Abu Qatada 'will voluntarily go back to Jordan when new treaty is ratified'
Announcement by Islamist cleric's lawyers is breakthrough for home secretary in battle to deport him
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 May 2013 10.14 BST
The radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada will voluntarily go back to Jordan if and when its parliament ratifies a new deportation treaty with Britain, his lawyers have said.
The disclosure is a major breakthrough for the home secretary, Theresa May, in the battle to deport the international terror suspect, who was described by a British judge as at the centre of al-Qaida terror-related activities in the UK.
The treaty with the Jordanians, which is designed to ensure he will face a fair trial on terror charges without the use of evidence obtained by torture, was signed on 24 April.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, Abu Qatada's barrister, told the special immigration appeals commission (Siac): "If and when the Jordanian parliament ratify the treaty he will voluntarily return to Jordan."
The Home Office is now seeking urgent clarification over the Jordanians' intended timetable for ratification of the new treaty and when exactly it will come into force. A Home Office spokesman said: "This case is still ongoing – and the home secretary remains determined to put Abu Qatada on a plane back to Jordan."
The British parliament is expected to have approved the new treaty by the end of June. Reports from Amman quote the minister of information as saying the process could take weeks or months but is likely to go ahead.
Fitzgerald said he would be making an application for Abu Qatada to be released on bail when a resumed Siac hearing takes place on 20 May. He said he was willing to be released on the most stringent conditions, including 24-hour house arrest: "All he wants at this time when he is obviously planning to go back to Jordan is some time with his family."
Fitzgerald said Abu Qatada's decision to return to Jordan was taken because it was "the first time in 12 years that he feels safe in going back".
Abu Qatada has been detained in a maximum-security prison in Britain for a total of seven years and five months while his eight-year-long deportation fight has continued. He is currently being held in a high-security wing of Belmarsh prison, London, after being arrested in March for allegedly breaching his bail conditions.
The Siac judge, Mr Justice Irwin, said on Friday that when the police searched his house on 7 March they found 17 illicit mobile phones, including six that were switched on. They also found 55 CDs and DVDs, three USB memory sticks, an SD card, and other five digital media devices.
Irwin said Abu Qatada had to provide an explanation for the cache of illicit communication equipment found in his home. His previous bail conditions had all been firmly focused on one thing, "to stop this man spreading his views". The Metropolitan police are currently investigating whether he was equipping himself to communicate his ideas.
The text of the new "mutual legal assistance" treaty negotiated by Britain includes article 27, which contains a stringent ban on the use of torture-obtained evidence in a trial. It places the onus on the prosecution to "prove beyond any doubt that the statement has been obtained out of free will and choice and was not obtained by torture".
The new treaty followed rulings by the European court of human rights and the appeal court in London that Abu Qatada would face a "flagrant denial of justice" if he was sent back to Jordan to face a retrial on terrorist bombing charges dating back to the 1990s. He was convicted in absentia in 1999 on evidence obtained by torture and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Irwin said it was not enough for the treaty to be ratified by the Jordanians. Only when it actually came into force would its provision override any of the rulings by the Jordanian courts.
Abu Qatada is a Palestinian of Jordanian nationality, whose real name is Omar Othman. He first arrived in Britain in 1993 and was recognised as a refugee. He was first detained in Belmarsh high-security prison as an international terror suspect in 2002.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, welcomed the development: "This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible – as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.
"Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end."
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said May should get on a plane to Jordan and secure ratification of the treaty before Abu Qatada changed his mind.
Nigeria's war with Boko Haram gets a new ground zero
Monica Mark is the first western newspaper reporter to reach the village of Baga, a smouldering wreck where the deaths of up to 185 civilians threatens to fuel the conflict
Monica Mark in Baga
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 21.01 BST
The road to Baga is littered with burned-out cars, winding through terrain that has proved fertile ground for radical ideologies to take root. On the cusp of the Sahara, it traces a route through the former ancient Islamic kingdom of Bornu, a thriving sultanate that grew rich on trans-desert trade. Now known as Borno state, today it is home to some of Africa's most impoverished communities.
Boko Haram, Islamist insurgents whose bombs are responsible for the carcasses of cars on the roadside, have thrived by tapping into a yearning for ancient glory amid crippling poverty.
Now the residents of Baga, a remote fishing settlement on the shores of Lake Chad, have a new reason to be angry. Last month the village was the scene of one of Nigeria's most deadly incidents since the Islamist insurgency began in 2009, with locals saying 185 of their kin died, most of them civilians and most of them burned to death. That figure has been disputed by the military, who told the Guardian that only 37 people were killed, most of whom were Boko Haram fighters. The Guardian was the first international newspaper to gain access to Baga since the killings.
The afternoon before it happened, Ali, a white-haired village chief, overheard a conversation that turned his stomach. Just outside his mud-walled home, two men in military uniforms were talking heatedly: one wanted to set fire to Ali's neighbour's house; the other was trying to stop him. That morning a Nigerian corporal, known as Kia, had been killed after being ambushed by fighters from Boko Haram.
"One of the men said, 'we must avenge his death, we must set a house on fire'; the other one said no, he wanted no part of this," Ali said, sitting on an orange raffia straw mat at a meeting convened by village elders.
"After that," he continued "I don't know what happened." Ali looked nervously at the dozens of men in flowing robes packed under the thatched-roof shelter for the meeting, many of them young and unemployed, a key source of support for Boko Haram.
When the morning of 17 April dawned, much of this fishing village was a smouldering wreck. Black carcasses of houses and skeletal trees stood out starkly against the expanse of fine pale sand. The devastation wrought here highlights how Boko Haram is turning to cross-border raids with deadly consequences.
Members of the violent jihadist movement have infiltrated this town along the dozens of sandy footpaths leading to their hideouts across the Sahara desert. Their attack on the Nigerian corporal, using a sophisticated rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), was so violent that Kia's head had to be sewn back on before his body could be returned to his family for burial, officials said.
After the decapitation, the insurgents fled deep into the desert, another Baga village elder said, leaving the civilian population to face the wrath of the army. The military denies that, saying the militants were hiding in Baga and were extremely well armed.
"There was a firefight, which lasted four hours after reinforcements were brought in. The terrorists used IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and rocket-propelled grenades, which caused the thatch-roof houses to catch fire," Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye, head of the Joint Task Force stationed in Baga, told a delegation of senators investigating the incident this week.
Tellingly, the mission stationed in Baga includes soldiers from Niger and Chad, as west African forces increasingly share concerns about growing links between jihadist groups.
Outside the bleak Baga military outpost, Edokpaye showed an array of weapons, including sophisticated machine guns and RPGs, which he said had been captured from the fighters. "When you hear the sound of some of these weapons – these were not any weapons from Nigeria," he said.
