July 4, 2013
Czech Scandal Shines Light on Corruption
By DAN BILEFSKY
PRAGUE — He is a church-going, bespectacled physicist and father of four nicknamed “Mr. Clean Hands,” who was elected prime minister by promising to sweep out a culture of cronyism and sleaze from politics. She is a glamorous and ambitious single mother of two who rose from small-town payroll clerk to become part of his inner circle.
Prime Minister Petr Necas and his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, have been romantically linked in a scandal that has riveted the Czech Republic, polarized the political class and brought down the government after the biggest anti-corruption sting operation here since the fall of Communism turned up $8 million in cash and stores of gold that prosecutors suspect was used in kickback schemes.
Apparently motivated by jealousy, Ms. Nagyova used the country’s secret intelligence service to spy on Mr. Necas’s wife, with whom he is in the midst of a divorce, prosecutors say. The untoward surveillance was discovered as part of a separate investigation, two years in the making, in which wiretaps revealed links between Ms. Nagyova and some of the country’s most influential lobbyists, known as “the godfathers.”
The nexus of scandals, which forced Mr. Necas’s resignation in June, has marked a stunning fall from grace for a prime minister with a once irreproachable reputation for abstemiousness. It has also demonstrated, depending on the view, either the impenetrable depths of corruption in a still-young democracy, or a striking blow against the kinds of graft that have permeated many of the post-Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe.
In mid-June, 400 police officers and an elite organized crime squad were summoned here for what they were told would be a day of rigorous physical training. Instead, when they arrived in the Czech capital, they were handed black masks and instructions for the secret raids during which nine officials close to the prime minister, including Ms. Nagyova and the current and former heads of military intelligence, were arrested.
Ms. Nagyova, who faces five years in prison if convicted, has been charged with abuse of office and bribing three members of Parliament who had stood in the way of a government austerity plan with offers of posts in state-owned firms.
Whether through love or manipulation, Mr. Necas, prosecutors and associates say, became unintentionally associated with the very network of pay-to-play politics that many Czechs had hoped would end with his election in 2010. In the wiretaps, Mr. Necas can be heard sobbing as Ms. Nagyova presses him to find state positions for the Parliament members, according to a senior law enforcement official who is familiar with the investigation. “I don’t want to suffer this pressure anymore,” he is heard pleading, the official said.
Mr. Necas has not been charged with any crime. But the police say they are investigating his possible role in the political corruption, and on Tuesday Mr. Necas asked the state attorney to question him in the bribery case, saying he didn't want to be used as a pretext to keep others behind bars.
Jan Zahradil, a senior member of the scandal-hit Civic Democrats, who has known Mr. Necas for decades, argued that the whole corruption affair boiled down to the hubris of a leader who had come under the control of an ambitious woman.
“It’s about the personal and psychological failings of a man, a prime minister, who was not able to curb a woman who became hungry with power,” he said. “He is so humiliated. He is finished.”
When Ms. Nagyova’s home was searched, the police discovered bills for Louis Vuitton handbags amounting to €120,000, or $155,000. Such expensive tastes, and her obsessive control over the prime minister, earned her the nickname “tsarina.”
Ms. Nagyova’s lawyer told the Czech media she had acted in good faith and had ordered the surveillance operation in order to protect Mrs. Necasova, the prime minister’s wife, who had come under the influence of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “What has bothered her most since she was arrested is the fact that the police have heard her intimate phone calls,” the lawyer, Eduard Bruna, told the Pravo daily after her arrest.
Ms. Nagyova’s meteoric rise began in 2005 when she moved to Prague to work at the Civic Democratic Party’s headquarters, where she met Mr. Necas, then deputy chair of the party.
When Mr. Necas was appointed minister of labor and social affairs in 2006, he made Ms. Nagyova his chief of staff. After Mr. Necas became prime minister in 2010, the two became inseparable, former colleagues say.
Early in 2012, Mr. Necas sought to justify hefty bonuses for Ms. Nagyova, claiming “she works like a horse.” However, some began to question the prime minister’s judgment.
“She was autocratic, and was notorious for firing people for no reason. She didn’t want any other woman within a 20-kilometer radius of the prime minister,” said Karolina Peake, the young outgoing deputy prime minister, who said Ms. Nagyova made her work in a shabby office on a different street from where other senior government officials worked.
Prosecutors said her dealings with lobbyists were coming under close scrutiny. They said they were examining whether the cash discovered during the raids could be linked to Roman Janousek, an influential lobbyist nicknamed “Lord Voldemort” by the Czech media, an allusion to the shadowy Harry Potter character also referred to as “He who must not be named.”
Mr. Janousek had been involved in an influence-peddling scandal at City Hall, and law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether he and another influential lobbyist, Ivo Rittig, may have been seeking to influence Ms. Nagyova.
Mr. Rittig’s lawyer declined to comment, and Mr. Janousek’s lawyer said he had been unable to locate his client. Mr. Necas told the Czech news Web site Lidovky.cz that he had asked Ms. Nagyova to gain the trust of the two men so he could monitor their activities.
In March 2012, Mlada Fronta DNES, a leading newspaper, published a series of stories based on wiretaps of Mr. Janousek speaking with the mayor of Prague in 2007. During the calls, the two men discussed everything from lucrative sales of city assets to who should lead the Prague branch of the state health insurer.
Critics have characterized the sting operation as mere theater by overzealous law enforcement officials aimed at appeasing a public so fed up with graft that Marianske Square, home to Prague’s ornate City Hall, is often referred to as Mafianske Square.
Ivo Istvan, the chief prosecutor in the case, said in an interview that criminalizing the trading of political favors marked a new legal precedent and could forever alter parliamentary politics in this young democracy. “This case can be a breakthrough,” he said. “We have been criticized for the scale of the raids and for bringing shame on the country. But it is the people who committed these crimes who are to blame.”
Some here have blamed the extensive corruption on the privatizations of the 1990s, when the lines between government and business interests became blurred. But anti-corruption experts also said that extensive corruption was a lingering byproduct of decades of occupation — by everyone from Nazis to Communists — that had nurtured a culture in which it was acceptable to take from a mistrusted state.
Ms. Peake, the outgoing deputy prime minister, who was in charge of fighting corruption, said the latest scandal was a tipping point. “There is the realization that if corruption is not stopped, people will stop believing in democracy,” she said. “This case has shown that no one is free from the hands of justice, no matter how high in politics the culprit is.”
Kate and Gerry McCann the driving force behind Madeleine investigation
After years of relentless searching for clues to their daughter's disappearance, the McCanns now have full police support
Sandra Laville, crime correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 14.01 BST
Kate and Gerry McCann were absent when the detective who represents probably the last hope of finding their daughter Madeleine, calmly outlined the new evidence he had unearthed about her disappearance.
They were not in the room, but they were the driving force behind what is the most significant development in the hunt for Madeleine since the inconclusive Portuguese investigation was shelved in 2008.
After many years in which they have pursued a relentless and at times lonely search without police guidance for any clues about what happened to their daughter, the McCanns are now being supported throughout by a family liaison officer from the Metropolitan police.
"They are being kept up to date with every development," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt.
That support will continue in the weeks and months ahead as the complex police inquiry, which is being run from the UK with the help of the Portuguese and other European police forces, develops.
It was the McCanns' dogged determination that led to the creation of the Met police review of all the evidence and information in the case in 2011.
After years of using private detectives to pursue fleeting sightings and clues which dissolved into nothing, Kate and Gerry McCann turned in desperation to David Cameron for help. His request to the Metropolitan police to review the case was embraced by the senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood.
While some questioned the scale of the task the Met was taking on, Redwood and his team set out to first collect the tens of thousands of documents from the various authorities and private detective agencies involved, then to have them translated and later put into the police system using the latest computer software to sift and cross-check information.
It is an ongoing task which Redwood admits has been an enormous challenge. But the careful and forensic nature of the process has cleared a path through the mountains of documents and identified the leads and potential suspects for which Madeleine's parents have longed.
In the background, the negotiations with the Portuguese prosecutors and police have been continuous. This investigation, the Met says, is being done hand in hand with their Portuguese colleagues in a determined effort to move the inquiry forward.
As the police team move into the phase of a full-blown criminal investigation, Scotland Yard is asking for media restraint. If and when arrests take place that call will no doubt be severely tested, but the police hope that this time round there is enough support in place to help the McCann family through the developments as they unfold.
Whatever happens next with the inquiry, it is the tenacity of Kate and Gerry McCann which has created what amounts to the best opportunity yet of finally finding the truth about the disappearance of Madeleine.
Madeleine McCann: police target 38 potential suspects identified in review
British detectives open new investigation after reviewing all evidence into disappearance of three-year-old from Portugal
Sandra Laville, crime correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 5 July 2013
British detectives are targeting 38 potential suspects from five countries as they open a fresh criminal investigation into the Madeleine McCann case six years after she went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal.
A formal request for assistance has been sent to the Portuguese authorities as officers from the Metropolitan police pursue what senior detectives involved say are "new theories and new evidence" about what happened to the three-year-old.
Detectives are preparing to be based in Portugal once the authorities there approve, as anticipated, the request to provide assistance to their investigation.
Officers are also working with police and authorities in three other European countries where potential suspects are based, with the aim of asking for their future assistance with inquiries and arrests.
Scotland Yard asked for media restraint in the coming weeks and months as it began what is being seen as the last chance to learn what happened to Madeleine. Officers believe there is a chance she is still alive.
The 38 "persons of interest" who emerged from a two-year review of the evidence by Met officers come from five countries, including Portugal and the UK. They include 12 British nationals, some based in Portugal and some in the UK.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the inquiry, has spent the past two years reviewing the vast amount of evidence from the Portuguese criminal investigation, Leicestershire police – the McCanns' home force – and information from seven private detectives hired by Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry.
