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« Reply #7170 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:07 AM »

Kevin Rudd sworn in as prime minister

New Labor leader takes up office of Australian prime minister for second time, appearing to have confidence of hung parliament

Lenore Taylor, political editor, Thursday 27 June 2013 03.52 BST   

Kevin Rudd has been sworn in as prime minister for a second time, three years after being deposed, and now faces the daunting task of reworking policy and replacing more than one-third of the cabinet just months before an election.

Rudd has not said when he will call the poll or whether he will stick with Julia Gillard’s nominated election date of 14 September, but appears to have the confidence of the hung parliament. The Coalition is indicating it will not move a no confidence motion.

As the nation woke, yet again, to find the prime minister had been changed overnight and without reference to the voters, Labor struggled to work through the divisions that resulted in the overthrow of Australia’s first female prime minister in a ballot won by Rudd, 57 votes to 45.

Rudd backer Chris Bowen who resigned from the cabinet after the last leadership crisis in March, has been confirmed as treasurer. Gillard backer Gary Gray said he had agreed to stay on as resources minister, but was still blunt in his assessment that Gillard’s leadership had been killed off by a constant campaign of destabilisation by Rudd supporters.

Gray only last week said Rudd was able to “get himself into the media … what he can’t do is govern and what he can’t do is lead the Labor party”. He has told ABC radio he made the remarks “in the heat of anger and frustration”.

Speaking after the ballot on Wednesday night, a composed Gillard said she was proud of her achievements in what “has not been an easy environment to work in” because of the minority parliament, the internal Labor divisions and the Coalition’s fierce anti-carbon tax campaign.

Referring to the accusations that she had “played the gender card” by calling out sexism, she said her position as the first female incumbent “does not explain everything about my prime ministership and does not explain nothing about my prime ministership”. She said: “It explains some things and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.”

When he announced his candidacy, Rudd promised “no retributions, no paybacks, none of that stuff”, but Gillard, the treasurer, Wayne Swan, the climate change minister, Greg Combet, the education minister, Peter Garrett, and the trade minister, Craig Emerson, communications minister Stephen Conroy and agriculture minister Joe Ludwig all immediately announced they were standing down from the frontbench. Gillard, Garrett and Emerson said they would not contest the forthcoming election.

The leader of the government in the House, Anthony Albanese, has been sworn in as Rudd’s deputy. The finance minister, Senator Penny Wong, will be the leader of the government in the Senate.

Addressing the media late on Wednesday night, Rudd said he had contested the prime ministership again because “I simply do not have it in my nature to stand idly by and allow an Abbott government to come to power in this country by default”.

He made few references to policy.

But he repeated a phrase he used when he was first prime minister – that he did not want to lead a country that did not make things any more – and said there would be “a big future for Australian manufacturing under this government”.

He also reached out to the business community, which has been disenchanted with some recent Labor policies. He said: “Let me say to Australian business, I want to work closely with you … I don’t want to see things that drive business and Labor apart.”

And he repeatedly said he wanted an end to the recent divisiveness of the political debate.

“In recent years politics has failed the Australian people. There has been an erosion of trust, there has been too much negativity all round. In fact it has been holding our country back, and all this must stop,” he said.

“I see my role as prime minister as forging consensus wherever I can … without resorting to personal vitriol, that diminishes and demeans us all. We can do better than that.”

He also acknowledged Gillard’s achievements, saying she was “a woman of extraordinary intelligence, great strength and great energy” who had “achieved much under the difficult circumstances of a minority government”.

The workplace relations minister, Bill Shorten, who publicly announced he had switched his support to Gillard just before the ballot, explained his decision.

He said there were Labor policy legacies "which could only have been created by Prime Minister Gillard and that can only be kept by Prime Minister Rudd … Prime Minister Rudd gives us a chance to save these things”. He nominated policies such as the Gonski education reforms and superannuation changes.

The environment minister, Tony Burke, a Gillard backer, said he had offered his resignation from the front bench to Rudd, but it had not been accepted.

Gillard said her caucus colleagues had “defied gravity” by sticking with her for so long, and said she understood that in this last ballot the political pressure had become too great.

Swan said she was “one of the toughest warriors that has ever led the Labor party”.

The spill was the third time Gillard’s leadership had been tested in this tumultuous term of government. In February 2012 she decisively beat Rudd and in March 2013 he did not stand in a ballot she called after another period of escalating leadership tension.

After the March ballot, Rudd said there were “no circumstances” in which he would return to the leadership, but as Labor’s primary vote languished at 29% and showed no signs of improving, his backers launched yet another desperate last-minute push. Rudd said he changed his mind because he feared the consequences of a Coalition landslide.

Wednesday night’s ballot was a dramatic resolution to the leadership tensions that have simmered ever since Gillard overthrew Rudd in June 2010 and took the nation to the polls just over three weeks later.

Under Gillard’s leadership Labor legislated a carbon price, a national disability insurance scheme, aged care reform and a new needs-based system of education funding, which passed the Senate on the same day she was deposed.

Gillard took a resolute approach to the job, despite an often hostile media and a fierce attack from the Coalition, and gained worldwide recognition for her “misogyny speech” in which she said she would not be lectured about sexism by the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott.

But after the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament she was forced to govern without a majority in either house, a state of uncertainty that proved unpopular with voters.

Her popularity and that of her government suffered under an intensive campaign by Abbott against the carbon pricing deal she did with the Greens and independents. Because it started with a fixed price it was seen as the “carbon tax” she had promised never to introduce. Her position was further eroded by a series of scandals, including allegations against Labor backbencher Craig Thomson, who was forced onto the crossbench, and against former Coalition MP Peter Slipper, who Labor convinced to become Speaker.

The ballot was called by Gillard after Rudd supporters began collecting signatures for a petition to call a special caucus meeting to consider the leadership. But it quickly became apparent the numbers in caucus were moving against her and shortly before the vote factional powerbroker Bill Shorten announced he was reluctantly shifting his support to Rudd.

Rudd said he was standing in the ballot – contrary to his previous assurances – because Labor was “on course for a catastrophic defeat unless there is change” and Australians “want a real choice”.

“I owe it to people to offer them a viable alternative,” he said, vowing there would be “no retributions, no paybacks, none of that stuff” if he won.


Julia Gillard: where did it all go wrong?

As a female PM who unseated her predecessor, she faced some formidable obstacles. But there were also personal flaws

Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor, Wednesday 26 June 2013 14.01 BST   

As the great Irish existentialist Samuel Beckett once wrote, the end is in the beginning, and yet you go on. That was Julia Gillard’s story, and Labor’s story since June 2010.

Gillard unseated a prime minister who had not yet served out his first term in office. Voters didn’t expect it, and they didn’t care for it. Gillard became the face of a treacherous assassination culture imported from Sussex Street, Sydney, a symbol of Labor’s absent moral core. Killing Kevin was an act from which she never fully recovered.

Perhaps she could have recovered if she had not compounded shock with aftershock – if she didn’t go on unsettling people. Gillard’s consistent failure to reassure is the common thread behind the series of events that have led her to this day, to this inexorable end.

The revelation that nice girls do carry knives was compounded by her pre-election evasion on the carbon price, which in the hands of Tony Abbott and his amplifiers became The Great Lie. There were broken promises, a budget surplus promised for years and never delivered, the emissions trading scheme that became a “tax” in an authority-sapping compromise. Smaller retreats and stuff ups that turned ugly, such as the incident on Australia Day in 2012, where a member of Gillard’s staff unintentionally contributed to a violent protest which trapped the PM and Tony Abbott in a restaurant. (The staff member had to depart, and Gillard lost credibility.) The policy backflips: a mining tax that brought the government unremitting political hell but ironically raised only modest revenue. Then the problems without solutions: surging boat arrivals that left Gillard wedged uncomfortably between the moral purity of the Greens and the bareknuckle populism of the Coalition. Her brittle veneer of social conservatism on gay marriage, unconvincing and out of time. The recruitment of Peter Slipper in a naked attempt to boost parliamentary numbers and buy time. The overly long tolerance for Craig Thomson despite serious allegations against him.

The stumbles and misjudgments stopped Gillard expanding into her office. They fed the public perception that Gillard’s prime ministerial identity was a protean thing, never entirely convincing, never entirely stable. Was she the “real Julia” or something else – perhaps just the sum of her latest grand bargain; perhaps an undisclosed agent of the Greens, or the unions? It pushed people back to the certainty and conventionality they saw in Kevin, or more precisely, projected on to him.

Gillard appeared to be a hostage because she was forced to bargain for everything. One more week. Five more minutes. An unsettling sort of contingency for Australians unused to their prime ministers living so obviously hand to mouth. There was no time to breathe and grow in a maelstrom. There was no certainty for Gillard to ease into, no time to work on her flaws and limitations, no practice runs. She tried to please, to connect, to speak slowly so as to be better understood, to utter the soundbites deemed right for the times to explain her convictions and her values, to knock off her sharper presentational edges in some evident quest to be prime ministerial, to remain calm against all provocation, to make the case why things must be so.

But try as she might, she lacked convincing shorthand to deploy to voters. She was intensely private, contained, reserved – stubbornly enigmatic and withholding for a person so long in the public spotlight. She rationed appearances by her best self. There were glimpses of something that rang clear and true: the enduring values that drove the Labor agenda in this difficult term despite all the obstacles; the quest for a coherent legacy in the delivery as well as the dreaming; Gillard’s ferocity over the dispatch box; the exocet precision of that misogyny speech. Her pre-prime ministerial self would expand and fill a room, but would then retreat, abashed, in silent apology.

It wasn’t just the voters who doubted. It was colleagues. Even those loyal to her and completely steadfast throughout the chapters of the self-indulgent and unhinged civil war between her and Rudd feared the consequences of her political tin ear. Gillard lacked the essential alchemy of prime ministers, the deep instinct, the second sight, the magical tricks that propel leaders inevitably to the top of the cabinet table. Her colleagues all knew it, the friends and the foes. This was not a judgment made in anger, it was the sum of long observation.

