Why Bulgaria's protests stand out in Europe
Bulgaria's mass protests may be testing national democracy but across Europe they are winning official support
theguardian.com, Tuesday 30 July 2013 16.30 BST
In the past few years millions of angry citizens – generally young, well educated and mobilised through social media – have "occupied" places in countries as different as the US, Egypt, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Turkey and Bulgaria, demanding not simply a change in government but also a different way of governing.
What these vastly different protest movements have in common is that they trust neither the business or political elites. They captured the public imagination without bringing to life either a new ideology or charismatic political leaders. They will be remembered for videos, not manifestos; happenings, not speeches; conspiracy theories, not political tracts.
In short, the global protests are not an expression of what Vaclav Havel once called "the power of the powerless" but of the frustration of the empowered.
In the annals of this global protest movement Bulgaria plays a special role. The country is a classic example of everything that is wrong with democracy – corruption, dysfunctional institutions and public apathy – and a textbook case of why democracy is still our best hope, with its potential to mobilise civic energy and allow people peacefully to topple governments that must go.
In February the centre-right government of former prime minister Boiko Borisov resigned after 100,000 protesters, mostly from the countryside, stormed the streets protesting against poverty, unemployment, corruption and electricity price rises. Seven people set fire to themselves during the protests.
Now it is the turn of the government of the Bulgarian socialist party and the party representing ethnic Turks to think about resignation. The story of the latest crisis is as simple as the plot of a low-budget Hollywood movie. It started on 14 June when the parliament appointed Delyan Peevski as the head of the State Agency for National Security. The appointment of this man, whom the western press respectfully describes as a "media mogul with shady connections", and whom Bulgarian media (even those few not own by him) find it best not to discuss, had the effect of a political earthquake.
Just hours after the decision was announced thousands of people mobilised via social media ended up on the street demanding his resignation. He resigned but this was not enough for the protesters. People then asked for the resignation of the government that had the perverse idea to appoint him. So every night since 14 June thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Sofia asking for only one thing – early elections. But their protest is not just against this government but against any government that treats people as useless furniture.
The strategy adopted by Bulgaria's centre-left rulers is to pretend that nothing important is really happening and to wait for the protesters to go on holiday. But the people have not gone away. On the 40th day the protest got bloody. At 10pm police tried to break the siege around parliament and both protesters and policemen were wounded. The situation remains tense. It is a safe bet that in the not so distant future Bulgaria will have new parliamentary elections. The latest opinion poll indicates that only 16% of Bulgarians want the government to serve a full term.
What do the summer protests in Sofia teach us about "the revolution of the global middle class"? First, after more than 40 days of protest the crowd on the streets of Sofia impressed foreign correspondents but did not move the Bulgarian government. Second, in the age of Facebook the urban middle class risks remaining politically isolated, incapable of reaching out to other social groups. And third, the readiness of the government to use force against protesters is proportional to the active public support it can mobilise. In Turkey police came down hard on the protests, because its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was able to gather hundreds of thousands in his support. In Bulgaria counter protests never managed to gather more than 300 people.
The final lesson, learned after the protest-election cycle in Bulgaria earlier this year, is that popular protests can change almost everything, but not necessarily the way people vote. If protests fail to come up with political alternatives that people are ready to support, they are doomed to remain simply passing episodes that those participating in might one day nostalgically recall as a beautiful one-night stand with democracy. But even in failing, the protests have succeeded. The latest opinion polls indicate that after almost two month of protests Bulgarians' support for democracy and the European Union has increased.
And it is the position taken by Brussels and the major European capitals that makes Bulgarian protests stand out in the current protest wave in Europe. It is in Bulgaria that, contrary to its bureaucratic instincts, official Europe has sided with the protesters and not with the elites. The ambassadors of France and Germany wrote a joint article on 4 July strongly criticising the political model embodied by the government and practised also by previous ones. EU justice commissioner Vivian Reding came to Sofia and did what the Bulgarian prime minister hadn't – talked to the people.
Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik seeks university place
Self-confessed fascist whose terror campaign two years ago killed 77 people has applied to University of Oslo
David Crouch in Gothenburg
theguardian.com, Tuesday 30 July 2013 17.12 BST
Norway's oldest and most illustrious university, with five Nobel Prize winners among its alumni, may soon add the self-confessed fascist whose terror campaign two years ago killed 77 people.
Anders Behring Breivik, serving a 21-year sentence in a maximum security prison, has applied to the University of Oslo to study political science, Norwegian television revealed on Monday night.
The university, whose Latin motto is et nos petimus astra – we strive for the stars – said it would consider Breivik's application on its merits.
Ole Petter Ottersen, the university's rector, confirmed that Breivik had applied to study a single topic that would not lead to a degree, but could not go into details on how the application would be treated.
"Prison inmates are allowed to study, and we have a set of rules that we stick to in assessing applications. We don't want to change them — although obviously some people would like them changed," he told the Guardian.
Breivik last summer announced his intention to study politics and write several books.
André Almås Christiansen, vice-president of the National Union of Students in Norway, said: "I understand that this is sensitive, but we do not comment on individuals. Everyone can apply – it's up to the university to look after this."
Breivik killed 69 school and college students at a summer camp on Utoya island after a bomb he planted in government offices in Oslo killed eight people.
Many staff at the University of Oslo had "reacted quite negatively" to the news of Breivik's application, Ottersen said, and in the "hypothetical" case that Breivik was admitted, lecturers would have the right to refuse to teach him. "Should we find ourselves in that situation, we will be very attentive to the problems that could arise and to the views of our teachers."
The Norwegian Association of Researchers, which represents university teachers, could not be reached for comment.
Despite the reluctance of Norway's higher education institutions to be drawn on the sensitivities of the case, Breivik's application to study is likely to be highly controversial. Per Anders Langerød, who was among the survivors of Breivik's massacre on Utøya island and finished a master's degree in political science at the university last year, said he did not want Breivik there.
"We cannot expect people to accept it," he told TV2. "[The university] is a place where you learn that you should pursue your opinions with words. … You cannot go out and tape over their mouth or shoot them just because you disagree."
Knut Bjarkeid, the director of Ila prison where Breivik is being held, told Norwegian journalists: "The prison will always try to pave the way for the inmates to get a formal education, so that they are able to get a job when they come out."
In November, Breivik wrote a long letter complaining about the conditions in which he was being held, describing the pen he was forced to write with as "an almost indescribable manifestation of sadism".
British gay clubs boycott Russian vodka over anti-LGBT ‘propaganda’ law
By Kay Steiger
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 15:40 EDT
Some of London’s biggest gay venues are boycotting Russian vodka as part of a global movement to highlight the Kremlin’s anti-gay laws.
The G-A-Y Group, which runs the famous Heaven superclub, is among those removing Russian products after President Pig Putin’s government banned “gay propaganda” and cracked down on gay rights protests.
“As other countries move forwards (on gay rights), Russia is moving backwards,” Jeremy Joseph, founder and owner of the G-A-Y Group, told AFP on Tuesday.
“It’s important to show solidarity at a really hard time.”
Joseph said he had asked his four venues, including Heaven — which has a capacity of almost 2,000 — to take Russian drinks off the shelves with immediate effect.
The Shadow Lounge, which calls itself “Europe’s premier gay members’ club”, and Manbar in Soho said they were boycotting Russian vodka, both naming Stolichnaya as the main brand affected.
US writer Dan Savage called for the boycott last week, urging gay bars to “dump Stoli and dump Russian vodka” over what he called “Putin’s anti-gay pogrom”.
Christopher Amos, owner of Manbar, said the boycott call had “gone viral among the gay community internationally”.
Stolichnaya has already responded to the campaign, issuing an open letter dated Friday condemning the “dreadful actions taken by the Russian government”.
Val Mendeleev, chief executive of the SPI Group, which owns the brand, said: “Stolichnaya vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
“We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference.”
He said the Russian government had no control or ownership over the brand, which originated in Russia but is now headquartered in Luxembourg.
