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« Reply #7740 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:35 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/25/2013 03:11 PM

Pizza from a Neo-Nazi: Witness Describes 'Friendly' Neighbor

A former neighbor of the main defendant in the trial of Germany's murderous neo-Nazi terrorist cell has described her as a friendly woman who would stop by for drinks and even once brought a pizza. The witness also admitted to having a Hitler portrait.

A witness who testified on Wednesday has provided important information about the way Beate Zschäpe, the key defendant in the case against Germany's neo-Nazi terrorist cell, spent her years hiding out.

The 44-year-old man testified before a Munich court, describing how Zschäpe, one of his neighbors in a multi-family house in the eastern city of Zwickau, liked to drop by his basement for a glass of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.

"From time to time we'd eat together behind the house and talk about this and that -- trivial things," he told the court. Zschäpe's former neighbor described the young woman as having also been friendly to other residents. Once she even brought a pizza over for her neighbors, who were sitting behind the house and watching football on television, he said.

Zschäpe had introduced herself as "Susann Dienelt," one of the pseudonyms prosecutors say she went by. She was popular in the neighborhood, and locals called her "Dienelt-Maus," a play on the name of a cartoon character and the German word for mouse, which is often used as diminutive pet name.

The witness said Zschäpe lived together with the terrorist cell's other two members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, for years in the apartment in the eastern state of Saxony. She allegedly told him that one of the men was her boyfriend and the other was his brother, and that they were employed as car transporters.

There had barely been any contact with the two men, the witness said. "Sometimes they would say 'Hello,' or 'Good Morning,' but that was it," he said. Zschäpe, though, had been different. From time to time she would join the witness and other neighbors in his basement, where they would drink and chat together. Zschäpe apparently didn't like the taste of beer and preferred Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. The witness said Mundlos and Böhnhardt never joined in, and that politics hadn't been discussed.

A Hitler Picture on His Television

In response to a question by the presiding judge, however, the witness admitted that a picture of Adolf Hitler had stood on his television in his basement. But he claimed it had no political meaning and was merely a remembrance of a neighbor who had died. The picture hadn't bothered Zschäpe or anyone else, he added.

Prosecutors claim that Zschäpe attempted to create a front for herself, Mundlos and Böhnhardt that enabled the neo-Nazi terrorists to plan and perpetrate their attacks without getting caught. She is currently answering to charges that she was a member of the National Socialist Underground, a far-right terrorist organization, and an accomplice in the murder of nine men, mostly of Turkish descent, and in the slaying of a policewoman. She also stands accused of attempted murder relating to bombing attacks conducted in Cologne's old town and in the city's Mühlheim neighborhood, a district with many residents of Turkish origin. Four men who are believed to have provided support to the terror cell are also on trial.

On Nov. 4, 2011, Mundlos and Böhnhardt committed suicide as police closed in after they robbed a bank. The indictment against Zchäpe claims that she then poured gasoline throughout their shared apartment and set it on fire. The subsequent explosion was so forceful that it blew off part of the building's external wall.

'There's a Fire Behind You'

Another witness described a bizarre scene after the explosion. The 31-year-old woman said she drove into Frühlingstrasse, the street where the house was located, in her car and saw the burning roof trusses. "I then stopped because the entire street was filled with smoke," she said, adding that she got out of her car to get a better look. At that moment, Zschäpe came around the corner with two cat carriers in her hands. The witness said she then spoke to Zschäpe, saying, "There's a fire behind you, we need to alert the fire department." Zschäpe then turned around, looking shocked, saying, "My grandmother is still in the house," according to the witness. "Then she turned around and walked back," the witness said.

An 89-year-old woman did in fact live in the building, and she was rescued in time by relatives. But experts from the state office of criminal investigation said the elderly woman had indeed been in danger and that the explosion could have knocked down the wall to her apartment. Prosecutors also accuse Zschäpe of having risked the death of an elderly woman and two carpenters.

For the first time in days, sympathizers from within the right-wing extremist scene could be seen in the courtroom audience on Wednesday, including two men with shaved heads, one of whom had tattoos up to his neck. During one of the breaks in the proceedings he walked up to the divider between the visitors' stand and the defendants and greeted both co-defendant Ralf Wohlleben and his attorney. He did not comment on how he knew Wohlleben. Wohlleben has been charged with being an accomplice to murder for allegedly supplying the murder weapon that was used in the series of killings.

At the start of the trial, as many as 500 police officers provided security, but there are now markedly fewer present, district court president Gerhard Zierl, who is responsible for organizing security measures, told reporters. He said that if the situation changed, more officers could be called in. "We have taken precautions so that all forces can quickly be brought together," he said.


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« Reply #7741 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:41 AM »


Slavery compensation: Caribbean nations propose Mau Mau model

Regional organisation targets British, French and Dutch governments over continuing effects of slavery

Associated Press in Miami
guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 01.51 BST   

Leaders of more than a dozen Caribbean countries are launching a united effort to seek compensation from three European nations for what they say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Caribbean Community, a regional organisation, has taken up the cause of compensation for slavery and the genocide of native peoples and is preparing for what would likely be a drawn-out battle with the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands.

It has engaged the British law firm of Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the so-called Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s.

Lawyer Martyn Day said his first step would probably be to seek a negotiated settlement with the governments of France, Britain and Netherlands along the lines of the British agreement in June to issue a statement of regret and award compensation of £19.9m to the surviving Kenyans.

"I think they would undoubtedly want to try and see if this can be resolved amicably," Day said of the Caribbean countries. "But I think the reason they have hired us is that they want to show that they mean business."

Caricom is creating a reparations commission to press the issue, said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who has been leading the effort.

The legacy of slavery includes widespread poverty and under-development, Gonsalves said. Any settlement should include a formal apology, but contrition alone would not be enough, he said.

"The apology is important but that is wholly insufficient," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "We have to have appropriate recompense."

The notion of forcing the countries that benefited from slavery to pay reparations has been a decades-long quest. Individual countries including Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda already have national commissions.

Earlier this month, leaders from the 14 Caricom nations voted unanimously at a meeting in Trinidad to wage a joint campaign that those involved say would be more ambitious than any previous effort.

Each nation that does not have a national reparations commission agreed to set one up, sending a representative to the regional commission, which would be overseen by prime ministers. They agreed to focus on Britain on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean, France for the slavery in Haiti and the Netherlands for Suriname.

Caribbean officials have not mentioned a compensation figure but Gonsalves and Verene Shepherd, chairwoman of the national reparations commission in Jamaica, both noted that Britain at the time of emancipation in 1834 paid £20m to British planters in the Caribbean, the equivalent of £200bn now.

"Our ancestors got nothing," Shepherd said. "They got their freedom and they were told 'Go develop yourselves'."

The British high commissioner to Jamaica, David Fitton, said in a radio interview on Wednesday the Mau Mau case was not meant to be a precedent and that his government opposed reparations for slavery.

"We don't think the issue of reparations is the right way to address these issues," Fitton said. "It's not the right way to address an historical problem."

In 2007, marking the 200th anniversary of the British prohibition on the transportation of slaves, then prime minister Tony Blair expressed regret for the "unbearable suffering" caused by his country's role in slavery.

After the devastating Haitian earthquake in January 2010, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy was asked about reparations for slavery and the 90m gold francs demanded by Napoleon to recognise the country's independence. Sarkozy acknolwedged the "wounds of colonisation" and pointed out that France had cancelled a ¢56m debt to Paris and approved an aid package that included ¢40m in budget support for the Haitian government.

Gonsalves said much more needed to be done and he hoped to begin an "honest, sober and robust" discussion with the European governments soon, championing the issue when he takes over as chairman of Caricom in January.

"You have to seize the time," he said.


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« Reply #7742 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:43 AM »


Spain's unemployment rate falls

Thursday's data boosts prime minister Mariano Rajoy's claim the economy should exit its two-year recession this quarter

Reuters
The Guardian, Thursday 25 July 2013 16.44 BST   

Spain's unemployment rate has fallen for the first time in two years, figures released on Thursday showed.

The data came as some of the country's biggest firms said business was looking up, boosting the government's claim the economy is climbing out of recession.

The dip in the joblessness – from 27.2% in the first quarter to 26.3% in the second – nonetheless highlighted how far the country has to go to full recovery. Economy minister Luis de Guindos said the level of work were still "totally unacceptable".

Jobs have been the main issue for Spain's economy. The unemployment rate has risen relentlessly since 2011, with some 3.8 million people joining the jobless lines since the first quarter of 2008, the year the global financial crisis erupted and property prices collapsed.

The real estate meltdown left Spanish banks heavily exposed to soured assets and loans, which have since weighed on their balance sheets and soaked up €42bn (£36bn) of European Union aid.

On Thursday, three banks including bailed-out lender Bankia, reported that bad debts were still rising. But they also posted big jumps in first-half profits, on lower writedowns on property assets and trading gains.

