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« Reply #6300 on: May 11, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Cameron claims talks with Putin on Syria are proving 'purposeful'

Prime minister points to common goals with Assad's Russian ally after leaders' meeting at Black Sea resort

Miriam Elder in Moscow
The Guardian, Friday 10 May 2013 18.55 BST   

Link to video: David Cameron and Vladimir Putin stress common goals on Syria

David Cameron declared on Friday that he had made real progress on Syria during talks with Vladimir Putin, but did not outline any concrete steps.

The prime minister met Putin at the president's residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi during a brief visit in which he took pains to present himself as growing closer to the Russian leader following years of strained relations between London and Moscow.

Cameron said he was pleased with the talks, which he described as "very substantive, very purposeful and very useful".

His visit came as the west sought to make a fresh diplomatic push to end the two-year war in Syria, which, Cameron said, had killed at least 80,000 people.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, met Putin in Moscow this week and announced that the two countries had agreed to call an international conference attended by Bashar al-Assad's regime and by rebels, with the hope of starting talks to create a transitional government.

Cameron lent his support to the conference, and is due to meet Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

"The history of Syria is being written in the blood of her people," Cameron said. Russia and the UK had had different views on how best to handle the situation, he noted.

The prime minister emphasised the common goals of each side: "Stop Syria from fragmenting, let the Syrian people choose who governs them, and prevent the growth of violent extremism."

Russia remains Assad's closest ally, along with Iran, and has continued delivering weapons to the country while blocking US-led attempts to impose sanctions on Syria through the UN. Speaking in Warsaw, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that Russia had no plans to sell Syria a new advanced air defence system, yet noted that deliveries of such a system were underway.

The S-300 missile system is one of Russia's most sought-after weapons, and could be used against any attempts at international intervention.

Asked to comment on Wall Street Journal reports this week citing Israeli documents that indicated Russia was planning to sell the S-300 to Syria, Lavrov said: "Russia is not planning to sell. Russia already sold them a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with agreed contracts, of equipment which is anti-aircraft technology."

Putin said London and Moscow had common interests in bringing an end to the bloodshed, while maintaining Syria's territorial integrity – a catchword commonly used by Moscow to imply opposition to outside intervention.

Cameron last visited Russia in September 2011, the first time a British prime minister had gone to the country since Tony Blair attended the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July 2006. Just four months later, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB spy turned Kremlin critic, was poisoned by polonium in London, prompting relations to plunge to a post-cold war low.

In response to a UK outcry and demands that Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect for the killing, be extradited to London, Russia expelled British diplomats and closed British Council offices. A campaign against the oil company BP further strained ties.

On Friday, Cameron stressed commonalities between the two countries.

Sochi is due to host the winter Olympics in February, following London's hosting of the summer Olympics last year.

"We've also discussed how we both want the Sochi Games to be safe and secure," Cameron said. "There should be limited cooperation between our security services for the Sochi Olympics."

All ties between Russia and the UK were cut in the wake of Litvinenko's death in 2006 and Moscow still refuses to extradite Lugovoi; he has since become a deputy in the Duma, thereby gaining immunity from prosecution.

"It's not a secret there are issues where we differ," Cameron said. He added that a more effective relationship would "make people in both our countries safer and better off". He made no mention of Russia's worsening human rights situation.
Time-keeping with Vladimir Putin

David Cameron should leave the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi a happy man. Vladimir Putin kept him waiting less than 30 minutes before their meeting.

The Russian president's tardiness has become the stuff of legend. Whether it's to the grand opening of a cultural landmark such as the Mariinsky theatre (15 minutes) or a meeting with world leaders (record: four hours), the Russian president appears incapable of being on time.

Is it a personal failing or a deliberate tactic adopted by the former KGB agent to show who's boss?

Many observers bet strongly on the latter and have begun to use it as a measure of just what Putin thinks about his interlocuters.

Punctuality has never been Putin's thing though. As far back as June 2000, just six months after he became president, Putin arrived 15 minutes late for a meeting in the Vatican with Pope John Paul II.

He arrived 14 minutes late for his meeting with the Queen in 2003, which his aides blamed on London traffic (never a problem in Moscow, where roads are regularly shut whenever Putin zips by).

He has never been on time meeting Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, with whom he has a famously prickly relationship. The maximum he has kept her waiting is reportedly 40 minutes.

In June 2012, meeting Barack Obama for the first time as president, Putin kept the US leader waiting for at least half an hour in the beach resort of Los Cabos, where the two had a meeting scheduled on the sidelines of the G8.

Later that month Putin kept the chiefs of the world's top energy companies – BP, ExxonMobil, RoyalDutchShell and others – waiting a full three hours for a scheduled meeting at the St Petersburg economic forum.

When he finally appeared he did not apologise. It was noted there that "the combined wealth of all the people here is greater than the entire GDP of Russia".

In July 2012, Putin was set to meet Ukraine's president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, in the Crimean resort of Yalta; he showed up four hours late. He was too busy having a drink nearby with a Russian biker gang called the Night Wolves.

Last week Putin kept John Kerry, the US secretary state, waiting for an astonishing three hours, while he berated his cabinet.

David Cameron should rest easy.

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« Reply #6301 on: May 11, 2013, 07:19 AM »

The bell has rung for Denmark's 'model' teaching system

Danish teachers are back in the classroom after a four-week industrial dispute, but their working week has changed for ever

Nicola Witcombe, Friday 10 May 2013 18.30 BST   

A four-week lockout of teachers from schools in Denmark has come to an end. In central Copenhagen, where I live, my daughter and her classmates gleefully cycled to school on their first day back. The month-long closure has led to schools being valued even more highly by the more than 556,000 pupils and about 50,000 teachers who were affected.

The unprecedented lockout occurred because of an industrial dispute between the Local Authorities Association (KL) – backed by the centre-left government – and the Danish Teachers' Union (DLF). The standoff marks an end of the so-called "Danish model". This model refers to the labour market here, which is largely governed by collective agreements rather than legislation. It is also characterised by employers and trade unions being relatively equal in negotiations and the parties being accustomed to reaching agreements without the need for the government to step in.

The dispute arose because the main teachers' union did not want to sign up to a new collective agreement put forward by KL, which sought to change their working week. This led to KL barring teachers from their places of work without pay from 2April. The Danish model suffered a further blow when parliament then passed a law that decided the terms and conditions of Danish teachers ostensibly without consulting them. The DFL argues that the lockout was premature and heavy-handed and the law unfairly one-sided in favour of the local authorities.

On the face of it, the disagreement has been about the amount of time Danish teachers have to prepare lessons. Prior to the dispute, they taught a maximum of 25 hours per week and the rest of their 37-hour week was spent doing preparation or other duties. KL wanted to change this so that local headteachers could agree preparation and classroom time individually with their teachers depending on the specific needs of the school and individual classes.

This may sound sensible, but the underlying dispute is more ideological. Danish kids usually split their day between school from about 8am to 1pm and then an after-school club where they get to do what they want: theatre, play board or computer games, cook etc. There is a movement to extend the school day, giving less time for "free" play, which is something the Danes have always prioritised. Generally, the teachers are against this approach, as well as being against the proposed changes for their working week, which is viewed as a preliminary step to making the school day longer in the future. They want to enshrine their right to a specific length of preparation time in a national agreement, rather than leaving it to local heads of school who may be pressurised by budget considerations. They have not been successful in this demand.

At the start of the lockout, parents were faced with the prospect of no school and not knowing when it would start again. It was practically awkward and difficult for the children. As a mother of three, I took turns looking after other people's children and arranged activities from day to day. Some families went on impromptu holidays or were kind enough to arrange activities for whole classes daily. Other children accompanied their parents to work or attended hurriedly laid-on extra classes at sports' clubs.