Joseph said he hoped the boycott would prompt supermarkets to follow suit, and added that corporate sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi should also reconsider their position.
“Young gay men are being targeted, there’s been murders — there’s no protection for them now,” he said.
“You can attack a gay man in Russia and not face the consequences.”
Compton’s, one of many gay venues on central London’s Old Compton Street, is taking part, and several of its neighbours said they were considering joining the campaign.
Reports indicate some US bars have also heeded the call, including in Chicago.
More than 1,300 people have signed up on Facebook for a gay rights protest outside London’s Russian embassy on August 10.
Putin this month signed a law banning same-sex couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children.
Last month the country introduced a law imposing jail terms for people promoting homosexual “propaganda” to minors, while dozens were arrested at gay rights protests for which authorities had refused permission.
Also in June, investigators said three men in the eastern region of Kamchatka were suspected of kicking and stabbing their neighbour to death because he was gay.
The murder came less than a month after a 23-year-old man was beaten to death and sodomised with beer bottles in an apparent homophobic attack in the southern city of Volgograd.
07/30/2013 05:38 PM
The Land of Dead Voters: Irregularities As Zimbabwe Goes to Polls
By Bartholomäus Grill
Even before this week's vote in Zimbabwe, it seems clear that President Robert Mugabe will remain in power. Voter lists have been manipulated, critics are being intimidated and the opposition is divided.
Even after a week's search, there are no 100-year-olds to be found in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. There isn't even anyone who knows a centenarian. Still, there ought to be plenty of very old people in Zimbabwe, because exactly 116,195 of its 13 million citizens have supposedly reached this biblical age. If that were the case, Zimbabwe would be home to nine times as many centenarians as Germany.
"It's easy to explain," McDonald Lewanika says wryly: "These people don't exist. They are phantom voters." Lewanika is the director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an alliance of regime critics. "The voter list is bogus. I'm afraid the result is already clear: The old man will win again."
The "old man" is Robert Mugabe, 89, president of Zimbabwe for the last 33 years, since Lewanika was born. During this time, his regime has practically ruined the country, and yet he has been repeatedly re-elected, with completely implausible election outcomes. Through a series of manipulations, Mugabe's power machine has also made sure that this week's presidential and parliamentary elections are decided in advance.
Voter List Irregularities
The large number of 100-year-olds is just one of many oddities. According to the voter lists, 63 districts have more voters than residents. And in the rural strongholds of Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), there was a miraculous increase in eligible voters, while their numbers were corrected downward in urban areas where, coincidentally, many supporters of the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) live. More than a million people on the voter lists are either dead or have moved away. And 1.9 million citizens under 30 were not even included on the rolls, according to experts with the Research and Advocacy Unit, which analyzed the voter lists. Only those whose names appear on the lists are allowed to vote.
The remaining possible supporters of the opposition are intimidated to ensure that they vote for Zanu-PF. The regime has reportedly distributed 50,000 members of party militias across the country. Dissidents are systematically persecuted, locked up and tortured. In June, a former Zanu-PF cabinet minister who had exposed senior politicians' involvement in diamond deals was killed in a mysterious traffic accident.
Glen View on the outskirts of Harare is a densely populated, dilapidated neighborhood, with potholed dirt roads, mountains of garbage and wrecked cars by the roadside. The majority of Glen View's impoverished residents sympathize with the opposition.
A woman waits by the side of the road. She wears a broad-rimmed straw hat to avoid being recognized. It's dangerous to be seen with white foreigners. She calls herself an activist fighting for democracy, but for security reasons she wants to remain anonymous. "In the 2008 election campaign, Mugabe's gangs of thugs set houses on fire and beat up people wearing red clothing, the color of the MDC," the woman says. "We haven't forgotten that." Today the Big Man, as he is called here, doesn't need to resort to brute violence. It's enough, she says, for his people to go from door to door and hold up matches. "Glen View is practically paralyzed. People are afraid."
The live broadcast of a campaign event is on the TV screen in a beer pub in Glen View. Mugabe talks and talks, speaking for an entire two hours. He clings to the podium, mumbles, becomes muddled and gets the African Union confused with the European Union. He faces a sea of yellowish-green caps and T-shirts, either real supporters or people who were bussed in to cheer the president, the "God-chosen leader for Zimbabwe," as Mugabe's wife Grace calls him.
The geriatric dictator seems exhausted and fragile. He has advanced-stage prostate cancer and has reportedly had two or three mild strokes recently. But his will to stay in power keeps him going. He wants to bring in the harvest of fear and show the world, once again, that he can win.
'The Kiss of Death'
Mugabe is at his best when he announces his rescue plan for the ailing country. He wants to "indigenize" -- that is, expropriate -- 1,138 foreign companies and turn them over to the majority control of local businesspeople, cleaning up the government's budget in the process. "That would be the next pilferage after the catastrophic land reform," says a market expert who prefers to remain anonymous. "It would be the kiss of death for Zimbabwe."
The country's rapid decline began with the land grab 13 years ago, when 4,000 white farmers were expropriated and driven out. Since then Zimbabwe, once a breadbasket, has had to import corn. In addition, some 1.5 million Zimbabweans would starve without the food provided by international aid organizations. Three million have emigrated to South Africa, in the search for bread and work.
After the so-called agrarian revolution, the economy has declined by as much as 40 percent a year, with unemployment topping 90 percent. In 2009, the currency collapsed and was replaced with the US dollar, after inflation had reached the unimaginable figure of 60 billion percent.
Mugabe liberated his country in its struggle against British colonial rule -- and then he turned it into a poorhouse. But in his eyes, others are always to blame for Zimbabwe's troubles: the British, neo-imperialists, whites, the West with its sanctions.
Ironically, the man charged with "indigenizing" the economy is named Saviour Kasukuwere, a giant of a man, as heavy as a prize fighter. His supporters call him "Tyson." Kasukuwere, 42, the youngest minister in Zanu-PF, has his office on the 20th floor of a high-rise building in downtown Harare. It's a large office with flashy leather sofas and a view of the city.
Is it possible that party leaders are trying to line their pockets with the help of expropriations? That's complete nonsense, Kasukuwere grumbles. "It's about fighting poverty. We are liberating ourselves from economic apartheid." He sounds like Mugabe, which is probably one reason he is mentioned as a possible successor. There are rumors that the president told a politician friend from Zambia that he intends to step down shortly after winning the next election.
Western Hopes for Peaceful Election
"The preparation for these elections was much too short, and the requirements under the new constitution were not met," says a Western diplomat. "We just hope that the election is peaceful. And that the military doesn't stage a coup if the wrong outcome is achieved." Representatives of the United States and the European Union have already announced their intention to lift the remaining sanctions against the regime if the election remains peaceful.
But that is by no means certain. The majority of the people no longer believe Mugabe's bluster. In the last presidential election, in 2008, he lost the first round against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 61. To secure a Mugabe victory in the runoff election, the police, military and party militias terrorized the population, and more than 200 people were killed.
Neutral election observers are not allowed. Only the envoys of friendly nations are permitted to monitor the vote. "Once again, the elections are neither free nor fair. And, once again, Mugabe will steal victory," predicts Blessing Vava, 30, one of the many bloggers who, for lack of an independent press, are gaining more and more supporters.
The best known of them is "Baba Jukwa," who discovers new machinations on the part of Zanu-PF every day and has 286,000 supporters on Facebook. Baba Jukwa is a pseudonym, and no one knows who is behind the site. But the whistleblower's revelations are often correct. So correct, in fact, that Mugabe has promised a reward of $300,000 (€226,000) for his exposure.
"Many young people mistrust the political class and won't vote for the MDC, either," says Vava. "They are disappointed in Tsvangirai. Some even accuse him of being in bed with Mugabe."
Since 2009, MDC leader Tsvangirai has been prime minister in a government brokered by South Africa. But Mugabe still controls the police, military, intelligence services, judiciary and the media. Tsvangirai, the pro-forma premier and opposition leader in one, tends to make headlines because of his womanizing activities. Some of his fellow party members have become just as corrupt as the Zanu-PF fat cats, driving flashy official cars and living in attractive villas. The opposition is deeply divided and has failed to come up with a shared candidate.