Departing backbencher Sharon Grierson noted recently that no one apart from Gillard could have propelled Labor through this period of stubborn policy achievement – through a carbon price, through tax reform, through education reform, through the beginnings of a national disability insurance scheme. No one apart from Gillard had the work ethic, the courage, the resilience, the attention to detail, the ruthless self-belief to shrug off all the naysaying in the single-minded belief that there was a job to do, and every day you are in government is better than every day you are in opposition.

It is absolutely true, as is the discomfiting reality that Gillard faced gratuitous attacks that were entirely gender-based. Over and over, we saw confirmation that there was a proportion of people in Australia who struggled with Gillard as a public manifestation of feminist progress. This pushback against the prime minister was, at times, extraordinary – and for a woman of my generation, depressing.

Julia Gillard is incredibly brave, astoundingly resilient, one of the toughest people we have seen in The Lodge. Through all the difficulties of her prime ministership she was stoic, dignified, composed, resilient. She departed in that style on Wednesday night. Shoulders back. Head high. In the circumstances - the provocation, the consistent undermining by colleagues, the terrible erosion of her authority executed by her enemies within Labor, Kevin Rudd's slow terrible revenge - she exited with class.

There was no self pity. She was confident it would be easier for the next woman, and the one after that. She had done her best. She had achieved difficult things in tough times. She had blazed a trail.

But the deep personal flaws were there too. Gillard could command admiration, but not respect. She shape-shifted. She confounded rather than connected. She was, in turns, too loyal and then too ruthless. The tempo of project Julia was ragged. She could not nurture a fractured government back to functionality. She did not command the caucus, the cabinet, the voters. She became a solo act, shrinking before our eyes.

Of course she would say her failure to reassure was an unnatural condition imposed on her by her enemies – the people who made it their business to keep her in tumult, to make sure her feet never touched solid ground. Abbott was utterly pitiless, forgiving his own severity and minimising it before highlighting hers. The hung parliament and its freewheeling characters were a backing track of instability. Rudd would not accept defeat, no matter how many times she outflanked him and won. He remained on the field, resolutely on the moral high ground, camped out in luxury, plotting and scripting revenge of the nerds while she dragged Labor behind her in a singular act of will that was as terrifying as it was admirable.

She would point in her defence to the toxicity of the media cycle. Before she could unpack her bags in the official residence the news cycle fragmented, chasing its own increasingly desperate shadow. Media outlets seemed to lose their will and their capacity to cover complexity, seemed to lack the courage to stand still. Gillard watched as her prime ministership was transformed into a soap opera. Heads she lost. Tails she lost. Commentators she had declined to flatter and court and appoint keepers of her personal mythology elevated rivals and critics at her expense, recording their laments in minute detail, playing gleeful stenographers to the disaffected. Her disintegration became grist to the hourly mill, a habit that the media could not kick. “Gillard’s woes” was a standing item on every news list in the country.

And then she would point to those haters. The culture warriors who resisted the progressive threat on principle. The type of Australians who could not accept a lady in the Lodge – and certainly not an unconventional one, with a sub-optimal boyfriend, no husband, no children, no God, no instinct to defer. Her steady prevailing, without flourish, without self-indulgence, without self-pity only gave fresh succour to their hatred. Who knew there were so many of them, lurking and fulminating in their self-righteous loathing? Stuffing her in chaff bags. Peeping through her window. Dinosaurs in a last desperate act of fire-breathing, consuming her and themselves – a bizarre and terrible immolation.

She’d be right in these assessments, more or less.

It’s all been part of the Julia Gillard story, an incredible tale where Australia chewed up and spat out its first female prime minister.

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« Reply #7171 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:09 AM »

June 26, 2013

Mongolia Re-Elects Leader to Another 4-Year Term


HONG KONG — Mongolians appeared Thursday to have re-elected their president to a second four-year term, giving him half the vote needed to avoid a runoff election in a race that focused on demands that the resource-rich country do a better job of distributing wealth to its citizenry.

Election results released Thursday morning showed that President Tsakhia Elbegdorj received slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. His re-election means that Mr. Elbegdorj is likely to continue with his anti-corruption and pro-growth policies that have seen the country’s economy expand 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 overshadowed the election campaign 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 delayed by the government before 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.

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’s main challenger, Badmaanyambuu Bat-Erdene, a champion wrestler who is the candidate of the Mongolian People’s Party, received 41 percent of the vote, while Natsag Udval, from the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, received 8 percent. Both opposition candidates had 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, the Mongolian 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.
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« Reply #7172 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:11 AM »

June 27, 2013

Rights Report Faults Mass Relocation of Tibetans


BEIJING — In an effort to reshape rural Tibet, the Chinese government is pursuing a mass relocation project that since 2006 has moved more than two million farmers and other people from centuries-old villages into concrete, roadside settlements that often cut off inhabitants from their traditional sources of income, according to a study released Thursday by Human Rights Watch.

Citing official figures, the report said that more than two-thirds of the region’s 2.7 million people had been relocated to look-alike, concrete townships.

The development project, dubbed the New Socialist Countryside by planners in Beijing, is aimed at raising living standards and improving the economy in one of the poorest and most isolated corners of China. The program has provided as many as 2.1 million Tibetans with running water, electricity and access to better health care and schools.

But researchers at Human Rights Watch say the program has had a devastating impact on traditional Tibetan society by fracturing families, forcing nomads to give up their livestock and requiring many residents to pay for some of the costs of relocation, leaving them with sizable debts.

“It’s a tectonic shift that is radically altering the way of life for the vast majority of Tibetans who have no say in the design and implementation of these policies,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher in Hong Kong who helped write the report, which is based on official documents and on interviews with local residents. “Many Tibetans do not know what hit them.”

Coupled with a crackdown on dissent and “stability maintenance” efforts that include stepped-up surveillance in communities across the Tibetan plateau, the study paints the portrait of a society increasingly shaped and managed by the state. Since its invasion by Chinese troops in 1950, the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as Tibet is officially known, has been transformed by generous investment from Beijing, but also by restrictions on religious life at Buddhist monasteries and educational policies that favor instruction in Mandarin over the Tibetan language in local schools.

Many of those policies have intensified since 2008, when deadly ethnic rioting rocked Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Since then, long-simmering grievances have found expression in a spate of self-immolations, with at least 120 monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans setting fire to themselves in a protest campaign that has led to even greater restrictions.

Beijing has sealed off large swaths of the Tibetan plateau to outsiders, barring foreign journalists and limiting access by diplomats, Western tourists and non-Chinese researchers. Earlier this week, Gary F. Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China, began a rare three-day visit to Tibet, the first time an American ambassador had been given permission to visit the region since 2010, according to an embassy spokesman.

Robert Barnett, director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, said the program of mass relocations was created a decade ago in response to data suggesting an alarming income gap between rural and urban Tibetans. “Beijing wanted to bring up rural incomes to avoid unrest,” he said. “They’ve been really successful in doing that, but they got the unrest anyway.”

Such Maoist-style social engineering is not new in China but it has had a well-documented impact on the Tibetan nomads who for centuries ranged across the high-altitude pastures spanning Tibet and parts of four adjoining provinces. According to the state media, over the past decade more than a million herders have been resettled in townships, a relocation effort that officials often describe as voluntary.

But Mr. Barnett and other outside experts say the relocations, which are ostensibly designed to protect the ecologically fragile grasslands, are coercive, leaving nomads without the goats and yaks that sustained them. Unable to compete with ethnic Han Chinese migrant workers or educated Tibetans who speak Mandarin, many former herders survive off government subsidies and the odd construction job. Alcoholism is common, he and other experts say. “The cultural cost of disrupting this nomadic life is hard to measure but the price is high,” he said.

Zha Luo, an ethnic Tibetan and a rural development expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, rejected the suggestion that government-run relocation programs were hurting Tibetan culture.

“It’s not like they are relocated to Henan or mixed into other communities,” he said, referring to a province in central China. “They still keep their calendar, holidays and customs.”

He added that most Tibetans were eager for the creature comforts of modernity. “I grew up in a herder family,” he said. “It is miserable in the winter. When the bitter cold comes, the elderly have no hospital to go to and no medicine.”

The new housing does not come free. Despite glowing reports in the state media that feature appreciative Tibetans, Mr. Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said that residents were sometimes required to pay up to 75 percent of the cost of new homes that even government inspectors have found deficient. A 2009 report issued by the State Council, China’s cabinet, noted that some of the developments lacked “a rational design” or had been built in areas prone to landslides.

Still, the researchers found a degree of satisfaction among some Tibetans, especially those who had prospered from the housing boom. But many others worried about how they would survive once construction ended and government stipends ran out.

“They don’t have any other skills than farming, and won’t have any herds or land worth speaking of anymore,” Tenzin Gyaltso, a villager from Gyama, told researchers. “How is the next generation to survive as Tibetans?”

For Mr. Bequelin, the program has become another means for managing a population that has long resisted government control. Arrayed alongside major roads, the settlements make it more cost effective to provide utilities, he said, but also allow closer supervision by the authorities.

“Since the state couldn’t reach the Tibetan countryside,” he said, “they decided the Tibetan countryside should be moved to make it more accessible to the state.”

Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.
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« Reply #7173 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Brazil's left and right struggle for ownership of protests

Rival groups split on the political direction of the protests, with claims two organisations back military rule

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013 19.52 BST   

Rival organisations behind Brazil's huge street demonstrations are struggling for control amid conflicting views about the political direction the movement should take.

With further action planned for Wednesday evening, the leftwing groups who initiated the marches suspect opposition parties are trying to hijack the protests and use them as a platform to challenge president Dilma Rousseff's government before next year's presidential election.

The protesters have proved a formidable political force, notching up victory after victory in the past week and forcing Rousseff's Workers' Party and regional leaders into a series of concessions. But the scale has ebbed in recent days. Although demonstrations continue on a daily basis in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and dozens of other cities, they are on a smaller scale than last Thursday's march of more than a million.

