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« Reply #7785 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:46 AM »

July 27, 2013

Chinese, With Revamped Force, Make Presence Known in East China Sea


BEIJING — China launched its revamped coast guard last week and immediately sent four ships, emblazoned with the new red, white and blue logo, to patrol waters off disputed islands in the nearby East China Sea.

The message was clear: China planned to use the new unified paramilitary vessels to keep pressure on Japan over the sovereignty of the tiny islands, an issue that has riled relations between the two countries.

At the same time as the newly designated coast guard vessels appeared in the waters on Wednesday, China sent a turboprop early-warning aircraft through international airspace between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako, an area where Japan said Chinese planes had not flown before. The Japanese called the flight by the Y-8 aircraft the latest in a series of provocations aimed at forcing concessions from Japan, which administers the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

The merger of four Chinese maritime units into one superagency was announced in March. The actual creation of the new force has been nervously awaited in the Asia Pacific region as another sign of China’s fast-growing maritime capability and its determination to enforce claims in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea.

The large number of Chinese and Japanese maritime vessels in dangerous proximity in the East China Sea at a time of high tensions over the islands has raised alarm in Washington about clashes that could lead to larger conflict.

In such an escalation, the United States might be pulled into the fight because the mutual defense pact with Japan obliges Washington to defend all territories administered by Japan.

A senior Chinese Navy official, Zhang Junshe, vice president of the Naval Research Institute, hailed the unification of China’s maritime law enforcement agencies under a new National Oceanic Administration as the creation of an “iron fist” that would replace ineffective operations scattered among a number of agencies.

In Washington, the growing power of China’s maritime forces is being closely watched. The American allies in the region — Japan, South Korea and the Philippines — all have serious squabbles with China over maritime territorial and boundary issues, and fishing rights. The Philippines recently filed an arbitration case against China before the international tribunal that governs the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Philippines argues that China’s claims to the South China Sea are illegal.

At a conference on maritime safety in Beijing last week, four retired American admirals, three retired American defense attachés and a group of American maritime experts met with Chinese officials to discuss the ramifications of the strengthened Chinese Coast Guard.

The new coast guard is a “positive development,” said Susan L. Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, who organized the conference for the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. Vessels belonging to the fisheries law enforcement agency have been particularly aggressive in the South China Sea over the past few years, and this kind of behavior may be modified under the new structure, she said.

“It’s good for China’s neighbors and the United States because we know who is responsible and who we can hold responsible,” Ms. Shirk said. “As they develop a sense of professionalism in accordance with international law, it should make for lower risk of accidents.”

A Chinese naval expert, Li Jie, said the Chinese coast guard ships would most likely be outfitted with “light weaponry,” like “high-pressure water cannons and guns.” Japan’s Coast Guard ships, which patrol the waters off the disputed islands, are armed with weapons including large deck guns, similar to those on board United States Coast Guard vessels.

“We should be realistic,” Ms. Shirk said. “The Chinese Coast Guard will model themselves on the United States, and the Japanese and the South Korean Coast Guards, all of which are more capable with equipment than the Chinese Coast Guard at the moment.”

A rapid five-year program to build 30 new cutters for China’s Coast Guard, announced in 2010, is well under way, said Lyle J. Goldstein, associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute of the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island, who attended the Beijing conference. “Our Coast Guard would love to have a building program that approximates that.”

In some respects, the reinforced coast guard, even as it plays an important role in territorial disputes, should not be a concern, he said.

“Of the 10 biggest ports in the world, more than half are in China,” Mr. Goldstein said. “They have some of the busiest sea lanes in the world. Even putting the disputes aside, there are still legitimate safety, environmental and management reasons for these enhanced capabilities.”

Bree Feng contributed research.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 28, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified the governmental body where the Philippines filed its case. It was the tribunal that governs the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, not the International Court of Justice.

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« Reply #7786 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:47 AM »

July 28, 2013

South Korea Pledges Humanitarian Aid for North


SEOUL — South Korea announced $7.3 million worth of humanitarian aid for North Korea on Sunday, a conciliatory gesture that coincided with a call by the South for “one last round” of make-or-break talks on restarting a jointly operated industrial complex.

The majority of the aid, $6 million, will be provided by the South Korean government and shipped through Unicef, the U.N. children’s agency, which provides vaccines, medicine and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and pregnant women in the impoverished North.

Five private humanitarian aid groups from South Korea will provide the remainder. They will also send medicine and food for small children.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, Seoul’s top policy-maker on the North, said the aid shipments announced Sunday were not linked to political issues between the two Koreas. But the announcement was contained in a statement in which Mr. Ryoo also called for a final round of talks with the North to settle disputes over the Kaesong industrial complex, which has been idled since early April.

There was no immediate response from Pyongyang.

Despite international aid and gradual improvements in the North’s grain production in recent years, more than a quarter of North Korean children under age 5 suffer from chronic malnourishment, according to surveys by the United Nations and international aid groups. South Korean government statistics showed that the North’s infant mortality rates in recent years were several times higher than those in the South.

Earlier this month, nongovernmental aid groups in South Korea accused the conservative government of President Park Geun-hye of blocking urgent aid for North Korean children by delaying the approval of their shipment proposals — a charge the South Korean government denied Sunday.

South Korea’s governmental and private aid for North Korea plunged from $395.6 million in 2007 to $12.7 million last year. The conservative South Korean governments that have been in power since 2008 have curtailed aid shipments and trade with North Korea, citing its nuclear weapons development and military provocations, like the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010, for which Seoul blamed the North.

Located in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, the complex has been idle since the North pulled out all its 53,000 workers in April, citing military tensions it said were caused by joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The two Koreas held six rounds of talks this month on restarting the factory park. But those talks ended last week without an agreement by the two sides to meet again. Both South and North Korea have since warned that the complex, the best-known symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation, will be permanently shut down unless the other side backs down.

“Throughout the six rounds of talks, our government has consistently demanded guarantees from North Korea that it will never again shut the complex down for political and military reasons and that it will allow free business activities there according to international standards,” Mr. Ryoo said. “But the North has refused to make these very basic promises.”

North Korea has insisted that the shutdown was the South’s fault. It has also accused the South of making unreasonable demands as a pretext to terminate the Kaesong project.

The complex was the last of a group of cross-border projects set up during an earlier period of rapprochement and then halted one by one as relations soured in recent years. It opened in 2004 and produced $470 million worth of goods last year, according to the South Korean government.

Supporters of the project see it as a landmark experiment in paring South Korea’s manufacturing know-how with North Korea’s low-cost labor to prepare for the economic integration and eventual reunification of the two Koreas. But critics have argued that it has only funneled badly needed cash to the North Korean regime and its nuclear weapons program.
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« Reply #7787 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:49 AM »

uly 27, 2013

Taliban Gain Foothold in a Pakistani City


PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Groups of Taliban fighters are spilling out of the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan into the region’s largest city, Peshawar, where they are increasingly showing their presence through a campaign of intimidation and violence, according to residents, the police and city officials.

While Taliban violence has declined across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province this year, officials say, rates have increased in Peshawar, where militants have stepped up attacks aimed at the police, extortion demands, sectarian killings and kidnappings.

For all that, the militants do not pose an immediate threat to the overall control of the city, and the police say they have foiled many potential attacks. But the increased Taliban presence does signal a further advance for the militants, who have also become a more muscular presence this year in Karachi, the country’s most populous city.

Their strength has also bolstered a broader wave of sectarian violence in the northwest. On Saturday, the toll from a double bomb attack conducted on Friday against minority Shiites in Parachinar, a tribal town west of Peshawar, climbed to 57 dead and at least 167 wounded, the authorities said. There was no claim of responsibility, but Taliban-affiliated groups have been responsible for previous sectarian atrocities in the same area.

Militants have attacked inside Peshawar, a city of an estimated four million people, once a day, on average, for the past five months, according to provincial government statistics. That accounts for about half of the militant episodes across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

“It’s like Ricky Ponting playing cricket,” said a senior security official in Peshawar, referring to a former Australian cricketer known for his prolific scoring ability, and speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.

The violence is partly a product of military success. The Pakistani Army has been battling Taliban militants in the mountains of the adjoining Khyber tribal district in recent months. A smaller security operation is under way in Darra Adam Khel, a district southwest of the city that is famed for its gunsmiths.

The fiercest fighting is taking place in the Tirah Valley of Khyber, along the Afghan border, where the military is arrayed against Mangal Bagh, a local warlord affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban.

Helicopter gunships and artillery attacked militant hide-outs in Khyber as part of an intense, weeklong military assault that ended Thursday. Tribal authorities in Khyber said they found the bodies of 20 militants in one village alone.

But the back draft of those battles is being felt in the suburbs of Peshawar, where nervous residents have reported sightings of militants who travel around on motorcycles, frequent restaurants late at night and preach in local mosques.

Abdul Haleem, a building contractor, said he received a surprise lecture on violence during morning prayers at his local mosque recently. “A man stood up and, without the permission of the imam, started preaching about the importance of jihad and its rewards in the hereafter,” Mr. Haleem said during an interview at his house in Hayatabad, the city’s wealthiest suburb.

“Later we found out that he was a militant commander from Khyber,” he said.

Several police officers, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, blamed the ambivalent attitude of the newly elected provincial government, led by Imran Khan, a former cricket star, for declining morale.

Mr. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party favors talks with the Taliban over fighting, and his officials frequently frame militant violence as a reaction to American drone strikes in the tribal belt.

“What we need is a pat on the back, not daily derision,” one senior official said. “If Khan says this is not our war, then what does he think we are doing here sacrificing our lives?”

Murad Saeed, a member of Parliament from Mr. Khan’s party, rejected accusations that his party was soft on militancy. “We only say that the use of force has been futile against militancy, and now we should give a chance to a political solution,” Mr. Saeed said in a telephone interview.

He said Pakistan’s government first needed to address “the factors that spur our own people to carry out violent acts.”

Some of the violence in Peshawar this year has targeted members of the Shiite minority, and doctors in particular. In January, Dr. Shah Nawaz Ali, an eye specialist at Lady Reading Hospital, was shot dead outside his clinic, and another doctor in Peshawar, Dr. Riaz Hussain Shah, a gastroenterologist, was killed.

Wealthy businessmen have faced extortion demands. The owner of a truck transport company living in Hayatabad said a militant demand for about $100,000 came to him in the form of a letter thrown at his doorstep. The next day a Taliban commander phoned him. “He warned me not to inform the police,” said the businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons. “I have no option but to meet their demand.”

The provincial police chief, Ihsan Ghani, acknowledged that the situation was grave, but he insisted that it was under control. “There is a clear and present danger,” Mr. Ghani said in an interview. But, he added, police intelligence had quietly disrupted several terrorist plots, and the authorities had arrested many militants.

The turmoil comes against the backdrop of a broader political stasis in Pakistan. The prospect of peace talks with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan has evoked mixed reactions among Pakistani politicians.

Some, like Mr. Khan, view such talks as a necessary first step out of a violent regional quagmire, a move that would at once bring peace to Afghanistan and remove the justification that spurs Pakistan’s militants.

But others view the notion of talks with apprehension, fearing that they would only give the Taliban time to conquer ground that would eventually have to be won back through painful military operations, as the army did in the Swat Valley in 2009.

“We have yet to decide who is our real enemy, and the Taliban are taking advantage of this confusion,” said Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party, which governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa until the last election, when it won just one seat.

Some Pakistani officials worry that the American withdrawal in Afghanistan in 2014 will embolden Pakistan’s Taliban. A recent strategic assessment by the province’s Home and Tribal Affairs Department, a copy of which has been obtained by The New York Times, warns that it is a “fallacy” to assume that the American departure from Afghanistan will end violence in Pakistan.

Instead, the document warns, Pakistan’s Taliban could use the perceived victory in Afghanistan to install “their own brand of Islam” in Pakistan.

“Our political leadership is confused when it comes to the Taliban,” said one senior police officer in Peshawar. “And that is undermining police morale and hindering us in our job.”

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud and Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Declan Walsh from London.

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« Reply #7788 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:50 AM »

07/25/2013 05:33 PM

Mazar-e-Sharif Suicides: Poisonous Freedom for Afghan Women

By Nicola Abé in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan

Women in Mazar-e-Sharif have straddled the worlds between Western freedoms and conservative traditions for a decade. As the Taliban gains strength and the West pulls out, Afghanistan's most liberal city is being plagued by a rash of suicides.

Fareba Gul decided to die in a burqa. She put on the traditional gown, which she usually didn't wear, and drove to the Blue Mosque. There, at the holiest place in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, she swallowed malathion, an insecticide. She then ran over to the square, where hundreds of white doves were waiting to be fed by visitors. When she was surrounded by the birds, the cramps set in.

"Fareba was lying on the ground when I arrived, and people were standing all around her," says her uncle Faiz Mohammed, whom she had called before taking the poison. "She was screaming for help." He lifted up his niece, carried her to a taxi and took her to a hospital. Foam was pouring from her mouth, and she was slipping in and out of consciousness. One hour later, 21-year-old Fareba Gul was dead. She died on the same day, and in the same hospital, as her 16-year-old sister Nabila.

Behind the tragedy lay a harmless love affair, relatives say. The sisters had been fighting, and Nabila had taken things too far: She had fallen in love. Fareba, the relatives say, got angry, calling Nabila's behavior "indecent" and demanding that she end the affair. Both got very upset and were screaming at each other. Their mother entered the room and slapped Nabila. Then, Nabila reportedly took the poison from her father's cabinet and swallowed it in her room. A few hours later, Fareba took the same pills. "She felt guilty," says her uncle.