In the Book Café in Harare, where artists, intellectuals and students meet, no one takes the politicians seriously anymore. Most of the patrons are under 30, part of a new, skeptical generation that gets its information from the Internet and sees no future in its country.
Three performers are doing a parody of the news broadcast by ZBC, the propagandist government broadcaster, on the stage at the café. One actor is playing a journalist, who is reporting from a village and holds up a sealed ballot box, already stuffed with 50,000 ballots before the election day. "Respect our ancestors!" says the host, and the people in the audience laugh. They know all about the many dead people on the voter lists.
Translated from the German by
07/30/2013 05:58 PM
Unrest in Egypt: Closed Tunnels Could Ruin Hamas
By Theresa Breuer
The smuggling tunnels in Sinai are essential for the economy of the Gaza Strip. But since the unrest broke out in Egypt, they have been closed off -- plunging the ruling Hamas party into financial crisis.
It has only been a few weeks since the Egyptian military ousted its president, Mohammed Morsi -- moving him to an undisclosed location where he remains. On Tuesday, the same day a new round of Middle East peace talks kicked off in Washington, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton payed an unprecedented visit to the deposed president and reported back that he is doing "well."
But since Morsi's removal, Egypt has threatened to descend into chaos, pulling the Gaza Strip with it into the abyss. That's because Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is dependent on Egypt. It smuggles food, building materials -- and also weapons -- through underground tunnels into the Palestinian Territories. Since the outbreak of unrest in neighboring Egypt, smuggling activity has come to almost a complete standstill.
Terrorist attacks by Islamist groups, which had long been a regular occurrence in northern Sinai on the border with the Gaza Strip, began increasing in frequency after Morsi's ousting. Islamist leaders threatened to seek vengeance for the military coup. After several attacks on army and police posts, Egypt sealed off the border indefinitely.
The government in Cairo has long feared that extremists could cross the border into the country. Since 2007, when the radical Islamic Hamas came to power in Gaza, the regular border crossing has been mostly closed. In 2011, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a member, opened the passage at times for the transport of goods and people, but not to the extent that Hamas had hoped. That's why Hamas is intensely dependent on the approximately 800 tunnels through which goods are smuggled into the country. Normally, the Egyptian army tolerates the smuggling -- but not in times of crisis like these.
Most Supplies Come through Tunnels
The extent to which Hamas relies on the smuggling tunnels is evident in an internal report made public by the Al-Monitor news site. It shows that Gaza gets most of its goods through the tunnels, and not through the official border crossing from Israel or Egypt. In the first quarter of 2013, for example, the tunnels provided 65 percent of flour, 98 percent of sugar and 100 percent of steel and cement deliveries.
If the delivery of goods via the tunnels is discontinued, a lack of supplies will not be the only problem. It will also spell financial disaster for Hamas, since taxes on goods delivered via Israel are pocketed not by Hamas but by the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah. Only taxes on smuggled goods end up in the Islamists' coffers. The Finance Ministry estimates that these takings account for 40 percent of the government's entire revenue and are used by Hamas to pay the salaries of over 45,000 civil servants.
In recent months, Hamas has been earning some €6 million ($8 million) in taxes with smuggled fuel alone, and also levies a tax of about €4 on every ton of cement. An average of 70,000 tons of cement are smuggled into Gaza every month.
Hamas Economy Minister Alaa al-Rafati has expressed concern about the current situation. "The Gaza Strip has lost around $225 million (€170,000) during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely, fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel," he told Al-Monitor earlier this month. He also stressed that the move has implications for the labor market, pointing out that some 20,000 Palestinian construction workers have lost their jobs in the wake of the building material shortage. For the time being, Hamas is taking out bank loans to pay civil servants, who are having to wait for their wages.
"There is a risk that unemployment will emerge again, which greatly affects the local purchase activity," Rafati told Al-Monitor.
It isn't the only financial blow the organization has suffered this year. Iran has been funding Hamas for years, but put a stop to most of its support several months ago. International organizations estimate that in the past, this aid consisted of €15 million a month. Middle East experts have often suggested that the network of radical Islamists would have collapsed long ago, had it not been for Tehran's funding. Only recently, Iran also openly admitted that it also provided Hamas with military support.
But Iran has reduced its financial aid because Hamas sympathizes with the rebels in the Syrian civil war. It's a position that has angered the mullahs, who cultivate close ties with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Egypt's deposed president Morsi is safe and well, confirms EU's top diplomat
Egyptian army agreed to Mohamed Morsi's meeting with Lady Ashton, but authorities made sure his location was not disclosed
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Tuesday 30 July 2013 13.18 BST
The EU's top diplomat, Lady Ashton, has confirmed that Mohamed Morsi is safe and well after a two-hour meeting with Egypt's overthrown president – his first disclosed contact with the outside world since he was arrested by soldiers and held incommunicado in an unknown location on 3 July.
The EU's Catherine Ashton, a Labour peer, said that Morsi was aware of events going on outside, and that Egypt's army had freely agreed to their meeting. But Ashton said she did not know where he was being held – implying that the Egyptian authorities had made sure she could not see the route by which she arrived at the meeting. It had previously been suggested that Morsi was being held either inside a military prison, or at one of Cairo's several presidential palaces – or at the city's Tora prison, where Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak is already being held.
"We had a friendly, open and very frank discussion for the two hours I saw him," said Ashton.
"I don't know where he is – but I saw the facilities he has and we had a warm discussion, because as you know I've met with him many times before. I sent him many wishes from people here and he sent many wishes back – and of course I tried to let his family know that he is well."
Last week, Morsi's children said they had not seen or heard from their father since the start of his detention. "What is happening to President Morsi is a violation of his rights by all measures," Osama Morsi, the ex-president's son and lawyer, told reporters at the time. "Our father is held incommunicado, which contravenes the most basic of human rights conventions."
Ashton is in Cairo to try to negotiate an unlikely settlement between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and the army, but demands and recent behaviour from both sides mean reconciliation is far from likely. The Brotherhood's core demand is for Morsi's return as president – a requisite the army will never agree to. Meanwhile, the army have made negotiations almost impossible by mounting a crackdown on senior Muslim Brothers and killed dozens of their followers in two brutal massacres.
Morsi was held without charge for more than three weeks before prosecutors revealed last Friday that the former president was under investigation for conspiring to help the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas murder police officers during Egypt's 2011 uprising. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood called the allegations "laughable".
With or without Ashton, Egypt's impasse looks set to continue. The Brotherhood is scheduled to defy the military's call for them to leave the streets with another mass protest in Cairo on Tuesday afternoon.
The army sees an end to such marches, and the closure of pro-Morsi sit-ins – such as the camp at east Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya – as a prerequisite for negotiations. But the Brotherhood sees its street presence as its only safeguard against further crackdowns on their supporters.
"A lot of people are scared to go home because they know they will be arrested," said Mohamed Soudan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political wing, speaking at Rabaa in the early hours of Tuesday morning. "Don't tell me we should engage in the political process. There is no political process in Egypt."
"If we surrender, we will be killed," said Saad al-Husseini, the governor of the northern city of Kafr el-Sheikh during Morsi's presidency.
Other senior members of the Brotherhood argued that it was up to the military to compromise first, since their recent and brutal treatment of Morsi supporters gave the Brotherhood little faith in the army's intentions. "What have they compromised on?" said Gamal Heshmat, a member of the group's 19-strong governing body. "They've arrested thousands of us, killed hundreds, pursued our leaders, and shut down [sympathetic] television channels."
Critics of the Brotherhood accuse them of fostering a sense of victimhood and of seeking martyrdom instead of realistic political solutions. Others also call them hypocrites for having ignored the brutal treatment of protesters during Morsi's tenure.
