Pig Putin's Russia ...
Sergei Magnitsky trial: this is Pig Putin's kind of justice
In prosecuting a cadaver the message to Russians was clear: cross us and we'll nail you, dead or alive
The Guardian, Friday 12 July 2013 21.30 BST
It was an unusually bad week for Sergei Magnitsky. After a 16-month trial, the Russian accountant was found guilty of facilitating tax evasion by an investment fund for which he once worked, Hermitage Capital, to the tune of $17m. He was only charged because he had accused officials of a tax scam more than 13 times as lucrative, admittedly, but arbitrary legal processes are hardly unknown in Vladimir Putin's Russia. It was misfortunes of a more personal nature that made Magnitsky's trial unusual. He was dead, having expired in official custody and entered his Moscow grave more than three-and-a-half years earlier.
The chief executive of Hermitage Capital, who was convicted in absentia with his dead colleague, was appalled. According to William Browder, "Putin has brought shame on Russia … for being the first western leader in 1,000 years to prosecute a dead man". As a statement of history, that happened to be wrong – but the precedents bring credit to neither Putin nor the Russian legal system.
Trials of the dead were actually endemic across Europe for much of the last millennium, born out of half-understood notions of Roman law, and two European rulers became particularly keen on posthumous condemnations.
The future James I resorted to them on several occasions in Scotland: in 1600, for instance, he had two alleged assassins pickled in whisky, vinegar and allspice, put on trial, and then mutilated. Seventy years later, France's Louis XIV enacted a statute that required all dead duellists, traitors and suicides to be tried for their crimes. Such trials were considered so important that dead defendants were guaranteed the right to counsel (in a law that simultaneously obliged living ones to speak for themselves), while cadavers of limited means were made eligible for legal aid. Any corpses that were found guilty – after due consideration of the evidence – had to be drawn to a gibbet and hung there by the feet for 24 hours, before being hurled into the town cesspit.
Moscow's prosecutors and judges did not produce Magnitsky's remains in court, but that very small mercy should not obscure the parallels that link his trial to the ritualised desecrations of centuries past. James and Louis were committed absolutists: James imagined that God had given him the power to rule by Divine Right, while Louis saw no distinction between himself and the state ("l'état – c'est moi") – and their judicial pretensions arose directly from those quasi-totalitarian beliefs. The purpose of judging the dead was to "inflict terror on the living", explained a French jurist in 1784, and the message of the Magnitsky trial was similarly blunt: cross us and we'll nail you, dead or alive.
It remains to be seen how the target audience will respond. State officials have long sought to portray the Magnitsky affair as part of a western plot – the dead man was working for a foreign-owned company, after all – and Putin has expressed his contempt for a US statute that imposes travel and banking restrictions on 18 named individuals who are allegedly implicated in his death.
But the government cannot simply deny all wrongdoing, because its own investigation had to acknowledge that the 37-year-old died as a result of inadequate medical treatment. Independent human rights groups have meanwhile found that he suffered serious psychological and physical violence, up to and including torture; while Natalia Magnitskaya is challenging her son's detention, death and posthumous condemnation before the European court of human rights.
In the circumstances Magnitsky's conviction may turn out to be one travesty of justice too many. The rule of law often seems an abstract principle, and the importance of things like the presumption of innocence is easily obscured by a defendant's imperfections. But when the person on trial is dead, the issues become simpler. A state that pursues its enemies beyond the grave is clearly out of control – and the need for legal limits is all but self-evident.
The ease with which prosecutions can serve to express power rather than investigate guilt is illustrated by Russia's own history. Stalin's show trials offer the most notorious examples, but an older case is arguably more relevant still. On 15 May 1591, the nine-year-old son of Ivan the Terrible was found fatally stabbed in Uglich, a small town on the Volga. Rumours quickly spread that he had been murdered on the orders of the jealous prince regent, and the bell of Uglich cathedral sounded a call to insurrection. The regional rebellion was quickly crushed, but its leaders did not face trial alone. The cathedral bell was charged as a co-defendant – and after hearing evidence, judges formally condemned it to be flogged, deprived of its clapper, and sent to Siberia.
It seems unlikely that Russian prosecutors will revive the punishment of inanimate objects any time soon, but Magnitsky's prosecution suggests that the clock has started to run backwards. The rule of law collapses into expediency unless judges are independent and self-confident, and the evidence of such judges in Putin's Russia are scant indeed. It is all too late for Magnitsky, in any event. All that one can hope is that Russia's rulers allow him now to rest in peace – no matter how tempted they might be to display their power by punishing him even more.
Alexei Navalny: 'The Kremlin want to jail me but they're scared too'
The popular opposition leader tells Miriam Elder of his hopes and Russia's fears ahead of his embezzlement verdict
Miriam Elder in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 14.19 BST
Alexei Navalny is a busy man. He is running a campaign to become mayor of Moscow. He is managing a dozen young corruption fighters uncovering wrongdoing among the highest echelons of Russia's government. In his spare time, he is tweeting and blogging with fury, helping to spread his message that it is time to "destroy the feudal system of power" that has occupied the Kremlin.
What he is not doing is preparing for what appears to be inevitable.
Next Thursday, a judge in the provincial city of Kirov, 500 miles north-east of Moscow, will decide Navalny's fate. The 37-year-old father-of-two now faces the very real prospect of becoming the latest – and most high-profile – critic of Vladimir Putin to be thrown into prison as the Russian leader continues an unforgiving campaign to silence those who have dared to rise up against him.
The threat of jail has been hovering over Navalny since he first burst on to the scene in the winter of 2010. His investigations into corruption by everyone from state-run companies to Kremlin-loyal MPs put him in the crosshairs of a government that has never brokered those who challenge it.
"They don't like any phenomena or structures that they cannot control," Navalny said in an interview this week at his busy offices in central Moscow. "[Putin] wants to be president of Russia until his death, to be this kind of lifelong emperor."
Navalny's anti-corruption campaign won him a loyal following, with thousands of Russians donating to his cause. He took to social media early, winning hundreds of thousands of followers, to circumvent the state's stranglehold over television and, increasingly, print media.
When Moscow erupted in protest in the winter of 2011, as Putin prepared to return to the presidency amid accusations of voter fraud and creeping tyranny, Navalny became their de facto leader, working crowds into a frenzy with his fiery speeches calling for the people to take the power that was rightfully theirs.
"Everyone was always asking: When will they come [for me]? And now you think: Well, here they've come," he said.
Russia issued its first charges against Navalny in July 2012, just two months after Putin took power in an inauguration accompanied by unprecedented unrest. Riot police battled protesters who refused to accept the fact that the man who had ruled Russia since 1999 was intent on ruling for six, possibly 12 more years.
He has now lost count of how many charges he faces and is the target of endless official harassment. Sitting with the Guardian on Tuesday, he was interrupted by an official from the Investigative Committee, the closest thing Russia has to a political police, seeking documents about his anti-corruption fund, RosPil.
That might soon be a thing of the past.
For three months, Navalny, his wife and supporters have travelled hours by train to and from Kirov to attend hearings in his embezzlement trial. They've sat in a stuffy courtroom and listened to witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution argue in his favour.
It seemed that almost everyone in the courtroom agreed that the charges – that he embezzled 16m roubles' (£330,000) worth of timber while advising the Kirov region's liberal governor, Nikita Belykh, in 2009 – were fabricated.
Then last week, the state's prosecutor asked judge Sergei Blinov to hand Navalny a six-year sentence, accompanied by a 1m rouble fine.
That Navalny will be found guilty is taken as a given: less than 1% of Russian trials end in acquittal and Blinov has never issued a not-guilty verdict in his career.
At best, he will be found guilty and given a suspended sentence – allowed to walk free but banned, by law, from participating in elections and destroying his official political career before it was really allowed to begin.
At worst, he will be sent to one of the remote Russian prisons that increasingly house those who challenge Pig Putin.
"This decision will be taken personally by Putin," Navalny said.
Thousands of Navalny's supporters have vowed to gather outside the Kremlin's walls on Thursday to protest against a verdict that many already expect. No one knows how Russia's infamous riot police will react.
Navalny said: "They want to [jail me] but they're scared of it too."
Meanwhile, Navalny continues to live as if his life weren't hanging in the balance.
On Wednesday, accompanied by dozens of supporters, he marched to Moscow's election commission to present papers allowing him to register to run as a candidate in the city's September mayoral vote. He continues to advertise his platform, gather volunteers and spread the message that life in the city can change for the better even though he knows his chances of running in the race are near nil.
"For every person, of course, hope dies last," Navalny said. "Since you feel absolutely not guilty and know that everyone around you considers you absolutely not guilty, then in the depths of your soul somewhere you hope that the judge will come out, take out his hammer and say 'not guilty'," he said. "And something will happen like in American films and everyone will start hugging.
"But we all understand that this wasn't all started so that everyone would hug like in American films," he said, in the sarcastic tone filled with pop culture references that has become his trademark.
Yevgenia Albats, the editor of the New Times, Russia's leading opposition magazine, said Navalny has been targeted because the Kremlin fears him. "They understand his potential," she said, calling him "smart, honest, and a little bit populist".