But it hasn't all been negative, as people have asked whether the lockout has strengthened our ability to work together . One listener on The Word is Yours radio programme said it was a good thing that parents are more involved in the everyday lives of their children, not treating school "like one, big babysitter". There is a risk in Denmark, where both parents tend to work full-time, that the state has too much influence on how children are brought up. For older children with approaching exams and those with special needs, however, the lockout has had more serious consequences; one ninth grader we know has an exam equivalent to a GCSE in a week-and-a-half.

But what about our teachers? Most of them appear to be delighted to get back to work, despite the general opposition to the agreement forced through by the government. They spent a month trying to mobilise support led by their trade union and used Facebook and email to show us that they were against the action taken by KL. Some designed flyers pronouncing "Free Children Play Best" and spoof music videos . One of the best, the Lockout Kings, describes the disagreement as a "fucked-up, shit conflict" (in Danish) as three cool teachers bang on the door of their school.

Well, they've managed to get back in, even if not on the right terms

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« Reply #6302 on: May 11, 2013, 07:21 AM »

French corruption row deepens as ex-minister struggles to explain sums

Officials unearth €500,000 deposit into Claude Guéant's account amid probe into alleged Libyan funding of 2007 Sarkozy campaign

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Friday 10 May 2013 17.31 BST   

A former French interior minister and key ally of Nicolas Sarkozy is under growing pressure for a convincing explanation after investigators unearthed a large deposit of money into a bank account and significant cash transactions.

Claude Guéant's home was searched earlier this year as part of a judicial investigation into claims that the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had illegally channelled money to France to fund Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign. Guéant, who was director of Sarkozy's campaign before being made the president's chief-of-staff and then interior minister, has denied any illegal Libyan funding.

Last week, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that police searches had found a transfer of €500,000 (£422,000) from a foreign account into Guéant's personal bank account. Guéant immediately took to the airwaves, saying in several interviews that the cash had not come from Gaddafi, but from the proceeds of a private sale of two paintings. He said he had sold two works – apparently oil paintings of turbulent seascapes, by Dutch artist Andries van Eertvelt – to a Malaysian lawyer. He called it a "banal transaction of works of art", adding: "I have all the receipts." He said he would show all documentation to investigators and criticised the press leak of the investigation.

However, art experts were quick to point out that Van Eertvelt's works did not usually fetch such high sums. Newspapers also reported that Guéant would have had to apply for an export certificate from the culture ministry, but that no application had been made.

Investigators also traced cash payments of between €20,000 and €25,000, sums that are are now causing a political storm. Guéant said the money came from cash bonuses made to senior interior ministry staff, possibly from police expenses. But politicians and the media said such bonuses to ministry staff had long ago been scrapped. Le Canard Enchaîné later published a memo signed by Guéant himself banning them.

The interior minister, Manual Valls, has now launched an inquiry into bonus payments to ensure funds were not misused in government offices.

The Socialist party has also queried Guéant's role in his current activity as a business lawyer and consultant after Le Monde revealed he had travelled abroad, namely to Africa, on business since leaving office. "You say I'm using my contacts book. It's not just that. I'm supporting the dossiers of French businesses abroad," Guéant told Le Monde. He said he was "serving his country" as a business lawyer and denied any conflict of interest.

The investigation into illicit campaign funding from Libya continues. Guéant has denied any campaign payments from Gaddafi.

He told France Info radio last week: "There was not any kind of Libyan funding in this affair. At no moment did I see Libyan money, or hear anything of it. I'm definitive and categoric on that point."

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« Reply #6303 on: May 11, 2013, 07:45 AM »

U.S. to return more stolen dinosaur skeletons to Mongolia

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 15:43 EDT

Mongolia may need to rustle up some more glass cases for its first dinosaur museum after US authorities announced Friday they will hand back a large new collection of stolen fossils.

At a ceremony on Monday, officials had turned over the nearly complete skeleton of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar, a cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

It had been found in the Gobi desert and illegally sold at auction for $1.05 million in the United States last year, before authorities intervened.

Now, the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan says that a herd of other prehistoric remains is due to be surrendered.

These include two more Tyrannosaurus bataars, a Hadrosaur, at least six Oviraptor skeletons, and fossils including several Gallimimus skeletons.

Mongolia’s minister of culture, sport and tourism, Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, said this week her country is planning to build a Central Dinosaur Museum of Mongolia and that the T-bataar bones repatriated Monday will be the “first exhibit.”

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« Reply #6304 on: May 12, 2013, 06:13 AM »

Pakistan backs former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as Imran Khan falls short

22 killed as violence, intimidaton and vote rigging mar poll many had feared would never be held

Jon Boone in Lahore
The Observer, Sunday 12 May 2013   

Link to video: Pakistan election: Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League claims victory

Fourteen years after he was overthrown and exiled by a military dictator, the former Pakistani prime minister known to his supporters as "the Lion" claimed victory on Saturday night in one of most dramatic general elections in the country's history.

Nawaz Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N), was set to become the next prime minister of the troubled country as it grapples with crises on multiple fronts after it became clear he had secured a commanding lead despite the challenge from Imran Khan, the former cricketer who waged a groundbreaking campaign credited with galvanising an army of youthful new voters.

Although final verified results were still hours away, the country's television networks projected Sharif heading for an ultimate tally of around 110 seats that should give him the parliamentary majority he said was needed to fix Pakistan's ailing economy.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) appeared to be headed for a final vote tally of around 35 seats, in line with the expectations of many analysts but far below the stratospheric expectations of his followers who had been repeatedly promised a "tsunami" that would sweep away the country's established parties.

Compounding the PTI's humiliation, Khan lost one of the seats he was personally contesting in Lahore. Although Khan won other seats, victory in the capital of rich and populous Punjab province was seen as vital if the PTI was to sweep all before him.

It was clear throughout the day that Khan was struggling against his PML-N opponent, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, an old friend from Khan's schooldays at Lahore's elite Aitchison College.

Sadiq enjoyed solid support from his personal biradari – the traditional clan networks that Khan has urged voters to ignore when they cast their votes.

"I will vote for Sadiq because we have respect for our elders," said Usman Jamil, a 23-year-old office worker. "This system is very strong in Pakistan and we must respect it."

Meanwhile the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), which is wildly unpopular after five tumultuous years in government, was battered at the polls. It was set to secure around 35 seats, most of them in its traditional rural strongholds in Sindh province.

Sharif emerged onto the balcony of the PML-N headquarters in Lahore well before midnight to address supporters who cheered and waved the green flags of the party.

He said he was prepared to work with all other parties to try to fix the country's many problems.

"We want to change the destiny of the country and fulfil the promises we made to the nation during the election campaign," he said.

While PML-N supporters erupted in noisy celebration across Lahore, PTI backers reacted sullenly to their disappointing result. Some were seen beating cricket bats – the symbol of the party – on one of the city's main boulevards.

One gain for Khan was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI won enough seats to make it a leading partner in a coalition government.

However, given the province's acute problems and struggle with Taliban militancy, it may prove a poisoned chalice for a party that has never come close to governing anything in its short history.

The election was the first time in the country's history that one elected government has handed power to another.

The day was also marred by violence that killed 22 people and rampant vote rigging in the country's biggest city. Politicians began crying foul even before counting began in the 70,000 polling stations throughout the country.

The PTI in particular complained of blatant efforts to intimidate voters in Defence and Clifton, two affluent neighbourhoods in Karachi where Khan has a devoted following.

Sana Bilal, a 28-year-old PTI supporter, said her polling station located in a school in the upscale Defence neighbourhood never even opened.

"There were people who have been waiting outside since 8am [the official start of polling nationwide]," she said. "It was a sea of PTI supporters."

"Everyone is just really angry that we've been deprived of our right to vote."

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the dominant political party in the city, was blamed for attempting to suppress voting in in a bid to prevent the PTI eating into their territory.


Pakistani women stopped from voting in Taliban stronghold of Waziristan

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 11, 2013 9:54 EDT

Women were stopped from voting in Pakistan’s elections on Saturday in the northwestern tribal district of North Waziristan, a notorious Taliban stronghold, residents said.