He said the Met team was in a unique position, having put all the evidence – amounting to 30,500 documents – together, and the criminal investigation would now pursue thousands of leads and key persons of interest.
"I believe that there is a possibility that Madeleine is alive," he said. "The review has given us new thinking, new theories, new evidence and new witnesses to pursue. It is a positive step in our hunt for Madeleine that our understanding of the evidence has enabled us to shift from a review to an investigation."
It is understood that the review has also thrown up forensic leads to examine.
A spokesman for the McCanns, Clarence Mitchell, said: "Kate and Gerry warmly welcome this shift in the Metropolitan police emphasis. They see it as a huge step forward in establishing what happened and hope that it will lead to bringing to justice whoever was responsible for Madeleine's abduction."
Detectives are at an early stage of the new investigation, known as Operation Grange, and arrests are not expected in the immediate future.
The original Portuguese investigation was shelved in 2008 but, after a request from the McCanns, David Cameron asked the Met to carry out a review, which began in 2011.
The £5m review – paid for by the Home Office – involved getting access to and translating tens of thousands of documents, and has created 3,800 leads which detectives will pursue.
The Ocean Club in Praia da Luz where Madeleine McCann was staying The Ocean Club in Praia da Luz
Officers – who are two-thirds of the way through completing their review – have been to Portugal 16 times and shared their findings with the police and the judicial authorities as new information emerges. Prosecutors from London have also travelled to Portugal as part of negotiations to pave the way for the opening of the British investigation.
Madeleine was nearly four when she went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in May 2007 as her parents dined with friends nearby.
The 38 potential suspects being examined are understood to include known child sex offenders who were in the Algarve at the time of her disappearance.
Redwood said none of the individuals was connected to Madeleine's family or friends who were with her parents on holiday at the time. The Met team's work leads them to believe Madeleine was abducted in a criminal act by a stranger.
Redwood said: "We remain in close contact with Kate and Gerry McCann and they are updated on our current position."
• This article was amended on 5 July 2013. The headline on the original described the 38 "persons of interest" as suspects; they are potential suspects.
Madeleine McCann - will editors show restraint in reporting new inquiry?
"Scotland Yard asked for media restraint in the coming weeks and months as it began what is being seen as the last chance to learn what happened to Madeleine" - The Guardian, 5 July, 2013
Media restraint and Madeleine McCann? Given the sad history to this sad story, that is surely going to be a big ask.
Today's coverage of the announcement that British police are to open a new investigation into the girl's disappearance illustrated yet again the dilemma for her parents, Kate and Gerry.
Naturally enough, they welcomed the news that a two-year review of the case by the Metropolitan police is to become a full-fledged inquiry. It offers them renewed hope.
But they also have to suffer once again the anguish of newspaper headlines and, especially, the re-publication of those poignant pictures of three-year-old Madeleine, who vanished from their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in May 2007.
Her face featured on the front pages of five national titles this morning - the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star and Metro. And most of the others gave the story big shows on inside pages.
The headlines ranged from the wholly inaccurate "Maddie is still alive" (Star) through the highly speculative "Maddie: arrests in weeks" (Daily Mail) to the much more accurate, if blindingly obvious, "No proof she's dead" (Mirror).
Most of the coverage was measured, properly reflecting that police led by Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood were targeting 38 potential suspects (aka "persons of interest") from five countries, including 12 Britons.
But will the restraint last? Have editors learned the lessons from their former behaviour? They will doubtless recall the libel actions that cost several publishers many thousands of pounds in damages and costs.
They also need to take on board that Kate and Gerry McCann, as leading members of the Hacked Off group, have become much more media-savvy in the last six years. They will not tolerate a re-run of the disgraceful reporting of the past.
07/03/2013 04:49 PM
Early Calculator: The Sad Story of an Inventor at Buchenwald
By Frank Thadeusz
A Viennese engineer worked meticulously in a concentration camp on the world's first pocket calculator. After the war, others profited from his invention.
Curt Herzstark's fate seemed to be sealed in 1943 when the Nazis sent him to Buchenwald concentration camp. But then Herzstark, the son of a Jewish industrialist, received the unexpected opportunity to become an Aryan.
"Look, Herzstark," one of the camp commandants said to him, "we know that you are working on a calculating machine. We will permit you to make drawings. If the thing is worth its salt, we'll give it to the Führer after the final victory. He'll certainly make you an Aryan for that."
The engineer had made a pact with the devil. Night after night, after daily forced labor in the camp, Herzstark made detailed design plans for the world's smallest mechanical calculating machine. He was given special rations as motivation, and he eventually survived the concentration camp. But there was no final victory, and Hitler was never able to enjoy the invention.
Herzstark's life should have turned to fame and fortune after the end of the war, because the Viennese inventor was something of a Steve Jobs of the mechanical age. His design was revolutionary. At a time when bookkeepers and counting house owners used heavy office machines and pencils to cope with monstrous columns of numbers, he surprised the professional world with a small, elegant device that performed the four basic arithmetic operations and fit into the pocket of every work coat.
In fact, the highly talented man became one of the unluckiest people in the history of technology. Now Herbert Bruderer, an expert on the history of computer science at ETH Zurich, wants to rescue the brilliant Herzstark from oblivion. In the course of his research, Bruderer delved deeply into the story of "this sad life."
A Rising Star
It all began very optimistically. Herzstark achieved what had eluded many engineers before him. He solved the mystery of how to place the various stepped reckoners for the individual arithmetic operations in a tiny case. The inventor resorted to radical simplification.
He achieved a design in which, for example, the reckoner for addition could also compute subtractions when a lever was shifted. In 1938 Herzstark patented his mechanical pocket calculator, which looked like a cross between a pepper mill and a hand grenade.
It could have marked the beginning of a success story, but a few months after Herzstark had gone to the patent office, the Nazis invaded Austria and annexed the Alpine republic. Herzstark was only allowed to keep his Vienna company because his mother was a Catholic. But from then on the company was required to build precision instruments for German tanks. For the time being, the miniature calculator remained nothing but theory.
After a dispute with a senior member of the Gestapo who had two of his employees arrested for alleged espionage, Herzstark ended up at Buchenwald. Astoundingly, it was under the inhuman conditions at the concentration camp that Herzstark managed to turn his concept of a mechanical pocket calculator into concrete reality. But the liberation from the Nazi dictatorship, a godsend for the oppressed inmates, also put an end to Herzstark's efforts.
A Bad Run of Luck
When he returned to Vienna after the war, Herzstark discovered that his brother Ernst had taken over the family business while he was in the concentration camp. In the 1930s, Ernst was known for little more than shooting clay pigeons and owning expensive cars.
"He wasn't particularly knowledgeable," Herzstark said about his younger brother, which is why the gifted engineer didn't want to share his valuable patent with him. Herzstark also had a bad run when it came to choosing his future business partners. The world's smallest mechanical calculator went into series production in 1948 under the name "Curta," but for Herzstark, there was no reason to celebrate.
Businessmen working with Liechtenstein's royal family had used every trick in the book to rip off the unsuspecting Herzstark, who suffered from intermittent bouts of tuberculosis. Instead of becoming an equal co-owner of the calculating machine factory, the engineer was soon essentially forced out of production.
In 1952, after a grueling battle, Herzstark agreed to be paid off with a ridiculously small sum of money. The mechanical pocket calculator remained his opus magnum. He did not produce any other major invention up to his death in 1988.
The "Curta" met an abrupt end with the dawn of a new era. When the first electronic pocket calculators, with their red and green LED letters, came on the market in 1971, the mechanical mini-computer from Vienna was suddenly obsolete.
Egypt prepares for backlash as Morsi allies reject new regime
Ousted Muslim Brotherhood mobilises for day of protest as hundreds of party's members are seized
Martin Chulov and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Friday 5 July 2013
Egypt is braced for further dramatic events on Friday as the vanquished Muslim Brotherhood called for a "day of rejection" following a widespread crackdown on its leadership by the country's new interim president, Adli Mansour.
Supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, still reeling from the military coup that removed their leader from power, are expected to take to the streets after Friday prayers following a series of raids and arrests that decimated the Muslim Brotherhood's senior ranks and consolidated the miltary's hold on the country.
In a stark sign of Egypt's new political reality, the group's supreme leader, Mohamed al-Badie, who was untouchable under Morsi's rule, was one of those arrested.
Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "We are being headhunted all over the country. We are holding a mass rally after Friday prayers to take all peaceful steps necessary to bring down this coup." He called for demonstrations to be peaceful, despite fears that anger may spill over into violence.
State prosecutors announced on Thursday that Morsi, who is in military custody, would face an investigation starting next week into claims that he had "insulted the presidency" – a move that would appear to put an end to any hopes of a political resurrection.
At his inauguration on Thursday, Mansour, who was appointed as head of the constitutional court on Sunday, said this week's protests had "corrected the path of the glorious revolution that took place on 25 January 2011", and that continued revolution was needed until "we stop producing tyrants."
He also reached out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, calling the organisation "part of the fabric of Egyptian society".
"They are just one of its parties and they are invited to integrate. If they answer the call, they will be welcomed," he told Channel 4 in his first interview.
Egypt's new interim president Adly Mansour Egypt's new interim president Adly Mansour has launched a widespread crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty
But the severity of the crackdown on the Brotherhood leadership suggests that the overture will not be well received. Besides Badie, security officials also arrested his predecessor, Mahdi Akef, and one of his two deputies, Rashad Bayoumi, as well as Saad el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and the ultraconservative Salafi figure Hazem Abu Ismail, Associated Press reported.
