Turkish police storm protest camp using teargas and rubber bullets
Hundreds of security forces move in with bulldozers during a concert for activists, leaving many wounded
Peter Beaumont in Istanbul
The Observer, Sunday 16 June 2013
Link to video: Taksim square: riot police evict protesters in Istanbulhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/16/taksim-square-police-evict-protesters-video
Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul overnight on Sunday, erecting barricades and starting bonfires, after riot police used teargas and water cannons to clear the protest camp at the centre of Turkey's anti-government unrest.
In a night of chaotic violence large areas of the city around the now symbolic area of Gezi Park were engulfed in plumes of tear gas, while protesters opposed to the government of Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempted to push back to the city's central Taksim Square.
The continuing protest through the night, and calls for fresh demonstrations at 4pm on Sunday suggested that despite the clearing of the encampment in the park, Turkey's crisis was far from over.
In the immediate aftermath of the police operation trade unionists called for a national strike on Monday.
Underlining how deeply personal the issue has become for Erdogan, a spokesman for his AKP party blamed the protesters for allegedly reneging on a deal with Erdogan thrashed out two nights before.
"A country's prime minister meets you for 10 hours, you reach an agreement then say something else behind his back," Huseyin Çelik said in a TV interview defending the assault. "Wouldn't you feel cheated?" he told the private broadcaster Habertürk.
The lightning evening assault on the park and nearby square followed a warning from Erdogan that protesters should quit Gezi Park or be removed by security forces ahead of a rally of his supporters in Istanbul on Sunday.
Protesters took to the streets in several neighbourhoods across Istanbul following the raid on Gezi Park, ripping up metal fences, paving stones and advertising hoardings to build barricades and lighting bonfires of rubbish in the streets.
During the raid police fired tear gas against the volunteer doctors manning a clinic in the park who have been working anonymously for fear of losing their jobs.
In the early hours of the morning groups of demonstrators blocked a main highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the east, police fired tear gas to block protesters attempting to cross the main bridge crossing the Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim.
Thousands more rallied in the working-class Gazi neighbourhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s, while protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an effort to prevent the police firing teargas.
In the last 18 days Gezi Park, with its tented encampment occupied by an umbrella of groups including football fans, nationalists, environmental campaigners, Kurds and young Turks from many walks of lives, had come to represent a new spirit of social resistance to what many fear is the increasingly authoritarian style of Erdogan and his moderate Islamist AKP.
Erdogan had delivered his warning at a rally of tens of thousands of AKP supporters in Ankara, the national capital, promising that Taksim Square would be cleared by Sunday in time for a second rally there.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow," Erdogan warned. "I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it."
Barely two hours later white-helmeted riot police assaulted Gezi Park shortly after a concert attended by protesters and tourists drew to a close. Protesters had vowed earlier to continue with their occupation, although they had promised to remove barricades and reduce the number of tents in the park. Police had given 15 minutes' notice to clear the park and the adjoining Taksim Square before storming the protest camp.
Police warned protesters: "This is an illegal act, this is our last warning to you – evacuate."
The speed of the move to seize the square and park caught protesters by surprise. They were quickly scattered by teargas canisters and rubber bullets. Within 20 minutes a bulldozer had moved in to demolish structures and tents that had been used by the anti-government movement. A little later police and municipal workers could be seen tearing down fences around the park and removing tents.
Children and tourists were among those caught up in the assault, amid reports of many injuries. But despite quickly taking control of the park, running battles between police and thousands of protesters, driven back into the warren of side streets beside the square, carried on for hours afterwards.
At one stage a bearded middle-aged man draped himself over the plough of one of the water cannons to try to prevent it moving forwards before he was beaten back by batons and gas. Protesters sought refuge in hotels and cafes, including hundreds in the Divan hotel, which was stormed by police.
Later police stormed the hotel beating protesters, while a later assault left the lobby of the luxury hotel thick with gas. The Guardian saw two elderly women who had passed out being carried out on stretchers to an ambulance.
Earlier riot police had stormed into the lobby, beating those inside.
Many had been expecting a final move to clear the park after Erdogan's speech. But none had anticipated the action would begin so quickly. Tayfun Kahraman, a member of Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements, said an unknown number of people in the park had been injured, some by rubber bullets.
NUT executive member Martin Powell-Davies was part of a British trade union delegation that had approached the fringes of the square as police moved in. He said: "There was a concert by a well-known musician with hundreds of people and families in a festival atmosphere in the square and then suddenly from all sides the police came with water cannons and teargas."
He struggled to speak as he choked on teargas and protesters regrouped to chant anti-government slogans. He said: "There are hundreds of Istanbul residents who have come out on to the streets to show their opposition. They are banging the shutters in protest at the sides of the streets."
The assault followed Erdogan's defiant message delivered in a suburb of Ankara, depicting those on the streets as "traitors playing a game", "looters" or part of a conspiracy against the government.
"Anyone who wants to hear the national will, should come and listen to [Ankara]," Erdogan said. "We are not like those who took molotov cocktails, or honked their car horns. I tell you it's a crime to violate order." He insisted, once again, that he and the AKP had a clear mandate to govern.
Oguz Kaan Salici, Istanbul president of the main opposition People's Republican Party, said: "The police brutality aims at clearing the streets of Istanbul to make way for Erdogan's meeting tomorrow. Yet it will backfire. People feel betrayed."
*************Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggles to make sense of Turkey's trauma
After a fortnight of missteps, the prime minister grasps that the protests are harming his regime. But he has not recognised they are unlikely to end if he removes the freedom his people expect
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
The Observer, Saturday 15 June 2013 21.46 BST
Sitting by her tent in Istanbul's Gezi Park, child psychiatrist Tugba Camcioglu, 36, ponders what brought her here. She is not, she admits, very political. The handmade poster on her tent is about child abuse, not the fate of the park or even the vexed subject of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I came because the park should be kept for children. I came to stand up for the weak," she says.
I meet Camcioglu the day after last week's assault on nearby Taksim Square with teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets that cleared it of protesters. It's her first evening in the park, which days later would again be stormed by riot police.
"Turkey is like a traumatised adolescent," she explains. "We have had so many traumas, such as what happened with the Kurds, that we are finding it difficult to mature as a country. I'm not angry. And I'm not afraid. When I told my nine-year-old that I was planning to come here, he said: 'Don't go. Erdogan won't understand'."
Camcioglu is one of those whom Erdogan has branded as capulcu – literally, "riffraff" – a word that has been appropriated by the protesters as a badge of pride. It is posted on tents, homes, banners, even on biscuits.
After a fortnight of missteps by Erdogan and his moderate Islamist AKP, during which five have died and 5,000 have been injured in protests in dozens of cities, the prime minister's most recent moves suggest that, while he may not comprehend the reasons for the protests, at last he understands the damage they are doing to him.
Recent days have seen a series of dizzying flip-flops. On Thursday night, Erdogan appeared abruptly to change tactics. Meeting in Ankara for the first time with representatives of the protesters, he offered if not an olive branch then the hint of one, backing down on his insistence that Gezi Park must be redeveloped to rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks.
By Saturday evening, with protesters still refusing to leave, Erdogan was once again in full fire and brimstone mode as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters in a suburb of the capital, Ankara, railing about plots and criminals, and telling those in the park to leave or face again Turkey's security forces. Riot police were deployed hours later.
If there is a problem for Erdogan, it is that the protests that began on 31 May with a police assault on an environmental camp to save the park's green space have long since moved on from being about Gezi's lovely old trees. A poll of 498 protesters in the park, published last week, found that 58% were there to protest against Erdogan and a style of government that his critics say is increasingly high-handed; just 3% were there for the trees.
Erdogan's gamble in agreeing to talk to the protesters – like all his moves in this crisis, including ordering the riot police to clear Taksim Square last week and again last night – has been high risk. Coming just a few hours before police released 43 arrested protesters, in accordance with their demands, his new tactic was clear. Seeking to confine the terms of the protests to their original cause – the park – he had hoped to defuse the wider issue of how two weeks of protests have created a permissive space for a new opposition to a decade of AKP rule.
As that backfired, Erdogan has been pushed back to his default position of the last two weeks: demonising those who stand against him, issuing threats and offering ill-shaped conspiracy theories designed to mobilise his base.
At the heart of this crisis has been a failure on Erdogan's part to fully grasp the nature of the protests. Writing in the Turkish daily Hürriyet last week, Taha Ozan, director of the Seta thinktank, which is close to the AKP, reflected some of the difficulties Erdogan has encountered.
Ozan writes: "Erdogan faced the accusations of totalitarianism with only one response: 'Do not come to me with abstract accusations that are outside the realm of politics. Can you give me specific and tangible examples?' This simple question does not have a tangible response other than: 'We are afraid and we feel repressed'."
If anything has changed in the last few days, it is that Erdogan and other senior officials appear to have recognised, at least, that such fears can be contagious. What is clear is that there are growing political dangers in the crisis for Erdogan and his style of government that predate the protests. According to a Gallup poll taken before the protests, the government's approval rating has been declining. That trend is most marked in Istanbul, where it has dropped from 59% in 2011 to 30% in 2012, while in the rest of Turkey it has fallen from 57% to 48%.
On the international stage too, the past two weeks have damaged Turkey's reputation, crucially in Europe, where a group of countries led by Germany have put further brakes on the glacial EU accession talks because of the violence used against the protesters.
Ziya Meral, a Turkish academic based in the UK, believes that the protests are rooted in a complex clash of ideas and personal values that has arisen during an AKP era of economic policies that created a new, tech-savvy consumer society, especially in cities, whose growing economic and social autonomy is now at odds with how Erdogan and the AKP believe Turkish society should be.
Their expectation has long been institutionalised in Turkish society, where journalists, university professors and even doctors have been required to conform and help shape public attitudes.
"It's not a clash between an Islamist party and secularists … instead, it represents a postmodern crisis for Turkey," Meral said. "Erdogan and the AKP came into power rejecting the old-school style of Islamist politics that had come before. They wanted economic improvement and they wanted to be open to the world.
"The shift came after 2011. By then, the military was no longer a force. Consumption was increasing. The EU was out of the picture with its own troubles. With its large majority, [the AKP] started behaving as previous governments had done – insisting on being the 'gatekeeper' of the Turkish identity, while emphasising majoritarianism over pluralism."
If in the past "gatekeeping" meant enforcing a strict vision of secular nationalism, today it means creeping socially conservative Islamist values, the most recent iteration of which – described by many people as the "last straw" – has been tighter limits on the sale of alcohol.
For many in Gezi Park, this is precisely the issue: the conflict between their growing desire for personal autonomy in the new Turkey and state-prescribed notions of "Turkishness".
But the crisis has been exacerbated by other tensions. There has been deep discontent, not least within the ranks of Erdogan's party, over the historic peace process with the Kurds, and public rumblings over his Syria policy.
Erdogan's attempts to rewrite the military-era constitution, which would create a presidential system of government, have aroused suspicion that the new system would most benefit the prime minister himself.
All of these complaints have been reflected in the protests as the demonstrations have rippled outwards, drawing in an uneasy coalition of often contradictory interests.
Indeed, the worst of the violence last week, during the clearing of Taksim Square, saw Kurds and Kemalists – secular nationalist followers of the founder of the modern Turkish state – standing shoulder to shoulder with anarchists and environmentalists all pursuing their own agendas.
Like Meral, political analyst Ihsan Dagi – who has written extensively on the AKP's time in power – believes that the friction in Turkish society is a direct result of the party's own policies. The protesters in Gezi Park are by and large those who have grown up under and often benefited from the decade of AKP rule.
"Erdogan looks at how incomes have increased over the past decade and asks, why are people complaining? What he is missing is that in the new consumer society, people believe they have the right to make their own choices about what they buy, how they live and what they choose to drink," said Dagi.
Despite believing that Erdogan is fundamentally a pragmatic politician, Dagi suspects that some of the prime minister's mistakes in the last fortnight stem from both his own sense of being under attack and his need to appeal to his core voters by sounding defiant in the midst of a crisis.
His sense of affront is not entirely surprising. Chants in Gezi Park have ranged from straightforward calls for him to step down to the outright vulgar, including from football "ultras", on Friday night, who shouted: "Tayyip, Tayyip, suck my dick."
"Erdogan took it very personally at first," says Dagi. "The reports of people close to him say he saw it as an attempt to force him to resign or harm him so he couldn't stand again."
One story tells of a furious PM being calmed by his daughter after storming out of the Ankara meeting with protesters. But Dagi believes that many of Erdogan's problems are of his and his party's making by narrowing the terms of Turkey's political conversation.
"The magic formula of the AKP and Erdogan in the last 10 years was that it generally acted in a wider coalition allowing different political ideas and identities. But that started to crumble two years ago and some of the more liberal politicians who felt that they could work with Erdogan turned against him. I think he's realised now that he needs to build bridges again and open dialogue to a wider audience."
However, Dagi is still not convinced that Erdogan has understood the real nature of the protests: "He sees it as deeply political, something that needs to be controlled to keep Turkey manageable. But really this is a social resistance, not a political uprising.
"This isn't about removing him from power. It's people saying to the AKP and Erdogan there are limits to the powers they try to assume."
Turkey's prime minister showed his determination in moving to clear the park with water cannon and teargas. He may have won this battle, but the most serious crisis of Erdogan's 10 years in power is far from over.
ERDOGAN: A LIFE
Born in February 1954, Erdogan attended an Islamic high school before studying business administration at Marmara University, graduating in 1981. He spent 13 years as a semi-professional footballer, but his father reportedly blocked a move to top club Fenerbahçe. Erdogan's passion for politics was greater: time as a student activist was followed by a decision to join the Islamist Welfare Party after the 1980 military coup in Turkey.
A pragmatic approach as mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 ended with his imprisonment for reciting a poem in public that was regarded as incitement to religious hatred. He established the Justice and Development Party (AKP) after his release and it won a landslide victory at the 2002 general election, taking nearly two-thirds of the seats. In 2011 the AKP was re-elected for a third term.
Erdogan married Emine Gulbaran in 1978 and the couple have two sons and two daughters.