07/31/2013 01:32 PM
Vanishing Treasures: Tomb Raiders Exploit Chaos in Egypt
By Raniah Salloum
Egypt's cultural heritage is in danger. Grave robbers, sometimes heavily armed, are taking advantage of political chaos to plunder its poorly guarded archaeological sites. Authorities feel powerless to stop them and fear that ancient treasures might be lost forever.
A few hundred meters from the pyramids of Dahshur, the sandy-brown earth is full of holes. Dozens of open shafts lead into the depths, some up to seven meters (23 feet) long. Grave robbers have been at work. Lying belowground here in Dahshur is one of the oldest burial grounds in all of Egypt -- tombs, possibly full of treasures from the age of the pharaohs. Archaeologists have partially mapped it but never exhumed its contents, as is the case at many sites in Egypt.
From the pharaohs and Romans to the Greeks, Copts and Fatimids, Egypt bears the traces of many ancient civilizations. Not all of the treasures have been discovered and secured. Egypt has admittedly always had to grapple with the problem of grave-robbing. But since the revolution in 2011, "this phenomenon has increased even more," laments Abdel-Halim Nur el-Din, a professor of archaeology and the former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the authority responsible for ancient relics and archaeological excavations in Egypt. "We are losing our cultural heritage piece by piece," he adds.
Gangs of Thieves Plunder at Will
In January 2011, the world-famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo was looted. Rioters destroyed priceless treasures. But valuable ancient relics went missing far from the capital, as well, due to a lack of supervision at historical sites. After the uprising, the repressive security apparatus withdrew everywhere, and the guarding of historical sites was neglected.
Two-and-a-half years later, the police are slowly venturing into the streets. But they are mainly concerned with ongoing protests. Elsewhere, some Egyptians are behaving as if the state and its laws have ceased to exist.
The army has placed two armored vehicles at the pyramids in Dahshur to deter grave robbers. But, so far, the thieves are undaunted. "We wanted to catch them," says a guard in Dahshur who asked to remain anonymous. "But then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons." He and his fellow guards were only armed with pistols. They jumped for cover, and the grave robbers carried on with their plundering.
The gangs are also getting bolder. At the pyramids of Saqqara, they advanced with weapons and cleared out a state-owned storehouse. According to the SCA department head in charge of the facility, it contained small statues. There have even been illegal excavations in the tourist centers of Aswan and Luxor, which experts attribute to organized gangs. Instead of shovels, some even bring along small excavators.
"Antiquities theft is a very profitable business," says Professor Nur el-Din. "The government must make it a priority to stop the illegal excavations." Guarding antiquities sites should be the focus, he adds. For everything else, such as excavation or restoration, there is simply no money anyway.
Stolen Artifacts Irrevocably Lost
Still, the recent thefts are not even the most pressing concern for the SCA. Its offices are suffering from one of the country's all-too-familiar power shortages. Employees are sitting in the dark, their computers switched off. Temperatures hovering around 43 degrees Celcius (109 Fahrenheit) are not helping matters, either.
Osama Mustafa Elnahas heads the division taksed with recovering stolen artifacts. He is aware that illegal excavations are going on up and down the country. "They have become a daily occurrence since the revolution began," he says.
The SCA still doesn't know the actual extent of the lootings. Deborah Lehr, who runs the Paulson Institute, a Chicago-based think tank, has suggested that the US government should support the investigation by providing satellite images of the sites. But such plans have gotten stuck in the pipelines of the Egyptian bureaucracy.
As for the artifacts that have already been stolen, it's likely they are irrevocably lost. Egyptian experts assume that many of the relics will end up abroad -- beyond the reach of Cairo -- and sold to collectors at places such as international auction houses.
"If we want to reclaim an artifact, we have to prove that it was registered as stolen in Egypt," says Elnahas. A proper inventory of the stolen relics is something that the authority is unlikely to get around to, however, given the speed at which the plunderers are currently operating.
Somaliland to stiffen smuggling and trafficking penalties
Self-declared republic seeks to stem irregular migration, particularly among youths, across Africa to Libya and Europe
IRIN in Hargeisa, part of the Guardian development network
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 12.26 BST
The government of the self-declared republic of Somaliland will stiffen penalties for people smuggling and human trafficking to stem irregular migration, particularly by the region's youths.
The interior ministry's administrative director, Mohamed Osman Dube, told IRIN: "There is an article in Somaliland's penal code dealing with this issue, but we think it is not deterrent enough. For this reason, the government plans to pass new laws to prevent human smuggling."
Article 457 of the penal code identifies the selling and purchasing of humans as slaves as offences punishable by prison terms of three to 12 years. Article 466 further provides for a three-year prison term for those found guilty of engaging in physical abuse, according to Mustafe Mahdi, a Somaliland lawyer.
The laws are aimed at reducing irregular migration from Somaliland to Ethiopia and onwards to Sudan, Libya and Europe. They are expected to include tougher punishments for smugglers and provide ways to rehabilitate youth migrants, Dube said.
Though reliable figures on people smuggling and human trafficking in Somaliland are not available, in late June, the Somaliland president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, nominated a ministerial committee to address the problem, expressing concern over growing youth mass migration and related deaths.
According to a recent survey by the community-based Somaliland Youth Ambition Development Group (SYADG), for example, at least 15 Somaliland youths died in May in the Sahara desert, between Libya and Sudan, either because they were shot dead by smugglers or due to the harsh conditions. The 15 were part of a group of 325 youths, from which 31 are missing, with 83 and 80 others in Libyan and Tunisian prisons, respectively, according to the group's spokesman, Ahmed Jamal.
Most of the youths migrating from Somaliland have been from poorer families, but those from wealthier backgrounds are increasingly risking the perilous journey to Europe.
Mohamed Da'ud, the interior ministry's director of planning, said: "When I was looking for my son, I received a phone call from a stranger asking me to speak my son. The stranger told me to pay him $5,000 [£3,250] in smuggling fees. I said: 'I will look for the money', but unfortunately, my son was shot dead. He is among youths who have been killed by smugglers or [who] died in the Sahara after they tried to run away from smugglers."
Wafa Alamin, a human rights activist in Khartoum, Sudan, said: "Illegal immigrants are treated like animals by the smugglers in the Sahara, between Sudan and Libya."
Smugglers are also increasingly kidnapping migrant Somaliland youths for ransom. Abdillahi Hassan Digale, the chairman of the Ubah Social Welfare Organisation (USWO), said: "The youths are asked about their parents' properties and jobs. If the smugglers identify that the family of the person can pay a ransom, they take him or her across the border without any payment only to later force the client to call his or her family to demand a ransom."
Abdillahi Omar's sons are among the smugglers' victims. "My two sons graduated from high school in 2011 and had no reason to risk their lives," he said. "I sent one of them to university in Ethiopia, but he saved up the money I used to send him to make the risky journey to Libya. On different occasions in Sudan and Libya he was held hostage by smugglers who demanded a ransom, and I spent $14,500 on him. But he is lucky he reached Europe."
His other, younger son is in Libya. "I don't know what to do. I sold everything I had. My problem is not only being bankrupt but that I don't know how to bring him back," Omar said.
The government, civil society and international organisations have been engaging in public awareness campaigns to sensitise the Somaliland population to the dangers of irregular migration.
But more needs to be done. A Somaliland border immigration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Even though a lot of campaigns have been done, [especially] in the last several weeks, and youth migrants have decreased from 15 per day to eight per day, we believe that there are local smugglers connected to other smugglers based in Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, and we don't think it will stop soon."
The high rate of unemployment in Somaliland, amid an increasing number of university graduates, must be addressed, according to Digale. "For this reason, there is a need for interventions by both the government and the local business community, as well as international partners working in Somaliland," he said.
An earlier survey by the Somaliland National Youth Organisation found about 75% youth unemployment.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is implementing a regional mixed migration programme covering Djibouti, Ethiopia, Puntland, Somaliland and Yemen. In mixed migration, refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants and even victims of human trafficking use the same routes, means of transport and smuggling networks to reach shared destinations, but with different claims to protection and humanitarian assistance.