Amid the swirling accusations and counter-accusations, the incident has thrown the spotlight on to the Nigerian military's often brutal tactics in its fight to root out an enemy that easily dissolves into the civilian population, many of whom support Boko Haram out of fear as much as out of hatred of the security forces.
Bolstered by arms from Libya and Mali, Boko Haram appears to be able to penetrate vulnerable outposts along Nigeria's porous borders before retreating into the vast Sahara. Officials and residents in both Nigeria and Mali said members of the group had trained in Mali after a coup threw the country into disarray last year.
"The last Boko Haram member we captured here was about two weeks ago. He had boarded a bus to [Mali's capital] Bamako, he was carrying a lot of cash, a lot of weapons," a Malian security official in the town of Gao said.
With hundreds of unguarded footpaths leading to neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, parts of Nigeria's remote Borno and Yobe states have been all but taken over by the shadowy sect. A French family taken hostage in Cameroon were held undetected for two months in a town less than 20 miles from Baga, Cameroonian and Nigerian security officials said.
On Tuesday, Boko Haram members staged an audacious raid in Borno state, mounting a co-ordinated attack against a prison and army barracks in the town of Bama that left 47 dead and freed more than 100 prisoners. "They used lorries mounted with anti-aircraft guns," a senior security official said. "These are weapons from Libya." The attack prompted Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, to cut short a trip to Namibia.
Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno state, said poverty was at the root of the problem. "Unless, and until, we address some of these fundamental issues [of poverty], believe me, the future is very bleak for all of us," he said.
Mohammed, an unemployed youth languishing on his bike, explained the militants' appeal. "If a man gives me 20,000 naira [£80] today, then I will work with him for life. That is what I hear Boko Haram are doing. What else is there for us to earn money here?"
Beyond the remains of camels half-sunk into the sandy roadside, turbaned men on horses ride past children sitting under neem trees with chalkboards. Almajiri, or Qur'anic schools, flourish here, in stark contrast to weed-covered signposts marking the entrance to abandoned government schools.
In Baga, every government school has been shut since August 2012, when leaflets appeared on school walls threatening to kill anyone attending, residents said.
But in trying to root out Boko Haram, which means "western education is forbidden", from a population trapped in the middle, the human cost has been unbearably high to many. In Usman's mud home, jewel-coloured cloths had been bought and mounds of fish smoked to prepare for his daughter's wedding.
Instead, on the big day, his household was muted with grief as they mourned the loss of 13 family members killed in the town. "I wonder what we have done wrong in Allah's eyes for this to happen," the grandfather said, crying softly.
Senator Abdul Ahmed Ningi, speaking during the government delegation's visit to the town, said: "Not every soldier is an enemy to the people here. That's exactly why the person responsible [for the Baga killings] must be bought to book. Unless the Nigerian military can start winning hearts and minds, the situation is going to become even worse."
Civilians caught in the crossfire can only hope for better days. "Imagine it is night, we are inside our homes, then suddenly our homes were on fire," said one villager in Baga, standing in front of his charred mud home. Looking over to the bright green grasses on the shores of Lake Chad in the distance, he added: "We are simple fishermen here. We just want peace."
Nigerian sect Boko Haram demands Islamic state
Violence in Borno state is latest example of how the Islamist sect has unleashed chaos in northern Nigeria
Afua Hirsch West Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 20.38 BST
The violence in Borno state is the latest bloody example of how the Islamist sect Boko Haram has unleashed chaos in northern Nigeria.
The group – whose official Arabic name translates as "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad" – says it is fighting to overthrow Nigeria's government and establish an Islamic state. Dubbed Boko Haram or "western education is sinful" by locals for its rejection of European values, the sect was founded in the early 2000s by cleric Mohammed Yusuf and gained a steady following in the northern city of Maiduguri, preaching against secular values in a nation which is split between large Muslim and Christian populations.
Yusuf, who was killed by Nigerian security forces in 2009, retained support by providing meals and economic schemes, including a youth empowerment programme and support for trading. He also arranged cheap marriages between sect members.
The provision of economic and social support by Boko Haram has led some to ascribe the group's growth to a failure of governance in Nigeria. The sect began using violence against government and police in 2003. Its first large attacks came in Bauchi and Maiduguri in July 2009, with more than 700 people killed in a five-day uprising. The death of Yusuf days later did little to stem the violence.
Since then the group has become increasingly sophisticated in its operations. In 2010 it freed hundreds of prisoners from Bauchi jail, and then went on to launch bombings in Jos and New Year's eve attacks in federal capital city Abuja. A sustained campaign of deadly church bombings has left hundreds dead, while attacks on telecommunications and infrastructure have caused millions worth of damage. Boko Haram is also believed to have advanced its operations in recent months by attracting funding and support from other terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabaab, and joining forces with militant groups waging war in northern Mali.
Five ultra-Orthodox Jewish men arrested for disrupting activist women praying at Jerusalem’s Western Wall
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 3:20 EDT
Jerusalem police on Friday arrested five ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to disrupt landmark prayers by female Jewish activists at the Western Wall plaza in the Holy City.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that 1,000 ultra-Orthodox men were being kept away from dozens of “Women of the Wall” activists conducting their monthly prayer using prayer shawls, after a court ruled they could do so.
“Until now five men have been arrested for public disturbances,” Rosenfeld said.
Ultra-Orthodox men tried to break through police lines and reach the women, some of them throwing water and bags of rubbish at the police and women.
The women activists have for more than 20 years demanded to be allowed to pray using their form of liberal Judaism at the site, while wearing fringed prayer shawls and other religion-related objects and reading from Torah scrolls.
But police, acting under court orders, would distance and detain them for conduct considered “provocative” to ultra-Orthodox believers, some of whom would accost the women, creating disturbances.
Last month, a court determined the women’s conduct was not causing disruption, rather it was those who were attacking them, and ruled that the Women of the Wall could pray at the site using their rites.
Ahead of Friday’s monthly prayer, ultra-Orthodox rabbis called on seminary students to gather at the Western Wall to counter the Women of the Wall, and thousands filled the women’s prayer section, forcing the activists to pray at the plaza not directly adjacent to the wall.
05/10/2013 12:49 PM
Fighting the Fringes: Berlin Sharpens Focus on Right-Wing Extremism
The German government has been under fire ever since a murderous far-right terror cell was uncovered in 2011. Now, Chancellor Merkel's justice minister has proposed the establishment of a commission to coordinate the battle against extremism in the country.
When German Family Minister Kristina Schröder established an initiative in 2010 to combat left-wing extremism in the country, the outcry was immediate. First and foremost, many worried that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government was equating left-wing violence with right-wing violence and losing its focus in the fight against neo-Nazis.
It didn't take long before those concerns became more urgent. In November of 2011, police uncovered the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the neo-Nazi terror cell which murdered 10 people, nine of them with foreign backgrounds, from 2000 to 2007. Now, partially in reaction to the numerous police and official errors made during the investigation of the string of killings, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has proposed the establishment of a commissioner to focus exclusively on extremism in Germany.