The sisters' double suicide hangs over the city like a dark shadow. Mazar-e-Sharif is widely viewed as one of the most peaceful and liberal cities in Afghanistan. But could this be an omen of what lies ahead for the country once Western troops start withdrawing in the near future?

Living in Mazar-e-Sharif means living in relative security. But now more and more women are starting to hurt themselves here, as well. It leaves one baffled, but it is still no coincidence.

More than anywhere else in Afghanistan, women in Mazar-e-Sharif are torn between tradition and their newly won freedom, between family expectations and their own sense of self. They are trapped in a society that is at once deeply conservative but also offers just enough freedom for women to discover a modern, Westernized lifestyle. Girls can go to school, women can work, and both can surf the Web and watch cable TV. But forced marriages, domestic violence and many limitations continue to exist for many of them -- and are all-the-more difficult to bear. Under these circumstances, choosing how and when to die can become a form of self-determination.

When asked about the women killing themselves, the city's police chief claims that such things "only happen in Heart province or in remote mountain villages." Women's rights organizations point to poverty and a lack of education as the main factors behind the suicides.

But the family home of the dead sisters is located in one of the best areas of town. It is spacious and in good condition, with a garden full of blooming roses. Marzia Gul, their mother, says "Please, come in," and sits down on the sofa in the living room, sinking into the red upholstery. "Fareba, my oldest daughter, studied law," she says. "She wanted to be a lawyer like her father" and was just a year away from her final exams. Nabila, the younger one, also did well in school, she continues. "She wanted to be a journalist."

Marzia gets up, walks over to the cupboard and takes a photo from a glass tray. The picture shows a smiling little girl with pigtails and freckles. "She was so kind and helpful," she says. Then her voice breaks.

A Place of Despair

The sisters' suicide is particularly unsettling because the girls led privileged lives in this long-suffering country. They watched Bollywood films, had mobile phones and Internet access. Along with jeans and makeup, they wore headscarves but no burqas. They didn't have to hide from the world.

And they lived in a city that does not force the well-off to barricade themselves behind concrete walls. A powerful governor controls life in this part of Afghanistan -- so effectively, in fact, that residents hardly have to fear death from a bomb attack. Foreign aid workers are permitted to move around freely. Visitors barely see any weapons in the streets. Instead, they can watch women in the bazaars trying on shoes, their eyelids shaded with the traditional cosmetic kajal and their hair lightly covered by a headscarf.

Indeed, in theory, Mazar-e-Sharif is a place of hope. But at least in the regional hospital's department of internal medicine, the city is a place of despair.

"Fridays are the worst," says Dr. Khaled Basharmal as he takes out a notebook. "Eight attempted suicides on a single day." He reads off the names of the most recent patients -- Raihana, Roya, Shukuria, Terena, Rahima. There are also the names of two young men.

"It's a disaster. Since late March, we've had more than 200 cases," Basharmal says. The sisters, Fareba and Nabila Gul, were among his patients as well.

Basharmal is sweating underneath his white coat, and he is exhausted. It's noon now, and he was forced to work another shift that lasted through the night.

No official statistics are kept, and no one can confirm his figures. Nevertheless, Afghanistan is believed to be one of the few countries in the world that has more women taking their lives than men. A recent study concluded that five out of every 100,000 women are committing suicide each year. But the real number is likely to be much higher, especially in rural areas far away from the big cities. More than 1.8 million women in Afghanistan, which has an estimated population of 31 million, are said to be suffering from depression.

A Cry for Help?

Anyone visiting the department of internal medicine in Mazar-e-Sharif doesn't need statistics. It is a hospital room with empty walls and no medical equipment; there are only eight beds. A new patient is brought in, another suicide attempt. Nurses put her in one of the empty beds. The girl's veil has been pushed up, revealing a strikingly beautiful face. But the eyes are strangely lifeless. A nurse inserts a tube into the girl's nose. A salty liquid flows into her body. When it's pumped back out of the girl's stomach and into a plastic bottle, the liquid is pitch-black. "Sleeping pills," Barshamal says.

In another bed lies Roya, a skinny young woman among those who survived the previous night. Although her family claimed she is 24 when she was admitted to the hospital, Barshamal thinks Roya is probably closer to 18 years old. She barely has enough energy to speak but, in a fading voice, she says she injected rat poison into her veins and points to the inside of her left arm.

Roya had meticulously planned her own death. She first went to her general practitioner and got a prescription for low blood pressure and a syringe. Then she got the rat poison. She says that she was desperate, that she wanted to die.

Roya's mother enters the room along with her brother. "She's has a happy life," he says. "There are no problems." Roya only nods. She doesn't dare contradict him.

One floor below lies Zarghana, a 28-years-old relative of Roya. She took sleeping pills and pesticides, and now the poison is attacking her internal organs. She was rushed to the emergency room, which she shares with two other women. One of them is naked, her body covered with bruises; the other is a mere child, bloody and in a coma. Are the women victims of an accident? Of domestic violence? The nurses give inconclusive answers.

"Nobody is listening to me!" Zarghana had kept screaming throughout the night. Now that someone is asking to hear her story, she's pushing the sheets and the edge of her robe aside with trembling hands. She points to her neck and shoulders; the skin is scarred and destroyed, full of white blotches.

Zarghana says that she has tried to kill herself twice. The first time she almost succeeded. She took gasoline from a generator in the bathroom, doused herself, lit a match and was burning like a human flame. But then she thought of her children, and the pain became so strong that she reached for a blanket hanging from the laundry line in the yard. She managed to put out the flames. Afterwards, one could see through the flesh on her back, right down to the bones.

That was six months ago. Zarghana received treatment in Kabul, where doctors performed skin transplants. Her father, a wealthy civil servant, paid the bill.

"Many don't really want to die," Dr. Basharmal says. "They are looking for a way out. They want to set an example." Yet in about one of 10 cases, he adds, this supposed cry for help actually does end in death.

Trapped in a Spiral of Self-Destruction and Depression
A search for clues that might explain Zarghana's attempted suicides leads through a dusty street on the outskirts of town. She has now been released from the hospital and returned home. She is unlikely to recover from the piercing pain that keeps plaguing her; the poison has severely damaged her stomach and kidneys.

Zarghana can read and write, and she even speaks a bit of English. For years, she had been working for a local human rights organization. At first, she was a volunteer teaching rural women in villages and explaining to them what their rights are. Then she was taken on as a paid employee. The money sustained her family, as she earned more than her husband. "I was a very successful woman," Zarghana says and immediately starts to cry.

But this success is only half of Zarghana's real story. When she was only 13, like so many other women in Afghanistan, Zarghana was promised to her future husband. Between 60 and 80 percent of all Afghan women are still forced into marriage, an independent human rights organization has estimated, and some 15 percent of the brides are no older than 16.

Zarghana's groom was her stepbrother. "I was allowed to keep going to the school only because I fought for it," she says. One day, her husband disappeared, leaving her alone with their seven children. Over the past two years, he has only shown up sporadically. Zarghana has lost her job and her source of income. She wants a divorce, but her father forbids it.

When Zarghana speaks, she sometimes starts to shake so much that her teeth clatter. Her youngest daughter, merely 2 years old, is crouching in a corner. Zarghana's cries for help have faded away unheard. Her broken body keeps dragging her further down into a spiral of self-destruction and depression. The prospect of a happy life has slipped away from her.

Then the meeting is suddenly adjourned when several men show up at the gate to the garden. They demand that the journalists leave, saying there's nothing to see here.

Reversing Progress Made Since 2001

For so many Afghan women, and for some men as well, it is the deep contradictions that wear down their will to keep living. Their society's conservatism insists on controlling everything, right down to the most intimate details. But the urban middle class has come to know other ways of living, even in its own country.

There's Malalai Joya, the activist and former politician who demands that the warlords and heads of the drug cartels be prosecuted; there's Elaha Soroor, the singer who appeared on the TV show "Afghan Star" and keeps making music despite all the death threats; and there's Khatool Mohammadzai, the only female general in the Afghan army. All of them represent the seemingly impossible: freedom and resistance to tradition.

When Western forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ended Taliban rule, conditions started improving for Afghan women. For example, girls could go to school again, and women and men became equals in the eyes of the law. But now there are more and more indications that such progress might be reversed.

Over the past year, the number of women arrested and imprisoned for "moral crimes" has skyrocketed. In May, the parliament in Kabul opted not to pass proposed legislation outlawing violence against women; instead, representatives are now considering an amendment that would prohibit relatives from appearing as witnesses in trials, thereby making it significantly harder to prosecute cases of domestic violence. And the quota for women in provincial councils was recently reduced from 25 to 20 percent.

What's more, the Taliban are regaining some of their military and political power. Human rights experts are concerned that the West, as well as the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, might be willing to sacrifice women's rights in order to reach a compromise with the Islamists.

Should that happen, cases like the double suicide of the Gul sisters in Mazar-e-Sharif might no longer be an exception.

Grief upon Grief

Marzia Gul, their mother, is standing in her garden. "This is where I found Nabila," she says. "She kissed my hand and said she was sorry." At the hospital, Nabila was screaming in pain and shouting that she regretted everything. Relatives came to visit; her father and mother were sitting by her side, holding her hands and crying. Two hours later, Nabila was dead. Her father broke down, and the doctor gave him a sedative.

Nabila's body was brought to her parents' home in a wooden coffin. Her family was in mourning, praying and singing. Shortly after, her mother noticed that Fareba left the house wearing a burqa. "I thought she wanted to go out and tell the others," she says.

Instead, Fareba went to the Blue Mosque. When she didn't return home that night, her mother telephoned some relatives. "Fareba is in the hospital," they told her. "She is doing well."

Marzia spent the night next to her daughter's coffin, crying and kissing the wood. In the morning, she went to the hospital. There, she was told that Fareba was "already home."

When Marzia returned to the house, she found two wooden coffins lying side by side.

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« Reply #7789 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Bananas thrown at Italy’s first black minister

By Reuters
Saturday, July 27, 2013 13:26 EDT

By Catherine Hornby

ROME (Reuters) – Some of Italy’s top politicians on Saturday rallied behind the country’s first black minister, a target of racist slurs since her appointment in April, after a spectator threw bananas at her while she was making a speech.

Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, was appearing at a political rally in Cervia in central Italy on Friday, when someone in the audience threw bananas towards the stage, narrowly missing it.

Kyenge has faced almost daily racial slurs and threats since joining the government. Earlier this month a senator from the anti-immigration Northern League party likened her to an orangutan and only apologized after a storm of criticism.

Last month, a local Northern League councilor said Kyenge should be raped so she understands how victims of crimes committed by immigrants feel. The councilor has received a suspended jail sentence and a temporary ban from public office.

Shortly before Friday’s incident, members of the far-right Forza Nuova group left mannequins covered in fake blood near the site of the Democratic Party rally in protest against Kyenge’s proposal to make anyone born on Italian soil a citizen.

“Immigration kills,” was written on leaflets accompanying the dummies – a slogan Forza Nuova has previously used when referring to murders committed by immigrants in Italy.

However, on Saturday the group denied that one of its members had thrown the bananas. Italian police are trying to identify the culprit.

Kyenge responded to the gesture on Twitter, calling it “sad” and a waste of food.

“The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions,” she added.

Several politicians, including her peers in Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government, responded with messages of support and condemnation on Saturday.

Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said on Twitter he felt “utmost indignation for this lowly act”, while Education Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza praised Kyenge for her courage and determination in such a hostile climate.

Veneto region governor Luca Zaia from the Northern League, who is due to participate in an immigration debate with Kyenge in August, also spoke out against the incident on Saturday.

“Throwing bananas, personal insults … acts like these play no part in the civilized and democratic discussion needed between the minister and those who don’t share her opinion,” the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

[Italian Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge gestures during a news conference in Rome June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile]

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« Reply #7790 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:55 AM »

Turkish newspaper watchdog punished for baring teeth

The sacking of Yavuz Baydar from his role as ombudsman of Sabah demonstrates the extent of the PM's influence

Peter Preston   
The Observer, Sunday 28 July 2013   

You're a big cheese Turkish industrialist who admires the prime minister. Indeed, you made his son-in-law your CEO. And you also own a great Istanbul daily paper you want to be taken seriously, so you named one of the country's most respected journalists your ombudsman. He's your outward and visible guarantee of editorial freedom. But then, after too many disappointments, he writes an article for the New York Times that says "dirty alliances between governments and media companies and their handshakes behind closed doors damage journalists' role as public watchdogs and prevent them from scrutinising cronyism and abuses of power: one need only follow the money".

So what happens next? The editor of your paper, Sabah, calls in his ombudsman, Yavuz Baydar, and sacks him. So much for freedom. And any among us who thought that Turkish reporters and editors protesting about the hidden pressures PM Erdoğan can bring to bear were exaggerating has another indubitable think coming. Case proven. This isn't even second-class repression. Just stupidity.

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« Reply #7791 on: Jul 28, 2013, 07:01 AM »

July 27, 2013

Pig Putin in Ukraine to Celebrate a Christian Anniversary


MOSCOW — In an apparent attempt to use shared history to make a case for closer ties, President Pig Putin attended religious ceremonies in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of events that brought Christianity to Ukraine and Russia.

At a reception in Kiev, the capital, Pig Putin spoke of the primacy of the two countries’ spiritual and historical bonds, regardless of political decisions that often divide them. Relations have been rocky in part because of attempts by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, to formalize its political and economic ties with the European Union.

“We are all spiritual heirs of what happened here 1,025 years ago,” Pig Putin told church hierarchs at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “And in this sense we are, without a doubt, one people.”