Telecoms firms Telefónica and oil major Repsol – two heavyweight Spanish firms with more exposure to foreign economies – also gave encouraging trading updates.

Supported by a central bank report earlier this week showing Spain's economy came close to stablising in the second quarter, Thursday's run of encouraging news added weight to prime minister Mariano Rajoy's belief the economy should exit its two-year recession as soon as the current quarter.

"Even seasonally adjusted (unemployment) data is better than we expected, which is in line with the economic improvements forecast by the Bank of Spain," Angel Laborda, economist at thinktank Funcas, said.

De Guindos repeated the forecast for third quarter growth on Thursday and said he was convinced the worst was over for the economy.

"The Spanish government has undertaken a bitter battle to stabilise growing unemployment, and it seems to be gaining ground," Nancy Curtin, chief investment officer of Close Brothers Asset Management, said in a written note.

Despite government projections, many economists believe the country's second recession in three years is unlikely to end in 2013, and joblessness remains the weakest link.

Seasonal tourism accounted for most of the drop in the latest unemployment rate, and the sector is expected to be strong this year as cash-strapped Europeans look for budget vacation spots while avoiding Egypt and other Middle Eastern troublespots.

But Spain, along with Greece, still has a far greater share of its population out of work than other eurozone states.

Around half of Spain's near six million unemployed have not held a job for more than one year, while 1.8 million homes have no one in work, the data showed.

After a decade of above average economic growth, the long recession prompted hundreds of thousands to leave the country in 2012, including immigrants returning home and Spaniards in search of work elsewhere.


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« Reply #7743 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:45 AM »

France drops law that makes insulting the president a criminal offense

By Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian
Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:44 EDT

Change to law pushed through after conviction of man who held up a sign telling then-president Nicolas Sarkozy to get lost

Being rude to the French president is no longer an offence after parliament amended legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.

Previously any rude remark risked a fine and criminal conviction for “offending the head of state”. But the change was pushed through after criticism from the European court of human rights.

In March, the court ruled that France had violated the right to freedom of expression after giving a criminal conviction to a man holding a cardboard sign telling the then-president Nicolas Sarkozy to get lost.

Hervé Eon, 61, a leftwing activist, held up his sign as Sarkozy’s motorcade drove past during a presidential visit to Laval, western France, in 2008. The small A4-sized cardboard sign did not feature Sarkozy’s name but said simply: “Casse-toi pov’con.”

The line, which loosely means “Get lost, you prat” had been uttered by Sarkozy himself months earlier when a man refused to shake his hand at an agricultural fair, causing media outrage at his non-presidential language and demeanour. It later became a widely used political slogan against the president used by the left on stickers and posters.

Eon, a former social worker, was arrested as soon as he got out his sign.

The French state prosecutor brought a case against him for offence against a head of state, and he was ordered to pay a symbolic fine of €30 and given a criminal conviction. But European human rights court judges found the sign was of a satirical nature and ruled it did not warrant a criminal conviction.

Some French senators warned recently that scrapping the offence of offending the head of state would leave a legal void. So parliamentarians agreed that the president would from now on fall into the same category as ministers and MPs: against whom there is an offence of slander or defamation. This crime is punishable by a fine of up to €45,000. The state prosecutor could open a case but only at the demand of the president.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #7744 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:51 AM »


SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/25/2013 04:00 PM

Broad-Minded?: Is public sex means-tested in Germany?

London Mayor Boris Johnson gave Berlin high praise in a recent column, hailing the city's means-tested fines for public sex. A local official now says that having lower penalties for welfare recipients "divides society."

Berlin is a cool city to visit. It took awhile, but that piece of news has finally managed to spread so widely that even London Mayor Boris Johnson has gotten wind of it. Following a recent trip to the German capital with his family, Johnson penned a column for the Telegraph in which he sings Berlin's praises.

"You look at Berliner's today, and you ask yourself what all the fuss was about, 24 years ago," he writes, referring to pre-reunification concerns harbored by many in Europe in 1989. The War, of course, takes up a significant chunk of the piece, but at the end Johnson writes: "It is emphatically time to forget all that and embrace the new Germany. We have much to learn and to understand."

One particular lesson learned by the mayor during his stay in Berlin, however, has led to a bit of head-scratching in Germany. Namely, Johnson writes somewhat hyperbolically that Berliners "fornicating in their many magnificent parks" is currently the city's "most serious public order problem." But even there, Johnson finds reason to love Berlin: The fines for public sex, after all, are means tested, he notes -- meaning that those on welfare don't have to pay as much should they be caught fornicating in the fresh air.

Is that true? Never one to shy away from a mystery, the tabloid Bild -- often the German protagonist in the occasional tabloid war with British rags -- investigated this week. On Thursday, the paper confirmed that the fine for public sex is €150 ($198) while the unemployed are faced with a penalty as low as €34 ($45).

'Divides Society'

More than that, the Federal Employment Agency, which manages the country's welfare system, is now concerned that the discrepancy could spell trouble for community harmony. "It creates skewed incentives and divides society," the spokeswoman said. "After all, there is only one set of fines for traffic violations." She went on to say that behavior can't be classified by whether someone is on welfare or not.

Johnson would be disappointed. In his piece, he says of the cheaper fines for the unemployed: "If that isn't broad-mindedness, I don't know what is."

But according to recent statistics, it is an issue that Berlin might do well to address. In 2012, there were 234 cases where a fine was levied for violations of the law covering sex in public (but also other minor infractions), twice as many as just three years prior. According to the Berlin tabloid BZ in June, the city's Tiergarten park in the heart of the city and Treptower Park on its eastern edge hosted the greatest number of overly amorous couples.

Still, the London mayor can rest easy. It is only illegal to have sex outdoors if you disturb others by doing so. Couples that take a few extra steps into the woods are unlikely to be disturbed.


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« Reply #7745 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:55 AM »

July 26, 2013

Iran Is Said to Want Direct Talks With U.S. on Nuclear Program

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations, Western officials said Thursday.

In a meeting in early July with the American ambassador in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki suggested that he was relaying a message from Iranian officials and asserted that Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s incoming president, would be serious about any discussions with the United States, according to accounts of the meeting.

Although Mr. Maliki indicated that he had been in touch with confidants of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he did not disclose precisely whom he was dealing with on the Iranian side. Some Western officials remain uncertain whether Iran’s leaders have sought to use Iraq as a conduit or whether the idea is mainly Mr. Maliki’s initiative.

State Department officials declined to comment on Mr. Maliki’s move or what steps the United States might have taken in response. American officials have said since the beginning of the Obama administration that they would be open to direct talks with Iran.

“Iraq is a partner of the United States and we are in regular conversations with Iraqi officials about a full range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran,” said Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman. “As we have repeatedly said, we are open to direct talks with Iran in order to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

Gary Samore, who served as the senior aide on nonproliferation issues at the National Security Council during President Obama’s first term in office, said that it was plausible that Iran would use Iraq to send a message about its willingness to discuss nuclear issues.

“The Iranians see Maliki as somebody they have some trust in,” said Mr. Samore, who is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. “From Maliki’s standpoint, it would serve a number of different purposes. He does not want to be squeezed between Washington and Tehran.”

In a separate move on Thursday, the State and Treasury Departments announced that the United States was expanding the list of medical devices, like dialysis machines, that could be sold to Iran without a license.

In a conference call with reporters, David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that the move was intended to “accelerate trade” and address humanitarian needs in Iran. The announcement was also seen by many observers as a good-will gesture before Mr. Rouhani prepares to take office in Tehran on Aug. 4.

Direct talks have the potential to ratchet down some of the pressure on President Obama over one of his greatest foreign policy challenges, the buildup of Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Obama has said that he will not permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon and has asserted that the use of military force is an option. Israeli officials have staked out a far tougher position, asserting that Iran should not be allowed to have the ability to build a weapon — and that the United States should do more to convince the Iranians that its threat to use force is credible. Israel has not ruled out military action of its own.

International sanctions have taken a serious toll on the Iranian economy and have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table, but have not yet extracted significant concessions from Iran on its nuclear program. For years, the United States and its partners — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have met on and off with Iranian officials in a dialogue that has become known as the “P5 plus 1” talks.

Nonproliferation experts continue to argue that it is difficult to make major headway in such a committeelike forum, and that if progress is to be made, it will have to happen in private one-on-one discussions between Iranian officials and the Obama administration.

Whether Iran is genuinely interested in such talks, however, has been a subject of debate. In 2009, William J. Burns, then the under secretary of state for political affairs, met with Saeed Jalili, the Iranian nuclear negotiator, on the margins of the “P5 plus 1” talks. They agreed in principle that a portion of Iran’s enriched uranium could be used to make fuel for Tehran’s research center, which would preclude that material from being further enriched to make nuclear weapons.

But that deal fell through after Ayatollah Khamenei objected, and there have been no direct talks since. In a meeting this month with Iran’s departing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei was sharply critical of the American stance.