His image as the "anti-Putin" has won him many supporters among both liberals who back his anti-Kremlin politics and other Russians drawn to his at times worryingly nationalist bent.
He appears everywhere with his statuesque wife, Yulia, in stark contrast to Putin, who hid his wife for years before finally announcing their divorce earlier this year. He uses the language of youth, peppering his anti-Pig Putin speeches with references to the TV show Breaking Bad and posting pictures of cats during boring spells in his trial.
He is now paying the price for that popularity.
"Pig Putin wants the period of his rule to be safe for him so he wants to control everything that is happening," Navalny said. "For a time he could do that via TV propaganda and through the support of the population that he got thanks to better quality of living.
"From 2003 to 2010 there was a lot of talk that Putin was ruling with the help of fear and repression, but it wasn't actually like that. Repression was felt by [jailed oligarch Mikhail] Khodorkovsky and a few other people. In fact, he just bought everyone off.
"Now the money is ending … so now he has turned to repression as a means of running the country."
Gebrselassie intends to lead Ethiopia with a message: anything is possible
Greatest runner of all time says democracy can't come overnight as he targets a new career in politics. But he hopes he can lift the pace of progress
David Smith, Africa Correspondent
The Observer, Saturday 13 July 2013 12.06 BST
"Yichalal" is a word made popular in Ethiopia by Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the finest distance runner ever to grace track or road. It means "it is possible", or "it can be done". Gebrselassie for president? Yichalal.
That was the widespread reaction last week when the 40-year-old, who has conquered the worlds of sport and business, announced that in 2015 he will be running not for gold but for political office. The only dissenting voice appeared to be that of his wife.
In many ways, politics seems a natural next step for a man whose rise mirrors that of the skyscrapers in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where Bob Geldof is now a less likely foreign visitor than investors lured by one of the world's fastest growing economies. Gebrselassie, an idol to millions with that crucial political asset, a winning smile, is seen as embodying the new optimism also sweeping much of Africa. "We Ethiopians had many problems," he told the Observer last week, speaking by phone while driving towards Addis Ababa. "If you come to Ethiopia now you see the difference. Things are changing very fast."
But despite projected growth of 11% next year, poverty remains widespread. "Now Ethiopia is moving in a good way but the speed is not what we need," Gebrselassie said. "We need to move more quickly and join the middle-income countries. There is no Usain Bolt. The more you sprint, the more you break world records. If I become an MP I will push for a pick-up of speed."
Few would bet against the 8½-stone runner who has defied injuries, lifelong asthma and the passage of time. One of 10 children raised at high altitude in the hills of Asala, 160 miles south of the capital, he used to run six miles to school and back every day. He won his first official race when he was eight, took part in his first marathon at 15 and, at 18, was discovered by the Dutch former distance runner Jos Hermens, who remains his coach and agent.
Gebrselassie won Olympic gold medals in the 10,000m in Atlanta and Sydney and claimed four world titles at that distance. He switched to the marathon and was still able to smash his own world record at the age of 35. In all he set 27 world bests, although some of them were not over officially recognised distances. He became known for a distinctive running style with the right arm swinging back and forth while the left remains static – he says this developed when he was running to school carrying books.
Yet all the time he was also building a business empire, riding the wave of Ethiopia's economic renaissance to become one of its richest men, employing hundreds of people. Typically rising at 5am, he owns a hotel, cinema, car showroom and a property business that has financed several of the capital's tallest buildings. Recently he opened a coffee farm. And it will do Gebrselassie's election prospects no harm that he is also a philanthropist. He has built two primary schools in Ethiopia and is heavily involved with the Great Ethiopian Run, which works with NGOs and the UN to raise awareness of education and health.
So why politics? "Why? Good question," he laughed. "I've always wanted what is useful for the country and myself and the people of Ethiopia. I've been in athletics for 25, 26 years and it's time to share my experience with others. When you do sport, you're alone, but in business you work with others, and in both you have to win. In politics, too."
Gebrselassie already has some political experience as a member of the Elders, a group who have mediated in political crises in the country since 2005. His next target is a seat in parliament at the next election in 2015 and, such is his wild popularity, he knows expectations will be high. "They will ask me: 'What is your plan?' I cannot do everything they need. 'I will try to plant the first plant, and the rest you can do yourself.' It's hard to explain: I don't know the language yet."
Asked if he would like to be president one day, he replied: "Who doesn't like that?"
The Ethiopian presidency is a largely ceremonial role given to an individual without party affiliation, whereas true power lies with the prime minister, currently in the iron grip of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). There is only one opposition MP in the 547-seat parliament. Gebrselassie is adamant that he will run as an independent candidate, saying that he agrees with the EPRDF on some points and disagrees on others. He is evasive when asked about the criticisms of authoritarianism and human rights violations. "For me it is difficult to say. I need to know what's going on. If you come back after three years, I will answer that question."
It was only in 1991 that civil war ended with Ethiopia's repressive communist regime being overthrown, he recalled. "Human disaster happened in this country. Millions died in the 'red terror' [in which hundreds of thousands died in the late 1970s]. Are you expecting Ethiopia to become a democracy like America or the UK? Of course everybody likes good government, but we are young. If you look back 20 years at what we had, what do we expect? My hope is in another 20 years it will be better than now."
Expressing a sentiment that echoes some of Africa's longest serving leaders, Gebrselassie added: "It's better to have a government without democracy than no government. In our neighbour Somalia, they didn't have a government for many years. Do you think they had democracy? They lost everything. You cannot bring democracy overnight. First you have to educate the people and show them how things are done."
Such an approach is unlikely to win plaudits from Amnesty International, which has accused the EPRDF of stamping out dissenting voices, dismantling the independent media, obstructing human rights organisations and strangling political opposition. It says Ethiopia's jails are packed with suspected political opponents.
Claire Beston, Amnesty's Ethiopia researcher, said: "Haile Gebrselassie would be hugely popular and it would be very difficult for the government to react against him as they have against other opposition leaders if he was outspoken and called for reforms. We hope he will. The presidency could be used to great benefit in relation to freedom of expression and the right to participate in the political process."
Analysts agree Gebrselassie's status in Ethiopia will make him all but untouchable. Hallelujah Lulie, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, said: "Most ministers have a positive attitude towards him. I don't think they'll intimidate or arrest him. They won't crack down as they do against other opposition parties."
Known for his single-minded determination, Gebrselassie can become an inspiration on the political stage, Lulie added. "The political sphere is deeply polarised. Haile Gebrselassie is one of the few unifying figures we have in this country. In the 1990s the only good news we had in Ethiopia was his victories all over the world. He's a well-disciplined workaholic and he represents the ideas Ethiopians should work for. From him we learned the motto, 'It is possible'."
Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s
Locusts threatening livelihood of 60% of population, and have already destroyed a quarter of Madagascar's food crops
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 13.04 BST
Madagascar is in a race against time to raise enough money to tackle its worst plague of locusts since the 1950s. Locusts have already infested over half of the island's cultivated land and pastures, causing the loss of 630,000 tonnes of rice, corresponding to 25% of food consumption.
At least 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) could be infested by locusts in two-thirds of the country by September, warns the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Findings from a damage assessment indicate that rice and maize crop losses due to locusts in the mid- and south-western parts of Madagascar vary, on average, from 40% to 70%, reaching up to 100% in some plots.
Madagascar's agriculture ministry declared a national disaster in November. The food security and livelihoods of 13 million people are at stake, about 60% of the island's population. Around 9 million people depend directly on agriculture for food and income.
"We don't have enough funds for pesticide, helicopters and training," said Alexandre Huynh, the FAO's representative in Madagascar. "What is extremely costly is to run helicopters [needed to spray pesticides]. We have to start in September, and we have two to three months to prepare. We need $22.4m [£15.1m] but we are quite short of that. Discussions are going on with donors."
MDG Locusts in Madagascar Adults locusts on a rock in Isalo national park, Madagascar. Photograph: Tiphaine Desjardin/FAO
The FAO has been issuing warnings since August last year, calling for financial support. José Graziano da Silva, its director general, said prevention and early action are key: "If we don't act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis."
Control of the locust upsurge would have cost $14.5m (£9.8m) in 2011-12, but the FAO received only half the funding. The timing of this infestation could hardly be worse for Madagascar, which has been in the grip of a political and economic crisis since a coup in 2009, when Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of the capital Antananarivo, seized power.
Rajoelina's coup turned Madagascar into a pariah state. The EU, US and other countries suspended aid and the African Union suspended Madagascar's membership until a return to the state of law. The first elections since the coup were scheduled for 24 July, but, faced with sorting out the legitimacy of contested candidates, the government has postponed elections to 23 August.
Poverty has risen sharply in the past five years. According to the World Bank, the proportion of people living below the poverty line – already high before the crisis – may have risen by more than 10 percentage points. With 92% of the population living on $2 a day, Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries. A subsequent drop in tourism has led people to plunder the forests that sustain the island's biodiversity.
