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« Reply #7140 on: Jun 26, 2013, 05:36 AM »

Pig Putin: NSA whistleblower Snowden is in Moscow airport

Russian president brings end to mystery over whistleblower's whereabouts after days of confusion

Miriam Elder in Moscow and Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
he Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013   

Link to video: Pig Putin says Edward Snowden will not be extradited from Russia to America

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has revealed that the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden is indeed in a Moscow airport, ending a global guessing game over the US fugitive's whereabouts.

The admission reversed days of Russian obfuscation and came just hours after Putin's foreign minister said Russia had nothing to do with Snowden's travel plans.

Putin said Snowden remained in Sheremetyevo airport's transit area and vowed that Moscow would not extradite the whistleblower to the US. He also insisted that Russia's security services had no contact with Snowden, a claim greeted with suspicion.

"Mr Snowden really did fly into Moscow," he said on an official visit to Finland on Tuesday. "For us it was completely unexpected," he claimed.

The White House responded on Tuesday by saying Russia had a "clear legal basis" to expel Snowden, which National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said was the status of his travel documents – the US has revoked his passport – and the pending espionage charges against him.

"Accordingly, we are asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr. Snowden without delay and to build upon the strong law enforcement cooperation we have had, particularly since the Boston Marathon bombing," she said.

Snowden fled Hong Kong on Sunday morning to travel via Moscow to an undisclosed third country, according to WikiLeaks, which said it helped his travel. He has requested political asylum from Ecuador.

Putin said Snowden remained in Sheremetyevo's transit hall, although the high-profile whistleblower has not been spotted once by the dozens of journalists in the airport since Sunday. The airport has also hosted a heightened security service presence since Sunday afternoon.

Putin said Russia's security services "did not work and are not working" with Snowden, who fled the United States before leaking documents on secret US surveillance programmes. The US has charged him under the Espionage Act.

He defended Russia's actions and said Snowden, possibly carrying untold numbers of government secrets, was treated like any other passenger. Yet passengers at Sheremetyevo usually have 24 hours to pass through the international transit zone.

"He arrived as a transit passenger – he didn't need a visa, or other documents," Putin said. The statement appeared to back comments made earlier Sundaypreviously by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who insisted that Snowden "did not cross the Russian border" but did not comment on whether he was at the airport.

The US has urged Moscow to hand Snowden over. Speaking in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said: "I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness. We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is a fugitive from justice."
Link to video: John Kerry urges Russian "friends" to hand over Edward Snowden

Putin lashed out at US accusations that the Kremlin was harbouring a fugitive. "Any accusations against Russia are nonsense and rubbish," Putin said.

He also appeared to throw his support behind Snowden, as well as the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London.

"Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information," he said. "Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?

"In any case, I'd rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it's like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool."

After leaking documents that exposed the breadth of the US surveillance state, Snowden has come under fire for seeking shelter in China and Russia, both accused of clamping down on civil liberties.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Lavrov insisted Russia did not help Snowden travel: "I would like to say right away that we have no relation to either Mr Snowden or to his relationship with American justice or to his movements around the world.

"He chose his route on his own, and we found out about it, as most here did, from mass media," said Lavrov.

"We consider the attempts we are now seeing to blame the Russian side for breaking US laws and being almost in on the plot totally baseless and unacceptable, and even an attempt to threaten us," he said.

China's top state newspaper had earlier praised Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask" and rejected accusations that Beijing had facilitated his departure from Hong Kong.

The strongly worded front-page piece in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist party, responded to harsh criticism of China from the US for allowing Snowden to flee.

The Chinese government has said it is gravely concerned by Snowden's allegations that the US has hacked into many networks in Hong Kong and China, including Tsinghua University, which hosts one of the country's internet hubs, and Chinese mobile network companies. It said it had taken the issue up with Washington.

"Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong special administrative region for handling things in accordance with law," wrote Wang Xinjun, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science in the People's Daily commentary.

"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks," the People's Daily said.

The White House said allowing Snowden to leave was "a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship".

The People's Daily, which reflects government thinking of the government, said: China could not accept "this kind of dissatisfaction and opposition".

"The world will remember Edward Snowden," it said. "It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask."

The exchanges mark a deterioration in ties between the two countries just weeks after a successful summit meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. But experts say Washington is unlikely to resort to any punitive action.

A commentary in the Global Times, owned by the People's Daily, also attacked the US for cornering "a young idealist who has exposed the sinister scandals of the US government".

"Instead of apologising, Washington is showing off its muscle by attempting to control the whole situation," the Global Times said.


June 25, 2013

With Snowden in Middle, U.S. and Russia Joust, and Cool Off


MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Tuesday appeared to rule out sending Edward J. Snowden back to the United States to face espionage charges, leaving him in limbo even as Moscow and Washington seemed to be making an effort to prevent a cold-war-style standoff from escalating.

In his first public comments on the case, Mr. Putin said that Mr. Snowden — the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents about American surveillance programs — had committed no crime on Russian soil and was “a free man” who could choose his own destination. “We can only extradite some foreign nationals to the countries with which we have the relevant international agreements on extradition,” he added. “With the United States, we have no such agreement.”

But while American officials remained angry at China for letting Mr. Snowden fly to Moscow, they and their Russian counterparts toned down the red-hot language that threatened a deeper rupture in relations. Mr. Putin said he saw little to gain in the conflict. “It’s like shearing a piglet,” he said. “There’s a lot of squealing and very little wool.” Some American officials interpreted the comment as a positive signal and speculated that Mr. Snowden would be sent to another country that could turn him over.

Yet the Russian president’s remarks during an official visit to Finland also underscored what may be the lasting damage the case has caused for American relations with both Moscow and Beijing. In noting that Mr. Snowden viewed himself as a “human rights activist” who “struggles for freedom of information,” Mr. Putin made clear that it would be harder for President Obama to claim the moral high ground when he presses foreign leaders to stop repressing dissenters and halt cyberattacks.

In the days since Mr. Snowden fled Hong Kong for Moscow, the Russians and the Chinese have seized both on his revelations about surveillance and the fact that the United States is seeking his arrest to make the case for a you-do-it-too argument. Igor Morozov, a Russian lawmaker, wrote that the case exposed an American “policy of double standards.” Xinhua, the state-owned Chinese news agency, editorialized that “the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyberattacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”

American officials said such arguments were false equivalences, saying that there was no comparison between Congressionally sanctioned and court-monitored surveillance programs, or the prosecution of Mr. Snowden, and the actions taken by the governments in Moscow and Beijing. But it is an argument that Washington may find difficult to sell in some parts of the world, even among some American allies, and it is fueling criticism inside the United States.

“The Russians for the better part of a decade have always tried to argue that the U.S. has double standards,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to President Bill Clinton and now vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “In the Russian domestic context and international context they never get tired of looking for those kinds of axes.”

The arguments could complicate American initiatives with both countries. Chinese officials are now ramping up the critique ahead of the United States-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which starts in Washington in early July with the arrival of an array of Chinese leaders. On the top of the agenda, at Mr. Obama’s insistence, is talk about how to work out rules of the road for behavior involving computers and online.

Until lately, the United States seemed to have Beijing on the defensive, with evidence that Chinese military units were behind recent computer attacks. Then Mr. Snowden told a Hong Kong newspaper that the United States had been engaged in a vigorous hacking campaign in China.

Mr. Obama has insisted that there is a difference between common espionage and China’s behavior. “Every country in the world, large and small, engages in intelligence gathering,” he told Charlie Rose in an interview on PBS. But intelligence gathering is different from “a hacker directly connected with the Chinese government or the Chinese military breaking into Apple’s software systems to see if they can obtain the designs for the latest Apple product,” he said.

“That’s theft,” the president added, “and we can’t tolerate that.”

China does not acknowledge the theft, or buy Mr. Obama’s argument. “The timing couldn’t be worse for Obama,” one senior Asian diplomat said. “I know he draws distinctions between stealing intellectual property and spying, but for most people that difference is not significant.”

The timing is also bad with Russia, which Mr. Obama is depending on to help resolve the war in Syria. When Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia on Monday as a repressive country, he personally offended Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov lashed out at the United States, saying, “There are no legal grounds for this kind of behavior from American officials toward us.”

Within hours, though, the two sides appeared to pull back. Mr. Kerry told reporters traveling with him in Saudi Arabia that the United States was “not looking for a confrontation.” And American and Russian officials meeting in Geneva on Tuesday scheduled a session next week between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov to discuss Syria.

Mr. Putin, who is scheduled to host Mr. Obama in St. Petersburg and Moscow in September, said he hoped the Snowden case would “not affect in any way the businesslike character of our relations with the United States.”

But the case may be drawing Russia and China closer together, and Beijing’s action may influence Moscow’s decision. The two governments have consulted on the case, with the Chinese explaining why it allowed Mr. Snowden to leave Hong Kong even though the United States had revoked his passport and requested his arrest, said Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, a policy research group in Washington.

“These conversations clearly make it more difficult for Russia to appear weak by making a concession while Beijing stood its ground,” Mr. Simes said.

Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in a Twitter post early Wednesday that “the U.S. threats toward Russia and China over the Snowden affair will not give results, but only bring Moscow and Beijing together even more strongly. Unreasoned pressure.”

The Obama administration was relying on Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, a low-key, respected former ambassador to Russia, to negotiate with Moscow. The administration argued Tuesday that even though the United States and Russia did not have an extradition treaty, Washington had regularly sent back Russians sought by Moscow. Over the last five years, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday, the United States had returned 1,700 Russian citizens, with more than 500 of them being “criminal deportations.”

But in Moscow, Mr. Snowden was being compared to cold war dissidents. “I have never heard of any case when the United States would extradite someone’s fugitive spy,” said Vlacheslav Nikonov, a member of Parliament. “It just never happened. Why would they expect that would happen?”

As for the subject of all this attention, Mr. Snowden remained in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Mr. Putin said Russian intelligence agencies had not questioned him, although some independent analysts cast doubt on that assertion. “If I still worked there, I would talk to him,” said Aleksandr Kondaurov, a retired K.G.B. general.

Mr. Snowden, who remained out of sight for another day, has requested asylum from Ecuador. There are no direct flights from Moscow to Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, so if he were to head there, he might travel through Havana. The next flight from Moscow to Havana is Thursday.

David M. Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Peter Baker from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Roth from Moscow; David E. Sanger, Steven Lee Myers and Charlie Savage from Washington; and Michael R. Gordon from Jidda, Saudi Arabia.


June 25, 2013

China Brushes Aside U.S. Warnings on Snowden


BEIJING — China brushed aside on Tuesday the Obama administration’s warning that allowing Edward J. Snowden, the former national security contractor, to flee Hong Kong would have negative consequences, and said that the relationship between the United States and China should continue unimpeded.

On Monday, the White House effectively put responsibility for Mr. Snowden’s departure on Beijing, not on the Hong Kong authorities.

At a Foreign Ministry briefing Tuesday, a government spokeswoman called the warning by the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry “groundless.” The administration’s comments “really make people wonder,” said the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

China expected an important annual meeting between the United States and China, known as the Security and Economic Dialogue, to proceed as scheduled for July in Washington, Ms. Hua said.

She reiterated official Chinese criticism of the Obama administration for public statements that have accused China of cyberattacks against American interests. “I’d like to advise these people to hold up a mirror, reflect and take care of their own situation first,” she said.

Russian officials confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Snowden was inside the Moscow airport after landing there from Hong Kong on Sunday.

In Beijing, people with knowledge of how China handled Mr. Snowden’s exit from Hong Kong were claiming a tactical victory for China, saying that the government had acted in China’s best interests, and in the long-term interests of its relationship with the United States.

“What did the United States expect China to do? Hand him over? That would be very stupid,” said Sun Zhe, director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations at Tsinghua University. “This was the best China could do.”

According to a Chinese journalist who often talks with Hong Kong government and mainland Chinese officials in Hong Kong, the Chinese authorities organized an ad hoc group, led by Yang Jiechi, a former foreign minister and now a state councilor, to handle the Snowden matter. The group answered to President Xi Jinping, the journalist said.

The Chinese mainland authorities decided to keep a distance from Mr. Snowden personally to ensure that if Mr. Snowden eventually ended up in American hands he would not be able to disclose what Chinese officials said to him, the journalist said.

Beijing determined early on that Mr. Snowden would have to leave Hong Kong, and should not be allowed to stay to go through a protracted legal battle in the Hong Kong courts to resist the United States extradition demand, the journalist said. “That would have lasted years, and then the United States would also wonder what he was telling China,” the journalist said. “What would the United States prefer?”

The Hong Kong government also hit back at American criticisms, saying that the United States had received ample warning that its request for Mr. Snowden’s detention was incomplete.

Rimsky Yuen, the secretary for justice, said that the Hong Kong government mentioned that it had concerns about the request before Friday. He disputed the White House’s characterization of Hong Kong as having done little with the American request before letting Mr. Snowden go to the airport on Sunday morning and leave the territory on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

The United States concentrated its diplomatic efforts on the Hong Kong authorities, not Beijing, two Chinese who monitored the process said. The request for Mr. Snowden’s extradition was made to Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the United States.