Anne Hidalgo: How heir to Spanish socialist tradition has chance to be first female mayor of Paris
Working mother takes on France's elite in battle for job to run capital city – a position which is seen as a stepping stone to the presidency
Kim Willsher, Paris
The Observer, Saturday 15 June 2013 17.50 BST
Anne Hidalgo rushes into her enormous city hall office apologising profusely for being all of five minutes late. "I'm sorry, I hate being late," she says.
This is a surprise; attention to time-keeping is hardly de rigueur in Paris, where punctuality is widely dismissed as a small-minded Anglo-Saxon detail.
"Perhaps I'm a little English then," the Spanish-born, French-adopted Hidalgo adds, clearly amused at the thought. In fact, Hidalgo's influences are even wider spread: her retired parents live in southern Spain and her older sister lives in California and is married to "an Englishman" – who it turns out is from Wales.
"They're all coming to Paris at the end of the month along with my brother-in-law's parents, which should be interesting," she says. (Even more so, I fear, if she keeps referring to said brother-in-law as English).
But if Hidalgo can talk her way out of a furious crowd of nimbys opposed to Socialist plans to build council houses in their posh Paris neighbourhood, the Welsh in-laws will be a pushover.
Hidalgo, 53, insists that she prefers dialogue and debate to confrontation. Today, however, she is gearing up for a political fight and feels "combative".
Next year she will ask Parisians to elect her as the city's mayor. As she and her nearest rival – the ambitious former centre-right government minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet – are both women, it is a pretty good bet that Paris's city hall will have a Madame le Maire in 2014 for the first time.
Hidalgo believes that the French capital is ready for such an egalitarian leap, but not by default or quotas. She subscribes, she says, to the "French feminist tradition of equality between the sexes – not the Anglo-Saxon feminist belief that women are better than men".
"It's about teams working better when they better represent society in terms of gender." It is also about providing creche places, childcare and giving women a chance to work, she says. The launch of her campaign earlier this month at Paris's trendy Bataclan nightclub saw the petite Hidalgo mobbed by supporters to the sounds of the Rolling Stones' Harlem Shuffle. It was a curious choice of music. "You move it to the left … you move it to the right," sings Mick Jagger.
Hidalgo's impeccable socialist and republican credentials leave no room for such sway. Her maternal grandfather, Antonio, fled General Franco's fascist zone in Spain in 1937, crossing the Pyrenees with his family on a donkey. Homesick, he returned two years later, widowed – his wife did not survive the return journey – and with four dependent children. He was promptly thrown into jail and given a double death sentence, later commuted to life imprisonment, and freed after three years.
His children, including Anne's father, also Antonio, then aged 10, were outcast as "children of the reds" in their home town of San Fernando near Cádiz, where Anne was born.
After joining the Spanish merchant navy, where he trained as an electrician, Antonio junior, his wife Marie, and their two daughters aged two and four, settled in Lyon in 1961.
"My father knew France. For him it was the country of Victor Hugo, the country that had given him refuge when his republican parents were forced to flee Franco's massacres," she writes in her recently published book Mon Combat pour Paris (My Fight for Paris). Her name may be hijo de algo "the son of noble descent" in Spanish, but Hidalgo grew up on gritty French housing estates surrounded by other émigrés from Armenia, Portugal, Italy, Russia, the Maghreb, living in "rabbit-cage" homes from which they "just wanted to escape". Not surprisingly, the experience has given her a first-hand perspective on town planning.
She had a tough but happy childhood, she says, with "loving parents and an open house". Her mother, a seamstress, made mostly pretty dresses for her girls, who were always impeccably turned out.
The French language and state schools were the common factors that united the eclectic émigré community, and both Anne and her sister flourished. "In the playground, the political debates were lively. This impassioned me. We celebrated the death of Franco in 1975," she writes.
Graduating with degrees in social work and law, Anne headed for Paris and a job as a works' inspector. Later she worked in a series of ministerial offices under the Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin in the 1990s, before joining the newly elected Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, at city hall as his deputy in 2001.
As a working mother – she has a grown-up son and daughter from a first marriage, and an 11-year-old son from her second – she says she understands the conflicting tug of careers and children. One of the many photographs in her office shows her youngest boy as an unexpected guest at an official ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. "I have been known to bring my children into the office if all else fails," she says.
"It's all about prioritising. If the school calls, and there's an accident, of course I go straight away. If it's a fever, I negotiate or call on friends. It's not easy, but what I don't do is feel guilty.
"The time I spend with my children is important time, but it's also good for them to know I am happy doing what I do, and that is important too."
Friends and colleagues have described her as a fighter and "an iron fist in a velvet glove". Critics of her, as Delanoë's anointed successor, have nicknamed her the "heiress". The waspish former first lady, Bernadette Chirac, who supports Kosciusko-Morizet and whose husband Jacques was mayor of Paris for 18 years, has taken to calling Hidalgo "that woman with the dark hair".
Hidalgo cheerfully accepts the slings and arrows with a laugh and a shrug. "When I first entered politics, my daughter said she was upset when she saw posters of me defaced in the street. She said it made her feel bad. So I found a poster and told her to do her worst with it.
"Afterwards, I said: 'See, I'm still here, nothing bad has happened.'"
She says that she can be authoritarian, but only as a last resort.
She works mostly by instinct, she adds. Of the Bataclan campaign launch, she is annoyed with herself for not following that instinct and addressing the crowd unscripted. "I wish I'd done it without notes. I won't use notes the next time," she says.
Until now, Hidalgo has perhaps most closely been associated with Paris's successful free bicycle scheme Vélib', and with attempts to reduce car use and consequent pollution in the city. Her election programme, to be officially launched later this year, is a mixed bag including the creation of 60,000 new homes; encouraging business startups; reducing speed limits around schools; renovating emblematic city squares; and more culture and free Wi-Fi throughout the city.
The city hall post is often viewed as a springboard to the Élysée Palace. But for Hidalgo, who came to Paris aged 24 so that she could "meet Sartre", it is the "dream job of dream jobs".
"This isn't about what Paris can do for my career. This is about what I can do for Paris and the Parisians," she tells the Observer.
"And the people of Paris are not easily fooled; they can see when someone is using them as opposed to serving them, and it's not what they want.
"Paris is still my city of dreams. I will never leave here. And being mayor of Paris is the best elected job that exists."
MAKEOVER FOR MARIANNE
Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, and his deputy Anne Hidalgo will on Sunday officially "unveil" the newly renovated Place de la République – one of the city's emblematic squares – after an 18-month facelift costing €17.5m (£14.9m)intended to reclaim the area for pedestrians.
The square, at the crossroads of Paris's 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements in the north of the city, was constructed under Baron Haussmann's leadership in the 19th century. Its centrepiece, installed in 1883, is a colossal statue of Marianne, the symbol of France, brandishing an olive branch in her right hand and a tablet engraved "Droits de l'homme" in her left, in bronze.
On the base, 12 bronze reliefs depict events marking the republic's history including the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the square has been slowly overrun by traffic, making it little more than a glorified roundabout.
Now, under the refurbishment, 70% of the five-acre area has been pedestrianised, 48 trees have been planted, a shallow pool constructed and a large cafe/ restaurant installed. The two grand fountains east and west of Marianne have been removed.
The square is at the centre of the axis of boulevards running from Place de la Nation and Place de la Bastille to Place de l'Opéra and is a popular route for protests and demonstrations, which congregate around – and often on – the central monument.
Graft scandal threatens to implode Czech government
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, June 15, 2013 19:30 EDT
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas risked the collapse of his shaky centre-right minority coalition Saturday over a massive corruption scandal in which his top aide was indicted for bribery.
Leftist rival President Milos Zeman said Saturday it was “rather clear” that Necas must step down, while some politicians in the premier’s three-party minority government questioned his integrity.
A defiant Necas, however, said Saturday he saw “no reason to resign… early elections are no solution.”
His minority coalition in power since July 2010 has so far survived eight confidence votes, and will face another test next week as the Zeman-allied leftist opposition Social Democrats have called a fresh no-confidence motion, likely on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen if the opposition will be able to scramble the 101 votes it needs to topple Necas in the 200-seat lower house of parliament.
In the wake of this week’s unprecedented corruption scandal, analysts in Prague have pointed to the possibility of a snap election.
Fresh polls show it would usher the left wing into power. The next regularly scheduled election is due in May 2014.
“The scandal is so serious that Prime Minister Necas can’t simply sit it out,” Social Democrat party leader Bohuslav Sobotka insisted on Saturday.
But another junior coalition partner on Saturday suggested it would not abandon Necas.
The TOP 09 vice-chairman and finance minister Miroslav Kalousek said the country needed continuity to “help regions and people affected by the floods”, which left 12 dead and forced about 19,000 out of their homes a week ago.
The graft scandal rocking Prague erupted when police earlier this week raided the cabinet office, defence ministry, villas and a bank.
Necas’s chief of staff Jana Nagyova was on Friday charged with complicity in the “abuse of power and with bribery”. She will remain in police custody pending trial.
Seven other people — including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers — have also been indicted for corruption among other alleged crimes.
The 48-year-old Nagyova was charged with bribery after allegedly promising three former lawmakers from Necas’s party lucrative jobs in state-run companies on condition they quit the parliament.
But police also uncovered instances in which they say Nagyova had abused her power, by asking the head of Czech military intelligence to tail the prime minister’s wife Radka, 47, and two other people.
Necas announced this week he was getting divorced from his wife after more than 25 years, amid media speculation that Nagyova was his lover.
Military intelligence chief Milan Kovanda was the only one of the eight charged to avoid custody on Saturday as he confessed to his acts.
Ironically, the premier made a high-profile anti-corruption drive a centrepiece of his coalition.
Necas, a 48-year-old physicist, who on Thursday declared he was confident Nagyova was innocent, on Saturday apologised and said she would be sacked.
“Although I didn’t know about these acts, I deeply regret them and apologise to all concerned. I would never accept the abuse of intelligence services for personal and political purposes,” Necas said in a statement.
An EU member since 2004, the ex-communist Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split with Slovakia.
Corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2012 ranked the Czech Republic as worse than Costa Rica and Rwanda in terms of the prevalence of graft in its “Corruption Perceptions Index”.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
How Sweden's innovative housing programme fell foul of privatisation
Stockholm's riots happened in the outskirts of the city, with the poor having been driven out of the centre by rising prices
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 16 June 2013 13.09 BST
Like those in London two years ago, the recent riots that swept across Stockholm recently were sparked when a man was shot by police. Yet the burning cars and battles with the police were in peripheral districts around the centre, while in London, "mixed" inner-city districts from Peckham to Clapham saw much of the unrest. That apparent difference hides a long history of mutual appreciation between the town planners of Britain and Sweden.
Sweden has long been a point of reference in British politics. The Labour right admired its partnership between unions and business, the Labour left preferred the independent foreign policy and a deeper, stronger welfare state. More recently, Conservatives have borrowed free schools from Swedish neoliberals, secure in the knowledge that the word "Swedish" makes a policy sound progressive. For planners, Sweden's towns have long been models of intervention and equality.
Sweden's Social Democrats, in government from 1932 to 1976, did not favour "social" housing directed specifically towards those in need, but universal public housing, via tenant-owned co-operatives, municipal-owned building companies, and rigorous rent control, under a specialised housing department.
Vällingby, to the west of Stockholm, built in the early 1950s, was one result – and a place of pilgrimage for British planners and architects. Tower blocks are interspersed with low-rises and terraces, just as in the "mixed developments" of the UK; but rather than vague municipal lawns, the low-rise flats have a forest just behind them, something borrowed in part for Cumbernauld new town. Vällingby's pedestrian precinct, conversely, was inspired by the centres of Coventry and Stevenage – but unlike them it still looks affluent and elegant.
The riots were largely confined to the estates built under the "million programme" of the 60s and 70s, when the Social Democrats tried to solve the housing question at one prefabricated stroke. Casually, these places could be compared with our stacked-up Ronan Points of the same era, but the similarities are deceptive. A typical million programme area on the outskirts of Stockholm is Flemingsberg, site of some of May's unrest. From the adjacent motorway it really does look monolithic, but on foot, it's verdant, pretty and bustling. A London comparison would be the Heygate estate – imposing from a distance, green inside. The striking difference with Vällingby and even more with the centre is that it's not racially homogeneous, with a high non-white population. It suggests Stockholm is a deeply segregated city. How did this happen?
Under conservative governments in the 1990s and 2000s, housing began to be privatised, with predictable results, especially given the British experience. Flats in the most desirable areas – here, the city centre – rocketed in price. Yet Stockholm has kept building, and British architects and planners have kept visiting. The "success story" is Hammarby Sjöstad, a waterside scheme which shames the likes of Salford Quays. As much as Vällingby, it shows the virtues of long-term planning over speculation.
But although some of Hammarby was built by the municipality, it's a wealthy and overwhelmingly white area, and rents are high. It offers little to those exiled to the peripheral million programmes. Hammarby implies that in Sweden, social democracy was only abandoned for the poor. Its innovations were retained for a bourgeoisie whose new areas are far more humane than those provided for them by British developers.
In Stockholm, the centre was cleared of the poor – the likely consequences in London of coalition's housing policies. The stark segregation visible there means that for the first time, it should stand as an example to London's planners of what not to do.
Vienna embraces the romance and culture of the bicycle
Faced with increasingly congested streets, the Austrian capital is embracing cycling with a rental system, bike zones and special housing
The Observer, Sunday 16 June 2013
On the Praterstern, where cars, buses and trams converge from several busy streets on a road that loops around Vienna's central train station, a new digital counter stands under the eye of the Riesenrad Ferris wheel.
It's about the size of a bus stop advertising hoarding and picks out passing bicycle wheels from a sensor in the pavement.
With a rumpled grey overcoat over his suit and a cycling helmet covering his grey hair, Wolfgang Dvorak excitedly explains that the 2,072 figure on display marks the number of bicycles that have passed this point so far today. "This is great, great! Measuring cyclists is making cycling visible, making people notice," says Dvorak. "It's very important, especially at city crossings like this. Just 14 days ago it was done, and the marking of the cycle lane here and the cycle signing. This is showing people that Vienna is cycling."