Pig Putin’s trip was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The events last week commemorated Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s decision to convert to Christianity and baptize his subjects in 988, an event known as the Baptism of Rus, the founding of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose adherents include those beyond Russia’s modern borders. The anniversary has been the subject of lavish political and news media attention in Russia, where Saturday’s events were broadcast, reflecting the Kremlin’s embrace of the church and its spiritual leader, clown Patriarch Kirill I. The attention has also lent apparent endorsement to church criticism of Western democracy and secular culture, particularly homosexuality.

The patriarch presided over prayers on Saturday after arriving in Kiev on Friday accompanied by representatives of all of the world’s Orthodox churches and bearing fragments of a cross on which the Apostle Andrew is believed to have been crucified. On Thursday, Patriarch Kirill and the other church leaders met with Pig Putin in the Kremlin, where they discussed the fate of Christians in the Middle East.

The cross, on loan from Patras, Greece, has already been venerated by hundreds of thousands on a tour across Russia sponsored by Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful head of the Russian Railways, who is close to Pig Putin and the church.

Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith. Ukraine’s religious landscape has been divided for centuries, not least after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by tensions over allegiance to Moscow. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is one of the largest parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, but other groups in Ukraine planned their own commemorations.

The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.

The church’s views have increasing resonance in the political debate in Russia, where Parliament adopted laws in June banning “gay propaganda” and the adoption of children by foreign same-sex couples.

In a film called “The Second Baptism of Rus,” shown recently on Russian state television, Pig Putin credited Prince Vladimir’s choice of religion with “building a centralized Russian state,” something he sees as a cornerstone of his leadership. Pig Putin recalled the story of his mother having him baptized in secret after his birth in 1952 because of Soviet repression of the church.

He described Communism as “just a simplified version of the religious principles shared by practically all the world’s traditional religions” and said that today’s turn to religion was “a spontaneous movement from the people themselves to turn back to their roots” in response to the ideological vacuum after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, appeared beside Pig Putin during the service on Saturday, though relations between Moscow and Kiev have continued to be marred by battles over gas pipelines and other disputes despite a widely held view in Russia that Mr. Yanukovich would be more solidly aligned with Russia.

Ukraine is scheduled to sign an association agreement with the European Union in November. While insisting that choices of international relations were Ukraine’s to make, Pig Putin argued Saturday that Ukraine would fare better by deepening its political and economic ties with Russia.

On Saturday, Femen, the Ukrainian feminist group known for its bare-breasted protests, said three of its activists and a photojournalist were beaten and taken away by an “organized group of people” on the way to a protest of the celebrations. On its Web site, Femen accused the spy agencies of Ukraine and Russia of being behind the attack, though it did not provide evidence.

The Kiev police said they had detained three women for “petty hooliganism” after they refused to cover up when they were spotted naked on the street. The police Web site said a photographer who was accompanying them was detained for disobeying police orders. It did not talk about beatings.

Femen later reported that its leader, Anna Hutsol, was beaten up while in a cafe on Saturday night and her laptop was taken.

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« Reply #7792 on: Jul 28, 2013, 07:04 AM »

07/26/2013 03:02 PM

'An Anxious Continent': Walter Lacqueur on Europe's Decline

British-American historian Walter Laqueur experienced the demise of the old Europe and the rise of the new. In a SPIEGEL interview, he shares his gloomy forecast for a European Union gripped by debt crisis.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Laqueur, you experienced Europe and the Europeans in the best and the worst of times. Historical hot spots and the stations of your personal biography were closely and sometimes dramatically intertwined. Which conclusions have you reached today, at the advanced age of 92?

Laqueur: I became a historian of the postwar era in Europe, but the Europe I knew no longer exists. My book "Out of the Ruins of Europe," published in 1970, ended with an optimistic assessment of the future. Later, in 2008, "The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent" was published. I returned to the subject in my latest book, "After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent." The sequence of titles probably says it all.

SPIEGEL: The last two, at any rate, sound as if the demise of the Western world were imminent.

Laqueur: Europe will not be buried by ashes, like Pompeii or Herculaneum, but Europe is in decline. It's certainly horrifying to consider its helplessness in the face of the approaching storms. After being the center of world politics for so long, the old continent now runs the risk of becoming a pawn.

SPIEGEL: Fortunately, the European Union refrained from pursuing any imperial ambitions. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive entity, both politically and economically, despite the financial and debt crisis.

Laqueur: Europe will likely remain influential in the future as an economic power and trading partner. But the continent still isn't standing on its own feet politically and militarily today. This wouldn't be that important if power politics didn't play a role and conflicts were resolved peacefully by the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. But the conflicts have not decreased. Their inherent fanaticism and passions continue to burn, as we can now see, once again, in Syria and in Egypt. Under these circumstances, is it realistic to call for European independence in global politics?

SPIEGEL: Why shouldn't the EU be able to be a champion of soft power?

Laqueur: Freedom, human rights, social justice are all wonderful, and I don't want to minimize the achievements of European societies. But a role model? Europe is much too weak to play a civilizing or moral role in world politics. Nice speeches and well-intentioned admonitions carry little weight when made from a position of weakness. In fact, all they do is aggravate China and Russia. Such reproofs are presumptuous, insincere and, unfortunately, often ridiculous. Under the current circumstances, Europe would be well advised to keep a lower profile.

SPIEGEL: That's the kind of advice that another eminence grise (former German Chancellor) Helmut Schmidt, likes to dispense.

Laqueur: I'm afraid that Europe has largely squandered its moral credit. It shies away from imposing sanctions; it has a very hard time intervening in crises outside Europe; and it has even demonstrated its general impotence in wars in its own backyard. Most European governments, not least the German government, don't even have the guts to admit that they are playing a double game.

SPIEGEL: After two world wars, it goes without saying that Europe is in a post-heroic state.

Laqueur: Yes, but how will the postmodern age survive in a world in which, all too often, chaos prevails, rather than international law? The champions of postmodernism will have to act in accordance with two different methods: first, using those that regulate our treatment of one another, and second, using methods to deal with the bullies and thugs who have yet to achieve the enlightened condition of the postmodern age.

SPIEGEL: You seem to advocate a sort of liberal imperialism, which seems self-contradictory. No one believes the United States when it takes that approach, either.

Laqueur: That is, in fact, an unnecessarily provocative concept, which doesn't embody a realistic policy, either. An approach to international politics that involves two different codes of rules, values and standards doesn't just constitute discrimination, but also requires a cold-blooded decisiveness that Europe lacks. Europe is often motivated by fear, which both the bullies and those who need help recognize.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the EU would be extremely welcome as a player in the global game in many parts of the world.

Laqueur: Certainly, but the European crisis is not primarily just a debt crisis. The real question is: Does Europe, in its apathy, even want to play a role in global politics? Arthur Schopenhauer, the great philosopher of pessimism, said that it's easy to want, but that "wanting to want" is virtually impossible. No matter how often European values are invoked and praised, a weak will, inertia, fatigue, self-doubt and lack of self-confidence all amount to the psychological diagnosis of a weak ego.

SPIEGEL: After the horrors of the 20th century and Germany's two attempts to secure global power, both of which failed miserably, is depression a part of the European state of mind?

Laqueur: Pharmacologists have yet to develop a drug to treat the collective depression of entire nations and generations. Keeping a low profile is easier for most Europeans than coming up with the political will to become a major political power once again.

SPIEGEL: It's also not as risky.

Laqueur: I'm not so sure about that. Only time will tell. The Europeans haven't quite understood that trying to stay out of the fray offers no protection against the consequences of global policy. Retreat offers no security against the consequences. Perhaps exaggerated caution is sometimes appropriate, but inaction can also prove to be disastrous. During his recent visit to Berlin, President Barack Obama said that remembering history should not lead to our withdrawing from history. I don't think that the economic, political and military problems Europe faces are insurmountable by any means. Nevertheless, a strange "abulia" has taken hold. French psychologists coined the term in the late 19th century to describe an inexplicable lack of will, which some now interpret as a symptom of aging in prosperity.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it a little facile to accuse Europe of decadence? Europe has always moved forward from one crisis to the next.

Laqueur: A 19th century cynic once said that a crisis is the period between two other crises. Historians are probably conservative by nature, and they tend to be skeptical. (Former German Chancellor) Konrad Adenauer once said something to the effect that there are countless ways to do something wrong, but only one way to do it right. I'm sticking to my diagnosis that Europe is in decline, especially when measured against the expectations that arose after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

SPIEGEL: At the time, optimism surrounding the euro went so far that even in the United States, predictions were made, in books, lectures and essays, that the 21st century would be the European century.

Laqueur: Around the turn of the millennium, European leaders seemed convinced, at their summit meetings, that Europe was in the process of becoming a shining example, a role model for other nations, with its international virtues, its shared values, its model of the social welfare state and its system of intergovernmental relations. Anyone who questioned that was not only branded as a pessimist, but also as a reactionary. This euphoria probably has more to with a disappointment over America, especially the America of (former US President) George W. Bush, than with actual circumstances in Europe. Thanks to the short-sighted, arrogant and aggressive US foreign policy of those years, a European anti-Americanism flared up, which has remained latent on both the left and the right, and it distorted Europeans' views of their own weaknesses.

SPIEGEL: Is Europe experiencing a moment of truth in the current crisis?

Laqueur: I'd have to answer that question with another question. What are the prospects for a reversal of the process? The decline is relative, and it's taking place gradually. The situation is bad, even very bad in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but it isn't devastating. Europeans are making every effort to prevent a crash and achieve a soft landing. The collapse of the monetary union is not unavoidable. In fact, if one considers the consequential costs, I think it's somewhat unlikely in the foreseeable future. Perhaps a rapid decline would be even better, because it would raise awareness of the need for a general overhaul of the European structure. Crises bring about solidarity, as Jean Monnet, one of Europe's founding fathers, knew all too well.

SPIEGEL: People now recognize that the EU is both a community of solidarity and a community of fate. This is symbolized by the creation of a bailout and stability mechanism.

Laqueur: But, as a result, Europeans have lost the sense of clear and present danger. Once again, European leaders believe that they are out of the woods. Well, miracles happen. But it's my impression that the formula is being applied that promises the least amount of success in the longer term and is the least painful -- a little reform here, a little tinkering there, and a dose of business as usual.

SPIEGEL: One could also say, less caustically, that this is simply pragmatic crisis management, as practiced by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Laqueur: It's a policy based on persistence. It appears that there is a hidden law in history, where institutions, once they are established, become self-propelling and continue to exist, contrary to all expectations or fears, or at least much longer than expected. There is always a retarding, persevering moment before the collapse arrives.

SPIEGEL: So we end up with a rude awakening, after all?

Laqueur: The rise and fall of empires are constants in history. Historians have been searching for explanations since antiquity. Is it, as Oswald Spengler said after World War I, an unavoidable consequence of the aging process, an older person's desire for a quiet and undisturbed life? Has material prosperity created a timid society, one that avoids all conflicts and tries to ignore all warning signs that it sees as detrimental to its hedonism?

SPIEGEL: Spengler's theory explained nothing. It was merely an expression of a mood in 1918. And doesn't a saturated society have its advantages, too, such as a reduced propensity to violence?

Laqueur: Of course, life doesn't just take place at the top. Being eliminated from the Champions League isn't the end. But then it might be advisable to somewhat limit the generous distribution of good advice to other countries and not to invoke one's own achievements as enthusiastically. Constant self-praise could easily become counterproductive, because one's achievements should never be taken for granted. The EU may survive the current crisis, but what about the next one and the one after that? It is no longer a given that the majority of Europeans want to continue to the end of the path to a political union. The first stabs at moving away from that concept are unmistakable. Nothing is without an alternative in history and politics.

SPIEGEL: In that case, would what remained of Europe consist of more than a geographical concept and a cultural memory?

Laqueur: What will Europe turn out to be? Europe needs the world, and the world needs Europe. These are august words that people like to hear, and to some extent they are also true. Who couldn't agree with that? But does the world feel the same way? The possibility that Europe will become a museum or a cultural amusement park for the nouveau riche of globalization is not completely out of the question. Ten years ago, 900,000 Chinese came to Western Europe as tourists. Now it's several million.

SPIEGEL: Does that bother you, as an old European?

Laqueur: I think I've traveled to every European country, except Norway and Albania. My father never made it to France or Great Britain, and my mother never left her native country. My first station in Europe, after returning from Israel in the early 1950s, was Paris, the second one was Berlin, and the third was London, where I was director of the Wiener Library for 30 years. I can almost see the grave of Karl Marx from my apartment in London. London has become less interesting than it used to be, and yet I'm not deeply sentimental. Yes, I feel a certain regret that Europe hasn't come as far as one could have hoped. But I haven't lost any sleep over it, either.

SPIEGEL: You once wrote that you would have preferred to live at the end of the 19th century instead of in the horrible 20th century. That was the old Europe to a T.

Laqueur: (laughing) Especially in Paris! The fin de siècle, with its Belle Époque, was an incredibly optimistic time. Even the socialists felt that things were improving and that they would soon come to power, for the good of mankind. This brings us to an interesting insight: The years after the French defeat of 1870 and 1871 were years of depression, when Paul Verlaine wrote in a poem: "I am the Empire at the end of decadent days." Thirty years later, Paris was a city filled with energy and joie de vivre, with theaters, dance halls, cabaret, the Impressionists' salon, the 1889 World's Fair, the construction of the Eiffel Tower and Louis Blériot's flight across the English Channel. The French had rediscovered their optimism, and no one knows exactly why.

SPIEGEL: But that spells hope for Europe.