The vast majority of marches have been unified, but there have been a few shouting matches between rival groups competing to set the ideological direction of the protests. Some would like a stronger focus on inequality and improving conditions in favelas. Others are pushing for tax cuts and a crackdown on corrupt officials.

In online chat rooms and microblogs, there is speculation that police are using agents provocateurs to stir up violence and pave the way for a coup. Evidence for that is scant, but differences have become more apparent. Groups such as Anonymous are calling for a period of reflection, and arranged workshops and public meetings in Rio this week to discuss where to go next.

But several organisations that are closer to the right pressed ahead with smaller gatherings on Monday and urged more on Thursday. Two of them, Organisation Opposed to Corruption and Online Revolution, advocate the return of militarism, according to an article on the Estado de São Paulo website. This followed tension in São Paulo during last Thursday's march when some groups burned the flags of the Workers Party.

"We live in a democracy and this reaction is a kind of nationalism taken to an extreme. I fear this may be hidden fascism," said Talita Saito, a 21-year-old law student at the protest.

Such incidents have so far been on the fringes. More positive is the sign of a new political debate that has been stirred up by formerly apathetic multitudes who are turning out in vast numbers to peacefully back the protests.

But those who initiated the protests in support of cheap public transport are uneasy that part of the movement has morphed towards a campaign for lower taxes.

A major reason for the success of last week's marches was that the organisers rejected affiliation with political parties. The amorphous movement embraced frustrations felt across the political spectrum, many of them brought into relief by the Confederations Cup.

About 50,000 people joined a demonstration on Wednesday outside a stadium in Belo Horizonte, where Brazil were playing Uruguay in a Confederations Cup semi-final. Police fired tear gas and protesters threw stones. In Brasilia, where the other semi-final was taking place, police shut down traffic in the city centre in expectation of unrest.

After last Thursday's march, the huge range of motivations was evident in the hand-written placards pinned on to the walls – "Schools not Stadiums", "70bn in Corruption", "End Police Violence", "Stop PEC 37" (a bill that would weaken the power of the public minister to investigate official wrongdoing) and "No to the Gay Cure" (a reference to evangelical politician Marco Feliciano's call for Brazil's medical establishment to treat homosexuality as a disease.

In recent days, Rousseff – a former student radical – has talked to organisers and responded to some of their concerns. On Monday, she promised a referendum on political reform, tighter penalties for corruption, a 50bn real (£15bn) programme for public transport and more support for healthcare and education. Another concession was won from legislators, who dropped the PEC 37 bill.The groups behind the protests say Rousseff's promises are too vague and fall short of demands they have regarding evictions of residents for mega-events, excessive police violence (seen on Tuesday in a raid on the Maré favela in Rio that left at least nine people dead) and wider issues of inequality and environmental destruction.

A statement by the Passe Libre group said the government has to do more to rein in paramilitary police, who have shot protesters with rubber bullets and used teargas indiscriminately. "There is an urgent need to demilitarise the police and put in place a national policy to regulate less lethal weapons, which are banned in many countries and condemned by international bodies," the group said.

Alan Fragoso, one of the organisers of the Fórum de Lutas group that initiated the protests, said the demonstrations would continue. "Even if the protesters do not have full political consciousness we must seize the moment to promote the inclusion of political debate in the daily life of Brazilians," he said.

In response to Rousseff's promises and concerns about the vandalism that followed clashes with police, the organisers plan to set new guidelines for the protests.

One question will be how the movement can address inequality. Halting bus price rises alone will not achieve this if it means spending cuts in other areas of social spending, as the São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad noted.

So far most of the marchers have been middle class students, protesting in the city centres or near football stadiums. But on Tuesday came the first march in Rio from two favela communities – Rocinha and Vidigal – to the wealthy middle-class neighbourhood of Leblon, which is home to the state governor, Sérgio Cabral.

"This is not about left or right. We're fed up with our leaders. We can't rely on public hospitals or schools, yet they spend billions on stadiums," said Anderson Castro, who turned up to the lively, peaceful, but relatively small march with his young son Arthur on his shoulders.

The coming days are likely to clarify where, how and whether the demonstrations will continue on a large scale, with the attention of many focused on Sunday's Confederations Cup final in Rio.

Additional reporting from São Paulo by Helena Alves
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« Reply #7174 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Chilean protesters in street battles with police

More than 100,000 join demonstrations as students seize 30 polling stations to be used for presidential vote on Sunday

Jonathan Franklin in Santiago, Thursday 27 June 2013 08.34 BST   

Hooded protesters have vandalised shops and fought running street battles with riot police in Chile's capital after more than 100,000 joined mostly peaceful demonstrations across the country to demand education reform.

The violence began early on Wednesday when masked youths attacked a police station and left burning tyres at road junctions hours before thousands of university and secondary school students marched through central Santiago.

While riot police battled a flurry of rocks and molotov cocktails, students seized an estimated 30 locations scheduled to be official voting sites for Sunday's presidential primary vote.

The president, Sebastián Piñera, warned the students that squads of riot police were prepared for massive raids if the students refused to peacefully surrender the voting areas. "We are not going to let a minority, jumping over the law, pretend to usurp the 13 million Chilean citizens who have a democratic right to participate [in elections]," he said.

"They are not students, they are criminals and extremists," the interior and security minister, Andrés Chadwick, said. "They have acted in a co-ordinated and planned way to provoke these acts of violence."

Police arrested 102 people and four officers were injured.

The students were led by Moisés Paredes, a high school leader who held a press conference suggesting the government find an alternative location for their elections. The face-off between the billionaire businessman turned president and teenage student shocked many older Chileans who wondered aloud who was in control.

"We are talking about underage children who by law are not able to vote nor buy a pack of cigarettes. Children who need their parents' permission to leave the country … who can't by law even drive a car," wrote Teresa Marinovic, in the influential online newspaper El Mostrador.

The rejection of Piñera and elections in general is part of a broad attack on politics as usual. As in neighbouring Brazil, Chileans of all ages have joined the protests, which are driven by a range of issues. In Chile, marchers have demanded a wider redistribution of Chile's copper wealth, a reform of the educational system, which would put the state back in control of mostly privatised public universities, tax increases for the rich, and the legalisation of marijuana.

While protests are hardly new in Chile, where the 1980s were notable for massive street uprisings against the military government of Augusto Pinochet, the current protests are more diverse.

Much of the energy comes from the ranks of public schoolchildren aged 14-17. Though not old enough to order a beer, they are connected by Facebook and able to marshal massive marches and flashmobs in the hundreds when a single friend is arrested and held by Carabineros de Chile, the national police force. Instead of football or skateboarding, teenagers often gather after school in public parks to draft declarations and manifestos.

In the hours before the national march, students attacked and briefly occupied the ministry of education. Another group protested outside Codelco, the state-run copper mining company, with signs reading "Copper for Education" in reference to Chile's massive revenue from copper exports and student demands for free university education for all.   

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« Reply #7175 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:20 AM »

June 26, 2013

Rare Visit Underscores Tangles in Obama’s Ties to Africa


DAKAR, Senegal — As a freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama told a packed auditorium in Kenya’s capital, “I want you all to know that as your ally, your friend and your brother, I will be there in every way I can.”

But he will not be there. President Obama, who Wednesday began his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, will skip his father’s homeland once again, a reflection of the many challenges that his administration has faced in trying to make a lasting imprint across the continent.

Despite decades of American investment to promote stability in the volatile region of East Africa, Kenya just elected a president indicted by the International Criminal Court, accused of bankrolling death squads driven by ethnic rivalry. It was the outcome that Washington had desperately tried to avoid, and Mr. Obama’s advisers determined that a photo op of the American president shaking hands with a man awaiting trial was not one they needed.

“It just wasn’t the best time for the president to travel to Kenya at this point,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

For Africans across the continent, the election of an African-American president signaled a transformative moment in their relationship with the United States, one that would usher in a special understanding of their hopes and needs.

But Mr. Obama’s own aspirations for changing Africa have been strained by security threats that have been mounting across vast stretches of its territory, by the spotty human rights records of nations that the United States has worked with to contain them — and by the president’s notable absences from the continent where his father was born.

His two immediate predecessors in the White House made big gambles and left large legacies on the continent, but Mr. Obama has struggled to gain much traction on his stated aims in Africa: consolidating democracy, protecting women’s rights and reducing hunger. Some wonder whether this trip may be his best opportunity.

“This is the last chance for the administration to salvage an Africa legacy,” said Todd Moss, a senior fellow of the Center for Global Development, a research group in Washington. “But it is very late in the day.”

Mr. Obama’s only previous visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president was a brief stop in Ghana in 2009, despite the heightened economic and strategic stakes at play on the continent, home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and some of its most vexing security problems.

China’s top leaders, by contrast, have busily traveled to dozens of African countries in recent years, investing billions of dollars in natural resources, building infrastructure on a vast scale and giving rise to criticism that the United States is ceding a rising region.

Mr. Obama’s aides acknowledged the breadth of activity by China and other nations, but they said the president’s trip would deliver a message that the United States intended to “be present” in matters concerning Africa.

“We can send a signal of increased U.S. engagement through this trip,” said Mr. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.

As the president flew to Senegal on Wednesday to begin a tour that will also take him to South Africa and Tanzania, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said the administration’s approach to Africa was similar to the one it had taken toward Asia, where Mr. Obama has insisted on greater attention and investment.

The Obama administration has spent billions of dollars on aid to Africa every year, building on a rapid expansion under President George W. Bush. And while Mr. Obama’s achievements in Africa may not always be flashy, they are not inconsiderable, said J. Stephen Morrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“There has been no big vision, big-ticket stuff, but there is plenty of senior-level, grind-it-out diplomacy,” Mr. Morrison said, adding that Mr. Obama has made Mr. Bush’s AIDS and malaria initiatives much more efficient and effective. He also cited the administration’s vital role in improving Somalia, a country whose troubles have bedeviled several American presidents.

