07/15/2013 02:02 PM
'Broken Oath': NSA Mudslinging Has Merkel on Defensive
Center-left chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück is doing all he can to capitalize on the spying scandal, even accusing Angela Merkel of breaking her oath. But a Monday report shows that Germany has benefitted greatly from American Internet surveillance.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel isn't used to being on the defensive. That, however, is where she now finds herself after weeks in which the spying scandal centering on overzealous Internet surveillance undertaken by the US intelligence service National Security Agency (NSA) has been dominating the political debate in Germany. Slowly, it is also showing signs of becoming a potential problem for her campaign.
The Social Democrats turned up the volume on their attacks once again over the weekend. SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück even went so far as to accuse Merkel of having violated her oath of office by not having prevented the surveillance.
"As chancellor, Ms. Merkel swore to prevent harm to the German people," he said in an interview with the tabloid Bild am Sonntag. Despite that oath, he said, the rights of Germans to not be spied upon were violated.
Steinbrück also said that German intelligence agency must have known about the extent of NSA surveillance and noted: "Secret services are coordinated by the Chancellery. If you are sitting at the wheel, you carry the responsibility -- whether you have fallen asleep or not."
Steinbrück's comments are just the latest attempt to capitalize on widespread German anger over the surveillance affair, revealed last month by whistleblower Edward Snowden. And the SPD politician seems to be receiving significant assistance in the effort from Merkel herself. While the chancellor has been uncharacteristically pointed in her comments about the NSA, she has also sought to defend the monitoring of Internet data as a useful tool in combating terror.
The uncomfortable balancing act has been on display once again in recent days. In a televised interview with public broadcaster ARD on Sunday night, Merkel was forceful in demanding unified European Union rules on data protection and also that US intelligence agencies adhere to German law in the future.
Merkel said there had been no evidence so far to suggest that the Americans violated German law, but that she expected a "clear assurance" from the US that "German law would be obeyed on German territory."
"We have a great data protection law," Merkel said of German regulations. "But if Facebook is registered in Ireland, then Irish law is valid and therefore we need unified European rules."
At the same time, however, Merkel's government is getting blasted by the opposition over the unconvincing performance of her interior minister, the conservative politician Hans-Peter Friedrich. In the days after the full extent of US surveillance program Prism became clear, Friedrich was extremely reserved in his comments, even saying that he was unable to recognize it as being a scandal. Late last week, however, he flew to the US for meetings with top Washington officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, to discuss American intelligence activities and, by his own account, to "make clear to our American friends" that Berlin is concerned about overzealous surveillance.
Yet even among officials close to the Merkel government, the visit was criticized for being merely symbolic in nature. One top official from a federal ministry told SPIEGEL ONLINE that it was simply a case of "a pro-surveillance official flying to the US to meet like-minded people for an exchange of ideas. Nothing much is likely to result except for expenses."
The opposition went even further, with Steinbrück saying that Friedrich is either "massively naïve and thus incompetent or he has an understanding of our constitution that is more than questionable." He was joined by SPD party colleague Thomas Opperman, a member of the parliamentary committee charged with monitoring German intelligence agencies. "The trip was a disaster," Opperman said. "Minister Friedrich returned empty handed."
Green Party floor leader Jürgen Trittin said in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE that "we are dealing with a government that is behaving in an appalling manner. Chancellor Merkel, Interior Minister Friedrich and Foreign Minister (Guido) Westerwelle are behaving like the three monkeys: see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing."
Still, it remains to be seen whether the aggressive criticism will result in rising poll numbers. So far, that has not been the case, with Merkel's party holding firm in public opinion surveys with just over 40 percent of those surveyed saying they plan to vote for the conservatives. Steinbrück's SPD remains well behind, at 26 percent.
And it also remains to be seen for how long the opposition will be able to maintain its black-and-white narrative when it comes to data surveillance concerns. The SPD, for one, already appears to have reached the limits of such a strategy, following demands from the Left and Green parties for a full parliamentary investigation into NSA surveillance practices and German cooperation with the American intelligence agency. Both parties have insisted that such an investigation should look at such cooperation since the beginning of the last decade.
That, however, would also include governments led by the SPD as well as Merkel's first government, in which the SPD was the junior coalition partner. Andrea Nahles, SPD general secretary, was thus hesitant in reacting to the proposal on Monday. She suggested that such an investigative committee could be launched after the elections this fall. "For now, however, it is imperative that the government comes clean," she said.
Furthermore, the tabloid Bild reported on Monday that Germany has benefited greatly in the past from US web surveillance, particularly when it comes to cases involving the abduction of German citizens abroad. Germany's own foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, has several times in the past requested information from the US regarding the victim's last email and telephone activities prior to being abducted, the paper reported. Such data usage is legal under German law, but it also demonstrates, Bild noted, that German authorities were fully aware of US data surveillance practices.
Merkel, on Monday, sought once again to deflect some of the criticism coming from the opposition in recent days. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated that Merkel continues to insist on "a pledge from the Americans that their intelligence agencies obey German law in Germany." But, he added: "We find ourselves at the beginning of a long process of fact finding."
Italian senator says black minister has 'features of orangutan'
Roberto Calderoli is condemned after speech in which he also said Cécile Kyenge should work as minister 'in her country'
Lizzy Davies in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 July 2013 15.49 BST
The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, has condemned as unacceptable comments made by a senior rightwing senator in which he suggested the country's first black government minister had "the features of an orangutan".
Cécile Kyenge, an eye surgeon who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but has Italian citizenship, has faced repeated racial slurs and threats since being appointed minister for integration by Letta in April.
She was once again on the receiving end of grossly offensive comments on Saturday when Roberto Calderoli, a former minister under Silvio Berlusconi and senate vice-president of the Northern League, told a rally in the northern town of Treviglio that Kyenge would be better off working as a minister "in her country".
According to the Corriere della Sera, which reported the event, he added: "I love animals – bears and wolves, as is known – but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of the features of an orangutan, even if I'm not saying she is one."
The remark provoked horror from the rest of the Italian political class, especially in Kyenge's centre-left Democratic party. In a statement, Letta said the remarks were unacceptable. "Full solidarity and support to Cécile," he added.
Asked about the comments, Kyenge said it was not up to her to call on Calderoli to resign, but hoped all politicians would "reflect on their use of communication". "I do not take Calderoli's words as a personal insult but they sadden me because of the image they give of Italy," she told the Ansa news agency.
Ever since she was made minister in Letta's fractious grand coalition government, Kyenge, 48, has been the target of much criticism from the League. Some of it has been directed at her policies, particularly her desire to change a harsh citizenship law to make it easier for Italian-born children of foreigners to gain full nationality before they are 18.
But some of it has been very personal and vitriolic. Mario Borghezio, a member of the European parliament for the League, said in April that Kyenge wanted to "impose her tribal traditions from the Congo" and branded Letta's coalition a "bongo bongo" government. "She seems like a great housekeeper but not a government minister."
In June a local councillor for the League was ejected from the party after she posted a message on Facebook suggesting Kyenge should be raped. Referring to an alleged attempted rape in Genoa, Dolores Valandro wrote: "Why does no one rape her, so she can understand what the victim of this atrocious crime felt?"
Asked on Sunday to explain the latest slur, Calderoli insisted he had been joking. "I was speaking at a rally and I made a joke, an unfortunate one perhaps," he told Ansa. "I did not want to cause offence and if Minister Kyenge has been offended I apologise but my joke came in the context of a much broader political speech that criticised the minister and her politics."
This is not the first time that the 57-year-old has caused controversy. In 2006 he quit the government after going on television in a T-shirt emblazoned with cartoons of the prophet Muhammad – a move credited with inspiring deadly riots outside the Italian consulate in Libya.
Later that year, after Italy's football team beat France in the World Cup, he said the opposing side had been made up of "niggers, Muslims and communists". In 2007, he called for a "Pig Day" protest against the construction of a mosque in Bologna.
One man and his sniffer dog help tackle Germany's hidden drug problem
Reiner Reuther and his dog Thor seek out controlled substances and leave it up to the parents to decide whether to alert police
Louise Osborne in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 July 2013 16.52 BST
A German man and his dog have offered up their services to help concerned parents sniff out whether their children are taking illegal drugs.