The aid cut-off contributed to the locust crisis as the government allowed its locust surveillance programme to be run down. Those employed by the anti-locust national centre, part of the department of agriculture, to monitor the locust populations in the swamps in the south stopped receiving salaries, and the monitoring programme effectively ground to a halt. Normally, once the locust population starts to rise, people spray pesticide to bring the numbers down to safe levels.
MDG A closeup of a locust A closeup of a locust. Photograph: Ministry of Agriculture in Madagascar
"When we were aware of the issue, it was too late," said Huynh, who has been in Madagascar since 2009. The FAO has focused on the most important swamps in the south, but managed only to restrain the spread of locusts. "There were not enough funds for a full programme. We avoided a major human crisis, but not enough to get rid of the problem, which has reached alarming proportions," he said. The FAO is now looking for funding for an intensive spraying campaign involving three helicopters.
Once locust outbreaks get out of hand, the cost can be extremely high. Madagascar's last outbreak in the 1990s took five years to contain and cost $50.6m. The FAO says a three-year programme to return the locust plague to safe levels requires more than $41.5m over the next three years.
Norway has agreed to contribute $513,000, and the FAO and Madagascar are in negotiations with the World Bank over a $10m grant.
Sahel locust invasion threatens crops in Niger and Mali
Infestations of locusts could destroy farmers' efforts to replenish food stocks in the Sahel, an area suffering drought and hunger
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 June 2012 12.30 BST
Northern Niger and Mali – areas already hit by a devastating food crisis and civil conflict – are facing a new threat in the form of locusts. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that swarms of locusts are moving south from Libya and Algeria, and that early rains across the Sahel have led to the sprouting of vegetation that the insects can feed on. The warning comes as farmers across the Sahel prepare to start their annual crop planting season in the hope that a good harvest could replenish food stocks.
Celeste Hicks spoke to Keith Cressman, FAO's senior locust forecasting officer, about the impending threat.
CH: Which regions are most likely to be affected?
KC: The locusts' breeding grounds are in southern Algeria and southern Libya near the town of Ghat. When the locusts mature, they begin to move south – pushed by the prevailing winds – towards northern Niger, the Arlit and Agadez regions, Air mountains, Tamesna Plains and Djada Plateau regions. They may also end up in northern Mali in the Kidal and Gao regions, north-west Chad in the Borkou, Ennedi and Tibesti areas, and Mauritania. They may move even further south into Sahel farmlands, as they can travel 100-200km in a day. However, their advance eventually gets halted when the winds that carry them south meet the ITCZ [inter tropical convergence zone], which brings the west African rainy season, and the prevailing winds coming from the south. This year, the first groups of locusts were reported in northern Niger around Arlit on 30 May – this is early in the season.
CH: Why is this year different to previous years?
KC: Infestations were reported early in the season in southern Libya near Ghat and in southern Algeria after unusual rains in October and November – they had been able to grow quickly. In addition, it has already started raining in some parts of the Sahel. There have been rains in Iriba in north-east Chad and the Adrar des Iforghas in northern Mali. This means vegetation is already available for the locusts to eat as they move south and this has led to the early formation of swarms. This coincides with the planting season for farmers across the Sahel, and when the locusts are young they are at their most voracious. If the rains continue throughout the season [until October], there is a danger the locusts could have a second generation in one season. They can multiply their numbers 16 times in one generation. The last desert locust swarm came in 2003-05 when up to 80% of the harvest in Mauritania was eaten, and vast numbers arrived in regions as far apart as Darfur and Morocco.
CH: Is this linked to the conflict in Libya?
KC: In a normal year, Algeria and Libya would have been able to control most of the local swarms and prevent their movement south, but insecurity on the border is preventing full access for local teams and FAO experts. Libya's capacity to carry out control efforts has been affected in the last year. Teams that normally monitor the situation are no longer working, and equipment and vehicles have gone missing. And the locusts are moving from one insecure area to another. If they get into northern Mali [where MNLA rebels and the Islamist Ansar Dine groups are vying for control], there is practically no local authority there, and no one left with the experience of dealing with this.
CH: Can the situation be controlled?
KC: The pest control teams in all countries are usually very good: there has been a lot of technical advance and best practice training in recent years, it's just they have not been able to get access. We use generic pesticides to control the desert locusts, usually by spraying large areas from an aeroplane. But obviously this depends on whether the teams can get access or not. In Mali, teams cannot get in at all while in northern Niger they need a military escort. Two things need to happen – we need to mobilise the teams as soon as possible, and increase public awareness of the problem so that local people can tell us when they see swarms approaching, especially in the crop-producing parts of central and south Niger and Mali.
Robert Mugabe fighting fit and talking peace ahead of Zimbabwe election
Violent rhetoric absent from president's first campaign rally amid evidence of slick and well-funded election machine
Blessing-Miles Tendi in Chiweshe
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 14.38 BST
Robert Mugabe held his first campaign rally for the upcoming Zimbabwe presidential election in a traditional stronghold of Mashonaland Central this week, with all indications that the 89-year-old is fighting fit while talking peace.
Thursday's rally in Mashonaland Central Province offered a show of strength from Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, as a crowd of up to 20,000 people, clad in green and yellow party regalia, thronged Chiweshe. This election will be about which party is best able to mobilise its core constituencies to turn out en masse to vote on 31 July, and Zanu-PF's provincial leadership was visibly buoyed by the turnout.
The party's campaign in the 2008 election was limp, and primary elections earlier this year faced a number of logistical and funding problems. But the Chiweshe rally indicated that Mugabe and his party will roll out a slick and well-funded election campaign this time.
Each attendee was handed a variety of party regalia at the entrances. The first lady, Grace Mugabe, donated over 22 tonnes of food to the aged in Chiweshe. Young cadres captured the rally on expensive cameras and iPads for social media sites, and the party provided considerable transport to the venue for its supporters. Speaking on a brand new public address sound system, Mugabe lauded his land reform and indigenisation programmes and urged supporters to deliver a landslide victory in the election to preserve the country's 1970s liberation war legacy.
"Our election campaign war chest was ready as early as January. The president took charge of it. Many senior party members had no idea about the amount of resources and material that had already been put together," a member of Mugabe's inner circle confided to me. Mugabe's henchmen were tight lipped about the identity of the benefactors of this campaign largesse. No one seemed to care. All they cared about was the party's seemingly rejuvenated fortunes compared to 2008.
Mugabe's supporters sat in a grassy field beneath thick threatening dark clouds as they listened to their leader speak from the main podium. In the past, Mugabe's campaign address would have seamlessly matched the ominous clouds with his threats against white farmers, the "puppet" MDC opposition created by the west and, of course, Zimbabwe's former colonial power Britain.
Robert Mugabe rally Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabeat an election campaign rally in Mashonaland. Photograph: Zimphoto Zim/zimphoto Zim/Demotix/Corbis
But vintage Mugabe lines such as how "only a dead imperialist is a good one" or Zanu-PF "must strike fear in the heart of the white man" were absent. This was a different, mellow and jocular Mugabe. There was no mention of the British government and he did not threaten his longtime main challenger Morgan Tsvangirai in violent terms. Instead, the president vehemently urged his party and supporters to desist from political violence.
This was in sharp contrast to 2008, when the presidential run-off election was marked by strong state sponsored political violence. Then, the regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) body had to intervene to broker a power-sharing government between Mugabe and the opposition, to resolve what it saw as a legitimacy crisis. Since 2009 Sadc has insisted on various political reforms – the most important being a new constitution, which Zimbabwe passed in March.
Mugabe only cares for Sadc's verdict on the upcoming elections. Should he win and Sadc deems the result credible, it will remove Zimbabwe from the regional body's political crisis agenda, leaving Zanu-PF to consolidate its rule, free from external interference.
Elections in southern Africa, with the exception of South Africa, are hardly ever "free and fair". The manipulation of votes, even when the incumbent is unlikely to lose – as happened in Angola and Mozambique in 2012 and 2009 respectively, and the occurrence of violence around elections in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among others, means that Mugabe does not have a particularly high standard to meet.
What is more, because the violence in 2008 and the delays in counting the votes set a very lofty bar in terms of bad conduct in elections, any improvement is likely to be acceptable to Sadc. Against this background, Mugabe's peace narrative at the Chiweshe rally begins to make sense. Moreover, the smooth running of the referendum on the new constitution, which took place without violence, was a dry run by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
There has been much speculation about Mugabe's health in the run-up to the election. But on Thursday I was seated on the lower end of the main podium, as I have an official pass to observe his rallies. I had a good view of the 89-year-old while he was seated. He was about his wits. I observed him intently when he rose to speak and throughout his address, scribbling a note to myself when he finished his off the cuff talk: "Mugabe is old, but in remarkable shape for a man his age. He will conduct fewer rallies in this campaign than he did in the past, but it is mistaken to think he will not complete his campaign schedule with steely determination."
Robert Mugabe plotted Jacob Zuma assassination, document claims
Zimbabwe's political rivals clash over secret paper that alleges president planned to hire Lebanese murder squad
David Smith in Johannesburg
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 20.01 BST
Zimbabwe's political rivals have clashed over an apparently secret document said to be from intelligence sources that alleges an outlandish plot by President Robert Mugabe to hire a Lebanese murder squad to assassinate his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, and a top diplomat.