For many, Mr. Obama’s presence has been more evident on the battlefield. He pushed for the NATO military campaign that helped topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, launched deadly strikes against extremists in Somalia, spent hundreds of millions of dollars to train African armies to fight Islamist militancy across the Sahara and set up a drone base in Niger — all while continuing to support less-than-democratic allies like Ethiopia and Uganda.

Angry over the administration’s antiterrorism policies, a “NO-bama” coalition of lawyers, students and trade unions in South Africa is promising a National Day of Action on Friday, the day the president is expected to arrive there. Student groups say they will protest when Mr. Obama is scheduled to receive an honorary degree. The South African Muslim Lawyers Association delivered a 600-page brief to the South African government that it called the “Obama Docket,” demanding that the president be arrested for war crimes when he lands in the country.

Mr. Obama, the first American president with personal roots in this continent, remains immensely popular in Africa, and any visit from him has deep symbolism and historic meaning. But because his trips emphasize the loftier side of his ambitions for the continent — focusing on ideals, not the complex realities that often undermine them — his itinerary options are somewhat limited.

Beyond the political tension with Kenya, many other African nations are essentially off limits. Safety issues, deeply flawed elections, human rights violations and logistical roadblocks often make visits impossible, unworkable or undesirable.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and an important strategic partner for the United States. But many Nigerian officials and human rights groups have accused the nation’s army of summary executions and other abuses in its battle with Boko Haram, a militant group that has been waging a war against the government.

Ethiopia has been a close ally in combating Islamist militants in the volatile Horn of Africa and is a major recipient of United States aid. But its government is considered one of Africa’s most repressive, ruling out it, too, as a presidential stop.

“Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, those are good, solid, safe choices,” Mr. Morrison said. “They don’t have the edge you might get if you’d chosen a few other alternatives.”

For Tanzania, Mr. Obama’s arrival means the chance to play host to arguably the two most powerful people on the planet in just over three months. In March, Xi Jinping visited the nation’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, on his first tour abroad as China’s new president, promising aid, scholarships and the transfer of new technology. Mr. Obama will also find himself following in Mr. Xi’s recent footsteps in South Africa.

But for those in countries that are not a destination, Mr. Obama’s weeklong trip will be a reminder of how much of the continent he has missed.

“We expected him to come,” said Paul Okindu, 40, one of five men working at Obama Shoe Shine in Nairobi, Kenya. “We are so disheartened that he decided not to.”

The local media in Kenya have been referring to the decision to skip Kenya as a “snub” of President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose office announced that he would travel to Russia, China and Japan while Mr. Obama was in Africa.

“There are some who are very disappointed that he is trying to embarrass his motherland and show them they are not that important,” said Gerishon Ikiara, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi. “The message is quite clear that he is not happy with Kenya.”

Caroline Odengo, 34, a teacher in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, said the challenges that Kenya faced were all the more reason for Mr. Obama to visit. “We’re waiting for his voice,” she said.

Michael D. Shear reported from Dakar; Nicholas Kulish from Nairobi, Kenya; and Lydia Polgreen from New York. Rick Lyman contributed reporting from Johannesburg.

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« Reply #7176 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:21 AM »

June 26, 2013

As World Awaits News on Mandela, Tensions Rise Over Media Swarm


JOHANNESBURG — As a close friend and former fellow inmate of Nelson Mandela, Mac Maharaj has long played a pivotal role in bringing Mr. Mandela’s story to the world.

In the 1970s, when both men were held at the notorious Robben Island prison under South Africa’s apartheid government, Mr. Maharaj smuggled out a text that formed the basis for Mr. Mandela’s celebrated autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Today, as spokesman for the South African presidency, Mr. Maharaj is again the conduit for the Mandela tale — possibly its final chapter. Yet in some ways the task is as fraught as ever.

At a news briefing on Monday, Mr. Maharaj upbraided journalists for their coverage of Mr. Mandela, 94, who remains hospitalized with a serious lung infection. Unethical reporters were contacting doctors, violating patient confidentiality and, in some cases, getting the story flat-out wrong, he said testily.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Maharaj again went on the defensive, in reaction to a report on CNN that Mr. Mandela was on life support. “I’m not going into any detail by confirming or denying,” he said, citing constraints of doctor-patient confidentiality. “And I’m not going to get into an argument with an unnamed source.”

Mr. Maharaj’s denial underscored a central problem in reporting the latest news about Mr. Mandela, a beloved symbol of freedom across the world, as his condition has steadily deteriorated: how to reconcile the voracious, concern-driven appetite for news of his health with the deep sensitivities of South Africans for whom he is much more than a simple leader.

“There’s a complicated set of issues at play here,” said Nic Dawes, editor of The Mail and Guardian newspaper, which carried a report on disagreements within the Mandela family about where Mr. Mandela should be buried. “One is a deep ambivalence, undergirded by cultural considerations, about discussing the possibility of death. The other is an avid thirst for information.”

Worries about Mr. Mandela deepened late Wednesday night after President Jacob Zuma canceled a trip to neighboring Mozambique scheduled for Thursday. After visiting Mr. Mandela in the hospital, Mr. Zuma found him “to be still in a critical condition,” the president’s office said in a statement.

Mr. Mandela’s declining health has attracted a huge international news media contingent to South Africa, probably the largest since the early 1990s when Mr. Mandela was freed from prison, then elected the country’s first black president. A phalanx of satellite dishes, tents and vehicles crowds the narrow street outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, where he is being treated.

Camera operators, photographers and reporters cluster outside the hospital gate, scrutinizing every visitor. Behind them, on the far side of the road, stands a line of low-rent apartment buildings that were once restricted by law to minority whites but which are now largely inhabited by working-class black South Africans.

Photographers with The Associated Press have rented a balcony in one of those apartments, overlooking the hospital entrance, at a handsome rate. Other entrepreneurial residents have also taken advantage of the news media circus, selling access to their toilets or setting up roadside food stalls.

Jane Marutle, 30, a city worker, sells hot lunches to hungry reporters, some of whom she now counts as friends. “I’ve even introduced them to Mopane worms,” she said, referring to a traditional meal from Limpopo Province.

But some South Africans have been less welcoming. Last week, in what might be described as drive-by shoutings, motorists slowed as they passed the reporters, yelling epithets or telling the foreigners to go home.

“They said: ‘Why are you here? He’s not dead,’ ” said Jody Jacobs of TVC News, a local television channel.

On June 10, a hospital security guard assaulted a photographer as Mr. Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, entered the hospital, breaking his camera.

Other South Africans have vented their anger on Twitter, sometimes portraying reporters as vultures; as a result, large news media organizations, like the BBC and CNN, have been guarded about disclosing how many employees they have flown into the country to cover Mr. Mandela.

“A lot of South Africans don’t like the spectacle around the coverage,” said Mr. Dawes, the editor. “They don’t like the crowds around houses or hospitals; they see it as ghoulish and invasive.”

For all that, other South Africans have welcomed — or at least quietly accepted — the intense coverage as a fitting tribute to their hero. And in recent days, as Mr. Mandela’s illness has deepened, hostility toward the news media has diminished, as the population prepares for the possibility that Mr. Mandela may not be around for long.

“The media are here to support us,” said Gerald Moshe, 19, a student. “They have come from overseas to cry with us and support us in this difficult moment.”

Away from the psychological aspect of Mr. Mandela’s illness, however, controversy lingers at the political level, much of it centered on the role of the presidency.

Mr. Maharaj, who is the sole source of official information about Mr. Mandela’s health, says he can only give broad descriptions of the former president’s condition. But critics say that his credibility is strained by the legacy of years of ill-tempered confrontations between the government and the local news media.

Mr. Zuma’s government has faced regular accusations of obfuscating the truth over the many political and financial scandals that have roiled the ruling African National Congress party.

And for all the talk about privacy and respect, some of those seeking to protect Mr. Mandela from the news media have also taken advantage of publicity. Two of Mr. Mandela’s granddaughters starred in “Being Mandela,” a recent reality television show. And some politicians have also sought to bask in Mr. Mandela’s political glow, even during his sickness.

The tensions between the news media and the government came to a head last weekend after CBS News broadcast a report that detailed how Mr. Mandela’s ambulance broke down as he was being rushed to the hospital on June 8, leaving him stranded by the roadside until a replacement arrived. The report also asserted that Mr. Mandela had suffered a cardiac arrest that same night.

That report embarrassed the government and visibly angered Mr. Maharaj, who confirmed the breakdown but denied that Mr. Mandela had a heart attack. He criticized what he described as gratuitous detail about Mr. Mandela’s liver and kidney functions in the report, and said it appeared aimed at discrediting the country’s leadership.

“It stimulates the view ‘Don’t trust the presidency,’ ” he said.

Later, Zizi Kodwa, a former presidential spokesman, said on Twitter that the news report “justifies a need for media regulation.” But among the public, there was a sense that the government was shielding them from the truth.

Outside the hospital on Tuesday, Siya Cele, 24, a sales consultant, said the ambulance tale had damaged his trust in the official version. “I want to see what’s going on with my own eyes,” he said, motioning toward the hospital where Mr. Mandela was being treated.

Behind the grumbling, however, many journalists and other South Africans concede they believe that, in this instance at least, Mr. Maharaj and his colleagues are motivated largely by genuine concern for their old comrade, Mr. Mandela. And as his health crumbles, the squabbles may soon be overtaken by greater concerns.

In recent days, ever-larger crowds have gathered outside the hospital gates. “Prepare for the worst” read a headline in The Herald newspaper this week.

For many South Africans, facing up to that painful realization is becoming their main focus. As Mr. Maharaj said this week, “I keep pinching myself: ‘You lucky sod, he is still alive.’ ”

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« Reply #7177 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:24 AM »

Egypt's Mohamed Morsi: I have made mistakes

President pledges radical reforms to state institutions, but also denounces 'enemies of Egypt' for sabotaging democratic system

Staff and agencies, Wednesday 26 June 2013 22.14 BST   

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has admitted making mistakes in his first year in office.