IOM Somalia said: "The overall objective of this programme is to strengthen the protection of – and provide emergency assistance to – irregular migrants in Somaliland, Puntland [and] Djibouti, and potential migrants and returnees in Ethiopia, including the assisted voluntary return of the most vulnerable." Ethiopia is a leading source of irregular migrants from the Horn of Africa region heading to the Arabian peninsula.
IOM Somalia is also urging Somaliland to accede to the Palermo protocol, which aims to prevent the smuggling of migrants, promote co-operation among state parties, protect the rights of smuggled migrants, and prevent the worst forms of exploitation, which often characterises the smuggling process.
On 17 July, Somaliland officials prosecuted 11 people on human smuggling charges. Gabiley regional court found the 11 men guilty of smuggling youths from Somaliland to Ethiopia en-route to Libya, according to an official at the immigration department. The arrests and prosecutions were the first of their kind in Somaliland.
07/30/2013 02:39 PM
Troop Withdrawal: Aid Groups Warn of Afghan Security Vacuum
By SPIEGEL Staff
The looming end of NATO operations in Afghanistan is creating a security vacuum that puts the entire purpose of the international mission at risk. Aid groups may have to scale down their operations, and Berlin is alarmed at US threats of total withdrawal.
The F-16 fighter-bombers thundered toward Afghanistan's Baghlan Province, hurrying to respond to a request for emergency backup. Special forces belonging to the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces, had run into trouble during a joint operation with Afghan security forces in the district of Baghlani Jadid.
This was a Saturday two weeks ago and the Afghan security forces were engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban. The situation was threatening to get out of control. When the Dutch fighter jets reached the area, they immediately dropped two bombs.
The end result was two Afghan soldiers and five insurgents dead, as well as several injured. The mission was only over after two days.
If the Bundeswehr had had its way, the skirmish would have been kept secret. The army offered no information about the incident. It didn't even mention the bombing incident in last Friday's confidential "briefing of parliament."
The Bundeswehr is eager to avoid any more bad news. Less than one and a half years before its scheduled end, the multinational mission in Afghanistan is in danger of failing both politically and militarily. Despite the steadily worsening security situation in the country, Western nations have failed to reach an agreement with President Hamid Karzai on a further presence of security forces beyond the end of 2014. There's a risk of a complete withdrawal.
Fear of US 'Zero Option'
After more than 10 years of war and over 3,300 dead soldiers among the allied forces, the mission hangs in the balance. The precipitous withdrawal of the US from Vietnam serves as a clear example of what the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should not do. In the worst-case scenario, the same could happen in Afghanistan, with the Bundewehr right in the thick of it.
Without the agreed-upon follow-up mission "Resolute Support," this fragile country would be abandoned to its fate. It would be uncertain whether aid organizations could remain in Afghanstan. The legitimation of the entire mission would be thrown into doubt: It would mean giving up the stability and societal progress achieved here so far. Berlin's often-repeated statement that "We won't abandon Afghanistan" would be exposed as an empty promise.
Berlin has watched on with mounting concern as US President Barack Obama has threatened Afghan President Karzai with the "zero option" -- a complete withdrawal of US forces from the Hindu Kush by 2015. A complete American withdrawal would scupper all plans for a stable Afghanistan and would require the Bundeswehr, too, to fundamentally revise its planning.
This April, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière announced the possibility of up to 800 Bundeswehr soldiers remaining in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, as part of an international training mission. But that would be impossible without US participation. "If the Americans withdraw, no German involvement will be possible," says Omid Nouripour, the Green Party's defense policy specialist. The "zero option" requires "closer consideration," believes fellow Green Party politician and Bundestag defense committee member Katja Keul.
Rising Casualty Numbers
Meanwhile, the security situation in the country is continung to deteriorate. Instead of the stabilization it had hoped for, ISAF's Kabul headquarters now receives almost daily reports of dead and wounded soldiers. The casualty numbers declined in 2012 but have risen sharply since the beginning of this year.
"The security situation in some of the known problematic regions in the north has worsened appreciably since the beginning of the spring offensive," reads a July 11 internal diplomatic cable from the German consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif. Last Monday it emerged that the Taliban has killed 2,748 police officers just in the past four months.
The events of May 11 illustrated just how dangerous the situation has become for civilian development workers as well. Mohammad Hafiz, 35, was woken by the sound of gunfire in the middle of the night. He and his colleagues, employees of a Kabul-based road construction company, were staying in a camp in the village of Shakh Moghlan in northern Afghanistan. Now they feared for their lives.
"The Taliban, around 20 of them, attacked the camp from all sides. They fired rockets and we were lucky to escape," the engineer recalls.
When Afghan police arrived hours later, all that was left to do was to count the dead -- two engineers and one laborer. The Afghan construction company, which had been hired by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) to pave a 24-kilometer (15-mile) stretch of road, reacted immediately by pulling out of the project. Following the death of his employees, the company's owner found the German project simply too dangerous.
Such attacks in the north of the country, where German troops operate, are causing considerable concern. In the consulate cable, the German diplomats warn that by beginning its withdrawal from the region, the Bundeswehr has created a security vacuum, allowing the Taliban to advance.
The Taliban's attacks target the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which for six weeks now have been officially responsible for protecting the people here. "Against the background of the transition process agreement, the number of attacks on ANSF forces and civilians has seen a sharp increase," the diplomatic cable from Mazar-e-Sharif reads. The Taliban feels "freer" in the provinces where the international troops have withdrawn, the cable continues, particularly as nighttime raids are rarely carried out there anymore.
Development Projects at Risk
This has serious consequences for development projects, the diplomats warn. They fear even the legitimation of the Afghanistan mission itself is at stake and that it will no longer be possible to credibly convey the mission's "core message" -- that Germany will remain involved in long-term civilian development aid "regardless of the conclusion of ISAF."
Germany's Defense Ministry, too, is starting to sense that the Afghanistan mission, already unpopular among Germans, is in danger of becoming a PR disaster with its constant stream of bad news.
In response, the Defense Ministry's strategists have adopted a new communications strategy -- ignore all bad news and banish any data that show an increasing number of attacks to the realm of statistical imprecision. The logic here is that, now that the Bundeswehr itself only rarely carries out missions, it is dependent on statistics from its Afghan partners, which aren't necessarily reliable. The new policy is to redefine the security situation in ways that no longer rely exclusively on the available statistics. Anything that doesn't fit is made to fit.
The prevailing mood in Berlin is one of uncertainty. The heart of the problem is that it isn't clear whether American soldiers will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and if so, how many. Without a reliable number, it is impossible for NATO's headquarters to make reasonable plans for the continuing mission.
Initially, Washington planned for around 10,000 of its soldiers to remain in Afghanistan. But Afghan President Karzai refuses to agree to a bilateral security agreement, something the US has made a condition of its continuing military presence. Nor have the international partners officially been invited to remain in the country beyond 2014. These allies, especially Germany, are pushing for the follow-up mission to receive the UN Security Council's blessing, but Karzai is resisting a UN mandate, which he sees as limiting Afghan sovereignty.
The general outline of the agreement with the US has been in place for quite a while, but in recent months Karzai has repeatedly brought additional requirements to the table. When it came to discussing an assurance of immunity for American soldiers in Afghanistan -- a key requirement from the American side -- the Afghan president suddenly expressed a desire for the treaty to include a security guarantee for his country in the case of attacks from outside. Those close to him say that before he will sign the treaty, Karzai also wants to know the exact size of the American contingent that would remain after the completion of the NATO mission. The US, though, is unwilling to make such a pronouncement.
Cost of Development Work to Rise
This state of uncertainty has considerable consequences for the urgently needed international development work being done in the country. Up to now, German development aid workers, of whom there are currently around 110 in northern Afghanistan, have been able to rely on the Bundeswehr or other ISAF forces for security. In an emergency, they could request evacuation by helicopter or seek treatment at military medical centers, and retreat to German military bases if conditions got dangerous. But by the end of this year, all German bases aside from the main camp in Mazar-e-Sharif will be closed.