Hong Kong said that the request did not fully meet its legal requirements, and after that China gave the green light for Mr. Snowden to fly to Moscow. The Chinese government decided that he had to leave before Washington made a request that might be acceptable to the Hong Kong courts, the journalist said.

An editorial published Tuesday by the state-run Xinhua news agency said the Snowden case “might not be a completely bad thing after all.”

“Beijing and Washington can actually use the case to facilitate ongoing efforts to deal with the issue” of cybersecurity, it said. “The two sides can sit down and talk through their mutual suspicions.”

The Chinese state-controlled news media continued Tuesday to roll out a barrage of praise for Mr. Snowden.

“The world will remember Edward Snowden,” said People’s Daily, the chief mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. “It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington’s sanctimonious image.”

Jane Perlez reported from Beijing, and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong.


June 25, 2013

Ecuador Risks Trade Problems With U.S. if It Grants Asylum to Snowden


QUITO, Ecuador — President Rafael Correa of Ecuador has more than just the ire of United States to consider as he weighs an asylum request from Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive intelligence contractor trying to dodge American authorities.

Mr. Correa has some tangible factors to think about as well — namely Ecuadorean exports like fresh-cut roses and frozen broccoli.

In recent months, Mr. Correa’s government has been in Washington, lobbying to retain preferential treatment for some key Ecuadorean products. But that favored status, which means keeping thousands of jobs in Ecuador and cheaper goods for American consumers, could be among the first casualties if Mr. Correa grants asylum to Mr. Snowden.

While the downside for Ecuadorean rose growers, artichoke canners and tuna fishermen (whose products also get preferential treatment) is clear, the material benefits of granting asylum to Mr. Snowden are far less so. The decision could ultimately rest on the combative personality of Mr. Correa and his regional ambitions.

“The risks are enormous,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. Referring to Mr. Correa, he said, “It would bring the United States down very hard on him.”

Mr. Correa, fresh off a landslide re-election victory, glories in a fight. He relishes tweaking the United States and may aspire to take on the mantle of leader of the Latin American left that was once worn by Hugo Chávez, the loudly anti-imperialist president of Venezuela, who died in March.

“Rhetorically, he aspires to be a leader, and this may be a situation that’s hard for him to resist just given his nature and his temperament,” Mr. Shifter said.

Relations with the United States have been rocky almost since Mr. Correa first took office in 2007. He stopped American antidrug flights from an Ecuadorean military base. In 2011, he kicked out the American ambassador, angered by a diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks that suggested he was aware of police corruption and looked the other way.

Last year, he gave asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, on the grounds that he risked persecution and possibly the death penalty if he were to be charged in the United States for revealing secret State Department cables and other materials.

The two countries exchanged ambassadors again last year, but things have not always gone smoothly for the new American envoy, Adam E. Namm.

Last month, Mr. Correa, who has warred continually with the news media in his country, reacted angrily after Mr. Namm attended an event in favor of freedom of expression that was organized by the National Journalists Union. Mr. Correa called Mr. Namm a meddler and warned him to behave. The foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said darkly that the next time he might get more than just a warning.

The last sustained high-level contact between the two countries may have come in 2010, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Ecuador. During that visit, Mr. Correa told her, “We’re not anti-American; we love America,” and he described his years as a student at the University of Illinois as the happiest of his life.

But Mrs. Clinton pressed him on his government’s crackdown on the news media, and when an Ecuadorean journalist challenged him about his policies at a news conference, the president rebuked him while Mrs. Clinton watched stone-faced.

The most likely casualty of sheltering Mr. Snowden would be the trade preferences, which have been in place since the early 1990s. Originally designed for several Andean nations, Ecuador is the last remaining recipient. But the preferences, which applied to about $429 million in non-oil exports last year, expire at the end of July unless they are renewed by Congress.

That renewal was already in doubt, not least of all, officials said, because the oil giant Chevron has been lobbying hard against Ecuador. The campaign is part of Chevron’s response to an $18 billion penalty against the company ordered by an Ecuadorean court in a case over environmental damages related to oil drilling in the Amazon.

But Ecuador has begun its own campaign to keep the preferences, including a Web site called Keep Trade Going, that urges Americans to contact their legislators to ask them to vote in favor of the pact.

At the same time, Ecuador has staked out a fallback position, petitioning to include roses, frozen broccoli and canned artichokes in a separate trade program, the Generalized System of Preferences. That decision is controlled by the White House, so Ecuador is essentially asking President Obama’s help in getting around opposition in Congress.

Mr. Obama must decide by Monday whether he will include those items — a move that becomes increasingly thorny as the standoff over Mr. Snowden continues.

The question remains how heavily Mr. Correa will weigh such economic considerations.

“It is something that will adversely affect the Ecuadorean economy,” said Dan Restrepo, an adviser to Mr. Obama on Latin American policy until last year. “But I don’t know whether it’s enough to stop him.”

Analysts said that if Mr. Correa gives asylum to Mr. Snowden the United States could also try to isolate Ecuador politically, asking allies in the region to step up pressure on issues like press freedom. The same weekend that Mr. Snowden’s asylum request was made public, Mr. Correa signed a new media law that critics say would quash much critical coverage of the government.

But Orlando Pérez, the director of El Telégrafo, a government-owned newspaper, said that granting asylum to Mr. Snowden should not provoke a confrontation with the United States. “What is at play is to guarantee human rights,” he said. “Rather than hurt Ecuador it puts it in a kind of political vanguard in Latin America.”

Many in Latin America feel that the Obama administration has not made relations in the region a priority, and the episode may become another example of Washington’s waning influence.

The standoff last year over Mr. Assange, who took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London to escape being sent to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations he sexually assaulted two women, gave Mr. Correa a chance to portray himself as the defiant leader of a tiny country standing up to a world power. Mr. Snowden’s request allows him to do the same again.

Both cases also helped Mr. Correa defend himself against charges that he is too harsh with the press, allowing him to portray himself as a champion of transparency.

Mauricio Gándara, a former ambassador to London who is critical of Mr. Correa, said the president aspired to become an admired Latin American leftist like Mr. Chávez or Fidel Castro.

“How much damage it does to Ecuador is another matter,” Mr. Gándara said. “They want to go beyond Chávez, they want to challenge the world.”

William Neuman reported from Quito, Ecuador, and Mark Landler from Washington. Maggy Ayala contributed reporting from Quito.


June 25, 2013

A Stakeout Grinds On in Airport Limbo


MOSCOW — The airport transit area here where Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American national security contractor, is believed to be planning his next move has a Burger King, a T.G.I. Friday’s and a bar called Pub, or as rendered in Russian, “Pab.” It also has a vast number of locked doors, something you might not notice without spending 17 hours looking for Mr. Snowden.

Many reporters, holding plane tickets that give them access to the area, have spent sleepless nights patrolling the long halls of the transit zone, looking for witnesses among the area’s janitors, cashiers and flight attendants.

By Tuesday, some airport staff members were getting cranky. “I know who you’re looking for,” said a receptionist at a business-class lounge called Jazz. “This is a business-class place, not a no-visa kind of place.”

At another V.I.P. hall, the receptionist answered a query about Mr. Snowden by saying, “So you can do this?” and mimicking machine-gun fire.

But a police officer, who would not give his name, found humor in the situation. As several journalists explained why they were leaving the terminal without boarding their flights, he asked: “Are you looking for someone? You won’t find him.” Asked if he had seen him, the officer said: “I see him all the time. You won’t find him, though.”

But mostly, during the predawn hours, it is quiet. Passengers stretch out on the floor, some with newspapers on their faces.

In the early hours of the stakeout, men who were apparently plainclothes security officers mingled among the journalists. And when the Havana-bound Aeroflot plane departed on Monday afternoon without Mr. Snowden on board, some bystanders looked both foreign and very curious, prompting speculation that they, too, might have been spies.

So far the search for Mr. Snowden has been thankless. Early Tuesday morning, reporters from a Russian tabloid covertly photographed a correspondent for The New York Times, wondering if she might be Sarah Harrison, the WikiLeaks adviser who is believed to be traveling with Mr. Snowden.

The policeman, who seemed to know more than anyone else, held out little hope that the stakeout would end anytime soon.

“He’s going to sit here like Assange,” he said, referring to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder currently taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, “until the situation works itself out.”

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« Last Edit: Jun 26, 2013, 07:06 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7141 on: Jun 26, 2013, 05:39 AM »

GCHQ surveillance: Germany blasts UK over mass monitoring

Minister questions legality of mass tapping of calls and internet and demands to know extent to which Germans were targeted

Alan Travis, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Nicholas Watt   
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013   

The German government has expressed the growing public anger of its citizens over Britain's mass programme of monitoring global phone and internet traffic and directly challenged UK ministers over the whole basis of GCHQ's Project Tempora surveillance operation.

The German justice minister, who has described the secret operation by Britain's eavesdropping agency as a catastrophe that sounded "like a Hollywood nightmare", warned UK ministers that free and democratic societies could not flourish when states shielded their actions in "a veil of secrecy".

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sent two letters on Tuesday to the British justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and the home secretary, Theresa May, stressing the widespread concern the disclosures have triggered in Germany and demanding to know the extent to which German citizens have been targeted.

It is the first major challenge to David Cameron's government to publicly justify its mass data-trawling operation, which was revealed in documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

In a speech in the US on Tuesday night, William Hague defended joint US-UK spying programmes, saying they were conducted within a strict legal framework and it was necessary for governments to act in secret when working to stop terrorists.

Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made clear her frustration that many of the questions raised by the disclosures made by the whistleblower have gone unanswered by the Obama administration.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, again dismissed concerns on Tuesday in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in California, saying Britain should have nothing but pride in its "indispensable" intelligence-sharing relationship with the US.

"Let us be clear about it: in both our countries intelligence work takes place within a strong legal framework. We operate under the rule of law and are accountable for it. In some countries secret intelligence work is used to control their people – in ours it only exists to protect their freedoms."

But writing in the Guardian, the former Conservative leadership contender David Davis disputes that view, saying Britain's intelligence agencies are only subject to law in theory.

He accuses GCHQ of circumventing "inconvenient laws" by handing over personal data to the US and raises the prospect of "extremely serious violation" of the rights of British citizens over the use of their personal data. The German justice minister, in her letters to Grayling and May, asks for clarification of the legal basis for Project Tempora and demands to know whether "concrete suspicions" trigger the data collection or whether the vast quantities of global email, Facebook postings, internet histories and phone calls are being held for up to 30 days as part of a general trawl.

She also demands to know whether the programme has been authorised by any judicial authority, how it works in practice and the precise nature of the stored data. The level of concern was reinforced by a phone call from the justice ministry to Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the Department of Justice in London.

"I feel that these issues must be raised in a European Union context at minister's level and should be discussed in the context of ongoing discussions on the EU data protection regulation," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger writes, adding she wants it discussed at the next meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in July.

Britain is almost single-handedly blocking Europe's attempts to increase privacy protection for personal data in a new regime. The Home Office said it would not comment on "private correspondence", while the Ministry of Justice said only that it would respond to the letter in due course.

The Guardian's disclosure of GCHQ's secret decision to use more than 200 probes to tap into the transatlantic cables to monitor and store up to 30 days of the world's telephone and global traffic has sparked outrage in Germany and other European countries.

The leading German social democrat, Thomas Oppermann, has said the details of Project Tempora make it sound as if George Orwell's surveillance society has become a reality in Britain.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's letters – sent to Grayling and May on the 110th anniversary of Orwell's birth on 25 June 1903 – are the most forceful expression yet of the German government's frustration and anger over the surveillance scandal. The German media has been filled in recent days with pundits and readers asking to what extent they have been spied upon and whether their government knew about the surveillance.

The Snowden revelations have drawn wide-scale comparisons in the last fortnight with Gestapo and Stasi techniques. "I thought this era had ended when the German Democratic Republic fell," Markus Ferber, a member of the European parliament, said in a Reuters interview.

On Tuesday night the British inventor of the internet accused the west of hypocrisy over online snooping.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the Times: "In the Middle East, people have been given access to the internet but they have been snooped on and then they have been jailed.

"Obviously, it can be easy for people in the west to say, 'oh, those nasty governments should not be allowed access to spy'. But it's clear that developed nations are seriously spying on the internet."

Konstantin von Notz, the interior affairs spokesman of the opposition Green party, told Deutsche Welle radio: "What's been going on here is against international law and must be stopped immediately." His party has scheduled a Bundestag debate on the topic. On Tuesday, Snowden's location was clarified by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who disclosed that the whistleblower was at a Moscow airport. The admission reversed days of Russian obfuscation and came hours after Putin's foreign minister said Russia had nothing to do with Snowden's travel plans.


06/25/2013 02:56 PM

World from Berlin: 'Do Costs of Hunting Terrorists Exceed Benefits?'

Revelations that Britain has been expansively spying on German and European data has deepened a public debate over mass privacy violations. German editorialists argue that London and Washington have some explaining to do.

In Germany, a country with a long, troubled history of state surveillance, the revelation that British and American intelligence agencies have been spying en masse on European data communications has not gone over easily.