North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous districts on the rugged border with Afghanistan which are a haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Tribesmen were informed through mosque loudspeakers early Saturday that no woman would be allowed to leave home and cast a vote, according to a local resident in North Waziristan’s main town of Miranshah.

In North Waziristan, many women live in purdah, confined to women-only quarters at home and prevented from leaving the premises without a male relative.

On Wednesday pamphlets were handed out in Miranshah warning tribesmen not to let women vote in Saturday’s general election, threatening punishment for those who did.

“Take our words, this kind of disgraceful act will not be tolerated and anyone influencing women to cast a vote will be punished,” said the pamphlet, signed by “Mujahedeen” and thrown from vehicles into shops.

Women’s turnout was weak in the most conservative, rural parts of Pakistan at the last elections in 2008, particularly the tribal belt, the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Baluchistan provinces.

Of the more than 86 million registered voters in Pakistan for Saturday’s election, 37 million are women and 48 million men.

In 2008, not a single vote was cast at 564 of 28,800 women’s polling stations — 55 percent of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials said. In the most conservative areas, officials estimated women’s turnout at just 10 to 15 percent of those registered.

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« Reply #6305 on: May 12, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to stand in Iran presidential election

Ex-president joins more than 680 candidates who include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Saturday 11 May 2013 16.26 BST   

Leading contenders in Iran's forthcoming presidential election emerged on Saturday after registration for potential candidates ended with top figures from major rival camps entering what is likely to become a highly contentious race.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's close ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have both registered as candidates for next month's presidential election.

Rafsanjani, who is expected to win the support of the country's reformers, and his hardline rival both announced their candidacy just before the deadline on Saturday.

Since Tuesday when the official registration had began, there were anticipation on whether the two men, who are feared to issue challenges to the establishment by their candidacy, would eventually sign up.

More than 680 candidates, including at least a two dozen women, have registered but Iran's Guardian Council, a powerful group of six clergymen and six jurists controlled by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the final say on who can stand. Only a handful of candidates are expected to be allowed to run in the 14 June vote.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and a close ally of Khamenei, also registered at the interior ministry in Tehran's Fatemi street on Saturday, which was a crucial port of call for those wishing to succeed Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani, 79, is one of Iran's great political survivors who played an instrumental role in the appointment of Khamenei as the current supreme leader after the death in 1989 of the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini.

However, Rafsanjani and Khamenei have been at odds since the former lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 presidential election. In 2009, Khamenei sided with Ahmadinejad who was alleged to have won in a rigged election while Rafsanjani showed moderate support for the opposition Green Movement and its leaders who disputed the results.

As a result of his confrontation with Khamenei who has the final word in all state matters in Iran, Rafsanjani's authority has diminished in recent years and two of his children were jailed last year on separate charges but his candidacy can possibly play as a game changer.

Despite this, many believe that he has a strong base among clerics and can draw a great deal of support from reformists because of his sympathy with the opposition. Although Rafsanjani and Mashaei are rivals with complete different political allegiances, they are both loathed by the supporters of Khamenei for allegedly attempting to undermine his power.

Rafsanjani signalled last week that he would not run without Khamenei's consent. It was unclear on Saturday whether the supreme leader had in fact intervened in the final hours before registration drew to a close.

Mashaei was accompanied by Ahmadinejad as he put his name forward for the 14 June vote, local news agencies reported. The president soon came under attack for showing his support for Mashaei while holding an official position but dismissed the criticism, saying he was on a day off from work on Saturday.

"Mashaei means Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad means Mashaei," the president said in a joint press conference with his top aide soon after he registered. The pair displayed victory signs as they took their hands up.

Under the Iranian election law, Ahmadinejad is limited to two consecutive terms but has been widely accused of grooming Mashaei to succeed him as part of a plan for a Putin/Medvedev-style power grab.

Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Ahmadinejad's elder brother, Davoud, were also among the politicians who registered on Saturday.

Ghalibaf, a conservative with strong ties to Khamenei, has formed a coalition with two other prominent figures with similar political leanings, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Khamenei, and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a former parliamentary speaker. All three men have registered but according to the coalition plan, only one is eventually supposed to run.

Davoud Ahmadinejad, a former inspectorate-general at the presidential office, fell out with his brother over the president's choice in a cabinet appointment and his unwavering support for Mashaei. Since then, the elder brother has sided with the president's opponents and has embarrassed Ahmadinejad by speaking out against top presidential aides who are accused of being members of a so-called "deviant current" in Ahmadinejad's inner circle.

Ahmadinejad's support for Mashaei, who is accused of being the leader of the "deviant current", has cost the president a great deal of influence in Iranian politics. Ahmadinejad has been drawn into a bruising power struggle with the conservatives, many of them his former supporters, and has mounted serious challenges to Khamenei, such as engaging in public spats with top-level officials.

During the registration process politicians from various political groups have stepped forward, including Hassan Rouhani, a reformist, and Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a top presidential aide and Mohsen Rezaee, a former commander of the revolutionary guards.

But with former presidential candidates from the previous vote in 2009, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, still under house arrest four years after an election that resulted in months of unrest and bloodshed, the opposition Green Movement sees little legitimacy in this year's poll. The reformists have not called for an active boycott and Rafsanjani appears their favoured choice.

The opposition website Kaleme reported on Saturday that security officials have surrounded the areas close to the office of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, preventing his supporters from visiting him. In the wake of his house arrest, Khatami refrained from running but has endorsed Rafsanjani.

According to the 1979 Iranian constitution, the supreme leader is the head of the Iranian state and president heads the government. For 10 years after the revolution Iran had a prime minister as well as a president, but the position was abolished in 1989. Since then, all Iranian presidents have served two consecutive terms.

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« Reply #6306 on: May 12, 2013, 06:26 AM »

May 11, 2013

U.S. and Afghans Negotiate Future


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Senior American and Afghan officials held talks on Saturday to try to iron out the details of a pact that defines the future of America’s commitment to Afghanistan.

The strategic partnership agreement outlines a set of principles and commitments for relations between Washington and Kabul after 2014, when foreign combat troops are to withdraw from Afghanistan. But there is lingering uncertainty over whether either party will be willing or able to stick to the provisions of the pact, which includes loopholes for both nations.

The meeting here on Saturday between Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and the Afghan foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, was the second round of negotiations on how to carry out the agreement, which was signed in May 2012 by President Obama and President Hamid Karzai.

The deal spells out Washington’s commitment to Afghanistan over the next 10 years, as well as its expectations of Kabul, including free and fair presidential elections next year and pledges to fight corruption, improve efficiency and protect human rights, including those of women.

Sticking points may include the amount of money the United States provides to Afghan security forces. The two countries are also still squabbling over a separate agreement that would protect from prosecution a residual force of as many as 10,000 American troops that would stay behind after the end of the international combat mission.

In remarks before the talks, Mr. Burns promised that Washington would stand by Afghanistan and its nascent national security forces after 2014. But the deal allows either country to opt out with a year’s notice, which means that Mr. Karzai’s successor could scuttle the agreement.

Mr. Karzai’s re-election in 2009 was marred by widespread allegations of fraud. He denied the charges, but the acrimonious aftermath tainted his relationship with the West, which was the most vocal of his critics.

The pact calls for a free, fair and transparent election in 2014. Mr. Karzai, however, has been relentless in his criticism of American involvement in Afghanistan’s political process, saying that Washington was secretly maneuvering to strengthen his opposition. Mr. Burns denied that.
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« Reply #6307 on: May 12, 2013, 06:28 AM »

May 11, 2013

Social Media in China Fuel Citizen Response to Quake


LUSHAN, China — Wang Xiaochang sprang into action minutes after a deadly earthquake jolted this lush region of Sichuan Province last month. Logging on to China’s most popular social media sites, he posted requests for people to join him in aiding the survivors. By that evening, he had fielded 480 calls.