Reiner Reuther and his dog Thor search flats, bedrooms and cars for controlled substances such as cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy – but leave it up to the parents to decide whether or not to alert police. "We are just there to bring people certainty," Reuther told the Guardian.
In one case, Reuther was called in to help after a set of parents became suspicious that their daughter was using drugs. He searched the home while the daughter was out for a few hours and quickly found a stash of cocaine hidden in a jumper in the dirty washing. The discovery helped the parents plan a discussion with their daughter, he said.
But another case turned out rather differently when the parents called the police on their son who then faced criminal proceedings and lost his apprenticeship.
"Private dog handlers are not subject to this obligation," said Reuther, emphasising that his services were 100% anonymous. "We advise the parents principally to get drug counselling, they can get a psychologist for the children. [But] the parents can decide how they want to proceed."
As well as working with parents for around €95 (£82) per search, Reuther and Thor also track down drugs at businesses including nightclubs, and at some private schools. "The schools have problems, that's widely known, but it's not talked about," he said. "Drugs are a problem that is always there and it's a topic that is mostly covered up."
After working as a hotelier for 25 years and training dogs on the side, Reuther wanted to work with the animals full-time. He got the idea for his business while training as a dog handler at a police academy in the US.
He said that in America, searches for drugs at schools happened routinely. He finished his exam to become a sniffer-dog handler and bought Thor back to Germany. After setting up his website and getting Thor accustomed to his new home, they went to work.
"I wanted especially to help parents so they could get certainty about their children and better react to get them help," he said.
In America and England, he said, people were much more open about drugs. "In Germany, people speak about it behind closed doors … but like I said, the problem is there and it's not small.
At the moment Reuther and Thor are a one-man, one-dog operation, but Reuther said he hoped that would change. "We work alone, but the business is being built up," he said.
French Greenpeace activists break into nuclear power plant
Campaigners demand closure of EDF's Tricastin plant, calling it one of France's most dangerous
Reuters and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 July 2013 08.40 BST
More than 20 Greenpeace activists climbed fences to break into an EDF nuclear power plant in southern France and demanded its closure, the environmental campaign group has said.
The activists, dressed in red, broke into the Tricastin plant at dusk on Sunday and unfurled a yellow and black banner on the wall with the words: "Tricastin, nuclear accident – president of the catastrophe?" above a picture of the president, François Hollande.
"With this action, Greenpeace is asking François Hollande to close the Tricastin plant, which is among the five most dangerous in France," Yannick Rousselet, in charge of nuclear issues for Greenpeace France, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for EDF denied the activists had reached two of the plant's reactors and said that by 8.30am local time on Monday, 17 of them had been arrested for unauthorised access. Others clung on to metal structures and ladders, she said.
The Tricastin plant, one of the most important sites in France, is spread over 650 hectares in picturesque south-east France. In July 2008, an accident at a treatment centre next to the plant saw liquid containing untreated uranium overflow out of a faulty tank during a draining operation. The same month around 100 staff at Tricastin's nuclear reactor number four were contaminated by radioactive particles that escaped from a pipe. EDF, which runs the site, described the contamination as "slight".
Hollande has pledged to cut the share of nuclear energy in the country's electricity mix to 50% from 75% by 2025. He also said he wanted to close the country's oldest plant at Fessenheim, near the German border, by 2017.
Greenpeace said that to honour his promise, Hollande would have to close at least 10 reactors by 2017 and 20 by 2020. The campaign group said this ought to include Tricastin, which was built more than 30 years ago.
**************French president pushes new optimistic official line in Bastille Day interview
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 July 2013 16.19 BST
Link to video: François Hollande expresses optimism about French economy on Bastille Dayhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jul/14/hollande-optimistic-about-economy-video
A defiantly upbeat François Hollande has announced that economic recovery is under way in France – despite a mood of economic gloom, recession, spending cuts and record unemployment.
The French president, who has been battling low approval ratings and dissent within his party as well as government ranks, used a TV interview for Bastille Day celebrations on 14 July to push a new optimistic official line, vowing to "fight" French pessimism.
"The economic recovery is here," he said, adding that it was "very slight" but insisting that industrial production had picked up, there had been a small recovery in consumption and job hires had started to increase. But commentators were quick to question the rise in industrial production this spring which had appeared to drop again shortly after.
Hollande vowed to tackle France's standing as the most pessimistic country in Europe, "perhaps in the world", lamenting: "There are countries at war who are more optimistic than us."
He acknowledged that France was still struggling to get its deficit under control and that he could not rule out more tax rises to help balance the budget. But he said: "I will increase taxes only if necessary, ideally as little as possible."
Hollande also used the interview from the sun-drenched gardens of the Elysée Palace to contain a growing row over shale gas in France. "As long as I am president, there will be no exploration for shale gas in France," he declared, putting an end to speculation that France might lift its ban on controversial drilling techniques.
Ever since Hollande sacked his environment minister Delphine Batho this month after she criticised government budget cuts, the president has been under pressure to prove that he is serious about ecology and is not in thrall to the oil and gas lobby. Batho had said that her opposition to shale gas drilling cost her her job, and that lobbies in favour of shale gas and nuclear power had wanted her "scalp".
The International Energy Agency has named France as a European country with some of the most plentiful underground reserves of shale gas. But France is one of the few countries that has outlawed the controversial and potentially polluting process of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – in drilling for shale gas. The ban, which was voted in under Nicolas Sarkozy, has been continued by the Socialist Hollande, who has two Green ministers in his government.
But a legal challenge to the fracking ban has been brought by a US firm which remains keen to explore in the southern French countryside. Debate was further stirred recently when the outspoken industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, suggested creating a state-backed company to examine exploration techniques.
Hollande also insisted on the importance of maintenance of French train lines after a passenger train derailment south of Paris caused six deaths
Hungary: Orbán wasteland
Posing as a Hungarian freedom fighter, Viktor Orbán has railed against his country's chief investors: Germany and the EU
The Guardian, Sunday 14 July 2013 22.55 BST
Taking their cue from the late Václav Havel, who often used the word, the inhabitants of former Soviet satellites have frequently coined the term Absurdistan to describe the country in which they live.
Tellingly, Absurdistan is currently most commonly invoked these days to describe Viktor Orbán's populist rule in Hungary.
The quixotic nature of Mr Orbán's Fidesz party government is in some respects felt less in the field of politics – although he has loaded the electoral dice to ensure his party's declared goal of two decades in power – than in economics.
To compensate for the money it lost when it kicked out the IMF, the Orbán government has introduced more than two dozen new taxes. When it is not increasing the highest levy on banks in Europe, with plans to raise more money on wire transfers, corporate phone calls and mining royalties, it introduces new "fees" – such as mandatory membership of chambers for all businesses.
The effect on Hungary's tanking economy is not at all comic. Four million Hungarians live at subsistence level and a further 1.38 million live below it.
Posing as a Hungarian freedom fighter, Mr Orbán has railed against his country's chief investors: Germany and the EU. He has compared Angela Merkel's policies to the Nazi invasion ordered by Adolf Hitler and likened Brussels to the former Soviet Union.
This may seem diplomatic lunacy for a country as dependent as Hungary is on the German economy and EU structural funds.
Since 2009, 97% of all state investments were funded from EU cohesion funds. No road, railway track or school would have been built without them.
But Mr Orbán's "war of independence" against the club Hungary spent so much effort joining makes for excellent politics at home.
However, each fresh wave of condemnation – the latest being a report about fundamental rights by the Portuguese Green MEP Rui Tavares – provides fresh fuel for Mr Orbán's argument that the EU is acting as a proxy for liberal-leftist forces.
And yet his most vocal critic has been Viviane Reding, a conservative vice-president of the European commission and from the same EU group as Fidesz.
The attention Mr Orbán is getting may be becoming counterproductive. He is one of a small clique of law-school graduates, known as the Dorm boys, who have created the perfect political vehicle for capitalising on popular disgust at post-Soviet privatisations.