Last Friday, London's Guardian newspaper published the contents of leaked documents confirming that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the American National Security Agency (NSA) have been tapping directly into fiber-optic cables to collect vast stores of information that they can then access as needed. Among these cables was the TAT-14, which carries a large share of data communication in and out of Germany, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and public radio station NDR reported on Tuesday after viewing documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to media reports, neither the German government nor the country's foreign intelligence service, the BND, was apparently aware of the British surveillance operation, dubbed "Tempora," which was reportedly made possible with the cooperation of two telecommunications companies: Vodafone and British telecoms giant BT. Vodafone released a statement saying it abides by the laws of the countries in which it operates, but it declined to give further information, citing "national security." BT has refused to comment.

The ongoing surveillance controversy, which began last month following the disclosure of the NSA's Prism program, has been a heated topic in Germany, where the massive state surveillance of Communist East Germany is still present in the memories of many citizens.

The disclosures have spurred public debate about data protection, terrorism and changing notions of privacy in the Internet era. Concerns over the revelations about the NSA's activities threatened to overshadow US President Obama's visit to Berlin last week. And Snowden, the former NSA contractor who is now wanted by the American government on charges of espionage, is viewed almost uniformly here as a hero.

On Tuesday, German commentators reacted to the newest disclosures about the extent of surveillance on German communications. While some acknowledged the need for a degree of secrecy and surveillance, most insisted that the American and British intelligence agencies had overstepped their boundaries and were infringing on the civil liberties of German citizens.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Those in power -- not just for moral and ethical reasons, but also for reasons of efficiency -- must step in and do that which they find most difficult: They must exercise moderation and self-discipline. Since Sept. 11, 2001, standards have vanished in the US even as they have been strengthened elsewhere, such as in Germany. ... Such standards have to be reintroduced first and foremost via strict laws that are strong enough to win back trust, but also through parliamentary and public control and a reasonable analysis of costs and benefits."

"What may the state do and where does it need to control itself? And to what extent is it justifiable and democratically legitimate to ask citizens to abandon digital self-determination? The technical possibilities reach much further than do our moral capabilities."

Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The hero in this drama is undoubtedly Edward Snowden, this eloquent 30-year-old who is obviously equipped with a fine moral compass, as he has risked his entire future to uncover the activities of these intelligence agencies. ... The scale of the revelation is to some extent still unclear. First, there is the shocking invasion into the private spheres of billions of people and the abuse of the civil rights of large swaths of the global population. ... But the question remains under what rules a world is functioning, if every communication can be quite legally monitored on the basis of stricter terrorism laws."

Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The citizens of a democratic state must have confidence that certain agreed to rules are also adhered to. These days, 'data protection' is treated more like a bureaucratic chore, and not something that pertains to human dignity. But there is also an internationally guaranteed right to privacy and to the protection of the core area of our private lives against arbitrary interference by the state. ... This applies in particular to Continental Europe and especially Germany, which has had extensive experience with totalitarian regimes and where the East German Stasi on any given day opened more than 100,000 letters and packages."

"The German government has done well to begin by asking for an explanation from the involved parties, which now includes the British, who are, after all, bound by European law. It would certainly be naïve to expect complete openness. And the fact, pointed out by Obama, that attacks have been thwarted by the surveillance programs, even here in Germany, is certainly in some cases a good justification. But when the fundamental rights of German and European citizens are being comprehensively infringed on, it is a matter of course to ask that certain standards be adhered to."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"US politicians are furious. They say that the revelations damage their country. And that is true. Just not quite in the way they claim. The conduct of their secret service agencies hurts the US much more than does Snowden. The surveillance regime destroys that which is referred to as America's 'soft power:' the magnetism of the ideals that the country embodies. America's superpower status is not based solely on its military might and the power of economic sanctions. Rather, it is also based on the allure of freedom and civil rights."

"The Bush era left behind deep cracks in this pillar of power. Obama wanted to repair the damage, but his efforts are rendered moot by the data siphoning system. Instead of expending so much energy on trying to drag Snowden into a court of law, America should focus on this simple question: Do the costs of the way it hunts terrorists exceed the benefits?"

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Sept. 11, 2001, deeply changed the United States. The fear of new terrorist acts still haunts most people and virtually all of those responsible in Washington. In their view, the NSA's boundless spying is necessary. The people are prepared to forfeit some of their beloved freedom in exchange for the feeling of greater security."

"But governments do not have the right to conceal broad lines of policy. President Obama is operating according to an odd maxim: I am doing a lot of the same things that George W. Bush did, but you can trust me because I am the one doing it. Not even Obama is deserving of that much trust."

"There are three lessons that can be drawn from the Snowden case. America, but also some of its allies, are keeping too much under surveillance, keeping too much secret and they haven't found an appropriate means for dealing with those who expose such excesses. There is something deeply wrong when a whistleblower has to rely on the goodwill of China or Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to find safe haven."



06/25/2013 03:31 PM

Islamist Raids: German Police Shoot Down Model Plane Terror Plot

German officials on Tuesday targeted two men suspected of planning to carry out terrorist attacks using remote-controlled model airplanes. The pair is thought to be influenced by radical Islam, but are not considered to be members of a terror group.

German police searched several apartments in three different states on Tuesday in conjunction with authorities in Belgium in a broad raid aimed at an alleged plot to used remote control model airplanes to carry out terrorist attacks.

The raids began at 4 a.m. local time in the German states of Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Saxony. Authorities said in a statement that the investigation is focusing on two men of Tunisian origin. They are suspected of having sought to acquire information and equipment necessary to carry out "radical Islamist explosive attacks using remote controlled airplanes," according to a statement on the website of Germany's Federal Public Prosecutors' Office.

The statement claims that no arrests were made on Tuesday morning, though pictures from the raid show a man in Baden-Wurttemberg being taken into custody. A total of nine buildings were searched, including apartments belonging to four suspected accomplices of the two Tunisians in Munich and Stuttgart. The four are thought to have "provided financing for the militant jihad," the federal prosecutors' statement reads. An additional suspect is thought to have engaged in money laundering.

GPS Programming

According to the Stuttgart public broadcaster SWR, some of the suspects are students at the University of Stuttgart, where they are taking courses in aerospace engineering. As part of those courses, they learn how to use GPS to program model airplanes to fly specific routes.

German security officials had long been aware of the possibility that extremists might attempt to mount an attack using remote controlled aircraft. Last fall, a man in the United States was sentenced to 17 years in prison for planning to fly explosives into the Pentagon and the US Capitol using remote controlled aircraft.

Some 90 officers took part in the Tuesday raids, which ended before lunchtime. The nature of the evidence confiscated in the raids was initially unclear. Officials said that the suspects are not thought to be members of a terrorist organization.

In a separate raid, French police took six people into custody near Paris on suspicion of preparing terrorist attacks on Monday. They are thought to be members of a radical Islamist terror cell and are being questioned on Tuesday. The two cases are not thought to be related.

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06/25/2013 04:06 PM

Turkish Power Struggle: Brotherly Love Begins to Fray in Ankara

By Maximilian Popp in Istanbul

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gül have long been political allies. But ongoing protests in the country have caused their relationship to fray and the ensuing power struggle could spell the end of the AKP.

The two men came from different backgrounds, but shared a belief in Allah and a common goal: power. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gül, now respectively prime minister and president of Turkey, have worked together since the 1990s and their alliance has helped political Islam attain more power than ever before.

The current protests in Turkey, though, are threatening to break that alliance apart. Elements of Turkish society have risen up against their government and called on Prime Minister Erdogan to resign. Yet even as protesters and police clash in the streets, another power struggle is taking place in Ankara. President Gül is increasingly seeking to distance himself from his former political ally.

Erdogan and Gül are different in both background and character. Erdogan worked hard to get where he is today. As a child, he sold sesame rings in Istanbul's port neighborhood of Kasmpasa. He was also an avid soccer player, earning himself the nickname "Imam Beckenbauer." Although he managed to attend university and later became Istanbul's mayor, Erdogan was never able to conceal his simpler origins -- nor did he want to. He is moody, temperamental and unrestrained, qualities that may well be his undoing in the current crisis.

Gül, on the other hand, comes across as being diplomatic and moderate. Unlike Erdogan, he speaks English. Gül's parents were relatively well-to-do, sending their son to study economics in Istanbul and London. Gül worked as a manager for an Islamic bank in Saudi Arabia before being elected to Turkish parliament in the 1990s as part of the Islamist Refah movement.

At the time, the country was run by the military, a legacy from the days of Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. The country was secular, militaristic and authoritarian. At the time, Gül promised: "The secular system has failed. We want to change it definitively."

Erdogan, too, was involved in the Refah movement. He and Gül had little in common on a personal level, but were aware they would only succeed in their power struggle against the secular establishment if they worked together.

Showdown with the Military

First, they seized control within their own camp by pushing out aged Refah leader Necmettin Erbakan, who was briefly Turkey's prime minister from 1996 to 1997, before the military, disapproving of his Islamist bent, forced him out of office and banned his party. Erdogan and Gül were among the founders of its moderate Islamic successor party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which achieved a surprise victory in the following year's parliamentary elections.

At the time, Erdogan was banned from holding political office after giving an inflammatory speech and it was Gül who took charge of forming the new government. When Erdogan took over as prime minister in 2003, Gül became foreign minister. Four years later, despite massive resistance from the opposition, Gül became president.

The Gül-Erdogan alliance has weathered many crises, defying an attempt to ban the party, led by the judiciary in Ankara, and defeating the military. They have modernized the country's economy but also marginalized the opposition, sometimes using unseemly methods.

Mud-Slinging behind the Scenes

More recently, though, the two have had trouble concealing the discord between them. According to a US State Department diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks in 2010, Gül seizes every opportunity to make Erdogan look bad. Gül, the cable notes, frequently badmouths Erdogan, even in front of guests of state and especially when the prime minister is traveling abroad. Gül, the American diplomats concluded at the time, was trying to gain more power over the party by undermining Erdogan.

Never, it seems, has there been a better opportunity than now. Erdogan, although he would never admit it, has been tarnished by the Gezi Park uprising. The stubbornness with which he has reacted to the protests has alienated even some of his supporters.

Gül is now testing how far he can go with his criticism of Erdogan. He hasn't openly positioned himself against the prime minister, at least not yet. But he has made statements in support of the people's right to demonstrate. Democracy isn't limited to election day, he has said, declaring that the protesters' message had been heard.

These words may seem to lack courage in the face of the brutality with which police have for weeks been responding to the demonstrations. But for Turkey, where Erdogan has reigned unchallenged for 10 years, they represent a minor revolution.

Struggles over Influence and Government Posts

The conflict between the two AKP leaders has to do more with influence and government posts than with ideology. Both men are deeply involved in conservative Sunni Islam.

Erdogan, though, has close ties to the conservative Naksibendi order, whereas Gül is an adherent of the movement following Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. Followers of this elderly imam have established a global network of schools, banks, insurance funds and media outlets. They present themselves outwardly as modern, but pursue an uncompromisingly Islamist agenda.

And increasingly, they are calling the shots within the Turkish government. Daily newspaper Zaman, which has ties to the Gülen movement, has published increasingly open criticism of the prime minister in recent months. Erdogan has fought back determinedly, allowing no doubt to be cast on his unlimited rule.

What can the embattled prime minster do? Erdogan will surely have to give up his previous plan, which was to become president himself. At the moment, government insiders in Ankara consider it most likely that Erdogan will try to change the law that governs political parties and continue his reign as prime minister. Gül would be compensated with a further term as president.

The question is whether Gül will go along with this solution and whether the Gülen faction that backs him will accept it. If not, the movement's only choice will be to leave the AKP, which would divide the country's conservative camp and spell the beginning of the end for political Islam in Turkey.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


06/25/2013 06:31 PM

Generation Gap: Turkish Family Split Between Gezi and Old Way

By Özlem Gezer in Istanbul

The rift currently dividing Turkey also runs right through the middle of many families. SPIEGEL reporter Özlem Gezer has an uncle in Istanbul who loves Erdogan, a cousin who sleeps in the protesters' camp and parents who sit in Germany arguing over the unrest.

I'm sitting in an Ottoman corner booth in Istanbul, drinking tea. I've been listening to Sahmi for hours. "Erdogan won," he keeps saying, sometimes raising his hand for emphasis and sometimes pounding it on the table. Sahmi is a 64-year-old retiree living in Istanbul. He is also my uncle.

In recent weeks, Sahmi often prayed for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a small mosque on his street, asking God to protect him and give him strength to fend off the attackers. Erdogan has never disappointed Sahmi and, even now, my uncle sees him as a victor. Erdogan won the battle over Taksim Square, he says, and now it's time to punish those responsible. Only then, Sahmi says, will he be satisfied.

He argues that the demonstrators destroyed everything, the beautiful lawns and flowers. They lit city buses on fire and stole police cars. Even worse, says Sahmi, they insulted his prime minister and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Sahmi supports and believes is best equipped to run the country.

My uncle didn't go to see the protesters' camp in Gezi Park, even though it's less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) from his apartment. But he did hear what Erdogan had to say about the tent city, and it was enough for him: that it stank of urine, that condoms were being kept there, and that the protesters were all terrorists. Sahmi believes that dark forces, from both Turkey and abroad, were behind the protests.

Terrorists or Peaceful Protesters?