In a televised address on Wednesday, Morsi pledged to introduce "radical and quick" reforms in state institutions, admitting some of his goals had not been achieved.

"Today, I present an audit of my first year, with full transparency, along with a road map. Some things were achieved and others not," he said. "I have made mistakes on a number of issues."

But the president also blamed unspecified "enemies of Egypt" for sabotaging the democratic system and warned that the polarised state of the country's politics was threatening to plunge it into chaos.

His speech came before a planned mass demonstration this weekend by his opponents who are demanding that the president resigns and calls an early election.

"Political polarisation and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos," he told an audience of officials and Islamist supporters.

"The enemies of Egypt have not spared effort in trying to sabotage the democratic experience," he added.

Thousands of opponents gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the focal point of the 2011 revolution, to watch the speech.

Morsi was speaking at a conference hall filled by cabinet ministers and senior officials of his Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, along with several hundred supporters.

His speech was interrupted repeatedly by the supporters with applause or chants. The army chief was among those in attendance, and he politely clapped.

Hours before he spoke, two people were killed and more than 200 were treated for injuries in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo, when Islamist supporters clashed with their opponents.

The military said it was bringing reinforcements closer to Egypt's main cities. The troop movement signalled the seriousness of the situation, as huge demonstrations by Morsi's opponents and supporters loom and violence is possible.

On Sunday the military chief warned that the army would not stand by and watch Egypt deteriorate into chaos.

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« Reply #7178 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:25 AM »

Russia withdraws its remaining personnel from Syria

Evacuation signals growing concern in Moscow about conflict between ally Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebels

Miriam Elder in Moscow and Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013 18.30 BST   

Russia has evacuated the last of its personnel from Syria, including from its Mediterranean naval base in Tartus, in a move that appears to underline Moscow's mounting concerns about the escalating crisis.

Russian media reported on Wednesday that they had confirmed the evacuation with officials in the country's military and foreign ministry. But there was no official confirmation of a claim from rebel Free Syrian Army sources that a Russian plane had been shot down and its pilot captured in the western Aleppo area.

The effective closure of the Tartus base would be a significant loss, though a 16-ship naval task force is still in the eastern Mediterranean. The base is Russia's only foothold in the Middle East.

Neighbouring Cyprus has, however, made its ports available to the Russian fleet. Cypriot media have reported that the government may allow Russia to use its base at Paphos to host military aircraft.

News that Russian forces had pulled out of Syria came in an interview with Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister, in an interview with the newspaper al-Hayat last week.

"Today, the Russian defence ministry does not have a single person in Syria," he said. He described Tartus as a "technical facility for maintaining ships sailing in the Mediterranean."

The Vedomosti newspaper quoted an unnamed defence ministry official as saying: "We have neither servicemen nor civilians in Syria any more. Or Russian military instructors assigned to units of the Syrian regular army, for that matter."

But Vedomosti said the decision to remove defence ministry personnel did not include technical experts employed by the Syrian government to train its army to use Russian-issued weapons.

Russia Today, the Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, said: "The withdrawal was prompted not only by the increased risks caused by the ongoing military conflict, but also by the fact that in the current conditions any incident involving Russian servicemen would likely have some unfavourable reaction from the international community."

Russia has been evacuating its citizens from Syria for weeks. Bogdanov said that about 30,000 Russians live throughout the country, some in rebel-held areas. The Interfax news agency reported that 128 Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics left Syria on Wednesday on planes that had delivered what was described as humanitarian supplies the previous day.

Russia remains Assad's last major ally, alongside Iran. It has repeatedly blocked US-led attempts to sanction Bashar al-Assad's regime via the UN. Russia and the US failed to agree in talks this week on convening a peace conference in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition.

The pullout from Tartus is unlikely to interfere with the delivery of Russian air defence and anti-ship missiles to Syria. Bogdanov defended the shipments of arms as legal and arranged under an existing contract. Asked when the deliveries would begin, he replied that that was a decision for the "supreme command".

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« Reply #7179 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:30 AM »

In the USA...

06/26/2013 04:25 PM

Unequal States: Why the US Still Needs Race Protection Laws

An Analysis By Marc Pitzke in New York

The Supreme Court in Washington has ruled that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to combat the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, is no longer valid. They argue blatant racism is a thing of the past, but daily experience tells a different story.

The United States Supreme Court has spoken. The country's highest court has essentially ruled that racism is a thing of the past in America. Gone are the times when black people were hunted down and lynched, times when Congress had to provide African-Americans with legislative protection, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the greatest achievement of the US civil rights movement.

"Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically," the court wrote in its decision on Tuesday, overturning the key provision of the historical Voting Rights Act, which had been passed in 1965 to help ensure that African-Americans were given equal voting rights in states in the South. They reasoned that "blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare," that "minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels," and that the line separating the racist South from the open-minded North had disappeared.

"Our nation has made great strides," Chief Justice John Roberts, born in Buffalo, New York, wrote in the majority decision.

But has it? Certainly. The situation today is nowhere near as bad as it was during the bloody 1950s and '60s. And that's been true for a long time. Of course, this became even more evident with Barack Obama's election as president in 2008, a development many heralded as the dawning of a "post-racial" era.

A Dose of Daily Racism

The truth, however, is that the United States is still grappling with the problem of racism, with discrimination and with the long-term consequences of past slavery in the country. Racism may be less "blatant," as the Supreme Court posits, but it remains latent -- and that's what makes laws like the Voting Rights Act so important.

Here are just a few examples of the kind of everyday racism experienced in America -- and there have been quite a few lately.

    In Florida, the murder trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, has just begun. His justification in the slaying: Martin had looked suspicious to him when he entered into his gated community. What that actually meant, though, is that a black person didn't belong there -- he couldn't have been up to anything but trouble. "These assholes, they always get away," Zimmerman reportedly told police.

    And celebrity chef Paula Deen of Georgia, known for her heavy Southern cooking, recently outed herself as a subconscious racist. She admitted that the "n-word" had been part of her casual vernacular and is accused of having suggested plans for a "Gone with the Wind"-style wedding that would have included "a bunch of little niggers" as servers. "Deen has the kind of mind that can look back on America's Holocaust and see nothing but cotillions and hoop skirts," the online magazine Slate writes in an editorial.

    Meanwhile, in New York, America's most progressive and diverse metropolis, a major dispute has erupted over racial profiling by police. The controversial "stop-and-frisk" program, which allows police to conduct pat downs on the street, is often a discriminatory practice. During the last 10 years, 88 percent of those who were stopped and frisked by police were black or Latino.

Should these examples be considered exceptions or simple anecdotes? By no means. Discrimination still remains deeply and systemically ingrained in US society. And that fact is revealed in the data.

    African-Americans and Latinos comprise a disproportionate share of those in prison -- and on death row. Africans have a 1 in 15 chance of landing behind bars, whereas the chance of Caucasians going to jail are 1 in 106. Prison sentences for blacks are also usually harsher than those for whites -- even when similar crimes are committed, particularly when it comes to drug convictions.

    African-Americans are also at an economic disadvantage, earning on average less than white people. Some 27 percent of African-Americans live under the poverty line, compared to just 10 percent of Caucasians.

Progress has come slowly, but the Voting Rights Act was a monumental leap forward. Nevertheless, it still didn't stop local politicians from using every trick in the book to curb the voting rights of African-Americans. They have been purged from registered voter lists, opening hours have been shortened at polling stations, the number of places where one could vote were sharply reduced in some voting districts, and there were mandatory voter ID requirements.

"Voting discrimination still exists," a "deeply disappointed" Obama warned on Tuesday. The Supreme Court's ruling could now give leeway for this type of chicanery. Republicans in Texas have already announced they will try to quickly push through a draconian mandatory ID law that would disproportionately impact the poor and minorities.

Protective laws remain indispensable in the United States, even if the principle of Affirmative Action is slowly starting to appear passé. Even in modern America, it will be some time before racism truly becomes a thing of the past.


Doma defeated on historic day for gay rights in US

Supreme Court rules Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and clear way for same-sex marriage to be restored in California

Dan Roberts in Washington and Amanda Holpuch in New York
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013      

A landmark supreme court ruling struck down a controversial federal law that discriminated against gay couples in the US, delivering a stunning victory on Wednesday to campaigners who fought for years to overturn it.

The court also dismissed a separate appeal against same-sex marriage laws in California, restoring the right to gay marriage in the largest US state and nearly doubling the number of Americans living in states where gay marriage would be legal.

Together, the two rulings mark the biggest advance in civil liberties for gay people in a generation, and come amid growing political and international recognition that same-sex couples deserve equal legal treatment.

As reporters sprinted from the chamber down the court steps to deliver the news of the rulings, a roar built up from the crowd that had been waiting outside since the night before.

The most significant legal breakthrough came in the decision led by Justice Anthony Kennedy to rule that the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) was unconstitutional because it deprived citizens of "equal liberty" before the law.

Doma, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, previously barred married gay couples from a range of crucial legal rights including federal tax and estate tax exemptions, social security benefits, and the right to be notified of the death of next of kin. It also meant that the married partners of gay Americans were not recognised under the immigration system, leading to heartbreaking splits for couples of different nationalities.

But in a case brought by an 84-year-old resident of New York, Edith Windsor, who faced a $313,000 estate tax bill after the death of her partner of 40 years, lawyers successfully argued that Doma was an unconstitutional interference by Congress in the rights of states to determine marriage laws.
Defense of Marriage Actplaintiff Edith Windsor speaks to supporters in Manhattan following the US supreme court ruling on Doma. Defense of Marriage Act plaintiff Edith Windsor speaks to supporters in Manhattan following the US supreme court ruling on Doma. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

"Doma instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others," said the opinion, written by Kennedy and supported by a total of five of the nine court justices.

"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the fifth amendment."