Badie was arrested late on Wednesday from a villa where he had been staying in the Mediterranean coastal city of Marsa Matrouh and flown by helicopter to Cairo, security officials told AP.
The arrests of up to 300 Muslim Brotherhood officials are believed to have been ordered since the country's military commander, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, brought an end to Morsi's presidency on Wednesday night, a little over a year since he was inaugurated as the country's first democratically-elected leader.
The shockwaves have resounded in Egypt since then, with scenes of euphoria in the capital being met with foreboding in some towns and provinces, particularly in impoverished areas that had remained loyal to Morsi throughout the past turbulent year.
Hostility between the judiciary and Morsi's office had been a defining theme of his presidency. He had clashed heatedly with judicial leaders over the drafting of a new constitution, which was set aside yesterday.
Barack Obama said that he was troubled by Morsi's removal, and warned that US authorities were reviewing aid to Egyptian military – but he stopped short of calling the army's intervention a coup. He also condemned the arrest of Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The US president had invested political capital in establishing Morsi's democratic credentials, while maintaining ties to the Egyptian military, which had been the main beneficiary of $1.3bn (£850m) in US aid.
However, Egyptian military leaders also hold leverage over the US, primarily by maintaining a peace treaty with Israel as well as keeping the Suez Canal open and patrolling the strategically sensitive Sinai Peninsula.
Obama said: "We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters."
One of the most senior Muslim Brotherhood members remaining at liberty also slammed the new military-backed order. "We declare our complete rejection of the military coup staged against the elected president and the will of the nation," said Abdel-Rahman el-Barr to the thousands gathered at a pro-Morsi demonstration in east Cairo. "We refuse to participate in any activities with the usurping authorities."
The place where it all began last Sunday, Tahrir Square, was quieter than at any time since on Sunday, with a sense of calm and normality returning to the area that had hours earlier been the scene of some of the biggest celebrations Egypt had ever witnessed.
Military jets flew a series of overflights in formation, an apparent display of triumph as much as support. A police helicopter also hovered over the square around the square for the first time since protests began, its pilot waving from the window at a cheering crowd below.
Elsewhere there were sporadic outbreaks of violence. In Zagazig, the Nile delta city where Morsi has a family home, 80 people were injured on Thursday, Reuters reported. Witnesses said the army moved in to seal the area after an attack on pro-Morsi protesters by men on motorcycles led to clashes with sticks, knives and bottles.
Multiple attacks by Islamist gunmen on security forces were reported in Sinai early on Friday, though it was unclear whether they were in reaction to Morsi's removal. Security sources said a soldier was killed and two were wounded when a police station in Rafah, on the border with Gaza, came under rocket fire.
Helicopters circled the Rabaa mosque in the east of Cairo, where Brotherhood supporters appear to be preparing for a long stay, despite the presence of military armoured columns not far away.
Men in hard hats, carrying improvised clubs and shields are guarding main entrances to the mosque area. "We are only here to defend ourselves," said Mohammed Ahmed, 35. "After what happened on Wednesday, anyone may come for us. Gangs, the police, the army. We will not let them win."
07/04/2013 02:07 PM
'Setback for Democracy': World Leaders Critical of Egyptian Coup
Leaders in Europe and elsewhere have expressed dismay at the coup which saw the Egyptian military topple the country's president on Wednesday night. Some are warning that it sets a "dangerous precedent" that could happen again.
Wednesday night's coup d'etat by the Egyptian military that toppled Mohammed Morsi as the country's Islamist leader and installed a temporary civilian government has been described as a "serious setback for democracy" by Germany. Leaders across Europe have expressed concern over the development, which saw the ouster of a democratic government just one year after Morsi took office. On Thursday, military leaders installed Adly Mansour, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as the country's interim leader and said that elections would be scheduled soon.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the country must return to constitutional order as quickly as possible. "I call on all those responsible in Egypt , to act calmly, to meet each other halfway and to seek ways out of this serious crisis of state together."
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron called on all parties to end the violence in Egypt, where nearly 50 people have been killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents since Sunday. "It is not for this country to support any single group or party," he said in a statement. "What we should support is proper democratic processes and proper government by consent."
Foreign Secretary William Hague also told the BBC: "We don't support military intervention as a way to resolve disputes in a democratic system." "It's of course a dangerous precedent to do that, if one president can be deposed by the military, then of course another one can be in the future -- that's a dangerous thing."
Morsi's toppling came after days of mass protests against the Islamist politician. His opponents accused him of having betrayed the 2011 revolution and of promoting the Islamization of Egyptian society. The Islamist-oriented constitution, pushed through by Morsi earlier this year, has now been suspended and the military has said it will be modified.
The government in France said it has great hopes for the election that Egyptian military leaders have promised, "so that the Egyptian people can freely choose their leaders and their future." However, the statement from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius did not directly address Morsi's toppling.
In a statement issued early Thursday morning, the European Union's chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, urged all sides to return to the democratic process, "including the holding of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the approval of a constitution, to be done in a fully inclusive manner, so as to permit the country to resume and complete its democratic transition." She added, "I hope that the new administration will be fully inclusive and reiterate the importance of ensuring full respect for fundamental rights, freedoms and the rule of law."
Despite the dramatic events, EU officials said they had no plans to reconsider foreign aid to Egypt. "I am not aware of any urgent plans to rethink our aid programs at the moment," Michael Mann, a spokesman for foreign policy chief Ashton, told reporters. "But the dust is still settling on what happened last night."
In Poland, a statement from the Foreign Ministry appealed for calm in Egypt. "Recalling our democratic transformation, accomplished without bloodshed, we appeal to the sides of the conflict in Egypt to continue the process of the country's democratization through negotiations and without resorting to acts of violence and military intervention," the statement said.
In a statement released by the White House on Wednesday evening, President Obama said Washington "is deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution." The president called "on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters."
The response from Turkey, where mass protests have targeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was even stronger, not least because Morsi had been a very close ally of Ankara. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the military coup as "unacceptable." He said: "You can only be removed from dutry through elections, that is, the will of the people. It is unacceptable for a government, which has come to power through democratic elections, to be toppled through illicit means and even more, a military coup," he told reporters.
07/04/2013 06:10 PM
Post-Coup: Egyptians Have High Hopes for 'Second Revolution'
By Ulrike Putz in Cairo
The revolution of 2011 ended in Islamist rule and, on Wednesday, a military coup. Now, Egyptians are hoping that the overthrow of President Morsi will lead to a better future. But disagreement remains over what should come next.
Toni Kalifa doesn't look much like a victim of the military coup d'état in Egypt. Clutching two smartphones in his hands, he's pacing back and forth in the lobby of a five-star hotel on the Nile River in Cairo -- and calls keep coming in. "No," he says. "We don't know what is coming next." Kalifa played a not insignificant role in the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, who was deposed by the military on Wednesday night. Ironically, though, he himself has become jobless as a result.
Before Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were shunted aside, Kalifa was the moderator of an immensely popular Egyptian television show called "The Era of the Muslim Brotherhood." His show was broadcast for an hour each day in primetime, and in every episode, he would play host to an Islamist guest -- whose ideology he would then proceed to mercilessly dismantle. Highlights from his show, aired by the private station Cairo and the People, are available on YouTube. It wasn't uncommon for his guests to become physically violent under Kalifa's incessant grilling.
On Wednesday evening, the disassembly of the Muslim Brotherhood was completed. Egyptian generals removed the Islamist organization from power, they shut down three Islamist television stations and they issued arrest warrants for 300 leading members of the group. In short, they sent the Muslim Brotherhood back to the underground where it has spent so much of its history. And they deprived Kalifa of his talk show guests.
"We were just about to start a new season. But now all of my guests are in prison," says Kalifa. Fourteen Muslim Brotherhood members who he had wanted to have on his show during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins next week, are on the military's "Wanted" list. "The others will also be added," Kalifa believes, and his show could soon be history.
Still, Kalifa is not upset. Indeed, the events of the last few days have filled him with optimism of the kind that was on full display on Tahrir Square after Morsi was overthrown on Wednesday evening. Tens of thousands of people were on hand for the high point of the mass demonstrations seen in the Egyptian capital for days. When Defense Minister General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced that Morsi had been removed from office and the constitution suspended, they erupted into cheers and fireworks filled the air. For months, the opposition had been fighting a losing battle against what they saw as the Islamists' attempt to consolidate power in their hands. Now, finally, they had managed a victory.
"My mission is accomplished," Kalifa says. He also says that he already has plenty of offers for new talk shows.
For the moment, he is optimistic that his next program will not have to be focused on exposing the ideology of those in power. He is hopeful that the opposition will be able to rise to power.
"In the first revolution, the opposition made many mistakes," Kalifa says. Opponents of Mubarak, he said, were unable to unite behind a single leader and, worse, many of those who took to the streets in 2011 simply retreated into their private lives once the autocrat was toppled. "Young people didn't want to get their hands dirty with politics," he says. Instead of helping to build a new society, they simply lobbed criticism from the sidelines. "They took to Facebook and Twitter, but they didn't take on any responsibility," Kalifa says.
Now, after "Revolution Number Two," as he calls it, he expects things to be different. "This time, the people were organized and the army was smart enough to share responsibility with them," says Kalifa. "I think that it will work this time."
Headwaiter Attef Abdelghalil is also full of hope on Thursday, but it is a different kind of optimism. For the last 25 years, he has served tea in the Café el Fishawy, but he has almost never had as little to do as in recent months. Fishawy is perhaps the most famous teahouse in the Egyptian capital and it is normally a magnet for tourists. But these days, hardly anybody finds their way inside; tourists have headed elsewhere.