Is he talking about a different place? I spent a lot of time with the people in Gezi Park in recent weeks, talking to them for days on end. We were attacked, I inhaled tear gas, I fled from the police and I was almost arrested. And now my uncle is saying that these people are all terrorists?

Sahmi, of all people -- married to my mother's sister, my father's childhood friend, the person who took me to the zoo for the first time -- is more of a stranger to me than ever before.

I was in Berlin when the protests began in Istanbul. I sat at my computer and watched the live stream of a Norwegian broadcaster reporting from Taksim Square. There were teargas grenades flying through the air, and it looked like a battlefield. I tried to understand what was happening in this city, where I spent every summer as a child. So I called my father, who said: "It's a revolution against the Sultan, finally." My mother shouted into the telephone, saying it was provocateurs who were trying to divide the country.

Then I called my best friend Ümit in Istanbul. He had just fled from Taksim into a side street, had inhaled teargas, and the water laced with chemicals used by the police was burning his skin. He said: "There's a war going on here. And the press is asleep." I booked a flight to Istanbul.

Since then, everyone in my family has been trying to explain to me what is currently happening in Turkey.

Erdogan the Hero

My uncle says that I shouldn't let the protesters influence me. They are the "loud ones," he says, but they don't represent Turkey. The "quiet ones," he and the majority of Turks, he says, stand behind Erdogan. They are the 50 percent, the loyal voters of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). For Sahmi, there is no alternative to Erdogan. He is charismatic and good-looking, he says, and he was the one who made the country strong, both economically and on the world stage. Sahmi says that Erdogan is someone who is even prepared to tangle with the European Union, as he did a few days ago, when officials in Brussels criticized his treatment of the protesters and Erdogan said: "You'd be better off paying attention to Greece. We're not part of the EU yet. Who are you to judge us?"

My uncle likes that sort of language. It makes him proud to be alive. For him, Erdogan is the man who is developing Turkey into a superpower, building highways in Anatolia, the country's first nuclear power plant, another bridge across the Bosphorus, another airport for Istanbul and a new canal to the Sea of Marmara. Progress! Prosperity! Can't I see how the economy is booming, he asks?

And, he adds, Erdogan isn't forgetting ordinary citizens, either: support for families who care for the sick and the elderly, free schoolbooks, no more tuition at state universities, no more standing in line for hours for an X-ray, inflation under 10 percent for the first time. For my uncle, who only discovered his inner devout Muslim at 50, it is even more important that he can finally be proud of his religion. "Erdogan is a prime minister who goes to the mosque and spends time with his people," he says. For decades, the Kemalists subtly repressed religious Muslims in Turkey. Under Erdogan, says Sahmi, that's finally over, and being religious is in again. "Why don't the people in Gezi Park understand that?" he asks. I feel like I'm stuck in an endless promo loop for Erdogan.

When Erdogan was cheered by his supporters in Istanbul on the weekend before last, my uncle pushed his way through the crowds to get a glimpse of his premier. "The people there were filled with love," he says. Why didn't anyone report on the rally? Why wasn't I, his niece, there instead of constantly spending time on Taksim?

The rift that currently divides Turkey also runs straight through the middle of my family. At the moment, a bridge between the two sides doesn't seem to exist.

Generation Gezi
My cousin Murat, Sahmi's son, is studying in Eskiehir, 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Istanbul, where he has been camped out in front of a shopping center for days. At night, Murat attends protests against Erdogan, his father's hero, in front of the city's AKP headquarters. He wears a scarf to protect against teargas and a rain jacket against water cannon. With his guitar, he plays the hymn of the Çapulcular, the looters, as Erdogan called the demonstrators.

Murat is part of the Gezi generation. They grew up during Erdogan's term and are now protesting for the first time in their life. They are protesting against a premier and a party who say that homosexuals are "sick." Against a leader who punctuates his political decisions with the words "if God wills it." "And what if I don't believe in God?" says Murat. "Does that mean that Erdogan's decisions don't apply to me?" Then he says: "I already have a father. I don't need another one."

Murat was furious when he saw on television how police officers were beating protesters in Izmir. He called his father and shouted into the phone: "This is your Erdogan!" Sahmi shouted back: "Maybe they had no other choice!"

My uncle shows me a video on the Internet, in which a police officer shouts into the camera: "Stop filming us! Film the demonstrators instead." The policeman points to broken roadblocks and ripped-out bricks, and then he furiously throws his water bottle onto the ground. "What else should I do but spray tear gas. Should I fart on them?" he shouts. The police are just people, my uncle explains to me.

I encounter these young police officers every day in the hotel where I'm staying, directly on Gezi Park. Erdogan has had them flown in from all over the country. They sit on plastic chairs and drink tea, paint over the protesters' slogans on the asphalt and even on cars along the side of the road. Otherwise, they wait for their orders, posing with their tear gas weapons and taking pictures of each other with their smartphones.

Maybe it wasn't right to build barricades on Taksim and to cover banks with slogans. But does that make it right to shoot at the demonstrators with gas grenades? In the last few weeks, I've seen a young woman with blood streaming from her head being carried past me to an emergency field hospital. I've seen injured children running around screaming.

I haven't told Uncle Sahmi any of this. I sense that he doesn't want to know. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I no longer have the strength to argue.

Taksim in Hamburg

Erdogan is now having 150,000 flowers planted in Gezi Park, and new trees are being delivered. But how do a few flowers measure up against that new and beautiful Turkey I experienced in the protest camp? "Don't be sad," my father says on the telephone. "This is only the beginning. The resistance will continue."

I hadn't spoken with my parents in days. They sit in their apartment in a high-rise building in Hamburg's St. Pauli district, talking about nothing but the Gezi uprising. Germany has also been affected: My brother Özgür says that a branch of the Gezi movement has been established in a park at the St. Pauli Piers.

Then he surprises me by saying that he hadn't been all that horrified by the police violence. After all, he says, they use water cannons and tear gas here in Germany, too, such as during the protests against the Stuttgart 21 train station redevelopment project. But what he really finds shocking, he says, is how the Turkish government is treating attorneys, having them arrested merely for stating their opinions. And that they are arresting people who use Twitter, investigating doctors who helped the injured, and even investigating journalists who reported on the protests. "What kind of a country is this?" my brother asks.

I imagine what it would be like if German Chancellor Angela Merkel would stand in front of the cameras and say: "The Stuttgart 21 site stinks of piss." Or: "If God wills it, we will soon open the new airport." It would be simply absurd.

Meanwhile, my parents are arguing on the telephone. My father berates Erdogan, until my mother interrupts him, saying: "Stop. Don't you realize you are harming Turkey's image?"

My mother is from a leftist blue-collar family, and my father was a union leader with the Turkish railroad. A portrait of the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk, still hangs in our living room in Hamburg. She is torn between sympathy for the protesters and fear for her country. She is afraid that the economy could suffer and that tourists will avoid Turkey. At the same time, it bothers her that she finds herself constantly having to defend her beloved Turkey. My mother is a cleaning woman in a hospital, where the doctors ask questions daily. Have the Islamists terrorized you like that? You won't be getting into the EU anymore, they say.

My father, on the other hand, is proud of the Gezi youth, and proud of Turkey, which has finally awakened. He talks about nothing else with the passengers in his taxi and with his fellow taxi drivers.

He is looking forward to his next encounter with Uncle Sahmi, so that he can tell him personally that Erdogan, his Erdogan, has lost. He has just booked his flight. He will travel to Istanbul in late July -- to the new Turkey.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


06/26/2013 11:09 AM

Turkish Publisher Can Öz: The Rebellion of an Apolitical Man

By Maximilian Popp

For years, Can Öz followed his father's advice to steer clear of politics. But the turmoil in Turkey has pushed the leading publisher off the sidelines and into the fray, where he is becoming a key voice of a movement still taking shape.

On May 31, Turkish publisher Can Öz met with two trusted associates: the chief editor at his publishing house and the marketing manager. He wanted to tell them about a decision he had made.

Just a short walk away, on Istanbul's Taksim Square, people had been protesting for days against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Öz couldn't sleep. He was in the streets with other demonstrators when the police brought in water cannons, sprayed tear gas and beat citizens.

Nevertheless, he was euphoric. "I've been silent for a long time," he said. "That's over now." People in Turkey were protesting and demanding their rights. Öz told his colleagues that he was going to make a statement that afternoon, but they were worried. "Don't do it!" they warned, fearing that the government could exact revenge and shut down the publishing house.

Can Öz is a friend of mine. I have known him since I studied in Istanbul. He is 32, only a few years older than me, but he has been the head of Can Yayinlari, an important literary publishing house, for the last six years. He publishes works by the likes of Umberto Eco, Daniel Kehlmann and Jane Austen in Turkish translation.

In conversations with friends, he had long criticized the policies of the Erdogan government, but he had never voiced his concerns publicly out of concern for his family and his company. The Erdogan administration has had critical intellectuals and journalists arrested. Öz had stopped talking on the telephone, fearing that his conversations would be wiretapped. In recent years, he seemed increasingly distraught, eventually becoming bitter and resigned.

Breaking the Silence

The upheaval in Turkey changed all of that. Öz initially took the side of the demonstrators on Twitter, writing that they had every right to protest. Later, in an op-ed article published in the British newspaper The Guardian on June 11, he explained why he was no longer willing to put up with Erdogan's despotism: "I am not afraid to lose my business, my wealth, or even my freedom by being jailed and sentenced; but I can not bear to live a dishonourable life any more." (sic)

Öz is wearing a polo shirt and rimless glasses, and has a three-day beard. He went to school in Boston, and he speaks English and French. Prime Minister Erdogan calls demonstrators like Öz "terrorists."

A live stream from Taksim Square is running on two computers in his apartment in a historic building in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. Since he spoke out publicly about the revolt, he has received hate emails and threats, but also messages of support. He keeps gas masks and construction helmets in a closet. Friends knock on his door, their eyes tearing and their shirts soaked with perspiration. Öz gives them water and tries to calm them down.

Many of the demonstrators are Öz's age or younger. Most are taking part in protests for the first time. Their parents experienced the unrest of the 1960s and 1980s, when Kurds and communists revolted and radical groups fought each other in the streets. The military intervened, overthrew the government in 1980 and had people executed. It wasn't until two decades later that Erdogan and his conservative Muslim supporters were able to break the power of the generals.

Öz's parents also experienced the coup. His mother, Samiye, grew up in an upper-class Istanbul family. Her ancestors include a foreign minister and the founder of the Galatasaray football club. As a young woman in the 1970s, she went to Ankara, where she met Erdal Öz, a writer from Anatolia. Can's father was critical of the military regime in his writings, quoting Marx, Lenin and Sartre. In 1971, he was sent to prison, where he was tortured and mistreated. A flyer from that period still hangs on the wall in Öz's office today. His father said nothing to his family about his treatment in prison until a few years before his death in 2006. He advised his son to steer clear of politics.

Polarization and Protests

Memories of the chaos and brutality of the political conflict have been burned into Turkey's collective memory. The generation of those born after 1980 was considered apolitical. "We grew up with the sense that politics was dangerous. We believed that we couldn't change anything, anyway, and that it was best to stay out of politics altogether," says Öz. "Occupy Gezi changed that."

As he walks the short distance from his apartment to his office on a side street in Beyoglu, Öz encounters police officers in riot gear and people wearing gas masks. Helicopters circle above the city, and the smell of tear gas hangs in the air. He is meeting his mother. She owns half of the publishing house, while Can and his sister each own a quarter. Samiye Öz wants to talk to her son about the uprising. She took in two dozen demonstrators at her apartment on the previous evening.

Occupy Gezi is the birth of a new Turkish protest culture, says Öz. "It's not the same thing you experienced in the '70s, mother," he says, because hostile groups aren't fighting each other in this case. Instead, a young civil society is finding its voice. Fans of the Beikta football club demonstrated alongside transsexuals and anti-capitalist Muslims, says Öz. "It's as if I were living in a dream."

Journalist and film director Can Dündar joins the group. He is familiar with the conflicts of past and present. A few years ago, Dündar directed "Mustafa," a much-noticed film about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish nation, in which he portrays Atatürk as a drinker and waverer. As a result of the film, Dündar made new enemies among the Kemalists, who are devotees of Atatürk.

The dividing line in Turkish politics and society is often described as the antagonism between the secular-military elite, the Kemalists, and up-and-coming conservative Muslims. For decades, a secular class oppressed the pious in Turkey. Erdogan himself, who first became prime minister in 2003, invokes the differences in his speeches. We, the "true" Turks, he says, are the oppressed, while they, the generals and Kemalists, are the oppressors. Although Erdogan established democracy, he long ago appropriated the dirty methods of his predecessors.

Many Turks are tired of the polarization, especially because they themselves have no place in such an environment. Öz, for example, would never vote for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). But it was generals, the self-proclaimed heirs of Atatürk, who had his father arrested and tortured. Most young Turks are in a similar position. The Gezi demonstrators are opposed to Erdogan, but they also boo every opposition politician who tries to hijack their rallies.

A Self-Created Problem

A young, urban middle class is taking to the streets in Istanbul, Ankara and many other Turkish cities. They buy their clothes at Zara, and they fly to London on discount airlines for vacations. They are well-educated and non-ideological. Most of all, there are many of them. Istanbul alone has a population of 13 million.