Dvorak, the director of last week's Velo-city, an annual conference that has brought more than 1,000 cycling experts and 330 speakers from around the world to Austria's capital, is giving an impromptu tour of the city's new bike-friendly spots, travelling by "Citybike" – a public bike rental system available at some 100 automatic stations around the streets.
There are dozens of new private rental bike companies springing up too, including many specialising in e-bikes, electric-powered cycles for those more cautious about their fitness or ability levels, which can be charged for free at charging points across the capital.
Vienna is in the middle not only of its own "Year of Cycling", but also of an ambitious five-year plan to tempt its citizens out of cars and on to saddles. Faced with ever-growing traffic, as well as unenviable pollution levels and the rising costs of fuel, the city has determined to learn from progressive cycling capitals such as Munich, Malmo, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, which have embraced biking culture.
Vienna is one of 60 cities to have signed up to the Charter of Brussels, which commits them to promoting cycling and setting clear targets in road safety and in achieving a 15% "modal share" – the percentage of trips made by bicycle out of the total number of trips made by city-dwellers. In the UK only Bristol and Edinburgh, which holds its first festival of cycling this weekend, have signed up, but the interest from mainland Europe, including many in the east, is phenomenal.
"We have now in Vienna about 5% to 6% modal share," says Dvorak. "We aim to double that by 2015. We are working on many infrastructure changes to facilitate urban cycling. The situation in general is that we are a growing population and we have no room any more. We need to create space and stop congestion, air pollution. Look at these terrible floods we are seeing at the moment; it is no longer an option to ignore climate change."
The television news in Austria and neighbouring Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany is full of images of flooded homes and businesses, and the Danube and Elbe have swollen with record levels of rainfall. Whatever the meteorologists and scientists say is the cause of the unseasonal weather, people here are talking and worrying about climate change.
It is being reflected in the housing being built. Sustainability is a key factor and new developments are being planned around not just energy use but also the times of journeys to work and access to cycle networks.
For people living in cities, space to park a bike securely can be a major obstacle, which is why Vienna has just completed a pilot project called Bike City – a block of 100 flats for middle-income people, with wide communal hallways and lifts with bike racks outside each front door and bike stores on every floor.
Michael Szeiler, an Austrian traffic planning expert, is one of the first residents to have moved in. "The rents here are affordable because the builders have saved money by not having car parking – they have built only 50 spaces, rather than one per flat, as is usual. People still have cars," he says, "but people who live here make 25% of all trips by bicycle, as opposed to 6% of other Viennese."
Szeiler has been working on projects to link residential areas by cycle. At hotspots, traffic lights set with detectors are programmed to tell when cars are coming and to give priority for cyclists, so that they do not have to keep stopping and starting their journeys. The city is investing in infrastructure, the second main shopping street is being made car free, with pedestrian and cycle shared zones, and local politicians point to the fact that at €4.5m (£3.8m) it is only 5% of the annual road budgets.
Maria Vassilakou is the deputy mayor of Vienna with responsibility for urban planning. "Vienna is the fastest-growing city within German-speaking Europe, and if we continue with the policy of one person, one car, then we will become one traffic jam," she says.
"Cycling is about reducing congestion and creating space. We have set ambitious targets, especially in a city where you never know what the weather will be, but it is crucial to our survival to double the number of people cycling by 2015. It is crucial to make a swift change to modern mobility, and all ways lead to the bicycle."
She admits that some moves have been controversial – the city intends ripping out parking spaces to make space for cycle lanes, and they also mix pedestrians and bikes in the same spaces. "This is a hot issue" she says, "but in every city in the world there is conflict between cycling and cars, and you have to work hard at convincing people that their daily lives will improve. We have to be creative. We also have to encourage people to be respectful of each other."
But the arguments in favour of cycling have convinced many younger Austrians, among whom bicycles are becoming trendy, with a burgeoning market for old and especially notable bikes. They are also becoming collectable, and Vienna has an exhibition, Tour du Monde, opening this weekend in the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK).
MAK curator Thomas Geisler has chosen 50 examples from a collection of more than 210 bicycles owned by Michael Embacher, an architect with a pop star's standing in Austria. The selected machines are classics of design and very much of their time, says Geisler. "Each bicycle is a smart product of contemporary times, following all the material developments of the 21st century, the innovation and the techniques. They all have a story to tell. The bicycle is a machine for perception, slowing you down through a city."
Old bikes are turning up in Vienna's growing number of cycling shops, too, says Andrzej Felcak at the Radlager cycling cafe, showing a 20-year-old racer with a €1,200 (£1,020) price tag. Felcak is the chairman of Argus Radlobby – an organisation that campaigns for cycling in Austria, lobbying for better routes and security.
"Its a thing that's really growing, bike collectors. For some it's maybe a nostalgia for the bike they wanted as a kid but they couldn't afford it then, like the old racing bikes or the Chopper.
"For the cycling community in Vienna, it is wonderful to see trends in urban cycling being reflected more widely so that the bike is becoming a mainstream method of transport. We can't solve our problems with cars.
"We want to push now the concept of cargo bikes, as they have in Copenhagen, for shop deliveries and also for making sales in the streets. So people can have stalls and perhaps selling things from bikes. There is a lot that can be done in the way of pedal-powered livelihoods, but people need to see it in action to really get the idea.
"If we look at Beijing, where a city of 5.4 million moved, 58% of them by bike, then we see that a bicycle as the currency of a city is something we could get, too."
He pointed to older people or even disabled people having easier-geared bikes, tricycles and wheelchair attachments. "Your bicycle would fit not only your physical needs but your personality. It's your stage, your catwalk. There are new bicycle shops opening up in Vienna like mushrooms after the rain. Affordability is key, as is infrastructure, but little by little we get there."
However, out on the Praterstern, where the digital counter is moving, slowly, the cars are still dominant as the rain pours on the elegant streets.
06/13/2013 05:56 PM
British Girls in the Third Reich: 'We Had the Time of Our Lives'
In the 1930s, many English families sent their daughters to finishing school in Nazi Germany. Rachel Johnson, sister of the London mayor, interviewed several for her most recent book. She told SPIEGEL ONLINE about Britain's enthusiasm for Hitler's Reich.
In February 1936, Daphne and Betsy, two girls from Oxford, discover the charms of Munich in Nazi Germany. Rachel Johnson, 47, tells the unique story of young British women in Hitler's Third Reich from the perspective of two fictional characters. The British press has praised the book for being both entertaining and historically accurate. Johnson, who is the sister of London Mayor Boris Johnson, only recently discovered that her own family had close ties to Nazi Germany.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Johnson, how did you find out that some members of your family were in Bavaria in the 1930s?
Johnson: A couple of years ago, the BBC did a program on my brother Boris and our family history. We had always been told that my paternal grandmother was French, but it turned out she was German. Her last name was originally von Pfeffel, and we had descendants from Munich. My maternal grandmother went to Bavaria as a schoolgirl in the 1930s. Later, when I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law had been to Munich at roughly the same time.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A strange coincidence.
Johnson: The strangest thing of all was that my mother-in-law was sent from England to Munich in April 1938, when Hitler was already preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and Poland. She watched as the Annexation of Austria took place. She even ran out to Hitler's car.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you decide to address that past in a novel?
Johnson: I did a radio documentary about the English colony in Germany before the war, but didn't have enough for a non-fiction book. The English girls in Bavaria were fascinating nonetheless, so I decided to write a novel from their perspective. These girls were there just before the outbreak of war, and in some cases they were even close to the government, hanging out with Hitler and Hess. Sending your daughters to finishing school in Germany was the thing to do.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why?
Johnson: Germany was probably our closest European partner at that time. And don't forget that George V. changed the name of his family from "Saxe-Coburg and Gotha" to "Windsor" only in 1917, during the First World War. There were still aristocratic connections and friendships to Germany between the wars. Two newspapers dealt with Anglo-German relations and printed articles about how wonderful Germany was, how amazing the scenery and how great Hitler was. The British liked that Germany was very clean.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where did the British girls in Germany typically go?
Johnson: Some moved to Berlin or Dresden, but Bavaria with its mountains, castles, museums and beer cellars was more attractive. Oberammergau was well known in England. My maternal grandmother was in Bavaria in the 1930s, she was Jewish. She enjoyed the opera in Munich, skiing in the mountains and later fell in love with a ski instructor from Freiburg, a member of the National Socialist party. His family called her "die Jüdin," the Jewess. Their relationship went disastrously wrong and she came back to England. I met a dozen English women while researching my book who were in Germany between 1935 and 1938, most of them over 90 by the time I interviewed them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did they tell you?
Johnson: They said: "We had the best time of our lives." They felt fantastic being in Germany during the Third Reich. "It was the highlight of my life," one told me. To them, it was a rich experience, because England was very stuffy at that time -- lots of unemployment, terrible food and nasty weather. In Bavaria they had the crisp mountain air, a healthy life, the opera, the mountains and handsome Germans in uniform. They couldn't believe their luck! No chaperons, no parents. They had everything, including sex.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did they think about the Germans?
Johnson: They loved them! I asked the women: "Were you in love at that time?" And they said: "All the time, with everybody." They typically spent six months there, went to parties and were celebrated. Of course, they were not poor. The exchange rate was favorable for them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were they aware of the dangers posed by the Nazis?
Johnson: They weren't aware of anything at all. They would see a sign at a swimming pool saying "No Jews," and they'd think: "What is a Jew?" They didn't know any Jews. Also, they were upper-middle class English girls, so almost by definition their fathers were probably quite anti-Semitic. It was an anti-Semitic time, not only in Germany. We had the rise of the far right, the brown shirts, and Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. My mother-in-law's family was typical of aristocratic attitudes of this period. They were very pro-German. My mother-in-law's father was chairman of the Anglo-German Alliance, which was set up to bring the two countries closer together. He would make speeches in the House of Lords saying Hitler is a sound chap.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did the women say about Hitler in the interviews with you?
Johnson: They're not saying anything good about him, but they won't change their opinion of what they felt before the war. To them, it was the perfect time. Maybe they saw the SS marching on the street, but basically they enjoyed themselves. "Hitler was marvellous, the problem was, he went a little bit too far," one of the women told me. Others said they couldn't believe that these wonderful people they spent such a happy time with could be capable of things like these. You have to remember England in the 1930s suffered from a widespread depression. And then these girls go to Germany, and on the surface everything looks good. They didn't know what the regime was doing, they didn't know about the Nuremburg laws. One of them told me about her music professor, who suddenly disappeared. He was Jewish and had to flee. Nobody became suspicious. It was wilful blindness.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When did this change?
Johnson: The English turned against Germany in September 1939, after the invasion of Poland. Most Britons had to leave Germany that summer. The only one left in Munich was Unity Mitford, a prominent British Nazi, big Hitler fan and part of his inner circle. In some way, Unity was an extreme example of the English fascination and admiration for Hitler. Her parents went to Germany and tried to get her to return to England, but she refused. They had to leave without her.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Despite its subject, "Winter Games" is not an unhappy or even tragic novel. What has the response been like?
Johnson: It's been a quite difficult book to promote. People still think it's a dangerous topic. I talked about it during the Jewish Book week in London. The audience was almost entirely Jewish. The first question was: "What was the appeal of the Nazis for you, Rachel?"
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You went to Berchtesgaden, where many of the top Nazis had vacation homes, on a research trip. What was your impression?
Johnson: I found it really dark. By accident, I went there on Hitler's birthday. People lit candles on the site of the Berghof, his former residence. That was quite weird. The mountains and the scenery around the Königsee lake are beautiful, but it's very hard to avoid the history -- or, as the tourism people call it, "the challenging past."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why are the British still so obsessed with Nazis, Hitler and World War II?
Johnson: It's bizarre, isn't it? I think there are more English books published on Nazism than on any other subject. It remains a period of great fascination, a time of great danger, but also of great English bravery. I thought it was important to try to tell this part of our past from the perspective of some young and slightly naive women.
Interview conducted by Christoph Scheuermann
Google reveals top-secret plan to beam Internet to developing world from balloons at the edge of space
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, June 15, 2013 8:56 EDT
Young Asian woman in Yellow Ao Dai with a laptop in the dunes via Shutterstock
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Google revealed top-secret plans Saturday to send balloons to the edge of space with the lofty aim of bringing Internet to the two-thirds of the global population currently without web access.
Scientists from the technology giant released up to 30 helium-filled test balloons flying 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) above Christchurch in New Zealand Saturday, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations.
While still in the early stages, Project Loon hopes eventually to launch thousands of balloons to provide Internet to remote parts of the world, allowing the more than four billion people with no access to get online.
It could also be used to help after natural disasters, when existing communication infrastructure is affected.
“Project Loon is an experimental technology for balloon-powered Internet access,” the company said on its latest project from its clandestine Google (x), “where we work on radical, sci-fi-sounding technology solutions to solve really big world problems”.
“Balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, can beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster,” it added.
“It is very early days, but we think a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, might be a way to provide affordable Internet access to rural, remote, and underserved areas down on earth below, or help after disasters, when existing communication infrastructure is affected.”
It works by ground stations connecting to the local Internet infrastructure and beaming signals to the balloons, which are self-powered by solar panels.
The balloons, which once in the stratosphere will be twice as high as commercial airliners and barely visible to the naked eye, are then able to communicate with each other, forming a mesh network in the sky.
Users below have an Internet antennae they attach the side of their house which can send and receive data signals from the balloons passing overhead.
Some 50 people were chosen to take part in the trial and were able to link to the Internet.
The first person to get Google Balloon Internet access was Charles Nimmo, a farmer and entrepreneur in the small town of Leeston who signed up for the experiment.
He told the New Zealand Herald he received Internet access for about 15 minutes before the transmitting balloon he was relying on floated out of range.
“It’s been weird,” he told the newspaper. “But it’s been exciting to be part of something new.”
Google’s ultimate goal is to have a ring of balloons — each the length of a small light aircraft when fully inflated — circling the Earth, ensuring there is no part of the globe that cannot access the web.
But Richard DeVaul, chief technical architect at Google (x), cautioned that “it’s awfully too early to think about covering the entire planet”.
The next step might be to make a ring of balloons around the same latitude as New Zealand, he added, to extend coverage to countries such as Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
“We think hundreds of balloons, maybe 300 or 400, might be necessary to complete that ring,” DeVaul said.
