such as Cairo's downtown contemporary arts festival (D-caf) – all of whose work was partly enabled by the political vacuum created by the 2011 uprising.

Despite the rise of political Islam, in some quarters the uprising has also led to an increase in secular activism. On the same weekend as the 4Win Hotel opened, a group of young Egyptians stood outside the famous Library of Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast. They called themselves the Almaneyoun, or the Secularists, and they chanted: "No to the Islamic state. No to religious rule. Egypt is a secular state." Above their heads they held their state ID cards – with the controversial section that states their religion symbolically scrubbed off.

The Secularists remain a tiny group in a country where even the civil-minded often still have a high level of religiosity. But they claim they are growing, and will soon open several new outposts in the Nile delta. One of their leaders in Alexandria is even a former Salafi. "You can loudly say that this is a spring for secular movements as well," said the group's co-founder, Ahmed Samer. "The more Islamists try to push their ideas on people, the more people will try to reject it."

In Cairo, two journalists have started a similar campaign – "None of your business" – that aims to remove references to religion from state ID cards. Meanwhile, two months ago hundreds of students gathered in the unlikely setting of a mosque to discuss atheism – a taboo subject for many Egyptians. "Could we ever imagine such a gathering occurring before the revolution that overthrew Mubarak?" wrote one of the attendees, journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah. "No. Would Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood–backed government wish to silence such a thing? Of course. But it can't."
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« Reply #6175 on: May 06, 2013, 06:21 AM »

May 5, 2013

New Law in Libya Bans Some From Office

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
IHT

BENGHAZI, Libya — Young Libyans call their government “rule of the mooq-mooq,” a nonsensical neologism used to mock the armed militias left over from the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. And on Sunday, some said, Libya’s transitional General National Congress handed a new triumph to the mooq-mooq.

Bowing to pressure from armed Islamists and other militiamen, the congress passed a law to exclude former officials of the Qaddafi era from public office. Its text was so broadly written that it may force out of office both the president of the congress, Mohammed Magarief, and the prime minister, Ali Zeidan. Both spent long careers in opposition to Colonel Qaddafi after short stints as Libyan diplomats at the beginning of his 40-year reign.

Although the law’s full repercussions remain to be seen, its backers made clear that their first aim was to exclude from power Mahmoud Jibril, the politician who leads the main coalition in congress opposed to the Islamists. A political scientist trained at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Jibril organized the rebels’ provisional government during the battle to oust Colonel Qaddafi and played an integral role in enlisting crucial Western backing for the fight. But before that he worked for three years as the head of an economic planning board under the Qaddafi government.

The congress had promised for months that as its first order of business it would enact some form of ban to stop former Qaddafi officials from returning to power in the current government. But the chamber of novice lawmakers had previously failed to reach an agreement.

The term mooq-mooq comes from graffiti seen in the background of images of a demonstration by militiamen in support of the law during the debate.

Mr. Jibril’s coalition, apparently in an attempt to slow the legislation, proposed broadening it to exclude even those who served the Qaddafi government long ago and former members of the armed Islamist opposition who reached reconciliation agreements to win release from Colonel Qaddafi’s jails.

Then last week, groups of Islamists and other militiamen armed with Kalashnikovs and truck-mounted artillery surrounded and shut down the buildings housing the ministries of justice and foreign affairs, refusing to leave until the law was passed.

“We are carrying the demands of the people to the national congress,” said Sami Saadi, a leader of an Islamist party and the former leader of an armed Islamist insurgency. Even under the law, he said, Mr. Jibril “can take all of his rights except participating in the government for a period of time.”

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the law violated both international norms and Libya’s interim Constitution “because it allows for guilt by association rather than provable misdeeds.” The group called the law vague, overly broad and open to arbitrary application, and noted that the congress had set a dangerous precedent for the balance of powers by exempting the law from judicial review even before its drafting.

Just as worrisome, said Hanan Salah, the group’s representative in Libya, was the congress’s frank capitulation to the fighters who had surrounded the ministries. “The vote went ahead despite several ministries being under siege by these militias,” she said. “What will happen next time?”

Members of Parliament “openly voting and mooq-mooqs watching, waiting in the next street,” one Libyan marveled on Twitter. “Demooqmooqracy,” another Twitter user wrote.

Supporters of the law celebrated Sunday night in the streets of Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Militiamen fired their rifles in the air and two revelers carried a hand-painted sign that read, “I am mooq-mooq and proud.”

Osama al-Fitory contributed reporting.
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« Reply #6176 on: May 06, 2013, 06:23 AM »

May 5, 2013

Palestinian Leader Seeks Chinese Support

By CHRIS BUCKLEY
IHT

HONG KONG — The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, arrived in Beijing on Sunday seeking support from Chinese leaders, days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is to make a visit of his own, although Israeli officials have said there are no plans for a meeting between them.