“The Americans are unreliable and illogical, and are not honest in their approach,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. But he also said that he did not oppose talks “on certain issues.”

Even if direct talks are agreed to they are almost certain to be tough.

“The establishment of a bilateral channel is a necessary but not sufficient condition for coming to an agreement,” Mr. Samore said. “They want a nuclear weapons capability, and we want to deny them a nuclear weapons capability. Finding a compromise between those two objectives is going to be very difficult.”

Mr. Maliki, Western officials said, is not the only Iraqi politician who has encouraged a dialogue between the United States and Iran. Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of a major Shiite party in Iraq, is also said to have made that point.

During the war in Iraq, Iraqi officials also urged direct dealings between the United States and Iran.

Talks were held in Baghdad, but they were focused on the conflict in Iraq and Iran’s support for Shiite militias there — not the nuclear question — and got nowhere.

Mr. Maliki’s government appears to have been aligned with Iran on some issues, like its support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Iranian aircraft have ferried huge quantities of arms through Iraqi airspace. Iraqi officials have asserted that they do not have the means to stop the flights, but Mr. Maliki has also been concerned that Mr. Assad’s fall will lead to an escalation of Sunni challenges to his government in Iraq.

American officials have repeatedly said that Mr. Maliki is not a pawn of Iran and that the United States should try to expand its influence in Iraq, including by selling arms.


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« Reply #7746 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:59 AM »


Cambodian opposition power figure Mu Sochua relishes election fight

Outspoken female MP takes battle to Hun Sen's ruling party as Cambodia goes to the polls

Kate Hodal, south-east Asia correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 08.23 BST   

She is brave, eloquent and defiant in a country where government critics have been detained, imprisoned and sometimes killed for speaking out. Now Mu Sochua, Cambodia's leading female opposition MP, is once again calling for change as she campaigns ahead of national elections on Sunday.

Her calls are falling on highly receptive ears: the opposition party was given a boost by the recent return from self-exile of its French-educated firebrand leader, Sam Rainsy.

With their leader back, the Cambodia National Rescue party has a renewed fervour, promising free healthcare, education and pensioner rights; an increase in factory and civil servant wages; an end to illegal land grabs and forced evictions; and lowered prices for rice, electricity and petrol – incentives that have the potential to sway a huge chunk of the 9 million voters.

No one expects the CNRP to win outright: Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's party (CPP) holds 90 of the 123 National Assembly seats and won the past two elections by landslides despite claims of fraud and irregularities – but it may make its greatest strides yet.

Their weapon, says Sochua, is Cambodia's youth: a growing media-savvy population who depend on each other and the internet to share news and information that is recognisably absent from state-run TV and radio. Supporters now openly wear CNRP stickers and T-shirts, and use Facebook to discuss politics and hold meetings with one another, she added. But such openness has also had its drawbacks.

"There is a noticeable element of political discrimination against opposition supporters, who are targeted by village chiefs," Sochua told the Guardian by phone as she campaigned in Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang.

"The youth, when politically active, show it ... So the chief – who is the eye and ear of the ruling party – gives their names [to the government] and their names are deleted [from the voter list]."

The CNRP claims that 1 million eligible voters have found their names deleted in the lead up to the election, from opposition supporters to migrant workers and anyone in between.

There are fears of vote-rigging, too. A recent analysis of the National Election Commission list shows a number of irregularities, among them duplicates of 25,000 names in Phnom Penh alone.

Despite Rainsy's triumphant return last Friday – made possible by a pardon from Cambodia's king for convictions that would have seen him jailed for 11 years – he has since been barred from running by the NEC.

Rainsy has appealed against the decision and is still hopeful it could be overturned in time, although the NEC is believed by critics to be in favour of the People's party.

"This is not an election contest if there is only one boxer in the ring," Rainsy said. "Mr Hun Sen's victory under such circumstances would look ridiculous and lead to trouble."

But Rainsy stressed that it was unlikely Hun Sen – who has ruled for the past 14 years – would allow him to stand, a move that could lead to trouble.

"Because there will be no free and fair election, and there is no democratic or peaceful way to channel the popular discontent, when people – especially the youth – realise their votes have been stolen, there could be an explosion of anger and protests," he said, warning that "anything is possible".

Rainsy is not the only one to warn of potential violence during this election. Hun Sen has also spent the past few months cautioning Cambodians that a vote against the CPP could lead to war, or even the return of the Khmer Rouge.

Analysts have warned that racialised rhetoric – particularly anti-Vietnamese statements made by the opposition – could also cause trouble if not checked.

Campaigners, including US politicians, have called for America to cut its $73m aid to Cambodia if Hun Sen wins yet another term, a move the opposition supports.

"This is not about the mercy of aid, this is about the quality of aid, because what is at stake is a whole nation, the lives of so many millions of people," says Sochua. "If you continue to back a leader who does not put human rights and democracy on his agenda, at the end of the day, what is at stake? Democracy is at stake."

Sochua, who has invited comparisons to Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi for her bravery and outspokenness, this week won a complaint against a People's party commune chief and has faced a defamation suit from Hun Sen himself – proof, she says, of her quest to see a different Cambodia.

"The ruling party knows that I will fight any threat, and I have done it again and again," she says with a dismissive laugh. "The message is, 'Don't touch me – if you touch me, you'll be done.' That doesn't mean I'm off the list of those who want to target me, but I don't choose to live in fear – fear won't change anything."

***************

Supporters mob Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy on return from exile

Cambodia National Rescue party leader returns after royal pardon but faces huge electoral odds in challenging Hun Sen

Associated Press in Phnom Penh
guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 July 2013 05.05 BST   

Thousands of cheering supporters greeted Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy as he returned from self-imposed exile on Friday to spearhead his party's election campaign against the prime minister, Hun Sen.

"I have come home to rescue the country," Rainsy told the crowd gathered at Phnom Penh airport, after kneeling to kiss the ground.

"I am happy to be here!" Rainsy told the crowd speaking through a microphone as the supporters chanted, "We want change!"

The French-educated leader of the Cambodia National Rescue party has been in exile since 2009 to avoid serving 11 years in prison on charges many consider politically motivated.

Rainsy, 64, received a royal pardon last week at the request of Hun Sen, his bitter rival, whose ruling party is almost certain to maintain its grip on power in the general election on 28 July.

Hun Sen has held power for 28 years, and his party holds 90 of the 123 seats in the national assembly. The prime minister recently said he intended to wield power until he was 74, having earlier promised to stay in control until he was 90.

Rainsy is a charismatic and fiery speaker, qualities that have landed him in trouble before. He is expected to draw large crowds as he embarks on a whirlwind campaign tour that his party says will take him to over a dozen provinces in a week.

He is likely to push hard on issues of corruption and land grabbing, with tens of thousands of Cambodians displaced from their homes and farms under what are often shady circumstances.

Critics of the government claim the election will be neither free nor fair, arguing that Hun Sen's regime manipulates the levers of government and influences the judiciary to weaken the opposition.

Last month, 28 opposition MPs were expelled from parliament when a committee run by Hun Sen's party ruled they had broken the law because they had originally won their seats in the name of the Sam Rainsy party, but were campaigning under the recently established Cambodia National Rescue party, into which it was merged.

They can still run in the upcoming election, but without parliamentary immunity. Immunity from arrest is a great benefit in Cambodia's elections, and those without it are at risk of being charged with defamation for remarks seen critical of Hun Sen and his government.

"My return is no more than a step on a long journey towards achieving self-determination for Cambodia," Rainsy wrote after he was pardoned. He criticised the official election body as unsupportive of democracy.

"The mere fact of my return does not create a free and fair election for Cambodia," he said.



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« Reply #7747 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:04 AM »

July 25, 2013

Obama and Vietnam’s Leader Pledge Deeper Ties

By MARK LANDLER
IHT

WASHINGTON — Bearing a copy of a letter from Ho Chi Minh to Harry S. Truman, the president of Vietnam met President Obama on Thursday and pledged to deepen trade and military ties with the United States even as they tangled over human rights.

It was the first visit of a Vietnamese leader to the White House during the Obama administration, and it took on an even greater strategic resonance, given Mr. Obama’s determination to increase the United States’ presence in Asia.

But the visit of Vietnam’s president, Truong Tan Sang, follows a difficult period in which Vietnam’s Communist government has cracked down at home, imprisoning bloggers, religious leaders and dissidents; curtailing labor laws; and again taking control of what one Vietnam expert called the “commanding heights” of the economy.

Mr. Obama referred gently to the abuses, saying: “All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain.”

Mr. Sang, sitting next to him in the Oval Office, mentioned the legacy of the Vietnam War and said that “we still have differences” concerning his country’s human rights record.