Never mind that the government had declared that the narrow mountain roads to Lushan were open only to authorized rescue vehicles. Two days after the April 20 earthquake, Mr. Wang was hitchhiking with 19 gear-laden strangers to this rubble-strewn town. While the military cleared roads and repaired electrical lines, the volunteers carried food, water and tents to ruined villages and comforted survivors of the temblor, which killed nearly 200 people and injured more than 13,000.

“The government is in charge of the big picture stuff, but we’re doing the work they can’t do,” Mr. Wang, 24, a former soldier, said recently, standing outside the group’s tent, which was cluttered with sleeping bags, work gloves and smartphones.

The rapid grass-roots response to the disaster reveals just how far China’s nascent civil society movement has come since 2008, when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan, not far from Lushan, prompted a wave of volunteerism and philanthropy. That quake, which claimed about 90,000 lives, provoked criticism of the government for its ham-handed relief efforts. Outrage mounted in the months that followed over allegations of corruption and reports that the parents of dead children had been detained after protesting what many saw as a cover-up of shoddy school construction. Thousands of students died in school collapses during the quake.

Like the government, which honed its rescue and relief efforts after the Wenchuan earthquake, the volunteers and civil society groups that first appeared in 2008 gained valuable skills for working in disaster zones. Their ability to coordinate — and, in some instances, outsmart a government intent on keeping them away — were enhanced by Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblog that did not exist in 2008 but now has more than 500 million users.

“Civil society is much more capable today compared to 2008,” said Ran Yunfei, a prominent democracy activist and blogger, who describes Weibo as a revolutionary tool for social change. “It’s far easier now for volunteers to share information on what kind of help is needed.”

One of those transformed by the Wenchuan earthquake was Li Chengpeng, a sports commentator from Sichuan turned civic activist. When the Lushan earthquake hit, Mr. Li turned to his seven million Weibo followers and quickly organized a team of volunteers. They traveled to the disaster zone on motorcycles, by pedicab and on foot so as not to clog roads, soliciting donations via microblog along the way. What he found was a government-directed relief effort sometimes hampered by bureaucracy and geographic isolation.

Two days after the quake, Mr. Li’s team delivered 498 tents, 1,250 blankets and 100 tarps — all donated — to Wuxing, where government supplies had yet to arrive. The next day, they hiked to four other villages, handing out water, cooking oil and tents.

Although he acknowledges the government’s importance during such disasters, Mr. Li contends that grass-roots activism is just as vital. “You can’t ask an NGO to blow up half a mountain to clear roads and you can’t ask an army platoon to ask a middle-aged woman whether she needs sanitary napkins,” he wrote in a recent post.

The government, however, prefers to rely on state-backed aid groups to deliver supplies and raise money, largely through the Red Cross Society of China. But that organization is still reeling from a corruption scandal in 2011 that severely damaged its reputation and spurred greater support for nongovernmental charities, which are generally thought to be more transparent.

Faced with a groundswell of social activism it feared could turn into government opposition, the Communist Party has sought to turn the Lushan disaster into a rallying cry for political solidarity. “The more difficult the circumstance, the more we should unite under the banner of the party,” the state-run newspaper People’s Daily declared last month, praising the leadership’s response to the earthquake.

Still, the rise in online activism has forced the government to adapt. Recently, People’s Daily announced that three volunteers had been picked to supervise the Red Cross spending in the earthquake zone and to publish their findings on Weibo.

Yet on the ground, the government is hewing to the old playbook. According to local residents, red propaganda banners began appearing on highway overpasses and on town fences even before water and food arrived. “Disasters have no heart, but people do,” some read. Others proclaimed: “Learn from the heroes who came here to help the ones struck by disaster.”

Liao Wenbing, an official with the Sichuan Provincial Transportation Bureau, described the slogans as a natural response from the people. “They feel the need to express gratitude to the government and the party,” he said, in an emergency tent filled with maps and cooled by electric fans.

Critics, however, consider the ubiquitous propaganda part of a well-honed crisis script used by the government to guide public opinion. According to a directive issued by the Central Propaganda Department last month, Chinese newspapers and Web sites were “forbidden to carry negative news, analysis or commentary” about the earthquake. The directive was obtained by the Web site China Digital Times, based in Berkeley, Calif.

Analysts say the legions of volunteers and aid workers that descended on Sichuan threatened the government’s carefully constructed narrative about the earthquake. Indeed, some Chinese suspect such fears were at least partly behind official efforts to discourage altruistic citizens from coming to the region.

Despite warnings to stay away, so as not to obstruct roads and become a burden to rescuers, plenty of people found a way into the disaster zone. “I was really surprised at how many volunteers showed up despite the government’s announcement saying they weren’t needed,” said Li Huaping, 47, a well-known political dissident from Shanghai, who was helping to set up 50 tents for use as temporary classrooms.

Mr. Li acknowledged that the government had done a good job but noted instances in which volunteers were indispensable to the relief effort, including a group that set up a water filtration system in a sports center swimming pool just hours after the quake.

Each volunteer brings something unique to the effort. After seeing the posting by Mr. Wang soliciting help, Li Yong, a 24-year-old hairdresser, used his allotted vacation days to deliver supplies. It was the least he could do, he said, to repay those who saved him during the 2008 earthquake, which killed nine of his relatives.

“I was too young then to make a difference,” he said. “Now I can.”

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« Reply #6308 on: May 12, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Turkey blames Syria over Reyhanli bombings

Nine Turks arrested but foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Assad regime was behind blasts in which 46 people died

Matthew Weaver, Sunday 12 May 2013 12.00 BST   

Turkey's foreign minister has blamed Syria for a double car bombing that killed 46 people in a border town, as the US and the UK pledged to stand behind their Nato ally in one of the most serious cross-border disputes since the Syrian conflict began.

Turkish police arrested nine people in connection with the attacks, which occurred within 15 minutes of each other on Saturday in Reyhanli – a base for Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict and a rallying point for rebels before they cross the border.

All nine were Turkish citizens, but the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested those responsible for the bombings were also involved in an alleged massacre in the Syrian coastal town of Banyias last weekend.

"The attack has nothing to do with the Syrian refugees in Turkey. It's got everything to do with the Syrian regime," he said in a TV interview.

Davutoglu added: "We should be careful against ethnic provocations in Turkey and Lebanon after the Banyias massacre."

Syria denied involvement and claimed Turkey was to blame for turning its border into focus for international terrorists. Syria's state media quoted the information minister, Omran Zubi, as saying: "No one has the right in Turkey to issue arbitrary accusations against Syria concerning the bombings which rocked Turkey yesterday as Syria has not and will not conduct such behaviour."

The US, UK and Nato all pointedly pledged to support Turkey in the dispute.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: "The United States condemns [the] car bombings and we stand with our ally, Turkey. This awful news strikes an especially personal note for all of us given how closely we work in partnership with Turkey."

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said: "We stand with the people of Turkey."

The car bombing is the third time the Syrian conflict has spilled over the border into Turkey – one of the staunchest allies of the Syrian opposition movement. It comes ahead of a meeting later this week between Barack Obama and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Meanwhile, rebels in southern Syria have freed four Filipino UN peacekeepers they said they were holding for their own safety after clashes last week with Syrian government forces put them in danger.

A spokesman for the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade said the four were handed over on Sunday morning at a border checkpoint where the Jordanian and Israeli borders join with the Golan Heights.

The same rebel brigade freed 21 Filipino peacekeepers in March after holding them for three days.

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« Reply #6309 on: May 12, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Netanyahu to meet Pig Putin amid reports of missile sales to Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 11, 2013 18:15 EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin, officials said Saturday, amid concerns Moscow may be about to deliver advanced missiles to Syria.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the visit to AFP, but declined to give details, although he told the Interfax news agency it was being planned for next week.

The state RIA Novosti news agency, citing a diplomatic source, also said Netanyahu expected to call on Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi early next week.

“The visit is currently at the stage of active preparations,” the source was quoted as saying.