For Abdelghalil and his colleagues, it is that development which has led them to question their past political beliefs. We spoke to several of the men working in Café el Fishawy shortly after the 2011 revolution and most of them said they intended to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. "I voted for the Brothers too," says Abdelghalil. After three decades of kleptocracy under Mubarak, the Islamists seemed to be both honest and reliable.
Many thought the same, paving Morsi's path to the presidency one year ago. His Islamists likewise became the largest power in the parliament. "That was the biggest mistake that Egypt has ever made," Abdelghalil says now. Not only was Morsi unable to lure tourists back to the country, but "they ultimately only followed their own interests and did not work for the people as they had promised," he says.
Insulting the Judiciary
Yet in contrast to Kalifa, he doesn't have much confidence in the opposition either. Rather, he believes that Egypt's experiment with democracy has failed. "The army should not be in a rush to give up power," Abdelghalil says, adding that he thinks new elections should not be held until three years from now. "Democracy isn't important at the moment. Only the economy matters," he says. "Currently, all we have is chaos. It has to end." He says that Egypt will only begin to recuperate economically once the tourists return.
As Abdelghalil speaks, fighter jets fly low over the Cairo city center. It is both a display of power and a moment of symbolism: The air show, complete with stripes of smoke in the national colors of white, red and black, marked the exact moment when Adly Mansour, chief justice of the country's highest court, was sworn in as the country's interim president.
Following his swearing-in, Mansour told assembled journalists that the Muslim Brotherhood is also a part of the country and they are welcome to help fashion the path to the future. It is the first in what promises to become a long list of differences of opinion between him and the military. In the afternoon, Egyptian prosecutors began investigations against Morsi and 15 other Islamists. They stand accused of having insulted the Egyptian judiciary.
Mohamed Morsi's final days – the inside story
Egypt's first freely elected president found himself isolated and abandoned by allies as even his guards simply stepped away
Hamza Hendawi and Maggie Michael, Associated Press
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 11.23 BST
The army chief came to President Mohammed Morsi with a simple demand: Step down on your own.
"Over my dead body!" Morsi replied to General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Monday, two days before the army eventually ousted him after a year in office.
In the end, Egypt's first freely elected president found himself isolated, abandoned by allies and no one in the army or police willing to support him.
Even his Republican Guards simply stepped away as army commandos came to take him to an undisclosed defence ministry facility, according to army, security and Muslim Brotherhood officials, who gave the Associated Press an account of Morsi's final hours in office.
The Muslim Brotherhood officials said they saw the end coming for Morsi as early as 23 June – a week before the opposition planned its first big protest. The military gave the president seven days to work out his differences with the opposition.
In recent months, Morsi had been at odds with virtually every institution in the country, including leading Muslim and Christian clerics, the judiciary, the armed forces, the police and intelligence agencies. His political opponents fuelled popular anger that Morsi was giving too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had failed to tackle Egypt's mounting economic problems.
There was such distrust between Morsi and the security agencies that they began withholding information from him – deploying troops and armour in cities without his knowledge.
Police also refused to protect Muslim Brotherhood offices that came under attack in the latest wave of protests.
Therefore, when Morsi was fighting for his survival, there was no one to turn to, except calling for outside help through western ambassadors and a small coterie of aides from the Brotherhood who could do little more than help him record two last-minute speeches.
In those remarks, he emotionally emphasised his electoral legitimacy – a topic that Morsi repeatedly raised in the talks with Sisi.
Early this week, during two meetings in as many days, Morsi, Sisi and Hesham Kandil, the prime minister, sat down to discuss ways out of the crisis.
But Morsi kept returning to the mandate he won in the June 2012 balloting, according to one of the officials. He said Morsi wouldn't address the mass protests or any of the country's most pressing problems – tenuous security, rising prices, unemployment, power cuts and traffic congestion.
A Brotherhood spokesman, Murad Ali, said the military had already decided that Morsi had to go, and Sisi would not entertain any of the concessions that the president was prepared to make.
"We were naive ... We didn't imagine betrayal would go this far," Ali said.
"It was like, 'either we put you in jail, or you come out and announce you are resigning,'" Ali added.
Brotherhood officials said they saw the end coming.
"We knew it was over on 23 June. Western ambassadors told us that," said another Brotherhood spokesman. US ambassador Anne Patterson was one of the envoys, he added.
Morsi searched for allies in the army, ordering two top aides – Asaad el-Sheikh and Rifaah el-Tahtawy – to establish contact with potentially sympathetic officers in the 2nd Field Army based in Port Said and Ismailia on the Suez Canal.
The objective was to find a bargaining chip to use with Sisi, security officials with firsthand knowledge of the contacts said.
There were no signs that Morsi's overtures had any effect, but Sisi, on learning of the contacts, took no chances. He issued directives to all unit commanders not to engage in any contacts with the presidential palace and, as a precaution, dispatched elite troops to units whose commanders had been contacted by Morsi's aides.
The end nears
On the surface, Morsi wanted to give the impression that the government was conducting business as usual.
His offices released statements about meetings with cabinet ministers to discuss issues such as the availability of basic food items during Ramadan when Muslims feast on food after a day of dawn-to-dusk fasting. He had four cabinet ministers talk to TV reporters in the presidential palace about fuel shortages and power cuts.
The opposition had set its first mass protest for 30 June, the anniversary of his inauguration, but the demonstrations began early, and Morsi had to stop working at Ittihadiya palace on 26 June.
The next day, he and his family moved into the Cairo headquarters of the Republican Guards, an army branch that protects the president.
Morsi worked at the Qasr El Qouba palace and continued to do so until 30 June, when the Republican Guards advised him to stay put at their headquarters.
His foreign policy aide, Essam el-Haddad, telephoned western governments to put an optimistic spin on events, according to a military official. Haddad was also issuing statements in English to the foreign media, saying that the millions out on the streets did not represent all Egyptians, and that the military intervention amounted to a textbook coup.
According to the usually authoritative newspaper Al-Ahram, Morsi was offered safe passage to Turkey, Libya or elsewhere, but he declined. He also was offered immunity from prosecution if he voluntarily stepped down.
Morsi gave a speech late on Tuesday in which he vowed to stay in power and urged supporters to fight to protect his legitimacy.
Soon after, Sisi placed him under "confinement" in the Republican Guard headquarters. The next day the military's deadline to Morsi expired. At 5am troops began deploying across major cities and the military posted videos of the movements to its Facebook page in a bid to reassure the public. Republican Guards assigned to the president and his aides walked away at midday and army commandos arrived.
There was no commotion and Morsi went quietly. That evening, Sisi announced Morsi's removal.
July 4, 2013
Syrian Leader Is Jubilant at Morsi’s Fall
By ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The jubilation among opponents of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood president in Cairo was matched Thursday in the halls of power in Syria’s capital, Damascus, where President Bashar al-Assad declared that the Egyptian events signified the fall of “political Islam” and a vindication of his government’s fight against the two-year Syrian uprising.
Even as the Egyptian Army was busy rounding up the Brotherhood’s entire leadership, Syrian state news media were quick to seize on an inescapable fact: the most prominent of the leaders brought to power by the Arab popular revolts that inspired the Syrian uprising had suffered an ignominious downfall, yet Mr. Assad, after meeting his own opponents with uncompromising force, was still standing.
Mr. Assad, in an interview with the pro-government newspaper Al Thawra, said the fall of Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, proved that Islamist groups like the Brotherhood were unfit to rule, and drew pointed comparisons to the movement against him in Syria, in which Islamists play a prominent role.
“Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world,” Mr. Assad said, in a declaration that might not sit well with Syria’s crucial allies: the theocratic government in Iran and the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
He said he was confident that only foreign military intervention could topple him. “The countries that conspire against Syria have used up all their tools,” he said, adding, “They have nothing left except direct intervention,” which he called unlikely.
It was a politically dismaying day for Mr. Assad’s Syrian opponents, as Mr. Morsi has been an increasingly vocal supporter of the Syrian uprising.
Mr. Assad and his allies have long argued that his rule is far preferable to Islamists’ taking power, and that most of the Arab revolts were conspiracies bound to wreak havoc on citizens’ lives. The mass protests against Mr. Morsi and the army’s ouster of him allowed Mr. Assad to claim that many Egyptians — whose largely peaceful rebellion against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak helped to inspire the Syrian revolt — agreed with him. “You cannot deceive everyone all the time,” he said, “particularly the Egyptian people who have a civilization dating back thousands of years and clear pan-Arab nationalist thought.”
The dynamics in Egypt, though, are more complicated. While many demonstrators were secular liberals opposed to Islamist rule, many others were themselves Islamists angry that Mr. Morsi had not gone farther in pushing a religious agenda.
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, citing “an official source,” said that Mr. Morsi’s ouster proved “the incapacity of the forces of political Islam to manage the state.” The agency added, “Egypt has always been an example to follow throughout its great history, as we believe that it is important that other nations would follow this transformation to foil these futile attempts which are sins against Islam, nation, history and mankind.”
The symbolism was awkward for the Syrian opposition, as some of its most prominent Arab backers, including Saudi Arabia and even Qatar, seen as generally backing the Brotherhood, congratulated the interim president installed by the Egyptian Army.
A day earlier, anti-Assad activists had mocked Syria’s information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, for urging Mr. Morsi to realize that “the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people want him to go,” a statement they called absurd coming from a government that has used airstrikes and artillery to quell a persistent uprising.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main exile opposition group, was meeting in Istanbul on Thursday, trying to agree on a coherent leadership and convince Western backers that it could be trusted with heavier weapons. One of the opposition’s challenges has been internal wrangling between the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and its allies with other factions who have accused them of monopolizing power.