Erdogan partly created the Gezi Generation himself. Many of the demonstrators who are now protesting him study at the universities that the government developed, or work in companies that cropped up during the economic boom of recent years. Öz also profits from the fact that, today, more Turks have money to buy books than a decade ago.

Erdogan wanted this progress, but he refuses to accept Turkish citizens' growing need for autonomy. And in contrast to past generations, today's demonstrators are not interested in imposing a particular worldview. On the contrary, they want people to be free to express their own worldviews. Öz believes that one of the reasons the resistance movement became united in the fight for Gezi Park, which was slated to be razed and developed, is that trees cannot be co-opted.

Keeping Your Head Down at the Top

It is Sunday, June 16, three weeks after the beginning of the revolt. Thousands of citizens are once again taking to the streets. The police have sealed off Taksim Square in Istanbul. Demonstrators try to reach the square through side streets. The security forces are shooting tear gas canisters, and people are stumbling, half-blind, through the alleys. When a man falls down on the street, the police start to beat him.

Öz watches Erdogan's speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters in Istanbul on TV at home, together with his girlfriend, the actress Selma Ergeç. "Istanbul, are we united?" Erdogan asks.

Ergeç grew up in Germany. Her father is Turkish, her mother German. She lived in Oxford for a while, and she moved to Istanbul 10 years ago. She plays one of the lead roles in "Muhteem Yüzyil" ("Magnificent Century"), a historical television series based on the life of Suleiman the Magnificent that is broadcast in more than 45 countries every week. Despite its popularity, the government threatened to ban the program because Erdogan felt that the sultan being portrayed in the series was being disparaged as frivolous.

Ergeç says that the mood in the country is becoming more aggressive with every speech Erdogan gives. When the protests began in Taksim Square, she also took to the streets. But now she has become more careful, fearing that she, as a celebrity, could become the target of attacks. One of her fellow actors has taken a particularly strong stance against Erdogan. He has received so many death threats that he hasn't left his house in days.

The current events are the first severe test in Öz's life. In 2005, he had just returned to Istanbul from Boston, where he was studying sociology, when his father developed lung cancer. Erdal Öz was a brilliant publisher, and his authors held him in high esteem. He had founded the publishing house in Istanbul in the 1980s, after the end of the military coup, and had discovered many young, talented writers over the next two decades. He was also the publisher of books by Orhan Pamuk, who would later win the Nobel Prize in literature. But he was only moderately interested in the financial side of the business, and he had only made spoken contracts with many of his authors.

When Can Öz took over his father's job, he introduced structure to the company. Suddenly it had an accounting department, and Öz even hired a management consultant to provide him with weekly reports. Öz traveled to book fairs abroad and strengthened relationships with publishers, such as Suhrkamp in Germany and Penguin in Great Britain.

Öz says he is prepared for the government to take action against him. He has seen what has happened to fellow publishers, such as Aydin Dogan, the powerful owner of the daily newspaper Hürriyet, which is critical of the government. Dogan was almost ruined by a tax dispute in 2009.

"They destroy your credibility," says Öz. "They spread lies in their newspapers and on their TV stations, claiming that you are a crook or an alcoholic. Then they take aim at your company. They impose bizarre fines, and they call upon customers to boycott your company."

Öz says that he is willing to pay this price. He has an emergency fund set up in case business starts to plunge. In the worst case, he says, he might also go to prison.

A Movement Lacking Shape and Direction

On the evening of June 18, several hundred demonstrators gather in Cihangir Park, near Taksim Square. Now that Gezi Park has been cleared, citizens meet regularly for "open forums" in various places in Istanbul. They sit together, discuss issues and get to know each other.

The forum has already begun when Öz arrives at the park. The key question at the moment is how the revolt should progress. Very few demonstrators can imagine supporting one of the established parties, but establishing a new party is difficult. Who would pay for it? And what would be its agenda, other than rejecting Erdogan? A young woman proposes that the activists start by becoming exclusively involved in local projects, such as preserving historic buildings.

Öz believes that it's too early to define the movement's direction. "I have learned," he says, "that we are not condemned to silent obedience." People will probably be writing books and making films about the Gezi revolt soon, he adds.

The democratization of Turkey, Öz says, has only just begun.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7143 on: Jun 26, 2013, 05:57 AM »

06/26/2013 12:18 PM

'Late for the Party': No Joy in Croatia's EU Accession

By Christoph Pauly

Croatia becomes a member of the EU next week. But with Zagreb likely to need urgent subsidies from Brussels, is the small Eastern European country ready for accession?

German discount supermarket chain Lidl is welcoming Croatia, the European Union's newest member, by slashing prices. Large billboards across the country read: "Welcome to a Union of low prices. More for you!" On the shelves, the company offers "permanent EU markdowns." Croatia's accession to the EU on July 1 is expected to practically pay for the bargain strategy. When the barriers on the border come down next week, 20-percent duties on EU products will also be eliminated.

Because their products will become significantly more competitive overnight, producers and dealers throughout Europe are preparing a marketing offensive in Croatia. German companies, in particular, will profit from the change. They are mesmerized by the prospect of 4.4 million new customers, who are especially fond of German brands like Miele, Volkswagen and Adidas.

However, it is unlikely that the small country itself will benefit from EU accession in the short term. A deep economic crisis has battered Croatia for the last five years. Government debt is growing rapidly, and two rating agencies have already downgraded Croatian bonds to junk status. As such, the country will probably have to be subsidized from EU coffers for the foreseeable future.

And even in the relatively young nation on the Adriatic Sea, enthusiasm for Europe has cooled considerably, with little evidence of optimism. Polls show that only 39 percent welcome the accession to the EU, which the Croats fought for through 10 years of tough negotiations with Brussels. "We feel like an uninvited guest who shows up too late for the party," says a banker in one of the street cafes in the capital Zagreb.

Of course Croatia, part of the Habsburg Empire for centuries, belongs to Europe. But the hope that the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream would also bring Western European affluence to the country has fizzled. "There won't be a miracle," Croatian President Ivo Josipovic has warned.

Losing the Fight

In fact, the dream of Europe is likely to become a nightmare for many. More than half of young Croats are unemployed, and the overall unemployment rate is about 20 percent. Tough competition from the EU will drive many obsolete companies out of business once and for all.

At the job center on Zvonimirova Street in downtown Zagreb, the women behind the counters efficiently process long rows of people. A young woman standing in line says that she has to report to the job center once a month.

Krunoslav Ostojic, 43, is reading the employment ads outside the job center. He was born in Germany, where he went to school, and he later fought in the Yugoslav civil war. "I love my country," he says, "but I have to live." The job center once found him a job as a taxi driver for a company that was three months behind in paying its employees' wages.

Ostojic is waiting until July 1. "Then I'll leave," he says. A roofing company has offered him a job in Goslar, a town in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, but he is having problems with his German work permit. While Bulgarians and Romanians will be allowed to work in Germany without restrictions starting in 2014, the Croats will have to wait at least another two years.

Milan Končar lost his job as a logistics expert with Končar, an electronics company, in April. Next month his unemployment benefits will decline to only 35 percent of his last after-tax wages, and after a year the benefits will cease altogether. His former employer is a semi-governmental company located in park-like surroundings in Zagreb. Končar's business includes building hydroelectric plants, generators and streetcars.

The future looks grim. Many Croatian companies have already lost the fight. Because of the relatively high wages and lack of investment in Croatia, they are hardly competitive in Europe. Even Greece, Bulgaria and Romania are in better shape, according to World Bank statistics.

Untapped Potential

Still, Croatia has a long industrial tradition and many well-trained workers. "In the medium term," writes Deutsche Bank in a new study, EU accession could give a new boost to the Croatian economy through improved access to European markets, provided the country finally addresses its structural problems.

On the other hand, Croatia doesn't sufficiently exploit its potential. Corruption remains widespread, and parts of the political elite defend their old perks. A third of the workforce is still employed by the government sector. Entire stretches of countryside are also uncultivated, partly because of bribery among regional officials.

Only the food sector has a promising future. Croatian tangerines ripen four weeks earlier than elsewhere in Europe. Cherry lovers consider Maraska cherries to be the best in the world. The Istria region produces about the same number of truffles as Italy. Nevertheless, Croatian products hardly make it onto the European market. In fact, the country so richly blessed with natural beauty regularly becomes a net importer of food products during the main tourist season.

The loyal German, English and Italian tourists, the most reliable suppliers of euros for Croatians until now, demand entertainment. Tourism experts like Gunther Neubert, managing director of the German-Croatian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believe that hiking vacations and gourmet tours could provide an additional source of revenue outside the main season in July and August. But entrepreneurial vigor is often met with suspicion in Croatia.

EU Money Already Set Aside

Tourism and agriculture alone will not be enough to maintain a stable standard of living in Croatia, though. The EU negligently overlooked the structural problems during accession negotiations. Even a government representative says: "The economy urgently needs to be de-bureaucratized." But experience has shown that the desire to change quickly wanes after a country has joined the EU.

Money from EU funds will be needed once again. This year the EU is already setting aside €655 million ($860 million), or about 1.5 percent of the country's gross domestic product, for Croatia. Some €13.7 billion has been earmarked for adjustment measures between 2014 and 2020. The Croats have established a separate ministry, run by the deputy premier, to handle the distribution of EU money. They want to use the fresh capital to renovate their railroad lines. And in five years the EU flag will also be flying in front of many new sewage treatment plants.

But will this kind of aid help the country advance? Even more important to Croatians than sewage plants is the funding for a bridge over the Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik and a strip of land along the coast are cut off from the rest of Croatia because Bosnia-Herzegovina wanted its own access to the sea during the peace negotiations to end the civil war. And because it will be some time before Bosnia becomes an EU member, goods and people must now cross the EU external border twice to reach Dubrovnik.

That's why Croatia wants the EU to finance a bridge leading from the enclave on the Croatian peninsula of Pelješac off the coast of Dalmatia. It would mean that Croats would no longer have to travel through Bosnia, a country they view with hostility. Brussels experts are even seriously considering a tunnel. After all, the Croatians hardly indulge in much else.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7144 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:03 AM »

Czech Republic: ‘Zemanocracy’

Lidové noviny ,
26 June 2013

On June 25, President Miloš Zeman named advisor Jiří Rusnok as prime minister, tasked with forming a caretaker government of “experts”. The former socialist finance minister replaces Petr Nečas, who resigned on June 17 over a corruption scandal.

Zeman’s decision goes against the will of almost all parties in parliament. The outgoing right-wing coalition wants to push through its own candidate, Miroslava Němcová, while the social-democratic opposition calls for early elections.

“Miloš Zeman has started to change a parliamentary democracy guaranteed by the constitution into a presidential system”, notes Lidové Noviny. “Until now, all the presidents opted for a PM capable of forming a majority in the parliament. […] The president has completely breached existing constitutional conventions.”
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« Reply #7145 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:04 AM »

Hungary: ‘Settlement in Strasbourg’

26 June 2013

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will not open a monitoring procedure in respect of Hungary and the Viktor Orbán government's controversial changes to country’s constitution, reports Népszabadság.

On June 25, in the wake of a heated debate, PACE endorsed by 135 votes to 88 an amendement presented by the centre-right European People’s Party to the effect that the assembly will “closely follow the situation” in Hungary and “take stock of progress achieved”.

The goal of PACE monitoring procedures is to verify compliance with fundamental principles of the Council of Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
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« Reply #7146 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:07 AM »

Anglo Irish Bank revelations go from bad to worse

Another executive's behaviour is in the spotlight after he is recorded on tape singing 'Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles'

Nils Pratley   
The Guardian, Tuesday 25 June 2013 20.08 BST   

The Anglo Irish Bank revelations get worse. We learned on Monday, thanks to the Irish Independent, that the bank's initial figure of €7bn (£6bn) for its bailout in 2008 was picked "out of my arse," as one executive put it. Now another executive is heard on the tapes glorying in the rush of deposits from Germany that followed the Irish government's blanket guarantee of savings at Anglo Irish. "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles," he sings.

As an illustration of the bankers' arrogance and the Irish politicians' temerity, these audiotapes could hardly be bettered. It's very late in the day but Dublin must order a proper inquiry into events of 2008 and 2009.

It might be asked what is left to learn. Well, the critical questions are still unanswered. Was the government misled? Or did ministers in the Fianna Fáil-led government willingly suspend any disbelief over the €7bn figure? And, since the final cost of bailing out Anglo Irish was €30bn, what steps were taken to establish a proper estimate?

Besides, you never know what you'll discover until you look. If all phonecalls at Anglo Irish were taped, the public deserves to know what else they contain. Then the executives, politicians and regulators can be cross-examined.

In the meantime, the current Irish government is probably right to worry that the bankers' bragging will appal Brussels and Berlin and make it harder for Ireland to win relief on its bailout debt from the EU. Too late, though. Just hold the inquiry.

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« Reply #7147 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:10 AM »

The spirit of protest in Brazil and Turkey has now swept into Bulgaria

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians are voicing their anger over political corruption, abuse of power and economic hardship

John O'Brennan, Tuesday 25 June 2013 18.02 BST   

In recent weeks the world has been transfixed by protests in Turkey and Brazil. Fewer media outlets have reported on the anti-government protests in Bulgaria, now well into their second week. But make no mistake about it: Bulgaria is undergoing a profound crisis of representation.