Google did not say how much it was investing in the project.
“The idea may sound a bit crazy – and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it,” Google said, but added: “This is still highly experimental technology and we have a long way to go.”
Project leader Mike Cassidy told reporters that if successful, the technology might allow countries to leapfrog the expense of installing fibre-optic cable.
“It’s a huge moonshot, a really big goal to go after,” he said.
“The power of the Internet is probably one of the most transformative technologies of our time.”
06/14/2013 03:22 PM
Eco Porn: Exploring the Limits of Carnal Idealism
By Georg Diez and Wolfgang Höbel
A new documentary explores the lives of "Fuck for Forest," a group of Berlin-based neo-hippies determined to save the rainforests with a for-pay eco-porn site. It paints a sad picture of failed idealism -- but the group isn't taking the criticism lying down.
The activists have been living in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain for the past seven years. First, there were three of them: Tommy from Norway, Leona from Sweden and a German woman named Natty. Later, they were joined by Dan, from Norway, and Kaajal, a woman from India. They collect their clothing and food from dumpsters and think that drugs are a waste of time. "We're looking for people who enjoy sex and nakedness," they say. Their lives are disjointed, their apartment is a mess, their sex is a free-for-all -- and they call it freedom.
These are neo-hippies, and they resemble rare plants. They can't sing, but they do it anyway. They can't juggle numbers, but they are collecting money to help save the rainforests. They claim to have already raised over €400,000 ($530,000). Tommy, Leona and the others run a website for eco-porn where, for a fee, members can watch people having sex in the woods.
The group calls itself "Fuck For Forest" (FFF), and Polish director Michal Marczak naturally chose the same name for his recently released documentary, for which he accompanied them for a couple months with camera in hand. Marczak's film, which is showing at cinemas in Germany, is an usual portrayal of Berlin -- and an absurd and comical masterpiece that goes beyond the fringe existence of a handful of nutcases, and the bleak world of pornography, to paint a portrait of a city whose threadbare, prudish Prussian atmosphere is only made bearable by the desires and confusion of the foreigners who end up here for one reason or another.
The perpetually bare-breasted Leona and the perpetually guitar-plucking Dan and their friends have a mission: They are fucking to save the world. For €12 a month, payable by credit card or bank transfer, users can feel like they are saving the rainforests and buying porn in good conscience. They have access to dozens of videos in which the members of FFF have sex with each other and with others.
The clips show sex between men and women, men and men, women and women, plus a good deal of group and public sex -- everything that millions of people gape at on Internet porn sites every day, much of it for free. But FFF's pay pornography differs from the standard fare on sites like YouPorn thanks to the group's signature shaky camera work, absurdly poor lighting and blatant poetic ambition. For instance, in the video "Jungle," which was shot in Mexico, Dan stands at the edge of a stream and plays a wooden flute while Natty kneels before him and fellates him. "We try our best to put our human errors to the test", says the narrator's voice in a clumsy attempt at rhyming.
Idealism Gone Wild
Polish director Marczak says he was immediately fascinated by the lifestyle of these young people when he first met them in late 2009. The filmmaker is 35 years old, making him just a few years older than Leona, Dan and Tommy. Marczak spoke with sexologists and sociologists and read reams of hippie literature before he started shooting. Then he waited for over a year. It wasn't until the group became larger and more unstable that he began filming. The director says two questions primarily interested him: "What price does one have to pay to live in a world without rules?" And: "Are these people freer than the rest of society?"
The film "Fuck For Forest" shows the eco-porn hippies as they cruise the streets in a bid to convince total strangers to engage in spontaneous sex in front of the camera; how they use small camcorders to zoom in on their unshaven genitalia and bushy pubic hair; how two of them penetrate each other in front of an audience in a Berlin basement while the others make appallingly bad music and spur them on with songs of encouragement. Theatergoers hear Leona and Tommy talk about how the world needs to be healed and how the spirit and soul of humanity must be liberated. And they see how other people in Berlin shake their heads or turn away in disgust when the FFF followers proffer their naked breasts, tattoos, slogans and music. During the "slut walk," which aims to raise awareness of sexual violence, the eco-porn activists are gently escorted away by Berlin police.
Marczak shows all of this with a great sensitivity for the epic dimension of what is transpiring before his eyes. He doesn't judge or interfere with FFF. His comments are of a purely informational nature. The director doesn't expose the stars of his film, he doesn't ridicule them -- but he doesn't take their side, either. He is fascinated by the contradiction that they represent. Marczak calls them "activists opposing reality." Their desire to change the world stems from radical beliefs, he says, but it also reflects the paranoia of people driven by irrational fears and convinced that the end of the world is imminent.
The film has many sad moments. Right at the beginning, for example, Dan sits on the kitchen counter like a lost bird and talks on the phone with his mother, who doesn't want to see him, although she probably doesn't even know what her son is up to in Berlin. There is also the scene in which Dan is lying in bed with a good-looking German guy, who has an expression on his face as if he were on some mad LSD trip -- and has every good reason to feel confused since he is surrounded by this do-gooder commune of befuddled individuals who can't seem to do anything right, let alone save the world.
But the saddest moment is when the inconsistencies in the sex commune's worldview -- its euphoria and its failures --- become apparent on their trip to South America. Marczak accompanies Dan and his friends to the Amazon basin, where they want to bring the indigenous peoples their money and their message of sex and ideals. But the locals don't want any money or messages from these white freaks, who look like gophers in a compost heap. They're only interested in the chainsaw that another German wants to sell them. You could say that German technology has won out over German idealism.
Somewhere in the border region between Peru and Brazil, Dan and Tommy bitterly complain about the huge TVs that the natives have in their huts. They are so enthralled by the beauty of a young girl that they are half-tempted to take her along with them. They give long-winded lectures to the inhabitants of a jungle village, explaining how they have collected money and why they want to purchase land for the indigenous people.
The reaction is devastating. "I don't need your money," snaps an Indio woman. The hippies are called liars and pedophiles, and for a few moments it looks as if the locals are going to chase them out of the village. Leona, Dan and Tommy briefly fight back their tears and trudge away from the crowd. "If you don't want our money," they say, "then we'll go."
An Examination of Failure
The way Marczak captures all of this -- so intimate, raw and direct -- is emblematic of a documentary filmmaker who masterfully blurs the borders between reality and fiction. The images have the beauty of a bad trip. They are reminiscent of the tenderness and intimacy of the photos that Nan Goldin took in the 1980s and 1990s of dropouts, drug addicts and hipsters on her journey into the heart of darkness, desire and sex. Making the world a better place was totally out at that time, while narcissism was very in.
The images also evoke the lighter photos of Ryan McGinley, with dancing naked young people in the great outdoors, which becomes a vast playground, not for their sexuality, but simply in its own right. It was the youth of the 2000s who danced here, strangely enough, without a care in the world, although the foundation was already cracking and wavering beneath their feet. Yet, in their hedonism, they failed to notice this.
Now, we have these nomads pursuing their yearnings. Once again, there is a new age and a new youth: children who have set out to tackle the greatest challenge of all, saving the world, with neither a movement to back them nor an ideology to help them. They are entirely alone -- and that is part of what constitutes their sadness. It is the truest thing they have to offer.
At the end of the film, when Dan is back home in Norway, he engages in his favorite activity with a couple of Palestinians: He preaches about the blessings of sexuality, saying that we should all be naked, and then we and the world would be better off. Afterwards, one of the Palestinians says very calmly and earnestly that he doesn't understand how, given all of today's problems, Dan can continuously talk about naked bodies.
The film ultimately becomes an examination of failure: the failure of idealism (which doesn't call into question our dreams or the world); the failure of just about every idea of communalism (which doesn't cast doubt on the attempt to choose a path that diverges from the rat race mentality); and the failure of Dan (which is not to be interpreted as a criticism of Dan -- after all, he can do with his life as he pleases).
But Dan isn't happy with the film. Granted, the FFF eco-porn website is promoting Marczak's film because it could boost the popularity of the good cause. But they still have a few ugly scores to settle with the director. Marczak is no idealist, they say, but rather someone who is "quite manipulative" and "a money and fame loving movie maker," as it says on the site.
The activists write that they granted the filmmaker total artistic freedom, but the longer the film project lasted, they insist, the more it became clear to them that "Michal Marczak (…) and FuckForForest had very different motives behind participating in the movie." And then, twice, they use the word "sadly."
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
In the USA...
From hope to fear: the broken promise of Barack Obama
By Paul Harris, The Observer
Saturday, June 15, 2013 11:32 EDT
For 10 years, Paul Harris has been the Observer’s US reporter. He reflects on the President’s progress from soaring rhetoric to scandal
It is all too easy to look back on some moments in the past and claim their significance was obvious at the time. That it was clear – even as the event unfolded and you frantically scribbled details down in a notebook – that you were witnessing a historic moment.
Certainly that was the case when Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 Boston convention that anointed John Kerry as the champion of a Democratic party frantic to defeat George W Bush. Obama – then a state senator from Illinois – delivered one of the finest speeches in modern times. His oratory lit up that dull Boston shindig like 4 July fireworks.
Or at least I remember it that way. The morning after his speech, I trailed Obama through a series of events, seeking an interview. It was too late. He already become a political rock star, viewable only behind a freshly-minted posse of minders.
Change happens quickly in America; it is part of the genius of the nation. Four years after that night, Obama was in the White House, having ridden a wave of hope and optimism that made him a global hero and America’s first-ever black president. Four years on again, he would win a second term, defeating Mitt Romney and the Tea Party hordes at his back.
Surely that early promise of Boston had been fulfilled. Everything presaged in that remarkable 2004 speech had come true. I had indeed witnessed history in a glorious moment of its making. Sadly, I now think not.
Over the last two weeks, the world has seen an extraordinary series of revelations about the scale, size and activities of the National Security Agency under Obama’s administration. Though he came to power decrying the secret actions of Bush, Obama has embraced and extended many of the same activities. His NSA uses a secret court system to get permission for its shadowy work, hauls out “metadata” on millions’ of Americans’ phone calls, taps into the biggest and most powerful internet companies of the Information Age – Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Yahoo, Google – to monitor and snoop. Its tools have names like Prism and Boundless Informant, as if their inventors were all too aware that they resembled dystopian science fiction.
Yet Obama has flippantly dismissed the controversy. Resorting to the worst tactics of the Bush years, his message is: “Trust us. We’re the good guys.” And then Congress is briefed – in secret, of course – about the “dozens” of terrorist plots such industrial-scale espionage has stopped.
No one in that hall in Boston in 2004 could have imagined that the young, eloquent and inspiring politician would have transformed so dramatically less than a decade later. Yet the Age of Obama is not one of hope and change; it is the era of the National Security President. Obama has overseen increasing use of drones, in a targeted killing programme across the globe. No doubt they wipe out legitimate targets. But the drones also murder American citizens – such as Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdulraman in 2011 – with no trial amid a legal framework that – again – is kept largely secret. They wipe out wedding parties by accident. Any “military-aged male” in a drone strike zone is called a legitimate target, turning the innocent into the guilty to justify death from above. Then there is Guantánamo Bay, that bleeding sore on the face of American civil liberties. It is a tropical gulag of 166 men – more than half cleared for release but still kept behind bars – who are starving themselves out of desperation. Obama promised to close it down in 2008. He failed. He promised again last month. But nothing has happened. Meanwhile, the regime inside the camp is growing more savage.
Obama has cracked down aggressively on whistleblowers, using the Espionage Act – a hangover from the first world war – more times than all his predecessors combined. He has presided over an explosion of over-classification, as millions of government documents are shuttered away from public eyes. His Department of Justice has collected the phone records of AP journalists and accessed the emails of a Fox News reporter.
It’s the stuff of conspiracy theorist fantasies. But these abuses of power are real and are playing out the front pages of America’s papers every day. When the IRS searched for conservative groups to target for special treatment, it confirmed the worst fears of every rightwinger in America.
How on earth did we get here from Boston, 2004? Bush – a cipher of a politician whose only belief was in his right to rule – surrounded himself with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton and an army of whispering neocons. Obama does not have that excuse. When his staff meets to mull over the latest names in their killing programme – an event dubbed “Terror Tuesdays” – Obama himself is often present.
Neither is Obama ignorant of the law; he’s a constitutional law professor. In turning America into a national security state, the awful truth is that he knows full well what he is doing.
There are three more years of this to come. Involvement in Syria’s war looms, and more terrorist attacks like the one that hit the Boston marathon could lurk in the future. Where will Obama take America in that time? Judging him on his past actions, I think it will be no place good.
Due to his race, Obama is often cast in the light of America’s civil rights movement and its heroic leader, Martin Luther King. Among King’s most famous words are his hopes that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
That dream of King’s was what many believed Obama would one day fulfill. Perhaps he has, just not in the way anyone thought. In 2013 – amid drones, assassinations, mass spying, secret courts and tapping journalists’ phones – it seems that Obama’s race matters less and less, while his inner character is shining through for judgment. It is sorely wanting.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Wall Street is winning the long war against post-crash regulation
Feeble as it was, Dodd-Frank was a high point of reining in abuses. Thanks to financial lobbying, it's business as usual
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 16 June 2013 13.00 BST
Less than ten years ago, if a Wall Street trader wanted to find a sucker to buy bad mortgages, he knew where to find him: often, sitting in an office in a German landesbank in a small city, looking for a risky bets that would make him a killing.
The German network of savings and loans – 2,000 state-backed banks, fattened over time by Germans saving around 12% of their income a year – were designed to make loans to local businesses. But starting around 2004, they started following the same dangerous path as the the tiny US savings and loans companies in the 1990s, which gorged on mortgage lending.
The investment managers at the German landesbanks, usually unsophisticated compared to their sharper cousins in London and New York, became reliable buyers for risky, complicated mortgage derivatives. In fact, the Germans landesbanks and other foreign investors wanted to gobble up so many mortgage-backed securities that the American banks bundling the mortgage mortgages started pandering to them: many adjustable-rate mortgages in the US, designed for overseas buyers, newly had their interest rates set to Libor, the European interest rate, as that made it easier for the European buyers of the bundled US mortgages.