China has tried to maintain firm ties with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority while supporting Palestinian demands for statehood and occasionally chiding the Israeli government for its policies toward the Palestinians. But it has shown little appetite for taking on a role as a broker in that and other conflicts in the Middle East.

Still, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing last week that “if the Palestinian and Israeli leaders want to meet each other in China, we will happily provide the necessary assistance.”

China “supports the Palestinian and Israeli sides in resolving their differences and disputes through peace talks,” Ms. Hua said on Thursday. “China’s reception of the Palestinian and Israeli leaders for visits is also a part of these efforts.”

Mr. Netanyahu will arrive in Beijing on Wednesday, and Mr. Abbas is to leave on Tuesday night, according to Israeli government officials, who said there would be no encounter between the two in China.

Mr. Netanyahu will first visit Shanghai, where he arrives on Monday, though his departure from Israel was delayed Sunday so that he could attend a security meeting to discuss the increased tensions in the Middle East after the Syrian government accused Israel of airstrikes near Damascus on Saturday, calling them an “act of war.” Ehud Olmert, in 2007, was the last Israeli prime minister to visit China.

Mr. Abbas told Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, before his trip that he would ask China “to use its relationship with Israel to remove the obstacles that obstruct the Palestinian economy.”

The Palestinian Authority, which has limited control over the West Bank, has been in financial distress, in part because of shrinking donations from foreign supporters and Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers in response to Mr. Abbas’s bid for enhanced status for the Palestinians at the United Nations.

Israel’s diplomatic dealings with China are dominated by broader Middle Eastern security concerns, especially Iran’s disputed nuclear program and the worsening violence in Syria. Those two issues are likely to feature in Mr. Netanyahu’s talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping; the prime minister, Li Keqiang; and other officials.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has backed resolutions aimed at pressing Iran to curtail nuclear activities that Israel, the United States and other Western governments say are aimed at giving Tehran the means to make nuclear weapons. But China is a major buyer of Iranian oil and has criticized Western governments’ unilateral sanctions aimed at curtailing that trade.

China has also stood alongside Russia in resisting Western calls for stronger intervention in the Syrian conflict, instead arguing that there is still hope of a negotiated solution.

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.


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« Reply #6177 on: May 06, 2013, 06:26 AM »


India Ink
May 6, 2013, 2:00 am

In India, Diplomacy Praised for Ending Chinese Border Battle

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW DELHI —According to numerous unsourced or unattributed news reports here, Chinese troops stationed 19 kilometers, or 12 miles, inside the area that India claims as its northern border withdrew on Sunday.

Many of these reports praised the governing coalition’s decision to take a low-key approach to the conflict. The government had come under fire from opposition parties pushing for a more aggressive response.

“Diplomacy finally won the day as India and China ended their three-week stand-off in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in eastern Ladakh,” The Hindu newspaper reported. The report cited unnamed Ministry of External Affairs sources.

    While the Chinese pulled down their tents, chained their dogs and withdrew at about 7 p.m., troops of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which had been ordered to face the Chinese troops, started falling back to their original positions. By 10 p.m., the plateau was clear of the troops and their related paraphernalia.

“Quiet Diplomacy Works,” a Hindustan Times article was headlined. “Deepened diplomatic engagement with China finally ended the 21-day border standoff in eastern Ladakh on Sunday, with both armies agreeing to simultaneously pull out of the site and go back to pre-April 15 positions,” the article said. By Monday morning, “everything will be back to normal,” an unnamed government source told the newspaper.

So far, however, there have been few details or analyses of the situation.

The three-week diplomatic crisis was sparked when dozens of Chinese troops camped on Indian-claimed territory in Ladakh, at some point displaying signs in English telling Indian troops they had “crossed the border,” and asking them to “please go back.”

Unnamed sources told newspapers there may have been concessions made to the Chinese, without offering any more information.

“It seems there was some sort of ‘a quid pro quo’ behind the mutual withdrawal of Indian and Chinese troops from the 16,300-feet face-off site in the Depsang Bulge area of northern Ladakh on Sunday evening,” the Times of India reported, citing unnamed sources who said there was “some give-and-take” to resolve the face-off. “There had to be some face-saver for the Chinese,” a source told the paper.

The only public statement from any official came from India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, R.P.N. Singh, on Twitter. He wrote: Am glad behind the scenes tough negotiations worked with China rather than public bluster.