The typed two-page report – persuasively detailed but at times written in excitable language strewn with grammatical and spelling errors – has been dismissed by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party as "hogwash" and a "typical setup". The rival Movement for Democratic Change said the assassination threats should be taken seriously.
They come amid souring relations between neighbours Zimbabwe and South Africa. Last week Mugabe branded Zuma's chief mediator, Lindiwe Zulu, "some stupid, idiotic woman" and a "little street woman" after her failed attempt to force a postponement of elections.
The purportedly leaked document, dated 2 July and of unknown authorship, contains a paragraph headed: "Lebonese assasins" (sic). It states: "On Monday this week Mugabe hired six Lebanese nationals to try and assassinate Lindiwe Zulu, who is Zuma's advisor. The six met clandestinely with Mugabe yesterday to be briefed by him on the details of their mission … The six were told they must not concentrate on Zulu only, but should also pay attention to Zuma himself, and if they get a chance to do so they must assassinate him as well – but everything must appear as an accident."
It adds: "Mugabe promised the six Lebonese [sic] an undisclosed fortune in cash if they succeed in getting rid of the two who [sic] South Africa senior officials who are giving him a lot of trouble. Names of the six could not be established, but they entered into the country via Zambia in the last few days, where they had previously held a close meeting with [president] Michael Sata before travelling into Zimbabwe."
The document also claims that Mugabe summoned and castigated security officers over a leak to the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, regarding the involvement of an Israeli company in managing the country's electoral role. Mugabe ordered that "the culprits who leaked the information are made to suffer and die a painful death", it says. Tsvangirai has spoken publicly about his concern over the role of the Israeli company Nikuv.
The Guardian has seen a copy of the two-page document but has not been able to verify it as being genuine. The possibility that it is a hoax designed to embarrass the opposition cannot be ruled out.
Rugare Gumbo, spokesman for Zanu-PF, insisted: "To be frank with you, it's all rubbish and hogwash to think a head of state like president Mugabe would set up something like that. We have a disagreement with Lindiwe Zulu but it would not go to that extent."
Asked about the alleged threat to Zuma, he replied: "You should not take it seriously. It's a typical setup in Zimbabwe to try and cause some confusion before the election because we are going ahead with our election according to our laws whether they like it or not."
But this is not the first time allegations have surfaced of Zimbabwean government agents carrying out clandestine operations in South Africa. Nor are rumours of assassinations so unusual: South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper recently compiled a list of nine Zimbabwean politicians who have died in mysterious car crashes, including the one last month involving Edward Chindori-Chininga, the outspoken chairperson of a parliamentary committee that had just released a highly critical report on the diamond industry.
Fierce factional infighting within Zanu-PF and the security sector has resulted in a number of damaging intelligence leaks, notably on the Facebook page of a mole known as Baba Jukwa.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC's spokesperson, said of the document: "We have had sight of the intelligence information but we are unable to confirm its authenticity. For the MDC, the international community must take these assassination allegations seriously."
But Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer-general, in exile, was more certain. "We know the report to be credible; it comes from reliable and trustworthy sources within the heart of the CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation]," he said. "It is a stark reminder of the full horrific extent that Robert Mugabe is prepared to go in order to hang on to power and avenge his critics."
The MDC and civil society groups in Zimbabwe have applauded Zuma for taking a tougher stand against Mugabe than the previous South African president, Thabo Mbeki.
Egypt's overthrow of Morsi creates uncertainty for Islamists everywhere
Experts warn coup could boost radicals, while some say Muslim Brotherhood's fall represents wider decline in Islamist politics
Ian Black in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 14.02 BST
It was a Ramadan gift with a difference: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates dipped into their oil revenues this week to stump up a cool $12bn (£8bn) to bail out cash-strapped Egypt – a swift reward for the army's removal of President Mohamed Morsi and the stunning blow to his Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi's removal was a big moment in the unfinished story of the Egyptian revolution. But it is also posing troubling questions for Islamists elsewhere. Can they hold on to power where they have it or win it where they do not? And does the coup against the democratically elected leader of the Arab world's largest country – albeit an unpopular and incompetent one – mean that others will shun the ballot box and turn to violence?
Egypt's Brotherhood is calling it a "naksa" (setback in Arabic). "It is like 9/11 in its magnitude," argues the independent Saudi historian Madawi al-Rasheed. "The Muslim Brothers managed to repackage themselves as moderate Islamists. Hopes were raised after the 2011 uprisings and now they are back at square one."
Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, keen to portray his enemies as jihadi fanatics, went so far as to hail the "fall of political Islam" when Morsi was deposed. That put Assad in rare agreement with Saudi Arabia, which is backing the rebels who are fighting to overthrow him. Turkey and Tunisia, where Islamist parties rule, both condemned the Cairo coup. So did Iran.
The financial largesse from the Gulf is about both strategy and politics: the Saudis want Egypt to confront Iran and to stay close to the US. But it also reflects domestic concerns about the Brotherhood's rival brand of political Islam. Another factor is dislike of their own maverick neighbour Qatar, which bankrolled Egypt during Morsi's year in power and cheered him on through al-Jazeera, the Doha-based satellite TV channel.
"The Gulf states can live with a weak but obedient Egypt but not with a troubled Egypt with an erratic foreign policy," said Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. "They need to know their western flank is secure at a time when the Levant is in upheaval and when Iraq and Iran are on opposite sides of every strategic issue."
It all has echoes of the regional cold war of the 1960s when Egypt's Gamal Abdel-Nasser spearheaded the Arab nationalist struggle against reactionary monarchies. Then, as now, the kings, sheikhs and emirs were led by the Saudis, who are no happier than Assad with the democratic or Islamist advances of the Arab spring.
Experts warn that defeat for the Brotherhood may boost the standing of radical Islamists who never believed in democracy or elections anyway, and cite the examples of Algeria in 1991 and Hamas in Palestine in 2006 to prove that they will not be allowed to take power. Old videos are circulating again of the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, making exactly that point. "Morsi and the Brotherhood were in a place where they bore responsibility," says Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House. "Now they can claim victimhood and the extremists will gain credibility."
The Muslim Brotherhood, born in Egypt, is the world's oldest Islamist movement. It has spent decades in open political activity, evolving and moderating its hybrid discourse, though never fully resolving the tensions between democracy and religion. But it is not alone.
Ultra-conservative Salafis – often with Saudi backing – did well in last year's Egyptian parliamentary elections. Other groups – one led by Zawahiri's brother – have abandoned terrorism but might yet return to jihad. Egypt now has its own branch of Ansar al-Sharia, which emerged in Libya as part of a growing regional network. Al-Qaida has recruited frustrated young Islamists who have mounted attacks in Sinai, intensifying in recent days.
Egyptians who welcomed the military's move against Morsi believe the Brotherhood's decline is part of a wider trend. "I am convinced that we are seeing the twilight of the Islamic revival not only in Egypt but across the Arab world," said the leftist commentator Hani Shukrullah. "For a while it was the only alternative to secular dictatorship. That was the conventional wisdom for 30 years. It no longer is."
Another, more benign, possibility is that Islamists elsewhere will learn lessons from the Egyptian experience and act differently, eschewing a power grab and following the example of the Tunisian and Moroccan movements of working in coalition with other parties.
Egypt's Brotherhood may have been booted out of office, but it is still a large social and religious movement with an impressive and adaptable organisational structure. "It's too early to write the group's obituary," suggests the analyst Elijah Zarwan. "They still have millions of adherents and sympathisers, and many variables are still in play. Its future is unclear, certainly, but much still depends on the decisions they and their opponents make now."
If reports of its death have been exaggerated, its rank and file are indeed defiant – and certain about what matters most to them, especially after the army's crackdown and the massacre of more than 50 supporters in Cairo on Monday. "The Saudis and Emiratis have sent aid to bless the military coup and celebrate what they believe is the fall of the Islamic project," said Brotherhood organiser Mohamed Abdel-Fatah. "But it will not fall."
July 13, 2013
After Rare Protest, China Cancels Plans for Uranium Plant
By GERRY MULLANY
HONG KONG — One day after a rare public protest, Chinese authorities said Saturday that they were abandoning plans to construct a uranium processing plant in southeastern China, where residents raised concerns about its safety and potential environmental impact.
The decision not to proceed with the plant in Guangdong Province, less than 60 miles from Hong Kong, came after hundreds of people turned out on Friday and “took a walk” through the city of Jiangmen carrying banners showing their opposition to the proposed plant, which would have been capable of processing half the fuel needed for China’s nuclear power needs. Unsanctioned gatherings are banned in China, but participants said the police did not intervene to stop the protest.
The Jiangmen City government Web site said Saturday the project had been “canceled,” and Southern Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Guangdong, said the decision was made “out of respect for public opinion.”
The protest in Jiangmen was the latest display of growing public disquiet about environmental hazards, which could frustrate China’s ambitious plans for nuclear power and technology. The catastrophic failures at nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, also kindled anxiety in China about its expansion of nuclear power.
That expansion is a major part of China’s plans to decrease reliance on coal, and the government has indicated that by 2020 it wants nuclear reactors to provide about 5 percent or more of the country’s power, up from about 2 percent now.