Military withdrawal will drive up the costs of development work in the region. The GIZ anticipates additional expenses of nearly €5 million ($6.6 million) in the period following withdrawal, for civilian plane tickets, medical services, secure accommodation for employees in so-called "safe houses" and armored vehicles for overland travel.
In an analysis conducted on behalf of Germany's Development Ministry under Minister Dirk Niebel of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the GIZ's security experts made clear just how extensively development workers rely on the soldiers' presence. Continuing to operate Germany's many projects in the region, according to the GIZ's Risk Management Office, would urgently require that such projects "still be able to rely on the support of the Bundeswehr" or other armed forces.
The report further urges that a new mandate on Afghanistan should include a written guarantee of emergency assistance, guaranteeing both rapid evacuation by air and armed assistance when under fire, which could only be accomplished by "robust ground forces." In cases of kidnapping, the report continues, "special capabilities" would be imperative -- a reference to the Bundeswehr's elite Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK).
All this sounds very different from the German government's planned scenario of a pure training mission for the soldiers who remain stationed in the country.
But without the necessary security guarantees, things look dire for most of the GIZ's projects in Afghanistan. Without those assurances, according to the analysis, the only option would be to accept that the projects would have "reduced operational capabilities," since it would be possible to remain active only in Mazar-e-Sharif.
President Karzai, meanwhile, has found his own form of diplomacy with his disliked partners in Washington. The US government was more than a little surprised to receive a payment request from Kabul's Finance Ministry stating that the US must pay a $1,000 fine for every transport container of military equipment removed from the country unless that container has properly filled out documentation. These costs could amount to as much as $70 million.
To lend weight to his words, Karzai turned to extortion tactics, instructing his customs officers at the border with Pakistan to close crossings there to all American transports for six days in mid-July.
RALF BESTE, MATTHIAS GEBAUER, GORDON REPINSKI, CHRISTOPH SCHULT
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
Former Iran ambassador to UN tipped to become foreign minister
Observers say appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif could help improve Tehran's relations with Washington
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 12.41 BST
Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, is expected to extend an olive branch to the US and set a new tone in his country's foreign policy by choosing a former Tehran ambassador to the United Nations as his foreign minister.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been previously involved in rare and often secret bilateral negotiations between Tehran and Washington, is being tipped as Rouhani's nominee for the post.
Rouhani will publicly announce members of his cabinet next week, after his official inauguration on Sunday, but local agencies in Tehran reported that the appointment of a number of top ministers had been finalised, with key positions set to be held by technocrats and pro-reform moderate figures.
Under Iranian law, Rouhani will have to present his full list of cabinet nominees to the parliament, which will consider their merits one by one before their appointments are made official.
Although Rouhani, as head of the government, is responsible for choosing ministers, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters, traditionally has full influence over key ministries, including the foreign ministry. If Zarif's appointment is confirmed, it would likely mean that it has had Khamenei's blessing.
Mohammad Sadegh Kharazi, another former ambassador to the UN and an adviser to the reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, said Zarif would be in Rouhani's cabinet. "He has an objective view about international issues and is capable of finding solutions," Kharazi told the Guardian by phone from Tehran.
Above all, Kharazi said, the 53-year-old Zarif, a fluent English speaker and a PhD graduate from the University of Denver, was trusted by Khamenei. Given this, he said, Zarif was best positioned to normalise Tehran's relations with Washington should Khamenei decide on such a policy.
Khamenei has recently signalled he is not optimistic about any future direct talks between the US and Iran, but analysts reading between the lines said he did not voice any objection either.
"Our foreign policy is completely centralised, meaning that it should be approved by the supreme leader," said Kharazi. "If we see positive signs from the US and if normalisation becomes our policy then Zarif would be the best person to evaluate things and act appropriately and without misunderstandings."
According to Etemaad, an Iranian reformist newspaper, Zarif went to the US on a student visa two years before the 1979 Islamic revolution and later chose to work for Iran's UN mission in New York for immigration reasons. "I became a diplomat accidentally," Etemaad quoted Zarif as saying. Iranian web users said Zarif had deactivated his Facebook page since being touted as foreign minister.
William Miller, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who has met Zarif frequently in New York in the past, described him as "extremely well-informed" about the US and "deeply knowledgable" about his own country.
"His knowledge of nuclear issues, which is the main question between Iran and the US, is very deep and it follows along technical lines as well as policy lines," Miller said. "He's admirably suited by temperament, background and education to work on these issues that have divided the US and Iran for 34 years."
Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, said he had dealt with Zarif on numerous occasions when the ex-diplomat visited Washington and led the US-Iran negotiations over Afghanistan at the beginning of the Bush administration, particularly after 9/11.
"He is a tremendously impressive diplomat and I think to many of the Americans they found someone that completely understood them and worked and lived in the US for so long," he said.
But Parsi said Zarif belonged to a group of Iranian officials burnt by the US when the Bush administration labelled Iran as "an axis of evil" at a time when Tehran was showing signs of compromise. "While there were people who are capable and willing to deal with the US, these are the very same people who actually got burnt for having done so."
Parsi criticised US representatives who are trying punish Tehran with yet more sanctions, to be voted on in a bill on Wednesday. He said it was a negative step while both sides were trying to send positive signals. The White House and the Congress are currently at odds over Iran.
"It will definitely have a very negative impact on the ability to use the fresh opportunity to move things to a better place because at the end of day this is the first US government response to the election of Rouhani," he said. "I think it's the wrong signal to send to Iranians who in big numbers voted for moderation against radicalism, while the US Congress wants to respond to that by imposing new sanctions."
Since his victory in mid-June, Rouhani has been under pressure from conservatives about his cabinet nominations. Saham News, an opposition website, reported on Monday that Khamenei had rejected four of Rouhani's nominations so far.
Others touted for the cabinet include Eshagh Jahangiri for vice-president, Bijan Zanganeh for oil minister, Ali Janati for culture minister and Mohammad Forouzandeh for chairman of the supreme national security council and de facto chief nuclear negotiator.
July 30, 2013
Pakistan Chooses Next President After Jailbreak Underscores Threats
By DECLAN WALSH
LONDON — The troubling gap between politics and governance in Pakistan came into stark relief on Tuesday, when lawmakers elected the country’s 12th president just hours after Taliban militants shot their way into a major jail, freeing about 250 prisoners.
As predicted, Mamnoon Hussain, a little-known textiles magnate from Karachi and a loyalist of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won the presidential vote in the national and provincial legislatures. He will take over from President Asif Ali Zardari, a contentious figure who is due to step down on Sept. 8.
The election was another important democratic step in a country that has seen four military coups since the 1950s, the most recent in 1999. It confirmed Mr. Sharif, whose party emerged victorious from May’s general election, as the most powerful civilian leader.
But away from the democratic process lay sobering reminders that Taliban insurgents, not power-hungry generals, now present the most pressing challenge to state authority in Pakistan.
In the northwest, heavily armed militants mounted an audacious jailbreak just before midnight on Monday at a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan. The site is just outside the tribal belt, where the majority of C.I.A. drone strikes have taken place.
Up to 150 fighters, armed with guns and grenade launchers, blew holes in the perimeter wall, the police said. Some fighters were disguised as policemen, while others wore suicide-bomb vests.
As they stormed the building, breaking open cells, the attackers used a megaphone to call out names of specific prisoners and cried, “God is great” and “Long live the Taliban,” security officials said.
The provincial authorities said the escaped prisoners included 25 militants with the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian militant group that has killed hundreds of minority Shiites this year.
At least 14 people died in the assault, including 6 Shiite prisoners, several of whom were beheaded. The police said a squad of foreign militants, some from Uzbekistan, had helped secure a road to ensure that the militants could escape back to South Waziristan in the tribal belt.
The assault followed a week of countrywide bloodshed that underscored the state’s crumbling ability to fight militant violence. Baluch nationalists attacked a coast guard post on the Arabian Sea in Baluchistan Province, killing seven people.