Human rights advocates and union leaders complained that given Vietnam’s deteriorating record, Mr. Sang should not have been rewarded with an Oval Office visit, especially one lasting an hour and 15 minutes and causing Mr. Obama to delay his departure for Jacksonville, Fla., where he spoke about his economic agenda at the city’s seaport.

“The administration hoped that opening trade negotiations and a military dialogue would be an incentive for Vietnam to change, to soften its authoritarian edge,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s clear that hope was misplaced. They should ask themselves: Why are they sticking with a strategy that hasn’t worked?”

Labor leaders, including James P. Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters union, urged Mr. Obama to suspend negotiations over a regional free trade agreement until Vietnam promised to improve its treatment of workers. And a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers called on the president to press Vietnam harder on human rights.

Displaying photographs of religious leaders who had been beaten by the Vietnamese authorities, Representative Ed Royce, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday, “In Vietnam, the government continues to round up anyone who continues to speak the word ‘democracy’ or speak the words ‘human rights.’ ”

Administration officials said, however, that it made more sense for Mr. Obama to raise the issue of human rights, which they said he did privately and during his comments after the meeting, than to spurn the leader of a country that is central to his policy of re-engaging in Asia.

The administration used a similar argument to justify Mr. Obama’s invitation in May to the president of Myanmar, Thein Sein, for a White House visit. Although there is evidence of backsliding on democratic reforms by Myanmar’s leaders since the United States normalized relations last year, officials said Mr. Obama prodded the president to do more.

“For the Vietnamese, the idea of their president going to the White House and seeing President Obama is a huge thing,” said Thomas J. Vallely, the former director of the Vietnam program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “Obama has influence in how Vietnam is going to rethink how it’s going to be a modern country.”

The administration’s engagement with Vietnam has been amplified by Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who has traveled there repeatedly since the war. On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was the host of a luncheon for Mr. Sang at the State Department, during which he pointed out that Mr. Sang was a guerrilla leader south of Saigon in 1969, the same time Mr. Kerry was a Navy officer in the Mekong Delta.

For the administration, the looming shadow in all this is China, whose tentacles reach throughout Asia. The White House, seeking to reassert an American role, is negotiating a regional free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Vietnam and eight other nations, though not China.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Sang both pledged to complete the pact by the end of this year, a goal that some trade experts say is ambitious given that Japan has just joined the group.

The United States has also waded into increasingly bitter disagreements involving China, Vietnam and others over disputed islands in the South China Sea. The administration has insisted that Beijing and its neighbors resolve their competing claims under international law.

On Thursday, Mr. Sang thanked Mr. Obama for “the U.S. support for our stance in this matter.”

Mr. Obama’s embrace of the Vietnamese leader was important, administration officials said, given the hours the American leader lavished on China’s president, Xi Jinping, at an informal summit meeting last month in California. While China remains the fulcrum of America’s engagement in Asia, the White House is determined to build relationships elsewhere in the region.

Despite the formality of the Oval Office setting, there were unscripted moments. When the official interpreter said Mr. Obama had accepted Mr. Sang’s invitation to visit Vietnam, Mr. Sang corrected him, saying Mr. Obama had pledged to “try his best” to get there.

And as reporters shouted questions during a picture-taking session, Mr. Obama was overheard telling Mr. Sang that “reporters are the same everywhere,” according to a pool reporter in the Oval Office.

Before the two parted, Mr. Obama referred to the letter that Mr. Sang had shown him. In it, the president said, Ho Chi Minh expressed his hope to President Truman that Vietnam could cooperate with the United States.

“President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress,” Mr. Obama said.


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« Reply #7748 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:08 AM »


China's coastguard confronts Japanese ships near disputed islands

China says its ships 'sternly declared' sovereignty over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China

Associated Press in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 08.55 BST   

China says ships from its newly formed coastguard confronted Japanese patrol vessels on Friday in waters surrounding East China Sea islands claimed by both sides.

The State Oceanic Administration that oversees the service says four of its ships "sternly declared" China's sovereignty over the islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, and demanded they leave the area. The uninhabited archipelago is controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by Beijing.

It was not clear if any action resulted from the Chinese declaration. Such sovereignty declarations are usually made by hailing Japanese boats by radio and loudspeaker, as well as flashing shipboard signs.

Ships from Chinese civilian agencies have maintained a steady presence in the area since tensions spiked in September following Japan's purchase of some of the islands from their private owners.

Those vessels are being replaced by ships from the coastguard, which was formally inaugurated on Monday and merges the resources of four former agencies. China says the move was intended to boost its ability to enforce its maritime claims, upping the stakes in an increasingly tense competition for marine territory and resources in waters off its eastern and south-eastern coasts.

Chinese coastguard ships have also been spotted this week at Mischief Reef off the western Philippine coast, according to a confidential Philippine government report obtained by the Associated Press. China occupied the vast reef in 1995, sparking protests from rival claimant Manila.

China says virtually the entire South China Sea and its islands belong to it, a claim based on alleged historical precedents that are strongly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam and others.

While Beijing has mainly used civilian agencies to patrol its claims, the new coastguard gives it greater latitude to do so by centralising operations in a single body. The body is nominally under civilian control, but closely co-ordinates with the increasingly formidable Chinese navy, which recently added an aircraft carrier to its fleet.

Coastguard ships are mainly repurposed naval or commercial vessels and are equipped with light armaments such as machine guns and deck cannons, unlike in the past when most of China's patrol craft had no weaponry.

Japan has already expressed renewed unease about China's military and maritime activity near the disputed islands, and on Friday released a defence paper calling for an increase in its surveillance capability, possibly including the use of drones capable of wide-range, high-altitude monitoring around the clock.

The paper also proposed creating a marine force to defend the disputed East China Sea islands.

Japan scrambled jets on Wednesday to keep watch on a Chinese Y-8 early warning plane flying over international waters between Japan's southern Okinawa island and an outer island relatively close to the disputed area in the East China Sea.

The Chinese Defence Ministry issued a statement defending the right of its aircraft to operate in the area.

Around the same time the Chinese fighter jet was sighted, Japan's coastguard reported the appearance of the four coastguard vessels near the disputed islands.

Japan's coastguard said the four Chinese craft were seen early on Wednesday just outside Japanese territorial waters.

****************

July 25, 2013

Chinese Search for Infant Formula Goes Global

By EDWARD WONG
IHT

HONG KONG — The group of 40 mainland Chinese tourists made all the requisite shopping purchases on a recent trip to Europe: silk scarves, Swiss watches, Louis Vuitton handbags.

And baby milk powder, of course. Loads of it.

Rushing shelves at a supermarket in Germany, Chinese shoppers stuffed a half-dozen large cans into bags, one of the tourists said. “One woman told me, ‘If it was easier to carry, we would buy more; it’s good and cheap here,’ ” recalled the tourist, Zhang Yuhua, 60, who bought two cans.

Chinese are buying up infant milk powder everywhere they can get it, outside of China. And that has led to shortages in at least a half-dozen countries, from the Netherlands to New Zealand. The lack of supply is a reminder of how the consumption patterns of Chinese — and their rising food and environmental safety concerns — can have far-reaching impacts on critical daily goods around the world.

Big retail chains like Boots and Sainsbury’s in Britain now limit individuals to two cans of infant formula per purchase, and customs officials in Hong Kong are enforcing a two-can, or four-pound, restriction on travelers taking it out of the territory — with violators facing fines of up to $6,500 and two years in prison.

Officials in Hong Kong are treating baby milk smugglers like criminals who traffic in more illicit kinds of powder. In April, the customs police held a news conference to announce that a two-day “antismuggling operation” had resulted in the breaking up of three “syndicates,” the arrest of 10 people and the seizure of nearly 220 pounds of formula worth $3,500.

On the mainland, Chinese parents’ obsession with foreign milk powder, which stems from distrust of domestic brands, is stirring a nationalistic “buy China” movement among some officials.

This month, a government agency announced it had begun an investigation into price-fixing in the baby milk powder industry; targets of the inquiry included some of the biggest foreign companies. Officials also announced stricter inspection procedures throughout the industry, and editorials by state-run news organizations said they hoped Chinese powder makers would improve their standards so as to “defeat” the foreign companies.

Travelers who manage to arrive in China with large amounts of baby milk powder must elude Chinese customs officials, who are now enforcing strict limits on formula imports.

“Milk powder safety is the issue of No. 1 concern among pregnant women and new-baby households,” said Allen Wang, chief executive and co-founder of Babytree.com, the largest online forum for Chinese parents. “People are asking friends, ‘What do you recommend? How do you store up foreign brands? Can you help me if you travel overseas?’ ”

Worries over domestic infant formula surged in 2008, when six babies died and more than 300,000 children fell ill from drinking milk products that had been tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical.

In response, many Chinese turned to buying imported infant milk powder. But in the years since, there have been occasional reports of distributors or retailers in China adulterating foreign-made powder with Chinese formula, and so many Chinese consumers have begun getting their powder directly from overseas.