The rest, you know.
The US banks packaged the mortgage derivatives faster and faster to feed appetite these mortgages from Germany and elsewhere. That led to lower loan standards to speed up the process of packaging the loans. By 2007, the subprime bubble burst. Foreign buyers had grabbed so many mortgages that they choked.
US banks needed bailouts. The German banks needed bailouts. European banks needed bailouts. Lawsuits funneled through the courts on two continents. We're still living the consequences.
All of which is to say, the financial system is global. There are no such things as borders in the world of finance; it's an integrated whole. A fellow sitting in an office in Hamburg or London is as likely to change our financial world as the guy sitting in a trading room on Wall Street.
That's why it's so baffling that the House of Representatives came down, this week, on the side of ignoring abuses of US-made derivatives – known as swaps – as soon as they're wired overseas. These swaps were at the heart of the London Whale trading debacle, which lost $6bn for JP Morgan Chase. The bank was otherwise sound, and survived the stupid move easily. But not every bank is JP Morgan, and the next stupid swap deal could come at a cost to taxpayers if another bank needs a bailout or government support.
The House voted overwhelmingly to let the measure – labeled the London Whale Loophole Act by critics – pass. It's one of several measures that the House has taken to weaken oversight of derivatives; the other two will come up for debate soon.
It will surprise no cynic that there is a financial connection between the members of Congress who approve these measures and the industry they are supposed to regulate. According to MapLight:
"On average, House agriculture committee members voting for HR 992 [one of the derivatives bills] have received 7.8 times as much money from the top four banks as House agriculture committee members voting against the bill."
It's no surprise, of course – given the well-known influence of Wall Street in writing and influencing the bills that regulate Wall Street. Citigroup lobbyists infamously drafted 70 lines of an 85-line amendment that protected a large acreage of derivatives from regulation.
There is more to add. Gary Gensler, the current head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was part of the financial industry before he was named, and he was hip to its tricks. He has been, largely, a headache for Wall Street firms who just want to get regulators out of the way. He has been a boon, however, to Americans who want to see Wall Street held accountable.
Wall Street is keenly interested in weak regulation and weak regulators. Enter Amanda Renteria, the potential nominee to take Gensler's place. A capable congressional staffer, Renteria has minimal financial experience: a couple of years at Goldman Sachs after college, and then a life in government. She didn't play a significant role in drafting Dodd-Frank legislation, according to the Huffington Post.
Think of derivatives – these complex securities that render ignorant and bewildered even the CEOs of the finance firms that engineer them – and think about whether a newcomer has a chance against the slick bankers and lobbyists armed with intimidating jargon. No matter how strong the personality, knowledge matters, and it takes years to understand the Wall Street fast-talking game. The CFTC is going to lose an immense source of knowledge when Gensler leaves. It looks like it won't be replaced.
All of this is part of the process of killing off the one flailing, pathetic attempt at financial reform: the Dodd-Frank Act. Dodd-Frank, bloated and vague from the beginning, was never a threat to Wall Street. Big banks thought they could wait out the outrage, then start undermining the intent of the law.
They were right, this time. But when they're wrong – and when those derivatives cause another crisis – it'll be Americans who pay the price.
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted on Fri, Jun. 14, 2013
Chemical weapons experts still skeptical about U.S. claim that Syria used sarin
By Matthew Schofield | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- ]
Chemical weapons experts voiced skepticism Friday about U.S. claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used the nerve agent sarin against rebels on at least four occasions this spring, saying that while the use of such a weapon is always possible, they’ve yet to see the telltale signs of a sarin gas attack, despite months of scrutiny.
“It’s not unlike Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark,” said Jean Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons who until recently was a senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies. “It’s not just that we can’t prove a sarin attack, it’s that we’re not seeing what we would expect to see from a sarin attack.”
Foremost among those missing items, Zanders said, are cellphone photos and videos of the attacks or the immediate aftermath.
“In a world where even the secret execution of Saddam Hussein was taped by someone, it doesn’t make sense that we don’t see videos, that we don’t see photos, showing bodies of the dead, and the reddened faces and the bluish extremities of the affected,” he said.
Other experts said that while they were willing to give the U.S. intelligence community the benefit of the doubt, the Obama administration has yet to offer details of what evidence it has and how it obtained it.
White House foreign policy adviser Benjamin Rhodes gave dates and places for the alleged attacks – March 19 in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal; April 13 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Shaykh Maqsud; May 14 in Qasr Abu Samrah in Homs province, and May 23 in Adra, east of Damascus. But he provided no details of the fighting that was taking place or the number of dead in each incident. He said the United States estimated that 100 to 150 had died in all.
“Ultimately, without more information, we are left with the need to trust the integrity of the U.S. intelligence community in arriving at its ‘high confidence’ judgment,” Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said in an email. While he said that “my guess is they have it right,” he also noted that the White House statement was “carefully and prudentially worded” and acknowledged the lack of a “continuous chain of custody for the physiological samples from those exposed to sarin.”
“It does not eliminate all doubt in my mind,” he said.
Philip Coyle, a senior scientist at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, said that without hard, public evidence, it’s difficult for experts to assess the validity of the administration’s statement. He added that from what is known, what happened doesn’t look like a series of sarin attacks to him.
“Without blood samples, it’s hard to know,” he said. “But I admit I hope there isn’t a blood sample, because I’m still hopeful that sarin has not been used.”
Even a proponent of the United States providing military assistance to the rebels raised doubts about the possible motive for announcing the chemical weapons conclusion.
In a passionate argument for U.S. involvement in Syria, Anthony Cordesman, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote Friday that “the ‘discovery’ that Syria used chemical weapons might be a political ploy.” The phrase was in an article that described strong strategic and humanitarian reasons for involvement in the crisis, particularly the recent involvement of the Lebanese group Hezbollah on the side of Assad.
Chemical weapons have been a focus of discussion in Syria ever since the day in August 2012 when President Barack Obama announced that the use of such weapons was a “red line” that would trigger possible U.S. military involvement. Since then, rebels have reported the likely use of chemical agents on dozens of occasions with varying degrees of credibility.
Only one detailed independent report of a chemical attack has surfaced in that time, however – a lengthy report in the French newspaper Le Monde last month that triggered both French and British letters to the United Nations.
Zanders, however, said that much about that report bears questioning. Photos and a video accompanying the report showed rebel fighters preparing for chemical attacks by wearing gas masks. Sarin is absorbed through the skin, and even small amounts can kill within minutes.
He also expressed skepticism about the article’s description of the lengthy route victims of chemical attacks had to travel to get to treatment, winding through holes in buildings, down streets under heavy fire, before arriving at remote buildings hiding hospitals.
Zanders, who also has headed the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and was director of the Geneva-based BioWeapons Prevention Project, noted that had sarin been the chemical agent in use, the victims would have been dead long before they reached doctors for treatment.
Zanders also said he’s skeptical of sarin use because there have been no reports of medical personnel or rescuers dying from contact with victims. Residue from sarin gas would be expected to linger on victims and would infect those helping, who often are shown in rebel video wearing no more protection than paper masks.
Le Monde reported that one doctor treated a victim with atropine, which is appropriate for sarin poisoning. But that doctor said he gave his patient 15 shots of atropine in quick succession, which Zanders said could have killed him almost as surely as sarin.
GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits
Exclusive: phones were monitored and fake internet cafes set up to gather information from allies in London in 2009
Ewen MacAskill, Nick Davies, Nick Hopkins, Julian Borger and James Ball
The Guardian, Monday 17 June 2013
Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.
The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.
The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by GCHQ and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.
There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were uncovered by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.
• Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates' use of computers;
• Penetrating the security on delegates' BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;
• Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;
• Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;
• Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.
The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.
A briefing paper dated 20 January 2009 records advice given by GCHQ officials to their director, Sir Iain Lobban, who was planning to meet the then foreign secretary, David Miliband. The officials summarised Brown's aims for the meeting of G20 heads of state due to begin on 2 April, which was attempting to deal with the economic aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis. The briefing paper added: "The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it." Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence product being passed to "ministers".
GCHQ ragout 1 One of the GCHQ documents. Photograph: Guardian
According to the material seen by the Guardian, GCHQ generated this product by attacking both the computers and the telephones of delegates.
One document refers to a tactic which was "used a lot in recent UK conference, eg G20". The tactic, which is identified by an internal codeword which the Guardian is not revealing, is defined in an internal glossary as "active collection against an email account that acquires mail messages without removing them from the remote server". A PowerPoint slide explains that this means "reading people's email before/as they do".
The same document also refers to GCHQ, MI6 and others setting up internet cafes which "were able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished". This appears to be a reference to acquiring delegates' online login details.
Another document summarises a sustained campaign to penetrate South African computers, recording that they gained access to the network of their foreign ministry, "investigated phone lines used by High Commission in London" and "retrieved documents including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings". (South Africa is a member of the G20 group and has observer status at G8 meetings.)
GCHQ Ragout 2 Another excerpt from the GCHQ documents. Photograph: Guardian
A detailed report records the efforts of the NSA's intercept specialists at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire to target and decode encrypted phone calls from London to Moscow which were made by the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, and other Russian delegates.
Other documents record apparently successful efforts to penetrate the security of BlackBerry smartphones: "New converged events capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers … Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO of using smartphones. Exploited this use at the G20 meetings last year."
The operation appears to have run for at least six months. One document records that in March 2009 – the month before the heads of state meeting – GCHQ was working on an official requirement to "deliver a live dynamically updating graph of telephony call records for target G20 delegates … and continuing until G20 (2 April)."
Another document records that when G20 finance ministers met in London in September, GCHQ again took advantage of the occasion to spy on delegates, identifying the Turkish finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, as a target and listing 15 other junior ministers and officials in his delegation as "possible targets". As with the other G20 spying, there is no suggestion that Simsek and his party were involved in any kind of criminal offence. The document explicitly records a political objective – "to establish Turkey's position on agreements from the April London summit" and their "willingness (or not) to co-operate with the rest of the G20 nations".
The September meeting of finance ministers was also the subject of a new technique to provide a live report on any telephone call made by delegates and to display all of the activity on a graphic which was projected on to the 15-sq-metre video wall of GCHQ's operations centre as well as on to the screens of 45 specialist analysts who were monitoring the delegates.
"For the first time, analysts had a live picture of who was talking to who that updated constantly and automatically," according to an internal review.
A second review implies that the analysts' findings were being relayed rapidly to British representatives in the G20 meetings, a negotiating advantage of which their allies and opposite numbers may not have been aware: "In a live situation such as this, intelligence received may be used to influence events on the ground taking place just minutes or hours later. This means that it is not sufficient to mine call records afterwards – real-time tip-off is essential."
In the week after the September meeting, a group of analysts sent an internal message to the GCHQ section which had organised this live monitoring: "Thank you very much for getting the application ready for the G20 finance meeting last weekend … The call records activity pilot was very successful and was well received as a current indicator of delegate activity …
"It proved useful to note which nation delegation was active during the moments before, during and after the summit. All in all, a very successful weekend with the delegation telephony plot."
G20 summit: NSA targeted Russian president Medvedev in London
Leaked documents reveal Russian president was spied on during visit, as questions are raised over use of US base in Britain
Ewen MacAskill, Nick Davies, Nick Hopkins, Julian Borger and James Ball
The Guardian, Monday 17 June 2013
American spies based in the UK intercepted the top-secret communications of the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to Britain for the G20 summit in London, leaked documents reveal.
The details of the intercept were set out in a briefing prepared by the National Security Agency (NSA), America's biggest surveillance and eavesdropping organisation, and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The document, leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian, shows the agency believed it might have discovered "a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted".
The disclosure underlines the importance of the US spy hub at RAF Menwith Hill in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where hundreds of NSA analysts are based, working alongside liaison officers from GCHQ.
The document was drafted in August 2009, four months after the visit by Medvedev, who joined other world leaders in London, including the US president, Barack Obama, for the event hosted by the British prime minister, Gordon Brown.
Medvedev arrived in London on Wednesday 1 April and the NSA intercepted communications from his delegation the same day, according to the NSA paper, entitled: "Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – Intercept at Menwith Hill station."
The document starts with two pictures of Medvedev smiling for the world's media alongside Brown and Obama in bilateral discussions before the main summit.
RAF Menwith Hill RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/Reuters
The report says: "This is an analysis of signal activity in support of President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to London. The report details a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted. The signal activity was found to be emanating from the Russian embassy in London and the communications are believed to be in support of the Russian president."
The NSA interception of the Russian leadership at G20 came hours after Obama and Medvedev had met for the first time. Relations between the two leaders had been smoothed in the runup to the summit with a series of phone calls and letters, with both men wanting to establish a trusting relationship to discuss the ongoing banking crisis and nuclear disarmament.
In the aftermath of their discussions on 1 April, the two men issued a joint communique saying they intended to "move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms in accordance with the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons".
A White House official who briefed journalists described the meeting as "a very successful first meeting focused on real issues". The official said it had been important for the men to be open about the issues on which they agreed and disagreed. Obama had stressed the need to be candid, the official noted.
While it has been widely known the two countries spy on each other, it is rare for either to be caught in the act; the latest disclosures will also be deeply embarrassing for the White House as Obama prepares to meet Vladimir Putin, who succeeded Medvedev as president, in the margins of the G8 summit this week.
The two countries have long complained about the extent of each other's espionage activities, and tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats are common. A year after Obama met Medvedev, the US claimed it had broken a highly sophisticated spy ring that carried out "deep cover" assignments in the US.
Ten alleged Russian spies living in America were arrested.
Putin was withering of the FBI-led operation: "I see that your police have let themselves go and put some people in jail, but I guess that is their job. I hope the positive trend that we have seen develop in our bilateral relations recently will not be harmed by these events." Last month, the Russians arrested an American in Moscow who they alleged was a CIA agent.
The new revelations underline the significance of RAF Menwith Hill and raise questions about its relationship to the British intelligence agencies, and who is responsible for overseeing it. The 560-acre site was leased to the Americans in 1954 and the NSA has had a large presence there since 1966.