Every night for more than a week up to 10,000 people have taken to the streets of Sofia, initially protesting against the appointment on 14 June of the media oligarch Delyan Peevski as Bulgaria's "security tsar", the head of the State Agency for National Security (Dans), the Bulgarian CIA.

Peevski, who is 32, comes from a well-connected family that owns Bulgaria's largest newspaper and television group (it controls 80% of print media in the country) and has no experience in the security sector. In 2007 he was sacked from his post as deputy minister and investigated for attempted blackmail. He is an MP for the ethnic Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which supports the prime minister Plamen Oresharski's governing coalition, led by the Bulgarian Socialist party (BSP). His appointment took place without a debate in the National Assembly.

Dans is the agency responsible both for Bulgaria's internal and external security. Its role was elevated significantly in the wake of the terrorist attack on Burgas airport in July 2012 (attributed to Hezbollah) which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver. This executive role has been strengthened even further recently after controversial amendments in the Dans legislation were signed giving the organisation responsibility for dealing with organised crime.

Bulgarians are protesting against far-reaching and systematic corruption and the "capture" of the state by rent-seeking oligarchic networks. Oresharski was appointed by the BSP to head a so-called "expert" government, after a general election in April produced a tight outcome. The technocratic government came about because the leading figures within the two largest political parties, the BSP and the centre-right Gerb (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) were widely discredited. And although the prime minister has now withdrawn the appointment of Peevski, for protesters the episode suggested that even respected figures like Oresharski are incapable of shaking off the shadowy world of oligarchic power in Bulgaria.

In Bulgaria it is often impossible to know where organised crime ends and legitimate business begins. The nexus between the two is characterised by complex bureaucratic structures, opaque corporate accounting and a maze of offshore accounts. In Varna, Bulgaria's third largest city, the protests have taken direct aim at TIM, a business conglomerate allied to Gerb and long the real power in the region. Some estimates suggest that it controls up to 70% of Varna's economy, including most of the tourist infrastructure. When protesters in Varna yell "M-A-F-I-A" they are automatically collapsing business into politics and implicating local municipal officials as the agents of this powerful oligarchic network.

Varna perfectly illustrates why the current protests are largely non-party-policitical and anti-politics in tone: the definitive division in today's Bulgaria is no longer between right and left, but between the citizens and the mafia. This is a world where the guilty don't just go unpunished; they ascend to the highest citadels of power.

Although corruption and the abuse of power are the central themes of this protest, economic hardship also plays a role. New data from the EU demonstrates that Bulgarians have the lowest standard of living in the European Union, at around 50% of the EU average. Even Croatia, which will accede to the EU on 1 July, is significantly more prosperous than Bulgaria.

The irony here is not lost on Bulgarians. At the onset of the EU financial crisis in 2008, Bulgaria had one of the lowest levels of public debt in Europe at 15% of GDP. Its budget deficit was below 3%. And yet the government of Boyko Borissov embarked on a foolish programme of austerity measures, the logic of which was almost entirely predicated on demonstrating to Brussels what a good pupil Bulgaria now was. Reductions in public spending coupled with large increases in the price of electricity and other utilities brought people out on to the streets in February. But, like Turkey, what began as a protest against a specific appointment has quickly mutated into a general opposition to the government.

Oresharski also has to grapple with increasing ethnic tensions in the country. Many Bulgarians resent the influence of the junior coalition party, the MRF which represents mainly the Turkish minority (about 10% of the population). The far-right party Ataka, which won 23 seats and 7.3% of the vote in the recent parliamentary election, has sought to exploit this sentiment at every opportunity. Its leader, Volen Siderov, continues to stoke the flames of hatred against both the ethnic Turks and the Roma population.

A further destabilising element is the continued feuding between the leaders of Bulgaria's largest political parties. Last week, Borissov vowed to initiate a libel lawsuit against Sergei Stanishev, leader of the BSP and president of the Party of European Socialists, over claims by the latter that Borissov had a criminal record. The timing of all these developments could not be worse for Bulgaria as it comes under more and more scrutiny in the run-up to the June European council summit meeting.

The protesters, meanwhile, cherish the attenion. They want to re-enforce their message to Bulgaria's politicians: an end to vertiginous and voracious oligarchical power and the normalisation of Bulgarian politics.

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« Reply #7148 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:13 AM »

Polish prime minister's popularity dips unexpectedly

Although Donald Tusk is under pressure from economic woes and political setbacks, he has no real heavyweight rivals

Piotr Smolar   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 25 June 2013 13.59 BST   

Poland is no longer an island – economically speaking, of course. After a long period of solitary prosperity in a crisis-ridden Europe, a sudden slowdown has seized the country, with a spectacular impact on the political climate. For the first time in years the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party is now well ahead of prime minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform (PO).

But the PiS, still led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has not really gained much ground. Rather, after six years in power, the current majority is looking distinctly weary. "We have carried out difficult reforms, for example on pensions, but there is the wear and tear of power and an accumulation of expectations in some quarters," admits Rafal Grupinski, PO leader in parliament. "Part of the middle classes have withdrawn their support."

But the media has focused its attention on Tusk. For years he embodied unabashed pragmatism, thanks to which he was re-elected in 2011. Rather than relying on big ideas or a grand vision for the future he adapts to circumstances, public opinion and his adversaries.

Tusk came to power in 2007, after two years during which the Kaczynski brothers brought Poland close to a nervous breakdown. He promptly broke with the nationalist right's emotionally charged projects, making "hot running water" in every home his top priority. But popular enthusiasm has cooled. Unemployment has risen to 13.3%, growth has stalled, falling to an estimated 1.3% this year, down from 4.5% in 2011. Tusk has opted to sidestep this setback, shifting attention to party affairs. The choice of a new leader, originally set for early 2014, will be made this summer, to prepare for local, European and general elections. For the first time the PO's 40,000 members will vote by post or electronically.

The change of schedule will oblige Tusk's rivals to show their hand. Jaroslaw Gowin, for one, stands out ideologically. He lost his job as justice minister in April after months of tension. At the end of May he launched an assault on the party line, advocating a "return to its [conservative, free-market] roots". He criticised recent tax increases, excessive state intervention and the emphasis on societal issues such as in vitro fertilisation and same-sex civil union. Another contender, Grzegorz Schetyna, PO deputy leader, endorses Tusk's line but wants a more collegial style of leadership. "Schetyna lacks Tusk's charm and talent," says Pawel Piskorski, former PO secretary-general and now Democratic party (SD) leader.

Tusk has always succeeded in stifling internal criticism – in his government and party – confirming the impression that he can manage on his own. Indeed the 2011 victory was largely of his making. But now his solitude is a handicap. There are no heavyweights in the cabinet apart from foreign minister Radek Sikorski, thought to be unorthodox. Tusk has lost touch with the electorate. "For the past six years the PO has concentrated on concrete and roads," says Jaroslaw Makowski, of the Civic Institute, which is otherwise close to the majority. "But a healthy society means education. It means emphasising what we have in common, apart from just the land we share."

But all is not lost for Tusk. His rivals in the PO are weak. Approval of the next European budget (for 2014-20) will open the way for more structural funds, crucial over the past 10 years. Parts of the Polish left, which is still in disarray, could provide new allies for a coalition reaching beyond the Farmers' (PSL) party, the current partner in government. "In the political arena, where only marketing matters, either you give up being leftwing to take power, or you give up power to stay leftwing," says Slawomir Sierakowski, leader of the Political Criticism (KP) movement, which is trying to rebuild the Polish left.

Lastly, the polls may be misleading. PiS voters are traditionally more active and united than their PO counterparts. With its ongoing obsession with the tragic air crash at Smolensk in 2010, the PiS has cut itself off from much of the electorate. "It has two years before the election to broaden its horizons," says European MP Adam Bielan, a former PiS card-holder. Kaczynski is already busy canvassing, but he is both the embodiment of his cause and its main handicap.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

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« Reply #7149 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Julia Gillard ousted as Australia prime minister

Kevin Rudd replaces Julia Gillard as Labor party leader after winning ballot of MPs by 57 votes to 45

Alison Rourke in Sydney, Wednesday 26 June 2013 12.11 BST   

Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, has been sacked by her party and replaced by the man she ousted three years ago.

After an unprecedented day of political bloodletting in Canberra, Kevin Rudd beat Gillard to become Labor party leader in a ballot of MPs by a margin of 57 to 45. It is only the second time a sitting Australian prime minister has been removed from office by their party; Rudd's removal was the first.

Gillard laid down the challenge to Rudd, when she called on Wednesday for a do-or-die ballot on the condition that the loser retire from parliament to end the debilitating Labor leadership war.

Gillard said she had called the ballot on the basis that "if you win, you are Labor leader; if you lose, you retire from politics" and was now expected to retire. A cabinet reshuffle is expected.
Bill Shorten announces he is switching to Rudd. The Global Mail. Bill Shorten announces he is backing

The day of high drama began in the morning, when supporters of Rudd, who had advocated his return to the leadership for virtually the entire three years of the hung parliament, began circulating a petition to try to force a contest in this, the last sitting week of parliament before the September election.

Within hours, Gillard went on the attack and made the dramatic decision to hold a snap vote on her position and, in effect, the job of prime minister. "It is in the best interest of the nation and the Labor party for this to be resolved," she said. "This is it. There are no more opportunities, tonight's the night."

Wednesday's change of leader follows months of speculation, during which Gillard made it clear that she would not stand down, despite opinion polls that repeatedly showed Rudd to be the more popular leader.

With the party's support dwindling at about 30%, and the prospect of Labor losing at least half of its parliamentary seats, she stood firm while Rudd's backers plotted.

Once Gillard called the leadership ballot, the third time she had agreed to contest her position in as many years, Rudd made his pitch to return, saying the party was heading for a catastrophic defeat if nothing was done.

It was a U-turn from his position two months earlier when he declared there was no circumstance under which he would return to the party's leadership. Rudd said he had changed his mind, because of "tens and thousands of ordinary Australians, who have been asking me to do this for a very long time. This has now become urgent. I therefore believe with all my heart that I owe it to offer the people of Australia a viable alternative."

The ballot looked very close until 15 minutes before the vote when one of Gillard's key backers, Bill Shorten, who had helped put her in the top job, changed sides. "The future of this nation and the Labor party is at stake, therefore I shall be supporting Kevin Rudd tonight," he said.

It is unclear what will happen now. For Rudd to be sworn in, Gillard must recommend this course of action to the country's governor general, the Queen's representative in Australia and head of state. Assuming that this will happen, Rudd may then face confidence vote in parliament on Thursday, the last sitting day before the election on 14 September. It is not certain he would win this vote, as independent MPs who have kept Gillard's minority government in power have not guaranteed their continued support.

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« Reply #7150 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:21 AM »

June 26, 2013

27 Die in Rioting in Ethnically Divided Western China


HONG KONG — At least 27 people died in rioting in far western China on Wednesday, when protesters attacked a police station and government offices and the police fired on the crowd, state media said. It was the worst spasm of violence for years in Xinjiang, a region beset with tensions between Uighurs, an overwhelmingly Muslim ethnic minority, and China’s Han majority.

The Xinhua report gave no explanation of what triggered the confrontation; nor did it give the ethnic background or other details of the rioters. Uighur, also spelled Uyghur, people predominate in Turpan.

The confrontation broke out in the morning in Lukqun, a township in Turpan Prefecture, the state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported, citing unnamed officials.

“Knife-wielding mobs attacked the township’s police stations, the local government building and a construction site, stabbing at people and setting fire to police cars,” the English-language report said. In the initial outburst of bloodshed, seventeen people were killed, including nine police officers and security guards, and the police then fatally shot 10 rioters, it said.

In the past, Uighur residents have often given accounts of unrest sharply at odds with those given by Chinese government officials.

Repeated attempts to contact residents, and a spokesperson for the Xinjiang regional government, were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exiled group that advocates independence for the region, said the bloodshed had been stoked by a burst of detentions of Uighurs in the area over recent months.

“This clash did not happen by chance,” said the spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, who lives in Sweden. “There have been sweeps and crackdowns in the area, leading to many Uighur men disappearing, and the authorities have refused to give information about their whereabouts,” he said, citing recent phone conversations with residents.

Images circulated on Chinese Internet sites, which could not be verified, showed a body, apparently dead, splayed on the road, next to an abandoned and smashed police car. Other pictures showed burned out vehicles near a fire-gutted police station and a puddle apparently red with blood.

“It’s inconvenient to talk,” said an official in the propaganda office of Shanshan County, which includes Lukqun Township in its jurisdiction. “Leaders are all out, it’s inconvenient to take interviews.”

Many members of the Uighur minority, a Turkic-speaking group, resent the growing presence in Xinjiang of Han Chinese people, whom they say get the better jobs and land. Government restrictions on religion have also become a growing source of tensions with Uighurs, who have embraced more conservative currents of Sunni Islam.

The government has blamed past violence in Xinjiang on groups it accuses of using terror to seek independence for the region, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. But advocates of Uighur self-determination and some foreign scholars say the discontent has local causes and is not orchestrated from abroad.