The commissioner, she told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, should be situated in the Chancellery and should act as a coordinator for all state-sponsored programs designed to combat extremism. Currently, she noted, "citizens who seek to counter extremist activities on a local level … are frustrated rather than encouraged."
She said that, while there are a number of programs currently in place, the diversity of the initiatives has become so highly complex "that they seem opaque and even inconsistent." She said that a survey among various ministries in Berlin found that nobody has a clear overview of the various programs and projects.
Undefined Criminal Milieu
While Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was careful to note that the new office would be responsible for programs directed at all types of extremism, she said it would have a "particular focus in the area of right-wing extremism."
The justice minister's proposal comes just days after the trial against Beate Zschäpe, the lone surviving member of the NSU, began earlier this week in Munich. It is one of the largest neo-Nazi trials ever to take place in Germany and has generated headlines abroad as well. Turkey, in particular, has taken an interest in the proceedings; eight of those killed by the NSU were of Turkish origin.
More than anything, though, the NSU case exposed serious shortcomings in both German operations to keep right-wing groups under surveillance and the police investigation into the nine murders. For years, the killings were treated as being the likely product of some undefined criminal milieu within Germany's immigrant population.
Leutheusser-Scharrenberger envisions the new position as being similar to that of the federal integration commissioner, who has had an office at the Chancellery since the position was created in 1978.
May 9, 2013
In Its Efforts to Integrate Roma, Slovakia Recalls U.S. Struggles
By ANDREW HIGGINS
SARISSKE MICHALANY, Slovakia — Gazing out his window during morning recess on his first day at work, the principal of an elementary school here, Jaroslav Valastiak, was caught up short: all the children playing in the asphalt-covered yard were white, a strikingly monochromatic scene at a school where a majority of pupils are dark-skinned Roma.
The Roma children, he then discovered, had all been shepherded into a separate, Roma-only playground.
Lunchtime brought another shock. The school canteen served only white children, with Roma pupils left outside with bagged rations, instead of hot food. Classes were also divided, officially on the basis of academic aptitude, but in a manner that ended up grouping students along rigid ethnic lines.
“The segregation here was as obvious as fireworks,” Mr. Valastiak said.
The 59-year-old principal has spent the past year trying to break down barriers, both physical and mental, in a painful struggle for integration that some here say echoes that of the United States more than a half-century ago.
“The situation in Slovakia now is exactly the same as it was in the United States,” said Peter Pollak, a Roma member of Parliament and the government’s plenipotentiary for Roma communities, who recently visited the United States to learn about its battles over segregated schooling and other entrenched barriers to equality.
In a continent faced with an economic crisis, soaring unemployment and bursts of nationalist populism, the elementary school here in eastern Slovakia is a microcosm of one of Europe’s biggest challenges: how to keep old demons of ethnic scapegoating at bay and somehow bring its most disadvantaged and fastest growing minority into the mainstream.
Many Europeans associate Roma with crime, particularly well-organized gangs of young Roma pickpockets who prey on local residents and tourists alike in the Continent’s wealthier cities.
Descendants of medieval migrants who arrived in Europe from India more than a millennium ago, Roma, also known as Gypsies, now account for around 10 percent of Slovakia’s population and a substantial minority in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, the Czech Republic and Macedonia. There are also Roma communities scattered across Western Europe.
In all these places, they outpace all other groups in unemployment, illiteracy and other indicators of deprivation and as targets for abuse and sometimes violent attack.
Only 20 percent of Roma men of working age in Slovakia have jobs — compared with 65 percent in the general population — and they die 15 years earlier than the national average, according to a World Bank report last year. Only 28 percent of Roma children even start the equivalent of high school, compared with the 94 percent of native Slovaks who graduate.
In terms of health, income and education, the report said, the “dire situation” of Slovakia’s Roma “is more comparable with that of countries in sub-Saharan Africa than the European Union.”
The struggle for desegregation in Sarisske Michalany and other towns and villages across wide stretches of Europe has galvanized a small but energetic band of civil rights activists and stirred angry opposition from defenders of the status quo.
“There is a lot of resistance to what we are trying to do,” said Vlado Rafael, the director of EduRoma, a group that is now working with Mr. Valastiak, the school principal.
The most powerful lever working for desegregation in Slovakia has been the court system, which has been reinforced by antidiscrimination statutes adopted in the past decade to bring the code into conformity with European Union standards.
Inspired by the landmark 1953 United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated schooling unconstitutional, Vanda Durbakova, a Slovak civil rights lawyer, filed a suit in 2010 against the Sarisske Michalany elementary school. Recently, she won a legal victory.
An appeals tribunal in the city of Presov ruled that the school had violated an antidiscrimination law by separating students. The three-judge panel rejected arguments that segregated teaching was driven by legitimate academic considerations, and ordered that classes be integrated by the start of the next school year.
Ms. Durbakova, a lawyer with the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Kosice, the main city in eastern Slovakia, said she chose the village not because it was a particularly egregious offender but for the opposite reason, because the “school is not exceptional.”
The appeals court ruling, which came into force in February after the school decided against further appeal, “won’t solve the problem,” she said, but does give legal force to arguments long made by Roma activists that discrimination exists, is illegal and must be combated.
Leslie Hawke, an American, has worked for more than a decade in Romania helping to get Roma children into preschools. She worries that the focus on racial discrimination distracts attention from the abject poverty of many Roma and their alienation from modern mainstream norms, which she considers a more serious brake on integration.
Many Roma activists, Ms. Hawke said, “see everything through the prism of racism” and play down economic and social obstacles. “Tremendous racism” exists, she added, but “there are no Jim Crow laws to strike down.”
Mr. Valastiak, the principal, said he welcomed the court’s ruling but cautioned that integration ultimately depends mostly on narrowing the cultural gap. When he opened the school canteen to Roma students, for example, “we had to teach them how to use cutlery, and some had trouble digesting warm food.”
He also abolished separate playgrounds and lifted a ban on Roma parents entering the school building. But, he acknowledged, integrating classes has only just started and has already created frictions, not only because white parents object but also because Roma children often do not want to leave their friends who remain in the segregated classes.
“I need to move slowly,” he said. “I can’t make a radical break.”
Among the faculty, wariness of Roma runs strong. “These people are interested in only two things: money and sex,” said Vladimir Savov, an English teacher. “They are lazy and don’t want to learn.”
Like other teachers, Mr. Savov now accepts that change is necessary, if only to satisfy the court, but he is deeply skeptical about abandoning segregated teaching. “Mixed classes are a good idea in principle, but the question is how will they work in real life,” he said.
On paper at least, the school has never had separate classes for Roma but only special, remedial ones for slow learners, all of whom happened to be Roma. A 2009 study by the Roma Education Fund, a Hungary-based group, found that more than 85 percent of the students enrolled in special classes in Slovakian schools are Roma.