Laqueur: (laughing) Hope springs eternal. It's one of the most frequently quoted verses of English poetry. The poet was Alexander Pope, a decidedly cautious man. He had many enemies, and we know from his sister that he never went out into the street without his large, aggressive dog, and always with two loaded pistols in his bag.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Laqueur, we thank you for this interview.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


July 27, 2013

Want World Domination? Size Matters


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — HORACE GREELEY, Napoleon Bonaparte and Cecil Rhodes may seem strange bedfellows, but they all agreed that territorial, political and economic size was critical to a country’s success. They wanted more land — in the West, in Europe or overseas. In 1904, Halford Mackinder, an Oxford geographer, told an august assemblage at the Royal Geographical Society that the country that controlled the Russian “heartland,” a frostbitten Central Asian steppe, would dominate “the world island” — the combined territory of Europe and North Asia — and in time come to rule the world. A centrally located piece of territory like the Russian plain, Mackinder argued, could be expanded West and East without the need for naval power.

As it turned out, Russia was then facing both war and revolution, and could not fully control the heartland, to say nothing of ruling the entire world. But Mackinder’s terms pointed to the critical role of territorial and economic size in the competition among nations.

Without quoting Mackinder, President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have recently sought to form a huge free-trade zone that would join Europe with the United States in a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, creating an economic power with nearly half of the world’s gross domestic product. On June 19, alongside Ms. Merkel in Berlin, Mr. Obama declared that Europe and the United States were the “engine of the global economy” and that they should “see ourselves as something bigger” in the global quest for freedom, justice and peace.

Of course, the joining of the two continents would increase trade and employment. It would facilitate Mr. Obama’s goal of doubling American exports and increasing investment and consumption. Ms. Merkel would smile as German cars and medical equipment poured into American markets, and Washington would return the favor with microprocessors, biotechnical devices and liquid natural gas. If the deal is concluded next year as planned, economists estimate the creation at least one million jobs over 10 years, and a 0.5 percent increase in G.D.P., on both sides of the Atlantic. The new pact would draw together 259 of the Fortune 500 companies. Investment flows and tourism would bubble to new heights.

But the underlying reason for bridging the narrowing “Atlantic Channel” is that power is shifting east, and there is a need to reconsolidate the West. Paradoxically, closer ties with Europe will be the means by which Mr. Obama carries out his “pivot to Asia” as America and Germany bring together advanced industries and a vast population of skilled workers.

In the short term, China will respond (and has already responded) to this trans-Atlantic combination by strengthening its ties with the outside world. While dumping dollars and buying euros, China has sought to turn its American bond holdings into shares in American corporations. It has moved into London’s money markets and invested heavily throughout Africa. None of this has created an alternative political unit, however.

Countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and North Korea will never be pillars of a new international economic order. There is no looming political or economic counterweight to the West’s assembly of democratic nations, which earlier this month embraced Croatia as the European Union’s 28th member.

Mr. Obama’s and Ms. Merkel’s pursuit of greater democratic size is not a new objective. Strategists have always known that countries with more people, wealth and economic space can produce more and trade over a larger region. Worldwide tariff cuts have failed; what could be more appropriate than for Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel to seek the largest alternative place in which to trade freely, thus stimulating their industries in competition with rising Eastern nations?

The strategists of the postwar era reached similar conclusions. The State Department’s legendary policy planning chiefs George F. Kennan and Paul H. Nitze recognized that “a combination of the physical resources of Russia and China with the technical skills and machine tools of Germany and the Eastern European countries might spell a military reality more powerful than anything that could be mobilized against it.” Thus began the patient accumulation of allied nations into what became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was buttressed by the economically consolidating European Common Market and then the European Union.

Under Mikhail S. Gorbachev and particularly Boris N. Yeltsin, Russia wanted to join the West and the European Union. The 1996 election led some to believe that Moscow could eventually become an approximation of Western democracy. When Vladimir V. Putin succeeded Yeltsin, however, this dream vanished as former K.G.B. agents came to dominate. And when oil prices rose, abundant energy supplies allowed Russia to conclude that it didn’t need the West, nor did it need to be democratic.

Finally, victory in the cold war stemmed from a Western agglomeration of decisive economic and industrial strength. It was not an equality of power that brought the Soviet Union to heel, but a surplus of power, or an “overbalance” in the hands of the West.

THIS is not a declaration of economic war against the East. Rather, it reflects an awareness that China and others need to be brought into the West, bringing two halves of the world together. A greater American and European combination would amass $32 trillion today and much more tomorrow. A balance of power leads to conflict. But an overbalance attracts others to its economic core.

And China is dependent on that core. Unlike Russia, China must import the majority of its oil, and its use is currently at 9.7 million barrels a day. The money to buy this petroleum and natural gas must come from exports, mainly exports to the West. Here the West maintains a continuing advantage, because China receives only about 50 percent of the “value added” of its exports. The rest is garnered by European and American companies, which provide the research and development, design, marketing and financing for most products exported from China.

For decades to come, China will have to sell in the West to gain money and access to technologies that it doesn’t yet possess. The consolidation of a Euro-American economic unit will require China to join, too, as it becomes a more open, liberal and rule-governed polity.

Skeptics will argue that this is just an incremental enhancement of an already strong relationship and that the West could draw China in without this new trade deal. But America has tried and failed. It tried to form a bilateral bloc with China, the G-2, in 2009, but China’s leaders refused and frustrated Mr. Obama’s plans to cooperate on addressing climate change. It was clear that America would need a stronger West to get China’s attention. The key advantage of a new trade partnership with Europe is that it has a strong political and security foundation. It will be a peaceful but powerful alliance will add elements of technology, military strength and political will to resuscitate the West in its dealings with the rest of the world.

In the end, trade — not war — will attract others to the West’s economic core.

Richard N. Rosecrance is an adjunct professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of “The Resurgence of the West: How a Trans-Atlantic Union Can Prevent War and Restore the United States and Europe.”

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« Reply #7793 on: Jul 28, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story

By John Naughton, The Observer
Sunday, July 28, 2013 5:29 EDT

The press has lost the plot over the Snowden revelations. The fact is that the net is finished as a global network, and that US firms’ cloud services cannot be trusted

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story. The story is what he has revealed about the hidden wiring of our networked world. This insight seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media, for reasons that escape me but would not have surprised Evelyn Waugh, whose contempt for journalists was one of his few endearing characteristics. The obvious explanations are: incorrigible ignorance; the imperative to personalise stories; or gullibility in swallowing US government spin, which brands Snowden as a spy rather than a whistleblower.

In a way, it doesn’t matter why the media lost the scent. What matters is that they did. So as a public service, let us summarise what Snowden has achieved thus far.

Without him, we would not know how the National Security Agency (NSA) had been able to access the emails, Facebook accounts and videos of citizens across the world; or how it had secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; or how, through a secret court, it has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users’ data.

Similarly, without Snowden, we would not be debating whether the US government should have turned surveillance into a huge, privatised business, offering data-mining contracts to private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton and, in the process, high-level security clearance to thousands of people who shouldn’t have it. Nor would there be – finally – a serious debate between Europe (excluding the UK, which in these matters is just an overseas franchise of the US) and the United States about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

These are pretty significant outcomes and they’re just the first-order consequences of Snowden’s activities. As far as most of our mass media are concerned, though, they have gone largely unremarked. Instead, we have been fed a constant stream of journalistic pap – speculation about Snowden’s travel plans, asylum requests, state of mind, physical appearance, etc. The “human interest” angle has trumped the real story, which is what the NSA revelations tell us about how our networked world actually works and the direction in which it is heading.

As an antidote, here are some of the things we should be thinking about as a result of what we have learned so far.

The first is that the days of the internet as a truly global network are numbered. It was always a possibility that the system would eventually be Balkanised, ie divided into a number of geographical or jurisdiction-determined subnets as societies such as China, Russia, Iran and other Islamic states decided that they needed to control how their citizens communicated. Now, Balkanisation is a certainty.

Second, the issue of internet governance is about to become very contentious. Given what we now know about how the US and its satraps have been abusing their privileged position in the global infrastructure, the idea that the western powers can be allowed to continue to control it has become untenable.

Third, as Evgeny Morozov has pointed out, the Obama administration’s “internet freedom agenda” has been exposed as patronising cant. “Today,” he writes, “the rhetoric of the ‘internet freedom agenda’ looks as trustworthy as George Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ after Abu Ghraib.”

That’s all at nation-state level. But the Snowden revelations also have implications for you and me.

They tell us, for example, that no US-based internet company can be trusted to protect our privacy or data. The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system. Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their “cloud” services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA. That means that if you’re thinking of outsourcing your troublesome IT operations to, say, Google or Microsoft, then think again.

And if you think that that sounds like the paranoid fantasising of a newspaper columnist, then consider what Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission, had to say on the matter recently. “If businesses or governments think they might be spied on,” she said, “they will have less reason to trust the cloud, and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out. Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets, if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes? Front or back door – it doesn’t matter – any smart person doesn’t want the information shared at all. Customers will act rationally and providers will miss out on a great opportunity.”

Spot on. So when your chief information officer proposes to use the Amazon or Google cloud as a data-store for your company’s confidential documents, tell him where to file the proposal. In the shredder. © Guardian News and Media 2013


July 27, 2013

Snowden’s Lawyer Comes With High Profile and Kremlin Ties


MOSCOW — Anatoly Kucherena did not understand the e-mail he received this month, signed Edward Joseph Snowden. So he turned to an assistant in his law firm who speaks English. “I asked Valentina, ‘Is it a joke?’ ” Mr. Kucherena said. It was not.

The e-mail has since thrust Mr. Kucherena into the center of the fight over the fate of Mr. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor wanted in the United States for disclosing the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts. Days after he joined a group of Russian public figures at a surreal meeting in the international transit lounge of Sheremetyevo airport on July 12, Mr. Snowden asked Mr. Kucherena to take up his case for political asylum here. And he agreed, pro bono.

That has made him the architect of Mr. Snowden’s effort to remain in Russia, and effectively his unexpected public champion. Since he is one of the few people who meet with Mr. Snowden, he has been besieged for updates in the proceedings — a decision, which had been expected imminently, could now be weeks away — and also for hints to his client’s strategy and mood as his odyssey unfolds.

“He has this struggle inside himself,” Mr. Kucherena said the other day in a restaurant near the Kremlin that he has turned into an unofficial office since the whirlwind of news media attention circled on him. He emphasized that he was certain of the sincerity of the choice Mr. Snowden made between his conscience and the oath he took to protect classified information. “He is absolutely convinced that he did the right thing to tell the American people what was going on,” he said.

It was Mr. Kucherena who counseled Mr. Snowden to abandon his appeals for political asylum in more than 20 other countries, arguing that they had no legal standing while he remained on Russian soil. Instead he helped Mr. Snowden file the request for a form of temporary refuge here to avoid a drawn-out review that would ultimately end up on the desk of President Vladimir V. Putin.

He said repeated statements by the State Department and members of Congress had bolstered his case for asylum, despite a letter from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to his Russian counterpart promising that Mr. Snowden would receive a fair trial and disputing Mr. Snowden’s assertions that he faced torture or the death penalty if he returned to the United States.

“This is in the realm of big politics,” Mr. Kucherena said of the case. He added, though, that Mr. Snowden’s appeal was a purely legal matter that would prevail on the merits. “I am a lawyer. I don’t want to be involved in big politics.”

Mr. Kucherena’s role has increased his prominence in Russia. Like many defense lawyers in a country where justice is viewed as deeply politicized, he occupies an occasionally awkward space between challenging authority and being part of the system itself. At the same time, he is a political supporter of Mr. Putin’s and serves on the Public Chamber, an advisory body that critics have long derided as a Potemkin construct of actual government oversight. He also serves as a member of another board that oversees the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B.

Those roles have prompted accusations that the Kremlin is orchestrating events behind the scenes and that Mr. Kucherena has ties to the authorities or the security service itself, which he disputed. He said he had had no contact with anyone in power since Mr. Snowden hired him and he noted that his previous clients included those who stood accused by the F.S.B., including a diplomat and writer named Platon Obukhov, who was convicted of spying for Britain in 2001 though later was declared psychologically unfit to serve his sentence behind bars.

Mr. Kucherena said Mr. Snowden, who has been following the news about his case intently on his computer in a hotel at the airport, complained to him that such assertions were meant to discredit him and his case, especially at home in the United States.

Only Mr. Snowden knows why he settled on Mr. Kucherena to represent him. But he was one of two lawyers, along with Genri M. Reznik, who attended the airport meeting along with representatives of advocacy groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that have faced harassment from the authorities, especially since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency for a third term last year.

Mr. Snowden selected those who attended from a list drafted at his request by officials from the border police who control access to the transit lounge. Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who also attended, described Mr. Kucherena as a capable lawyer who also remained a “staunch loyalist” of the Kremlin.

“He portrays himself and is being portrayed by the Kremlin as an independent actor and one of the pillars of the Russian legal community,” she said, adding that he was “one of those figures whom the Kremlin pushes forward when accused of stifling civil society.”

Mr. Kucherena, who turns 53 next month, is certainly no dissident. Nor is he simply a product of the Soviet legal system, having joined the bar only in 1993. He was born in a tiny village in what is now Moldova and served as a sergeant in the Soviet Union’s strategic rocket forces before moving to Moscow to become an officer of the traffic police. He leveraged that job into acceptance for a correspondence course at the Moscow Legal Institute in 1985, which he completed six years later, just as Russia began its chaotic legal evolution.

He is a prolific author of books and textbooks and often appears as a commentator on television, something exceedingly rare for avowed opponents of Mr. Putin’s authority.