In Sukkar, in neighboring Sindh Province, Taliban militants attacked a regional office of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, resulting in at least nine deaths. A double suicide bombing in the tribal belt, targeting Shiites, killed 57 people and wounded more than 150.
And in Baluchistan on Tuesday, militants shot a police officer who had been guarding health workers administering polio vaccination drips to children in Pishin, a Taliban refuge near the Afghan border.
Analysts said the spate of violence highlighted the failure of the country’s civilian and military leaders to deliver on promises of a coordinated counterterrorism strategy.
“Every day it seems the state is losing more and more control,” said Ahmed Rashid, an analyst and author of several books on the Taliban. “The attacks are occurring across the country, and becoming more pernicious. The militants can see that the government doesn’t have a national security plan.”
Mr. Rashid said there seemed to be “a lot of dithering and debate” between the army, led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the government, led by Mr. Sharif. “And we still don’t have a plan,” he said.
Some blame for the Taliban jailbreak fell on the former cricketer Imran Khan, whose party has led Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Dera Ismail Khan is, since the election in May.
Mr. Khan favors talking to the Taliban instead of fighting them, and has frequently attributed the chaos in the region to the presence of American troops in Afghanistan and C.I.A. drone strikes in the tribal belt.
His provincial government faced fresh criticism on Tuesday after it emerged that the intelligence services had warned of the jailbreak just three days earlier. In a letter marked “secret,” which The New York Times has seen, intelligence officials warned that militants led by Umer Khitab had obtained a map of the jail and were preparing an assault similar to a jailbreak in Bannu in April 2012.
Speaking outside Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Khan blamed administrative failures of officials of the previous government for the lapses, saying they “had allowed themselves to be part of America’s war.”
Political wrangling over Pakistan’s relationship with America formed part of the general criticism of Mr. Zardari, the departing president, who otherwise spent much of his five-year term in rolling battles with judicial and military leaders, all the while struggling to shake off longstanding corruption accusations.
Mr. Zardari’s political authority stemmed largely from his status as the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. He confounded his many critics, who regularly predicted his political demise, through adroit maneuvering. He survived intense pressure from the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
And he initiated constitutional changes that drained the presidency of power in a bid to make it more difficult for the military to meddle directly in politics.
If Mr. Zardari owed much of his power to his high-profile marriage, Mr. Hussain’s main qualification seems to be his low profile.
Born in India in 1940, Mr. Hussain served briefly as the governor of Sindh Province in 1999, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf toppled Mr. Sharif’s previous government in a bloodless coup. Mr. Hussain remained a steadfast ally of Mr. Sharif in those days, defying military pressure and intimidation.
But his ventures into electoral politics were less successful; he failed to win a parliamentary seat in 2002 and since then had concentrated largely on his textile business.
Political analysts say the presidency may be his reward for his unflinching loyalty to the Sharif family. Before his victory on Tuesday, he promised to use the office to restore peace in Karachi, his native city, which is splintered by ethnic political violence.
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 31, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified a sectarian militant group that has killed hundreds of minority Shiites this year. It is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, not Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Telangana: new Indian state closer to reality after government approval
Ruling coalition led by Congress party votes in favour of hiving off part of Andhra Pradesh to create India's 29th state
Jason Burke, south Asia correspondent, in Delhi
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 08.10 BST
India's ruling coalition government, led by the Congress party, has backed demands for the creation of a new state called Telangana in southern India, immediately spurring activists to repeat other long-standing demands for similar measures elsewhere in the vast country.
The new state – India's 29th – would be carved out of the existing southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Activists have long argued that the drought-prone northern area of Andhra Pradesh is underdeveloped and ignored by powerful politicians from the south.
Residents of the 10 districts that form Telangana say they are discriminated against in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs. The state is currently run from Hyderabad, a city known for its booming information technology industry.
The large size of some of India's 28 states makes them difficult to administer and has prompted movements to divide them. Telangana would have a population of around 35 million.
The decision is likely to be opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, primarily because the proposed Telangana state would include Hyderabad, though the city would be shared.
The decision is controversial. Police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed in Hyderabad and other parts of Andhra Pradesh to prevent protests after the announcement.
The demand for a separate state has intensified since the late 1960s, with hunger strikes and violent protests claiming about 1,000 lives over the past decade. Protesters, often educated young men frustrated by the difficulty of obtaining secure employment, have publicly set fire to themselves to press for the creation of Telangana.
The protests gained strength in 2009 when veteran politician K Chandrasekhara Rao began a hunger strike. After 11 days the federal government agreed to split the state but then delayed a decision during sporadic protests both for and against the separation.
This new decision may simply be rooted in electoral arithmetic. The Congress party has struggled in recent years in Andhra Pradesh and faces a tough fight there and nationally in parliamentary elections likely to take place next year.
Critics said the split would spur other demands for new states. "The government has opened a Pandora's box. This will give rise to similar demands from several regions that are fighting for separate states," said Kalyani Shankar, a political commentator.
The growth of regional identities is seen as one of the major political and cultural trends of recent years in India. But there have been no new states since 2000, when Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were created in the centre of the country. The new Himalayan foothill state of Uttarakhand also came into existence.
Several parts of India – the Bundelkhand region in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Vidarbha in western Maharashtra state and Gorkhaland in the eastern West Bengal state – have similar statehood movements but the government has not made any moves to create states there.
Some in the wealthiest part of the immense, poverty-stricken northern state of Uttar Pradesh have advocated breaking away too.
On Tuesday leaders of the Gorkhaland movement called for a three-day strike in the northern parts of West Bengal to press their demand. "Our demand for Gorkhaland is older than the demand for Telangana. If the government announces a Telangana state then it should also declare a Gorkhaland state," Gorkhaland leader Bimal Grung said.
The new state is still far from reality – the decision still has to be ratified by local lawmakers and implemented.
5,000 Chinese factory workers strike over Indian takeover of American firm
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 7:31 EDT
More than 5,000 Chinese workers at a Sino-US joint venture tyre manufacturer have gone on strike against the American parent company’s $2.5 billion takeover by an Indian firm, state media reported.
Cooper Tire and Rubber announced last month that it would be taken over by Apollo Tyres of India, making the combined group the seventh-largest such firm in the world.
But thousands of staff at Cooper Chengshan, a joint venture in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, have walked out in protest, the Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday.
It quoted union leaders saying they wanted to block the huge transaction, which saw Cooper shares leap on the New York stock exchange.
Workers are concerned the Indian company will be unable to repay debt taken on in the highly leveraged acquisition and their interests could be damaged, Xinhua said.
Employees have become increasingly vocal in China with numerous labour disputes occurring in recent years, but the cause of the Cooper Chengshan strike is unusual, with protests normally focusing on pay and current working conditions.
It is the latest incident to hit a foreign joint venture after Chinese workers held an American factory executive hostage for nearly a week in late June over a plan by his US-based medical supply company to lay off 30 workers.
The dispute also comes as China and India have vowed to boost trade. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited India in May and promised to open China’s market wider to India and forge a “dynamic trade balance” to deepen economic ties and ease political tensions.
Cooper holds 65 percent of the joint venture while China’s Chengshan Group has the remaining 35 percent.
“I cannot imagine what the company will become after it is taken over by the Indian company,” Cooper Chengshan worker Ma Rufu said, according to Xinhua.
Ma added that Apollo’s annual profits were not enough to repay the interest on the debt. “How can our welfare be sustained (after the acquisition)?”, Ma said.
Zhang Huaqian, another employee, said: “We shall fight to the end with anyone who allows us to lose our jobs.”
Xinhua quoted Yue Chunxue, the director of the Cooper Chengshan labour union, as saying it had been given no information about the deal.
“This is in contempt of Chinese law and disrespect(s) Chinese workers,” Yue said, adding the union wanted the deal scrapped.