A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 41 percent of Chinese said last year that food safety was a very serious problem, compared with just 12 percent in 2008.

“How can we still trust mainland-made food after reading all these horrendous stories on food safety issues?” said Tina, 28, a Guangzhou resident and the mother of a baby girl. “We are the parents of our children, and nobody can accuse us for just wanting the best for our babies. It’s not that we don’t love our country — we just dare not take the risk.”

Tina, who spoke on the condition that only her English name be used, says she gets 80 percent of her formula through the mail from relatives in New Zealand. And family members go about once a month to Hong Kong to buy diapers and other baby supplies. “Most of my friends get others to carry in baby formula from abroad,” she said.

In China, more mothers are breast-feeding because of the recent scandals, but formula remains popular for various reasons, including aggressive marketing by formula makers. Mr. Wang said Babytree.com’s surveys show about two-thirds of mainland households with babies use formula, and foreign brands command a 60 percent market share. Beijing News reported in May that statistics showed the amount of foreign milk powder that China imports leapt to 310,000 tons in 2009, more than twice the amount in 2008, when the scandal hit. In 2011, it was 528,000 tons.

Prices have risen with demand. Both Mr. Wang and the online edition of People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, said the prices of foreign-brand formula sold in China had increased by at least 30 percent since 2008. Some 28-ounce cans cost more than $60.

For safety and price reasons, Chinese increasingly want to buy from someone in the source country. One popular outlet is the Internet — entrepreneurs running online stores ask people they know overseas to mail formula to China. Mainland parents also ask friends or relatives going abroad to mail or bring back formula.

Such was the case with Zhao Jun, 30, who in May asked a friend going on a work trip to Britain to buy cans of a British brand, Cow & Gate, for her baby girl. “In my circles, every mom I know orders milk powder from overseas or buys it from Hong Kong,” said Ms. Zhao, an editor at Tencent, a Chinese Web portal.

Since that first foray into foreign formula, Ms. Zhao has been ordering plenty more Cow & Gate. Online, she finds Chinese students or homemakers abroad who charge for the service of buying formula and mailing it to China. “Usually I buy six cans at a time,” she said.

Ms. Zhao said the recent limits at British retail chains meant that she had to pay those entrepreneurs more of a surcharge, and her friends returning from work trips bring back fewer cans.

Parents are asking why manufacturers cannot increase production to meet demand, and some say the makers might be encouraging the foreign shopping limits to force Chinese to buy the same products at higher prices in China. The International Formula Council, an association of manufacturers, declined an interview request. Mead Johnson Nutrition, an American maker, said in a statement that although it had “strategically located” plants around the world, there were also “uncharacteristic fluctuations in consumer demand — such as the situation in Hong Kong earlier this year.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Opie, food director of the British Retail Consortium, said the limits at retail stores were “being done at the request of manufacturers.”

The government-mandated limit in Hong Kong went into effect March 1. There are large Chinese- and English-language signs on both sides of the busy Hong Kong-Shenzhen border crossing at Lo Wu that warn: “Departing with excessive powdered formula commits an offense.”

At Lung Fung Garden, a street mall that is one subway stop from Lo Wu, employees and managers of pharmacies displaying towers of formula cans said that business had plummeted.

“Before, we would sell out of our stock,” said one man at the Lung Fung Pharmacy. “I feel the government should get rid of the two-can limit.”

Mainland buyers were still swarming the mall, and most appeared to be sticking to the two-can limit. One woman, though, stuffed three cans of Friso Gold formula, at $25 each, into a black duffel bag.

Amy Qin and Shi Da contributed research from Beijing, and Hilda Wang from Hong Kong.

***********

July 25, 2013

Killing Puts Focus on Concerns Over China’s One-Child Policy

By KEITH BRADSHER
IHT

HONG KONG — A man with a knife killed two government officials at a family planning bureau and injured four other people, the Chinese state news media reported on Wednesday, in an episode that drew wide attention in China because of continuing controversy over the country’s one-child policy.

The man, identified only as having the surname He, entered the bureau on Tuesday morning in Dongxing, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southernmost China, and began attacking people there with a knife, the state news media reported.

A police officer in Dongxing confirmed in a telephone interview on Wednesday that an attack had taken place and that a suspect had been detained. The suspect had been certified by the government since 2010 as disabled because of mental illness, said the police officer, who declined to identify herself or elaborate.

According to the state news media, the man had gone to the bureau on Monday to register his fourth child for permanent residency, but had been refused the registration because he had not paid a fine for having multiple children. Registration is needed to send a child to school and to qualify for many other government benefits.

The one-child policy is the target of growing criticism in China partly because of the government’s uncompromising enforcement, including forcing women to have abortions as well as issuing heavy fines on families who have more than one child. The policy has also begun to shrink the number of young workers in the labor force, putting sharp upward pressure on factory wages while raising concerns about how to accommodate and financially support the steady growth in the number of elderly dependents.



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« Reply #7749 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:25 AM »


Egyptian army questions Mohamed Morsi over alleged Hamas terror links

News of overthrown president's alleged help in 2011 attacks comes as showdown looms between Muslim Brotherhood and opponents

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 11.05 BST   

The overthrown Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, is under investigation for aiding Hamas attacks on Egyptian security facilities during Egypt's 2011 revolution, state media reported on Friday, in the first official update on his status since the Islamist was forced from office and detained incommunicado by the Egyptian army on 3 July.

The news came as Egypt held its breath for a showdown on Friday between supporters of the army and Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Millions are expected to fill Egypt's streets on Friday in support of army chief General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who asked on Wednesday for Egyptians to give him a mandate to deal with what he termed terrorism. His speech was seen by sceptics as a thinly veiled attempt to win popular support for a violent crackdown on Morsi supporters. Much of Egyptian media has spent the last month depicting the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies as terrorists. At least seven channels have suspended normal programming to encourage their audience to back Sisi.

With Sisi enjoying widespread popularity, millions are likely to heed his call on Friday by turning out across Egypt – in particular in Cairo's Tahrir Square – to show their backing for his actions. But their demonstrations also coincide with 35 marches across the capital planned by the Muslim Brotherhood, raising the possibility of serious factional fighting. The Muslim Brotherhood's leader, Mohamed Badie, heightened tensions further on Thursday by claiming that Sisi's overthrow of Morsi – following days of mass protests – was a more heinous crime than the destruction of Islam's most sacred shrine.

According to state media, Morsi is under investigation for colluding with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, during the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak. It is alleged that Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures were rescued from jail during the revolution with help from Hamas, and then helped the Palestinians attack Egyptian police facilities during Mubarak's removal. The Muslim Brotherhood says the fugitives left with the help of locals – and that Hamas had no role in the 2011 uprising.

"It's laughable," said Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, reacting to the news. "It's every crime that you would think of if you were looking at the 2011 revolution through the eyes of Hosni Mubarak. It's retaliation from the Mubarak state."

Haddad's argument spoke to the belief that Morsi's overthrow has enabled the return of Mubarak-era officials and institutions sidelined by the 2011 revolution.

The decision by Egypt's judiciary to focus their investigations against Morsi on allegations from before his presidency began, rather than on human rights violations that occurred during the presidency itself, indicates that they may be wary of implicating state institutions such as the police, who were also complicit in the torture and killing of protesters under his tenure.

Since Morsi's overthrow, parts of Egypt have been hit regularly by violent protests and counter-protests by those supportive and opposed to his rule. More than 200 Egyptians have already died in clashes between Morsi supporters, opponents and security forces since protests against the ex-president began in late June. Contrary to local media reports, which blame the Brotherhood almost entirely for the unrest, all sides have been party to violence – not least the state. On 8 July, police and soldiers massacred 51 pro-Morsi supporters at a rally outside a military compound in east Cairo.

In turn, Morsi's opponents claim his armed supporters have started other fatal fights – in particular while marching provocatively through neighbourhoods south of Tahrir Square, the cradle of anti-Morsi dissent.

The fighting accompanies a surge in militancy in Sinai – long considered a hotbed of extremism – and a rise in sectarian attacks on Christians in southern Egypt.

Sisi's callout this week is seen as an attempt to get the Brotherhood to leave the streets. Brotherhood leaders are frightened of doing so because they fear an escalation of the current crackdown against senior figures within their group, as exemplified by Friday's charges against Morsi.

Leaving the streets without securing Morsi's return to presidency – the Brotherhood's core albeit perhaps delusional demand – would also cost them significant credibility among supporters.

"It means doing the thing that the Brotherhood can't and won't do right now – giving up their claims to legitimacy," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha centre, and an expert on political Islam.

"They've been telling their supporters that legitimacy is something worth dying for. They can't just change their minds overnight."