The Muslim Brotherhood fought a bloody insurgency against Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, in the 1980s, culminating in a government crackdown that leveled much of the city of Hama and killed tens of thousands. That history is one reason that Mr. Assad has been able to hold on to a significant popular base.
Gambia to punish those who spread ‘false news’ with 15 years in prison and $100,000 fine
Thursday, July 4, 2013 14:00 EDT
BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s parliament has made sweeping changes to the country’s information law, introducing new legislation that threatens those who spread “false news” with 15 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
The government said the changes were needed to ensure stability and prevent “unpatriotic behavior” but they are likely to deepen Gambia’s reputation as one of West Africa’s most repressive countries.
The new punishments, which apply to anything that is published, were spelled out in the updated Information and Communications Act adopted late on Wednesday.
Gambia’s information minister Nana Grey-Johnson, said the law had been put forward to prevent people, at home and abroad, from engaging in “treacherous” campaigns against Gambians.
“They do this by inciting the people to engage in unpatriotic behavior, spreading false news and engaging in criminal defamation against Government officials.”
Grey-Johnson added that, if unchecked, such statements were a recipe for chaos and instability in any country.
The previous law dated back to 2009 and had no reference to such punishments.
Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh has ruled the tiny slither of a country surrounded by Senegal since he seized power in a 1994 military coup.
Gambia is ranked near the bottom of a global press freedom ranking drawn up by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and Jammeh is regularly criticized by rights groups for cracking down on journalists and civil society groups.
July 4, 2013
Despite Exit of Militants, Violence Continues to Grip Somali City and Raises Worries
By NICHOLAS KULISH
NAIROBI, Kenya — The strategic Somali port city of Kismayu, once a stronghold for Islamist militants, has continued to descend into violence even though the militants have withdrawn, raising concerns that greater fragmentation, not peace, awaits parts of this stricken country.
The fighting raging in Kismayu involves rival clans vying for power after the militant withdrawal from the city last year. In recent clashes, at least 71 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
The city “remains a volatile area,” the organization said in a statement, “with observed increase in fighting among warring factions, and other incidences of violence such as land mines and hand grenade attacks.”
In Somalia, ousting one set of armed fighters often seems to mean that others will step in. While most international attention has focused on the capital, Mogadishu, which still suffers deadly attacks but has experienced a period of relative calm in recent years, there has been growing violence in the southern region bordering on Kenya, especially over the past month.
Kismayu was once a vital port for the Shabab, a ruthless militant group. But last year, the group withdrew from the city rather than face Kenyan forces, who marched into the country in 2011 to try to keep the chaos of Somalia from crossing the border and threatening Kenya’s substantial commercial and tourism interests.
But instead of bringing peace to the city, the retreat of the Shabab has led to a scramble for power among various clans, with warlords rushing in to fill the vacuum left behind by the militant group.
The Somali government in Mogadishu has accused the Kenyan military of siding with a militia led by Ahmed Madobe, known as the Raskamboni Brigade. The Kenyan military has said it remains neutral.
Even before it invaded Somalia, the Kenyan military secretly armed clan-based militias there as part of a strategy to create a buffer against the country’s instability.
The Somali government said in a letter to African Union leaders on Sunday that Kenyan-led forces “have used, indiscriminately, high-caliber weapons,” which had resulted in “heavy civilian casualties.”
In a news conference, Somalia’s deputy minister for information, Abdishakur Ali Mire, called for “a more neutral African Union force.”
The letter also claimed that the clashes in Kismayu had halted momentum in the fight against the Shabab, which threatened to continue its war against the “invaders” even after pulling out of major cities. Though drastically weakened, the Shabab last month carried out a deadly assault on a United Nations compound in Mogadishu.
Nicholas Kay, the United Nations special representative for Somalia, last week called for a halt to the fighting in Kismayu.
The World Health Organization confirmed that civilians had been struck in the cross-fire in the southern port city. Many of the wounded had to be sent to Mogadishu and Galkayo, near the Ethiopian border, for care.
“The moment there are civilians involved in the casualties, that’s serious,” said Dr. Omar Saleh, the health organization’s emergency humanitarian action coordinator for Somalia. “You get chest injuries, brain injuries, abdominal injuries, the fractures and burns that come from the heavy weapons.”
The fighting in Kismayu, according to the health organization, has had “a profound impact on civilians and humanitarian aid work,” displacing civilians, raising the risk of a cholera outbreak and delaying a polio campaign.
“It’s normal people who pay the price,” Dr. Saleh said.
South Africa denies Nelson Mandela in permanent ‘vegetative state’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 5, 2013 0:31 EDT
The South African government denied that former president Nelson Mandela is in a permanent vegetative state, as outlined in court documents filed on June 26.
” We confirm our earlier statement released this afternoon after President Jacob Zuma visited Madiba in hospital that Madiba remains in a critical, but stable condition,” said the statement using Mandela’s clan name.
“The doctors deny that the former president is in a vegetative state,” the statement added.
Court documents obtained earlier Thursday by AFP showed that doctors treating Mandela said he was in a “permanent vegetative state” and advised his family to turn off his life support machine a week ago.
The June 26 court filing showed for the first time just how close the still critically ill 94-year-old came to death.
“He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine,” lawyers said on behalf of 15 family members including his wife and three daughters.
“The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off.
“Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability.”
According to family lawyer Wesley Hayes, the document was part of an effort to have a court urgently hear a dispute over the final resting place of three of Mandela’s children, who were reburied amid a fierce family dispute Thursday.
Since the document was filed, the South African government, family members and Mandela’s close friends have reported an improvement in his condition.
“He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him,” Denis Goldberg, one of the men who was convicted with Mandela, told AFP after visiting him on Monday.
“He is definitely not unconscious,” Goldberg said, adding that “he was aware of who I was”.
On the day the court document was written, President Zuma reported that Mandela’s health had faltered and he cancelled a trip to Mozambique.
The next day the president said his condition had “improved during the course of the night”.
A spokesman for Mandela’s wife Graca Machel declined to comment.
Earlier in the day, Machel said that while occasionally Mandela has been uncomfortable during his nearly one month hospital stay, he has seldom been in pain.
“Now we are about 25 days we have been in hospital,” Machel said, giving thanks for the outpouring of well wishes from around the world for the Nobel peace laureate.
“Although Madiba sometimes may be uncomfortable, very few times he is in pain,” she said.
The former president, who turns 95 later this month, was rushed to hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
Mandela’s grandson thrust the increasingly acerbic family feud over the gravesites firmly into the public eye Thursday.
Mandla Mandela launched a tirade at close family members who took him to court to force him to return the remains of the three Mandela children to the revered former South African leader’s proposed burial ground in Qunu.
Mandla accused one of his brothers of impregnating his wife and said others were born out of wedlock.
He also accused other close relatives of money-grabbing.
“In the past few days I have been the target of attacks from all sorts of individuals wanting a few minutes of fame and media attention at my expense,” Mandla said at a nationally televised press conference.
He accused Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe of trying to “sow divisions and destruction” in her family.
The anti-apartheid hero’s ex-wife Winnie, who has regularly visited him in hospital, “has no business in the matters of the Mandelas,” Mandla added.
He also lashed out at his own brother Ndaba for claiming he was born out of wedlock.
“I don’t want to hang out our dirty linen as a family in public but he knows very well that my father impregnated a married woman of which he is the result of that act…. As for the remaining of my two brothers we all know that they are not my father’s children.”
Mandla however said he would not fight a court order to move the remains of his father, uncle and aunt from his estate in Mvezo — the eastern village where he is overseeing large-scale development as the local traditional chief — back to nearby Qunu, Mandela’s childhood home.
The three bodies were exhumed Wednesday after a sheriff forced open the gates of Mandla’s estate with a pickaxe to allow three hearses to enter the property.
South Africa’s Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu pleaded with Nelson Mandela’s family not to “besmirch” the former president’s name.
“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s like spitting in Madiba’s face,” said Tutu in a statement, using Mandela’s clan name.
The graves were moved in 2011, allegedly without the family’s consent.
After forensic tests confirmed the identities, the hearses transported the remains to Qunu for the reburial, according to police.
South Sudan: two years old but nothing to celebrate
Vice-president's leadership challenge raises fears of renewed violence in country beset by food shortages and corruption
Simon Tisdall in Juba
The Guardian, Thursday 4 July 2013 16.36 BST
The deputy leader of newly independent South Sudan has issued a veiled warning to the country's western-backed president, Salva Kiir, telling him to stand down and vowing to replace him before or after elections due by 2015.
The forceful intervention by the vice-president, Riek Machar, a general in the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA) and former regional warlord, threatens to ignite a power struggle that South Sudan, an unstable, landlocked and virtually bankrupt country beset by border wars and internal insurgencies, can ill afford.
Kiir, who is expected to seek another term, has reportedly faced three military coup attempts since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan two years ago, on 9 July 2011.
A vicious conflict raging in eastern Jonglei state has displaced 20,000 people this year, the UN says. The country's economic plight is worsening, reflected in swingeing austerity measures and a growing dependence on foreign aid and loans.
Now Machar's challenge has raised fears of a new descent into violence only eight years after the end of Africa's longest civil war.
In a boost for his position, Kiir won the agreement of the Khartoum government this year for a resumption of southern oil exports via pipelines running through Sudan to the Red Sea.
But Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, is threatening to shut down the pipelines in retaliation for what he says is South Sudan's backing for rebels fighting Khartoum's rule in the border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
South Sudan denies the claim. But oil accounts for at least 95% of the South Sudan government's revenue. Observers in the capital, Juba, say a renewed cutoff could bring the new state to its knees, triggering a wider governmental collapse – an eventuality Bashir may be keen to bring about.