His legal reputation soared when he successfully defended Sergei Lisovsky, an entertainment mogul, after he was arrested during Boris N. Yeltsin’s re-election campaign in 1996 while he and another campaign adviser were carrying a box stuffed with $500,000 in cash out of the presidential administration’s headquarters.

His clients have since included rich celebrities — among them Iosif Kobzon, a singer; Nikita Mikhalkov, a film director; and the director of the famed Taganka Theater, Yuri Lyubimov — but also ordinary people ensnared in Russia’s judicial system. One of his most celebrated victories was the reversal of the conviction of a railroad worker charged with negligence in the death of a Siberian governor during a car accident that was not his fault, a case that caused public protests across the country.

Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International in Russia, who also met Mr. Snowden, said Mr. Kucherena’s success seemed to depend on carefully choosing his cases to avoid ones that could create problems with the authorities. “I think that is his talent, to feel which way the wind is blowing,” he said. “He knows when it’s worth doing something and when it’s better to stay away.”

He also has experience dealing with American extradition requests. He previously represented Alimzhan T. Tokhtakhounov, the reputed mafia boss known as Taiwanchik, whom the United States has been pursuing on a variety of charges since it first accused him of fixing figure-skating events at the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. Mr. Tokhtakhounov, who lives in Moscow and denies the accusations, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Kucherena had defended him well. “He’s a big guy, but he’s also an ordinary lawyer,” he said. “You pay him money and he will defend you.”

As for Mr. Snowden, Mr. Tokhtakhounov offered advice from his own experience: “It’s horrible to live on the wanted list.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer, Nikolai Khalip, Andrew Roth and Noah Sneider.

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« Reply #7794 on: Jul 28, 2013, 07:29 AM »

In the USA...

NBC criticized for broadcasting anti-LGBT Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, July 27, 2013 21:52 EDT

Officials at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) promised on Friday that visitors and competitors in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia would not be affected by the country’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law, amid growing protests against both American participation and the event’s broadcaster.

“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” the committee said in a statement to USA Today on Friday. “This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi.”

But Think Progress reported that the law, which purportedly targets “homosexual propaganda,” has already been accompanied by both an upswing in violence against the LGBT community and an increase in homophobia among the Russian populace. Human rights advocates have also highlighted the kidnapping and torturing of young LGBT people by a neo-Nazi group.

The Russian law has spurred an online petition calling for the U.S. to boycott the Sochi Games in response, which had garnered more than 99,000 signatures as of Saturday night. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures by Aug. 23, the White House is obliged to respond. A protest has also been planned for the Russian consulate in San Francisco, California on Aug. 3.

Members of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also criticized NBCUniversal, which will broadcast the competition, following a statement by a company spokesperson to Buzzfeed on Friday asserting its support for “equal rights and the fair treatment for all people.”

“We’re in agreement,” HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz told Buzzfeed. “Unfortunately platitudes won’t do away with these heinous laws that are an abomination to LGBT people. NBC has an obligation to provide fair and balanced coverage of Russia. It would not be an accurate depiction of the environment for the Olympics to merely be a commercial for the Russian Federation. History demands that NBC depict the truth.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


NC Governor admits: ‘I don’t know enough’ about parts of new voting restriction law

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, July 27, 2013 18:20 EDT

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) indicated on Friday he would sign a restrictive new law governing voting registrations in his state while admitting he was not familiar with one provision forbidding 17-year-olds from registering in advance of their 18th birthday.

“I don’t know enough,” McCrory told an Associated Press reporter toward the end of a press conference. “I haven’t seen that part of the bill.”


Controversy escalates over hunger-striking inmate death in California

By Reuters
Sunday, July 28, 2013 6:13 EDT

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Supporters of California prison inmates staging a prolonged hunger strike said on Saturday that one of the prisoners who had been refusing meals has died, but state corrections officials said the death was under investigation as a suicide.

The inmate, identified by mediators for protesting inmates as Billy Sell, died on Monday at the Corcoran State Prison in central California, where he was serving time in a “security housing unit” for prisoners held in solitary confinement, according to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

The group said in a statement that fellow inmates have reported that Sell was participating in the hunger strike, and that he had been requesting medical attention for several days before his death.

The hunger strike, which entered its 20th day on Saturday, was launched in protest against the state’s solitary confinement practices and ranks as the largest in California prison history.

“Advocates are outraged at Sell’s death, noting that it could have been prevented if (prison officials) had negotiated with strikers,” the coalition said in its statement.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation disputed those assertions.

“It’s irresponsible and inflammatory for hunger strike supporters to say this inmate, whose death is being investigated as a suicide, died as a result of the hunger strike,” the department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in a statement.

She added, “The inmate was not participating in the hunger strike at the time of this death.”

The statement gave no further details about the circumstances of his death, except to say that the 32-year-old inmate was found “unresponsive” in his cell on July 22 and was pronounced dead at the prison’s hospital that night.

“Also, because it is the weekend, I cannot tell you if the autopsy has been completed,” she said.

According to Hoffman, the inmate was serving a life term for attempted murder and was awaiting trial in connection with the 2007 slaying of a cell mate at Corcoran.

Corrections officials did not immediately respond to requests for additional information about the death or the investigation.

Thousands of inmates in high-security lockups throughout the state launched the hunger strike on July 8 to protest what advocates say is the unfair and inhumane use of solitary confinement as punishment within the system.

Supporters of the striking inmates say more than 30,000 of California’s 132,800 inmates have taken part in the action.

Prison officials say the number of inmates who have continued to decline at least nine consecutive meals – the minimum number that they say qualifies as a hunger strike – has dwindled to 601 inmates in nine prisons as of Saturday.

The state has 4,527 inmates held in security housing units, some for committing crimes while incarcerated and others who have been identified as gang members, according to prison officials.

Inmate advocates put the number of state prisoners confined in extreme isolation at nearly 12,000.

According to the Los Angeles Times, prison infirmaries have treated six hunger-striking inmates for conditions such as dehydration, dizziness and disorientation, and more than a dozen additional prisoners have lost 10 percent or more of their body weight from refusing meals.

There has been no indication from either side in the dispute that any inmate has faced the prospect of being force-fed.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


Michigan attorney general backs pensioners in Detroit bankruptcy

By Reuters
Saturday, July 27, 2013 13:55 EDT

(Reuters) – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said on Saturday he would join Detroit’s federal bankruptcy case to defend retirees who risk losing public pensions, arguing that the state’s constitution protects their benefits.

Schuette said Michigan’s constitution is “crystal clear” in stating that pension plans are a contractual obligation that may not be diminished or impaired.

“Retirees may face a potential financial crisis not of their own making, possibly a result of pension fund mismanagement,” Schuette said in a statement.

The attorney general said he would file an appearance in federal bankruptcy court on Monday on behalf of the pensioners affected by the biggest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

A U.S. bankruptcy court judge on Wednesday dealt a blow to Detroit’s public employee unions and pension funds opposed to the bankruptcy filing by suspending legal challenges in Michigan state courts while he reviews the city’s petition for protection from creditors.

The city’s unions and pension funds had hoped to keep the fight in state court, where they felt Michigan’s constitutional protections of retiree benefits would prevail against any efforts by state-appointed Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to scale them back.

Judge Steven Rhodes ordered three lawsuits filed by city workers, retirees and pension funds halted and extended that stay to suits against Orr as well as Michigan’s governor and treasurer.

In a June 14 proposal to creditors, Orr called for “significant cuts in accrued, vested pension amounts for both active and currently retired persons.”

Detroit, a former manufacturing powerhouse and cradle of the U.S. automotive industry, has struggled for decades as companies moved or closed, crime became rampant, and its population shrank. The city’s revenue failed to keep pace with spending, leading to years of budget deficits and a dependence on borrowing to stay afloat.

Schuette said he would continue to represent Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and state agencies in legal proceedings related to the bankruptcy.

(Reporting by Susan Kelly in Chicago; editing by Gunna Dickson)


JPMorgan Chase stops selling physical commodities amid federal pressure

By Reuters
Friday, July 26, 2013 22:30 EDT

By David Sheppard and Jonathan Leff

NEW YORK (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co is exiting physical commodities trading, the bank said in a surprise statement on Friday, as Wall Street’s role in the trading of raw materials comes under unprecedented political and regulatory pressure.

After spending billions of dollars and five years building the banking world’s biggest commodity desk, JPMorgan said it would pursue “strategic alternatives” for its trading assets that stretch from Baltimore to Johor, and a global team dealing in everything from African crude oil to Chilean copper.

The firm will explore “a sale, spinoff or strategic partnership” of the physical business championed by commodities chief Blythe Masters, the architect of JPMorgan’s expansion in the sector and one of the most famous women on Wall Street. The bank said it will continue to trade in financial commodities such as derivatives and precious metals.

Pressured by tougher regulation and rising capital levels, JPMorgan joins other banks such as Barclays PLC and Deutsche Bank in a retreat that marks the end of an era in which investment banks across the world rushed to tap into volatile markets during a decade-long price boom.

But JPMorgan is the first big player to exit physical commodities entirely and attention will now turn to Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, which face similar pressures.

Friday’s announcement follows a week of intense scrutiny of Wall Street’s commodity operations, with U.S. lawmakers questioning whether banks should own warehouses and pipelines, and the U.S. Federal Reserve reviewing a landmark 2003 decision that allowed commercial banks to trade in physical markets.

JPMorgan’s own review, which began in February, concluded that the profits from the business were too slight to be worth the risks and costs of dealing with regulators in multiple jurisdictions, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Although the commodity division’s $2.4 billion in reported revenue last year surpassed those of long-time rivals Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley combined, some have queried its profitability due to the costs of running a huge logistical operation. One analyst estimated that physical trade accounted for half or more of overall commodities revenue.

A sale could help JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon make good on his promise to put the bank back on course after a series of costly and embarrassing trading moves and regulatory run-ins, including a potential $410 million settlement over alleged power market manipulation.

But securing a sale may not be straightforward. Several other large energy trading operations are also on the block, at a time when tough new regulations and low volatility have dampened interest in commodity trading. Rival investment banks are unlikely suitors.

Morgan Stanley, which said it had its worst quarter in commodities in decades in the fourth quarter of 2012, has been trying to sell its business since last year. Goldman has looked at divesting its metal warehouse unit Metro since March.

“Where just a few years ago the bulge bracket (banks) were expanding and hiring at a breakneck pace, now retrenchment is the order of the day,” said George Stein, managing director of New York-based recruiting firm Commodity Talent LLC.

The news will also bring questions about the future for Britain-born Masters, who started as an intern on JPMorgan’s London trading floor two decades ago. After long lagging rivals, she transformed JPMorgan’s commodity arm into a global powerhouse in less than five years.

JPMorgan spokesman Brian Marchiony said the bank had “considered many different factors” before deciding to exit the business, “including the impact of potential new rules and regulation.”


The announcement came just three days after a powerful Senate banking committee heard from experts who said that metals warehouses owned by Wall Street and other commodities traders were distorting markets and even driving up the cost of aluminum cans for beer and soda. Some said allowing them to trade in physical markets was a risk to the financial system.

“This could be good news for consumers and taxpayers,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, member of the Senate Banking Committee.

“Banks should focus on core banking activities,” he said.

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission have also both launched probes into metal warehousing. When JPMorgan bought the company in 2010, Henry Bath’s warehouses were the second largest in the London Metals Exchange system.

JPMorgan’s decision is a sharp and unexpected reversal for a bank that has pushed aggressively into the sector since 2008, when it first inherited a host of power trading assets through its acquisition of Bear Stearns during the financial crisis.

That was followed by the acquisition of RBS Sempra Commodities in 2010, allowing the bank to quickly become the largest commodity business on Wall Street, with a global footprint in oil and one of the biggest metal trade desks. Its staff swelled to 600 people across 10 offices.

The bank initially struggled, however, to integrate the entrepreneurial trading unit, and a number of senior traders left. That same year a bad trade in coal markets lost hundreds of millions of dollars, which Masters called a “rookie error.”

But it seemed to have found its footing last year, securing new deals and stemming the exodus of talent.

During its short peak, JPMorgan’s global commodity operation was considered the largest on Wall Street, supplying crude oil to the biggest refinery on the East Coast and holding enough electricity contracts to power Indiana’s 2.8 million homes. It was one of the 10 largest U.S. natural gas traders.

The tide seemed to turn this year.

Already under pressure in Washington following its $6.2 billion “London Whale” loss on derivatives trades last year, in March it learned that the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was preparing to charge its power traders with manipulating markets in the Midwest and California.

The bank has since scaled back its power business and sold off half of its power trading contracts, Reuters reported earlier this week. Earlier this month its longtime global oil trading head Jeff Frase left the bank.


The decision to move out of the raw materials trade comes months after Dimon vowed to resolve multiple government investigations and correct problems that regulators have found.

Big banks are taking a more conciliatory stance in general with regulators who continue to impose new rules more than five years after the start of the financial crisis.

The impact of the decision may be modest for the bank as a whole, analysts have said. JPMorgan shares ended down 0.8 percent at $56.05 on Friday.

Overall commodity trading at the bank is around 15 percent of total fixed income, currency and commodity trading revenue (FICC), with physical-related trading around 5 to 10 percent of that, bank stock analyst Matt O’Connor at Deutsche Bank said in a report this week after meeting with Dimon. FICC revenue made up less than 15 percent of total bank revenue in the latest quarter.

Still, getting good value for the commodity business may be tough as the market is already crowded.