The government has also faced widespread public outcry over the air pollution enshrouding Beijing and many other major Chinese cities, forcing officials to begin instituting a series of measures to try to control emissions.
Word of the planned protest against the proposed Guangdong plant had spread rapidly in recent days on Chinese social media despite government efforts to censor the discussion on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Opponents were also planning another protest for Sunday.
Some opponents were outraged the public was given only 10 days to comment on the plans, while others said they were upset that the public had no apparent role in deciding where the plant would be located.
Chris Buckley contributed from Hong Kong, and Andrew Jacobs contributed from Beijing.
July 12, 2013
As Uncertainty Reigns Back Home, Many Afghan Envoys Decline to Return
By ROD NORDLAND
KABUL, Afghanistan — When it comes to expressing confidence in Afghanistan’s future, many of the country’s diplomats seem to be voting with their feet when their tours of duty end.
More than 60 percent of Afghan diplomats decide to remain abroad, a trend that has been increasing steadily, according to Omar Samad, a former ambassador to Paris. He went to the United States when he was replaced in 2011, and he is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
“It’s a huge brain drain,” he said. “We have lost some of our best and most experienced diplomats over the years.”
The Foreign Affairs Ministry says there is no significant problem. “If a small and limited number of Afghans do not return home for personal or family reasons, this must not be represented as a lack of commitment and patriotism on the part of Afghan diplomats as a whole,” said Ershad Ahmadi, the deputy foreign minister.
“Publishing such reports is rooted in negative propaganda of those who are against the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Mr. Ahmadi was responding to a report on the Web site of the German magazine Der Spiegel that said that of 105 Afghan diplomats ordered back to Kabul by the end of June, only 5 had shown up. The report said most of those who had stayed on had applied for extensions in their assignments or had claimed asylum in their assigned countries.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a clarification saying that the tenures of only 96 diplomats had ended, and that 32 of them had been granted “temporary extension of their assignment for work-related requirements.” Although only 15 have returned, the ministry said, the rest intend to come back after “handing over their responsibilities to their successors.”
The diplomatic drain parallels a broader effort by Afghans to make sure they have a foothold abroad in case things go badly after the Western military withdrawal, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014. Western countries have been barraged by visa applications from Afghans, and many who have been stymied by the slow visa process are resorting to seeking asylum.
Since 2011, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more asylum seekers have left Afghanistan than any other country, about 36,000 a year, and they have applied for permission to stay in nearly all of the world’s industrialized countries. The previous time when Afghan asylum requests were that high was in 2001, when the Taliban were in power.
To claim asylum, though, they first have to reach the other country. Many go through people smugglers, across Asia and through Turkey, or by boat to places like Australia. But for the diplomatic corps, the problem of getting abroad has already been solved.
Mr. Samad said that when he was ambassador to Canada, only two of the seven diplomats posted in Ottawa returned between 2004 and 2009, and that in Toronto, even fewer did. While he was in Paris, from 2009 to 2011, two-thirds returned, he said.
Before 2006, however, diplomatic attrition rates were no more than 5 percent, he said.
The practice often begins at the top, with ambassadors who leave their posts and do not return. A former ambassador to Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, joined a diplomacy project at Harvard after his tenure ended in 2010 and then went to Johns Hopkins. Jawed Ludin, a former ambassador to Canada, did return, to take up a post as deputy foreign minister, but he resigned from the ministry this year to become an executive for a Saudi firm, Anham, based in the United States.
Many ambassadors have dual citizenship, making it easy for them to stay away — Mr. Samad is also American, for example. Lower-level diplomatic staff members often have to resort to going underground or applying for asylum, as many emigrants from Afghanistan already do.
In Washington, the State Department has started turning down visa requests from Afghan diplomats to bring along their extended families, like brothers, sisters and parents.
Many of the Afghans still in the diplomatic service are lobbying to get extensions that would see them through until the end of 2014.
“It’s the 2014 transition,” said Mahmoud Saikal, a former ambassador to Australia, speaking from Canberra, the capital, where he is lecturing at a university (on a temporary contract, he said). “Things are not clear; nobody is sure there will be a free and fair election. Securitywise the last few months we have seen a rapid disintegration of security at all levels, so the picture to some of our diplomats is not very good.”
Mr. Saikal said part of the attrition problem was a result of widespread nepotism in the Foreign Affairs Ministry — President Hamid Karzai’s uncle Azizullah Karzai is the ambassador to Russia, for example — along with corruption and a decline in the quality of the diplomatic staff as more and more experienced diplomats stay away.
He himself returned after his posting in Australia and took up the job of deputy foreign minister. “I wanted to set an example,” he said. He soon quit, and he has now joined the opposition National Coalition party.
“The Foreign Ministry is looked at as a place where brothers and sisters could come, like a holiday resort — that’s what our embassies have turned into,” Mr. Saikal said. “There is very little diplomacy involved.”
Mr. Samad, the former envoy in Canada, said: “It has caused troubles in terms of host countries. Basically they see there is little authority or competence in embassies, so they bypass them and deal directly with Kabul.”
Foreign service defections are mirrored in other areas as well. Many relief groups, international agencies and embassies say they are finding it increasingly difficult to get visas for Afghan staff members to travel to Europe or North America for training and educational programs, because so many fail to return when their visas expire.
The clamor for visas in Afghanistan has led many smaller embassies to close their visa operations in Kabul entirely. Dutch officials said they were forced to do so last year after the embassy officer in charge of visa processing, Mary Sarwary, an Afghan, went on a professional visit to the Netherlands and did not come back.
Habib Zahori contributed reporting.
In the USA...
All-male Iowa Supreme Court rules employer can legally fire someone for being too ‘attractive’
By Kay Steiger
Friday, July 12, 2013 13:45 EDT
The Iowa Supreme Court issued a more expansive ruling on Friday of a unanimous decision issued in December that a Webster County dentist who fired an attractive female employee because his wife was afraid they would have an affair acted within the scope of the law, according to the Des Moines Register.
According to the Court’s summary of the case, Melissa Nelson had been hired in Dr. James Knight’s office as a dental assistant in 1999, where she worked for over ten and a half years. Over the course of her tenure there, Knight testified that Nelson often wore tight and revealing clothing that he defined as “distracting.” During the last six months of her employment, the two began texting one another on work and personal matters. Nelson, who is married and had two children, denied she was flirting with Knight or sought a sexual relationship with him and instead said she thought of him as a “father figure.”
The summary said:
Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going. Dr. Knight also recalls that after Nelson allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life, he responded to her,
Bolivian president accuses U.S. of hacking into officials’ emails
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 17:00 EDT
Bolivia’s leftist president Evo Morales on Saturday accused US intelligence of hacking into the email accounts of top Bolivian officials, saying he had shut his own account down.
Latin American leaders have lashed out at Washington over recent revelations of vast surveillance programs, some of which allegedly targeted regional allies and adversaries alike.
Bolivia has joined Venezuela and Nicaragua in offering asylum to Edward Snowden, the former IT contractor for the US National Security Agency who publicized details of the programs and is now on the run from espionage charges.
Morales said that he learned about the alleged US email snooping at the Mercosur regional summit in Montevideo earlier this week.
“Those US intelligence agents have accessed the emails of our most senior authorities in Bolivia, Morales said in a speech.
“It was recommended to me that I not use email, and I’ve followed suit and shut it down,” he said.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told the same summit that more than 100 of his country’s officials were under electronic surveillance from a nation he did not name.
Bolivia’s Morales, who has long had a thorny relationship with the United States, speculated that Washington hoped to use the information in the emails to plan a future “invasion” of his country.
His allegations followed a diplomatic dust-up last week when, during a flight home from Moscow, European authorties diverted Morales’s plane to Austria and searched it after rumours that he had Snowden on board.
Morales renewed his offer of asylum to Snowden on Saturday, saying La Paz would follow all “diplomatic norms and international accords” in the case.
The 30-year-old intelligence leaker has been stranded in an airport transit zone in the Russian capital since June 23.
Snowden is seeking to avoid US espionage charges for revealing vast surveillance programs to collect phone and Internet data.
US authorities say the revelations threatened national security, insisting the secret programs are fully legal and have helped foil dozens of terrorist attacks.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Russia says no asylum request yet from fugitive Snowden
Sat, Jul 13 2013
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia kept former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm's length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.
Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.
Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Snowden's leaks about U.S. spy methods, including eavesdropping on global email traffic, have upset Washington's friends and foes alike. Stuck at Sheremetyevo airport with his passport revoked, he has become an irritant in relations between the United States and Russia.
"We are not in contact with Snowden," Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers' meeting.
He said he had learned of Snowden's meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, "just like everyone else."
Snowden, who had previously kept out of sight since arriving in the airport's transit zone on June 23, told the activists that he would submit his asylum request the same day.
Lavrov said that under Russian law, asylum seekers must first make an official appeal to the Federal Migration Service. But its director, Konstantin Romodanovsky, said on Saturday the agency had not yet received such a request from Snowden.
Snowden, who worked at a National Security Agency facility, in Hawaii, revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of data such as emails and chat rooms from companies including Facebook and Google, under a government program called Prism.