***********

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/25/2013 07:22 PM

Egyptian Politician: 'The Brotherhood Knows the End Is Coming'

Egypt has been shaken by daily clashes since the recent coup. In an interview, leftist Egyptian politician Mamduoh Habashi explains why the military intervention was good for the country and his belief that the Muslim Brotherhood is on its way out.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Habashi, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the toppling of Mohammed Morsi a "serious setback for democracy." How would you describe it?

Mamduoh Habashi: Mr. Westerwelle has a different understanding of democracy than I do. For me, democracy is the will of the people, and this blatantly manifested itself in a tremendous mass movement, the largest Egypt has ever seen. For Westerwelle, on the other hand, democracy appears to be something purely formal. For him, this has solely to do with the 2012 vote, despite the fact that the presidential election at the time was anything but clean.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were the elections manipulated?

Habashi: Definitely. First, there was no real election oversight. Every institution was controlled by the military, and the army very much wanted to prevent a representative of the revolution from being elected. With candidates like (Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister) Ahmed Shafiq and Morsi, they thought the things would tilt in their favor. Additionally, the Islamists invested a lot of money in the campaign and bought votes. No other political group could keep up.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But internationally the elections were seen as exemplary.

Habashi: Most Egyptians felt they had been cheated out of their revolution, but they still accepted Morsi's victory. It wasn't a clear victory, though. Morsi had only a razor thin majority. His presidency was characterized by unbelievable arrogance and audacity. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood paid even less attention to the people's hardships than Mubarak.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And that's why the military had to intervene on July 3?

Habashi: The Egyptian military did what it had to do. There was no other option, because millions of people wanted the Brotherhood to be stripped of power. What was the alternative -- to look on as democracy was undermined and destroyed? Do you know what people here say? They compare it to the purchase of preserved food that is supposed to last for four years. Imagine opening up the can to find that after just half a year, it has gone bad. What would you do? Eat it anyway or throw out the can?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the same time, since Morsi was ousted there have been fresh protests and attacks. Egypt has become more dangerous.

Habashi: Of course, many Islamists are radicalizing and turning to violence. That doesn't mean, however, that the country is sinking into chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood's popularity is sinking rapidly. Morsi supporters have never gotten more than 100,000 people onto the streets, whereas his opponents have drawn several million.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Muslim Brotherhood still believe it can turn the tide in its favor?

Habashi: No, the leaders of the Brotherhood know the end is coming. At a certain point, they will negotiate with the interim government and the military, but first they want to get as much out of it as they can.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Europeans and the Americans have called on both sides to reconcile. Do you see any chance of this happening?

Habashi: What kind of reconciliation are we talking about? The Islamists are hardly interested in any kind of sustainable reconciliation. They are digging in their heels, unwilling to let go of their totalitarian ideology. A non-secular state according to Islamist ideology, which would inevitably discriminate against those with other religious beliefs, can never be a democratic one. The mainstream media often refer to the post-apartheid struggle in South Africa in this context. But the example is totally wrong. In South Africa, the white minority very clearly renounced its apartheid policies. That was the absolute prerequisite for reconciliation. The Muslim Brotherhood lacks that kind of insight.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You referred to the fact that, initially at least, the Brotherhood and the military cooperated successfully. What went wrong?

Habashi: The military leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood had a clear deal stipulating that the generals would maintain all privileges and would not have to answer to any institution and that, in turn, the Islamists would be allowed to rule the country as they saw fit. At first, both sides upheld the deal. But as dissatisfaction with Morsi grew, the military could not remain inactive.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After the downfall of Mubarak, revolutionaries had significant difficulties dealing with the military council. Why do you think things will go better this time?

Habashi: The military leadership has no interest in actually ruling the country. They would prefer to leave that to others. In 2011, they had no choice, because there actually was a power vacuum left behind after they sacrificed Mubarak and his clique. However, I will admit that the current revolt is comprised not only of revolutionaries, but also of members of the old regime. The coalition against Morsi spans from leftists to liberals to nationalists and right up to important military officials.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, the interim government currently in place is partly made up of the very individuals who were the target of protests in 2011.

Habashi: Yes, the interim government clearly is not a product of the revolution. However, it still represents a huge leap forward because we can expect that it will uphold the rule of law. And it is comprised of experts who truly understand something about economics, justice and agriculture. I anticipate that the most pressing problems will be addressed. There is hope again -- and there wasn't any during Morsi's last days.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think it is right that Morsi is still being detained at an undisclosed location? The European Union is demanding his release.

Habashi: Public prosecutors are still investigating him. At issue is the case of a jailbreak that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood was also involved in. There are even eyewitness reports. And that is just one of many allegations. There are lists establishing how Morsi's minions were given real estate either for free or at rock-bottom prices. But of course court procedures against Morsi also have to be fair and transparent. The justice system cannot be used to exact revenge.

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth

***********

Egypt’s wheat problem: how Morsi jeopardized the bread supply

By Reuters
Friday, July 26, 2013 7:50 EDT

The biggest mistake deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi made during his year in power was dramatically reducing wheat imports, according to Mohamed Abu Shadi, the country’s new minister of supplies.

Lack of money and a quixotic attempt at making Egypt self-sufficient spurred the decline, say officials familiar with the matter. Mursi dreamt of making Egypt grow all its own wheat and allowed imported stocks to fall to precariously low levels. It hurt both the country’s wheat stocks and Mursi’s government.

With a quarter of Egypt’s 84 million people living below the poverty line of $1.65 a day, millions depend on subsidized bread that sells for less than 1 U.S. cent per loaf. That supply relies on foreign wheat.

The country is the world’s largest wheat importer, bringing in about 10 million tonnes a year, around half its annual consumption. Keeping the system running smoothly was vital when Mursi, backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, took over as president in June 2012.

Mursi appointed Bassem Ouda, a 43-year-old engineer, as minister of supplies. Ouda, who took office on January 6, said Egypt’s $3 billion program for subsidized bread would be his top priority. However, he and Mursi promptly began talking about Egypt becoming self-sufficient by more than doubling its wheat production to meet its needs of over 18 million tonnes a year; at the same time they made big reductions in wheat imports and began eating through stocks.

In May, Mursi was quoted during a festival to celebrate the harvest season at a farm near the northern city of Alexandria as saying: “By God’s will, in two years we will be achieving more than 80 percent of our needs, and seek in four years not to import wheat.” It was a an ambitious target; critics called it foolhardy.

“Many people were disconcerted and unhappy with the government for making statements that we would become self-sufficient,” said Adel Beshai, professor of economics at Cairo’s American University. “Every villager knows we cannot become self-sufficient, any illiterate farmer could tell you we could not be self-sufficient, so people felt they were being lied to.”

While Egypt is one of the oldest agricultural civilizations, once the granary of the Roman Empire, it can no longer feed its modern population, which is mostly crammed into the fertile Nile valley and delta, a narrow strip surrounded by huge areas of arid land. Egyptian agriculture is almost entirely dependent on irrigation with more than 90 percent of the country desert.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Egypt’s latest harvest at 8.5 million tonnes of wheat. The subsidized bread program alone requires around 9 million tonnes of wheat. Local wheat is low in gluten so it is mixed with foreign wheat in roughly equal parts to produce flour suitable for making bread. Much of what remains of the Egyptian crop is consumed on farms.

A lack of funds also played a part in Egypt’s failure to import wheat, according to a government source familiar with the matter. As it faced economic crisis, the Islamist government began exploring alternative methods of procuring wheat.

“They were looking at barter deals for oranges and potatoes,” said a second source with experience of the inner workings of GASC, the state grain buying agency, adding that Russia imports a lot of Egyptian potatoes and oranges and is a key supplier of wheat.

The result was inaction. “This was an extension of what was happening in the rest of the ministries and the rest of the country,” said the government source.

On July 10, days after Mursi was ousted and Ouda resigned, Ouda said government stocks were 3.5 million tonnes, including 500,000 tonnes of foreign wheat. This compared with 4.9 million tonnes on July 1 last year, including 1.2 million tonnes of imported wheat.

The government source said that the risk of shortages could be reversed with proper management: “All you need is speedy decisions to enter the market at the right times.”

(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi; Editing By Richard Woods)


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« Reply #7750 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:27 AM »

July 25, 2013

Second Opposition Leader Assassinated in Tunisia

By CARLOTTA GALL
IHT

TUNIS — With a brazen hail of bullets, gunmen assassinated a prominent opposition leader on Thursday as his family watched, inciting nationwide outrage and exposing a deepening political divide in Tunisia, the last bastion of relative stability among the Arab countries convulsed by revolutionary upheavals over the past two years.

The assassination of the opposition leader, Mohamed Brahmi, was the second time in five months that a leading liberal politician was fatally shot. Many suspected that Islamist extremists were responsible and warned that they threatened the kind of pluralistic democracy envisioned in Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, which inspired the Arab Spring revolutions.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Interior Ministry building, blaming the ruling Islamist party and its followers for Mr. Brahmi’s killing and shouting for the government to go. Scores of relatives, party members and supporters draped in the Tunisian flag arrived at the entrance of the hospital in the southwestern suburb where Mr. Brahmi’s body lay.