The significance of the argument signed by Kennedy and four other justices goes beyond one law. By declaring that gay people are deserving of equal protection under the constitution, it makes it more difficult to pass discriminatory laws in the future.

Antonin Scalia, the arch-conservative justice, led a blistering dissent. He callled the decision on Doma and the technical ruling that the court had jurisdiction over such matters "jaw-dropping". Reading from the bench, he said: "Both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society."

But the justices' majority decisions were greeted with jubilation among gay rights campaigners. President Obama called the Doma ruling a "historic step forward for marriage equality" and said he had ordered government departments to implement it as quickly as possible.

"I've directed the attorney general to work with other members of my cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly," he said.

Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, said benefits would extended to the spouses of all servicemen and women, regardless of sexual orientation.

James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union said: "This historic ruling recognizes how unfair it is to treat married lesbian and gay couples as though they're legal strangers. Edie and Thea were there for each other in sickness and in health like any other married couple. It's only right for the federal government to recognize their marriage and the life they built together."
Californians React To Supreme Court Prop 8 A couple celebrates upon hearing the US supreme court's rulings on gay marriage in San Francisco. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In a separate decision on a 2008 California ballot measure known as Proposition 8, the justices ruled that anti-gay marriage campaigners did not have legal "standing". The ruling paves the way for the restoration of gay marriage in California, which was permitted before a majority of voters blocked it under the 2008 ballot challenge.

Prop 8 was ruled later unconstitutional by two lower courts, whose rulings now stand. The supreme court opinion said that anti-gay marriage campaigners who brought the appeal could not show they had suffered injury.

"[The] petitioners have no role – special or otherwise – in its enforcement," said the majority decision, written by the chief justice, John Roberts. "They therefore have no 'personal stake' in defending its enforcement that is distinguishable from the general interest of every California citizen."

Same-sex couples will be able to marry in California when a federal appeals court lifts a temporary ban on gay marriage in the state, which has been in force since Prop 8 passed. The governor of California, Jerry Brown, said he had directed county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the ban was lifted. The process is likely to take about a month.

David Boies, one of the lawyers who argued against Prop 8, said the court's finding of no standing was significant because the court threw out the argument that same-sex marriage somehow harms people outside the marriage.

"They cannot point to anything that harms them, because these two loving couples, and loving couples like them in the state of California, are now going to be able to get married," he said in a statement on the steps of the court. With the defeat of Prop 8 in California, same-sex marriage would be legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

At New York City's LGBT Center, where Edith Windsor gave a press conference, people exchanged hugs and high-fives when the news came through. Windsor said that she wished her wife, Thea Spyer, had been alive to see the decision. "My first reaction was tears," she said. "Then I cheered, obviously." The couple married in 2007 after 40 years together. Spyer died in 2009.

Glennda Testone, executive director of the center, said: "Every day we see same-sex couples come through our doors, my friends, my family, people who just want to be recognized for the loving relationships they've nurtured, people with children who just want to be protected. Today, the supreme court took a step to make sure it happens."

She added: "I woke up this morning thinking of Edie. This was Edie's chance for her relationship to be recognized on a national, broad level."

Testone said that while thrilled with the Doma ruling, the LGBT community still must work to aid students who are bullied at schools, immigrants whose relationships are split, and transgender people who still face discrimination.

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« Reply #7180 on: Jun 28, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Ecuador breaks US trade pact to thwart 'blackmail' over Snowden asylum

Government renounces Andean Trade Preference Act even as Snowden's prospects of reaching Ecuador from Moscow dimmed

Rory Carroll in Quito
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 19.56 BST   

Ecuador has ramped up its defiance of the US over Edward Snowden by waiving preferential trade rights with Washington even as the whistleblower's prospect of reaching Quito dimmed.

President Rafael Correa's government said on Thursday it was renouncing the Andean Trade Preference Act to thwart US "blackmail" of Ecuador in the former NSA contractor's asylum request.

Officials, speaking at an early morning press conference, also offered a $23m donation for human rights training in the US, a brash riposte to recent US criticism of Ecuador's own human rights record.
Edward Snowden Edward Snowden. Photograph: Guardian

Betty Tola, the minister of political coordination, said the asylum request had not been processed because Snowden, who is believed to be at Moscow airport, was neither in Ecuador nor at an Ecuadorean embassy or consulate. "The petitioner is not in Ecuadorean territory as the law requires."

Tola also said Ecuador had not supplied any travel document or diplomatic letter to Snowden, who is reportedly marooned in Moscow airport's transit lounge because his US passport has been invalidated.

A document leaked to Univision on Wednesday showed that someone at Ecuador's consulate in London did issue a safe conduct pass for the fugitive on June 22, as he prepared to leave Hong Kong. The name of the consul general, Fidel Narvaez, was printed but not signed.

Tola said it was unauthorised: "Any document of this type has no validity and is the exclusive responsibility of the person who issued it."

The renunciation underlined divisions within Ecuador's government between leftists who have embraced Snowden as an anti-imperialist symbol and centrists who fear diplomatic and economic damage.

Some in the government are believed to be annoyed that Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has sheltered at Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition, has seized the limelight in the Snowden saga. Assange caught Quito by surprise last week when he announced Snowden had been given a safe conduct pass. Quito replaced its ambassador to London earlier this month in hope of better managing its famous guest.

The waiving of preferential trade rights followed threats from members of the US congress to drop the ATPA in July, when it is due for renewal, unless Ecuador toed the line on Snowden.

"Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be," said Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.

"Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits."
The announcement will enhance President Correa's reputation as a bold leader unafraid to defy the US, just like the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez.

Tactical calculation lay behind the decision. Even before the Snowden affair Quito feared losing the trade preferences, largely because of Republican antipathy to Ecuador's outspoken socialist leader.

"The Ecuadorans got word that renewal of ATPDEA was a long shot in any case, so instead of waiting for rejection, they took the initiative and the high road," said Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.

Correa loved a fight and was responding to perceived US hypocrisy and heavy-handedness, said Shifter. But the president had showed caution in refraining, so far, from granting Snowden asylum. "He appears to be weighing the political and public relations benefits against the real consequences for Ecuador's economy, should he grant the asylum request."

Juan Carlos Calderon, the editorial of Vanguardia, a weekly which has had its offices raided and staff threatened in disputes with the president, said Correa's firebrand image masked shrewd, pragmatic calculation.

Even before the Snowden affair the president tried to soothe Ecuadoreans that losing the trade preferences, which exclude thousands of products such as roses, tuna and broccoli from export duty, would have a small impact.
Not all are convinced. "This will have serious consequence for Ecuadorean producers," said Ramiro Crespo, director general of Analytica Investments, a Quito-based consultancy.

"These products which are exported to the United States have become major industries in Ecuador. If commerce is restricted there's going to be unemployment … This does not penalise the government, it penalises the people."


Obama: US will not engage in 'wheeling and dealing' over Edward Snowden

US president indicates he won't spend much geopolitical capital to apprehend the NSA surveillance whistleblower

Spencer Ackerman in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 14.23 BST   

Link to video: Edward Snowden: Barack Obama not spoken to Russia or China over extradition

After weeks of high-stakes international tension to find and apprehend surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, US president Barack Obama indicated that he would not spend much geopolitical capital to make the former National Security Agency contractor stand trial in the United States.

Obama said on Thursday he would not engage in "wheeling and dealing" to persuade foreign governments – principally Russia – to return Snowden to America, where he has been indicted on espionage charges related to his leak of classified information to the Guardian and Washington Post about broad NSA surveillance operations.

Obama said he had yet to speak with the Russian or Chinese leadership concerning Snowden, emphasizing a desire to place trade and other bilateral issues ahead of the whistleblower.

"I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker," Obama said, according to a tweet from the Washington Post's David Nakamura.

Russian president Vladimir Putin confirmed on Tuesday that Snowden is in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, awaiting a potential voyage to Ecuador, where he has requested political asylum. For five days, Snowden's mysterious flight from Hong Kong and future travel plans have captured global attention. "I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie," Obama reportedly said.

Putin said that Russia would not extradite Snowden to the United States and asserted that Russia's security services had not been in contact with Snowden, a claim greeted with international skepticism given Snowden's knowledge of some of the most sensitive secrets about the US surveillance apparatus.

Obama's remarks temper down days' worth of heated rhetoric from his administration about Snowden. The Justice Department on Sunday emailed reporters a detailed timeline about its efforts to work with Hong Kong to arrest and extradite the 30-year-old former NSA contractor, pushing back against Hong Kong's public claim that the US did not follow the proper legal procedures to apprehend him. A US National Security Council spokeswoman warned that Snowden's departure might prove "detrimental to US-Hong Kong and US-China bilateral relations".

An anonymous senior administration official went further, insulting Russia and China in the course of attempting to discredit Snowden – all while the Obama administration attempted to work with both countries on the issue, particularly Russia.

"Mr Snowden's claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador," the official told reporters in an emailed message early Monday morning.

The main Chinese state newspaper, the People's Daily, shot back on Tuesday by praising Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask".

It remains to be seen what Obama will do to facilitate Snowden's extradition, or if his remarks indicate that Obama is deprioritizing Snowden after nearly a month of being vexed by his disclosures. On Sunday, Obama's NSA director, General Keith Alexander, said Snowden "has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies".

Members of the US Congress have called Snowden a "traitor" and are likely to pressure the Obama administration to intensify its effort at bringing him to the US to stand trial.

"I hope we'll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there will be consequences if they harbor this guy," senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday.


June 27, 2013

New Leak Suggests Ashcroft Confrontation Was Over N.S.A. Program


WASHINGTON — The March 2004 confrontation in the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft — a dramatic point in the Bush administration’s internal debate over warrantless surveillance — was apparently set off by a secret National Security Agency program that was vacuuming up “metadata” logs of Internet communications, according to a draft of a 2009 N.S.A. inspector general report obtained by the British newspaper The Guardian.