Like the Kaczynski twins who used to rule Poland, Fidesz claims to be on a mission to save its country from a foe that has long since collapsed. The west, says Mr Orbán, is dead and China is Hungary's new strategic partner.
All this is leading Hungary slowly down another cul-de-sac. It won't do Hungary any good, but neither can it do the EU much harm.
US blocks crackdown on tax avoidance by net firms like Google and Amazon
France fails to win backing for tough new international rules targeting online companies in run-up to G20 summit
The Guardian, Sunday 14 July 2013 19.28 BST
France has failed to secure backing for tough new international tax rules specifically targeting digital companies, such as Google and Amazon, after opposition from the US forced the watering down of proposals that will be presented at this week's G20 summit.
Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation's fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been told to draw up a much-anticipated action plan for tax reform at the gathering of G20 finance ministers this Friday, but the US and French governments have been at loggerheads over how far the proposals should go.
While the Americans concede that the rules need to be updated, they are understood to be pushing for moderate change. They are believed to want tweaks to the existing wording of international tax treaties rather than the creation of wholly new passages dedicated to spelling out how the digital economy should be taxed.
This has put the US at odds with several G20 nations, particularly France, which in January published radical proposals for new concepts in international tax treaties designed to counter some of the avoidance measures deployed by internet firms. Officials at the G20 governments have been working closely with the OECD, a club for the world's industrialised nations, over the proposals.
Despite opposition from the US, the French position – which also includes a proposal to link tax to the collection of personal data – continues to be championed by the French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici.
The OECD plan has been billed as the biggest opportunity to overhaul international tax rules, closing loopholes increasingly exploited by multinational corporations in the decades since a framework for bilateral tax treaties was first established after the first world war.
The OECD is expected to detail up to 15 areas on which it believes action can be taken, setting up a timetable for reform on each of between 12 months and two and a half years.
Among the areas expected to take longest to produce results is in which jurisdiction a multinational group should pay tax on its business activity, under "permanent establishment" rules. Many internet firms' tax structures, such as those of Google and Amazon, exploit loopholes in this area.
While the case for broad reform of the international rules has been made repeatedly by top politicians around the globe, in many areas there is limited common ground on what shape new rules should take.
As a result, because of its consensus-driven nature, the OECD action plan is expected to contain watered-down recommendations in some areas.
Nevertheless, the OECD has already made clear it regards aggressive tax engineering by internet multinationals to be among six "key pressure areas" it will address.
In a report to the G20 in February it said: "Nowadays it is possible to be heavily involved in the economic life of another country, eg by doing business with customers located in that country via the internet, without having a taxable presence therein.
"In an era where non-resident [corporate] taxpayers can derive substantial profits from transactions with customers located in another country, questions are being raised as to whether the current rules ensure a fair allocation of taxing rights on business profits, especially where the profits from such transactions go untaxed anywhere."
However, tensions are thought to have surfaced in the OECD working party looking at how to address the permanent establishment rules in the light of the burgeoning internet economy. This working party is being jointly led by US and French teams – representing the extremes of opinion among G20 nations.
France has been among the most aggressive in responding to online businesses that target French customers but pay little or no French tax. Tax authorities have raided the Paris offices of several firms including Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn, challenging the companies' tax structures.
In the case of Google, in 2011 French tax officials demanded €1.7bn (£1.47bn) in back taxes. In February this year Google settled the case, agreeing to paying €60m to help France with digital innovation and other issues. The French president, François Hollande, said it was "a model for effective partnership and is a pointer to the future in the global digital economy."
In the UK, outcry at internet companies routing British sales through other countries reached a peak in May after a string of investigations by journalists and politicians laid bare the kinds of tax structures used by the likes of Google and Amazon.
Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee, called Google's northern Europe boss, Matt Brittin, before parliament after amassing evidence on the group's tax arrangements from several whistleblowers.
After hearing his answers, she told him: "You are a company that says you do no evil. And I think that you do do evil" – a reference to Google's corporate motto, "Don't be evil".
Last month, the Treasury minister David Gauke told backbench MPs who had called a short debate on multinationals and tax avoidance that the government did still hold out hope that shortcomings in international tax guidelines – specifically in what constitutes a business taxable in the UK under permanent establishment rules - would be addressed by the G20.
"We are leading the way in encouraging the OECD to look at what needs to be done to ensure that the tax rules are brought up to date for the internet world," he said.
Writing in the Observer in May, the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, appeared to drop his previously unapologetic defence of existing international tax rules.
In the face of building public anger, he conceded that rather than taking up tax incentives offered by governments, his firm and others had built tax structures that had not been foreseen by those who drafted the rules decades ago before the advent of the internet.
"Given the intensity of the debate, not just in the UK but also in America and elsewhere, international tax law could almost certainly benefit from reform," he wrote, describing this week's OECD action plan as "hotly awaited".
Prague railway station becomes Holocaust memorial
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 15, 2013 7:23 EDT
A Prague railway station that saw tens of thousands of Czech Jews leave for ghettos and Nazi death camps between 1941 and 1945 is to become a memorial for those who died.
Czech Jews and Holocaust survivors have for years been calling for a memorial for the Prague-Bubny station, which last year welcomed a theatre troupe that roamed the Czech Republic and Poland on board a train to perform a play about the Holocaust.
Now Shoah Memorial Prague, a newly formed non-profit organisation, is making it happen.
The memorial “won’t be your classic museum but rather a place where we’ll be able to have dialogue on the Holocaust”, said project mastermind and filmmaker Pavel Stingl.
“We are only at the beginning of our journey. If everything goes well, the memorial will open in four years,” he told AFP.
In the meantime, the station will host a number of temporary exhibitions, the first of which — called Kaddish or “magnification of God’s name” in Hebrew — opened in June.
The Kaddish is also the Jewish prayer of mourning, and on the station’s walls are sepia-tinted photographs with the smiling faces of hundreds of Czech Jews later sent to death camps.
On the peeling facade of the station, which is still in use, are two dusty arrows indicating train directions — left for downtown Prague, right for the city of Kladno.
But during the war, dozens of convoys set out from here in a completely different direction — towards the ghettos in Lodz, Poland and Terezin outside Prague.
The ghettos served as transit camps for Jews before they were sent to Auschwitz in Poland or other Nazi German death camps.
A total of 45,513 Czech Jews — men and women, grandparents and children alike — passed through Prague-Bubny to take the fateful train ride.
Only a couple of thousand of them survived the war that killed around 80,000 Czech Jews.
“My transport left Prague on October 28, 1941,” said Maja Dohnalova, who attended the opening of the exhibition.
“I was with my mum and sister. I was 13 and we were told we would come back in three months as this stupid war could not last longer.
“There were about 5,000 of us who were deported by the Nazis to Lodz. And only 276 of us returned to the country after the war.”
More than seven decades after her deportation, Dohnalova said she still feels intense emotion at the station.
The Czech capital already has one Shoah memorial — the Pinkas synagogue in the old Jewish quarter, a busy area popular with tourists.
Built in 1535 in the late Gothic style, its inner walls bear the names of Czech Holocaust victims.
The Prague-Bubny memorial will be a much more modern homage to the past, incorporating an education centre and making use of multimedia to recount the horrors of the Shoah.
“The new memorial should speak today’s language,” said Leos Valka, founder of the modern art centre DOX near the station, which is helping to curate the memorial.
“The goal is to create a message for the future.”
“Why a Shoah memorial in Prague? Because the dead remain immortal as long as people remember them,” said Marketa Malisova, head of the Franz Kafka cultural centre in Prague.
Kafka, the Prague-born German-speaking writer who died in 1924, was part of a large Jewish community that lived in what is now the Czech Republic, with 118,000 members between the wars.
His sisters Elli, Valli and Ottla left via the Prague-Bubny station in the 1940s and died in Nazi camps.
“A nation that does not know its history is condemned to relive it,” said Ivo Toman, manager at the Ceske drahy rail company in charge of the station, using the oft-cited quote.
“For this reason we support the project and we have allowed Shoah Memorial Prague to use the building.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Spanish prime minister facing calls to quit amid slush fund scandal
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 14, 2013 20:20 EDT
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faced calls to resign Sunday over a slush fund scandal roiling his ruling Popular Party.