In July 2009, Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, was beset by the worst ethnic violence in China in many years, when Uighurs attacked Han Chinese after the police broke up a protest by Uighurs. At least 197 people were killed, most of them Han Chinese, according to the Chinese government. Crowds of Han Chinese residents then marched through Uighur neighborhoods, demanding vengeance and attacking residents with rocks and cleavers.

Chinese news Web sites initially featured the Xinhua report on the latest violence. But later in the day, those reports disappeared, in what appeared to be a government effort to stifle alarm or volatile anger about the deaths.

In April, at least 21 people died in fighting in Xinjiang between security forces and a group of what a government spokesman called “gangsters.” In March, two courts convicted and sentenced 20 people accused of militant separatism in the region.

Uighurs once formed the vast majority of residents in Xinjiang, which neighbors on Central Asia and came under the control of Chinese Communist forces in 1949. In recent decades, the number of Han Chinese residents has grown, aided by migration. Uighurs now make up 46 percent of Xinjiang’s civilian population of 22 million, and Han Chinese account for 40 percent, according to government estimates.

Lukqun Township, where the rioting erupted, is perched on the edge of desert and has about 30,000 residents, 90 percent of them Uighur, according to a report in the Xinjiang Daily last year.

Jiang Zhaoyong, a Chinese former journalist who has written extensively about Xinjiang, said police stations have been a target of ethnic violence there before, including in 2008. “This appears to be the act of a local group,” he said of the latest attack.

Patrick Zuo and Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.
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« Reply #7151 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:22 AM »

June 26, 2013

Mongolia Votes Amid Concerns on Mining Boom


HONG KONG — Mongolians voted Wednesday in national elections that have focused on demands that the resource-rich country do a better job of distributing wealth to its citizenry as international mining companies tap into its vast resources.

The current president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, is considered the favorite and he is trying to avoid a runoff by capturing 50 percent of the vote against two main opponents. Under Mr. Elbegdorj and his pro-growth policies, Mongolia’s economy grew by 17 percent in 2011 and 12 percent last year, placing it among the world’s five fastest-growing economies, according to the International Monetary Fund

But how that wealth is distributed has overshadowed the election amid concern that foreign companies are exploiting the country’s abundant natural resources without much benefit to the Mongolian people. A plan by two foreign companies, Rio Tinto of Australia and Turquoise Hill Resources of Canada, to begin shipments from a huge copper mine was put on hold by the government ahead of the election amid demands that Rio Tinto keep more proceeds in Mongolia. The $6 billion mine is expected to provide a third of government revenues by the end of the decade.

Results of the voting are not expected until Thursday. Mongolia, a landlocked country between China and Russia that is home to 2.7 million people, held its first national elections in 1992, two years after its Communist leadership fell from power in a peaceful transition.

Mr. Elbegdorj is facing challenges from Badmaanyambuu Bat-Erdene, a champion wrestler who is the candidate of the Mongolian People’s Party, and Natsag Udval, from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, who is a backer of former President Nambar Enkhbayar. Both opposition candidates have called for changing the terms of Rio Tinto’s contract for the mine, located at Oyu Tolgoi.

Many in Mongolia are concerned about how the vast expansion of the country’s mining industry has changed the nation’s character from a nomadic land to one of lightning-fast economic development, with pollution now afflicting the country and its capital, Ulan Bator. At the end of last year, Mongolia’s Parliament passed a law that would extract more royalties from the operations of the Oyu Tolgoi mine, which has alarmed foreign investors given the $6 billion investment by Rio Tinto and its partners in the mine.

If no candidate secures 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held July 10.
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« Reply #7152 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:28 AM »

June 25, 2013

Taliban’s Divided Tactics Raise Doubts Over Talks


DOHA, Qatar — When the Taliban opened their political office in Qatar last week, stepping into the halogen glare of TV cameras, it was the first time in a dozen years that the world had gotten to see members of the insurgents’ inner circle — and they seemed different. Urbane and educated, they conducted interviews in English, Arabic, French and German with easy fluency; passed out and received phone numbers; and, most strikingly, talked about peace.

Back in Afghanistan, though, they have been the same old Taliban: fighters have waged suicide attacks that have taken an increasing toll on civilians, and on Tuesday the militants staged a deadly strike right at the heart of the heavily secured government district in Kabul.

For officials watching the talks, those contradictions offer a picture of a top Taliban leadership taking advantage of two different tracks — orchestrating the fighting element even while setting up a new international diplomatic foothold in Doha. This complicates efforts to pin down the insurgents’ true goals.

At the Taliban office, it quickly became clear that the contingent’s members had all been carefully vetted for their diplomatic credentials. Though many were officials in the old Taliban government, often sent abroad, none are known as fighters. And they all are considered loyalists to the Taliban’s reclusive leader in exile, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Further, while the delegates claimed to be there to talk peace with the Afghan government and American officials, on closer examination, what they did — essentially setting up a virtual embassy to the world — sent what many saw as the reverse message, raising serious questions about the insurgent movement’s real motives in going to Qatar in the first place.

“From minute one, the Taliban didn’t play this by the book,” said a Western official who has tracked the Taliban for a number of years. “They overstepped pretty well agreed upon guidelines.”

The identities and backgrounds of the delegation’s key members — and thus some of the Taliban leadership’s aims in choosing them — can now be detailed based on interviews with four disparate officials and on public appearances by the group in Qatar. The sources include a member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council in Pakistan; a Taliban military commander from eastern Afghanistan; a former Taliban official; and a Western official in Kabul who is close to the Doha talks and spoke about the delegation’s general approach. All included the same nine key names, though their lists differed slightly in other ways.

“Every single member of the delegation has been picked by the leadership council after a long series of lengthy discussions and sometimes tense talks,” said the eastern Taliban military commander. “There were certain criteria they should meet. First was loyalty to Mullah Muhammad Omar. Second was having experience in diplomacy. Third was speaking at least one foreign language, either English or Arabic.”

Among the delegation are six former diplomats, five ex-ministers or deputy ministers, and four preachers — one of them so admired for his oratory that the Qatari defense minister is said to be in the congregation when he makes guest appearances at his mosque.

They are all seen as close adherents of Mullah Omar. One, Tayeb Agha, the apparent leader of the delegation, was his secretary and chief of staff. Another, Hafiz Aziz Rahman Ahadi, is the son of Mullah Omar’s teacher at his madrassa in Quetta, Pakistan.

“All of the representatives that we selected and sent to Qatar for peace talks belong to the political wing,” said the Quetta Shura member. “None have a military background. We don’t need to send commanders: we are not fighting in Qatar. We are fighting in Afghanistan.”

While there are some two dozen Taliban officials here — along with their families, they number a couple of hundred people in all — most are administrative and support staff.

The emissaries are by Taliban leadership standards relatively young, mostly in their 40s. Tayeb Agha is apparently the youngest, at age 37 or 38.

Although Mr. Agha is reportedly a fluent English speaker, he was not speaking out for the group last week. That role was filled by Sohail Shaheen, a former second secretary in the Taliban’s embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. He gave a flurry of interviews to Al Jazeera and Japanese and other Arab news outlets after the office was opened, but when the Afghan government threatened to pull the plug, he went quiet.

“We really want to talk,” he said in a brief phone conversation, speaking fluent English with a trace of a Pakistani accent, “but until we decide on our answer, there is nothing we can say.”

In another interview, with Al Jazeera, he made clear, though, that any talking in Doha would be conducted while fighting continued in Afghanistan. He said the Taliban “simultaneously follows political and military options. Because there is no cease-fire now, they are attacking us, and we are attacking them.”

The group’s other spokesman, Mohammad Naim Wardak, in his 40s, is also fluent in English, and speaks Arabic and German as well. When the Taliban were in power, he was posted to embassies and consulates in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Of the nine known delegates here, at least three are on the United Nations blacklist that authorizes the seizing of assets — and prevents international travel. However, it appears that special arrangements were made to allow them to come to Doha. The listed men are Shahbuddin Delawar, described by the United Nations as either 56 or 60, a veteran diplomat and deputy supreme court justice for the Taliban government; Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, described as about 50, a former public health minister; and Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, who is about 58, an ethnic Tajik from Badakhshan and the only non-Pashtun member of the delegation. Mr. Shaheen had previously been listed, but was delisted in anticipation of his role in Doha, a Western official said.

The other confirmed delegates include Mualavi Nik Mohammad, age unknown, from Panjwai District in Kandahar, a former minister of agriculture and commerce, and Khalifa Sayid Rasul Nangarhari, a former low-level diplomat about whom little is known.

Qatar and other countries are providing extensive monetary aid to support the Taliban office, allocating a total of $100 million for it, according to Mualavi Shahzada Shahid, the spokesman for the Afghan government’s High Peace Council. There was no independent confirmation of that figure, although at one point the United States, Japan and other allies had allocated a quarter-billion dollars for peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

When the previous effort to open a Taliban office in Qatar collapsed in March 2012, many analysts saw that as a result of a split between Taliban officials in the political leadership and their military commanders. But some Western officials also note that when Mullah Omar and his closest aides make a decision, it does seem to get carried out.

“We do understand there are divisions among the Taliban — some people want to keep on with the military campaign, others are in the middle, and others have concluded there can only be a political way forward already,” said a Western official in Kabul who is close to the talks. “I don’t know where that balance lies.”

Whatever the state of harmony within the Taliban, there are still obvious contradictions between their statements and actions.

Mullah Omar has, for instance, promulgated a code of conduct that among other things warns fighters not to put civilians in harm’s way. Yet their preferred weapons — suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices — are indiscriminate by their nature. According to United Nations figures, more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents, and the proportion has steadily increased in recent years.

Still, Sayid Akbar Agha, a former Taliban official who remains close to the group, insisted that earlier tensions between the political and military wings had been resolved — at least in setting up the mission to Doha.

“There were people who used to think maybe peace negotiations were a conspiracy by the Afghan government,” he said. “This time, there is a full agreement between the political and military commissions of the Taliban about the creation of this office.”

The Taliban’s true intent in setting up that office, however, is still contested by Western and Afghan officials.

One Western official who has long watched the Taliban found it hard to credit the idea that the insurgents were truly interested in reaching peace.

“The next step then is to say there are ‘good Taliban’ in Qatar and there are ‘bad Taliban,’ who are the guys fighting us,” the official said. “If they are good Taliban and they don’t speak for the other, bad Taliban, then they are not really Taliban. Either these guys in Qatar have nothing to offer and are irrelevant, or they are lying about their goals.”

Rod Nordland reported from Doha, and Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan. Reporting was contributed by Matthew Rosenberg from Washington; Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan; Habib Zahori and Sharifullah Sahak from Kabul; and an employee of The New York Times from Kunar, Afghanistan.


Taliban gunmen attack Afghan presidential palace and CIA facility

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 13:30 EDT

KABUL — Taliban gunmen and bombers using fake NATO identification attacked an entrance to the Afghan presidential palace in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday, just a week after insurgent leaders opened an office in Qatar for peace talks.

A nearby building known to house a CIA base also came under attack as explosions and gunfire erupted for more than an hour in an area close to heavily secured Western embassies and ministry buildings.

Three Afghan security guards and all five assailants were killed, the interior ministry said.

It was one of the most brazen assaults on the city since President Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped assassination in April 2008 when the Taliban attacked an annual military parade.

Karzai, who lives in the palace, was due to hold a press event in Kabul on Tuesday morning. Officials confirmed that he was in the building at the time of the attack but not in danger.

The strike also came during a visit to Kabul by US envoy James Dobbins after a dispute over the Taliban opening an office in Qatar as a first step towards peace talks ending 12 years of war.

The three guards were killed close to the Ariana hotel building, used as a CIA base since about 2002, but officials said neither the palace nor the CIA property were breached.

Two four-wheel-drive cars using fake badges from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) tried to pass through a checkpoint to access the sprawling palace grounds at about 6:30 am (0200 GMT).

“The first vehicle was checked and let in, and as the second car tried to get in the guards became suspicious and tried to prevent it,” Mohammad Daud Amin, the Kabul deputy police chief, told AFP.

“The clash started and the cars were detonated. All the attackers were killed.”

Police said the cars had been fitted with radio antennae to make them look like ISAF vehicles and that the attackers were also wearing military uniforms.

The car bombs detonated near the CIA base, inside the first of several layers of outer checkpoints for the palace.

“A big group of attackers have struck against the CIA office as the main target and also the palace and the defence ministry nearby,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

Karzai condemned the attack, saying “the Taliban have opened an office in Qatar to talk with foreigners, on the other hand they are killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan. They should be accountable to people for this”.

The challenge of securing peace in Afghanistan as NATO troops exit next year was underlined when a bomb killed eight women and one child travelling to celebrate a wedding in the southern province of Kandahar.

The last major attack in Kabul was on June 11 when the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb outside the Supreme Court that killed at least 15 civilians.

All roads to the presidential palace are permanently closed off, with multiple rings of heavy security around the complex keeping people far away.

Last week the Taliban opened an office in Qatar using the formal name of “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from the rebels’ 1996-2001 government, and flew the white Taliban flag, displaying the trappings of power in a way that infuriated Karzai.

The president broke off Afghan-US talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014.

He has refused to send representatives to Qatar, but pressure is growing for a ceasefire and eventually a peace settlement ahead of the NATO withdrawal and a presidential election due in April.