Morgan Stanley, facing even tougher regulatory pressure over its vast oil division, has been trying to sell its commodities division without success since last year. It may learn by September whether the Federal Reserve will allow it to keep its business, including the logistics unit TransMontaigne.

Hetco, the physical trading shop half owned by Hess Corp, is also in the midst of being sold as Hess is split up. And the energy trading unit of Omaha, Nebraska-based Gavilon may also be for sale after Marubeni Corp excluded it from its takeover of the grains trader this year.

The value of its Henry Bath warehouses, once considered the crown jewel of Sempra, is said to have slumped as the LME prepares to implement tougher rules that are meant to end the lengthy queues that have helped bolster earnings.

“There are questions about the return on capital now,” said a senior executive in the warehousing industry. “I don’t see many deploying their money.”

Industry executives say that there are two types of buyers for these vast, capital-intensive businesses: private equity groups like Carlyle Group, which have recently moved into the space, and sovereign wealth funds like that of Qatar.

But the group could also be a target for one of several merchant traders looking to quickly expand into metals and energy markets.

Freepoint Commodities, a privately owned merchant founded by the original Sempra team, bought back a metals concentrates business from JPMorgan last year. Swiss-based Vitol and Mercuria, two of the world’s largest energy traders, have both expanded into metals in the last year.

(Additional reporting by David Henry and Josephine Mason in New York; Douwe Miedema in Washington; Avik Das and Aman Shah in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Phil Berlowitz and Lisa Shumaker)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Group asks NRA to kick ‘racist’ Ted Nugent off its board

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, July 25, 2013 9:11 EDT

A gun control group is petitioning the National Rifle Association (NRA) to remove rocker Ted Nugent from its board of directors after he wrote an uttered a string of racially inflammatory comments about the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Nugent’s seeming focus on fanning racial tensions did not sit very well with The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), an umbrella group comprised of 47 individual organizations across the country working to promote gun control laws.

“The NRA likes to bill itself as the ‘oldest civil rights organization in the United States,’” they explained in a petition published Wednesday. “If they want to wear that mantle it’s time for them to walk the walk and end their relationship with Ted Nugent immediately.”

Speaking to Raw Story, CSGV Communications Director Ladd Everitt said the petition had over 1,600 signatures as of Thursday morning. “For us, the impetus for this was that we all felt that Nugent was going into, even for himself, new and darker territory with [his rhetoric],” Everitt said. “This constant stream of quotes has been just so overtly racist, it really calls into question why [the NRA] allows this man to sit on their board.”

Nugent has been on a tirade about race in America since George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Martin, notably calling the dead 17-year-old boy a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe” in a column for the conservative blog Rare, and a “gangsta wanabe, Skittles hoodie boy” in a separate piece for conservative conspiracy website World Net Daily.

Nugent also spoke to Internet conspiracy radio host Alex Jones on July 16, just two days before his WND column was published, claiming that racism against African-Americans is actually a “dirty lie” and accusing “black mobs” of “the worst racism since the Klan.”

“The blacks have bought into this lie that somehow they’re oppressed when the president is black, the attorney general is black, governors are black, senators are black, congressmen are black, mayors are black, Oprah Winfrey, the richest people in the world are black,” he insisted. “It is a dirty lie.”

Nugent went on to blame Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Attorney General Eric Holder for inflicting a “curse” upon black people that’s left them in “self-inflicted shackles.”

“I would like to reach out to black America and tell them to absolutely reject the lie of Al ‘Not So’ Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, and the Black Panthers and Eric Holder and Barack Obama,” he told Jones. “They are enslaving you and the real shackles on black America, 100 percent of the time come from black America.”

He’s since announced plans to “boycott” the city of Chicago over its gun control laws, in response to legendary black musician Stevie Wonder’s announcement that he will no longer perform in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws. Speaking to a right-wing radio host this week, Nugent said Wonder must be brain-damaged and that his boycott is inspired by a lifetime of drug abuse.

Of course, this whole effort begs the question: What good will a petition do? After all, it’s not like CSGV has the NRA’s ear, but Everitt seemed to think otherwise.

“A lot of [our members]… are saying, ‘Why would I want to do something to help the NRA?’” he explained. “A lot of them are totally fed up with the NRA and view Nugent as something useful to us, a man who is more likely to bring the organization down quickly… But I told them kind of jokingly, ‘If your goal is to keep Ted on the board, maybe a petition from a gun control group is a good way to do that.’”

An NRA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

House Bill 589, which was criticized before becoming law for suppressing voters among the elderly, poor and communities of color, also increases the limit on campaign contributions to $5,000 per person; allows greater latitude for “poll observer” groups to station themselves at local polling sites; mandates voters have a state-issued photo identification; and bans same-day voter registration and state-run voter registration drives.

“Same-day voter registration has always caused me concern,” McCrory told the AP on Friday. “Because of the difficulty in its application, and the possibility for abuse. There’s plenty of opportunity for voter registration — online, off-line, through many methods. I thought that was a fair system before, and I think it’s a fair system now.”

However, state Democrats have countered that there has been little evidence of actual voter fraud. And NC Policy Watch reported on Friday that despite McCrory’s statement, there is no mechanism for registering to vote online. Residents wishing to do so must download a form, then send it via physical mail to their county elections board.

The AP also reported that when asked how three provisions in the bill would specifically cut down on voter fraud, McCrory sidestepped the issue.

“One thing you didn’t mention was the additional laws in that bill which prohibit the bundling by lobbyists of money, which, I think, is a major addition to that bill,” McCrory told the AP.

The governor also took issue with the suggestion that the section covering lobbyist bundling was inspired by allegations that his former law firm, Moore & Van Allen, benefitted from that kind of donation.

“You need to get your facts straight,” McCrory said, looking irritated. “It’s been alleged.”

McCrory also defended the sweeping new abortion restrictions he signed into law on Friday.

“If you go to the city that I grew up in, there was early voting but the locations for that early voting were very limited and extremely political in their placement,” he said. “That is being resolved by having fair access across the board at many, many more sites than they had in the past.”

“We are not gonna limit access in those facilities,” said McCrory, who also accused critics of misleading the public. “We’re gonna increase the safety in those facilities. And we’ve learned that two facilities not far from here in Durham have serious, serious issues that need to be addressed.”

But critics of the new rules — which were added on to a bill covering motorcycle safety regulations — have accused the governor of reneging on a campaign promise not to push through these kinds of laws.

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« Reply #7795 on: Jul 29, 2013, 05:51 AM »

Zimbabwe elections loom amid signs of fragile recovery

Five years on from crash, shelves are full again – but some fear that polls could plunge economy back into instability

David Smith in Harare
The Guardian, Sunday 28 July 2013 20.34 BST   

Cape Cookies with muesli yoghurt filling, cracked olives, Häagen-Dazs Belgian chocolate ice cream, mahatma rice, risotto with salmon, Turkish delights and, for a princely $75.28 (£48.94), Wensleydale and cranberries cheese weighing 58kg: if you live in Harare all these are available at a supermarket near you – if you can afford them.

Five years after an economic collapse that left shelves bare and inflation at 231,000,000%, Zimbabwe goes into elections this week looking and feeling in better shape. Schools and hospitals have reopened, roads are being repaired, power cuts are less common, tobacco farms are showing signs of recovery and fibre optic cables have delivered fast internet.

At last the country seems poised to write its chapter in the popular narrative of "Africa rising". But the gains are fragile, with growth creating too few jobs and slowing in the past two years, and eminently reversible. There are fears that Wednesday's hotly contested polls could undo all the advances and plunge the economy back into instability.

On Sunday morning at the Sam Levy's Village shopping centre in the upmarket Harare suburb of Borrowdale, Theo Chiwanga, 34, was buying fruit while trying to keep an eye on her energetic son Adrian, seven, and three-year-old daughter Zoe. The economic crash came at a terrible personal cost: her husband was killed in a car accident while travelling to South Africa in search of work.

Chiwanga recalled the dark days of hyperinflation when a wheelbarrow of cash was not worth a loaf of bread, the central bank issued a 100 trillion dollar note and people in rural areas faced starvation for the first time in living memory.

"Times were hard. I got a job at a bank because that was the only place to access money. You had to get a whole wad of cash but at the end of the week it was no good for you. The shops were empty. Our kids didn't have basic things like we had.

"My son was born in 2006; he didn't know grapes until 2010. Even stuff like nappies – you had to send people to South Africa to get for you. For the basic commodities like sugar you have to queue up the whole day and pay a black market price. It was a rip-off."

Now the situation is very different, as shelves in the Fruit & Veg City store bulge with fresh produce. Chiwanga added: "We're very much better than before. Being able to shop like this, it's not something we take for granted. I hope we never go back to that time."

Another shopper, a 38-year-old businesswoman who gave her name only as Constance, said: "It was terrible, there was nothing in the shops. We had to go to South Africa for bread and put it in a deep freezer. You'd get money from the bank in the morning and it would be useless in the afternoon if you didn't spend it immediately. It was something that should never be repeated."

Pushing a well-stocked trolley, a 34-year-old accountant, who declined to be named, added: "It was empty in here. All you could get was detergent. So we did a lot of travelling out of the country to get daily supplies; we had to get cheese from Botswana. The currency rate would change every hour: we were into billions and trillions. Our boots were full of currency.

"But now we're on the right track and, on the whole, things are much better. If you look at the Mercedes-Benzes on our roads in comparison to South Africa, you realise there is something we are doing correctly. We've learned from sad experiences but we've come out stronger as a nation. It won't happen again this time."

Sam Levy's Village offers Zimbabwe's middle class a cocktail lounge, designer watches and a competition to win an iPad mini. But with most goods imported, supermarket prices in the capital are high: a 180g bar of Dairy Milk chocolate costs $4 (£2.60). With unemployment at 70% or more, and manufacturers struggling to compete with cheap Chinese imports, few can afford a share in the good life.

Most experts attribute the revival to one factor above all: the adoption of multiple currencies, principally the US dollar, after the Zimbabwean dollar's implosion. There has also been praise for finance minister Tendai Biti, who has said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was compelled to enter a unity government with president Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in 2009 to rescue the country from disaster.

As in other parts of Africa, resource-hungry China has become a major investor, helping Zimbabwe post 7% growth up to 2011, although Zanu-PF is accused of siphoning off profits from diamond mines at the treasury's expense.

The shift in fortunes has breathed new life into long neglected public services. In 2008 only 27 teaching days were held in the country's schools. When education minister David Coltart took office the following February, he recalls, virtually all 8,000 schools were shut, 90% of teachers were on strike and there was only one textbook for every 15 pupils. None of the lifts in the 18-storey ministry of education was working, there were no computers and the toilets were broken. "It was a sewage pond," he said. "An absolute shambles."

And now? "It's unrecognisably better. Every school is open. We have not lost a single day to strikes and stayaways in the past year. The core textbook ratio is now 1:1. Fifteen thousand teachers have come back in the sector in the last four years. Many have managed to buy cars, whereas prior to that they were struggling to buy food."

A middle-class made destitute in 2007-08 has been restored, Coltart added. But the past two years have seen the economy hit a ceiling, he argues, because of Zanu-PF's aggressive economic policies and a fall in gold and platinum prices.

"The uncertainty of the election has also caused a massive downturn in business confidence. If, by hook or by crook, Zanu-PF wins, it's going to cause a total drying up of foreign direct investment."

Last week Biti cut Zimbabwe's growth forecast for this year from 5% to 3.4%, blaming the elections. Perhaps the biggest threat of all would be a close result that forces Zanu-PF into another run-off against the MDC, raising the spectre of a repeat of the 2008 violence that left more than 200 dead and deepened the economic malaise. The anchor of the US dollar, however, means that few predict a meltdown on the scale of last time.

Among the optimists is Tigere Chigeregede, 34, who one night last week enjoyed dinner with his wife Agnes in a private room at the fashionable China Garden restaurant. "Things got a lot better compared to where are coming from," said the finance director, who owns a four-bedroom house, second-hand Mercedes and iPhone 5.

"Sometimes when I read the papers I get shocked: is this Zimbabwe you're talking about? Five years ago it was close to reality when there was basically nothing. Now we believe in life."


Zimbabwe's 2013 elections explained

As Zimbabweans prepare to vote in presidential, senate, national and local government elections, what is at stake for the country?

Taku Dzimwasha, Monday 29 July 2013 07.00 BST   

On 31 July, Zimbabweans will go to the polls to vote in presidential, senate, national assembly and local government elections. The focus will be on the acrimonious battle for the presidency between the incumbent, Robert Mugabe, and the prime minster, Morgan Tsvangirai.

What is at stake?

After the violent elections in 2008, Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and Tsvangirai's MDC-T (so named to distinguish it from the MDC-N, a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Welshman Ncube, the industry and commerce minister), were forced to form a coalition, which has, against the odds, overseen solid economic growth since 2010, due to the resurgence of agriculture and revenue from diamonds.

The re-emergence of the agricultural industry is of particular significance, as it formed the backbone of the economy until the policy of land reform was implemented.

Now, resettled farmers grow 40% of the country's tobacco and 49% of its maize. However, the economy is slowing, and unemployment is understood to be running at 85%, with youth unemployment a particular concern.

Education – formerly an area in which Zimbabwe excelled, with the highest literacy rate in Africa – has been especially slow to recover, owing to a lack of funding and a "brain drain". Although the economy is the most pressing issue for many Zimbabweans, youth unemployment and education will be two of the country's long-term challenges.

The two leaders have very different visions for Zimbabwe. Mugabe is under pressure from a hardcore section of his supporters to bring foreign-owned companies under "indigenous" control. This rhetoric appeals to Zimbabweans, especially young people, who are often forced to operate in the informal economy, which is traditionally unreliable. Tsvangirai, whose reputation has been tarnished by personal scandals and dissatisfaction with his leadership, wants to encourage foreign investment and reintegrate the country into the international community.