The issue blew up again after the publication of friendly mobile text messages he purportedly sent to the disgraced treasurer at the heart of the affair.
The leader of Spain’s main opposition Socialist Party, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, said he was severing all contact with the prime minister and his party.
“Given the unsustainable political situation in Spain, the Socialist Party calls for the immediate resignation of Mariano Rajoy as head of the government,” he told reporters in Madrid.
“Mr Rajoy’s conduct in this situation can be summarised quite simply: silence, lies, and after what we have learned today, collusion, extremely serious collusion,” Rubalcaba said.
Dozens of protesters, outraged by the corruption allegations at a time of recession and record unemployment, rallied outside the Popular Party’s Madrid headquarters, chanting “Thieves!” and “Here is Ali Babi’s cave!”.
The centre-right daily El Mundo newspaper published images of the alleged text messages between Rajoy and Luis Barcenas, the former ruling party treasurer who is in pre-trial detention as part of a separate corruption inquiry.
Barcenas is suspected of running a party slush fund financed by corporate donors who were then rewarded with state contracts. The cash was allegedly used to supplement senior party members’ salaries.
According to El Mundo, the prime minister sent supportive messages to Barcenas between May 2011 and March 2013, ending some two months after the scandal erupted.
Rajoy kept in “direct and permanent contact” with Barcenas, El Mundo said.
“Luis, I understand, be strong. I will call you tomorrow. Best wishes,” said one of the messages purportedly from Rajoy to Barcenas, dated January 18 this year when El Mundo first published allegations over the slush fund.
“It is not good to try to determine what we will say or to comment on things that must be presented to the courts, which we must all respect,” read another message allegedly sent by Rajoy.
The Popular Party, which has ruled with an absolute majority since winning an election landslide in September 2011, hit back at the opposition call for the prime minister to step down.
“It is pitiful that Rubalcaba, in his distress, is calling for resignations in collusion with the lies of a man under police investigation,” said Carlos Floriano, the Popular Party’s deputy secretary.
Rajoy, backed by his party’s solid majority, has resisted calls to answer questions in parliament over the scandal. He is expected to face the press Monday, however, after hosting a visit by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Barcenas has been summoned to appear before a judge on Monday after El Mundo last week published what it said was an original page from Barcenas’ slush fund ledger and handed the document to the courts.
The excerpt purportedly showed extra payments to party officials including Rajoy when he was a minister under then prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
The entries include two payments to Rajoy of 2.1 million pesetas (12,600 euros/$16,200) in 1998.
Coming six months after centre-left daily El Pais published supposed photocopies of the accounts, El Mundo’s report said that the original copy challenged claims by the party that the accounts had been fabricated.
Two days earlier, on July 7, El Mundo published an interview in which it said Barcenas admitted the Popular Party had engaged in illegal financing for 20 years,
The Popular Party has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Rajoy, too, denies any wrongdoing.
A Spanish judge remanded Barcenas to custody on June 27 over separate allegations including money laundering and tax fraud. He said the move was aimed at preventing him from fleeing and to preserve evidence.
Barcenas is being investigated over tens of millions of euros he allegedly stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
Pig Putin's Russia....
July 14, 2013
N.S.A. Leaks Revive Push in Russia to Control Net
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW — Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, fled the United States saying he did not want to live in a surveillance state.
But now the Russians are using his very presence here — on Friday Mr. Snowden said he intended to remain in Russia for some time while seeking asylum elsewhere — to push for tighter controls over the Internet.
Two members of Russia’s Parliament have cited Mr. Snowden’s leaks about N.S.A. spying as arguments to compel global Internet companies like Google and Microsoft to comply more closely with Russian rules on personal data storage.
These rules, rights groups say, might help safeguard personal data but also would open a back door for Russian law enforcement into services like Gmail.
“We need to quickly put these huge transnational companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook under national controls,” Ruslan Gattarov, a member of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, or Federation Council, said in an interview. “This is the lesson Snowden taught us.”
In the United States, the documents leaked by Mr. Snowden highlighted the increasingly close ties between the N.S.A. and the biggest high-tech companies. His documents revealed how Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other companies have cooperated with the agency.
If anything, requests by law enforcement agencies in Russia, with its long history of people bugging, informing and spying on one another, poses an even more stark quandary for companies like Google and Facebook.
American information technology companies operating in Russia routinely face demands from law enforcement to reveal user data, and have less recourse than in the United States to resist in the courts.
The Russian reaction may surprise Mr. Snowden most of all. In an interview with The Guardian, he said he unveiled details of N.S.A. surveillance because “I don’t want to live in a world where there is no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”
In a series of leaks to The Guardian, The Washington Post and other newspapers, Mr. Snowden provided documents showing the N.S.A. collected logs of Americans’ phone calls and intercepted foreigners’ Internet communications, with help from American companies, through a program called Prism.
The Russians, who with only minimal success, had for years sought to make these companies provide law enforcement access to data within Russia, reacted angrily. Mr. Gattarov formed an ad hoc committee in response to Mr. Snowden’s leaks.
Ostensibly with the goal of safeguarding Russian citizens’ private lives and letters from spying, the committee revived a long-simmering Russian initiative to transfer control of Internet technical standards and domain name assignments from two nongovernmental groups that control them today to an arm of the United Nations, the International Telecommunications Union.
The committee also recommended that Russia require foreign companies to comply with its law on personal data, which can require using encryption programs that are licensed by the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the K.G.B.
Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy speaker of the Russian Parliament in President Vladimir V. Putin’s United Russia party, has suggested legislation requiring e-mail and social networking companies retain the data of Russian clients on servers inside Russia, where they would be subject to domestic law enforcement search warrants.
The Russian Senate is also proposing the creation of a United Nations agency to monitor collection and use of personal data, akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees nuclear materials, to keep tabs on firms like Facebook and Google that harvest personal data.
Many independent advocates for Internet freedom have for years, however, characterized the Russian policy proposals as deeply worrying, for their potential to hamper free communication across borders and expose political dissidents inside authoritarian states to persecution.
Even before Mr. Snowden arrived in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Russia had been pressing for such controls. Its proposals had found some support among other governments that wanted greater access to social networking and e-mail data, but which did not ban such services outright, as China does.
In this light, Mr. Snowden’s arrival here and his decision to extend his stay, announced Friday, seemed to have aided their cause.Brazil’s foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, for example, a week ago endorsed the Russian proposal to transfer some control over Internet technical standards to the United Nations telecommunications agency.
In Russia, a cottage industry already exists of companies licensed by the F.S.B. to make software applications that replace Microsoft’s built-in encryption on Windows. A Russian law requires this for government employees and several other categories of users. About two million Windows machines have had this change made in Russia, according to CryptoPro, one of the companies that makes the security agency’s licensed encryption key.
For Russian-based technology companies, the pressure is even more intense. In an updated version of the K.G.B.’s using steam to open letters in the mail, the security agency ordered Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, to reveal the identities of people who had made online donations to an opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny. Yandex complied; later, these people received harassing phone calls from a Kremlin youth group.
Google, in response to Mr. Gattarov’s criticism of the company, said in a statement that its privacy policies were now in compliance with Russian laws but did not comment on the proposal to require the company to shift its servers to Russian territory.
Facebook issued a statement saying, “We think it would be better for people if the result of all of this debate is greater transparency and accountability for governments seeking private data, rather than more government secrecy and access to this personal information.”
July 14, 2013
Blasts Across Iraq Kill at Least 40 Amid a Surge in Attacks
By DURAID ADNAN
BAGHDAD — A series of bombings across Iraq on Sunday left at least 40 people dead and dozens wounded, security officials said.
In recent months Iraq has had its worst wave of violence in years. This month, more than 300 people have been killed, according to the Interior Ministry.
In Karbala, just before Muslims were breaking their Ramadan fast in the evening, a blast near a downtown market killed 9 people and wounded 22 others.
“Is this how Muslims exchange the peace of the holy month of Ramadan?” said Jafar Ali, whose leg was wounded in the blast.