Mr. Valastiak said that not all Roma belong in remedial classes, but that many, particularly those who travel to his school from a garbage-strewn ghetto in the adjacent village of Ostrovany, do have trouble keeping up with their white schoolmates. Most Roma children from the ghetto, he said, start their schooling with no previous exposure to books, a poor grasp of Slovak and little or no discipline.
Of his school’s 435 students, 270 are Roma, with 220 of these coming from the ghetto, which has no school.
Vincent Lesso, Sarisske Michalany’s mayor, said he supported integration during recess and lunch, but not in the classroom. “Sudden integration is not an option,” he said, and will only drive the white children to other schools. A handful of parents, angry at Mr. Valastiak’s policies, have already sent their children to a school in another village that has no Roma families.
Mr. Pollak, the government’s senior official for Roma affairs, agreed that the authorities needed to go slowly to curb the risk of “white flight.” Officials also worry about extremist groups seizing on white frustrations to promote their overtly racist views.
“To think that there will soon be only integrated schools in Slovakia is naïve,” he said.
White parents in Sarisske Michalany denounce the pressure for integration as the work of outsiders ignorant of local realities. “Why should my kid be forced to be part of an experiment that holds her back with Roma children?” said Lubos Bernat, head of the village school board and of an all-white parents association.
Monika Duzdova, one of two Roma teaching assistants hired by Mr. Valastiak to help the integration program, said she understood some of the concerns of white parents and added that the better-off Roma families were also alarmed by the flood of destitute children from the nearby ghetto.
The ghetto in Ostrovany is separated from the white neighborhood by a seven-foot concrete wall, erected in 2009 in response to a rash of robberies. It has not stopped thieving, but, said Peter Kaleja, a resident of the ghetto who works as a teaching assistant at the elementary school, has left Roma children even more alienated.
His biggest headache these days, Mr. Kaleja said, is not hostility from whites to integration, but from Roma children and their parents. “They have got used to separation,” he said. “There is now a wall in their minds.”
Greek unemployment climbs to 27 percent
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 9, 2013 13:16 EDT
Greek unemployment climbed to 27 percent of the workforce in February compared with 26.7 percent a month earlier, the state statistics agency said on Thursday.
The number of unemployed rose to 1,320,189 while 3,568,186 were registered as employed.
The highest rate was registered for youths aged 15-24, at 64.2 percent.
A year ago in February unemployment had been 21.9 percent, the agency said.
The jobless rate for January had been originally measured at 27.2 percent but was revised downwards.
Women were more likely to be unemployed, at a rate of 31 percent compared with 24.1 percent for men.
The heavily-indebted country has been in recession since 2008, with unemployment continuously on the rise.
Dependent on international loans for its economic survival, Greece has had to accept harsh austerity measures in exchange for financial aid.
05/09/2013 04:09 PM
Parenthood for Sale: Spain in Crisis Becomes Fertility Destination
By Helene Zuber
Even as the economy has tanked, Spain in recent years has become a destination for women and couples seeking to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Egg donors are plentiful.
It was nearly five years ago that Mónica Campos first started using her body to make money. Spain's construction industry was collapsing and Campos' husband Eduardo had to give up his business selling used luxury cars as his customer base dried up. Soon, the couple was no longer able to afford their monthly mortgage payment on a house with a garden in Maçanet de la Selva. The bank was threatening to foreclose and Campos could already picture herself on the street, with a four-year-old and an infant.
"I needed money desperately," says Campos, 34, who has long, dyed-blonde hair. She worked for a time as a model while still in high school, but as the real-estate crisis hit Spain, she approached a private clinic for reproductive medicine in Granollers, near Barcelona, about becoming an egg donor.
For each donation cycle, Campos received just under €1,000 ($1,300), as recommended by the Bioethics Committee of Catalonia, as compensation for both her time and the inconvenience. But for Campos, the fee she received was far more than that -- it was the answer in her search for a way out of her family's financial misery.
Despite a legal limit of six donations, Campos had her eggs harvested 14 times in just under two years. She earned around €10,000, exploiting her body to keep her family from plunging into poverty. Since both she and her husband were self-employed, neither of them could claim unemployment benefits. Only after a year did they start receiving a family allowance of €640 a month. "It's a risk I was willing to take," Campos says of her donations. "I didn't care."
At the same time Campos was struggling to provide for her family, a German woman in her mid-thirties, living in the city of Freiburg, was engaged in a struggle of another kind. She wanted to get pregnant, but it simply wasn't working. Even treatments with natural remedies and acupuncture made no difference.
Top Fertility Destination
After years of failed attempts, the woman, now 40, traveled to Barcelona in early April. There, at Clínica Eugin, doctors impregnated her with a donor egg fertilized with her husband's sperm. Because this procedure is illegal in Germany, her name cannot be used here. She was filled with hope for a positive outcome when Valérie Vernaeve, medical director at the renowned fertility clinic, squeezed her hand and said, "This time you have all you need for a pregnancy."
The stories of the two women are not directly linked. Both, however, take place in Spain -- and both are the product of personal crisis.
And, they are telling. Over the last two decades, Barcelona has become the top destination for European couples and single women trying to have children. Patients also travel here from North Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Russia -- and increasing numbers come from Germany. The most cutting edge in vitro fertilization techniques were developed here, and are regulated by a 2006 law. Spain's first test tube baby was born almost 30 years ago at a Barcelona clinic called Dexeus, which also achieved the country's first birth as a result of egg donation.
Now, with Spain experiencing its worst economic crisis since the end of Franco's dictatorship, medical tourism is one of the country's few booming industries. Spain leads Europe in the donation and transplantation of both organs and eggs.
Clínica Eugin alone oversaw more than 3,000 donation cycles last year, around 10 percent of all such treatments throughout Europe. One of the largest egg, sperm and embryo banks is also being established here.
Thanks to a super-fast freezing process called vitrification, within a few years women may routinely be able to use their own eggs, harvested during their younger years, for in vitro fertilization. Then they would no longer need to rely on implantation with donor eggs, which can cost up to €10,000 in Spain and much more in Great Britain or Denmark.
More Egg Donors
For now, however, clinics are in need of more donors. And with Spain having been hit hard by the euro crisis -- suffering from 26 percent unemployment and 56 percent youth unemployment -- more and more Spanish women are willing to submit to the difficult harvesting procedure. Egg donation takes place anonymously, and a maximum of six children can be born from eggs donated by any one woman.
Mónica Campos received a thorough check-up at the clinic, where a minimum of 10 appointments are necessary. Potential donors are tested for hereditary diseases and possible genetic defects; they have blood drawn, receive an electrocardiogram and undergo a psychological evaluation. Then, for two weeks at a time, Campos would administer daily hormone injections to her abdomen to stimulate her ovaries and produce more eggs. Only then was she anesthetized so that the mature egg cells, six at a time, could be harvested. Campos says that recipients became pregnant each time.