Israeli officials told AFP on condition of anonymity that the two leaders would meet “soon” but did not elaborate.

“Netanyahu and Putin will discuss the Russian arms sales to Syria, in particular the sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems,” Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported Friday, adding that the Israeli premier would also seek to raise the Iranian nuclear issue.

Israel twice last week carried out air strikes near Damascus, attacks a senior Israeli source said were aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite group allied to Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Israel had provided information to Washington about the imminent sale to Syria of Russian S-300 missile batteries, advanced ground-to-air weapons that can take out aircraft or guided missiles.

British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Putin in Sochi on Friday to talk strategy on the Syria conflict, days after the US and Russian foreign ministers agreed to work together on a solution.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that any such sale would be “potentially destabilising” for the region.

Russia however refuses to rule out supplying weapons to Syria, saying it has to honour existing contracts.

On a visit to Warsaw on Friday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was continuing to fulfil contracts by delivering military hardware to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in defiance of calls for a freeze.

“Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment, which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts,” he told reporters.

A high-ranking diplomatic source, who participated in the Putin-Cameron talks, said the issue of arms supplies to Syria had been raised at their meeting.

Speaking to Russian news agencies, he insisted Moscow had to meet its obligations.

“Everything is clear here: there is no embargo on supplies, and we are implementing contracts signed earlier, that is we are fulfilling obligations we have taken upon ourselves,” the source was quoted as saying.

“Any weapons that are being supplied (to Syria) in accordance with earlier contracts, are purely defensive in nature.”

The West and Russia have been repeatedly at odds over the Syria conflict, with the United States and Europe accusing Moscow of seeking to prop up Assad and selling him arms.

The war in Syria has cost an estimated 70,000 lives and displaced millions of people, including hundreds of thousands who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Earlier this week Lavrov and Kerry proposed holding a new peace conference but the diplomatic source, said there were too many disagreements over its format and who should attend.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #6310 on: May 12, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Egypt ‘foils Al-Qaeda-linked plot against Western embassy’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 11, 2013 10:36 EDT

Egypt’s interior minister said on Saturday police arrested members of an Al-Qaeda-linked cell that plotted to carry out a suicide bombing against a Western embassy and other targets in the country.

Police “have delivered a successful blow against a terror cell plotting suicide bomb attacks,” including a plot to attack a Western embassy which was in its final stages, Mohammed Ibrahim said at a news conference.

The minister did not identify the embassy.

Ibrahim named three people arrested by police and said they were captured with 10 kilos of chemicals that could be used to make explosives and a computer containing instructions on bomb-making.

The militants had been in touch with an Al-Qaeda leader outside the country, said Ibrahim, and had received training in Pakistan and Iran.

Egypt has in the past announced the arrests of Qaeda-linked militants, including a group now on trial in Cairo.
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« Reply #6311 on: May 12, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Rwanda genocide 20 years on: 'We live with those who killed our families. We are told they're sorry, but are they?'

Nearly 20 years after the Rwandan genocide, Chris McGreal returns to Kibuye to meet the few Tutsis who survived – and some of the killers they are forced to live with as neighbours

Chris McGreal   
The Observer, Saturday 11 May 2013   

Lucie Niyigena's seven-year-old mind was a jumble of panic and confusion as she stepped over the brutalised, bleeding corpse of her grandfather and fled through the back door of her town's Catholic church. But, as Lucie remembers the terror nearly two decades later, she was driven by a single overwhelming urge – not to be separated from her mother in death.

"All I could think of was to be with my mother whatever happened," she says. "Even today, even though I want to get out of this place where so many terrible things happened, where there are still people who want them to happen again, where we can see the killers walking on the streets every day, I can never leave my mother."

Lucie was back at the church in Kibuye last month, gently washing the skulls of a few of the thousands of Tutsis killed there on a single day at the height of Rwanda's genocide in 1994. By some miracle – actually the decency of a few Hutu policemen, neighbours and a bank clerk who bravely if silently resisted the killing – she and her mother, Madalena Mukariemeria, stayed alive in an area of Rwanda where fewer than one in 30 Tutsis survived the genocide; in total, 800,000 Tutsis were lost to the killings led by a Hutu extremist government.

But survival demands a price. The mass killings have shaped Lucie's life, even though she was only a young child when the tide of death swamped Kibuye, a town of about 48,000 people on the edge of Lake Kivu at Rwanda's western border.

The trauma and fear that permeated her home in the early years are now mixed with flickers of hope, suspicion and resentment as the government – led by the former rebel leader, Paul Kagame, who put a stop to the genocide – seeks to construct a new Rwanda where the ideology of hatred is buried with the corpses of its victims.

Lucie is bound up in an unprecedented experiment in which an entire country has been pressed to atone, forgive and reconcile but never forget. That has meant the killers confessing and seeking mercy, and the survivors accepting those who murdered their families back from prison as neighbours. Meanwhile a new generation is being taught to reject the labels of Hutu and Tutsi, and find a common purpose in reconstructing Rwanda.

Some have embraced the role with vigour. In Kibuye, Hutu men who butchered entire families have offered heartfelt and detailed confessions that have prompted some survivors to set aside nearly unimaginable pain to embrace them as genuinely reformed. But scratch beneath the surface and Rwanda remains a country in shock.

A few yards from where Lucie is washing the skulls of the dead, a familiar-looking man is sweeping leaves from the mass grave of 4,500 Tutsis. He is short, with the same tightly cropped beard and haunted look I encountered in 1994 a few weeks after the church massacre, when the stench of the dead tossed just outside its walls still overwhelmed Sunday mass. Members of the congregation held cloths over their faces as they prayed, and then emerged to blame the Tutsis for their own deaths.

Lucie reminds me that the man's name is Thomas Kanyeperu and that he had been the church groundsman. She says he served nine years in prison for genocide. "He said he didn't do it," she tells me. "He said he saved Tutsis. Maybe he saved some Tutsis but he killed others. Even today he hates us. Ask him. You'll see."

The killing was so efficient in Kibuye and the surrounding province, where all but 8,000 of its 250,000 Tutsis were slaughtered, that it was known as the "pure genocide". That was in part due to the province's governor, Clément Kayishema, a doctor who took to the radio to urge Tutsis fleeing the marauding "interahamwe" gangs of Hutu extremists to shelter in the town's church.

They soon realised their mistake. The church was perched atop a small peninsula jutting into Lake Kivu. When the killing there began in earnest on 17 April 1994, there was nowhere to flee. Some Tutsis ran to the water only to be attacked by men in boats. The genocidaire tossed grenades into the lake just as they used explosives to catch fish.

Those who lived were often saved by the decency of others. Lucie and her mother were inside the church when the interahamwe stormed in shooting and cutting away with machetes. As Tutsis fled through the back door some were killed on the spot, including Lucie's grandfather. Others were lined up for execution by men waving nail-studded clubs. By the end of the day 11,500 people had been murdered in and around the church. The next day another 10,000 Tutsis were killed in the football stadium.

But Lucie and her mother were rescued by policemen pretending they were taking them for execution. As they were marched away, Madalena heard a child crying among the vegetation. "We were furious because he was shouting and we thought it would bring the interahamwe," she tells me. "I thought to myself: 'Shut up child. Shut up or die.'"

A policeman rescued the boy. Only later did Madalena see that the child she wished dead was her eight year-old son, Maurice. Today he is an army officer.

Madalena's neighbours hid her and the children until it became too dangerous. After that the family burrowed deep into banana groves and hoped no one would find them. Over the coming weeks Madalena was captured, raped and saved from death by the bravery of a Hutu bank clerk who used his own money to bribe the interahamwe.

After the genocide, Madalena, who is now 62, took in six orphans from her extended family. One of them, Savera Mukasharango, was 15 when she committed suicide after coming face to face on the streets of Kibuye with the man who murdered her father. "After that she went and threw herself in the lake and drowned because of the pain of seeing him," says Madalena. "Today we are being asked to live with the people who killed our families. We are told they are sorry, they won't do it again. Some people believe that. I am not one of them."