This is a pivotal moment for Zimbabwe, and the election outcome could mean the difference between a return to the turmoil after the 2008 vote or a continuation of the rebuilding process.

Will the elections be free and fair?

In a rare moment of co-operation, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a new constitution that stipulated all security forces and government institutions, including state media, must be impartial, and genuine reforms on freedom of speech must be implemented. However, by calling for elections to be held at the end of July, Mugabe has made sure there would not be enough time for all reforms to take place.

The electoral registration has also been tainted and, according to an independent audit carried out by the Research and Advocacy Unit, the names of more than a million people who are either deceased or have emigrated were found on the electoral roll.

Under these conditions, free and fair elections will be difficult, and there have been instances of politically motivated arrests.

Who will be the likely winner?

Questions about his personal life and the subsequent smear campaign, especially in the state media, have led to Tsvangirai losing support among urban voters. Zanu-PF has successfully portrayed him as a "western stooge". The MDC-T has failed to fully mobilise its support and its popularity has slumped from 38% in 2010 to 20% last year, according to a report by Freedom House.

But the party believes it will not be denied this time. It claims credit for Zimbabwe's economic recovery, as it was in charge of the financial portfolio, and the shortages that blighted everyday life have disappeared. However, because the majority of food is imported, prices are high. Lower-income families in the cities face particular challenges, as they cannot grow crops so must rely on rural relatives to provide the staples.

But backed by the state apparatus, a Mugabe victory seems inevitable, and many commentators predict a comfortable win against Tsvangirai. The same cannot be said about Zanu-PF. Dogged by infighting between "hardliners", who want foreign-owned businesses to be owned by the black majority, and more conciliatory "reformists", the party appears to be in the midst of an ideological battle. The loss of key politicians has left the party weaker, but loyalty to Mugabe remains strong.

The real concern for both parties is the loss of votes to emerging rivals such as MDC-N and older parties including Zapu. The issue is of great concern for MDC-T, which risks haemorrhaging votes to the likes of Zapu, whose traditional stronghold is Matabeleland.

If Mugabe wins the presidency, he will probably oversee a fractured government. With local government, national assembly and senate seats up for grabs, pacts and coalitions may be the order of the day.

Uniting a fractious government will be his main challenge and, considering his age, 89, it could be his biggest. In order to overcome the deep issues the country faces with high unemployment and an education system that is struggling for funding and results, Mugabe will have to be able work successfully with a divided government.

What if Mugabe loses?

Both parties have agreed to accept the result irrespective of the winner. Yet the language from the campaign suggests the opposite. After military intervention in Egypt, many commentators worry that if Mugabe loses at the polls, the same will happen in Zimbabwe. Some senior military officers loyal to Mugabe have strongly indicated that they would not accept Tsvangirai as president. The generals are loyal to Mugabe, as he appointed them and they have profited immensely under him, but the allegiance of the rank and file is unknown. So while the threat from the military is real, it should not be overstated.

Avoiding the violence that followed the 2008 election will need to be the priority of the Southern African Development Community, but by capitulating on reforms and allowing Mugabe to dictate terms, it is likely that anything but a victory for him will mean more bloodshed.

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« Reply #7796 on: Jul 29, 2013, 05:57 AM »

Morsi supporters pledge to stand firm after massacre

No one's going anywhere, say protesters camped outside mosque in east Cairo after at least 65 killed in nearby street

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Sunday 28 July 2013 13.25 BST   

Supporters of the overthrown Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have pledged to maintain their weeks-old sit-in in east Cairo, despite the massacre of scores of their comrades by state officials on Saturday.

At least 65 pro-Morsi protesters were shot dead during an eight-hour attack by police officers and armed men dressed in civilian clothes. An ambulance official said the death toll was 72; the Muslim Brotherhood said 66 had died and a further 61 were braindead in hospital.

"No one's going anywhere," said Abdel-Rahman Daour, one of several spokespeople at the sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. "We either have freedom or we die. We're not going to live in a country without freedom."

Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters have camped outside the mosque since late June when the president's overthrow began to seem likely. Egypt's interior minister has made it clear that he intends to clear Rabaa as soon as possible, and Saturday's massacre in a nearby street was considered an attempt to intimidate the protesters.

On Friday hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters turned out in support of a call by Egypt's army chief, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, for a crackdown on what he called terrorists – a move sceptics saw as a veiled threat to protesters at Rabaa.

But Daour compared the defiant mentality at Rabaa to that of protesters in Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. While Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood diverged from – and frequently condemned – secular-minded revolutionaries following the uprising, they were present in Tahrir before Mubarak's resignation.

"Just as we stood firm and protected Tahrir Square after the Camel Battle in 2011, we will protect Rabaa now," Daour said.

Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "We're defiant as ever. We will have protests overnight and there are ongoing funerals today."

Khalil al-Anani, an expert on political Islam familiar with the thinking of the Brotherhood's leadership, said the Rabaa massacre would make Morsi supporters even more determined to stay on the streets until they received assurances about Islamists' long-term safety.

"What happened in Rabaa to some extent will change the equation to make them seek more guarantees that things will not go back to the Mubarak era," said Anani, an academic from Durham University based in Cairo.

"What I've heard is that they are willing negotiate everything, but with guarantees. And my analysis is that the only guarantee they can trust is that they will able to share power, because that is the only way they feel they can avoid a crackdown. They cannot leave without taking assurances that they will not be arrested [when they go home]."

Several senior Brotherhood officials were arrested following Morsi's removal, and their assets frozen. Morsi himself is under investigation for allegedly colluding with the Palestinian group Hamas during the 2011 revolution.

Following Saturday's shootings, leading members of the international community have expressed concerns about Egypt's predicament. Officials representing the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, said Ban had called "on the interim authorities to assume full responsibility for the peaceful management of the demonstrations and ensure the protection of all Egyptians".

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said she "deeply deplores" Saturday's deaths, while a senior representative of Human Rights Watch said the killings connoted a "criminal disregard" for human life.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, released a statement noting his "deep concern about the bloodshed and violence", and the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, contacted Sisi to "express deep concern about the security situation and recent violence in Egypt, and to encourage that restraint be exercised during this difficult period", his spokesman said.

The US recently cancelled a delivery of four F-16 jets to Egypt's army, in a show of disapproval at the army's behaviour since Morsi's fall, but other military aid efforts continue and the US refuses to term the army's removal of Morsi on 3 July as a coup.


Egypt crisis: 'we didn't have space in the fridges for all the bodies'

As the death toll rises, a report from Cairo's main mortuary after the police massacre of pro-Morsi supporters

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Sunday 28 July 2013 21.07 BST   

The sand-filled forecourt outside the Zeinhom morgue, Cairo's main mortuary, was a carousel of coffins. From the left-hand door, out came families carrying dead relatives to their funerals, stray dogs sniffing at their heels. Through the door on the right, in went still more bodies for their autopsies. By the end of Sunday, officials had assessed 82 corpses, as the death toll from Saturday's police massacre of pro-Morsi supporters kept rising.

So too did the mourners' feelings of isolation. "If this was animals being killed, people would care," said one of those outside the morgue, lawyer Islam Taher, alluding to the indifference of mainstream Egyptian opinion to the death of Morsi supporters. "But because it's us, they don't."

On Friday 28 June, Taher had pitched camp with his childhood friend Mohamed Fahmy, a 28-year-old unemployed commerce graduate from a small village in eastern Egypt, at the Rabaa Adawiya sit-in in east Cairo, near where Saturday's massacre took place. On Sunday, exactly a month later, both arrived together at the the Zeinhom morgue – but this time Fahmy was dead in a battered brown coffin, shot through his right temple by a police marksman, after a night-time pro-Morsi march on Saturday morning turned into a massacre.

"Suddenly, he had a bullet through the front of his head, and a hole out the other side," said Taher, holding out a picture taken on his phone of a brain-dead Fahmy breathing his last hours earlier. "He didn't have any weapons. He just had his bare chest."

State officials said Saturday's deaths took place after pro-Morsi protesters fired first – and even claimed that police only used teargas to disperse them. But protesters told of a state-initiated bloodbath and a subsequent cover-up. "We asked them to record his death as a murder by police," said Ashraf Mamdouh, loading the body of his brother-in-law, Hegazy Zakaria, into a van that would take him to his funeral in a village outside Cairo. "But they forced us to accuse anonymous sources."

Inside the morgue, the scene had been one of mayhem. "We didn't have enough places in the fridges to fit all the bodies," said Dr Hazem Hossam, an official at Zeinhom.

"We had to do autopsies on the floor. At some points we had to ask families to help us with the process. It was chaos."

Five miles away at Rabaa al-Adawiya – the ground-zero of pro-Morsi support over the last month, the Islamist equivalent of Tahrir Square – protesters said the attack had strengthened their resolve. Some built several rows of additional dry-stone walls to protect the site, others stacked sandbags six-foot-high. Bridging the gap between two barricades was an unlikely orange Volkswagen beetle. "No one's going anywhere," said Abdel-Rahman Daour, one of several spokespeople at Rabaa. "We either have freedom or we die. We're not going to live in a country without freedom."

Tens of thousands of pro-Morsi supporters have camped outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque since late June, when Morsi's overthrow began to seem likely. Egypt's interior minister has made it clear that he intends to clear Rabaa as soon as possible, and Saturday's nearby massacre was considered an attempt to intimidate the protesters into leaving. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters also turned out on Friday to support a call by Egypt's army chief, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, for a crackdown on what he called terrorists – a move sceptics saw as a veiled threat to protesters at Rabaa.

But Daour equated the defiant mentality inside Rabaa to that of protesters in Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. While Morsi's Brotherhood diverged from – and frequently condemned – secular-minded revolutionaries following the uprising, they were present in Tahrir before Mubarak's resignation. "Just we stood firm and protected Tahrir Square after the Camel Battle in 2011, we will protect Rabaa now," Daour said. "We will have protests overnight and there are ongoing funerals today."

Khalil al-Anani, an expert on political Islam familiar with the thinking of the Brotherhood's leadership, said that the Rabaa massacre would make Morsi supporters even more determined to stay on the streets until they received assurances about Islamists' long-term safety. "What happened in Rabaa to some extent will change the equation to make them seek more guarantees that things will not go back to the Mubarak era," said al-Anani, an academic from Durham University, currently based in Cairo.

"What I've heard is that they are willing negotiate everything – but with guarantees. And my analysis is that the only guarantee they can trust is that will able to share power, because that is the only way they feel they can avoid a crackdown. They cannot leave without taking assurances that they will not be arrested [when they go home]."

Following Saturday's shootings, members of the international community expressed concerns about Egypt's current predicament. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she "deeply deplores" Saturday's deaths, while a senior representative of Human Rights Watch said the killings connoted a "criminal disregard" for human life.

US secretary of state John Kerry also released a statement noting his "deep concern about the bloodshed and violence". But for lawyer Islam Taher, bristling at the US's implicit support for Morsi's removal, and mourning his friend Mohamed Fahmy outside the Zeinhom morgue, these words meant little. "He was just a man searching for a job, trying to earn enough to get married," said Taher of Fahmy. "Trying to live as a human."


Egypt: time to back down

In the immediate future, the decisions of the army, and what are probably now its rather nervous civilian allies, are critical

The Guardian, Sunday 28 July 2013 22.15 BST   
The impasse into which Egypt has been forced by the army's intervention in politics is daily becoming more dangerous. Every time the security forces open fire, their mission of bringing back order and restoring social peace becomes less credible. You cannot advance toward legitimacy over the bodies of martyrs. Even if it turns out that the casualties in this weekend's violence have been exaggerated or that most were not caused by aimed fire, it is as martyrs that the victims will be, and already are being, seen. A familiar and deadly process, in which protests produce martyrs, and martyrs then produce protests and so on in endless escalation, lies ahead.

Unless it can be stopped – and stopped it must be. John Kerry, the American secretary of state, was stating no more than the obvious when he called on Saturday for dialogue, but his public formulation, at least, avoided the hard fact that the army must back down if a meaningful dialogue is to begin. The Muslim Brotherhood will also have to rethink its position if there is to be any chance of a return to normality in Egypt, but it is the army that must take the first steps. Since General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged the coup that removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, it has become apparent that, without quite saying so, he seems to want to cast the Brotherhood in the role of the enemy, or at least to represent it as a political force to be for some indefinite time excluded.

The speech in which Sisi asked the Egyptian people to turn out last Friday in their thousands to give him a mandate against violence and terrorism can certainly be read as an attempt to attach those labels to the Brotherhood. If he did not intend that impression, he certainly did not make it clear that he was not accusing the movement of those sins. Nor has he followed up on his assertion that weapons and military uniforms had been smuggled into the country. By whom? When? And for what reason?

What must deepen these concerns is the attempt to criminalise Morsi. The charges against him arise from the assistance Hamas may have provided in organising jail breaks that freed Brotherhood prisoners, including Morsi himself, in the last months of Mubarak's rule. This may well have happened, and a perverse interpretation of Egyptian law could thus put Morsi in court for murder and espionage. How resistance to a dictator and the security forces he was deploying against protesters, with some help from abroad, could be so interpreted is difficult to see. A wiser hand than Sisi's would have stayed this process. Other "charges", such as "economic sabotage" and the like, are ridiculous. Political mistakes are not crimes in a civilised country. Indeed, if there has been sabotage of that kind, there is some evidence that anti-Morsi forces were the guilty parties.