Speaking to the Guardian in his office in a government compound in Juba, Machar said Kiir's SPLM government had been unable to satisfy the people's expectations after the 1983-2005 civil war ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which set South Sudan on the road to secession and independence.
Machar suggested that Kiir had failed to use his time as leader since 2005 to build strong institutions, tackle official corruption or create a co-operative relationship with Khartoum. He said that, after almost a decade at the top, it was time for Kiir to go. "When a president has been in power for a long time, it becomes inevitable that a new generation arises," Machar said. "It is a natural process, it is best to move that way. It is not that the incumbent is at all bad.
"To avoid authoritarianism and dictatorship, it is better to change. Our time is limited now. I have been serving under Salva Kiir. I do my best serving under him. I think it is time for a change now."
He added: "Our president has a good legacy. He took us through a very difficult interim period and that was managed successfully under his leadership. The CPA was implemented, a referendum was conducted, independence was declared, and now we are in a transition. This is a good legacy for Salva Kiir."
Given the SPLM's control of the government, army and security forces, and all but a handful of seats in parliament, Machar said he hoped the ruling party would adopt a pre-election endorsement of his candidacy, in effect forcing Kiir to stand down early or drop his re-election bid.
But in what observers said was a sign of dissension in ruling circles, a national party convention to discuss the leadership issue has been repeatedly postponed. This year Kiir stripped Machar of some vice-presidential powers. Since then, critical articles published by the state news agency have accused Machar of paranoia.
Machar appeared unfazed at the prospect of splitting the SPLM. "We hope we can resolve this issue. Currently there are four known people who expressed their desire to run for the presidency, including me and the incumbent. That shouldn't lead to a split. We want to demonstrate democratic debate within … I'm hoping we can remain together as one party."
While Machar said he would be happy for Kiir to serve under him as president, he was vague when asked whether he would be content to continue to serve under Kiir.
Machar has a history of changing sides. In the 1990s he fell out with the late SPLM leader John Garang de Mabior and allied himself with Khartoum before returning to the fold. While Kiir and most of the SPLM leadership belong to the Dinka people, Machar's Nuer tribe makes up much of the army rank-and-file.
Another declared presidential candidate is Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, Garang's widow, who is a presidential adviser. Observers in Juba have speculated that she may join forces with Machar in an effort to oust Kiir.
Dissatisfaction with Kiir's government (of which Machar is a prominent member) is widespread, with perceived failures to provide jobs, adequate healthcare, schools, housing and roads, and lack of investment in infrastructure and key business sectors such as agriculture. Two years after independence, 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Illiteracy rates are high. Life expectancy is 42 years.
Aid experts suggest it does not have to be this way, noting that the Equatoria region is rich farming country. "South Sudan's agricultural potential is enormous and encompasses crops, horticulture, fish, livestock and forests … In theory, there should be no shortages," said the Overseas Development Institute's Humanitarian Exchange.
In fact, nearly all South Sudan's food is imported, mostly from Uganda, and hunger and malnutrition are persistent problems. The UN and partners say 2.3 million people will need food assistance this year, and "nutritional services" will be provided to 3.2 million. By another measure, out of a population of 12 million, more than 4.6 million are "food insecure".
Meanwhile, government spending on agriculture in 2012-13 amounted to only 5.2% of the national budget, in contrast to the estimated 25% spent on the military and security services. Roughly half of the budget is spent by the government on itself, mostly on salaries and prestige items such as ministers' V8 Land Cruisers.
Corruption among the ruling elite is another corrosive issue. Kiir has admitted that billions of Sudanese pounds have been misappropriated and last year called on 75 unnamed officials to return cash.
Despite this month's suspension of two leading ministers over a separate alleged scam, there have been no arrests. The anti-corruption commission is reportedly so starved of resources that it is unable to pay the office rent.
The ubiquitous but shadowy security services also stand accused, by Human Rights Watch and local journalists, of following Khartoum's example and taking an increasingly authoritarian, "surveillance society" approach to independent media, NGOs and civil society pressure groups. These groups claim to constitute the only real opposition in the absence of effective alternative political parties.
What a community activist called a "pervasive feeling of unease" reached critical proportions last December with the fatal shooting, by unknown men widely assumed to belong to state security, of a leading newspaper columnist, Isaiah Abraham.
NGO workers also report increased numbers of detentions and disappearances in the past year. Surveillance by police and other agencies has included demands that planned meetings or workshops be cleared with them in advance.
"The government is becoming very intolerant to any alternative voices so it's very hard to positively criticise them," the community activist said. With a wry smile, she added: "Don't quote my name or next time you come here you will not find me."
"We are facing a huge challenge of democratic transformation," said Edmund Yakani, of Community Empowerment for Progress (Cepo), an independent civil society organisation. "What is happening now is a crisis in the ruling party, a crisis of political leadership. This is reflected in the public sphere. The crisis is transferred to the state. It is not the state itself that is sick. The sickness is in the party and political system."
Yakani said an SPLM split might prove the best outcome, as it would give voters a choice at the next election. "Then we will have proper checks and balances," he said. Otherwise, South Sudan might go down the same route as repressive, de facto one-party states such as Zimbabwe.
Mading Ngor, a leading Juba journalist and commentator, said South Sudan was entering a critical period. "The power struggle in the ruling party is killing this country.
"The politicians think about themselves and who is in the state houses, not the good of the country. Oil may be cut off again, bilateral relations [with Khartoum] have reached a low point again, and if this happens, this nation may collapse. I hope not."
A Juba resident who asked not to be identified said: "Many people are pessimistic about the way things are going. I remember how long was the struggle for independence. This is a consolidation. The next step will be tougher. But it is not a licence for the so-called liberators to abuse and sit on the people they liberated.
"This is a highly militarised society. We need a change of culture, a change of attitudes. It [the SPLM government] has not met expectations and our basic values are ignored. There's no equality, no justice, no fairness. Our natural resources are concentrated in the hands of a few people.
"I never thought it would happen overnight. Freedom has to be won over and over again, as the South Africans say. But the hard work of nation-building has not started yet."
With the US and other western countries, Britain – which helped broker the CPA – has invested heavily in South Sudan under Kiir's leadership. UK bilateral aid stands at about £100m a year after William Hague, the foreign secretary, made the country a priority.
The UN and associated agencies appealed for $1.16bn (£761m) in 2013 to address what they called urgent humanitarian needs – the largest such appeal in the world after Somalia. As of 1 June, about 47% of the total had been raised.
So far, at least, experts classify South Sudan as a fragile state, rather than a Somalia-style failed state. But as the second anniversary of independence nears, and as the political crisis triggered by Machar unfolds, the fraying ties that bind the world's newest country may be stretched to breaking point.
Pyramid in Peru torn down by developers
Officials lodge criminal complaints against two firms after building at El Paraiso, one of Peru's oldest archaeological sites, destroyed
Associated Press in Lima
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 15.52 BST
Real estate developers using heavy machinery tore down a 20ft (6m) tall pyramid at one of Peru's oldest archaeological sites, cultural officials have said.
Rafael Varon, deputy minister of cultural patrimony, told reporters on Wednesday that the destruction occurred over the weekend at the ruins of El Paraiso, a few miles north of Peru's capital, Lima.
He said his agency has lodged criminal complaints against two companies for the damage – identified as Alisol and Provelanz – and has moved to seize the equipment used. People who answered the telephone at both companies said no one was available to comment.
Peru's tourism ministry says El Paraiso was built some 4,000 years ago and was a religious and administrative centre, long before the rise of the Inca culture encountered by the Spanish conquerors.
Marco Guilen, director of an excavation project at El Paraiso, said the people who tore down the pyramid "have committed irreparable damage to a page of Peruvian history".
"We are not going to be able to know in what ways it was constructed, what materials were used in it and how the society in that part of the pyramid behaved," said Guilen.
Varon said people apparently working for the two companies tore down one pyramid and tried to destroy three others, but were stopped by witnesses.
Mayor Freddy Ternero of San Martin de Porres, the town where the ruins are located, said the pyramids were sited in agricultural fields and were not guarded, though he said the minister of the interior sent police to protect it after the incident.
July 4, 2013
Brazil Leader Suffers Setback on Overhaul
By SETH KUGEL
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — One of President Dilma Rousseff’s signature efforts to temper the huge protests shaking Brazil suffered a setback on Thursday, as leaders of her governing coalition agreed to pursue a plebiscite on political overhauls but fell far shy of meeting her call to hold one right away.
The president, whose approval ratings have fallen sharply since the protests began last month, has pushed for Brazilian voters to weigh in on changes to the tangled Brazilian political system this year, in time for them to go into effect by elections next year. But it falls to Congress to call such a vote.
Vice President Michel Temer emerged Thursday from a meeting with leaders of the governing coalition in Congress’s lower house and told reporters that “the majority” had agreed to a plebiscite to be held next year and to go into effect by 2016 at the earliest. “It is always good to listen to the people,” he said.
The decision was widely seen as a loss for Ms. Rousseff. “It is certainly a defeat for the president,” said Frederico de Almeida, a political scientist at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. “It is not what she had hoped for. It also shows the difficulty the political class in general is having in responding to the protests.”
While the president and other politicians have publicly sympathized with the protesters, passing major changes remains daunting and demonstrations continue to simmer across the country. Still, some changes have come at a surprising pace, including harsher penalties for government corruption and rollbacks of transit fares. Legislation to put 75 percent of oil royalties toward education and 25 percent toward health care — two areas that have been a focus of the protests — is moving quickly through Congress.