Earlier in the day, 11 people were killed and 68 were wounded in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, when a bomb exploded while they were shopping in a market, officials said. When the provincial governor visited the site after the explosion, angry bystanders threw stones and shoes at him.
In Babil, south of Baghdad, four people were killed when two car bombs exploded near a government office, officials said.
In Nasiriya, southeast of the capital, a car bomb exploded close to a hotel, killing 2 people and wounding 12 others, according to a security official.
In Falluja, west of Baghdad, two people walking near a cemetery were killed by unidentified gunmen using silencers, a security official said.
Two blasts killed four people and hurt seven in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, the police said.
On Sunday morning, eight people died in attacks in Mosul, northwest of Baghdad, according to a security official: a local official and his son, who struck a roadside bomb; four police officers, also killed by a roadside bomb; and two soldiers, who were shot at an army checkpoint.
Bangladesh jails ex-leader of Islamic party for crimes against humanity
Ghulam Azam, former head of Jamaat-e-Islami, sentenced to 90 years for crimes committed during 1971 independence war
Associated Press in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 July 2013 10.06 BST
A 91-year-old former leader of an Islamic party in Bangladesh has been sentenced to 90 years in jail for crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war.
A special tribunal of three judges announced the decision against Ghulam Azam in a packed courtroom on Monday in the capital, Dhaka.
The panel said the former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party deserved the death sentence, but received a prison term instead because of his advanced age.
Bangladesh says the Pakistani army was responsible for the deaths of 3 million people and rape of 200,000 women with the assistance of local collaborators during the war.
The tribunal found Azam guilty of all 61 charges under five categories: conspiracy, incitement, planning, abetment and failure to prevent killing.
Previous verdicts against Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have sparked violence.
July 14, 2013
Bangladesh Pollution, Told in Colors and Smells
By JIM YARDLEY
SAVAR, Bangladesh — On the worst days, the toxic stench wafting through the Genda Government Primary School is almost suffocating. Teachers struggle to concentrate, as if they were choking on air. Students often become lightheaded and dizzy. A few boys fainted in late April. Another retched in class.
The odor rises off the polluted canal — behind the schoolhouse — where nearby factories dump their wastewater. Most of the factories are garment operations, textile mills and dyeing plants in the supply chain that exports clothing to Europe and the United States. Students can see what colors are in fashion by looking at the canal.
“Sometimes it is red,” said Tamanna Afrous, the school’s English teacher. “Or gray. Sometimes it is blue. It depends on the colors they are using in the factories.”
Nearly three months ago, the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people, in a disaster that exposed the risks in the low-cost formula that has made Bangladesh the world’s second-leading clothing exporter, after China, and a favorite of companies like Walmart, J. C. Penney and H & M. That formula depends on paying the lowest wages in the world and, at some factories, spending a minimum on work conditions and safety.
But it also often means ignoring costly environmental regulations. Bangladesh’s garment and textile industries have contributed heavily to what experts describe as a water pollution disaster, especially in the large industrial areas of Dhaka, the capital. Many rice paddies are now inundated with toxic wastewater. Fish stocks are dying. And many smaller waterways are being filled with sand and garbage, as developers sell off plots for factories or housing.
Environmental damage usually trails rapid industrialization in developing countries. But Bangladesh is already one of the world’s most environmentally fragile places, densely populated yet braided by river systems, with a labyrinth of low-lying wetlands leading to the Bay of Bengal. Even as pollution threatens agriculture and public health, Bangladesh is acutely vulnerable to climate change, as rising sea levels and changing weather patterns could displace millions of people and sharply reduce crop yields.
Here in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka and the site of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, some factories treat their wastewater, but many do not have treatment plants or chose not to operate them to save on utility costs. Many of Savar’s canals or wetlands are now effectively retention ponds of untreated industrial waste.
“Look, it’s not only in Savar,” said Mohammed Abdul Kader, who has been Savar’s mayor since his predecessor was suspended in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster. “The whole country is suffering from pollution. In Savar, we have lots of coconut trees, but they don’t produce coconuts anymore. Industrial pollution is damaging our fish stocks, our fruit produce, our vegetables.”
Bangladesh has laws to protect the environment, a national environment ministry and new special courts for environmental cases. Yet pollution is rising, not falling, experts say, largely because of the political and economic power of industry.
Tanneries and pharmaceutical plants are part of the problem, but textile and garment factories, a mainstay of the economy and a crucial source of employment, have the most clout. When the environment ministry appointed a tough-minded official who levied fines against textile and dyeing factories, complaining owners eventually forced his transfer.
“Nobody in the country, at least at the government level, is thinking about sustainable development,” said Rizwana Hasan, a prominent environmental lawyer. “All of the natural resources have been severely degraded and depleted.”
Less than two miles from the site of Rana Plaza, the Genda primary school has a student body made up mostly of the children of garment workers. Golam Rabbi, 11, who is the top-ranked student in the third grade there, lives with his mother and two younger brothers in a single room. The boys use price tags collected from factory floors as makeshift playing cards.
“The school always smells,” Golam said. “Sometimes we can’t even eat there. It is making some kids sick. Sometimes my head spins. It is hard to concentrate.”
His family is still struggling to recover from the Rana Plaza collapse. His father, a security guard, was killed in the disaster, and his mother is trying to support her sons and keep the two oldest in school. The father had left school for work — as had the mother — and both parents believed education could provide their sons a better life.
“His main goal was to get his children educated,” Golam’s mother, Hasina Begum, said of her husband.
But the pollution has made it hard. Golam has fainted from the smell. “He has told me several times that he doesn’t want to study at the school,” his mother said. “When it is very hot, and the breeze brings in the bad smell, he can’t breathe properly. I tried to reassure him, saying that people are holding rallies. I don’t know why the pollution is still continuing, why they can’t stop it.”
Factories surround the school: within 300 yards are two garment factories, two dyeing operations, a textile mill, a brick factory and a pharmaceutical plant. At least 10 dyeing plants can be found in a slightly larger radius. An underground drainage channel dumps wastewater through a pipe into the canal behind the school.
Mohammed Abdul Ali, the school’s headmaster, said he had approached local factory owners, as well as Savar officials, trying to get the drainage pipe moved. Mothers of children at the school, including Golam’s mother, have held awareness workshops and rallies. Local environmentalists have also campaigned.
“We’ve never seen the owners take our appeals seriously,” Mr. Ali said. “Everything is going on as usual. They have a good relationship with the politicians. That is why they don’t care.”
On a recent rainy afternoon, the smell was overpowering as the school’s fifth graders gathered in a classroom. Asked how many had parents working in garment factories, 23 of the 34 students in the room raised their hands.
“Sometimes my head is spinning,” one student said of the smell. “Sometimes we feel like we need to vomit,” another said.
Barely 100 yards away, behind a battered metal gate, the Surma Garments factory was dyeing fabric in a shade of dark purple. Mahadi Hasan, a manager, offered a tour of the Effluent Treatment Plant, where wastewater is treated with chemicals in a series of concrete tubs. He called for a worker to bring beakers with “before” and “after” samples — only to be handed an “after” sample in which the water was light purple.
Asked about pollution at the nearby school, Mr. Hasan said his wastewater flowed in the opposite direction, though that would mean it flowed uphill. “There are some other factories around here,” he said. “The water might be from them.”
In February, environmental regulators fined Surma Garments and four other factories for illegally dumping pollution. Two years earlier, another factory near the school, Anlima Yarn Dyeing, was fined for dumping untreated waste, even though it had a functioning effluent treatment plant. Local news accounts said that Anlima Yarn had been operating without an environmental clearance certificate for 23 years.
The inspections were part of a highly publicized antipollution enforcement campaign led by Munir Chowdhury, a senior official in the environment ministry. Mr. Chowdhury raided factories, often at night, finding that many were saving money by dumping waste without treating it. He imposed repeated fines until he was transferred this year to run the state dairy operation.
Mr. Kader, the acting mayor of Savar, said there was only so much a single official could do. “You should understand the reality in Bangladesh,” he said. “These people who are setting up industries and factories here are much more powerful than me. When a government minister calls me and tells me to give permission to someone to set up a factory in Savar, I can’t refuse.”