Tunisian news media accounts said Mr. Brahmi, 58, had been shot outside his home, an attack witnessed by his wife and children, in the middle of the day by two men on a motorcycle who escaped. Although the accounts of the precise version of events differed, the audacity of the assassination amplified the outrage, as many Tunisians feel the government has failed to deliver on law and order and allowed radical Islamists a license to act with impunity.

Mr. Brahmi’s daughter told the Mosaique FM radio station that her father had received a call on his cellphone, ran outside the house toward his car and was shot.

Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that leads the government, denied responsibility and condemned the assassination as a plot to derail Tunisia’s democratic transition.

The assassination has hit Tunisia at a moment of growing political tension. Two years after the revolution that ended the dictatorship of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and empowered Ennahda in parliamentary elections, opposition to the Islamists has been building. Leftist and democratic parties have accused it of inefficiency and of prolonging its mandate illegally.

Invigorated by events that overthrew the Islamist government in Egypt three weeks ago, they have increasingly demanded the government resign and set a date for elections. Youth groups, including a Tunisian version of Egypt’s Tamarrod, or Rebellion, which was instrumental in the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, have begun organizing. The trade union movement, which played a large role in the revolution, called for a general strike on Friday in protest of the killing.

Like their counterparts in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda members had little experience running a country. The party was banned under the former government, and its members spent years in prison or exile. Ennahda leads a coalition with two smaller secular parties and has struggled to complete the drafting of a new Constitution and prepare elections within the allotted one year.

The party has nevertheless been commended for its inclusive politics and a postrevolutionary maturity missing not only in Egypt but also in the other Arab Spring upheavals in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Ennahda negotiated a compromise on the Constitution, dropping all mention of Islamic law, for example, and ensuring full freedoms, including equal rights for women, freedom of religion and expression.

At the same time, Ennahda has disappointed its own supporters and angered the more extreme among them.

The overthrow of the Islamist-dominated government in Egypt gave the government here a new sense of urgency. Members of the National Constituent Assembly have been meeting daily throughout the holy month of Ramadan to agree on a final draft of the Constitution and are close to approving a new board to run elections.

Yet the most serious challenge for Ennahda has been controlling the extremists among its followers.

Ennahda has long been criticized for allowing what the opposition calls a growing Islamization of the country, and a tolerance of extremist groups: Salafis and jihadis who were recruiting young men to fight in Syria, and groups preaching fundamentalist views and threatening women who worked outside the home or went unveiled.

Ennahda members, including ministers and the party leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, have played down signs of violent extremism and encouraged supporters to engage in the democratic process. Yet among those followers were thousands of men with guerrilla experience, whether in Afghanistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or in neighbors such as Algeria.

Days after the attack in September 2012 on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the ambassador there, J. Christopher Stevens, a crowd attacked the United States Embassy in Tunis, burning more than 100 vehicles and looting the adjacent American school. Abu Ayad, a Tunisian leader of the Salafi group Ansar al-Shariah, is sought in connection with leading the attack. As the government detained 180 of his followers, the group threatened bombings in the cafes and streets of Tunis.

The embassy attack was followed in February by the assassination of a liberal politician, Chokri Belaid, outside his home. That killing set off a strong public backlash against the government. The prime minister resigned, and Ennahda reshuffled the cabinet, appointing a new interior minister who led a crackdown against criminal groups. In May the government moved against Ansar al-Sharia, banning its annual gathering and suppressing riots in a Tunis suburb. Ennahda members, despite internal sympathy for some of the extremists, condemned the rioting. Even Ennahda’s critics acknowledged that the government was showing greater maturity.

Voices on both sides of the political divide by Thursday evening were showing a determination not to let the assassination divert the democratic process. Mr. Ghannouchi called the assassination an attack on Tunisia.

“This is a crime against the democratic transition,” he said. Ennahda called on all parties to show “responsibility and restraint at this sensitive time.”

“It is not those in power doing this, but those who want to take us back, who have an interest in taking us to total disorder, even to civil war,” said Kamoun Lotfi, a teacher standing vigil at the hospital where Mr. Brahmi’s body lay.

Mooman Fehri, a member of the opposition party Al Jomhouri and a friend of Mr. Brahmi’s, said he believed the attack had been aimed at stopping the vote on the election board, which is close to completion. The board would be a powerful and legitimate body, and some opponents did not want it to go through, he suggested.

Middle East scholars said Mr. Brahmi’s assassination now threatened to harden the views of Ennahda’s critics and Islamists who contend that Islamism and democracy are incompatible.

“The danger of this is that it’s an attack on democratic institutions,” said George R. Trumbull IV, a history professor at Dartmouth College. “It has a potential to divide Tunisia into purely secular and purely Islamist poles and to further alienate Islamist supporters committed, at the moment, to the democratic process.”

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.


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« Reply #7751 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:29 AM »

July 25, 2013

Israeli Land Measure Called Discriminatory

By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
IHT

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, urged Israel to reconsider legislation that could lead to the demolition of Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, asserting that Israel was actively pursuing discriminatory policies by forcibly displacing its Arab citizens.

“I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimize forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset,” Ms. Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement released in Geneva on Thursday. The measure would likely result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages and the eviction of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin Arabs from ancestral lands and homes, she said.

The legislation aims to resolve landownership claims by the Bedouins that predate the founding of the state of Israel but often lack documentation. Offering partial compensation, it would move many Bedouins from ramshackle structures in unplanned, unrecognized villages that lack basic services like electricity and water into towns or sanctioned agricultural communities.

The legislation squeaked through an initial Parliament vote last month and is scheduled to be taken up by a committee next week. It is expected to pass by the end of the year.
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« Reply #7752 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:32 AM »


Tourism can help Haiti return to its halcyon days

Visitors to Haiti can help trigger redevelopment, providing much-needed funds to boost infrastructure and create jobs

Prospery Raymond   
Friday 26 July 2013 07.28 BST guardian.co.uk     

Haiti proclaimed its independence in 1804, the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to do so. Despite having to pay an extortionate independence fee, equivalent to $21bn (£14bn) in today's money, it was a relatively prosperous and peaceful place to live.

Indeed, most Haitians had a decent life before the 1960s, when the country could have been likened to Canada and Australia in terms of human development indices.

Along with pre-revolutionary Cuba, Haiti was the tourist destination of choice in the 1950s, attracting jetsetters and wealthy travellers from the US and Europe. It was the place to see and be seen.

Over the past 60 years the situation has deteriorated. Most people I meet think the situation here is desperate, but I tell them I believe there is a lot of hope for Haiti because we got into this difficult situation a relatively short time ago. If you look at the history of other rich countries, you will discover that although they spent much longer in difficulty, they managed to fix their problems, and Haitians will do the same.

The 2010 earthquake was a wake-up call for Haitians, including 2 million in the diaspora, to take control and restore the country to how it was three years ago – or, better yet, to the halcyon days of the 1950s.

One of the key ways I believe that Haitians can trigger redevelopment is through tourism, particularly eco or boutique packages for those wanting to experience something different. We have a small amount of passing trade through international cruise ships, but this is of no benefit to Haiti or its people as such excursions are controlled by the cruise liner companies and elites.

The ministry of tourism is rebranding Haiti as a holiday destination, with the strapline: "Haiti – experience it". And last year the country received 950,000 tourists (mainly from cruise ships) compared with 4.5 million in the Dominican Republic, but I know we have the potential to attract at least double that.

If we can bring more funds into the country, the hope is that this can be used to improve infrastructure, create jobs, and support some of the most vulnerable people.

Haiti is a hospitable place where we enjoy life, even when things are difficult. If visitors started to come and praised the small progress we have made, it might drive some communities and leaders to take pride in their nation and really work together to attract greater numbers of tourists.

Haitians are not a lazy people waiting for others to support them. While here, you will experience a vibrant, busy, resilient country, where people are looking for a better life, working hard, and committed to seeking opportunities around every corner.

We are tired of reading in the newspapers that there is no hope for us. Some of those articles are depressing and have pushed some professionals to consider leaving.

The good news is that some sectors seem to understand the challenges of attracting tourists and are working together.

Admittedly, there are some problems Haitians cannot deny, including the food crisis in pockets of the island, but there is another side to the coin: the island is one of the safest places in the Americas, in terms of drugs and crime, and we are blessed with some of the Caribbean's most beautiful beaches and unspoilt countryside.

There are countless places visitors can enjoy authentic Haitian music, from classical to grassroots folklore (rara), as well as one of the finest cuisines in the Caribbean, incorporating French and African influences alongside native Taíno and Spanish culinary techniques.

We tend to use a lot of different vegetables and meat then combine them with peppers to add flavour and a bit of a kick. And if you visited one of Christian Aid's local Haitian partners, such as Koral (Konbit pou ranfòse aksyon lokal, or Gathering for the strengthening of local actions) and Veterimed, you might also get to taste our farmers' famous organic yoghurt or cheese.