He fled to Hong Kong and then flew to Moscow, where he and Russian officials say he has remained in the airport transit zone. He has no visa to enter Russia.
Snowden is useful as a propaganda tool for Putin, who accuses the U.S. government of preaching to the world about rights and freedoms it does not uphold at home. But his presence on Russia's doorstep is a double-edged sword.
Putin has invited Obama for a bilateral summit in Moscow in September, and asylum for Snowden could jeopardize that, even though both countries have signaled they want to improve ties that have been strained in Putin's third presidential term.
And while pro-Kremlin politicians have been avidly casting Snowden, 30, as a rights defender, former KGB officer Putin said last month that the surveillance methods he revealed were largely justified if applied lawfully.
Putin has said twice that Snowden should choose a final destination and go there, and on July 2 he said Russia could only take Snowden in if he stopped activities "aimed at harming our American partners".
Putin's spokesman said on Friday that the condition, which prompted Snowden to withdraw an earlier asylum request, still stood.
Snowden has asked some 20 countries for asylum and received offers from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, but he said on Friday that Western states had made it "impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there".
The United States has urged nations not to give him passage, and a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia last week was denied access to the airspace of several European countries on suspicion Snowden might be on board.
(Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Trevelyan)
Obama speaks with Putin on Snowden, but no sign of movement
Fri, Jul 12 2013
By Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama raised U.S. concerns directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday over Moscow's handling of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, but there was no sign of a breakthrough on Washington's demand that Russia expel him.
Obama and Putin spoke by phone in a discussion that White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier would largely be about Snowden, who is wanted in the United States for disclosing secret surveillance programs. Carney had accused Russia of providing Snowden a "propaganda platform" to air his complaints about the United States.
A White House statement about the Obama-Putin call offered no indication that Putin was prepared to send Snowden back to the United States.
"The two leaders noted the importance of U.S.-Russian bilateral relations and discussed a range of security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden and cooperation on counter-terrorism in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics," the statement said. The Sochi Olympics are in 2014.
The high-level contact came during intense diplomatic wrangling over Snowden, who has been holed up in a transit area at a Moscow airport since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23. He is seeking asylum in either Russia or in one of three countries in Latin American that have offered to take him: Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Snowden, 30, is wanted on espionage charges, accused of taking records about secret U.S. surveillance of internet and phone traffic and releasing them to the news media. The disclosures have raised Americans' concerns about domestic spying and strained relations with some U.S. allies.
Putin has so far refused all U.S. entreaties to return Snowden to the United States.
'DOING THE RIGHT THING'
The case presents Putin with an international headache as he prepares to host Obama and other world leaders at a G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
"I can't imagine Mr. Putin wants this thing hanging around as it is necessary to get ready for the summit in September," said James Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who is director of the Russia and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it would raise concerns in the U.S.-Russian relationship if Moscow were to accept an asylum request from Snowden.
"However we are not at that point yet. They still have the opportunity to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States and that's what our hope is," she told reporters.
The White House and the State Department complained that the Russian government had permitted Snowden to meet with human rights groups at the Moscow airport. Snowden told activists on Friday he was seeking temporary asylum in Russia and had no regrets about spilling U.S. spy secrets.
"Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government's previous declarations of Russia's neutrality," Carney said.
He said it was "also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests."
In Moscow, Putin's spokesman repeated earlier conditions that Snowden should stop harming the interests of the United States if he wants asylum.
The drama has tested U.S.-Russian relations, although no lasting damage has been apparent so far.
"My sense is that both Washington and Moscow have lots of experience in compartmentalizing these kinds of issues when you've got spies or … defectors," said Steven Pifer, a Russia expert who is director of the Brookings Institution's Arms Control Initiative. "They can fence that off from the rest of the relationship."
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Peter Cooney)
The Christian Science Monitor
Edward Snowden: Is it illegal for US to block his asylum claim?
By Peter Grier, Staff writer / July 13, 2013 at 8:17 am EDT
Is the United States illegally trying to block Edward Snowden’s right to seek asylum in other nations?
That’s what the National Security Agency leaker asserts. In a meeting Friday at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, he told representatives of human rights groups that the US has revoked his passport, placed him on no-fly lists, demanded that Hong Kong return him “outside the framework of its laws,” and threatened sanctions against “countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system.”
Venezuela, among other Latin American nations, has now offered asylum, but the US and its allies on this issue are continuing to block his ability to travel, Mr. Snowden said.
“This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights,” Snowden said.
Is he right? Your answer to this may hinge on whether you frame his actions as political offenses or criminal behavior.
The American Civil Liberties Union has a good piece outlining the legal issues here. It notes that under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has a right to seek asylum from persecution.
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“This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations,” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states.
In addition, the American Convention on Human Rights provides for the right to seek asylum in foreign territory if “he is being pursued for political offenses or related common crimes.”
Snowden makes it clear that he believes he is being pursued for political offenses, and that what he has done is true to the spirit and letter of international law. In his speech to human rights representatives Friday, he quoted a principle that he said was declared at the Nuremberg trials of German war criminal suspects in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
Snowden’s problem is that the US government considers him a common lawbreaker and not a human rights case, and thus he has no claim for asylum in other nations.
White House spokesman Jay Carney made that clear Friday when asked if the US was illegally denying Snowden his right to claim asylum.
“No, it’s not,” Mr. Carney said. “He has been charged under the law with three felonies, very serious crimes. And every aspect of the United States system of justice is available to him upon his return to the US to face those charges. And that’s how our system works.”
Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, gave a little cautious support to Snowden on Friday, saying in a statement that pervasive surveillance could amount to a human rights infringement.
“Snowden’s case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy,” Ms. Pillay said.
However, many experts noted the irony in Snowden renewing his request for asylum from Russia, which he praised (along with Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador) for “being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.”
Russia is not generally known as a liberal haven. Human Rights Watch in April documented a Russian crackdown on domestic civil society that the rights group says has led to Russia’s worst human rights climate in the post-Soviet era.
For instance, on Thursday a Russian court posthumously convicted lawyer and dissident Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion. Mr. Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being beaten with rubber batons and denied medical treatment, writes Michael Hirsh in the National Journal.
Magnitsky’s conviction was simply a thumb in the eye to the US and human rights activists, Mr. Hirsh writes.
“Snowden is obviously a very bright young man who no doubt acted in earnest, and he is in quite an international legal pickle given the US espionage charges against him,” he concludes. “But he also shows signs of a disturbingly solipsistic world view that automatically turns his allies into doers of right and his legal pursuers into oppressors, and in which he casts himself heroically as merely someone who has ‘been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression.'
Tough on finance, tough on migrants: how Stefan Löfven brought Sweden's left in from the cold
Stefan Löfven has led the Social Democrats to the brink of power. Now he wants a deal with unions, bosses ... and Ed Miliband
Richard Orange in Stockholm
The Observer, Saturday 13 July 2013 16.20 BST
Stefan Löfven is an unlikely candidate to have taken Sweden's Social Democratic party out of the depth of crisis and back to the brink of power.
Until 18 months ago, he had hardly spent any time at the party's parliamentary headquarters in Stockholm's old town. He had built his career as the leader of IF Metall, one of the country's most powerful unions, before being picked as leader in a meeting held behind closed doors last January, as the party's support hit record lows.
It is the first time in its 124-year history that the Social Democrats have had a union boss as leader. In a remarkably short time, Löfven, a former welder with a stocky frame and a doughy,boxer's face, has taken the party to an eight-point lead over the ruling centre-right Moderates. A poll this month revealed that a majority of Swedes believe Löfven will be prime minister after next year's election.
"We definitely have a good chance," Löfven said when I met him in his offices, already deserted for the summer break. "The government is weak, they're tired, and we have been very focused and very determined."
Löfven, 55, had already made himself comfortable. On the windowsill, a framed photograph showed him standing behind Olof Palme, the Social Democrat prime minister assassinated in 1986.
Löfven's campaign has focused remorselesslyon jobs and education, but he clearly wants to be an internationalist in Palme's mould. "In Sweden we created a win-win-win situation on how to make companies profitable and strong at the same time as employees and society benefit," he argues. "We used to be able to handle that on a national level. We can't do that any more." The solution, for him, is a "global deal" between business and labour. "We have to build alliances," he argues. "That's why I'm interested in the alliance with Ed Miliband."
Löfven comes from a small northern industrial town and boasts of his love for Bruce Springsteen, Tottenham Hotspur and ice hockey, so it's hard to see him as a natural partner for a man of Ed Miliband's London intellectual background. But he has met the Labour leader four times in a little over a year, and in February he was his host during a two-day fact-finding visit to Sweden.
"I like him," Löfven said. "We see things similarly, in that it's all about jobs, jobs and education. And of course we're in the same position – being in opposition and having to get into power."
Oscar Stenström, Löfven's foreign policy adviser, joked: "We never got him into the sauna. He rejected it, politely."
Löfven sees eye to eye with Miliband on the tough welfare-to-work policies the coalition has introduced in Britain: "The conservatives, what they want us to believe is that people who are unemployed, who are sick, do not want to work, and that they can sit at home doing nothing."