For global brands that buy clothing from Bangladeshi factories, pollution rarely gets the same attention as workplace conditions or fire safety. H &M has sponsored some environmental programs, but Bangladeshi environmentalists say global buyers have done far too little.
“The buyers totally understand the conditions of Bangladesh and they take advantage of it,” said Ms. Hasan, the environmental lawyer.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.
Kyrgyz president attacks UK for 'hosting a guy who robbed us'
President Almazbek Atambayev demands return of Maxim Bakiyev, son of former leader, for allegedly stealing millions
Maxton Walker in Bishkek
The Guardian, Sunday 14 July 2013 18.54 BST
The president of Kyrgyzstan has launched a furious tirade against Britain, claiming the UK has undermined democracy by playing host to a fugitive accused by his government of spiriting millions of dollars from the fragile central Asian state.
In an interview with the Guardian, Almazbek Atambayev said Britain was "hosting a guy who robbed us", in a reference to Maxim Bakiyev, the son of one of Atambayev's predecessors who was ousted in a 2010 revolt.
Bakiyev, who is seeking asylum in Britain, has been accused of channelling millions of dollars of public money into private bank accounts. This year he was sentenced in absentia to 25 years on corruption charges, which his lawyers say are politically motivated.
"Is Britain hosting the kids of [Muammar] Gaddafi or Bashar al-Assad? Why are there double standards against Kyrgyzstan? Britain is saying: 'We want to help with democratic development in Kyrgyzstan.' That's a lie. You're hosting a guy who robbed us. We could use that money to fund fair elections," Atambayev said.
"I spent 20 years in opposition and have always fought for democracy but I didn't know that behind the beautiful words of democracy are very dirty lies. That's terrible. Britain is one of the founders of democracy and it's impossible to understand its actions against us. I am ashamed for Great Britain and didn't expect politics to be this cynical and corrupt. "
The Guardian was unable to reach Bakiyev for comment and the allegations against him have not been substantiated.
Kyrgyzstan has had a chequered road to democracy in the 20 years since the Soviet Union fell apart. Small, remote and not blessed with the mineral wealth of other central Asian republics such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, it has lurched from one leader to the next since its founder president was ousted in 2005. Widespread poverty, a dearth of foreign investment and political schisms have not helped. Its position as a gateway to Afghanistan has proved perhaps its only strategic asset over the past decade.
Since 2010, however, the nation has been quietly rebuilding itself, hoping to show the rest of the region that a part of the world notorious for clan politics and authoritarian leaders can function as a modern democracy.
Atambayev, the first elected president since the revolution, who took power in December 2011, said political stability was still his priority: "Without stability, without peace, no other things can be achieved.
"Last year every day there were several protests in Kyrgyzstan, while there are other countries in central Asia that don't see any protests at all. Stability in some countries that don't see protests is like the stability of a hidden landmine that ticks towards an imminent explosion."
The country still has problems with corruption and human rights abuses. Amnesty International says ethnic Uzbeks have been persecuted by the authorities after riots in 2010 that left more than 400 dead. The government acknowledges it has not brought sufficient prosecutions.
More recently, the Boston bombing suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers, turned out to have lived as children in Tokmok, a town about 30 miles east of the capital, Bishkek, and a place that still hosts a Chechen diaspora. "I was disappointed," Atambayev said of his reaction to the news of the connection. "But they left Kyrgyzstan when they were teenagers. Here they were ordinary students and received a secular education."
Kyrgyzstan, like its central Asian neighbours, is predominantly Muslim. Some have suggested this may make it a recruitment target for Islamist extremists.
Atambayev says democracy is the best bulwark against Islamism. "Yes, I think it will be a problem in central Asian countries," he said.
"Many ordinary people in central Asia turn to Islam because they live under corrupt regimes. The way forward is to build at least one truly democratic country in central Asia so people in the region can see there's a choice between a secular, corrupt regime – which is often authoritarian – and a dictatorial, radical Islamic regime. There's a third way – the building of a truly democratic country. There is no other way: we see trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and the Taliban is still on its way back to power."
Kyrgyzstan: Stalin's deadly legacy
The trouble in Kyrgyzstan has many causes, and behind them all lies the ghost of the Soviet Union
The Guardian, Sunday 20 June 2010 21.30 BST
Two days before Osh erupted, my BBC colleagues and I dined at the city's sole international restaurant. It was a balmy evening, and we were shown to a table on the terrace.
But our absorption in the menu was interrupted by an embarrassed waitress; the other group on the terrace didn't like us so close, and we would have to move. At the neighbouring table a group of men in shiny suits had a half-eaten banquet laid out before them, and they were drinking vodka toasts. More to the point, they were being looked after by an intimidating bunch of heavies. We moved.
I asked our Kyrgyz driver whether humiliation like this was usual on an evening out. He shrugged and identified our fellow diners as an officer from the security forces, a local politician and a group of mafia bosses. He'd heard them discussing how to stitch up the referendum on a new constitution which is due in Kyrgyzstan on Sunday.
Whether their plans included inciting violence I do not know, but the incident offered a glimpse into the way politics in Kyrgyzstan really work. The country has had two bloody revolutions in five years; in both cases authoritarian leaders were kicked out because of popular anger about the way they were ripping off the country. The interim president, Rosa Otunbayeva, is trying to break the cycle by introducing a parliamentary system, and this week's referendum is a critical step on that road. But she is fighting powerful interest groups.
She blames supporters of the exiled president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, for the latest outbreak of violence in Osh, and the Bakiyev camp has already tried one counter-revolution. In mid-May a group of his southern supporters took over the main government building in Jalalabad (a couple of hours' drive from Osh) and appointed their own regional governor. They were driven out by an anti-Bakiyev crowd in a brutal confrontation that left several people dead.
I visited the Bakiyev family home, just outside Jalalabad, which was attacked in the aftermath. It was once an impressive complex of buildings around a pretty garden, with a vast ornamental yurt at the centre. No longer. The compound was sacked with an awe-inspiring thoroughness; every building, including the yurt, had been put to the torch.
There are multiple versions of why this happened, and they reflect the layers of hatred and suspicion in Kyrgyz society. One account is that the crowd torched the Bakiyev home in a display of righteous anger after frustrating the mini-coup by his supporters. Another holds that the damage was done by a mob of rampaging Uzbeks – and still another that it was the work of Kyrgyz conspirators who then used it to smear their Uzbeks enemies in the hope of firing up ethnic tensions. Quite possibly all three versions are a little bit true.
The question of what really lies behind Kyrgyzstan's problems is in truth easy to answer; the way Stalin designed the region ensured that it would regularly be shaken by inter-ethnic violence. When he drew lines on a map to form new Soviet republics in the 1920s he created minorities that were bound to make them unstable. With the collapse of communism the notional internal borders of the USSR became real international borders, which exacerbated the difficulties of minorities caught on the wrong side of the lines. The Fergana Valley, where Osh lies, is now divided between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and there have been periodic eruptions of ethnic violence in all three.
Reminders of Soviet days are everywhere; Osh glories in the largest statue of Lenin in central Asia. When I heard that Melis, the name of a senior government official in Bishkek, was an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, I confess I smiled. But in truth the Soviet legacy to Kyrgyzstan is deadly.
Kyrgyzstan: the void in Asia's heart
The world paid little heed to Kyrgyzstan's pogroms, but the chaos of this failed state will spread beyond
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 August 2010 20.00 BST
There is a hole in the map of Central Asia where Kyrgyzstan used to be. A country once considered an outpost of relative tolerance and democracy in a region of dysfunctional authoritarian regimes is today a deeply divided, practically failed, state. If the international response to its descent into political chaos is not swift and bold, the consequences will be disastrous.
After years of mismanagement and corruption President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April by a provisional government that has not succeeded in establishing its authority over the country. An explosion of violence, destruction and looting hit southern Kyrgyzstan in June, killing hundreds and deepening the gulf between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities.