It has often been described as the biggest surveillance and interception facility in the world, and has 33 distinct white "radomes" that house satellite dishes. A US base in all but name, it has British intelligence analysts seconded to work alongside NSA colleagues, though it is unclear how the two agencies obtain and share intelligence – and under whose legal authority they are working under.
G20 surveillance: why was Turkey targeted?
Gordon Brown had hailed 'strong and strengthening ties' with the country, which was – and is – an ally
The Guardian, Sunday 16 June 2013 20.47 BST
The 2009 surveillance of the new Turkish finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, and the possible targeting of up to 15 members of his delegation to London, laid out in a GCHQ document seen by the Guardian, is a startling illustration of how far the UK's appetite for electronic eavesdropping has strayed beyond traditional cloak and dagger.
Turkey is – and was at the time – a friendly power, a Nato ally with which the UK government has a good relationship. Some two years before this particular wiretap, Gordon Brown and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had signed a strategic partnership agreement in Downing Street, where Brown declared that bilateral ties were "strong and strengthening".
Furthermore, there is no suggestion that any of the officials named in the GCHQ document knew anything about security, far less had secret knowledge crucial to the defence of the realm.
On the contrary, the top-secret document about a G20 finance ministers' meeting in London starting on 2 September 2009 makes clear that the wiretappers' "reporting requirements" were to find out nothing more than Ankara's attitudes to financial regulation and reform, as well as Turkish "willingness (or not) to co-operate with the rest of the G20 nations".
The subject matter is the everyday talk of financial civil servants and central bankers. The apparent motive for the eavesdropping was to give British officials the slight negotiating edge of knowing what the Turks were thinking about financial reform before they showed their hand.
So why is GCHQ bugging them if the potential gains are so marginal? The answer seems to be because it can, both technically and legally.
In 1994, the Tory government managed to insert into the Intelligence Services Act a clause that allowed electronic surveillance "in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom in relation to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British islands".
The argument at the time was that national security also entailed economic security. The country would want to be prepared for sudden oil price shocks, for example.
But what was created was a capability without a constraint, and a new infinite list of foreign targets to eavesdrop on, no matter how marginal the advantage gained, as the 2009 Turkish GCHQ brief demonstrates.
Being a Nato ally seems to offer little protection against covert monitoring. The only boundary GCHQ appears to recognise is membership of Five Eyes, the tight coalition of western English-speaking states that share their signals intelligence: the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. When it comes to eavesdropping on a national of a "second party", as Five Eyes members are called, that government has to be informed.
Anyone outside that select group is potentially fair game. In fact, the question the Turkish G20 document leaves unanswered is: if GCHQ was actively contemplating wiretaps on mid-level treasury officials in the hope of capturing their thoughts on the regulatory architecture of global finance, who would it not spy on?
How GCHQ stepped up spying on South African foreign ministry
UK hoped to find out everything it could about negotiating position of Thabo Mbeki's government
Read more about GCHQ's interception of foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits
The Guardian, Sunday 16 June 2013 20.47 BST
In December 2005, there was a GCHQ meeting on a project to intensify spying on the South African foreign ministry.
The aim was to "gain access to South African MFA [ministry of foreign affairs] network", to "collect intelligence from target machines" and to "find more access points to increase reliability".
In the corporate-tinged jargon that is pervasive at GCHQ, the desired "customer outcomes" did not involve any suspected nefarious activities by South African diplomats.
This was about spying on their normal work. The objective of the operation was described as acquiring "retrieved documents, including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings".
It is clear that GCHQ was aiming to find out everything it could about the negotiating position of the government of President Thabo Mbeki, an independently minded swing vote on issues of global economics and finance.
Such intelligence collection was carried out under the title "transnational strategic issues" which embraced energy, economics and the environment.
It was a multipronged offensive against the South African foreign ministry under Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The phone lines used by the country's high commission in London were "investigated".
The "computer networks exploitation" (CNE) team, responsible for hacking into foreign computer networks, had acquired passwords from a standing operation whose task it was to wheedle them out of target governments and agencies.
One line of approach was to dig up the old phone numbers and email addresses of the head of the cryptology department in Pretoria. The passwords were then used to hack into the online accounts of South African diplomats.
The task was complicated by the fact that the South African foreign ministry had recently upgraded its networks, but the new passwords to the system appear to have been rapidly acquired, and the CNE team set up a series of back doors into the ministry networks "to increase reliability" of the hacking operation.
China blasts U.S. surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 16, 2013 11:56 EDT
China’s official army newspaper on Sunday branded the United States Internet surveillance programme exposed by former spy Edward Snowden as “frightening”, and accused the US of being a “habitual offender” when it comes to network monitoring.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily hit out at the US for implying that spying on citizens from other countries was justified, and said that the PRISM monitoring programme had probably been used to collect large amounts of data unrelated to anti-terrorism operations.
The remarks about the programme are among the most scathing to appear in China’s state-run press following Beijing’s refusal to make an official comment.
“US intelligence agencies are ‘habitual offenders’ with regards to network monitoring and espionage,” the article, attributed to the PLA’s Foreign Languages Institute, said.
“There is reason to believe US intelligence agencies, while collecting anti-terrorism information online have also ‘incidentally’ collected a lot of information in other fields.”
Under the so-called PRISM programme, the US National Security Agency can issue directives to Internet firms like Google or Facebook to gain access to emails, online chats, pictures, files and videos that have been uploaded by foreign users.
“US President Obama has said that PRISM is not directed at US citizens,” the article said.
“The implication is that for the purposes of US security, monitoring citizens of other countries is not a problem. This simple, overbearing logic is the frightening aspect of the PRISM programme.
“The US government says that PRISM is concerned with anti-terrorism, and does not involve any other matters. But anyone with intelligence expertise can tell this is admitting ones guilt by protesting innocence.”
The PLA Foreign Languages institute is China’s top military language training facility, and is thought to be a key training-ground for Chinese intelligence officers.
The article also accused the US of spying on its own citizens, saying that it had “clearly… not been established” that US intelligence agencies had only used the programme to monitor foreign nationals.
China has stayed tight lipped following the revelations from the former US government subcontractor, which included claims of US hacking directed at China and which came amid tensions between Washington and Beijing about online espionage.
On Thursday China’s foreign ministry gave little insight into Beijing’s thinking.
“I have no information to offer,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing.
Snowden, who is in hiding in Hong Kong, has vowed to fight any attempt by the US to extradite him from the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The issue of cyber-security has emerged as major point of contention between the US and China, with US President Obama discussing the issue with China’s top leader Xi Jinping at a summit earlier this month.
China and its military have denied that it engages in hacking attacks on foreign countries, despite multiple reports of extensive hacking operations carried out by PLA operatives against foreign targets.
China for years carried out extensive monitoring of its own citizens Internet use, and has previously imprisoned several political dissidents based on emails obtained from US-based service provider Yahoo!.
The China Daily Thursday cited an analyst who noted the irony that the US’s surveillance programme was exposed just as it began ramping up pressure on Beijing.
“It turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government,” the paper quoted China Foreign Affairs University researcher Li Haidong as saying.
Chinese state media: Extraditing Snowden to the U.S. would be ‘betrayal’
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 17, 2013 7:40 EDT
A state-backed Chinese newspaper said extraditing former spy Edward Snowden to the United States would be a “betrayal” of his trust and a “face-losing outcome” for Beijing.
The comments are among the strongest to be put forward by domestic media against extraditing Snowden, a former National Security Agency subcontractor who is hiding in Hong Kong.
The US has launched a criminal investigation into Snowden after he exposed a massive Internet surveillance operation — including claims of hacking directed at China — amid tensions between Washington and Beijing over online espionage.
Beijing has been tightlipped on Snowden, with the foreign ministry saying last week it had “no information to offer”. But Chinese media have previously said Beijing should be governed by public opinion in refusing to send him back.
Monday’s Global Times editorial went into detail about the “face-losing outcome” for China if he was returned.
“Unlike a common criminal, Snowden did not hurt anybody. His ‘crime’ was that he blew the whistle on the US government’s violation of civil rights,” it said.
“Extraditing Snowden back to the US would not only be a betrayal of Snowden’s trust, but a disappointment for expectations around the world.
“The image of Hong Kong would be forever tarnished.”
The editorial also said that “Snowden believes in the democracy and freedom of Hong Kong,” adding: “China’s growing power is attracting people to seek asylum in China”.
China’s official army newspaper Sunday branded the surveillance programme exposed by Snowden as “frightening”.
The former spy has vowed to fight any attempt by the US to extradite him from Hong Kong, which retained a separate legal system when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Half of Hong Kongers surveyed believe the city’s government should not extradite Snowden, according to a poll published on Sunday.
The poll in the Sunday Morning Post found 49.9 percent of respondents thought Snowden should not be sent back if Washington files for extradition.
The survey found that only 17.6 percent of 509 respondents favoured the move, while 32.4 percent were undecided.
The survey was published a day after hundreds of people turned out in the territory on Saturday in the first major demonstration in support of Snowden.
Obama doesn’t believe secret NSA surveillance violated privacy rights: chief of staff
Sunday, June 16, 2013 15:51 EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama does not believe the recently disclosed top-secret National Security Agency surveillance of phone records and Internet data has violated Americans’ privacy rights, his chief of staff said on Sunday.
Denis McDonough, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program, also said he did not know the whereabouts of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who said he was the source of reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post about the agency’s monitoring of phone and Internet data at big companies such as Verizon Communications Inc, Google Inc and Facebook Inc.
The administration has said the top-secret collection of massive amounts of “metadata” from phone calls – raw information that does not identify individual telephone subscribers, was legal and authorized by Congress in the interests of thwarting militant attacks. It has said the agencies did not monitor calls.
Asked whether Obama feels he has violated the privacy of Americans, McDonough said, “He does not.”
While he defended the surveillance, McDonough said “the existence of these programs obviously have unnerved many people.” He said Obama “welcomes a public debate on this question because he does say and he will say in the days ahead that we have to find the right balance, and we will not keep ourselves on a perpetual war footing.”
Revelations of the NSA’s broad monitoring of phone and Internet data has drawn criticism that the Obama administration has extended, or even expanded, the security apparatus the George W. Bush administration built after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“We owe it to the American people to have a fulsome debate in the open about the extent of these programs,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat a long-time critic of the surveillance programs, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Describing the surveillance overseen by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Udall said, “I just don’t think this is an American approach to a world in which we have great threats. My number one goal is to protect the American people, but we can do it in a way that also respects our civil liberties.”
McDonough said Congress authorized the programs as a way to thwart plots against Americans and that lawmakers should stay up to date on how they are run. The administration has said the program collected only “metadata” – raw information that does not identify individual telephone subscribers and did not monitor calls.
“The president is not saying ‘trust me.’ The president is saying I want every member of Congress, on whose authority we are running this program, to understand it, to be briefed about it, and to be comfortable with it,” he said.
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a defender of the surveillance efforts, said the NSA, as soon as this week, will release information on terrorism threats that were halted by the telephone surveillance program.
“We know that there are dozens of them, and the reason they’re being careful is we want each of the instances that will be provided, hopefully, early this next week … to be as accurate as we can and not disclose a source or a method of how we disrupted the attack exactly,” the Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Rogers said he expected Snowden, whose last known location was in Hong Kong, was still somewhere in China.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said last week that authorities would move aggressively to track down Snowden and hold him accountable for leaking the details of extensive and top-secret surveillance efforts.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” said the United States might have been able to prevent the September 11 attacks if the surveillance programs had been in place then.
“As everybody who has been associated with the program’s said if we had this before 9/11, when there were two terrorists in San Diego – two hijackers – able to use that program, that capability against the target, we might have been able to prevent 9/11,” he said.
(Writing by Vicki Allen, additional reporting Margaret Chadbourn and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jackie Frank)
German spy service to monitor Internet traffic ‘as closely as possible’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 16, 2013 10:12 EDT
Germany’s foreign intelligence service plans a major expansion of Internet surveillance despite deep unease over revelations of US online spying, Der Spiegel news weekly reported on Sunday.
Spiegel said that the BND planned a 100 million euro ($130 million) programme over the next five years to expand web monitoring with up to 100 new staff members on a “technical reconnaissance” team.
The report came ahead of a state visit to Berlin by US President Barack Obama during which the German government has pledged to take up the controversy over the US phone and Internet surveillance programmes.
Spiegel said the BND aimed to monitor international data traffic “as closely as possible”, noting that it currently kept tabs on about five percent of emails, Internet calls and online chats while German law allowed up to 20 percent.
Unlike the US National Security Agency (NSA), Germany’s BND is not allowed to store the data but must filter it immediately.
“Of course our intelligence services must have an Internet presence,” Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel, without confirming the details of the report.
The state must ensure “that we balance the loss of control over communication by criminals with new legal and technological means,” he added.
Under the so-called PRISM programme that was exposed this month, the NSA can issue directives to Internet firms such as Google and Facebook to gain access to emails, online chats, pictures, files and videos uploaded by foreign users.
Germany, where sensitivity over government surveillance is particularly heightened due to widespread spying on citizens by communist East Germany’s despised Stasi, said last week it was sending a list of questions to the Obama administration about the programme.
The European Union has also expressed disquiet over the scheme and warned of “grave adverse consequences” to the rights of European citizens.
06/17/2013 12:55 PM
'Hateful' Speech in Istanbul: Erdogan Throws Fuel on Flames
By Maximilian Popp and Mirjam Schmitt
He cleared out Gezi Park with brutal violence, disparaged the protesters as terrorists and railed against the foreign media. After a brief conciliatory respite, Prime Minster Erdogan is inflaming the conflict in Turkey once more. But the protest movement shows no signs of backing down.
For a short time it looked as if Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would relent, as if he had learned something from the revolt against his government that has taken place over the past weeks.
In the middle of the week, he met with demonstrators who are commited to the preservation of Istanbul's Gezi Park. He said that judges would deliberate on the future of the controversial park and held out the prospect of a referendum. Would Erdogan, the despot of the past two weeks, transform himself into a mediator? Since Sunday night at the latest, the answer has been a resounding no.