July 30, 2013
Paraguay: Land Dispute Is Renewed
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
About 200 poor farmers have reoccupied land where 6 police officers and 11 farm workers were killed last year in a violent eviction that led to the ouster of President Fernando Lugo. The police said the farmers’ leaders were demanding compensation and the release of 12 workers who were charged in the eviction.
July 30, 2013
Colombia: Rebels Set Terms for Release
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A guerrilla army reiterated on Tuesday its willingness to free a former United States Marine who has been held captive for more than a month, but it insisted that the Colombian government send a high-level delegation to retrieve him. Speaking to reporters in Havana, a senior commander of the guerrillas, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said the fate of the captured American, Kevin Scott Sutay, was in the government’s hands. President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said last week that he would not send public figures to retrieve Mr. Sutay, vowing not to permit the FARC to make a media spectacle out of his release.
July 30, 2013
Lawyer Who Beat Chevron in Ecuador Faces Trial of His Own
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Steven R. Donziger — environmental hero or charlatan, depending on whom you talk to — is one of the toughest lawyers around, or slightly crazy.
For the last two decades Mr. Donziger has been battling the Chevron Corporation over an environmental disaster that happened in the jungles of Ecuador. Two years ago, he won an $18 billion case against the oil giant, the kind of victory that most lawyers can only dream of.
But Chevron has yet to pay a penny of the award, and has turned the tables on him. Now, he is defending himself against a Chevron lawsuit charging that he masterminded a conspiracy to extort and defraud the corporation. The trial is scheduled for October.
Across a table in his two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Donziger for the first time in recent years spoke publicly about the personal travails that he says have engulfed him. He says shadowy men have trailed him. Watched his family. Sat in cars outside his home. He had his apartment swept for bugs, but found nothing.
All of that might sound like the ravings of a Grade A conspiracy theorist. But Mr. Donziger, who played basketball with Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, has a serious following among environmentalists. He and his supporters say he is being vilified — potentially ruined — for unmasking Chevron’s questionable environmental record. Chevron, which is suing him and his associates for damages that could reach billions of dollars, says he is simply a con artist.
It is a remarkable turn of events for Mr. Donziger, who has chased after Chevron with the single-mindedness of Ahab. Reports of questionable ethical conduct have cast doubt over his motives. He is accused of engineering the ghostwriting of a crucial report submitted to the Ecuadorean court that decided the case, a claim he says is exaggerated and misconstrues local legal customs. Some of his former allies have abandoned him and signed statements taking Chevron’s side.
Even his lawyer in the fraud case has withdrawn himself because, he said, Mr. Donziger could no longer pay his bills. And this month U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied Mr. Donziger’s plea for a delay in the trial, expressing skepticism that he and his backers did not have the money to hire another lawyer. (Judge Kaplan noted in his ruling that Mr. Donziger stood to gain a fee of over $1 billion should the Ecuadorean judgment, which Chevron is challenging, be enforced.)
The particulars of the case have been litigated and relitigated. Mr. Donziger insists that Chevron’s predecessor, Texaco, cut through the Amazon, spilled oil into pristine rain forests and left behind what remains to this day a toxic mess. Chevron says he is an ambulance-chaser who has fabricated facts for his own financial ends, blaming the company for pollution mostly caused by Petroecuador, the national oil company that was once a partner of Texaco and continues to produce oil in the region.
But Mr. Donziger, a bear of a man with a quick laugh and a robust ego, says he is unbowed.
“It is creepy and scary,” Mr. Donziger, 51, said of his experiences during a six-hour interview at his home. Chevron, a company worth $240 billion, is trying to scare him away, he says. “When I walk into a deposition and see 15 Chevron lawyers there ready to eat me for lunch, I realize I’ve been bestowed an honor,” he said, smiling.
To which Chevron says: Nonsense. “He thinks he can one-up P. T. Barnum and fool all the people all the time,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer working for Chevron. “But it’s his own confidants who have now turned on him.”
Many environmentalists, perhaps predictably, are still behind him.
“I have admiration for anyone who is willing to take on a rich, powerful oil company,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club and a longtime supporter of Mr. Donziger’s efforts. “And to do it for more than two decades is either crazy or impressive and probably both.”
These days, Mr. Donziger spends much of his time working at his dining room table below an expansive portrait of Mao walking among his people — more of a joke than an expression of his political beliefs, he says. He still finds time to take his 6-year-old son to school, take yoga classes and walk the dog. His apartment is virtually a gallery of the case. Photographs of Ecuadorean Indians, jungle pipelines and the first day of the Ecuadorean trial hang on its walls.
The origins of the case go back to the 1970s, when Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, operated as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company Petroecuador in the Amazon.
Mr. Donziger, who had worked as a journalist in Nicaragua, was a Harvard Law School student when he heard about the cause from a fellow student of Ecuadorean descent. Even though Texaco had reached a $40 million agreement with Ecuador that obliged it to clean some of the waste pits and well sites, villagers filed a class-action suit in 1993. Mr. Donziger dived in and emerged as the lead legal organizer.
Mr. Donziger’s activism is something of a birthright. He remembers how his mother, a social activist from Jacksonville, Fla., took him as a young boy to a picket line in front of a grocery store to back César Chávez’s lettuce boycott. His grandfather, Aaron E. Koota, was a Brooklyn district attorney and judge who decorated his office with pictures of himself with Hubert H. Humphrey and Robert F. Kennedy.
Inspired by them, he said he went to law school committed to help people who otherwise could not get access to legal services.
Two years out of law school, he traveled to Ecuador in 1993. “I saw what honestly looked like an apocalyptic disaster, almost like the end of the world,” he said, describing seeing entire jungle lakes filled with oil and children walking barefoot on oil-covered roads. That set the stage for a life dominated by the case.
Chevron never accepted the validity of the Ecuadorean judgment, and has looked for any opening to discredit it.
It found one in the documentary film “Crude,” which essentially stars Mr. Donziger, and highlighted his unorthodox style. Chevron lawyers argued before Judge Kaplan that the release of outtakes could prove that the company had been wronged.
Judge Kaplan agreed, and the flood of damaging revelations began.
One outtake filmed in a restaurant showed Ann Maest, a scientist working for Stratus Consulting, telling Mr. Donziger that there was no evidence that contamination spread from the oil pits and that “nothing has spread anywhere at all.” Mr. Donzinger, who had hired the company to research the contamination, was unmoved. “This is Ecuador, O.K.,” he said. “At the end of the day, there are a thousand people around the courthouse, you will get whatever you want. Sorry, but it’s true.”
Mr. Donziger has also been compelled to surrender a diary that revealed his secret meetings with Ecuadorean judges. He has been forced to hand over e-mail correspondence that contains several messages from one of his Ecuadorean colleagues about “paying the puppeteer” that Chevron insists are references to bribes to a judge. (Mr. Donziger says that was a joke, referring to “a former very bossy lawyer” with whom his team has a longstanding fee dispute.)
Sworn statements by environmental consultants who formerly worked with him have contended that he ignored scientific evidence that challenged his allegations of widespread contamination and that he engineered the ghostwriting of the critical report to the Ecuadorean court.
“Donziger created this fiction of massive environmental contamination,” said Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman, who acknowledged that the company had hired private investigators to protect itself from fraud.
Mr. Donziger countersued Chevron for fraud and extortion, accusing Chevron of corruption, bribes and threats to officials in Ecuador, but Judge Kaplan dismissed the case this week.
Mr. Donziger denies that he has crossed any ethical line, and says the sworn statements against him were obtained under legal pressure from Chevron, which he refuses to bow to.
“A giant oil company is trying to destroy me because I was able to hold them accountable for toxic dumping on a mass scale,” he said.
By Mr. Donziger’s account, however, Chevron is also feeling the heat. Even though today it has no meaningful operations in Ecuador, it faces enforcement actions to confiscate its assets in Canada, Brazil and Argentina. He added with typical bluster, “As I take the long view, it’s Chevron that faces the risk, not Steven Donziger.”
As he prepared to leave the lobby of his building the other day to take his cocker spaniel for a walk, he said of himself and his family, “It’s stressful, but we’ll be fine.”