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« Reply #6178 on: May 06, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Four dead amid Islamist protests for Bangladesh blasphemy law

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 5, 2013 16:33 EDT

AFP – Hundreds of thousands of hardline Islamists demanding a new blasphemy law on Sunday blocked highways and fought running battles with police, leaving four people dead and hundreds injured in the Bangladeshi capital.

Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged”, activists from Hefajat-e-Islam marched along at least six highways, blocking transport between Dhaka and other cities and towns.

Police officials told AFP that about 200,000 people had marched to central Dhaka, where fierce clashes erupted between thousands of rock-throwing protesters and security officials, with police beating back demonstrators with batons.

“At least 100,000 protesters” blocked the road at Tongi town, which connects Dhaka with the northern region, local police chief Ismail Hossain told AFP.

Witnesses said rioting broke out after police tried to intercept stick-wielding protesters, most travelling from remote villages, in front of the country’s largest mosque. Trouble then spread to central districts of Dhaka.

“This government does not have faith in Allah. This is an atheist government, we will not allow them to live in Bangladesh. Muslims are brothers, we must protect Islam,” one protester, filmed by AFP, was seen chanting.

Police fired rubber bullets from armoured vehicles at protesters, who went on the rampage, torching a police office, scores of vehicles and shops, attacking government offices and beating policemen.

Dozens of small bombs exploded, leaving smoke hanging in the air around the mosque.

One policeman suffered serious head injuries after he was beaten by protesters, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.

Of the dead at least three were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, police inspector Mozammel Haq told AFP, adding almost 100 more had been injured.

M. Adnan, an emergency doctor at the private Islami Bank Hospital, told AFP one protester died and nearly 300 protesters were treated in its two branches.

A senior police officer who declined to be named told AFP between “150,000 and 200,000 demonstrators” marched to Motijheel, Dhaka’s main commercial district, where they continued to rally until 10:00 pm (1600GMT).

Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka police, Sheikh Nazmul Alam, said police fired rubber bullets to disperse unruly demonstrators.

The protest was staged as the country was recovering from its worst industrial disaster, which saw at least 620 people killed when a factory building collapsed just outside the capital on April 24.

Hefajat, a newly created radical Islamist group, is demanding the death penalty for all those who defame Islam.

It said it staged the mass protest to push a 13-point list of demands, which also include a ban on men and women mixing freely together and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution.

Hefajat leaders have threatened to launch a campaign to oust the government unless their demands are met.

Marchers blocked highways at Jatrabari and Demra, cutting the city off from the northeast and southeast, including from the main port of Chittagong.

They also blocked roads and bridges in Kadamtali and Hasnabad, severing Dhaka’s road links with the south.

The rally was the latest in a series of mass actions by Hefajat, unusual in Bangladesh because of the large numbers of people taking part.

Last month activists organised a general strike as well as a gathering of hundreds of thousands of activists demanding a blasphemy law, in what experts said was the country’s largest political rally in decades.

Critics have branded Hefajat’s demands a charter for turning Bangladesh into a country like Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Women workers including female garment labourers have vented their anger at the group’s call to segregate the sexes.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, has rejected the demand for a blasphemy law.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party has accused Hefajat, which draws support from the country’s tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, of being a pawn of the opposition, which lent moral support to Sunday’s blockade.

Hardline Islamist groups accuse Hasina’s government of trying to intimidate the opposition through a series of trials for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 war of independence.

Three Islamists have so far been convicted and two of them were sentenced to death. More than 100 people have been killed during protests over the trials since January this year.


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« Reply #6179 on: May 06, 2013, 06:32 AM »


Bangladesh factory victim's widow files murder complaint

Building owner, factory owner and engineer accused, as death toll in disaster reaches 622

Agencies in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 18.54 BST   

The wife of a garment worker killed in the Bangladesh factory collapse has filed a murder complaint against the building's owner, as the death toll from the country's worst industrial disaster climbed to 622.

Murder complaints were also filed against the owner of one of the garment firms based in the building and a municipal engineer in the suburb of the capital, Dhaka, where the factory was located.

The owner of the Rana Plaza building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he appeared to be trying to flee across the border to India. He is one of nine people being held in connection with the disaster on 24 April, which the government has blamed on the building's faulty and illegal construction.

Rana and the others in police custody could face the death penalty if found guilty of murder or mass manslaughter. None of the accused have commented on accusations that they were to blame.

Hundreds of relatives gathered at the site of the disaster on Sunday, some holding up photographs of family members. A teenage girl broke down in tears when she recognised the body of her mother by her dress after she was brought from the ruins.

In all, 53 bodies were recovered on Sunday and rescue workers said they could see more trapped in the rubble. Authorities were having to use ID cards and mobile phones to identify the dead.


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