After every donation, Campos would approach another clinic in Barcelona or the surrounding area as soon as she could, ready to donate again and keep her source of income. She didn't tell the doctors about her previous donations. "I lied to them," Campos admits, justifying her actions with her desperate financial situation. Instead, she told the clinic doctors she was motivated by a desire to help infertile women conceive. That was an answer her examiners were happy to hear, she says. She didn't say anything to them about money.
The dire economic situation in Spain is attracting more potential egg donors, says Buenaventura Coroleu Lletget, head of the Reproductive Medicine Service at Dexeus. Lletget sees this as an advantage, since it provides doctors with a larger pool from which to find the best possible phenotypic match between donor and recipient, in terms of blood group, skin, eye and hair color, height and weight.
"But we are rigorous in our selection of applicants," he stresses, explaining that only 35 out of 100 women who apply ultimately make it as far as actually donating eggs, a third of them university students. A gallery of baby pictures next to his desk testifies to the clinic's success stories.
Private clinic Institut Marquès likewise advertises at universities, targeting its message to young donors and appealing to their desire to help others with the slogan, "What you don't give will be lost. Even your eggs." A consultation between the potential donor and a psychologist is meant to ensure that women don't donate for financial reasons. The clinic doctors also explain the associated risks and ask the women to sign a contract. Still, Jordi Suñol, who is responsible for the clinic's foreign patients, admits that there is no shortage of donors at the moment: "Because of the crisis, we have better parameters -- we want to find an ideal match, a suitable phenotype, for every woman."
Mónica Campos donated eggs regularly for two years, until her ovaries could no longer produce any more. She injected herself with the highest possible hormone dose, she says, but "it had as much of an effect as water." Her abdomen swelled, but her body didn't produce any more eggs. The clinic hurriedly handed her €300. At an ultrasound appointment two weeks later, the clinic told her everything was going fine and that they would call her. They never did.
That was the end of Campos' egg donations -- and of her health as well. Three years after her final course of hormones, Campos' gynecologist diagnosed her with abnormally enlarged ovaries. She experiences chronic pain, not only in her abdomen, and in 2010 was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that makes every movement agony. She has been medically certified as 51 percent disabled -- but only a disability of 65 percent or more would qualify her to receive a pension.
Campos barely eats anymore, trying to lose the weight she has gained. Her illness makes her irritable and her marriage is barely holding up under the strain. Her husband remains unemployed. The one small bright spot for the couple is that they have obtained a two-year debt moratorium and will be able to keep living in their house for at least that long.
Cases such as Campos' occur because Spain doesn't maintain a national register of egg donors. Elisabeth Clua, a biologist at Dexeus, agrees it's possible some women may donate too often. For data privacy reasons, one clinic can ask to see another clinic's records only with the applicant's permission.
Not wanting to come across as profiting from the financial crisis, the clinics themselves prefer to show off a different type of donor -- Tania Lorenzo, for example, a 33-year-old whose copper-colored hair and pale complexion make her a good match for some British recipients.
Lorenzo, a waitress, says she learned of this possibility to "help other women" in 2008 through friends. She's remained true to Eugin ever since. She also donates blood and always carries her organ donor card in her purse. "This is something I feel good about," she says. "If anything were to happen to me, someone would help me too."
Meanwhile, for the German couple from Freiburg, the trip to Barcelona proved a success, resulting in a long-desired pregnancy. The 40-year-old patient had herself undergone hormone treatment unsuccessfully, and believes egg donors deserve more than the compensation they receive. And more than anything, she wants Germany to legalize donor egg implantation.
Mónica Campos, for her part, is considering hiring herself out as a surrogate mother. Surrogacy is banned in Spain, but couples in the United States will pay up to $150,000 (€110,000) for it. "If a rich couple provides me with a place to live, I'll carry their baby," Campos says.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
French academia in war of words over plan to teach in English
Socialist ministers accused of sabotaging French language by relaxing ban on English being used in French universities
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 May 2013 10.08 BST
Jacques Chirac once stormed out of an EU summit because a French business leader was speaking it, Nicolas Sarkozy lamented his lack of it and François Hollande makes small talk in it but is conscious of his accent.
The global spread of the English language has long been a sore point in Paris politics. Now a new battleground has appeared in the linguistic war as the Socialist government wants to allow English to be used as a teaching language in French universities, sparking a rift in academia.
Until now, teaching and lecturing in a foreign language at French universities has been banned by law, except in the case of language courses or visiting professors. The 1994 law was intended to preserve the French language. But in reality, a number of French universities, including some of the most prestigious, have disregarded the legislation and have been steadily using English in lectures and seminars, for example in Masters courses on subjects such as the sciences, technology, economics or business where a kind of "global English" has become the norm.
The government has now decided the ban should be relaxed. In a new higher education law to be debated this month, ministers plan to allow French universities to use foreign languages for teaching, ensuring professors can lecture in English rather than French, if they are teaching a European programme or in partnership with a foreign institution.
But a row has ensued as a number of academics have vented their rage. The Académie Française, guardian of the French language, appealed to French MPs to oppose the plan, claiming the new law "favours a marginalisation of the French language". Academics opposed to the plan have launched a petition, with Claude Hagège, a professor at the Collège de France, warning in the newspaper Le Monde of "an act of sabotage" of the French language.
This week, a collective of senior French academics, including two Nobel prize-winners, hit back in an open-letter to Le Monde, saying that it made sense to allow foreign-language teaching in French faculties and would make its universities more attractive abroad.
The group said hundreds of masters courses in France already featured teaching in English, criticising opponents as "totally out of step" with reality. They said English was used in science and by scientific publications and postgraduate students needed to be able to master it.
The government has refused to back down, arguing that French universities need to win foreign students and compete internationally. France has slipped to fifth place, behind the US, UK, Australia and Germany, for attracting foreign students.
Geneviève Fioraso, the minister for higher education who ruffled feathers by telling the newspaper Liberation that without opening up to foreign languages, French higher education risked becoming five people "sitting round a table discussing Proust", insisted on the need to make French universities more attractive.
But she has written to the Académie Française in an attempt to calm the storm, stressing that only 1% of courses would be affected and that foreign students would still have to learn French.
Mr Putin, Operative in the Kremlin by Fiona Hill and Clifford G Gaddy – review
A perceptive account of what Putin really wants for Russia – and how it could all come undone
The Guardian, Friday 10 May 2013 09.00 BST
The emergence of Vladimir Putin can only be understood as the second chapter of a story that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The problem is that there is still little agreement about what happened in chapter one. Most western analysts cling to the notion that Gorbachev and Yeltsin were brave, if misguided, reformers, but democrats at heart. The Russians who lived through the chaos and collapse of their reforms view them through a different lens, generally a cracked one.