In the process the government lost whatever control of the south it once had. Melis Myrzakmatov, the ruthless and resolute nationalist mayor of Osh, the largest southern city, emerged from the bloodshed with his political strength and extremist credentials strengthened. This was only reinforced by an embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt last week to remove him. President Roza Otunbayeva ordered him to resign, he refused, and told cheering crowds in Osh that the government had no authority in the south. He even pledged to move the country's capital to Osh.
Now caught between a humiliated provisional government on one hand and the renegade mayor on the other, southern Kyrgyzstan is a serious security risk in the region and beyond. As long as the south remains outside central control, the narcotics trade – already an important factor – could extend its power still further. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 95 tonnes of heroin pass through central Asian states on their way to Russia and Europe every year, and it calls Osh a "regional hub of trafficking activity".
Southern Kyrgyzstan could also become a home to Islamist guerrilla groups. It is not just that the political vacuum could offer the opportunity to make recruits; the June pogroms deepened the gulf between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, and another outburst is inevitable if the slide towards extreme nationalism continues. Next time, the victimised party could look to Islamist radicals for help.
The route back to stability will be long and difficult, not least because no reliable security or even monitoring force has been deployed in the affected area. Kyrgyzstan needs an internationally supported investigation into the pogroms; as visible an international presence as possible to discourage any recurrence; and close co-ordination on the rebuilding of communities.
The prospects are not promising. Even the delayed token force of 52 unarmed police advisers sent by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has been a target of Kyrgyz nationalist ire, which the central government and the OSCE itself are sadly reluctant to challenge.
When state authorities are unwilling or unable to stabilise the situation the international community needs to be more active – to support an investigation into the June events with central roles assigned to those with suitable expertise, such as the UN high commissioner for human rights and the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities. And it should be made clear that further aid to the Kyrgyz government will be conditional on such an investigation.
The outside world also needs to outline a unified strategy for the reconstruction of the south involving extensive ground monitoring to ensure no funds are diverted to extreme nationalists, or corrupt officials. In particular donors will need to ensure none go to the Osh regional government as long as it advocates an exclusionary ethnic policy and refuses to submit to the authority of the central government.
Unfortunately any efforts to help pull back the divided country from the brink of disintegration may simply be too late. The UN security council – in particular the US and Russia – needs to undertake some active contingency planning so the international community will be in a position to respond in a timely and effective manner to any future violence and consequent refugee crises.
It may seem over-optimistic to expect the international community to take such steps after its manifest lack of interest in becoming involved in Kyrgyzstan – even while the pogroms were unfolding during June. The alternative, however, is to sit back and watch the continuing implosion of an entire country.
The guide Jennifer Lopez should have read before she sang in Turkmenistan
Do you know your Kazakhstan from your Kyrgyzstan? Read on to avoid singing happy birthday to a despotic ruler in this region
Monday 1 July 2013 17.23 BST The Guardian
It isn't just David Cameron who has been criticised this week for cosying up to a repressive dictator in a former Soviet state – Jennifer Lopez performed at an event in Turkmenistan on Saturday night. In a statement to Associated Press, Lopez's publicist said: "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended." Here we present a handy guide to the "-stans" so no pop star need be caught out by accidentally singing happy birthday to a despotic ruler in this region ever again.
It really does say something about Kazakhstan's values that in trying to rehabilitate its image away from human rights abuses and the lasting legacy of Borat, the person they call in is Tony Blair. The former prime minister (in a deal rumoured to be worth $13m a year) paved the way for Cameron's trade mission this week. I know, it's just so easy to forget the 15 people killed by security forces during a demonstration and the imprisonment of opposition party leaders when you're dazzled by all that lovely oil money. Cameron at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish in the photographs with Nazarbayev. Blair never looks sheepish. It remains to be seen whether the endorsement – "I would vote for him!" – from Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic president, will be used on Conservative election posters.
Amnesty says: "Mass detentions followed [protests in 2011] and allegations of torture were credible. Independent media outlets have been branded 'extremists' and closed down."
On Saturday night, J Lo performed at an event hosted by the China National Petroleum Corp, and "graciously obliged", said her publicist, when a last-minute request came in to sing happy birthday to president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
It had been hoped that Berdimuhamedov would break with the personality cult regime of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died suddenly in 2006. Niyazov erected a giant gold statue to himself that revolved so it was always facing the sun, changed the names of the months (naming one after his mother, and another after the title of his book), and built an ice palace in the desert.
Although Berdimuhamedov reversed some of Niyazov's decisions, such as re-opening internet cafes that had been shut down, media is still state-controlled and he presides over a country described by Human Rights Watch as "one of the world's most repressive".
Amnesty says: "Opposition figures, journalists and human rights defenders continued to suffer harassment by the state. Torture and other ill-treatment by security forces remained widespread. In February 2012, Berdimuhamedov was re-elected with 97.4% of the vote."
Last month, five pop stars were banned by the state from performing because they didn't sing songs that "praise the motherland". Strangely, even Gulnara Karimova, the socialite and non-banned pop star daughter of Uzbekistan's dictator Islam Karimov, doesn't sing songs about the "motherland". It's not clear whether Sting, who was paid more than £1m to perform in a concert put on by Karimova in 2010, also sang songs praising Uzbekistan.
Recent news stories have focused on Uzbekistan's use of forced child labour and human trafficking, and forced sterilisations. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Uzbekistan the sixth most censored country. Mindful of strategic borders with Afghanistan, the west has dropped sanctions and overlooked human rights abuses, including torture.
Amnesty says: "Human rights defenders and journalists continue to be harassed, beaten, prosecuted and detained. The use of torture and other ill-treatment is frequent."
Access to the internet and sites such as Facebook (described as a "hotbed of slander" by the state after reports of posts criticising the president) are regularly blocked and journalists are targeted. BBC reporter Urunboy Usmonov, who was arrested in 2011, complained of torture. As a leaked WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in the country put it: "From the president down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption. [President] Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large."
Amnesty says: "Torture and other ill-treatment remains widespread and impunity for perpetrators continues. Freedom of expression was still under attack, despite some liberalisation in the law."
Relatively speaking, the least troubling of the –stans, but by no means perfect. The journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov is serving a life sentence on charges that are seen as politically motivated, and corruption is still a problem, but is improving. Kyrgystan's president was democratically elected – although there were questions raised over the election processes in which Almazbek Atambayev won, the head of the election observer mission sent by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said "we are cautiously optimistic about the future in Kyrgyzstan".
Amnesty says: "While arbitrary arrests of mainly ethnic Uzbeks appeared to have become less frequent in the past year, reports persisted of serious human rights violations."
July 15, 2013
South and North Korea Resume Talks on Reopening Factory Complex
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea and North Korea resumed talks Monday but failed again to reach an agreement on reopening a jointly operated industrial park in the North, a symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation that has been shuttered for more than three months.
The factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, where Monday’s talks were being held, was idled in early April, when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers, blaming tensions it said were caused by American-South Korean military drills. The South later pulled out all of its own personnel, most of them factory managers.
Both sides agree that whether they can strike a deal on reopening the factory park will have far-reaching implications for broader relations between the Koreas, which soured earlier this year as the two sides exchanged threats of attack and counterattack. In two rounds of talks earlier this month, they differed widely on conditions for resuming operations at Kaesong, a gap they failed to narrow during their third round of negotiations on Monday.
The two sides will meet again in Kaesong on Wednesday, said Kim Ki-woong, the chief South Korean negotiator.
South Korea demanded that the North take responsibility for the damage caused by the shuttering of the industrial zone and that it take steps to ensure that nothing similar happens again. The North bristled at those demands, blaming Seoul for the closing of the Kaesong complex and accusing it of abusing inter-Korean dialogue to escalate tensions.
Since last Wednesday, the North, which wants an early reopening of the complex, has allowed South Korean factory managers to return to Kaesong to check on the plants’ long-idled equipment and retrieve hundreds of tons of finished goods and other materials.
The South’s conservative government appears determined to use the Kaesong talks to set new rules in inter-Korean relations. President Park Geun-hye has said that if the South appeased the North by ignoring its provocative behavior, the "vicious cycle" would only continue.