A couple of years after the genocide I travelled through Kibuye with Tharcisse Karugarama, who was, at the time, the newly appointed prosecutor for the region. He was also adopting a young boy, orphaned and mutilated. The interahamwe had hacked the child's arms off. Over the years, Tharcisse rose from prosecutor to judge and then to head of the high court. He is now Rwanda's justice minister, who has had to contend with the daunting question of what to do with close to 150,000 accused genocidaire who a decade ago were packed into overcrowded, fetid prisons.

The survivors wanted justice for their murdered families but the government didn't have enough judges, lawyers or courtrooms to put the killers on trial. It faced the prospect of keeping them locked up without due process or freeing them without accounting for their crimes. Either way risked worsening the bitter legacy of genocide. President Kagame wanted to forge a new Rwandan identity devoid of Hutu and Tutsi. The answer lay in a form of traditional justice, known as gacaca, rejigged to serve as a mix of trial and local truth and reconciliation commissions.

The challenge was to get the killers to confess, in part to help the survivors discover how and where their loved ones died, but also as a counter by Hutu extremists in exile to deny the genocide. As gacaca rolled out, the government drew in the support of churches where preachers placed a heavy emphasis on biblical exhortations to confession and forgiveness. "All the talk of heaven and hell and redemption helped to start people talking," says Tharcisse. "And once a few talked, naming names, telling where the bodies were buried, who killed who, then the door was open."

Communities across the country elected 250,000 judges. Anyone was permitted to speak at the hearings, against or for a defendant. The accused were encouraged to confess their own crimes and name other genocidaire in return for reduced sentences and often swift release from Rwanda's grim prisons. The floodgates opened. "We learned the truth about what happened. Who did what, how, when, where," says Tharcisse. "One of the successes of gacaca is everything was told. Nothing very significant is unknown."

Louis Rutaganira learned the fate of his family at a gacaca hearing. It prompted him to embrace reconciliation with an enthusiasm in direct proportion to his suffering. The last Louis saw of his wife, Marie Claire, was as she was hacked with machetes outside Kibuye's Catholic church. He never again saw three of his four children, then aged six to 12. Louis survived by hiding under dead bodies piled among the pews. He calculates that 86 of his relatives died in and around the church. Today he runs a clothes and textile shop in Kibuye's newly built market, and has remarried.

Louis was sceptical when the government began pushing forgiveness and reconciliation. "After 2004, the authorities told us every day to work very hard and forget about the past," he says. "It was very difficult. We were told to put national reconciliation first. But it was hard when these people who killed our loved ones would not even tell us how they died."

Then came gacaca, and from the killers' confessions Louis learned who stripped his wife naked and cut off all of her limbs, leaving her to bleed to death. "It was shocking to hear the one who killed my wife saying he was the one who killed my wife. The ones who killed my children also confessed. They were very sincere. Nobody forced them to speak.

"I accepted their apologies," Louis continues. "It is painful but necessary. The killers are our neighbours now."

Zacharia Niyorurema also found himself in front of a gacaca court, accused of murdering his Tutsi neighbours, including a man who was once his school teacher. After nearly a decade in prison, Zacharia asked the teacher's son, Odile Kabayita, for forgiveness. "I told him: 'I killed your father,' and asked to be pardoned," he says. "Kabayita for some time said he would think about it. Then he said he accepted to forgive me personally but told me to go to gacaca to tell the whole story." The court accepted Zacharia's confession and released him from prison in 2006. Today he works on a building site.

Odile heads the survivors' association in Kibuye. It initially opposed gacaca as being too soft on the perpetrators, but was persuaded of its worth once the trials revealed details of where many lost bodies had been buried – the sites of long-overgrown mass graves, entire families dumped down hillside latrines. Odile says he forgave Zacharia as a contribution to reconstructing Rwanda. In turn Zacharia helped build Odile a new house.

"I'm a good Christian and I accepted Zacharia's confession," Odile tells me. "We must do this for our country. It is painful and I can't say they are all 100% sincere. But if we compare to where we're coming from it's a very big improvement. We're happy when we see someone come and confess they killed someone. And we forgive them."

Over a decade, gacaca courts considered allegations about 1.3m people involving nearly 2m crimes. "The victims got justice, the perpetrators got justice," says Tharcisse.

Much has changed over the past two decades. Kibuye, once a dilapidated backwater isolated by bad roads, now has a highway to the capital, Kigali, multi-storey banks, offices and a cultural museum. Tourist hotels dot the lake shore. New street lamps in the colours of the national flag are popping up over town.

Ten years ago, the most prominent building was the prison, packed with accused genocidaire in pink uniforms, that stood close to the entrance to the town as a symbol of its nightmare. The prison is gone now, replaced by a park. The church has been cleaned up, its bullet-riddled stained glass windows and roof replaced, although the stonework still carries evidence of the crime. The memorials to the dead are ordered and tended, even if more graves are found all the time.

Mostly the pain of the past is carried inside. But occasionally it screams out. The annual genocide memorial commemoration last month was marked with a candlelit march from the stadium to the church. Amid the singing of soulful songs – "Let us remember people who died in the genocide. Don't be discouraged. Keep on hoping for a better future. Be brave, don't be angry" – came the wails as survivor after survivor broke down in distress.

Not everyone views gacaca as the success the government claims. It has delivered up confessions and information but too often the guilty give a "just obeying orders" defence, leaving Tutsis wondering if some might not do it all again if told to. Lucie's mother, Madalena, became a regular witness at gacaca. "I was naming the killers we saw killing our families," she explains. "We were hated especially by those people who were out of prison. Even now they hate us for giving evidence against them. During the night they throw stones at my house. They kill my livestock, my cows, my bananas. They won't come and buy from my shop. They use bad words.

"Some of the killers tell the truth of what happened," Madalena says of gacaca. "But others did not tell the truth." Her complaints go against the official line, and Cyriaque Niyonsaba, political leader of the sector that includes Kibuye, dismisses her as a crank. "She is not behaving well. She's putting about stories that are not true," he tells me when we meet. "Even the other survivors tell her to shut up."

Madalena acknowledges that. "I can't keep quiet. I don't regret it since it's the truth. It's a way of supporting those who perished. There are some survivors who don't want to talk. They come to me and say, 'Are you talking? Just keep quiet.' But I can't."

On the day Lucie is washing the skulls, Thomas Kanyeperu, the former church caretaker who served nine years in prison for genocide, has been given a day's work helping to tidy the site ready for the annual genocide memorial week. I introduce myself to Thomas and explain that I met him at the church in 1994. He misunderstands and quickly says he wasn't in Kibuye during the genocide. I remind him I spoke to him by the bell tower not long after the massacres. He changes his story and says he was there, but is a hero for saving the lives of Tutsis.

"There is friendship between the people now," says Thomas. "Reconciliation is very good. The government has done well on housing. They are giving me a new house. The one I have is very old." Then doubt creeps into his voice. "I support national reconciliation. But there's still some who can't understand what national reconciliation is." Who? "Individuals looking after their own interests," replies Thomas.

It becomes apparent he's talking about the survivors, and that Thomas thinks only Hutus are doing the reconciling. "Sometimes the survivors say things that aren't true. Some survivors claim they lost many things, even what they didn't have before the war. A survivor would come and say there was a house here and it was destroyed but there was never any house. They are just looking for money. Sometimes the government looks after them first. That's where the hatred comes from."

I ask what hatred he means. "Some people still hate them," says Thomas. Does this happen a lot? "Yes, a lot," he says.

Thomas offers no real sympathy for the genocide's victims but says he learnt a lesson from the killing. "You find out killing is not a solution. They killed thinking they would get something and they found out it only brought misery." He says "they" I notice, but the gacaca court found he shared some responsibility. "I shouldn't have been in prison," he replies. "It was a very hard life. I fell sick. I was very lucky to survive, and it didn't affect me only. My family suffered a lot."