Haitians are busy preparing for the vibrant three-day carnival of flowers in Port-au-Prince on 28 July. The last carnival we hosted was in Cap-Haïtien at the same time as the Rio carnival, and it attracted more than 500,000 people.

Carnival is a traditional part of Haitian culture, and when discussing with some friends who are regular participants, I realised that for them it was a great psychosocial way to heal and renew.

Some argue that the government could better use the funds for education or the environment, but I hope to attend the carnival this year for the first time to take some photos with my daughters.

So go and see the Haiti tourism Facebook page and get a new sense of the country. The images represent the undimmed hope and light that Haitians would like to shine above our struggles to make the country a wonderful place to live and to visit again.

I cannot say visitors will find the place to be perfect and polished, but I am sure they will enjoy their stay and make plans to come again. If you are unable to stop by, maybe just take a little time to think positively about the future for Haiti and its citizens. Experience it. Not easy, right? But you can.


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« Reply #7753 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Neuroscientists discover how to implant false memories in the brain

By Alok Jha, The Guardian
Thursday, July 25, 2013 20:56 EDT

Scientists have implanted a false memory in the brains of mice in an experiment that they hope will shed light on the well-documented phenomenon whereby people “remember” events or experiences that have never happened.

False memories are a major problem with witness statements in courts of law. Defendants have often been convicted of offences based on eyewitness testimony, only to have their convictions later overturned when DNA or some other corroborating evidence is brought to bear.

In order to study how these false memories might form in the human brain, Susumu Tonagawa, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his team encoded memories in the brains of mice by manipulating individual neurons. He described the results of the study in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Memories of experiences we have had are made from several elements including records of objects, space and time. These records, called engrams, are encoded in physical and chemical changes in brain cells and the connections between them. According to Tonagawa, both false and genuine memories seem to rely on the same brain mechanisms.

In their work, Tonagawa’s team used a technique known as optogenetics, which allows the fine control of individual brain cells. They engineered brain cells in the mouse hippocampus, a part of the brain known to be involved in forming memories, to express the gene for a protein called channelrhodopsin. When cells that contain channelrhodopsin are exposed to blue light, they become activated. The researchers also modified the hippocampus cells so that the channelrhodopsin protein would be produced in whichever brain cells the mouse was using to encode its memory engrams.

In the experiment, Tonagawa’s team placed the mice in a chamber and allowed them to explore it. As they did so, relevant memory-encoding brain cells were producing the channelrhodopsin protein. The next day, the same mice were placed in a second chamber and given a small electric shock, to encode a fear response. At the same time, the researchers shone light into the mouse brains to activate their memories of the first chamber. That way, the mice learned to associate fear of the electric shock with the memory of the first chamber.

In the final part of the experiment, the team placed the mice back in the first chamber. The mice froze, demonstrating a typical fear response, even though they had never been shocked while there. “We call this ‘incepting’ or implanting false memories a mouse brain,” Tonagawa told Science.

A similar process may occur when powerful false memories are created in humans.

“Humans are very imaginative animals,” said Tonagawa. “Independent of what is happening around you in the outside world, humans constantly have internal activity in the brain. So, just like our mouse, it is quite possible we can associate what we happen to have in our mind with bad or good high-variance online events. In other words, there could be a false association of what you have in your mind rather than what is happening to you.”

He added: “Our study showed that the false memory and the genuine memory are based on very similar, almost identical, brain mechanisms. It is difficult for the false memory bearer to distinguish between them. We hope our future findings along this line will further alert legislatures and legal experts how unreliable memory can be.”

Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, is a leading researcher in false memories in people. He said that the latest results were an important first step in understanding their neural basis. “Memory researchers have always recognised that memory does not, as is often assumed, work like a video camera, faithfully recording all of the details of anything we experience. Instead, it is a reconstructive process which involves building a specific memory from fragments of real memory traces of the original event but also possibly including information from other sources.”

He added, however, that the false memories created in the mice in the experiments were far simpler than the complex false memories that have generated controversy within psychology and psychiatry, for example false memories of childhood sexual abuse, or even memories for bizarre ritualised satanic abuse, abduction by aliens, or “past lives”.

“Such rich false memories will clearly involve many brain systems and we are still a long way from understanding the processes involved in their formation at the neuronal level,” said Prof French.

Mark Stokes, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, said the experiments were a “tour de force” but that it was important to put them into perspective. “Although the results seem to imply that new memories were formed by the artificial stimulation (rather than the actual environment), this kind of phenomenon is still a long way from most people’s idea of memory,” he said. Rather, he said, it was equivalent to implanting an association that perhaps someone cannot place, but makes them weary of a specific environment for no apparent reason. “It is unlikely that this kind of pairing could lead to the rich set of associations related to normal memories, although it is possible that over time such pairing could be integrated with other memories to construct a more elaborate false narrative.”

The mouse models created by the MIT team will help scientists ask ever more complex questions about memories in people. “Now that we can reactivate and change the contents of memories in the brain, we can begin asking questions that were once the realm of philosophy,” said Steve Ramirez, a colleague of Tonagawa’s at MIT. “Are there multiple conditions that lead to the formation of false memories? Can false memories for both pleasurable and aversive events be artificially created? What about false memories for more than just contexts — false memories for objects, food or other mice? These are the once seemingly sci-fi questions that can now be experimentally tackled in the lab.”

As the technology develops, said French, scientists need to think about its uses carefully. “Whatever means are used to implant false memories, we need to be very aware of the ethical issues raised by such procedures – the potential for abuse of such techniques cannot be overstated.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #7754 on: Jul 26, 2013, 06:39 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

New IRIS telescope sends stunning images of sun to befuddled scientists

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / July 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm EDT

A new solar observatory, launched less than a month ago, is revealing remarkably fine details about a little-explored region of the sun's atmosphere, where temperatures leap from tens of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit at the sun's surface to to millions of degrees in its extended atmosphere.

Dubbed the interface region by the observatory's science team, this first 2,000 to 3,000 miles of the sun's atmosphere is thought to play a key role in a range of processes, including those that power solar flares and even more potent coronal-mass ejections. These events can endanger satellites, disrupt radio communication and GPS navigation, as well as disrupt the power grid on Earth.

For all their excitement at seeing the first images from this new orbiting observatory, mission scientists aren't quite ready yet to hazard informed guesses about what the new observations mean.

"I'm not brash enough to tell you what new and exciting things there are, but there are enough hints that people are very excited," said Alan Title, a solar physicist with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and the lead scientist for NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), during a briefing Thursday.

In general, the team has been surprised "that there is so much structure in areas that are relatively quiet" on the sun's surface, Dr. Title said, referring to small-scale regions of varying temperatures and looping eruptions of hot gas. "We're seeing a lot more structure than we anticipated."

The 400-pound telescope, launched on June 27, taps ultraviolet light from the sun's interface region to take detailed images and spectra of features as small as 150 miles across.

That capability represents a 10-fold improvement in picking out fine details, compared with previous solar observatories operating at ultraviolet wavelengths, mission officials said. And the instrument gathers images and spectra 20 times faster than its predecessors, allowing researchers to capture events that would have been too fleeting to see before.

The interface region actually encompasses what typically has been thought to be two layers of the solar atmosphere – the lowest layer, or chromosphere, capped by a region less than 200 miles thick dubbed the transition region.

Over the past decade, however, solar physicists have come to recognize that this onion-skin-like picture is less than tidy, explains Jeffrey Newmark, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Today, theorists suggest that the interface region is characterized by constant eruptions throughout the chromosphere of hot gas in a random, geyser-like fashion on small scales all over the sun's surface.

"We think it's these smaller-scale jets and waves that propagate through these jets" that send the atmospheric heating process on the sun into overdrive, Dr. Newmark says. That rapid increase can occur with a change in altitude of less than 600 miles.

During the briefing, researchers unveiled images of a small sunspot and a small active region where hot gas erupted from the sun. In addition, the researchers presented some initial data from the observatory's spectrograph.

The spectra yield information on temperature, pressure, and the velocity of features moving across or erupting from the sun's surface. These allow researcher to unpack the physics behind the processes at work in the interface region.

The team also hopes to monitor long-term trends in solar activity, in coordination with observatories that can provide the big picture for events such as solar flares and prominences, even as IRIS captures what's happening on small scales.

The spectra the team released Thursday showed intense emissions from magnesium atoms forged in the sun's fusion furnace.

By tracking the intensity of those spectral lines over time, the team can track changes in the sun's brightness at ultraviolet wavelengths – changes that have an impact on Earth's climate through their influence on temperatures and circulation in the stratosphere.

"We want to see how the brightness of the sun in these ultraviolet lines changes as a function of the solar cycle," said Bart DePontieu, also a solar physicist with Lockheed Martin.


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