Putin's most famous line about the Soviet Union is, in fact, a misquote. When he declared its demise was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, he was not bemoaning the loss of communism. He was talking about the collapse of the Russian state, which in Russian eyes was synonymous with the Soviet one. A collective sense of bemusement greeted the first declaration of the Russian Federation's independence day. "Independence from whom? Ourselves?"
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former adviser who has now fallen out with Putin, put this point best in an interview with this newspaper last year: "My people and my friends … couldn't accept what happened … there were hundreds, thousands of people like that in the elite, who were not communists – I was never a member of the Communist party. They … just did not like how things were done in 1991. Putin was one of the people who until the end of the 1990s was passively waiting for the moment of revanche. By revanche I mean the resurrection of the great state … Not a totalitarian one, but a state that could be respected."
We were looking in the wrong direction for the emergence of a threat to the limited democratic gains of the early Yeltsin years. Everyone thought it would come from Zyuganov and the communists. In fact, for human rights defenders such as those in Memorial (who are now being branded "foreign agents" by the Russian state) it came from the ranks of the regime they supported.
The self-limiting, inward-turning, chippy, self-righteous, Russian Orthodox-blessed and deeply illiberal nationalism that now holds sway is a not just a byproduct of oligarch misrule. It is the monster these oligarchs created to keep the Russian state from falling apart.
This point is still a contentious one. Many are more comfortable seeing Putin as little more than the resurrection of a lost KGB empire. Would that it were that simple. The many sources of the system he has created are amply and brilliantly clarified in this book. Mr Putin, Operative in the Kremlin (note the mister, not comrade) is a readable and informed portrait painted by two students of Russian history who had, at various times in their careers, a front-row view. Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution academic, spent 2006-9 as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the US National Intelligence Council. The economist Clifford Gaddy once advised the Russian finance ministry on regional tax and has investigated how Putin's financial dealings relate to his KGB past.
We are familiar with the costumes Putin, the deliberately faceless political actor, has donned to appeal to his people – the fire-fighting airplane pilot, the shirtless big-game hunter, the scuba diver, the easy-rider biker, the nightclub crooner. Putting the Kremlin special props department to one side, Hill and Gaddy have identified six more revealing faces: the statist, the man who rifles Russian history for inspiration, the survivalist, the outsider, the capitalist and the KGB case officer. Even for those intent on seeing Putin only as a KGB man, Hill and Gaddy have something new to say.
Putin has obscured much of what he did as a KGB officer in Dresden. But he did let one thing slip. Asked what his talent was, he replied: "I am a specialist in communicating with people." Working with people has a dual meaning in KGB jargon. It also means working on people. Filipp Bobkov, head of the 5th directorate under Yuri Andropov, described the approach as used on the dissident historian Roy Medvedev. When Medvedev began to slander Leonid Brezhnev, the KGB was pushed to act. Bobkov invited himself to Medvedev's flat and had a long talk with the dissident over tea.
"I saw both the weaknesses and strengths of my interlocutor's logic. I understood where he was right and where he was mistaken. For me it was very useful to know that. I was very happy with the results of the meeting … the most important thing of all was that Medvedev began working with western Communists. Now we had other channels through which we could influence his undesirable attacks." Medvedev had been turned, not by the threat of the gulag, but by a friendly chat over a cup of tea.
Putin worked on the oligarchs using something even more persuasive than a cup of tea – a complete list of their commercial secrets and indiscretions. He runs what amounts to a daily protection racket, and orchestrates a group of no more than 2,000 businessmen and top officials who control things. Yet all of Putin's six identities, which were strengths at the start of his rule, have become rather large vulnerabilities in the 13th year of that rule.
How does the man at the fulcrum of a highly personalised system, a system he controls manually, leave office without triggering a gigantic power struggle? To whom can he hand over the levers of state (and that famous suitcase full of everyone's secrets, including his own) other than to another autocrat?
If Putin does not find a way to open up the system of thieves and swindlers – even to other thieves and swindlers – and if the pressure on him continues to build, there are broadly two alternatives: a tap on the shoulder from someone in his inner circle, or mass protest on the streets that could lead to regime change. Neither are peaceful or bloodless. Putin's stability could herald its opposite.
Portugal's unemployment rate hits 18%
Portugal's first quarter figures reveal spike in unemployment rates, with government cuts expected to harm growth further
Giles Tremlett and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 18.45 BST
Bailed-out Portugal added to the unemployment woes of southern Europe on Thursday as the country's jobless rate hit a startling 18% of the working population.
The first quarter figures from the national statistics institute revealed that youth unemployment had soared even higher, with 43% of the under 25s who are not studying now unable to find work.
"It is a dramatic and brutal increase," said Helena Pinto, a deputy for the Left Bloc party, who also pointed to a leap in emigration by people desperate to find work.
Portugal's economy is expected to shed yet more jobs and shrink by a further 2.3% this year, as prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho's government forces ever-deeper austerity on the country at the bidding of the troika of lenders who keep it afloat - the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.
Portugal has now been in recession for almost three years and Passos Coelho's announcement last week that he would cut another €4.8bn spending over the next three years is expected to harm short-term growth further.
Recent measures include the decision to sack one in twenty public employees, increase civil service working week from 35 to 40 hours and raise the retirement age by a year to 66. On Thursday government sources let it be known that civil service pensions may also suffer as the country tries to plug holes in the social security system.
But austerity has so far failed to achieve its main target of taming the country's budget deficit, which increased last year from 4.4% of GDP to 6.4%.
Last month the country's constitutional court threw out €5.8bn in cuts to, amongst other things, civil service pay and sickness benefits.
A troika mission is this week studying government measures designed to replace those cuts and study Portugal's progress since it requested a bailout in April 2011.
There was better news earlier this week with the government selling ten year bonds on Tuesday for the first time since the bailout, raising €3bn.
The partial return to markets, where it offered 5.7% interest, was seen as a sign of potential recovery in a country which needed €78bn of bailout money to escape bankruptcy after its debt rating was reduced to junk status. Officials said it could have sold three times as much debt this week, raising hopes that Portugal could wean itself off aid next year.
"We have not only completely got the financing we need for this year, we've also started gathering the financing we need in 2014 so as to ensure we can exit the bailout program successfully," finance minister Vitor Gaspar said.
The government forecasts a third straight year of recession in 2013 and the European commission see unemployment rising to 18.5%.
As austerity measures fail to spark growth in other southern European countries, the troika has shown some slight signs of softening and recently extended the repayment period for Portugal's bailout loans by an average of seven years - but it has to produce cuts to compensate for the constitutional court decision first.
Meanwhile figures from Greece on Thursday showed youth unemployment rose above 60% for the first time in February, reflecting the pain caused by the country's crippling recession after years of austerity under its international bailout.