At a rally in Ankara on Saturday, Erdogan reiterated that he was reaching the limits of his patience. After night fell, his security forces put these words into force. They used bulldozers to clear out Gezi Park, which had become a symbol of the resistance in recent days. They chased protesters and beat them down with clubs, and they shot tear gas into cafes and hotels as the people fled. Doctors who treated the wounded were arrested.
But on Sunday, demonstrators in Turkey returned to the streets to protest the government. At the same time Erdogan gave a memorable speech in Istanbul. Liberal commentators described it as "frightening" and "hateful."
Hundreds of thousands of Erdogan supporters who had been bussed in from throughout the region gathered in a field along the coast. They carried Turkish flags and portraits of the prime minister. Officials with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), including European Union Affairs Minister Egemin Bagis, spurred on the crowd.
Erdogan Agitates Conflict
Then Erdogan took to the stage. His supporters chanted "Turkey! Turkey!" as he raised his arms triumphantly. Of one thing there is no doubt: The Turkish premier did not come to Istanbul as a mediator. And it was conflict he was looking for -- not reconciliation.
Erdogan evoked a Turkish Empire, greeting his supporters in the Balkans, in Angola and in Iraq. "Where is Sarajevo? Where is Gaza tonight?" he called out. His voice cracked, and, at that moment, he no longer seemed like the democratically elected prime minister of one of the world's largest economies. Instead he struck the figure of a crazed despot.
Erdogan then addressed the foreign media: "CNN, Reuters, leave us alone with your lies!" he exclaimed. For days now, Erdogan has sought to discredit the protests -- which began as a campaign against the demolition of a park in Istanbul and expanded into a nationwide revolt against the AKP-led government -- as a conspiracy conducted by foreign powers. "These forces want to harm Turkey," he said.
Finally, he addressed the protesters directly, once again calling them terrorists and plunderers. They aren't real Turks, Erdogan said, adding that they should be handled with caution. "Those who work against Turkey will tremble with fear," he warns, adding that he will hold accountable any hotelier who hides these "terrorists."
Erdogan's speech may yet prove to be fateful for the leader. The atmosphere is already charged, and now Erdogan is throwing more fuel on the fire. Rather than reach out to the protesters, he disparages them. But with each attack he is only driving more people out onto the street. Early on, the protest proved effective at bringing together citizens from various social backgrounds.
As Erdogan spoke on Sunday, young demonstrators in Istanbul watched the speech on television -- students, artists, lawyers. They were stunned and unable to believe their prime minister has denounced them as enemies of the state.
"Istanbul, are we one? Istanbul, are we united? Istanbul, are we brothers?" Erdogan shouted after nearly two hours. By this point, a few kilometers away, tens of thousands of demonstrators had once more gathered at Taksim Square. Yet despite the police and their clouds of tear gas, the protesters continued to march and demand Erdogan's resignation.
Merkel 'appalled' at Turkey's clampdown on protests
German chancellor is 'shocked' at handling of unrest but does not call for suspension of talks on Turkey joining EU
Reuters in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Monday 17 June 2013 12.44 BST
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she was shocked at Turkey's tough response to anti-government protests but she stopped short of demanding that the EU call off accession talks with the candidate country.
"I'm appalled, like many others," Merkel said of Turkey's handling of two weeks of unrest that began over a redevelopment project in an Istanbul park but has grown into a broader protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.
"I would like to see those who have criticism, who have a different opinion and a different idea of society, having some space in a Turkey that moves into the 21st century," Merkel told German broadcaster RTL.
Her comments came as riot police backed by water cannon warned around 1,000 trade union workers to stop blocking a major avenue in the centre of the capital Ankara on Monday.
The workers were trying to march towards the central Kizilay district, waving flags and chanting slogans, as part of a national strike called by several labour groups in support of anti-government protests.
"Those of you on the streets must stop blocking the streets. Do not be provoked. The police will use force," police officers shouted through megaphones as several water cannon were positioned a few hundred metres away.
Asked whether Ankara's response to the protests was in line with the way an EU accession candidate should act, Merkel said: "What's happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech.
"They are terrible images … I can only hope that the problems will be solved peacefully," she said in the German TV interview, which was due to be aired later on Monday.
EU politicians are divided on whether interrupting accession talks would help or hamper democratisation in Turkey.
Merkel has backed Turkish accession talks while at the same time expressing scepticism about its future EU membership.
June 16, 2013
Czech Premier to Resign Amid Scandal
By DAN BILEFSKY
PARIS — Prime Minister Petr Necas of the Czech Republic said Sunday that he would resign, following a corruption scandal involving a senior aide. The resignation, which he said he would submit Monday, plunged the country into a period of political uncertainty.
Speaking at a news conference in Prague, the Czech capital, Mr. Necas said he would also resign as chairman of his party, the center-right Civic Democrats.
On Friday, Czech prosecutors said they had charged several people, including Jana Nagyova, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and the current and former heads of military intelligence, in the most extensive anticorruption operation since the end of Communism. Ms. Nagyova was charged with abuse of power and bribery after prosecutors said she ordered a military intelligence agency to spy on three people. The Czech news media reported that they included Mr. Necas’s wife, Radka Necasova. Mr. Necas said last week that he and his wife were divorcing.
Mr. Necas had initially reacted to the scandal with defiance, saying that he had nothing to do with any illegal surveillance operation and that he would not step down. But analysts said that having so close an aide ensnared in the scandal made it untenable for him to stay on. The opposition planned a vote of no confidence in Parliament on Tuesday, and it was unclear whether he could retain the backing of his coalition partners.
Mr. Necas said his party would try to form a new government, with a new prime minister, to serve until elections next year. It was not clear whether President Milos Zeman, a political rival of Mr. Necas who has the power to choose who will try to form the next government, would agree to that course.
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the peaceful division of the former Czechoslovakia into separate Czech and Slovak states in 1993, the Czech Republic and its first president, Vaclav Havel, were seen as a potent symbol of the triumph of democracy and freedom in the face of authoritarianism. But since then the country has been plagued by a culture of graft and lawlessness, the legacy of decades of Communist rule. Crony capitalism also took root during the privatizations of state assets in the 1990s, when the lines between government and corporate interests became blurred.
Miroslav Mares, a security expert at Masaryk University in Brno, said the latest scandal threatened to erode the confidence that important allies, including the United States, have in the Czechs.
“The affair will certainly raise question marks about the trustworthiness of our military intelligence,” Mr. Mares said, “since the intelligence department may have been used for personal reasons that seem to belong in gossip columns.”
Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.
June 17, 2013
Split Over Syria Becomes Clearer as Group of 8 Meets
By STEPHEN CASTLE
ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — Ahead of a meeting of leaders of industrialized nations that is likely to be dominated by the crisis in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said Monday that he found some elements of the Syrian opposition worrying, but that he sought to keep open the option of arming those who want a democratic future.
Even before leaders had arrived for the two-day meeting, differences were evident on Sunday when President Vladimir V. Putin, who has supported the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, warned against arming the rebels there.
On Monday, the subject is likely to provoke more tension during a summit meeting that is also expected to start discussions on closer trade ties between the European Union and the United States. Leaders also plan to discuss international moves to clamp down on tax evasion and the questionable practices companies use to reduce their tax payments.
Speaking on Monday in Northern Ireland, Mr. Cameron, who faces internal opposition within his coalition government to arming Syrian rebels, said he had made no decision on the issue.
“I am as worried as anyone else about elements of the Syrian opposition who are extremists, who support terrorism, who are a great danger to our world. The question is what do we do about that?” Mr. Cameron said.
“My argument is that we shouldn’t accept that the only alternative to Assad is terrorism and violence,'’ Mr. Cameron said. “We should be on the side of Syrians who want a democratic and peaceful future for their country and one without the man who is currently using chemical weapons against them.”
After a meeting in London on Sunday with the prime minister, Mr. Putin responded in combative style after being asked if he had blood on his hands for providing military support to the Assad government.
“One hardly should back those who kill their enemies and, you know, eat their organs,” he said, referring to widely publicized film footage in which a member of an anti-Assad militia appears to eat part of a dead government soldier.
“Do we want to support these people? Do we want to supply arms to these people?” Mr. Putin asked.
The United States has said that it will supply some rebels with direct military aid, and Britain and France succeeded in getting the European Union to allow its ban on supplying arms to the country to expire, despite the reservations of many countries within the 27-member bloc.
On Monday, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, told the BBC that there was no “palatable option” for dealing with the crisis in Syria and that “extremists” were supporting both Mr. Assad’s government and the rebel forces. The help would go to “moderates,” he said.
06/17/2013 12:54 PM
Over the Red Line: West Considers Entering the Syrian Quagmire
By Susanne Koelbl, Kurt Pelda and Christoph Reuter
The US may soon begin delivering weapons to the rebels in Syria. But the situation in the war-torn country is massively complicated with extremists seeking to take advantage of the situation on both sides. Could Western arms prolong the suffering?
The border crossing lies in a picturesque plane surrounded by rolling hills, wheat fields and olive groves. This spot between the Turkish city of Kilis and the Syrian town of Azaz is called the "Gate of Peace." But, in reality, it is the gate into the hell of the civil war in Syria.
Seventy-seven trucks and semitrailers are waiting on the Turkish side of the border. Many are crammed full of sacks of grain, while others bear tarp-covered loads. All of this is fresh supplies for the destitute civilians and rebels in the combat zones.
To seal off the insurgents' resupply routes, the military of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is determined to slam the "Gate of Peace" shut. The task has fallen to Syrian soldiers reinforced by fighters from Hezbollah, the Shiite militia based in Lebanon, as part of a major operation dubbed "North Storm." Assad's generals have become more confident after the army and the Hezbollah Islamists recaptured the town of Qusair, strategically located near the Lebanese border in western Syria, more than two weeks ago.
A rebel fighter dressed in all black is standing at the "Gate of Peace," trying to hitch a ride into the war. Before long, the car reaches the highway that heads south toward Aleppo. Rebels have barricaded the north-heading side of the road with a dirt embankment. An armored personnel carrier menacingly points its cannon northwards. But wouldn't Assad's troops come from the south?
Abu Said, a 24-year-old rebel from Azaz, tries to explain the confusing situation: "Here, we're besieging the Kurdish enclave of Afrin because the Kurds are secretly providing the Shiite towns of Nubbol and Al-Zahraa with supplies even though we have been trying to choke the places off for months." Among others, Syrian and Lebanese Shiites are fighting on the government's side against the majority Sunni rebels in the greater Aleppo area. Kurdish militias allied with the Turkish-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are also engaging in skirmishes with insurgents, although there are also Kurdish units among the latter. And, in the Kurdish neighborhoods of Aleppo, all Kurdish factions -- including those with ties to the PKK -- are firing on government soldiers and Hezbollah fighters.
It has become increasingly hard to retain an overview of the Syrian conflict. But, for the West, it is now more important than ever.
It would now appear that, thanks to Hezbollah's help, the Syrian military is retaking territory and might be able to tip the scales in this appalling civil war. And, last week, the US government confirmed what the British and the French have been claiming for weeks: that the Assad regime has also deployed chemical weapons against its own people. The Americans say that, as far as they know, this has only been done on a small scale, with several attacks having claimed between 100 and 150 victims. Nevertheless, they add, this has sufficed to cross the "red line" that President Barack Obama drew last August, when he said that America would intervene as soon as the Syrian military had used poisonous gas.
The Americans could now supply weapons -- rifles, ammunition and perhaps even anti-tank missiles -- to rebel groups, such as the semi-trusted Free Syrian Army (FSA). This prompted Russia, an ally of the Assad regime, to immediately strike back. On his Twitter account, Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of Russia's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, wrote that "the data on Assad's use of chemical weapons were faked in the same place as the lie about (Saddam) Hussein's weapons of mass destruction," suggesting that the Americans were using a fabricated pretext to be able to support the rebels.
The wrangling over Syria will be one of the main issues discussed at the G-8 summit starting this Monday in Northern Ireland. The group's Western states must decide what they intend to do. While the UK and France back the American position, the German government promptly announced that it would under no circumstances send weapons into the country, which has become an extremely chaotic theater of war. On the other hand, Russia continues to back the Assad regime and intends to supply it with a modern anti-aircraft system capable of shooting down even American aircraft. Iran has been sending a constant stream of supplies to Assad, and thousands of Hezbollah fighters have crossed over the border from Lebanon to reinforce his troops on the ground.
Meanwhile, even though the West has largely left the rebels in the lurch when it comes to military support, more and more Sunni Islamists, including groups affiliated with al-Qaida and perhaps a thousand Chechen jihadists have been fighting on the rebels' side. When it comes to states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have provided the insurgents with the most support.
Only the Beginning?
So far, the conflict has already claimed an estimated 93,000 lives. But, in this boiling pot of political and sectarian strife, that might be only the beginning.
The driver drops the al-Qaida fighter off in a small village on the other side of the highway. Three jihadists with thick turbans are sitting on a children's swing set reading pocket editions of the Koran. From the village, one can make out in the distance the Menagh helicopter field, the most northerly military base held by Assad's soldiers outside Aleppo.
The base's main feature is a concrete water tower. In the pillar supporting the tower, government soldiers have chiseled out slits that allow to them to fire on the rebels in the plain from above. But the rebels are pushing their trenches and tunnels toward the base so they can destroy the tanks on the airport's grounds. One of the goals of the government's new "North Storm" offensive is to relieve the soldiers besieged there.
Among those fighting on the rebel side here are jihadists from Chechnya, who have more combat experience than their Syrian counterparts. The former have been suffering heavy losses, as can be seen in the surrounding cemeteries. The Chechens belong to the "Army of Emigrants and Helpers" under the command of a man named Abu Omar al-Shishani, with the last word meaning "Chechen."
A group of some 30 Chechens are preparing themselves while hidden behind a destroyed house. They are inching their way through the trenches and toward the base while Assad's tanks fire one shell after the other.
The shots hiss over the Chechens' heads and explode in the distance. "Look," says Abu Sair, a fighter from the area. "The Chechens have even captured a Russian T-72 tank. They use it to fire on the water tower." The T-72 is sitting behind a pair of cypresses. Flying above them is the black flag of al-Qaida.