But political change has proved sticky for Ms. Rousseff. She first called for a constituent assembly, but withdrew the proposal under criticism from politicians and legal experts. Then she proposed a plebiscite to be held in time for changes to take effect by next year’s election, meaning the vote would have to be held, and subsequent congressional legislation enacted, by early October. That became more complicated when the country’s highest election authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, determined that it would need 70 days to hold the vote, leaving little time for Congress to act.
The opposition has been against the plebiscite from the beginning, but for her own ruling coalition not to embrace her timetable underscored the president’s struggles to control her ranks.
In an interview, Brazil’s justice minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, who attended the meeting, said there was still a possibility of holding the vote in time and objected to characterizing the outcome as a setback. “The fact that political reform has been placed on the agenda for debate is a great victory,” he said.
Efforts at political change go back to the 1990s, but the process had moved slowly — when it moved at all — until the protests. Ms. Rousseff has proposed that the plebiscite include public financing for elections, a restructuring of Brazil’s opaque representative system, and the end of “secret” votes by legislators on some congressional decisions.
David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasília, said the debate over the plebiscite showed that “the politicians don’t want to do a political reform, they want to keep the same system that helped them get elected. Unless there is much stronger and acute pressure from the street, they’re not going to do anything.”
Brazilian man convicted of killing U.S. nun released on house arrest
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 4, 2013 14:33 EDT
A man sentenced to 27 years in prison for the 2005 murder of US nun Dorothy Stang has been placed under house arrest in Brazil after serving only eight years behind bars, a lawyer said Thursday.
Rayfran das Neves Sales “was released Tuesday and is already home. A judge determined that he had already served his sentence,” said Jose Batista Afonso, a lawyer for the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) in the northen state of Para.
CPT has for years campaigned to advance social justice and the rights of small farmers and the landless in Brazil.
Stang, 73, was shot to death on February 12, 2005 in the town of Anapu, 700 kilometers (450 miles) from the Para state capital of Belem after meeting with landless peasants on an ecological project.
Local ranchers accused her at the time of inciting landless farmers to invade their lands.
Neves Sales confessed and was jailed two days after the murder.
His accomplice, Clodoaldo Batista, was sentenced to 17 years in jail while Amair Feijoli, who acted as a go-between with the killers, got an 18-year term.
Defense lawyer Raimundo Cavalcante explained to reporters that after serving one sixth of his sentence, Neves Sales first had his jail conditions eased before being put under house arrest Tuesday.
“There will be some restrictions, as behind back home at 10 p.m. and he has 60 days to find a job,” the lawyer said.
The Stang case grabbed headlines in Brazil and became a symbol of the end of impunity for the killing of landless squatter farmers who often have clashed with big landowners, especially in the country’s remote rural areas.
But last May, the Supreme Court quashed the 20-year jail sentence on landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, one of the two men who ordered Stang’s murder.
The Court argued that the defense had not had enough time to study the case.
Médecins Sans Frontières opens Papua New Guinea clinic for abuse victims
Project, named the 9 Mile clinic, to help victims in 'potentially the worst place in the world for gender violence'
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 07.49 BST
Link to video: Victims of domestic violence in Papua New Guineahttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jul/05/papua-new-guinea-violence-video
The first frontline clinic to offer treatment for both medical and psychological injuries of victims of physical and sexual abuse has opened in Papua New Guinea, a country that researchers say is potentially the worst place in the world for gender violence.
The Médecins Sans Frontières project, named the 9 Mile clinic, which opened in the capital city Port Moresby on 10 May, has already treated 43 victims of family and sexual violence, the level of which is unmatched by anything seen in the career of project head Paul Brockmann.
"The use of violence as a response is simply more shockingly common here than in any other places where I've worked," Brockmann told Guardian Australia.
Separate studies conducted in the 1990s found that 67% of Papua New Guinean women had been abused by their spouse (almost 100% in the Highlands regions) and more than half of women interviewed had been raped. In the same study, 60% of men interviewed said they had participated in a gang rape.
"[Gender violence] is probably the number one social problem facing the country," said Lowy Institute's Director of the Myer Foundation Melanesia Program Jenny Hayward-Jones.
"The problem of gender violence is probably more severe in PNG than almost any country in the world, or is at least very similar to the West of Africa."
The 9 Mile Clinic is the third that MSF have set up in the country. Since opening on 10 May they have treated 43 survivors of violence.
Staff have treated more than 13,000 patients in PNG's second biggest city, Lae, since opening a centre there in 2007, which they recently handed control of to the PNG department of health.
The MSF projects train local staff to offer five basic first response treatments: emergency medical care for injuries, psychological first aid, prophylaxis for HIV and medicine for other sexually transmitted infections; emergency contraception; and vaccination to prevent hepatitis B and tetanus.
Brockmann said the goal was to have a clear package of medical services that was easy to explain. The psychological first aid incorporates lessons learned at the Lae project.
Brockmann said they were the only organisation offering counselling in an integrated service with medical treatment. It is a way of offering psychological care to patients who were unlikely to come back for long-term trauma counselling after a first visit to get their injuries treated medically.
"So we've combined that and we're offering a psychological first aid which is not counselling. It's basically a stabilisation, a normalisation," he said.
Martha Pogo, a PNG Health Extension Officer who has come to Port Moresby after two years at the Lae project, said this service fills a gap in PNG's health system, and some patients are now returning for follow ups.
"After the first visit they feel like 'oh, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling better. There are people here to talk to, I've never had time to speak to someone, I've never had the opportunity to receive such medical care.' These are the comments we have received," she told Guardian Australia.
Pogo has seen the results of violence up close in her time at the MSF clinics.
"One lady who came in to the clinic had been beaten by her husband when she was two or three months pregnant," she said.
"Beaten, kicked and punched all over, including on the abdomen. She lives just a few houses away, but she couldn't come in straight away because she had a miscarriage after the incident and she was bleeding. She was so weak, she was crawling. When she could stand up and take one step at a time she walked right into the room and was seen by me. She was grateful she could walk in and get help because she didn't have the strength to walk to the bus stop."
At a third centre in Tari, in the notoriously violent PNG highlands, patients presented with injuries from weapons like bush knives, axes, spears and arrows.
"There is more of a culture of violence in the highlands regions of the country," said Hayward-Jones.
"In coastal provinces … there's not at all that same culture or that same tradition of violence as you grow up."
Hayward-Jones said the traditions of violence appear to be spreading as people move across the country seeking employment, inter-marry across regions, and as foreign-owned projects create wealth inequality, and with it jealousy.
The violence doesn't just stop with the medical treatment. Brockmann acknowledged there were cases of victims facing retribution from family members when they returned home after seeking treatment.
"It does sometimes occur that a patient will go home and someone will say 'where were you', and there will be more violence based on them not being a home," he said.
It's one of the many areas where the PNG system falls down. The medical needs are being seen to, but the victims are not being protected by police and social welfare authorities.
"Those services very much need to be available as well," said Brockmann.
"They, in my view, are lagging a bit behind the model we've demonstrated for medicine, but I think there's a will to respond now that maybe was not so strong a decade ago or even five years ago."
Hayward-Jones said the services provided by MSF and other NGOs and church groups working in the country are vital.
"It's by no means enough, but it's certainly a massive contribution because the state of PNG is just not equipped to provide the support for women and other victims that they need, and the health system is extremely weak," she said.
MSF plans to extend the project to urban health centres, into large city hospitals and more remote locations, and Brockmann called for other agencies to stop talking and start taking action.
"Start providing care, in the medical, law and justice, and social welfare protection fields, or this ongoing problem will continue," he said.
"These are cycles of violence that we can interrupt if we respond robustly to the needs of survivors now in multiple sectors."
July 3, 2013
South and North Korea Agree to Discuss Shared Industrial Park
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South and North Korea agreed Thursday to meet later this week to discuss reopening a jointly operated industrial complex, three weeks after their last effort to start a dialogue collapsed amid mutual recriminations.
If the meeting, scheduled for Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, takes place as planned, it would provide the two Koreas with an opportunity to move toward a thaw after years of tensions that hit a peak this year, when the North’s third nuclear test led to international sanctions and the North issued a stream of threats against the South and its ally, the United States.
North and South Korea have bickered over the fate of the Kaesong industrial park, in the North Korean border town of the same name, ever since the North pulled out all 53,000 of its workers from the complex in April, citing military tensions it said stemmed from joint American-South Korean military exercises at the time.
The owners of 123 South Korean factories who had withdrawn from Kaesong after their North Korean workers deserted them have been eager to return there. Their hopes rose, then crashed after the two governments first agreed to hold senior-level talks in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on June 12, but canceled them in a last-minute dispute over who should lead their delegations.
The meeting planned for Saturday involved lower-ranking government representatives and was confined to discussing the fate of the factory park. But if the two sides agree to reopen it, such a move could be a start for the “trust-building process” South Korea has insisted upon as a prerequisite for improving ties further with the North.
The most contentious question in the planned talks will be the conditions imposed on the reopening of the factory park. The South insists that it will not reopen it unless the North takes steps to ensure that it will not sacrifice economic projects for political ends.
On Wednesday, some of the factory owners said they could no longer wait and demanded that the two Korean governments let them return to Kaesong so they could disassemble their manufacturing facilities and move them to South Korea or elsewhere in Asia.
That prompted the North to open a cross-border communications hot line on Wednesday and invite South Korean factory owners and engineers to return to Kaesong to do maintenance work on their equipment before the possible reopening of the complex. Factory owners have warned that their facilities will begin deteriorating soon, as the rainy season has just started.