Greece's jobless rate has almost tripled since the country's debt crisis emerged in 2009 and was more than twice the euro zone's average unemployment reading of 12.1% in March.
While the overall unemployment rate rose to 27%, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, joblessness among those aged between 15 and 24 jumped to 64.2% in February from 59.3% in January. A year ago in March 2012 youth unemployment was 54.1%.
Athens has lowered the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32% to about €500 to entice hiring.
Greece's economy is in its sixth year of recession and expected to slump by 4.2 to 4.5% this year.
Rome's Jewish leader forced to pay Nazi war criminal's legal costs
Riccardo Pacifici will complain to justice minister after being ordered to pay €316 for trial involving former SS officer
Tom Kington in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 19.22 BST
The leader of Rome's Jewish community has launched a stinging attack on Italy's judicial system after he was forced to pay the legal costs of a Nazi war criminal who unsuccessfully sued him.
Riccardo Pacifici said he would complain to the Italian minister of justice after he was handed a bill for €316 (£267) to cover administrative costs from a trial involving Erich Priebke, a former SS officer who was given a life sentence in 1998 for massacring Italians during the second world war.
Priebke, 99, who is living under house arrest in Rome, sued Pacifici for attempted kidnapping in 1996 after a courtroom scuffle during his trial. He lost despite two appeals, but has avoided the €316 bill for administrative costs because he is officially listed as having no assets or income. Under a quirk of Italian law, the bill was then sent to Pacifici.
Despite the relatively small amount, Pacifici – who campaigns against anti-semitism in Italy – said it was ridiculous that he was being asked to bail out a convicted Nazi war criminal. "I believe it is absurd that the president of the Jewish community in Rome should pay legal costs for a Nazi who is guilty of one of the most tragic massacres of the 20th century," he said.
Priebke was convicted of taking part in the 1944 massacre of 335 Italian civilians in Rome's Ardeatine caves, staged in reprisal for the killing of Germans. After the war, Priebke fled to Argentina and lived there for 50 years before being extradited.
In court, he claimed he was just following orders.
Since being placed under house arrest in Rome, Priebke was in the habit of suing people, said Pacifici, hoping to win payouts, knowing he would never have to pay if he lost. Pacifici likened him to a poker player "who can raise the stakes as much as he wants because he will never pay".
A spokesman for the Jewish community said: "Not only did Pacifici have to pay his own legal costs in a case he won because Priebke has no income, but now he gets this extra bill."
Feminists oppose opening of life-sized ‘Barbie Dreamhouse’ attraction
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 6:17 EDT
The opening this month of the first life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse in Europe may be the fantasy of many a little girl, but Berlin feminists are mobilising against what they call a sexist icon.
With her ironed-straight blond tresses, doe-like baby blue eyes, blinding smile and super-human measurements, the mistress of the giant Barbie mansion has become a lightning rod ahead of the May 16 inauguration.
Just a few steps from Alexanderplatz, the main shopping district of east Berlin, the 2,500-square-metre (26,900 square foot) slice of Malibu lifestyle is nestled between a railway and old communist housing blocks.
Inside, young Barbie fans can pretend to bake cupcakes in a marvellous kitchen, rummage through her sequin-studded wardrobe in the blonde bombshell’s “endless” walk-in closet and lounge in her — pink, of course — living room while admiring hundreds of dolls on display.
“For 22 euros ($29), you can have two careers — model or pop star! What kind of image is that presenting to young women?” grumbles Michael Koschitzki, the proudly feminist male leader of a grassroots group of opponents of the Barbie Dreamhouse, and a member of the youth wing of the far-left party Die Linke.
A Facebook faction called “Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse”, created in March with a wink at the New York anti-greed movement Occupy Wall Street, has drawn more than 1,000 supporters since its launch in March when the Berlin plans came to light.
It regrets that “the vast majority of little girls play with a doll that, if she were real, would be anorexic and whose life would consist of waiting for Ken in the car”, Koschitzki said.
An angry fist piercing adverts for the attraction was printed on 10,000 flyers to publicise the fight against such “sexist propaganda” in a country headed by a childless woman and in which battles of the sexes are being fought on several fronts.
Germany, where combining family and work is notoriously difficult, has a fertility rate among the lowest in western Europe and is debating binding quotas for female executives to diversify its overwhelmingly male-dominated boardrooms.
Having weathered half a century of feminist rage, US Barbie manufacturer Mattel notes that it has modernised the doll’s image, moving beyond the beach beauty to create surgeon dolls and even a presidential candidate.
“Barbie has again become a tool for some to advance their own agenda,” a spokeswoman for the company’s German unit said.
The conflict is due to come to a head on May 16, the opening day, with a planned demonstration under a “Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse” banner.
“We will be very happy if we can bring together 100 people,” admits Koschitzki, whose protest group includes several leftist organisations and the initiative Pinkstinks, which is fighting against the gender-stereotyping produced by the colour’s hegemony in the little-girl universe.
Barbie’s Dreamhouse, which was conjured up by Vienna-based Event Marketing Service with a licence from Mattel and has a twin sister at a shopping mall in southern Florida, is already drawing curious families.
A 28-year-old Israeli tourist who gave her name as Lucy said all the pink caught her attention, as she pulled out her camera.
Having played with Barbies as a child, she did not see a problem with the Dreamhouse, although she admitted it could “influence a young girl so she thinks that everyone has to be blonde, tall and big-breasted”.
“It’s up to parents to explain that it’s just a doll and not an example,” said Emma, a 36-year-old Berlin mother of two girls, aged four and six, who shook with anticipation to get inside the doll paradise.
Barbie, for her part, will have to pack her bags on August 25. The Dreamhouse will then be dissembled, placed in moving crates and sent on a tour of other European cities.
Former Church of England archbishop denies child abuse cover-up
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 1:58 EDT
A former Church of England archbishop has denied claims that he covered up allegations of child abuse against a senior clergyman, which were revealed in Friday’s Times.
David Hope, who served as Archbishop of York between 1995 and 2005, said he “strongly resisted” accusations that he withheld from police claims made by choirboys and school pupils against Robert Waddington, a former Dean of Manchester Cathedral, in order to protect the church.
According to the joint report carried out by the Times and The Australian newspaper, Hope was told of the claims in 1999 and again in 2003.
Waddington, who died in 2007, was stripped of his right to conduct church services but the claims were not passed on to police or child protection agencies, the Times reported.
“I didn’t report to the police,” Hope told the Times. “With hindsight, probably there ought to have been (a report). He (Waddington) was in such a fragile and frail state.
“I would strongly resist any suggestion that I was in the business of covering up anything. I would absolutely deny that. There’s no way I was interested in any cover up,” added Hope, who was the second-highest ranking bishop in the Anglican church at the time of the claims.
Hope argued that procedures in place in the Church at the time meant he was not obliged to report the case to the authorities.