The report, the latest document given to the paper by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, may clear up a long-running mystery over which program White House officials wanted Mr. Ashcroft and other Justice Department officials to sign off on when they went to his Washington hospital room. Because of their refusal, according to the report, the Bush administration shut down the metadata collection for several months, then re-established it under a secret order from a national-security court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

The program continued to operate for the first two years of the Obama administration but has since ended, Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence, said Thursday.

“The Internet metadata collection program authorized by the FISA court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted,” Mr. Turner said. “The program was discontinued by the executive branch as a result of an interagency review.”

A separate N.S.A. program that has been collecting domestic “telephony metadata” — logs of all telephone calls dialed by Americans — has continued. That program was among the first of Mr. Snowden’s revelations. It is not clear whether Internet metadata collection has continued under a different program.

The N.S.A. uses the metadata to analyze links between people to try to identify networks of terrorism suspects, a process the report calls “contact chaining.” The inspector general report says they typically “analyzed networks with two degrees of separation (two hops)” from the known suspect to create investigative leads submitted to the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. in reports they called tippers.

The content of the inspector general report — a history of the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance programs, which eventually came under court oversight — was first reported by The Washington Post.

President Bush’s original surveillance program, established on Oct. 4, 2001, had four components. It sucked up the contents of telephone calls and e-mails, as well as their “metadata” logs. This was done without court orders and outside statutory regulations, and was based on closely held legal memorandums; even the N.S.A.’s general counsel was not allowed to see them at first, according to the report, which invoked the president’s inherent powers as commander-in-chief.

Over time, however, there was turnover at the Justice Department, including the arrival of a new head at its Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and a new deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who last week was nominated by President Obama to be director of the F.B.I.

In December 2003, Mr. Goldsmith began to question the legality of some aspects of the programs, and he persuaded Mr. Comey — who took over temporarily as attorney general when Mr. Ashcroft became ill the following March — not to sign a document reauthorizing it.

The report says that the Justice Department’s concerns were focused on the Internet metadata program, which was then based on a theory that the N.S.A. did not “acquire,” for legal purposes, the bulk communications when it collected them, but instead only when human analysts selected certain data to examine because it met certain criteria.

In the hospital room confrontation of March 10, 2004, Mr. Ashcroft refused a request by senior White House aides to overrule Mr. Comey and sign off on extending the program. The report says that on March 19, after taking into account the objections of Mr. Comey and his allies, Mr. Bush rescinded his authorization to the N.S.A. to collect bulk Internet metadata and gave the agency a week to stop collecting it and to block access to its existing database.

During the same month, the report says, the Bush administration also ended the secret domestic surveillance programs against Iraq it had begun the year before under a theory that Iraqi spies were “engaged in terrorist activities and presented a threat to U.S. interests in the United States and abroad.” The credibility of Bush administration claims linking Iraq to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups was, at the time, a subject of deep controversy. It is not clear whether ending the program was a coincidence or connected to the Justice Department’s rebellion against the White House over the administration’s legal theories about surveillance.

After Mr. Bush’s order to end the collection of Internet metadata, administration lawyers looked for a new legal basis to restart the program. Under this theory, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could authorize such bulk collection under a “pen register/trap trace” statute, which traditionally allows law enforcement officials to keep logs of communications sent and received by particular phone numbers or e-mail accounts.

The chief judge of the national-security court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, issued an order on July 15, 2004, authorizing the resumption of the program, according to the report. None of the other judges on the court were apparently told about the programs or the new order; this was the first time one of the N.S.A.’s secret surveillance programs had come under the court’s oversight and authority

In 2006, according to the report, N.S.A. was faced with another legal challenge when The New York Times disclosed the existence of the warrantless surveillance program. In response to the disclosures, one of the telephone companies that was secretly providing its customers’ data to the N.S.A. on a voluntary basis asked for a court order compelling it to comply to protect itself legally, forcing the Bush administration to develop new legal theories to support other surveillance.

That May, the national-security court issued its first order to the telephone companies to log metadata from phone calls, citing a provision in the Patriot Act that allowed the government to obtain business records deemed to be “relevant” to a counterterrorism investigation.

It was apparently more difficult to get the court’s agreement on a legal justification for the collection of the contents of phone calls and e-mails than of Internet metadata. But the Justice Department came up with a theory that the word “facility” in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had traditionally been understood to mean a specific telephone number or e-mail address, could be “changed to encompass the gateway or cable head that foreign targets use for communications” — that is, the entire line. That gave the N.S.A. access to the contents of a huge number of communications.

In January 2007, a judge on the FISA court issued two orders, one covering the collection of foreign communications and another dealing with domestic ones. After the contents were collected in that fashion, rules would be applied to screen out Americans’ communications in some circumstances and setting limits on when the database could be consulted, the report said.

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« Reply #7181 on: Jun 28, 2013, 06:24 AM »

François Hollande cosies up to Qatar with his principles in his pocket

The French president's trip to Doha shows he is prepared to sideline his socialism if the petrodollar price is right

Nabila Ramdani, Friday 28 June 2013 12.22 BST   

What price French socialism? That's the question President François Hollande is being asked as he tries to reconcile his "Mr Normal" image with his unashamed courting of the multibillionaires of Qatar.

Before coming to power last year, Hollande admitted: "I don't like the rich," and pledged a top income tax rate of 75%. That, like so many of his much-vaunted plans, hasn't quite worked (the legislation is still in the pipeline) but his antipathy towards the wealthy has already seen some flee the country, mainly to more liberal tax regimes including the UK and Russia.

In which case, those who remain ask, why on earth did Hollande look so gleeful last week on a visit to Qatar's outgoing emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, and his Harrow-educated son Sheikh Tamim? Hollande appeared to have shed all reservations about high-end, trans-border capitalism as he highlighted the "mutual respect and understanding" between France and Qatar, encouraging the liquid gas-rich emirate to pour its petrodollars into everything from prestige Paris real estate to the city's troubled immigrant suburbs. The equivalent of some £10bn has arrived over the last five years, with Qatari investors given every incentive to keep the cash coming, including the waiving of stamp duty on their property purchases in France.

Qatar is, of course, casting its asset net across the world. You can see its influence all over the UK – from Harrods to major sporting events such as the horse racing at Ascot, through almost every new luxury development in Knightsbridge and Chelsea – but there is something extremely peculiar about the most overtly leftwing head of state in Europe becoming so reliant on the Gulf state's largesse. While in Doha, Hollande even praised his detested conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy for doing so much towards strengthening Franco-Qatari relations, portraying him as some kind of economic visionary.

The reality, however, is that there's nothing astute about cosying up to the super-rich. It's just something that comes easily to the French political establishment, whether right or left. When I asked a senior Hollande aide how the president could square his once outspoken socialism with the financial clout of absolute and hereditary rule there was the predictable huffing and puffing about "knowing who our friends are" and "the need to be realistic". 

This "realism" extends to the French supplying up to three-quarters of Qatar's armaments. One of the main reasons for Hollande's trip to Doha was to try to persuade the Qataris to replace their ageing Mirage fighters with Rafale ones, so signing military contracts that will be as lucrative as the ones Sarkozy wanted Muammar Gaddafi to sign for the same planes (Sarkozy failed, perhaps hastening his decision to destroy the colonel's Libyan dictatorship). It's all about realpolitik – something that invariably persuades politicians to betray their principles.

France is certainly in crisis too, with the cost of living spiralling along with the unemployment rate. Domestic recession has combined with the eurozone slump to send Hollande's approval rating into freefall, making him one of the most unpopular presidents in French history.

But just as Sarkozy – a man once laughably dubbed the "Gallic Margaret Thatcher" – achieved next to nothing during his single term in office, apart from a kind of showbiz ignominy (the Paris home he shares with his pop singer wife, Carla Bruni, was raided by anti-corruption police within a few days of him losing presidential immunity from prosecution), so Hollande appears set on a course of unprincipled mediocrity. His relations with Qatar do not necessarily rule out his claim to be a socialist, but they certainly suggest he's prepared to overlook it if the price is right.
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« Reply #7182 on: Jun 28, 2013, 06:29 AM »

Turkish PM's treason claims against BBC reporter chills other journalists

Turkish journalists see Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's attack on presenter for BBC's Turkish service as a warning to them all

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, Friday 28 June 2013 08.40 BST   

Selin Gerit, a London-based presenter for BBC's Turkish service, was until last week relatively unknown in her home country. However, that changed when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told parliament she was guilty of treason over her coverage of the anti-government protests sweeping the nation.

The prime minister's condemnation has triggered concerns among fellow journalists, who believe Erdoğan – who accuses the media of fanning the demonstrations – is attempting to stifle dissent.

The campaign against Girit was launched last weekend when the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, posted a series of angry tweets. The BBC criticised what it called government intimidation. The corporation's comments triggered Erdoğan to claim in parliament the following day that Girit was "part of a conspiracy against her own country".

Turkish journalists see the focus on Girit as a warning to them all – an example to cow the rest of them into submission. Serdar Korucu, editor of a major domestic news outlet, said: "The prime minister is telling us, 'Be careful what you say and do, or you can easily be next'."

The mainstream media have ignored much of the unrest, with CNNTürk airing a documentary on penguins while the central square in Istanbul became the scene of street protests unprecedented in Erdoğan's 10-year rule. The public was outraged, and protests were staged outside local news outlets.

Many journalists, however, were not surprised. Fatma Demirelli, managing editor of Today's Zaman, the English-language daily, said self-censorship had long become the norm in newsrooms. "Journalists now have a sort of split brain: on the one hand you see what the news is, but on the other you immediately try to gauge how to report it without stepping on anyone's foot," she said. "Self-censorship has become an automatic reflex."

Turkey has more journalists in its prisons than anywhere else in the world, with 67 incarcerated, according to Reporters Without Borders. But the government's stance against the media has drawn more attention during the protests around Gezi Park.