The general's ambitions for himself represent a further problem. He has begun to adopt a special tone of intimacy, that of the leader in deep discussion with his people, which suggest he sees himself in the line of descent from Nasser. He told Morsi that "his project was not working" six months ago, he said in his speech. Where, precisely, in this soldier's job description is it written that he can tell an elected president what to do? Advise, yes; suggest, maybe; but "tell"?

The Egyptian army's overweening sense of entitlement is an aspect of the country's political pathology. An army that has seen no combat for a generation and faces no serious challenge from external enemies nevertheless absorbs massive resources, enjoys marked privileges, and arrogates to itself special political rights. Egypt should be reducing the influence of its military, not reinforcing it. But, in the immediate future, the decisions of the army, and what are probably now its rather nervous civilian allies, are critical. They must release Brotherhood leaders, find a formula for the rehabilitation of Morsi and a framework for talks that the Brotherhood can accept. Otherwise there will soon be more blood on Cairo's pavements.

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« Reply #7797 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Mali elections: high turnout reported in presidential vote

Early indications of record turnout in much of the country as voters choose from 27 candidates

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, Sunday 28 July 2013 18.27 BST      

Thousands of UN troops kept the peace on Sunday as Mali went to the polls in an election that many hope will mark a fresh start after a rebellion in the north, a military coup and an Islamist uprising that led to French troops invading in January.

Early indications were of a record turnout in much of the country, where voters were choosing from 27 presidential candidates – all pledging to restore peace.

"We are all still recovering from the war in the north. These elections are not perfect, but we have to vote now to restore some calm to our country," said Ibrahim Sory, a resident in the capital, Bamako, who queued up early in the morning to cast his vote.

In Kidal in the far north, where an uneasy peace prevails after the Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) allowed in UN troops, voters braved the presence of heavily armed soldiers to cast ballots.

There were renewed security concerns in the region after the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), one of the al-Qaida-linked groups that seized part of the north, said they planned to attack polling stations, according to the Nouakchott Information Agency, a Mauritanian website used by the jihadists to post messages.

One voter in Kidal said she had been threatened for participating in the poll. "I know only of the nation of Mali, and that's why I came to vote," Fatina Walet Alitine, a member of the Tuareg ethnic group, told AP. "The [MNLA] don't like this. They told us not to vote. They told me that if I vote, they will break my arms. So I said, 'Well, then you better break my arms.'"

Kidal residents said Tuareg youths took to the streets of the desert town on Thursday to target black Africans – firing shots and burning vehicles. Calm was briefly restored after UN peacekeepers made some arrests, but violence resumed on Friday.

Tensions between black Africans and Tuareg separatists – who have regularly instigated uprisings demanding their own state in the Sahara desert since Mali obtained independence from France – are at the root of recent events in the west African country.

Last year the government was toppled by relatively low-ranking soldiers protesting against conditions in the under-resourced army as it battled the MNLA.

The collapse of civilian rule paved the way for the MNLA to consolidate power over northern Mali, an area roughly the size of France.

Bolstered by money and weapons from fighting on behalf of Muammar Gaddafi during the uprising in Libya, MNLA fighters joined forces with and were subsequently ousted by al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups.

The groups, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Mujao and Ansar Dine, have long been entrenched in the complex web of business and Islamism in northern Mali, using the vast, ungoverned territory as a source of recruits and income from the trade in illicit cigarettes and narcotics.

Despite widespread jubilation when a military intervention by French and African troops ousted the jihadists this year, many have criticised the former colonial power and other western donors for pressuring Mali into holding elections before it was ready.

Sory said: "I have my voter registration card, but I'd say about 30% of people don't. Many are outside the country, and everything was organised at too short notice for them to be able to come back and register to vote.

"It is true that the elections have been rushed, and it's difficult enough to organise things here in the best of circumstances.

"But we need to have the election now, and forget all the little things which can go wrong. The more we wait, the more there will be problems.

"I think it's better to organise these elections now. If something can be better, we have a result, there is a new government officially in place, and the work can start."

In France, where an estimated 200,000 Malians live, there were reports of chaotic scenes with polling stations opening late and many expatriates unable to cast their ballot.

But observers said that all appeared to be going smoothly in Mali. "So far it's going quite well all over the country," said John Agyekum Kufuor, a former president of Ghana and head of a 250-person observer mission of the Economic Community of West African States.

"Indications are that things have been very orderly from the beginning. People are going about voting without any disturbances.

"We are closely following what's happening in the north, and we have observers on the ground there who are in touch with us. So far in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, in all these places people voting."

Of Mali's 15.8 million people, 6.8 million are registered to vote. Presidential candidates include the former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, known by his initials IBK, and Soumaïla Cissé, an ex-finance minister and current head of the West African Monetary Union.

Despite being regarded by internationally as one of Africa's most stable democracies in past decades, many Malians saw previous governments as ineffective and corrupt, with elections often marred by low turnout and alleged irregularities.

Monitors said early indications were that a high number of voters were turning up to vote this time. "The surprise, from what I have observed, is really the high turnout – it is quite a number, we believe about 60%," Kufuor said.

"I have been in polling stations since the morning and everywhere, there are long queues. I get the feeling that, after the war, the people really want to restore peace and take control of their country."


Mali election: thousands of displaced people face exclusion from vote

Majority of Malians who fled war in the north fail to receive voters' cards, leaving them without a voice in Sunday's polls

Alex Duval Smith in Bamako, Friday 26 July 2013 15.36 BST   

The vast majority of the half a million people who have fled the war in northern Mali will be excluded from voting in Sunday's presidential election.

The polls are being held to replace a transitional regime so that up to $4bn (£2.6bn) in international aid can be released to an accountable and representative government.

Large portions of the northern population will, however, have no voice in the process, even though they bore the brunt when separatist and Islamist rebels swept across Mali, and France intervened militarily this year.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, fewer than 300 voters' cards have been distributed among the 173,000 Malians living in camps in neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria. Least well-served, according to the agency, are 50,000 refugees in Burkina Faso, where only 38 voters' cards have arrived.

"The number of voters' cards delivered is meaningless, given that 20,000 refugees claimed to have registered and 11,000 of them were identified in the electoral database," UNHCR's acting head in Mali, Sébastien Apatita, said. "A great number of the estimated 353,000 Malians who are displaced within the country are facing the same problem because their voters' cards have been delivered to the localities where they registered in 2009 or 2010."

Apatita said he had put the UNHCR's concerns to Colonel Moussa Coulibaly Sinko, the minister for territorial administration, who is organising the election. "We know that both refugees and internally displaced people are eager to take part. I went to the minister looking to discuss some solutions. But the issue is highly sensitive and the minister quoted the electoral law, which says no one can vote without a voter's card. The minister said he would release more teams into the field to try to locate missing cards. But in the time left, all we can hope for is a miracle," he said.

The ministry spokesman, Gamer Dicko, said 82% of Mali's 6.8 million voters' cards – known by the acronym Nina (numéro d'identité nationale) – had been collected since distribution began three weeks ago. He said the ministry would set up polling stations in refugee camps and it had done all it could to encourage displaced people to apply to transfer to polling stations in the areas where they currently live.

"We used television and radio advertisements and even traditional methods like griottes to encourage the displaced people. When a figure is given of 300,000 refugees, it includes children, who cannot vote, and people who may be 18 but who do not want to vote," Dicko said.

But interviews with displaced people and aid workers supporting them suggest there is enormous interest in the presidential election, which may go to a second round on 11 August if there is no outright winner on Sunday.

The elections have been presented to Malians as a way of starting afresh after 20 years of misrule and corruption, which has left the vast expanses of the north of Mali underdeveloped and prey to illicit trades, including smuggling and hostage-taking.

Mali has an estimated population of 16 million, and is among the world's five poorest countries, ranking 182 of 186 countries in the UN human development index. Children spend an average of two years in school and illiteracy among women has risen to 90%. Northern regions have been the scene of successive rebellions by the Tuareg people. Tuaregs and other northerners comprise a large proportion of those who will not be able to cast votes.

Guitarist Nasser Maiga, 25, has been living with relatives in Bamako since March last year, when he fled Gao after hearing that Islamist guerillas were carrying out house-to-house searches to punish musicians whose output they considered anti-Muslim. He said: "This election ought to be important for us, but I will not be able to vote. It is a big disappointment."

His friend, Songhai musician Mdas, from Timbuktu, said he would be able to vote. "The government gave us a month to transfer our paperwork, and with various certified documents I managed to get my Nina card transferred to Bamako. But it was a complicated process and it did not work for everyone," Mdas said.

Fadou Touré, a housewife from Goundam, near Timbuktu, has been living in a cousin's garden in Bamako since April last year. "My sister is up there so I asked her to get my card in the hopes she could send it to me. She went last Sunday but they could not find it. Everyone in Bamako seems to be planning to vote so I am very disappointed.

Several aid workers confirmed the lack of voters' cards among displaced people. One, in Ségou, south-central Mali, said: "The displaced people have gone to great lengths to get their cards. Those who have the funds have sent a family member to their place of origin to collect everyone's cards and bring them back. But travel is expensive. Buying food is the displaced people's priority. I would say only about 15% of the displaced people I know have their cards now."

A UN diplomat who wished to remain anonymous said the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people from the north risked dividing Mali politically. "The fact that displaced people and refugees will not be able to vote will play into the hands of separatists who do not recognise the Malian state. In the worst-case scenario, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad will be able to claim that a low voting rate in the north is proof that the region does not recognise the Malian state."

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« Reply #7798 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:03 AM »

Israel to approve prisoner deal in push to revive Palestinian talks

By Reuters
Sunday, July 28, 2013 7:04 EDT

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged divided rightists in his cabinet to approve the release of 104 Arab prisoners in order to restart peace talk with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu postponed the weekly meeting of ministers by an hour to make sure he had majority support for the measure which he described as painful but necessary to help end nearly three years of diplomatic standstill.

“This moment is not easy for me, is not easy for the cabinet ministers, and is not easy especially for the bereaved families, whose feelings I understand,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks at the start of the meeting, referring to families who have lost members in militant attacks.

“But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the nation and this is one of those moments,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded the release of prisoners held since before a 1993 interim peace accord took effect. Israel has jailed thousands more Palestinians since that time, many for carrying out deadly attacks.

The prisoner release would allow Netanyahu to sidestep other Palestinian demands, such as a halt to Jewish settlement expansion and a guarantee that negotiations over borders will be based on boundaries from before the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Israel wants to keep several settlement blocs and East Jerusalem, which it annexed as part of its capital in a move never recognized internationally, in any future deal.

In an appeal for public support posted on his Facebook page on Saturday night, Netanyahu said the prisoners would be released in groups only after the negotiations – set to last at least nine months – begin.

The 22-member cabinet was also scheduled to approve legislation that would require a referendum on any statehood deal reached with the Palestinians involving a withdrawal from land Israel captured in the 1967 war.

The U.S.-brokered talks, expected to reconvene in Washington as early as Tuesday, broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, which Palestinians say denies them a viable state.

Before the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told ministers from his Likud party that Israel would pay a price if peace talks did not resume, according to one official who was there.

The latest diplomatic push follows months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who said a week ago the groundwork had been laid for a breakthrough, while setting no specific date for talks to restart.

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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« Reply #7799 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:05 AM »

July 28, 2013

Protesters Press Tunisian Government to Resign, as Ruling Party Supporters Rally


TUNIS — Protests continued around the country Sunday on the fourth day after the assassination of an opposition legislator. Demonstrators were back out in front of the National Assembly building after police officers broke up their camp overnight and opposition parties continued to press for the government and the National Constituent Assembly to resign.

Sixty-five legislators have withdrawn from the Assembly and announced that they would hold a sit-in in the park opposite the Assembly building with their supporters. Pro-government demonstrators held counterdemonstrations to show support for the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda. The police have repeatedly broken up the protests with tear gas and struggled to keep the opposing groups from clashing. On Sunday, the Interior Ministry urged all political forces to work to resolve the crisis.

Despite the noise on the street, there were signs that politicians were ready to negotiate a way out of the crisis.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the speaker of the Constituent Assembly, made an address on national television Saturday evening and appealed to the opposition legislators to reconsider their withdrawal. People had entrusted them with a mission that they had not completed, he said, adding that they should work together to finish the task. “I call on them to back down from their decision,” he said. “It’s not rational to throw in the towel just meters away from the finish line.”

He laid out a timetable and said elections could be called by Oct. 23 and that dismissing the Assembly would only delay the transition. “The Constitution will be adopted probably next August, and the election authority will be permanently set up in September,” he said. “The people are tired of waiting.”

Mehrezia Labidi-Maiza, the deputy speaker of the Assembly and a member of Ennahda, made a similar appeal. She expressed hope that consensus was still possible since the 65 members have not resigned from the Assembly but only withdrawn — which was a half-measure. The 217-member Constituent Assembly still retains a quorum of members to continue conducting business.

Opposition groups — which include the main trade union movement and youth groups such as Tamarod (or Rebellion), styled on the group that led antigovernment protests in Egypt — have demanded the dismissal of the government. That demand was a bargaining stance, said Issam Chebbi, a prominent politician.

Opposition parties want a government of national unity that would be led by an independent figure with representatives from all parties, including from the ruling coalition and the Islamists, he said. “We propose a government of National Salvation, not a government of the opposition, and, despite the conflict, Ennahda should be part of it,” he said.

“We think we can advance this demand because the government lost its legitimacy and shown it is unable to protect the path of transition,” he said. “We need a government that can send a message of strength and fight terrorism.”

A broader coalition that included the opposition parties would bring the public and civil society together behind the government, he said.
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