The reason Sweden is such a successful industrial nation, he said, is precisely because it has never taken this hardline approach. "Employees have to understand that they need to change constantly," he explained. "But how do you make an individual want to change? You do it by creating stability and confidence: if I know that I can lose my job and survive, I'm more willing to see through that change."
That's why he doesn't blame union intransigence for the decline of British industry. "I will not sit here and judge, and say the British trade unions were not good enough at handling the situation," he said. "Did they feel security in a changing society?"
Nevertheless, Löfven has little in common with the UK's more bellicose union heavyweights. IF Metall, which Löfven headed for 12 years, is the most co-operative of Sweden's unions, and as leader Löfven was closer to the company owners than most. As well as fighting for workers' rights, he lobbied internationally, helping Saab sell Gripen fighter jets to South Africa, or getting Brazil's metalworkers union to back Gripen over Dassault of France.
In the car industry, he helped in negotiations over Ford's takeover of Volvo and GM's of Saab. "We knew we needed the investment," he said of the sell-offs. "We needed capital, and if Swedish companies cannot give you that, you need to make sure that others can."
Along the way, he has become so close to the Wallenberg family, Saab's largest shareholder and Sweden's most powerful industrial family, that Jacob Wallenberg took him along to this year's meeting of the Bilderberg Group, the closed meeting of international politicians and businessmen.
Löfven is pragmatic about the role of profit-making companies in education, social care and health in Sweden, proposing tighter regulation rather than bringing their operations back under direct government control. "It's more important to deliver quality than it is who runs it," he said. "Quality is the most important thing."
More recently he has been accused of pandering to the anti-immigrant vote, proposing to reverse the loosening of labour immigration rules brought in by the centre-right government. But he bridles at the suggestion that all this puts him on the right of his party. "I've never really understood what people mean by left and right. To me it's very leftwing to make sure people have jobs. It's the same as when you discuss the economy and say, 'I want to stick to stable public finances', and they say, 'you're rightwing', and I say 'no, that's leftwing, because that's the only way you can deliver welfare to the people'. You can't do that if the economy is bad."
Faced with the fiscal problems the UK faces today, Löfven, too, would make cuts, just as his predecessor Göran Persson had to do in the mid-1990s, when Sweden, like the UK today, faced debt-to-GDP levels of more than 80%.
"We had to make sure, not least for the markets, that at some point we were going to reach a situation where the debt was under control," he says.
Not that he would mirror the British coalition's approach. "I see Labour's point that you need also to invest," he said. Persson, he notes, poured money into professional training and university courses. "Almost a million people got a chance to raise their education, which was very good, because when things started to go well, people were on a higher level."
Löfven is adamant that he had no prior ambitions to lead the party. "No, no no. I regarded myself very very lucky to have the position I had, as a trade union leader. I was very happy with that and that was what I thought I was going to do until the day I retired."
He has been drawn to politics since he was young. "I remember very clearly when Robert Kennedy was killed. He symbolised something to me even though I was only 11 years old, and just a few years after that I became active in the party's youth organisation, mainly because of Olof Palme." The link with Palme is something Löfven's campaign team wants to emphasise. His aides draw attention to the framed photograph, taken when the then prime minister visited Hägglunds, the tank manufacturer where Löfven was then union representative.
Palme, Löfven remembers, stopped to chat to the workers, to the frustration of the chief executive. "I said to him afterwards that it was good that he had taken the time, and he said to me something like, 'Sometimes you have to keep those CEO's on a short leash'," Löfven laughs.
So if Löfven does become prime minister next year, he looks set to pursue the old internationalist dream of a "global deal" on employment rights.
"Look at what happened in Bangladesh," he said. "We are buying clothes from a place that needs labour, but not the kind of labour where you can be killed in one collapse because the building was too bad: that shows that workers all over the world need to have the ability to form a trade union and bargain collectively."
It's in this battle that he intends to learn from Palme. "He showed us that a man from a very small country could make a difference in the world. That's something I want to renew right now: that we can make a difference."
Former Czech PM admits to affair with aide facing bribery charges
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 16:30 EDT
Former Czech prime minister Petr Necas on Saturday admitted a love affair with his top aide whose indictment of bribery and abuse of power led to the fall of his centre-right administration.
Necas stepped down in mid-June after his chief-of-staff Jana Nagyova had been charged along with seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers.
“I have a relationship with Jana Nagyova. It’s a solid relationship and I definitely reckon with it for the future,” Necas said in an interview for the Pravo broadsheet daily while Nagyova remained in police custody.
“I also definitely support her,” added 48-year-old Necas, who led a wobbly centre-right coalition government between 2010 and last month.
Prosecutors believe Nagyova, also 48, had military spies tail Radka Necasova, the ex-prime minister’s wife of 25 years with whom Necas has four children and whom he is currently divorcing.
They also claim Nagyova offered lucrative posts to three rebel lawmakers from Necas’s own party in exchange for their resignation.
Prosecutors now also seek criminal charges for Necas in relation with the allegedly bribed rebel lawmakers, and they have asked parliament to strip him of his immunity.
Necas himself has played down the affair as mere political horse-trading.
As the prime minister of the central European EU member of 10.5 million people, Necas was replaced by Jiri Rusnok, a close ally of leftist President Milos Zeman, whose left-leaning technocrat government was sworn in on Wednesday.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
July 13, 2013
A Financial Lifesaver Thrown by Creditors Weighs Cyprus Down
By ANDREW HIGGINS
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Soon after Cyprus was thrown what was supposed to be an economic lifeline in March, Polis Pilakoutas, a 25-year-old Cypriot plumber, had his workweek cut to three days from five. His salary shrank by the same margin.
“My boss was very straight,” Mr. Pilakoutas said. “He explained that he was having a cash problem.”
By April, the problem had become a crisis as the Cypriot economy went into a nose dive. The plumbing company failed. Mr. Pilakoutas lost his job along with all the other employees, as they became the latest casualties of harsh economic medicine that, across wide swathes of Europe, has often left the patient feeling only sicker.
Unemployment in Cyprus, according to figures released this month by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, was 16.3 percent in May, up 16.4 percent from before the March bailout deal between Cyprus and a group of three international lenders. It has gone up further since, economists say, though official numbers are not yet out. The rate for people under 25 is more than 30 percent.
Instead of fixing Cyprus’s problems, a tough rescue package for the Mediterranean nation has helped turn what began as a banking fiasco into a deep slump across an economy that, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, will shrink by 9 percent this year and 4 percent next year.
That is bad enough, but, given the I.M.F.’s record of underestimating the pain to be suffered by earlier bailout recipients like Greece, the bleak forecast could prove too optimistic. In a June report, the fund acknowledged that Greece’s economic contraction between 2009 and 2012 — around 17 percent instead of the forecast 5.5 percent — “was much greater than anticipated.”
Sapienta Economics, a consulting group based in Nicosia, believes that Cyprus faces a cumulative economic decline of more than 24 percent this year and next. That would be the most precipitous slump in the European Union since the economies of the now 28-nation bloc began to shudder under the impact of a rolling debt crisis more than three years ago.
With an annual economic output of only around $23 billion, Cyprus is of little consequence to Europe’s overall economic condition. But it has outsize importance as a testing ground for Europe’s response to its seemingly unending crisis.
“This is a big experiment, and we are the guinea pigs,” said Alexandros Diogenous, the head of a company in Nicosia that imports German cars. “The guinea pig is in critical condition.”
Cyprus’s president, Nicos Anastasiades, said much the same thing in a letter sent last month to the so-called troika of creditors behind the bailout deal: the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the I.M.F. The Cypriot economy, he wrote, has been “driven into a deep recession” and will only get worse unless the group of lenders revises some of its terms. “I urge you to review the possibilities in order to determine a viable prospect for Cyprus and its people,” Mr. Anastasiades said.
In an interview, the president said that Cyprus intended to stick to its side of the bailout deal, which includes deep spending cuts, the overhaul of decrepit state companies and, most controversially, the effective confiscation of billions of euros deposited in Cypriot banks. But, he added, “I am not a magician.”
When Mr. Anastasiades took office in early March and decided to tackle the problems that his predecessor, a Communist, had largely ignored, he turned to the European Union for help, restarting stalled negotiations for emergency aid to shore up his country’s teetering banking sector.
After an all-night meeting in Brussels in mid-March, the troika agreed to provide around $13 billion on the condition that Cyprus “bail-in” the banks that had caused so many of the country’s troubles and force their creditors and depositors to take heavy losses. An initial proposal to confiscate money from insured deposits under $130,000 was quickly dropped, but the final plan, which shifted the burden to wealthy depositors and imposed tight restrictions on moving money, left much of the banking sector in a catatonic state. It also shattered public trust.
“We don’t trust banks, we don’t trust politicians, we don’t trust the legal system. We don’t trust anybody now,” said Christos Nicolaou, the director of a hotel and property company. “There is a big question over everything: What might happen next?”