About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them from the US, are due to exit by the end of 2014, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces a week ago.

When in power, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic law that banned television, music and cinema, stopped girls from going to school and forced woman to wear the all-covering burqa.

They were ousted in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but launched a resilient and bloody insurgency against US-led NATO troops and the US-backed Afghan government.

US envoy Dobbins on Monday said the United States was “waiting to hear” whether the militants were committed to peace talks after opening the Qatar office.

“It doesn’t seem like an entirely spurious effort on their part but whether they are prepared to participate… we just don’t know,” he told reporters.

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« Reply #7153 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Israel resists U.S. calls for establishment of Palestinian state

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 19:30 EDT

Just days before Washington’s top diplomat returns to push for a resumption of direct peace talks, a growing number of Israeli ministers are openly expressing their opposition to the two-state solution.

US Secretary of State John Kerry due to hold a fresh round of talks on Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leader has been at pains to stress his commitment to resuming dialogue with the Palestinians.

“If Secretary Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between here and Ramallah – that’s 15 minutes away driving time – I’m in it, I’m in the tent,” Netanyahu told the Washington Post last week.

“And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”

In the interview, he reiterated his support for a two-state solution which would see the establishment of a demilitarised Palestinian state in the framework of a deal that assures Israel’s security.

But hardliners within Netanyahu’s government have been increasingly quick to contradict him, rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state under any conditions.

Earlier this month, coalition partner Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party drew an analogy in which he suggested that for Israel, the Palestinian issue was akin to having “shrapnel in the buttocks.”

Although it could be removed by a risky operation, the patient would be “left disabled” he said, suggesting it was something which Israel simply had to live with.

“We won’t veto the negotiations, we won’t bring down the government over this,” Bennett told army radio on Tuesday morning, saying he didn’t believe “anything much” would come out of Kerry’s fifth visit to the region since February.

Even within Netanyahu’s ruling rightwing Likud party, the hardline settler lobby is gaining more and more power.

Likud’s Danny Danon, who serves as deputy defence minister, sparked uproar earlier this month after he came out against a Palestinian state.

Danon said the government was not serious about it and that moves to create one would be opposed by most of the coalition.

Since the elections in January, when Likud ran on a joint list with the hardline Yisrael Beitenu, winning a very narrow victory, Netanyahu has faced by a growing revolt within the party.

“Netanyahu no longer controls Likud,” said political commentator Amit Segal on Israel’s Channel 2 television.

— Cacophony —

Senior coalition partner Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beitenu, has also adopted a tough line vis-a-vis peace, insisting that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is not a partner with whom Israel can talk.

Another coalition partner is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who serves as Israel’s chief peace negotiator, who has denounced the wave of diplomatic naysaying sparked by Danon.

“The prime minister must decide if he is going to allow ‘Danonism’ to control the debate or if he will let forces that understand that a diplomatic solution is in Israel’s interest make a decision,” she told members of her HaTnuah faction.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the remaining coalition partner who heads Yesh Atid, Israel’s second largest party, has for the moment stuck by Netanyahu, preferring to focus on economic and social issues rather than wading into the Palestinian issue.

Faced with such a cacophony as well as heavy pressure from Washington, Netanyahu is hedging his bets.

“The real test of his strength within the government won’t be when negotiations start, but if they have to make concrete decisions, for example, about a total freeze on settlement construction,” political commentator Hanan Crystal told AFP.

The Maariv newspaper on Tuesday reported that Netanyahu was ready to make “goodwill gestures” to the Palestinians, and release a number of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

It also said he was likely to push through a partial freeze on West Bank settlement construction, although it did quote any sources.

But army radio said it was highly unlikely that Kerry would succeed in bringing about a return to serious negotiations.

“Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmud Abbas are risking a return to the blame game,” it said, in the hope that the blame for the collapse of Kerry’s efforts would fall on the other party.


Israeli authors campaign against eviction of West Bank villagers

David Grossman, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua are among 24 writers calling for reprieve for villages in South Hebron hills

Harriet Sherwood in Mufaqara, Tuesday 25 June 2013 17.25 BST   

Some of the most celebrated figures in Israeli literature are campaigning to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinian communities in the barren hills of the southern West Bank to clear land for an Israeli military firing zone.

Twenty four authors – including the acclaimed triumvirate of David Grossman, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua – have put their names to an appeal to save the villages of the South Hebron hills.

The population of around 1,000 lives "in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries", according to the letter, which was written by Grossman.

It went on: "In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and meanness, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try and relieve the suffering, do something to bend back the occupation's giant, cruel hand."

The villagers, many of whose parents and grandparents lived in caves and who still eke a traditional existence herding sheep and goats on the windswept rocky hills, were issued with evacuation orders by the Israeli military in 1999. They have been fighting the orders through the Israeli courts ever since, with a new hearing scheduled in the supreme court in three weeks.

The area – around 3 sq km – was designated as "Firing Zone 918" in the 1970s. About 18% of the West Bank has been designated military training zones by Israel.

According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, international laws of occupation forbid the transfer of populations unless it is temporary or for immediate military needs, such as the prosecution of war.

Since the evacuation orders were issued, four of the 12 villages have been reprieved, leaving eight earmarked for demolition. The villagers say their presence in the area dates back up to 350 years, and many have land ownership documents dating from the Ottoman era.

"I have three huge files of documents of land ownership in this area," said the Israeli lawyer Shlomo Lecker, who represents some of the villagers. "It is not disputed that this is privately owned land."

He claimed the threatened evacuation was part of a wider process of Israel clearing Palestinians from land in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank under total Israeli control and where its settlements are located.

Mahmoud Hamamdeh, the chief of Mufaqara village, said he, his father and his grandfather were born in the area. "Despite the fact we lived in caves, we had dignity and honour," he said, before the "cancer of settlements" took hold in the 1980s. "That was when the real struggle began." His house, along with the village mosque, was demolished in November 2011.

Israeli settlements and outposts hug the north and west of Firing Zone 918, and its south is bordered by the pre-1967 green line and the separation barrier. Violent attacks by hardline settlers on Palestinians and their property are common; the Israeli army escorts children from Mufaqara and other villages to and from school outside the military zone each day to protect them from attack.

Three of the signatories on the authors' petition visited Mufaqara on Tuesday to meet villagers. Zeruya Shalev said Israel was "a country of which I am ashamed" and the people of Mufaqara were "not a threat to the state of Israel".

Eyal Megged said literature served a purpose in awakening readers' interest in what was happening around them. "Here, it's not just about politics, but it's a moral and a human issue. This is the stuff that literature is concerned with, it deals with the human condition."

The Israeli ministry of defence told the supreme court last year that the topographical character of the area made it highly suitable for military training. It said permanent residence should be prohibited but villagers could be allowed to work their land or graze their flocks at weekends, Jewish holidays and two periods of one month each year. It also said many buildings and structures in the area had been constructed without permission.


Israeli security guard shoots Jewish man dead after ‘verbal confrontation’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 15:22 EDT

An Israeli security guard who shot dead a Jewish man at Jerusalem’s Western Wall is suspected of murdering him after “a verbal confrontation”, a court protocol revealed on Tuesday.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court also allowed to publish the name of the suspect of the Friday shooting — Hadi Qabalan, a resident of the Druze village Beit Jann in northern Israel, who before becoming a security guard had served as a border police officer.

Qabalan had initially told police he shot Doron Ben Shloush dead in an act of self-defence after the latter yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) and tried to pull something out of his pocket, presumably an object that could be used to attack him.

This, Qabalan said, led to him suspecting that Ben Shloush was a Palestinian militant.

But in a turn of events, the court protocol showed that Qabalan was being held “on suspicion of murder”, having shot Ben Shloush after “a verbal confrontation between the two.”

According to the NRG-Maariv news website, Qabalan shot Ben Shloush — a 46-year-old homeless man who frequented Jerusalem’s Old City and was subject to rage attacks — after on Friday the latter called him a “son of a bitch Druze”, following weeks of confrontations between them.

The court extended Qabalan’s remand by another six days.

The shooting took place shortly before 8 am (0500 GMT) as the plaza in front of the Western Wall, the holiest site Jews are currently allowed to pray, filled with worshippers for morning prayers ahead of the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown.

The site is venerated by Jews as the last remnant of the wall supporting the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Above it is the compound housing the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the compound is a deeply sensitive location where clashes frequently break out between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces.

Jews are not allowed to pray inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

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« Reply #7154 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:44 AM »

June 25, 2013

New Hope for Democracy in a Dynastic Land


DOHA, Qatar — Now that he is set to become the new emir, the absolute ruler of Qatar, what possibly can Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani promise to the citizens of a tiny, incredibly rich country that seems to have everything?

In Qatar, the unemployment rate flirts with zero (it is 0.1 percent); infants have a per-capita income over $100,000; health, housing, low interest loans and educations are all provided. Qataris have a world-class television network in Al Jazeera, will host the World Cup in 2022, are building an airport that will eclipse the one in nearby Dubai and hope to soon be self-sufficient in food production.

But they do not have democracy.

Some people here cautiously hope that the surprise decision of the outgoing emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, to hand power to his fourth son, Sheik Tamim, 33, may signal the governing family’s intention to offer Qataris a taste of expanded personal freedoms, even if democracy is not explicitly on the agenda.

There are some hints that already have at least a few Qataris excited. (For most, a beneficent feudal monarchy appears just fine, thanks, and they demonstrated their appreciation by lining up by the thousands, on foot and in their Mercedes and other luxury cars, to visit the two emirs, incoming and outgoing, in their palace on Tuesday and pledge their allegiance.)

Najeeb al-Nauimi, the lawyer for Qatar’s only political prisoner, Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, said he was hopeful. His client was jailed for life last year for writing a poem that, in a fairly tame manner, criticized “sheiks playing on their PlayStations.” Mr. Ajami was arrested under a constitutional provision that forbids criticism of the emir, however indirect.

Mr. Nauimi, who said he has known the incoming emir since the sheik was 9 years old, said Tuesday that Sheik Tamim had told him that Mr. Ajami would be released within a few days of the new emir’s accession to power. That does not speak to democracy as much as it does to the absolute power of the monarch, but all the same, Mr. Nauimi hoped it would be a signal of openness to come.

“There will be a lot of changes, definitely,” Mr. Nauimi said.

The outgoing emir already promised parliamentary elections by the end of the year — a constitutional requirement that is long overdue. Mr. Nauimi is among those agitating for amendments to the Constitution that would let that Parliament appoint the prime minister, paving the way for a constitutional monarchy inching closer to the British model and away from the autocratic style of the Persian Gulf states.

It would be the first such example in any of the gulf’s monarchies, and one of the few in the Arab world.

“I’m optimistic,” Mr. Nauimi said.

Optimistic, but not absolutely sure — in part because the governing family has consistently demonstrated that it has no tolerance to being challenged, or even criticized indirectly. In the absence of any sort of public agitation, change will come from the top down, not from the bottom up.

“I just don’t believe the people who say there won’t be any changes,” he said, offering what may be a case of wishful thinking.

But what can the new emir change?

Many analysts say that Qatar’s aggressive interventionist foreign policy has become too integral a part of its national character to be rolled back. The betting is that the new foreign minister — expected to be appointed on Thursday with a new cabinet — will be promoted from within. Some here believe it may be Khalid al-Attiyah, the deputy foreign minister, who is close to the emir and a supporter of his many international ventures.

“I think you’ll see some very big gestures from Sheik Tamim,” said John Watts, who works here for BLJ Worldwide, a well-paid consulting firm that acts as strategic adviser to the royal family and the Qatari government. The release of Mr. Ajami, the imprisoned poet? “That may well be one of them.”

“I haven’t heard anything specific about his policy agenda, but that would fit into his nature and character,” Mr. Watts said.

The outgoing emir himself seemed to be priming the pump for change in a televised address to the nation at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. (Oddly, because in the heat of summer few Qataris are actually awake that early).

“The time has come to turn a new leaf in the history of our nation, where a new generation steps forward to shoulder the responsibility with their dynamic potential and creative thoughts,” the emir said.

That of course could mean anything — or everything.

One official close to the royal family said that the new cabinet would include at least one woman, and possibly two — a first here, and a rarity in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf.

“This is hugely exciting,” said Mike Holtzman, the president of BLJ Worldwide. While it is unusual in the region for a ruler to voluntarily step down, he said, “to those who follow Qatar, it is very much in keeping; they have invested heavily in their young people.”

The incoming emir is an enigma, even to his own people, because until now his role has been in the background. “I don’t think Tamim and his father are far apart, philosophically,” said one former diplomat who has served in Qatar and who spoke anonymously in keeping with protocol. “But he’s done a good job of playing his cards close to his chest.”

That has led to a school of thought here that he is socially conservative — none of his own three wives have anything like the high political profile role enjoyed by his mother, Sheika Mozah.

“It’s just not true” that he is socially conservative, Mr. Holtzman said. For years, he was in the wings as his father and his prime minister ran the country, so people had little basis on which to judge him.

“Now that he’s got the reigns, he’ll be showing concern for human rights, worker safety,” he said. “He has the wind at his back.”

And democracy?

“Well, Qatar is already a very open society.”

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Washington.

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