Less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the south, rebels are firing rockets on the Shiite enclave of Nubbol. A German jihadist with blue eyes and speaking completely accent-free High German is standing behind a rebel wall made of sandbags and observing the rockets' impacts through binoculars. Clad in black gear, he is in his mid-20s at most. A self-confessed convert to Islam, he prefers not to say where he is from.
'As If We Need Food!'
Another 15 kilometers further south along the highway, the front runs past the shells of two half-finished houses near the village of Ma'arrat al-Artiq, one of the suburbs of Aleppo blocking the advance of government forces. Lying everywhere are home-made bombs and the command wires leading to them. Should Assad's troops capture the buildings, the insurgent plan is to blow them up.
Meanwhile, a machine gun on the opposing side is firing a constant stream of rounds in this direction. "The Hezbollah fighters are sitting up there in the houses," says rebel Abu Aiman, referring to buildings less than 200 meters (650 feet) away.
Empty boxes, with labels such as "Pasta with garden vegetables" or "Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America," are strewn between the rebels' improvised bombs. "That is what Obama sends us as aid against Hezbollah," Aiman says scornfully. "As if we need food! We need anti-tank and -aircraft weapons -- and ammunition, lots of ammunition."
Such things might soon be arriving. Sources within the US administration told the New York Times how America might provide the rebels with assistance, saying that the CIA, rather than the military, would get weapons to Syria.
Although these might include anti-tank weapons, the United States probably won't send anti-aircraft missiles, especially given the worries that they might prove dangerous to America itself should they ever fall into terrorist hands. FSA commanders cautiously commented on Washington's announcement about supplying weapons. Gen. Salim Idriss, who is nominally the main rebel military commander as chief of the FSA's Supreme Military Council, welcomed the announcement but said that "we are waiting on actions, not words," adding that aid had already been promised too often.
Only a Ruse?
Hassan Aboud, the leader of an Islamist group cooperating with the FSA, painted an even bleaker picture. "It is too late," he said. "We are now relying on aid from Saudi Arabia and on our own strength. We don't believe the United States anymore."
All elements of the opposition are united by the suspicion that the promised military assistance might only be a ruse. In their eyes, the pledge is meant to put pressure on Moscow in the run-up to the international peace conference postponed until July in the hope that it will prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon Assad.
The conference, co-initiated by Washington and Moscow, is supposed to take place in Geneva. In the best-case scenario, representatives of the Assad regime and the rebels could negotiate over a cease-fire there. This makes it crucial for each side to get the best position before going into the talks: Whoever has the upper hand militarily can make the most demands.
This situation is corroborated by a secret report submitted last week to Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND. The report says that Saudi Arabia allegedly intends to outfit the rebels with so-called "man-portable air-defense systems" (MANPADS), which are shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, such as the French "Mistral" weapon. Similar weapons already helped the mujahedeen triumph against Soviet forces during the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
'If We Are Patient'
Likewise, some rebel troops have already been able to get their hands on at least a few anti-tank missiles -- with or without Western assistance. For example, the FSA's "Unity Brigade" received a shipment of these weapons last week in Ma'arrat al-Artiq. Lying in the corner of a mined skeleton of a building is an empty missile casing bearing the label "9M133-1." This identifies the missile as a Kornet, a relatively modern laser-guided anti-tank missile manufactured in Russia that has a range of 5.5 kilometers. "We destroyed a tank with that yesterday," says the rebel Abu Aiman. He and his comrades proudly show mobile-phone videos of exploding government tanks.
Not far away, in Maarrat al-Numaan, a prominent imam from the ranks of the opposition named Said Salam delivered the sermon last Friday
While discussing the announcement from Washington, he mixed in history from the Koran: "Muhammad triumphed because he relied on himself. Moses triumphed against the pharaoh because he relied on himself. We will triumph if we rely on ourselves -- and if we are patient."
Translated from the German by Josh Ward
Syria: Pig Putin backs Assad and berates west over proposal to arm rebels
Russian president says backing 'those who kill their enemies and eat their organs' flouts Europe's humanitarian values
Patrick Wintour in Enniskillen
The Guardian, Monday 17 June 2013
A diplomatic breakthrough on the Syrian civil war at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland appeared unlikely when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, chastised the west for considering arming Syrian rebels, saying they ate human organs. He said Russia by contrast was arming the legitimate government of Syria.
Speaking after a difficult meeting with Putin in Downing Street, David Cameron claimed both men were in agreement on the need to end the human catastrophe of the civil war. But there was little to suggest the two men made progress on how to convene a fresh Syrian peace conference in Geneva, let alone who should attend, or its agenda.
In icy exchanges at a press conference, Putin said: "You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years."
Putin's remarks will find an echo on the Conservative benches, where there is strong resistance to arming the Syrian opposition. Cameron has argued that it is possible to arm the pluralist democratic elements of the opposition, and he too wants to drive al-Qaida from Syria.
The talks Putin followed a decision by President Barack Obama's administration to arm rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad after the US said it had obtained proof that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. Some of the proof was provided by British scientists at Porton Down, and Cameron has now accused Assad of committing war crimes.
Cameron admitted the Russians and the UK held different points of view, but said the two countries would put aside their differences and focus on the "common ground" – organising peace talks between the parties in Geneva. Putin said he fully shared Cameron's view that the civil war could be ended "only by political and diplomatic means".
Cameron added: "We both see the humanitarian catastrophe. We both see the dangers of instability and extremism. We both want to see a peace process and a transition. The challenge for the G8 … is to put aside some of these differences."
The Russian leader, who arrived an hour late for the talks, said he wanted to help broker a peace deal for Syria, and he hoped the G8 summit in Northern Ireland could advance that process. Putin insisted his government was "not breaching any rules" in supplying weapons to Bashar al-Assad's "legitimate government" and called on partner G8 countries to respect the same rules.
"What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them, and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them," said Cameron.
In a sign of deteriorating relations among the G8, the Canadian prime minister, Steve Harper, claimed Putin was backing Assad's "thugs".
"I don't think we should fool ourselves," he said. "This is G7 plus one. We in the west have a very different perspective on this situation. Mr Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons that I do not think are justifiable, and Mr Putin knows my view on that."
Cameron's argument that it was possible to keep arms supplies out of the hands of extremist elements of the rebels was flatly contradicted by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who warned that there would be no way to prevent weapons ending up in the hands of "al-Qaida-affliated thugs".
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson said some elements of the rebels were fighting "not for freedom but for a terrifying Islamic state in which they would have the whip hand – and yet there is no dodging or fudging the matter: these are among the Syrian rebels who are hoping now to benefit from the flow of Western arms".
Cameron was also under pressure from his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats to avoid dragging Britain into a military conflict. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, implied that the case for intervention was less clear cut than in Libya or Iraq.
The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, said MPs of all parties were feeling unease. "For months Labour has called on the government to answer basic questions about their approach, such as how the prime minister would ensure that weapons supplied did not fall into the wrong hands, and how this step would help to de-escalate the conflict rather than prolong it.
"The G8 is a key window of opportunity for David Cameron to exert pressure on President Putin and it is vital that he uses the coming hours to do so."
Tory MP Julian Lewis said it would be "suicidal" for Britain to hand arms to an opposition the government admits includes extremist elements.
He told the BBC's Radio 4: "The reason it would be suicidal would be that in taking over Syria they would also inherit Syria's arsenal of weapons, including in particular the nerve gas which is the centre of so much attention.
"In the past we have gone to war because we feared that weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of al-Qaida and it would be absolutely crazy to assist al-Qaida to get their hands on the very sorts of weapons we must keep away from them at all costs.
"I have little doubt the prime minister would struggle to get this achieved by parliament, because so many think it is not in Britain's national interest."
June 16, 2013
Greek Leaders to Meet in Effort to Save Government
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — The leaders of Greece’s increasingly fragile coalition are to meet Monday in an effort to mend a deepening rift over the closing of the country’s state broadcaster that could force early elections if no compromise is found.
The surprise decision last week by the conservative prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to close the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, was vehemently opposed by his two coalition partners and by labor unions, and was unpopular with many Greeks. Speculation has been rife that the dispute could fracture the coalition.
The dispute intensified over the weekend when Mr. Samaras gave a speech defending his decision to close ERT — which he called "sinful" because of its spending — and to crack down on "the privileged" as part of a cost-cutting drive demanded by Greece’s international creditors.
It was a year ago that Greeks went to the polls amid political upheaval and the specter of a messy debt default that shook the countries that use the euro. The elections were inconclusive, leading to the cobbling together of the governing coalition. Mr. Samaras is supposed to serve a four-year term, but few expect it to last that long.
“Some believe that they will trap us in an election dilemma,” Mr. Samaras said Sunday, speaking to members of his New Democracy party in the southern town of Nafplio. “The dilemma is not over who will provoke elections, because nobody wants them. The dilemma is who will be responsible for blocking reforms.”
The socialist party known as Pasok, the second member of the coalition, condemned the prime minister for his “precocious pre-election tone.”
“This is not the appropriate way to address his government partners,” Pasok said in a statement, adding that a three-way coalition “can only operate on the basis of mutual respect.” The smallest partner, the Democratic Left, sounded a similar note. “If in actions and in words — as in today’s incendiary speech by Mr. Samaras — the government partners are sidestepped, then the government’s cohesion is at risk,” the party said in a statement.
Early elections would derail economic reforms and would almost certainly lead foreign rescue loans to be frozen. With so much at stake, most political analysts say, the coalition’s leaders are under great pressure to thrash out a compromise.
Although the junior coalition partners have insisted that they do not want early elections — and it would be a huge gamble for Mr. Samaras to call them himself — there are doubts about whether the socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of the Democratic Left will be able to muster the political will to keep the government running and settle their differences with Mr. Samaras over the closing of ERT.
The prime minister also faces the opposition of unions representing about 650,000 civil servants who have been relatively untouched by the deepening recession, which has crippled the private sector as a succession of Greek governments have avoided politically contentious layoffs among public employees.
The possibility of early elections dominated the front pages of Greek newspapers on Sunday that went to press after several news media organizations decided to break a rolling strike that was called by the Greek journalists’ union in solidarity with the dismissed ERT employees. An open-ended strike by television station workers continued Sunday.
Some Greek blogs and Web sites interpreted the debate as political theater, aimed at getting Greeks to accept the closing of ERT as a far better alternative than early elections.
Two opinion polls published over the weekend suggested that up to 65 percent of Greeks disagreed with the sudden closing of ERT — although it is widely condemned as wasteful and overstaffed — with the remainder of those polled supporting the shutdown. Mr. Samaras has pledged to replace ERT with a leaner operation this summer.
Polls also indicated that 6 out of 10 Greeks do not want early elections. And there remained a chance that the deadlock would be solved, at least temporarily, by the Greek judiciary. A top court weighing an appeal by more than 2,600 ERT employees against the shutdown is expected to rule on Tuesday, Greek news media reported.
A decision in favor of the workers, who have been producing underground news broadcasts via satellite streams since ERT was pulled off the air on Tuesday night, could lead to the broadcaster’s signal being restored temporarily until the decision is reviewed in a hearing scheduled for September.
More significantly, such a ruling would relieve the government of the challenge of seeking a difficult compromise on ERT, allowing the coalition government to remain intact, at least for now.
The main leftist opposition party, Syriza, said Sunday that ERT’s closing had put the government in jeopardy. “The prime minister is trying, with threats and lies, to justify the culmination of his despotic policies, the closure of the state broadcaster,” the party’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, said. “He knows, though, that he is isolated.”
June 17, 2013
Obama Tells the Youth of Belfast That They Are Inheritors of Peace
By JACKIE CALMES
BELFAST, Northern Ireland — President Obama on Monday opened a three-day diplomatic trip to Northern Ireland and Germany not with other world leaders but with young residents of this once strife-torn city, urging them to build on the peace that America helped broker 15 years ago.
“For you are the first generation in this land to inherit more than just the bitter prejudices of the past. You are the inheritors of a just and hard-earned peace,” Mr. Obama told more than 2,000 people, many of them teenagers in school uniforms who stood for hours in a chilly morning drizzle to get through security checkpoints into the Waterfront Hall convention center.
“There was a time people couldn’t have imagined Northern Ireland hosting a gathering of world leaders, as you are today,” he added.
After the address, Mr. Obama planned to head to the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, for the start of the annual meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations. There, talk of the war in Syria was expected to dominate the economic and security agenda. There will also be a separate meeting on Monday between Mr. Obama and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which, unlike other Group of 8 nations, backs the Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Obama’s first stop after arriving with his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, was Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.
Most of those in his audience were young children when the Good Friday Agreement was signed here in April 1998 and approved by voters the following month. The deal brought an uneasy peace after years of armed conflict between Protestants, who wanted to maintain Northern Ireland’s union with Britain, and Catholics, who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland to the south.
Mr. Obama acknowledged there are still “wounds that haven’t healed, and communities where tensions and mistrust hangs in the air.” But mostly he hailed the normalcy in Belfast and the economic growth, despite Europe’s recent hard times, that was evident in the new high rises and developments visible from the glass-walled convention center.
“These daily moments of life in a bustling city and a changing country, they may seem ordinary to many of you — that's what makes it so extraordinary,” he told them. “For that's what your parents and grandparents dreamt for all of you — to travel without the burden of checkpoints or roadblocks or seeing soldiers on patrol. To enjoy a sunny day free from the ever-present awareness that violence could blacken it at any moment. To befriend or fall in love with whomever you want.”
He urged them to appreciate how much things have changed “because for years, few conflicts in the world seemed more intractable than the one here in Northern Ireland. And when peace was achieved here, it gave the entire world hope. The world rejoiced in your achievement — especially in America.” The island’s example, he added, is a “blueprint” for the world’s other regions of conflict.
With his own domestic politics in mind, Mr. Obama praised Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant leaders, a number of whom packed a balcony, for their power sharing — “as someone who knows firsthand how politics can encourage division and discourage cooperation.” But, he told his young listeners, it is average citizens who ensure the peace.
“Whether you are a good neighbor to someone from the other side of past battles — that’s up to you. Whether you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve — that’s up to you. Whether you let your kids play with kids who attend a different church — that’s your decision,” he said. “The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders, but the fate of peace is up to each of us.”
He added that “the United States of America will support you every step of the way.”