I tell Lucie and Sister Genevieve, a nun who is helping her wash the bones of the dead, that Thomas says he's innocent. They both laugh. "He killed," says the nun. Do his denials bother them? "What do you expect?" asks Lucie.

Even Louis Rutaganira, the enthusiast for reconciliation, says Thomas is not alone in his attitude. "There are many people who accepted their crimes in order to get out of prison. They didn't accept their crimes from their hearts. It is a surprise to see. The survivors are willing to live with these people but these people don't want to live with us."

It's supposed to be different with the two- thirds of Rwandans under the age of 25 who have little or no direct memory of the genocide. In school, they are encouraged to reject the concepts of Hutu and Tutsi and to find common purpose in building a new Rwanda. "Most of my friends are Hutu," says Lucie. "We can't talk about the past. They want to forget the genocide. We want to remember. Even the younger generation are getting bad ideas from their parents. They still have the idea of Hutu and Tutsi. Some of them recognise that Kagame has done good things, but not all."

Lucie laughs off the idea that she would ever marry a Hutu, for all the talk of intermarriage as evidence of reconciliation. "It's too difficult to marry him. Even if I know his family, I don't think his family can accept me. From the side of my family, I don't think it would work. It would be difficult between our families because people still remember.

"I'm not very hopeful for the future," she adds. "We live with what we live with. I don't think about the future because it's not easy."

Kagame's push for reconciliation is intended to make another genocide unthinkable. The political line from Cyriaque Niyonsaba is that Rwanda has changed enough that the slaughter will not be repeated. "I'm really confident that this will never happen again," he tells me. "Every Rwandan is ashamed at what happened – how people killed their neighbours, their sister-in-laws, total strangers. The people have been shocked. Not only the Tutsi suffered, also those who fled to Congo and died. All of us suffered from the genocide."

"If someone came and told me to kill I wouldn't do it," agrees Zacharia. "I have seven children. My first born is 24. One day I sat with my children and told them what I did. I teach them not to do what I did because of these politicians."

But Madalena is not persuaded. She has two portraits of Kagame on her living room wall. She regards him as her saviour and protector. A few years back, Madalena told me that if Kagame ever leaves power – the constitution requires him to step down as president in 2017 – she would head straight to Uganda. Now she says that she doesn't want Lucie to wait.

"It would be better if she left now," she says. "Kagame can't go to every house teaching people how to reconcile. He speaks on the radio and some people listen but he cannot go house to house making people understand. Those who killed don't regret what they did. If they get the means, they could do it again."

Lucie hesitates. "It's better for people who left this place," she agrees. But then she looks across at Madalena. "I can't leave her alone," she says.


Return to Rwanda - audio slideshow

Two decades after the genocide, Chris McGreal returns to Kibuye, Rwanda's worst-hit town, to meet the few Tutsis who survived and some of the killers they have to live with as neighbours

Andy Hall, Chris McGreal and Jim Powell   
The Observer, Thursday 9 May 2013   

Click to watch:

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« Reply #6312 on: May 12, 2013, 06:52 AM »

May 11, 2013

Berlusconi Rallies Supporters, With Defiant Words for Judges and Prosecutors


BRESCIA, Italy — A rally in this northern Italian city on Saturday to protest two court rulings against former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — and organized by Mr. Berlusconi’s party, one of the partners in Italy’s uneasy new government — became a fresh test of the coalition since it was formed under pressure two weeks ago.

Tensions ran high at the Everyone for Silvio rally, held in the square in front of the city’s baroque cathedral. As thousands of Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters, mostly from his center-right People of Liberty party, cheered him on, police officers in riot gear held back hundreds of jeering opponents. Insults flew between the sides.

And the presence of center-right ministers from Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s new government at the rally put strains on the potentially volatile coalition, made up of parties normally at odds with one another.

Prosecutors and judges “want to eliminate me because for 20 years I have been the only obstacle between the left and power,” Mr. Berlusconi said, fighting to be heard above whistles, hoots and enthusiastic applause. His party, he said, will “fight in Parliament to enact a reform of the justice system that cannot wait any longer.” But the only magistrates who “need to worry,” he added, “are those who use justice for political convenience or to fight a political battle.”

Known for his diatribes against the judiciary, which is independent of the government, Mr. Berlusconi was uncharacteristically low-key in his speech on Saturday, mindful of the political implications his words could have. The broad coalition government is an alliance of political adversaries thrust together after national elections in February did not yield a clear winner.

Mr. Berlusconi made a point of saying that he would continue to support the government, but the presence at the rally of top People of Liberty officials at the rally, including Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, who is also interior minister, was seen by other government leaders as a dangerous step.

“It’s not good for the country if institutional figures of the state and our government demonstrate against the justice system,” Graziano Delrio, the minister of regional affairs and a member of Mr. Letta’s Democratic Party, wrote on his Facebook page. “We have to be an example to young people defending all institutions and the powers of the state in their autonomy.”

And it did little to assuage the concerns of the numerous lawmakers in the Democratic Party uneasy about the political pact struck with the center-right and the possible repercussions it could have at the polls.

The Brescia gathering was initially billed as a rally for the mayor,  Adriano Paroli, a People of Liberty member who is facing re-election this month. But last week, Mr. Berlusconi was dealt two setbacks. On Wednesday, an appeals court in Milan upheld a conviction for tax fraud, sentencing him to four years in prison and banning him from holding public office for five years, and on Thursday a court in Naples ruled that he should stand trial on charges of bribing a senator. (He has a final appeal in the first case, and a judge must decide whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial in the second.)

After the rulings, outraged members of the party shifted the subject of Saturday’s demonstration. Mr. Berlusconi said Saturday that the protests against the judiciary went beyond his personal travails. “There are many Italians caught in the infernal meat grinder of the justice system,” he said. “I am strong, I have the means to defend myself, I can resist, but what happens when these things happen to an ordinary citizen?”

Mr. Berlusconi, a media mogul, was first investigated in 1989, and since then he has been tried more than a dozen times. But some of his convictions have been overturned or thrown out for lack of evidence by appeals courts, and he has never served jail time.

“In any democratic country,” Beppe Grillo, leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, wrote on his popular blog last week, “someone like Berlusconi would be in jail, or unable to hold public office. Here he holds the balance of power for the government.”

But to Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters, he is merely the victim of a politicized judiciary.

“Let’s call him a martyr, targeted by leftist magistrates,” said Diego Caviola, a real estate agent from Trento who came to Brescia to show his support. “When it comes to Berlusconi, prosecutors have been probing under any rock they can because they want to eliminate him from politics.”

Mr. Berlusconi left the rally on Saturday by admonishing prosecutors, who are part of the judiciary. “You can do anything to me,” he said. “But you’ll never be able stop me from being the leader of the People of Liberty as long as millions of Italians want me.”

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« Reply #6313 on: May 12, 2013, 06:54 AM »

G7 agrees action needed against tax evasion, says George Osborne

Chancellor states importance of nations' collective action over tax avoidance and evasion on final day of financial summit

Staff and agencies, Saturday 11 May 2013 10.39 EDT   

The G7 group of industrialised nations has agreed collective action needs to be taken to target tax avoidance and evasion, the chancellor George Osborne has said.

Speaking at the end of the two-day summit of finance ministers and central bank chiefs in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Osborne said it was "incredibly important that companies and individuals pay the tax that is due".

Osborne said there was also strong agreement among the seven member nations – the United States, Germany, Japan, the UK, Italy, France and Canada – on tackling tax cheats.

"We all agreed on the importance of collective action to tackle tax avoidance and evasion," he said.

"It is incredibly important that companies and individuals pay the tax that is due and this is important not just for Britain and for British taxpayers but also for many developing nations as well."

Osborne said British overseas territories "need to do more" to end tax evasion.