"The significant difference with the current events is that the censorship has affected a different constituency of people – middle-class Turks – rather than other groups whose causes have been more frequently subjected to censorship, such as activists advocating Kurdish rights and politics," said Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International.

"Another difference is that the events were widely covered in international media, exposing the self-censorship in mainstream Turkish media further."

Censorship and control aside, violence and arbitrary threats against journalists trying to report the events have also increased. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented a large number attacks on the press during the protests, including physical assault, detentions, threats and the unlawful confiscation of equipment and protective gear. Several reporters – Turkish and foreign – have sustained injuries from beatings and plastic bullets used by the police.

The organisation singled out police brutality as the biggest threat against journalists in Turkey, claiming that reporters were facing the greatest risk to their safety in more than two decades.

After covering a peaceful protest that was violently dispersed with teargas and water cannon, journalist Alpbugra Bahadir Gültekin was repeatedly beaten by the police. "I told them that I was with the press, but they first insulted and then started beating me. After I fell to the ground, several officers continued to beat and to kick me," he said.

He managed to recover CCTV footage of the incident and filed charges against the police. However, he does not expect to be heard. "They operate in an atmosphere of impunity. But we have to start somewhere, and bring these incidents to light, " Gültekin said.

Demirelli and Korucu agreed that Erdoğan was becoming a figure beyond criticism. "News stations have started to correct the prime minister's slips of the tongue unasked, in order to be on the safe side," Korucu said. "Nobody wants to ask uncomfortable questions, in order to keep him happy. But how can we begin to understand issues of interest if asking is not free any more?"

Demirelli said: "Journalists now always wonder if they really want to investigate, for fear that they might actually find something."


Turkey protests: hundreds set up barricades in Ankara

Main road is blocked in working-class district of Dikmen as small core of protesters continue daily demonstrations

Reuters in Ankara, Thursday 27 June 2013 13.13 BST   

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in a residential area of the Turkish capital, setting up barricades and lighting small bonfires.

Weeks of often violent anti-government protests have mostly died out in Istanbul and the centre of the capital, Ankara, but daily demonstrations have continued in its recently developed working-class Dikmen district.

The protesters, numbering no more than 1,000, blocked Dikmen's main road with makeshift barricades and started small fires late on Wednesday, some chanting anti-government slogans.

Riot police and water cannon trucks initially kept their distance but moved in to disperse the protesters in the early hours, footage from the anti-government channel Halk TV showed.

The images showed police firing at least two rounds of teargas and detaining at least one protester.

Several thousand people had marched through the neighbourhood the previous night in protest at the release pending trial of a policeman accused of shooting and killing a protester this month. Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse them.

The weeks of protests have highlighted divisions in Turkish society, including between religious conservatives who form the bedrock of support for the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and more liberal Turks.

Four people were killed in the broader unrest, including one policeman, and about 7,500 wounded with injuries ranging from lacerations to breathing difficulties from teargas inhalation, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

A report by the children's rights group Gündem Çocuk said at least 294 people under the age of 18 had been detained between 28 May and 25 June in relation to the unrest. It said some had been exposed to teargas, pressurised water and percussion bombs and had been beaten by police with batons.

Turkey has come under international criticism for its handling of the protests, which began in late May as peaceful resistance to plans to redevelop an Istanbul park.

The EU rebuked Turkey this week, postponing a new round of membership talks for at least four months.

Erdoğan has held a series of mass rallies across the country since the trouble started, dismissing the protesters as pawns of Turkey's enemies and calling on his supporters to back his party in municipal elections in March.

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« Reply #7183 on: Jun 28, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Greece tries to fix economy with cabinet reshuffle amid strikes and protests

Antonis Samaras has rearranged his cards – but vast Greek debt keeps him playing the same hand

Helena Smith, Wednesday 26 June 2013 19.02 BST   

On his first day in office with his newly reshuffled cabinet, the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras had a to-do list that included dealing with striking seamen and trolley-bus drivers, discussing the privatisation of Pireaus port and preparing for talks with the creditors keeping Greece's defunct economy afloat.

At the same time, tax employees prepared for battle with a 48-hour strike; protesting staff continued to occupy the main offices of the public broadcaster, ERT, while thousands of entrepreneurs representing small-and medium-sized businesses took to the streets. The focus of their fury: "hunger pensions" and cuts to a health system on the point of collapse.

For any other government, fighting fires on so many fronts would prompt a response that would be, at best, crisis management. In Greece, however, it's business as usual.

With his newly installed team, Samaras hopes to handle the myriad problems confronting the country with a new zest and tact. The reshuffle, a year and a week after he assumed power, had been long overdue. The sudden departure from the coalition government of the small Democratic Left party, Dimar, provided the perfect alibi for a radical restructuring of a tripartite alliance that had begun to look lacklustre and lazy. There was, said Samaras, "not a moment to waste" in the battle to save the debt-stricken nation.

But far from boding well, there is also a sense of déja vû about the new administration. With Dimar's exit, the coalition is now comprised solely of figures from the two mainstream political forces most blamed for the country's woes. The recycling of politicians from both the conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok parties has been met with incredulity and derision.

Many are wondering how politicians who have already been tried and tested – frequently displaying a marked reluctance for reforms – can possibly put Greece back on its feet.

Michalis Chrysohoidis, the Pasok cadre elevated to run the transport ministry, caused uproar last year when he admitted he hadn't even read the first bailout accord outlining the onerous terms Athens had agreed to in return for funds from the EU and IMF. He was public order minister at the time.

The appointment of Adonis Georgiades as minister of health – one of the most sensitive portfolios – has caused similar dismay. A conservative extremist, Georgiades is more usually associated with the talk show he hosts exhorting the glories that were ancient Greece.

Both are indicative of a power-sharing arrangement that more resembles a balancing act. For the first time since being plunged into its worst crisis in living memory, there is an overwhelming sense that the country is in the hands of a government that is buying time.

Geopolitics have forced a semblance of stability on Greece. The German elections in September have increased expectations that what lies ahead is a slow-motion summer of little or no policymaking that could rock the boat.

But few have bought the government's argument that Greece is on the road to recovery. Even fewer believe Samaras' prognostications that with the benefit of hard work, yet more austerity will be kept at bay.

Indeed, many are certain it is only a matter of time before the crisis intensifies when the coalition is forced in the autumn to take fresh measures to avoid the collapse of the pension system.

With unemployment now at a record 27% and poverty soaring, Greeks may be forgiven for believing that the real truth lies not so much in the notion of hard labour, but in the rules of the game being changed.

Short of a deus ex machina, the crisis engulfing Greece will only be resolved when its debt load is somehow forgiven.

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« Reply #7184 on: Jun 28, 2013, 06:37 AM »

06/27/2013 01:44 PM

Car Clash: Germany Blocks CO2 Reduction Deal

There were threats, lobbying and even a call from Chancellor Merkel to the Irish prime minister. In the end, Germany got its way and managed to delay an EU decision on lowering the amount of CO2 European-made cars may emit.

Germany has long seen itself as a leader when it comes to efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. Indeed, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government remains committed to radically expanding its reliance on renewable energies in the coming decades.

But when it comes to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases German-made automobiles produce, Berlin is far less ambitious. And this week, Merkel managed to block the adoption of new emissions limits for cars produced in the European Union. Stricter caps, she insisted, could severely handicap Germany's automobile industry, focused as it is on the luxury car sector.

EU member states on Thursday had been set to rubber-stamp a deal hammered out on Monday evening between the European Council -- led by Ireland as current holder of the rotating EU presidency -- and the European Parliament. The agreement foresees the reduction of a company's fleet-wide CO2 emissions from 130 grams to 95 grams per kilometer by 2020.

But Berlin undertook a flurry of lobbying this week, with Merkel even calling Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Wednesday in an effort to have the issue removed from the agenda of the Thursday meeting of ambassadors to the EU from the 27 member states. Others in Berlin also sought to delay the vote so as to give Germany time to assemble enough allies to block the deal. In the end, the effort was successful and a decision on the item was delayed until October.

A Threat from Berlin

According to the German newswire DPA, diplomats from Berlin had threatened that the German automobile industry would be forced to move out of Europe if the stricter emissions levels were passed. On Wednesday, the Economics Ministry appeared to make the same threat in comments to Reuters. "Many jobs are dependent on the automobile industry," a ministry spokesperson told the news agency. "It is an important factor for Germany's competitiveness. The EU has clearly said it wishes to place Europe's competitiveness in the foreground. As such, we need decisions from Brussels that conform to this ambition."

The delay will give Berlin more time to assemble a blocking minority to weaken the CO2 limits. By October, Croatia will have become a full EU member and observers believe the country could join Germany. Furthermore, Ireland will no longer hold the rotating EU presidency; Lithuania is set to take over. That too could make a difference.

Prior to Thursday, Germany had only been able to garner the support of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, both countries that have become increasingly dependent on the automobile industry in recent years.

Carmakers in other European countries, such as Italy and France, would have an easier time meeting the new limits because of the smaller average size of the vehicles they produce. Even so, they too would have some work to do. According to Germany's Federal Motor Transport Authority, even such small-car producers like Renault, Peugeot and Fiat still have an average fleet output of over 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer. BMW is currently over 140 grams per kilometer and Mercedes stands at 153. The Volkswagen fleet emits an average of 139.2 grams per kilometer.

'A Scandal'

European Union diplomats had voiced anger with German efforts to torpedo the deal. "It is a scandal," one unnamed diplomat told DPA on Wednesday.

There are many in Germany who are likewise unsettled by the government's position, particularly the similarity between the position taken by Merkel and that represented by the automobile industry. Merkel has demanded that automakers be allowed to "bank" credits for the production of electric cars prior to 2020. The current deal only allows electric cars to offset CO2 emissions for the period after 2020. Furthermore, Berlin wanted electric cars to be calculated at a ratio of 3 to 1 instead of the 1.3 to 1 ratio proposed by the Commission.

That position is virtually identical to the position adopted by the German automobile industry, which has heavily lobbied Merkel in recent weeks.

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