But Greater Manchester Police said they were concerned they had not heard of the allegations until after Waddington’s death.
The force became aware of the claims last October when Eli Ward, a former Manchester choirboy, filed a report to officers.
“After so many years of suffering alone, I find myself in a position where the more research I do, the more shocking the cover-up of the Church,” Ward said this week.
Ward, 40, claims that he was groomed and abused by Waddington in the 1980s when he was a chorister.
Waddington faced a separate claim in Australia, where he was headmaster of a boarding school in the 1960s.
Bim Atkinson says that he was subjected to violent abuse when he was a pupil at St Barnabas School in Queensland.
He received a £50,000 payout, but the Church made no admission of liability.
US squares up to Germany over austerity and banking union
George Osborne to host G7 summit in UK as Washington pushes Berlin to loosen purse strings and boost domestic demand
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Phillip Inman
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 19.23 BST
George Osborne has warned finance ministers from the world's largest economies that they must "nurture" the global economic recovery, as the US prepared to square up to Germany over its austerity plans at a G7 meeting in Buckinghamshire on Friday.
While Osborne, who will host the two-day meeting, stressed that the countries attending have "more in common than separates us", US officials said they would use the meeting to call on Berlin to relax its stringent austerity policies and boost its own domestic demand, in response to more than three years of single currency crisis.
And in a less direct dig at the Merkel government, Washington also called for the faster implementation of the proposed banking union across the eurozone.
"Strengthening European demand is the most important immediate imperative in reviving growth in the advanced economies and thereby global growth," said a senior US Treasury official.
"Increased demand in Germany would not only provide relief to its euro area partners, but also spur the world economy. There are many ways to support demand such as by supporting faster wage growth and greater homeownership – both areas where there is space to act."
But at a conference in London on Thursday organised by the Business department, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said it must be the priority for governments to reduce their borrowing to regain confidence. He said the determination of Berlin to balance its budget had not only won support from international lenders but also German businesses and consumers, who felt able to invest once they saw the public finances were sustainable.
Schäuble said the focus on austerity meant a recovery was gathering pace. In a response to questions about the recession in the eurozone at the Global Investment conference he said: "The crisis of confidence is not solved, but the situation is improved. Even Greece is achieving remarkable success," he said.
Given the backlash against austerity in Europe, however, the Americans can rely on support from the French, increasingly at odds with the Germans over the euro crisis, the new Italian government, and the Spanish.
Jack Lew, the new US Treasury secretary, will demand a "recalibration" of German-led austerity policies in the eurozone. The Americans welcomed the shift in policy in Brussels and Berlin giving the French, Spanish, and Dutch more time to cut their budget deficits under the euro rulebook, but demanded more.
"The consolidation path should be stretched out in some countries, and those with fiscal space should shift to supporting demand. We welcome indications that France, Spain and the Netherlands will be given additional time to meet their budget targets, but there is room to do more in the near term," the senior official said. "The focus needs to shift to boosting demand and employment."
Christine Lagarde, who shared a platform with Schäuble and Osborne at the London conference, said the eurozone was in the bottom tier of a three-speed global recovery and was in danger of becoming a third-tier economy.
The IMF boss urged leaders to "do their homework" to find ways to promote growth and prevent the eurozone from slipping behind the US and developing nations.
Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday endorsed legislation putting the ECB in charge of supervising eurozone banks. But Berlin is hostile to further moves that would share risk and liability across the eurozone banking sector, such as pooled funds for winding up failed banks and spreading responsibility for guaranteeing savers' deposits. The latter is viewed as a no-go area in Germany while Berlin takes the view that a bank resolution system should be essentially national rather than European.
The German finance ministry has been arguing for the past fortnight that a full eurozone banking union would need a renegotiation of EU treaties, an arduous and lengthy process. The eurozone agreed in June last year to create the banking union and to use bailout funds to recapitalise weak banks directly without adding to governments' debt levels. But the Germans then delayed and diluted the policy which is to be revisited at an EU summit next month.
Washington voiced exasperation. "It is important to move forward with full banking union. Last year, European leaders vowed to break the feedback loop between banks and sovereigns, but momentum has waned," said the senior official.
"Recent events in Cyprus highlight the importance of Europe redoubling efforts toward a full banking union, including not only a single supervisory mechanism but also resolution authority and recapitalisation capacity along with a backstop for national deposit insurance, so as to build a framework for oversight and risk sharing across the euro area that matches the cross-border reach of the banking sector, restores confidence, and restarts credit."
Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt battles genocide charges
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 3:58 EDT
Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt denied charges he ordered a massacre of indigenous people during his 1982-1983 regime, as he testified for the first time at his genocide trial.
“I declare myself innocent,” the 86-year-old told the court after asking to take the stand in the final arguments of his landmark trial.
“I never had the intention, the aim to destroy any national ethnic group,” he said. “I am not genocidal.”
Rio Montt denied the prosecution’s charge that he authorized military plans to exterminate the Ixil Maya population.
“I never authorized, I never signed, I never ordered attacks against a race, an ethnic group or a religion. I never did!” the retired general thundered in a courtroom packed with survivors of the country’s civil war, rights activists, relatives of the accused, and journalists.
The former strongman, taking sips of water during his 50-minute testimony, insisted that he had no control over the actions of troops operating in indigenous areas.
“I don’t know what the squad leader did. I was the head of state,” he said.
Prosecutors have requested a 75-year prison sentence against Rios Montt and his former military intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez, over the massacre of 1,771 Ixil Maya people in the northern Quiche region of the Central American nation during its civil war.
“They were barbaric deaths, indescribable,” said Edgar Perez, a lawyer for victims. “In the atrocities you have heard about here, there had to be military planning.”
The Indians, he said, were attacked “just because they were Ixils” and Rios Montt “had control over that tool of power,” the army.
The massacre was one of the darkest chapters in the 36-year conflict, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces until 1996, leaving some 200,000 dead or “disappeared,” according to the United Nations.
Rios Montt accused left-wing rebels of committing human rights violations against civilians.
“The men of the EGP (Guerrilla Army of the Poor) ordered the killing of these poor people and now I am the one who has to pay for the crime of genocide,” Rios Montt said.
In the war, indigenous people were often attacked on suspicion they were collaborating with leftist rebels.
But Rios Montt denied that his regime had plans to eliminate the identity of the Maya peoples and that, to the contrary, he promoted development programs.
“My job as head of state was to put back on track a nation that was on the brink,” Rios Montt said. “Guatemala was failing and, excuse me your honor, the guerrilla was at the doors of the (presidential) palace.”
The court will announce the date for the verdict after hearing all the final arguments.
If Rios Montt is found guilty, he would be the first ex-Latin American dictator convicted of genocide — a systematic attempt to eliminate an entire group of people for ethnic, religious, racial or other reasons.