Mr. Kim, the chief South Korean delegate, said his government wanted to turn Kaesong into an “internationalized” factory park. By inviting foreign investors, South Korean policy makers said, they hoped to help North Korea become more responsible for honoring “international standards" in business. But the North rejected the idea as a plot to spread outside influence within the country, where the totalitarian regime strives to keep its people isolated from the rest of the world.
North Korea last week proposed talks on reuniting families who have been separated for decades by the division of the Korean Peninsula, but it later withdrew the offer, after the South rejected a separate offer from Pyongyang to discuss resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain. Both sides agreed to focus on the Kaesong issue.
The Kaesong complex, pairing South Korean manufacturing know-how and capital with low-cost North Korean labor, was the last of a handful of cross-border projects that were launched during an earlier period of rapprochement but halted in recent years as relations soured. Since beginning operations in late 2004, annual production had risen to $470 million last year.
Israeli PM warns he may act against Iran without the U.S.
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 14, 2013 17:11 EDT
Iran is moving “closer and closer” to building a nuclear weapon and Israel may have to act before the United States does, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday.
“They’re edging up to the red line. They haven’t crossed it yet,” Netanyahu said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
“They’re getting closer and closer to the bomb. And they have to be told in no uncertain terms that that will not be allowed to happen.”
Netanyahu went on to say that Israel had a more narrow timetable than Washington, implying it may have to take unilateral action to halt Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
“Our clocks are ticking at a different pace. We’re closer than the United States. We’re more vulnerable. And therefore, we’ll have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does,” he said.
Netanyahu said Tehran has been building “faster centrifuges that would enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate — that is, within a few weeks.”
Netanyahu said Iran’s nuclear policies were unlikely to change under its next president, moderate cleric and former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, who will assume power on August 3.
“He’s criticizing his predecessor (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) for being a wolf in wolf’s clothing. His strategy is be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Smile and build a bomb,” Netanyahu said.
He urged the United States to make clear to Rowhani that it will not allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon, and that military force “is truly on the table.”
“We’ve spoken many times, President Obama and I, about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
“What is important is to convey to them — especially after the election — (is) that (the) policy will not change,” he said.
“If sanctions don’t work, they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action — that’s the only thing that will get their attention,” he added.
Iran for years has been at loggerheads with world powers over its nuclear drive, which Western nations believe is aimed at developing an atomic weapon capability.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the sanctions imposed over the standoff have isolated it internationally.
Netanyahu declined to comment on reports that Israel had carried out air strikes on July 5 near the Syrian port city of Latakia to destroy Russian-supplied anti-ship missiles.
“Oh God, Every time something happens in the Middle East Israel is most often accused. And I’m not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do,” he said.
“My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups,” he said, referring to the Lebanese militant group fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Boko Haram leader calls for more schools attacks after dorm killings
Abubakar Shekau describes western-style education as a 'plot against Islam', as two-pronged strategy delivers young recruits
Monica Mark in Kano
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 July 2013 18.15 BST
The leader of Nigeria's Islamist militant group Boko Haram has called for more attacks against schools, describing western education as a "plot against Islam", in a video released days after his fighters killed 46 students in an assault on a dorm.
In the 15-minute recording released at the weekend, Abubakar Shekau said schools would continue to be targeted "until our last breath".
"Teachers who teach western education? We will kill them! We will kill them in front of their students, and tell the students to henceforth study the Qur'an," he said, gesticulating energetically while dressed in military fatigues and a traditional hat.
Shekau denied that his fighters killed children. "Our religion does not permit us to touch small children and women, we don't kill children," he said, reading from sheets of paper as he cradled a Kalashnikov. He also dismissed talk of a ceasefire. Last week the government said it had signed a deal with Shekau's second-in-command.
With its ability to launch attacks reduced by a military crackdown, Boko Haram is redrawing the battle lines in Nigeria's four-year insurgency by going after softer targets. A recent spate of attacks on schools is part of a two-pronged strategy that plays up the extremists' ideology against western institutions while also providing a stream of potential new recruits as frightened parents pull their children out of education.
Unschooled and unemployed children are increasingly being recruited – sometimes forcibly – to fill the ranks of Boko Haram and unleash violence against their peers, the Guardian has learned. Witnesses say many are plied with dates stuffed with tramadol – a narcotic used to tranquilise horses – before being sent on missions.
Just after dawn on 6 July, a school dormitory was doused in petrol and set alight in north-eastern Yobe. Those trying to flee the flames were shot. The attack left 46 dead, mostly students. More than 300 classrooms have been torched in the remote, arid state since 2009, according to official counts.
Hundreds of families have fled the region. "This really shook us up. Students being attacked in their sleep is too disgusting for us to even imagine," said Adam Mohammed, a textiles trader visiting neighbouring northern Kano state, where he relocated his family for safety reasons. "It was hard, but I feel I made the right decision to leave Yobe. I'm a father of three and when I think of what those parents must be going through …" He shook his head mutely.
Last month 16 students were gunned down in consecutive strikes on a secondary comprehensive in Yobe and another school in Borno, Boko Haram's spiritual home. In April two attacks on a university left 16 dead.
A state of emergency has been in place for two months in three north-eastern states. Soldiers pouring into Yobe and Borno have dismantled urban cells, but Boko Haram has responded by changing tactics. Previously it had attempted to ignite a sectarian war by bombing packed churches.
Closing down mobile phone services is thought to have reduced the insurgents' ability to co-ordinate attacks, but it has also had unintended deadly consequences. "I saw the gunmen sneaking into the school compound in hordes but I couldn't call any soldiers for help," said Ahmadu Sani, whose farm borders the school grounds where 46 were killed. "The police cannot be everywhere so they should restore the connections even if there's a state of emergency."
Northern Nigeria has some of the highest unemployment and school dropout rates in the world, despite the country being the eight largest oil exporter. At one of the many checkpoints around the Yobe capital of Damaturu, a soldier said the number of children hawking on the streets had ballooned in recent weeks.
"As they are no longer in school, their parents send them to sell groundnuts or boiled eggs on the long queues of vehicles created by the stop-and-search," said the soldier, who like others had removed his name tag from his uniform. "We know they are paid by the Boko Haram to spy on us."
Mohammed, a gardener working in the economic capital of Lagos, said he had fled from his village of Dikwa, a few miles from a large Boko Haram camp. "The Boko Haram were everywhere. They collected taxes from us. They stripped one Muslim girl naked and beat her because they said she didn't cover her ankles," he said, looking nervous at the mention of the militants.
He said two men had turned up at his grass-roofed house in May. "They said the almajari [religious school] my son was going to was haram [forbidden] because the imam used prayer beads. They gave me all kinds of warnings. They said that I shouldn't cross my arms when I was talking to them because crossing the arms is haram too."
The final straw had come days later when his family were awakened by a neighbour's wailing. "[Boko Haram] told her they took her son to their camp to fight for Allah," Mohammed said. "They said the boy's family is now the Boko Haram. My wife said we should leave that very day."
At the defence ministry in the capital, Abuja, a senior official showed footage found on the mobile phones of alleged Boko Haram members. In one, a suicide bomber barely old enough to be out of primary school showed off his new sunglasses and joked in rapid slang with fellow teenage members as he got behind the wheel of a car packed with explosives. A few minutes later, his friends filmed the car blowing up outside an army barracks.
"Our structure has never been geared towards the current challenges – suicide attacks, IED attacks. These are tactics that until very recently we only saw on television, just like the US was rudely awakened by planes entering into buildings," the official said. "It's not just about training Nigerians how to shoot. We need to look at what terrorism will look like in 20 years from now."
Vigilante groups armed with sticks and machetes prowl the streets of Borno and Yobe, complicating efforts to flush out the insurgents. "They want to help out but they're also a nuisance," said a soldier based in Borno. "They're not professionals and they're not trained for a job like this. They're too many of them and it's hard to manage them."
"The problem is some of them have lost their loved ones during the course of the insurgency and they're looking at vigilantism as a way to get revenge. The bad guys have been pushed out of the towns. They're resorting to ambushes from the villages now, and that is a different kind of warfare."
Issac Abrak contributed reporting from Yobe state