Mr. Nicolaou said tourism, a pillar of the economy, was down by more than 10 percent compared with the same peak period last year but was still a relative bright spot. A wave of bankruptcies across Cyprus has so far been limited mostly to small companies and shops; bigger enterprises have stayed afloat by slashing wages and staff. But, Mr. Nicolaou said, “we are all on the list.”
Facing a particularly uncertain future is the financial services industry, a once-booming sector turbocharged by money from the former Soviet Union.
“I still cannot digest how criminal and crazy what has happened is,” said Irakli Bukhashvili, the head of a company in Limassol, the seafront business capital, that sets up companies and manages money for Russians and others. “An atom bomb wouldn’t be much worse,” he said, explaining that he plans to leave Cyprus and move his office to London.
Among those still faring reasonably well are lawyers, in part because those who lost money in banks have filed thousands of court cases to try to recover some of their cash. These efforts have not achieved much, but they have helped keep lawyers busy.
The nation’s finance minister, Harris Georgiades, acknowledged that Cyprus faces a “very difficult year or two ahead,” but he said the economic slump “could be less severe than many expect if we can plant the seeds for revived economic activity soon.” Cyprus, he said, is branching into new industries like solar power, and it benefits from having a highly educated and resilient population. It also has potentially large reserves of natural gas and, aiming to become a regional energy hub, last month began talks with one American and two Israeli energy companies on the development of a $6 billion liquefied natural gas terminal.
Mr. Georgiades noted that government revenue from the value-added tax, an important indicator of business activity, had picked up sharply after a catastrophic fall. It was down more than 60 percent in March compared with the same month last year but then rose by 23 percent in April.
Yet total government revenue is still falling, in large part because of a sharp decline in income tax payments, as bailout-mandated austerity measures slash wages and push people out of work. The government has drastically trimmed spending on wages and many other things but, because of rising unemployment and a rush of people into early retirement, its finances are in worse shape than before, as costs for pensions and social benefits soar.
Many businesspeople meanwhile worry that the worst is yet to come, complaining that fearful banks have stopped lending, cutting off circulation of the economy’s lifeblood.
Scores of Cyprus’s leading businesspeople gathered recently in a Nicosia conference hall to share doom-laden assessments of their prospects.
“The country is like a horse and cart. But the horse — the private sector — is now dead,” said Riakas Seraphim, a restaurant and shop owner from the coastal city of Larnaca. The meeting, organized by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Employers and Industrialists, ended with a joint appeal for the lifting of capital controls introduced in March and for banks to start lending again.
Before that can happen, however, the government and its international creditors must figure out what to do about the Bank of Cyprus, the country’s biggest and now gravely ill bank. Weighed down by an $11.75 billion debt to the European Central Bank that was transferred to its books from Laiki Bank, which is now defunct, the Bank of Cyprus is struggling to survive.
“It is now proven that the banking system is the A to Z. It is everything. If you don’t have a healthy system in place, you don’t have an economy,” said Mr. Nicolaou, the hotel and property developer.
A general sense of foreboding is aggravated by fears that once the summer tourism season winds down, the situation will get much worse, as visitors with cash drift away and Cypriot banks starved of money try to recover loans from borrowers who simply cannot pay.
“People haven’t yet realized what is going on,” said Panayiotis Athienitis, the head of a large building company that has suspended two big office projects since March because clients ran out of money.
“When people start losing their homes, they will revolt,” he said. “We are all on the hook right now. Everything is uncertain. It is a complete disaster.”
Mr. Pilakoutas, the fired plumber, has all but given up hope of returning to work any time soon after repeated, fruitless visits to a government-run job center. Former customers, he said, “now let their toilets leak longer before they call for help.”
German Election: Pirate Party Passes into Irrelevance
07/12/2013 06:06 PM
Vast Internet surveillance. A cross-border network of state-sponsored digital snoopery. Governments shrugging their shoulders at widespread protest against the omnipresence of Big Brother. The NSA spying scandal has taught us a lot in recent weeks. One lesson in Germany, however, has gone largely unnoticed. The Pirate Party, hailed only recently as a new kind of political activism, is dead.
It was not a dramatic passing. It was not sudden. There was no external foul play involved. It was more like those stories one hears of some poor soul dying in his apartment only to be found months later. This week, it has become clear that the Pirates actually left us long ago.
The proof is in the surveys. If ever there was a news event that might provide a boost to a political party focused on issues relating to Internet freedom and digital privacy, it is the recent revelations that the US, the United Kingdom and several other countries have spent years maintaining a close surveillance of the worldwide web. And yet the most recent public opinion polls published in Germany show that support for the Pirate Party remains paltry. A mere 3 percent of voters would cast their ballots for the party were elections held this Sunday.
For those who have been keeping a close watch on the Pirate Party in recent months, their inability to profit from the revelations, brought to the public eye by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is hardly a surprise. The Pirates spent much of last year and the first few months of this year engaged in a highly public airing of dirty laundry. Internal spats combined with little in the way of serious policy proposals have turned away followers in droves.
It was an ugly decline, made worse by the high hopes that many had invested in the party not all that long ago. As recently as the spring of 2012, the party looked as though it was destined to become a fixture of the German political landscape, having been voted into state parliament in a string of regional elections. It was even going to reinvent politics altogether, with its insistence on transparency and use of innovative online tools such as Liquid Feedback so that all party members could have a say in policy.
Even then, though, it was clear that the experiment needed a fair bit of fine-tuning. For one, prominent Pirates showed a penchant for tripping over their tongues, exhibit 1A being Berlin city-state parliamentarian Martin Delius' boast that the Pirates were growing as fast as the Nazis did in the 1930s.
For another, though, transparency isn't necessarily a good thing in a party where casual character assassination and tweeted insults are the preferred means of communication. Party chair Bernd Schlömer was driven to quitting by a slew of Tweets and web posts from fellow party members calling him an "asshole," "babbling Bernd," a sexist and a number of other, less-friendly appellations. He is not the only one. The party's former press spokesman Christopher Lang was also driven out last summer by what he said was systematic bullying. Allegations of sexual harassment of female party members were also frequent. Indeed, the party abandoned its committment to transparency earlier this year.
In recent weeks, the party has been doing what it can to regain its lost relevancy. It has organized demonstrations in support of Snowden and has been vocal in its rejection of widespread Internet surveillance.
But when a dead party rolls over in its grave, few take notice.
July 13, 2013
Turkish Lawmakers Move to Curb Army’s Political Power
By SEBNEM ARSU
ISTANBUL — The Turkish Parliament on Saturday amended an army regulation that had paved the way for military intervention in politics — another step in years of attempts by the pro-Islamic government to rein in the power of an army once prone to staging coups.
The country’s generals had often cited an article of the regulation, about safeguarding the republic, as the legal backing for overthrowing governments they believed were undermining republican principles in the Constitution, such as secularism.
The army toppled four governments from 1960 and 1997, and issued a warning to the current government as recently as 2007.
As rewritten, the article, No. 35, restricts the army to “defending the Turkish nation against external threats and dangers,” the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported.
The change is something of a formality, since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already succeeded in largely pushing the army back to its barracks with a number of structural changes, such as the elevation of civilian authority in the once army-driven National Council. Hundreds of high-ranking officers have been put on trial, many of them accused of plotting to stage another coup.
The legislation came after large antigovernment riots in June, as protests about the razing of a park grew into demonstrations against what many called Mr. Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies. Although the army did not step into the conflict, Atilla Sandikli, director of the Ankara-based Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies, said the wording change was also an effort to ensure that it would not do so.
Afghanistan court releases men convicted of torturing 15-year-old bride
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 18:30 EDT
A court in Kabul ordered the early release of three people convicted over the torture of a child bride, an official confirmed Saturday, in a move denounced by activists as a blow for women’s rights.
Sahar Gul, who was 15 at the time her ordeal, was burned, beaten and had her fingernails pulled out by her husband and in-laws after she refused to become a prostitute in a case that shocked the world.
She was found in the basement of her husband’s house in northeastern Baghlan province in late 2011, having been locked in a toilet for six months prior to her rescue by police.
Her father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister-in-law were sentenced to prison for 10 years each for torture and attempted murder, though her husband remains at large.
“But after the court reviewed their case, it found out that they were only involved in family violence,” Supreme Court spokesman Abdullah Attaee told AFP.
The court did not have enough evidence against them, he said, adding a fresh prosecution would be launched .
“For now, the court has ruled that the time they have spent in jail is enough for them,” he said, though he could not say when the ruling was made or whether the trio had yet been freed.
Afghan rights groups expressed indignation over the early releases, calling it a step back in time for Afghanistan’s women.
“This case, once heralded as a legal triumph underscoring the advances for women’s rights in the past decade in Afghanistan is now a harbinger of a grim future,” Women for Afghan Women, a Kabul and New York based women’s rights organisation who helped Gul during the trial wrote on their website.
Violence and abuse against women continues to be a major problem in Afghanistan a decade after US-led troops brought down the notorious Taliban regime.
In May the Afghan parliament cut short a debate on a bill to protect women from violence after complaints from some traditionalist MPs that it was against Islamic teaching.
The Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, which was passed by a presidential decree in 2009, is seen as a benchmark piece of legislation marking progress since the fall of the Taliban regime nearly 12 years ago.