Asked about the future of tax havens such as Jersey or the Cayman Islands, he said he had already been very tough in his message to them but wanted to see more action.

"Of course you have to respect that many of these territories have important industries and we don't want to unnecessarily damage them.

"But it is necessary to collect tax that is owed and it is necessary to reduce tax avoidance and the crown dependencies and the overseas territories need to play their part in that drive and they need to do more."

The chancellor said there was also consensus to ensure banks are no longer "too big to fail".

He added there is an "improved outlook" for the world economy, with more agreement among the rich member nations on how to nurture the recovery than was often suggested, but admitted the situation remains fragile.

"We are of course meeting at a time when financial market sentiment has improved and there are signs that this is feeding through to an improved outlook in some of our economies," Osborne said.

"However we all agreed that growth prospects remain uneven and we can't take the recovery for granted."

While there were "still many challenges", he said, "this meeting confirmed that there are more areas of agreement between us on fiscal policy than is commonly assumed."

Among those attending the talks was Canada's central banker Mark Carney who takes over from Sir Mervyn King as Bank of England Governor in July.

King said the meeting had been the most productive of the 25 he had attended during his term at the helm.

Joking about his impending departure, King said: "In a week in which retirement came to Sir Alex Ferguson, it is pretty clear it has to come to everyone. I am looking forward to a new life."

Also at the talks was IMF managing director Christine Lagarde as the body undertakes its annual health check of the UK.

The IMF, which will deliver its verdict later this month, has already suggested Osborne must be more flexible with his deficit-reduction plans.

Shadow treasury minister Catherine McKinnell said: "It's disappointing that this G7 meeting has failed to set out any concrete steps to promote economic growth or tackle tax avoidance."

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« Reply #6314 on: May 12, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Anne Frank's diary isn't pornographic – it just reveals an uncomfortable truth

Instead of banning the diary from schools, as Gail Horalek would like, we should teach girls not to be ashamed of their bodies

Emer O'Toole, Thursday 2 May 2013 04.00 EDT   

Gail Horalek, the mother of a 7th-grade child in Michigan in the US, has made international headlines by complaining that the unabridged version of Anne Frank's diary is pornographic and should not be taught at her daughter's school. At issue for Horalek is a section detailing Anne's exploration of her own genitalia, material originally omitted by Anne's father, Otto Frank, when he prepared the manuscript for publication in the late 40s.

I had to look up what age kids are in the 7th grade. They're 12 to 13! They're only about a year younger than Anne was when she wrote of her vagina: "There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!" There cannot be a 13-year-old girl on the planet who hasn't had a root around and arrived at this exact stage of bafflement. I mean, I was so distressed by my fanny's apparent minusculeness that I conducted a series of experiments with travel-size Body Shop shampoo bottles (too big) and hairbrush handles (still too big). I eventually came to the conclusion that, in the presence of an actual penis, some pheromonal reaction would kick in and my vagina would magically expand like a lotus blossom (an illusion of which, sadly, experience deflowered me).

Horalek, predictably, has been laughed out of town. Even commenters on the conservative Fox Detroit Facebook page, where the story "broke" last week, are disparaging. They say things like: "lmao ppl get mad about the stupidest shyt its history … maybe we should let our kids really know what happened at thanksgiving to", which, I think you'll agree, is an ideologically impressive, if grammatically troubling, observation. And so it's easy to dismiss the Horalek affair as just another mad utterance by a wacko zealot, who no one even agrees with, being whipped up into a media story so that the internet's eternal feedback loop has something to recycle. However, I think there's something slightly deeper going on.

Horalek is, of course, wrong to call the passages pornographic. Pornography is material intended to arouse sexual excitement, and I very much doubt that was Anne's intention when she wrote to her imaginary confidant Kitty about her journeys of self-discovery. But the reason Horalek gives for complaining in the first place is that the passages made her daughter uncomfortable. I can well believe this. I can imagine that if, age 13, I had been asked to read or discuss the passages in class, I would have felt deeply uncomfortable (my own nocturnal explorations notwithstanding).

Anne is going through puberty, and she describes her changed vagina in honest detail, saying, "until I was 11 or 12, I didn't realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris." (Oh Anne, we've all been there.) She continues: "In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris." It's beautiful, visceral writing, and it's describing something that most young women experience.

And yet I can understand that the junior Ms Horalek would have squirmed and wished herself elsewhere when this was read in class. We live in a society in which young women are taught to be ashamed of the changes that their bodies undergo at puberty – to be secretive about them, and even to pretend that they don't exist. Breasts, the minute they bud, are strapped into harnesses, and the nipples disguised from view. Period paraphernalia must be discreet, with advertisers routinely boasting that their tampons look enough like sweets to circumvent the social horror of discovery.

For my generation, removal of post-pubescent hair on the legs and underarms was mandatory. For Ms Horalek's generation, it is mandatory for pubic hair too. Anne writes: "When you're standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you're standing, so you can't see what's inside." How must reading this feel for pubescent girls who've already internalised the message that they must spend the rest of their lives maintaining the illusion that their body hair doesn't exist.

This media event should do more than teach us that there are laughably prudish parents out there. It should encourage us to reflect on why, when confronted with the reality of the female body and female sexuality, girls can be made to feel uncomfortable.

Dealing with this discomfort only involves censoring Anne Frank's diary if you're quite, quite odd. For the rest of us, the answer might be a little more free-flowing boob, some brazen Mooncup sterilisation, hairy legs sprinting through the summer grasses and, to use a pun that is intended as the highest compliment, Frankness about masturbation, sexuality and our bodies. Because it isn't just the Horaleks of this world who teach girls to be shameful rather than celebratory.


Anne Frank's Diary in US schools censorship battle

Anti-censorship campaigners fight parent in Michigan over allegedly graphic passages in Diary of Young Girl

Alison Flood, Tuesday 7 May 2013 13.14 EDT   

Free speech advocates in America have slammed a call to ban The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank from schools in Michigan because it contains "pornographic" passages.

    The Diary of a Young Girl
    by Anne Frank

    Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

A mother of a seventh grader in the Northville school district in Michigan said late last month that Frank's depiction of growing up in hiding as a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust, which has sold millions of copies worldwide, contains "inappropriate material". She pointed in particular to a passage from the "definitive" version of Frank's diary – which includes around 30% of extra material left out of the original 1947 edition by Anne's father Otto – in which the young girl discusses her anatomy.

"Until I was 11 or 12, I didn't realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris," wrote Frank. "When you're standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you're standing, so you can't see what's inside. They separate when you sit down and they're very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris."

The mother told local press that this and other passages had made her daughter "uncomfortable", and that the school should have informed parents about the nature of the material. "It doesn't mean my child is sheltered, it doesn't mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn't mean I'm trying to ban books," she said.

"It's pretty graphic, and it's pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading," she said. "It's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information." She has now launched a formal complaint process asking for the unexpurgated version of the diary to be removed from the school, which is currently under review.

But the district is being urged not to ban the book by the Kids' Right to Read Project, part of the National Coalition Against Censorship, as well as by Frank publisher Bantam Books, the National Council of Teachers of English and PEN America, among others. The organisations have come together to write to the school district, saying that Anne Frank's diary is "both relevant to today's students and pedagogically valuable", and that to "remove the book potentially violates the constitutional rights of other students and parents".

"The passage in question relates to an experience that may be of particular concern to many of your students: physical changes associated with puberty," they write. "Anne had no books or friends to answer her questions, so she was forced to rely on her own observations. Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. A good education depends on protecting the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves. We strongly urge you to keep The Diary of a Young Girl in its full, uncensored form in classrooms in Northville."

Acacia O'Connor, Kids' Right to Read Project coordinator, added: "Anne Frank's diary is so valuable because it brings students into a world that is at turns very different from their own and extremely familiar. Anne was in fear for her life every day in hiding but at the same time she was experiencing the changes every adolescent faces and her descriptions of those changes are real and important."

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