On Thursday, South Korea made a counterproposal for official dialogue, insisting that the fate of the factory park should first be discussed between the two governments. The North accepted it.
The Kaesong complex, where textile and other labor-intensive factories from South Korea had hired low-cost North Korean workers, had been the best-known among a handful of joint projects, introduced during a period of inter-Korean rapprochement between 1998 and 2008. All those projects were suspended as relations deteriorated in the past few years.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
July 4, 2013, 4:35 am
Ahead of Elections, India’s Cabinet Approves Food Security Program
By JIM YARDLEY
NEW DELHI – Frustrated by delays in Parliament, and eager to gain favor with rural voters ahead of national elections, India’s cabinet has approved a sweeping executive order that establishes a legal right to food and will create what is likely to be the world’s largest food subsidy system for the poor.
The issue of food security has been a source of controversy during the government’s second term. Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress Party, has promoted the plan as a necessity to widen the safety net for India’s hundreds of millions of rural poor. But critics have complained about the high costs and have warned that the program will broaden a subsidy system that is already inefficient and corrupt.
For the governing Congress Party, the new ordinance fulfills a campaign pledge made by Mrs. Gandhi and provides her party with something tangible to offer voters as the country prepares for national elections next year. The coalition government has been battered by corruption scandals and a sinking economy. With polls suggesting a loss of public support for the Congress Party, the food ordinance is good politics, some analysts say, if uncertain economics.
“It is very consistent with the overall thrust of the government to become the welfare party of India,” said Ashutosh Varshney, an India specialist at Brown University. “How to finance welfare is a tricky question. But the welfare party of India can still garner a lot of votes because so much of India is still below the poverty line.”
The ordinance, issued on Wednesday, still requires further approval. It must be signed by President Pranab Mukherjee, considered a formality, and then approved by a majority in both houses of Parliament in the coming “monsoon” session. Initially, the Congress Party had intended to pass a bill in Parliament, but the effort met with numerous delays and political fights, some within the Congress Party, until the government instead opted for the cabinet ordinance.
“Why didn’t the government bring the food bill in Parliament and discuss it?” asked Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party. “Why such hurry?”
The debate over food security has also featured a clash of ideas about how a country like India, with 1.2 billion people and sharp extremes of wealth and poverty, can most effectively provide food to the poor, and provide them with the tools to lift themselves into better lives. India once had a state-planned, socialist economy, but now it has something of a hybrid, with powerful interest groups wedded to maintaining entrenched fuel and food subsidy programs, even as many business leaders push for more market-based solutions.
India’s economy, once roaring above 9 percent annual growth, has now cooled appreciably, and many critics have cautioned that the food security program could be a huge burden as the government tries to address a stubborn budget deficit. Currently, the government allots about $15 billion to food subsidies, a figure that also includes payments to farmers. Under the new broader plan, that figure would rise to nearly $21 billion.
The exact details of the ordinance passed by the cabinet have not yet been made public, but presumably it closely follows the government-supported Food Security Bill, which had been pending in Parliament. That bill has several components: an expansion of food subsidies to 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population; guaranteed free lunches for poor children ages 6 months to 14; and a free meal and $100 subsidy for pregnant women.
Jean Dreze, an economist and a leader of the food security campaign, said that the program had been scaled down from earlier proposals and that the extra costs were somewhat misleading, since new expenditures to the central government would be somewhat offset by reduced burdens on state governments. He said the law would streamline existing eligibility categories and make permanent some already existing programs for poor women and children.
“I think it is less ambitious than many people believe,” Mr. Dreze said.
But many economists warn that India cannot afford to expand subsidies at a time when economic growth is slowing and the government is struggling to contain its deficit. Surjit S. Bhalla, an economist, predicted that the program would exacerbate fiscal problems and could also create disincentives for farmers that could lower food production in India.
“I do not know of a more bizarre scheme in the world,” said Mr. Bhalla, chairman of Oxus Investments, an economic research and advisory firm.
Currently, the government’s Public Distribution System, or P.D.S., distributes subsidized grain and kerosene through Fair Price Shops across India. Eligibility categories are used to determine how much a person can receive, and the program distributes monthly bags of wheat or rice, along with cooking fuel, to millions of people.
But the system has been mired in corruption. Many eligible recipients either never receive their benefits, or do not receive their allotted amount. Academic studies have found that 70 percent of the budget is wasted, stolen or used for bureaucratic and transportation costs. Many critics have called for gradually dismantling the P.D.S. network and instead instituting a program that transfers cash directly to recipients.
Mr. Dreze said the current proposal had included different programs for using cash transfers but that, over all, the system was not prepared yet for such a significant change. He said the new plan should eliminate some of the existing corruption.
“Why not act on what you have?” he said of the existing distribution network. “Cash transfers will take a lot of time to put in place.”
Hari Kumar contributed to this report.
Pakistan reintroduces death penalty
Government's decision not to renew 2008 moratorium in order to appear tough on crime is criticised by Amnesty International
Reuters in Islamabad
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 09.49 BST
Pakistan's new government has ended a ban on the death penalty amid rising crime and militancy, a move condemned as "shocking and retrograde" by Amnesty International.
Such a reinstatement of capital punishment is rare, with about 150 countries having already either abolished the death penalty or stopped administering it.
A 2008 moratorium imposed by Pakistan's previous government, praised at the time by global rights groups, expired on 30 June.
"The present government does not plan to extend it," said Omar Hamid Khan, an interior ministry spokesman.
Khan said the new policy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government was to execute all death row prisoners, except those pardoned on humanitarian grounds. Pakistan's president must approve all executions.
Pakistan is among the last nations in the world to retain capital punishment, alongside the US, China, Nigeria, Yemen and some others.
Up to 8,000 people remain on death row in dozens of the country's notoriously overcrowded and violent jails, according to London-based Amnesty. The government has put the number at about 400. The method of execution is usually hanging.
"As long as the death penalty is in place, the risk of executing innocent people can never be eliminated," Amnesty said in a statement this week in response to rumours before the decision.
"The systemic fair trials violations in Pakistan not only exacerbate this risk, but also put Pakistan in breach of its international obligations."
Pakistan says capital punishment is key to deterring crime in places such as Karachi, a major city of 18 million plagued by violence, as well as in the areas on its border with Afghanistan where Taliban militants launch daily attacks.
Papua New Guinea, one of the world's poorest and most corrupt countries, reinstated the death penalty in May and repealed its sorcery laws after a string of gruesome "witch" killings and gang rapes.
Asked about Amnesty's criticism, Khan pointed to the fact that capital punishment was still used in parts of the US, a nation he said had the "best judicial system".
Khan said: "We have a credible judicial system in place and the law must be allowed to take its course." Up to 12 cases were being referred to the president every day.
Pakistan's moratorium drew wide praise because of concerns that its courts and police were too inept to ensure fair trials. But Pakistan did, however, break its own rules in 2012, when it executed a convicted murderer and a former army serviceman.
The previous government of the Pakistan Peoples party, whose former chairman, Benazir Bhutto, was a fierce opponent of capital punishment, enforced the moratorium soon after taking power in 2008 under President Asif Ali Zardari.
Zardari, the widower of Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, is due to step down later this year.
Iranian hardliners apoplectic over Shakira Confederations cup shot
Iran's state TV attacked for series of 'unIslamic' gaffes including glimpse of Colombian singer cheering on footballer husband
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 3 July 2013 19.32 BST
When the cameras panned to the Colombian singer Shakira cheering on her footballing husband, Gerard Piqué, during a Confederations cup match, to many it was just another shot of a glamorous celebrity. But in Iran, the few seconds of a woman with bare arms and a revealing top broadcast on national television for the first time prompted furious debate.
Hardliners in Iran attacked the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network this week for a series of gaffes, showing "indecent" and "un-Islamic" images in the middle of its live sports coverage, including the glimpse of Shakira.
The images came as a surprise to millions of viewers. Thousands of her Iranian fans quickly posted the still images of her appearance online and tweeted their delight. "Everyone tune in to [IRIB's] channel 3, they're showing Shakira!!!," tweeted one. "Last night they showed Shakira, tonight they shall show Jennifer [Lopez]," read another tweet.
Iranian women are not allowed to accompany men in stadiums for national football matches, and international games, usually streamed from foreign-based satellite channels, are strictly moderated. But censors appear not to have had enough time to react during last week's coverage.
Another big challenge for the state TV came within a few days. This time, Iran's national volleyball team was in a rare high-profile game with Italy on Sunday in Sardinia, where high temperatures had prompted yet more spectators to wear revealing clothing. To the dismay of fans, officials at the IRIB decided to broadcast the match with a seven-second delay and repeatedly cut live coverage to show archive images in order to avoid scenes deemed inappropriate. Despite this, it was unable to black out all images, and those broadcast on national TV included scenes showing Iranian exiles with western clothing.
Both occasions prompted Ali Motahari, Tehran's conservative MP, to issue a warning to the IRIB asking it to take more care.
In response to his criticism, Ezatollah Zarghami, the head of Iran's state television, said on Tuesday that broadcasting volleyball matches was even more difficult than showing live election debates, his comments grabbing headlines in Wednesday's newspapers in Tehran.
Zarghami faces another problem on Friday for a volleyball match between Iran and Cuba.
"Because of the warm weather in Cuba, the situation is going to get even worse," he warned. "We have decided to negotiate with our cultural colleagues in Cuba in order to have fans wear tracksuit trousers and sweatshirts," he told the Mehr news agency. Zarghami's comments about talks with Cuba were taken seriously until Mehr later clarified he was joking. Zarghami said that state TV has no other way but to broadcast the match or otherwise viewers will turn to satellite channels.