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« Reply #7905 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:12 AM »


Silvio Berlusconi threatens Italy with political turmoil in battle with judges

PM Enrico Letta calls on all sides to act responsibly but Berlusconi demands judicial reform after tax fraud verdict

Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 23.47 BST

Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister who was convicted of tax fraud on Thursday, has reportedly told his centre-right MPs they must prepare for a fresh election if the current coalition government does not pursue judicial reform

Stinging from the supreme court's landmark decision to hand him the first definitive conviction in 20 years of legal tussles, the leader of the centre-right Freedom People party (PdL) held a meeting with his MPs in Rome at which he received a standing ovation.

"If there is not a reform of the justice system we are ready for elections," he told his followers. The comments will fuel concern that the eurozone's third-largest economy is entering a new period of uncertainty following the verdict.

Earlier in the day, Enrico Letta, the prime minister, called on all political players to act responsibly and keep his ruling coalition afloat "in the interests of the nation".

In the aftermath of the court's decision to uphold the former prime minister's conviction for tax fraud, Letta said: "It would be a crime not to keep going … because the government's work is starting to bear fruit."

But it was not certain that his appeal would be listened to by furious members of Berlusconi's PdL. Some said there was a possibility the party would ask the president, Giorgio Napolitano, to pardon Berlusconi. Several government ministers were reported to have told the party leadership that they would be willing to quit the government if necessary.

Some members of Letta's centre-left Democratic party (PD) are hinting they may want to draw a line at being in government with a convicted criminal.

"This alliance is now unsustainable. The PD should draw up an exit strategy," Pippo Civati, a centre-left MP, was quoted as saying. "Let's pass the electoral law, then go straight back to the polls."

On Thursday Berlusconi was ordered to serve four years in prison, a sentence that has been commuted to one year under a 2006 amnesty and will consist, due to his age, of detention under house arrest or community service rather than jail.

The five judges of the court of cassation ordered another part of the previous sentence – a ban on public office – to be re-evaluated by a lower court.

The conviction, Berlusconi's first in 20 years of cat and mouse with the courts, provoked outrage from supporters of Italy's longest-serving postwar prime minister. MPs in the PdL on Friday rushed to their leader's defence, declaring their unfailing support for him.

"No sentence will ever be able to deprive Berlusconi of the leadership … which millions of Italians have always seen in him," said one MP, Mariastella Gelmini. "Once again Silvio Berlusconi is giving everyone a lesson in dignity, courage and love for Italy."

His one-year sentence will not be enforced until the autumn but a potentially explosive vote on Berlusconi's future in the upper house of parliament, or senate, could come sooner, probably in September.

Under an anti-corruption law passed last year by the outgoing technocratic government of Mario Monti, the billionaire media tycoon will be ineligible to run for office for the next six years. The senate will have to vote on whether or not to let him keep his seat – a scenario that could expose the tensions not only in Lettta's coalition but within his deeply divided party as well.

Even if – as is likely – the senate votes to oust the 76-year-old, Berlusconi will still not be lacking in support. He will be able to continue as leader of the centre-right, in the same way that Beppe Grillo is the figurehead of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement despite not having been elected and himself having a criminal conviction.

Berlusconi has said he wants to disband the PdL and reform Forza Italia, the party with which he entered politics in the mid-1990s.

Renato Brunetta, head of the PdL in the lower house of parliament, told Italian radio: "Leaders aren't leaders because they are elected or because they're in parliament or have an MP's pass. Leaders are leaders because they represent a people, a part of the people, they represent history, they represent the past, the present, the future."

There is also speculation that Berlusconi may formally anoint his daughter, Marina, as his political heir and keep the family brand in the spotlight.

The fragile coalition government that Italy has had for just three months was the product of nearly two months of stalemate and fraught negotiations, and the president, Giorgio Napolitano, is understood to be desperate to avoid any repeat of the political paralysis.

On Friday, despite all the sound and fury, the financial markets appeared to have faith in the government's ability to survive, at least in the medium term. The spread between Italian 10-year bond yields and their German counterparts fell by eight basis points from the previous day. Shares in Mediaset, Berlusconi's broadcasting empire, dipped in early trade.

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

Silvio Berlusconi: supping with the devil

Letta's Democratic party faces the unenviable choice of voting to expel Berlusconi or keeping him in and falling apart

Guardian G logo
Editorial   
The Guardian, Friday 2 August 2013 20.05 BST   
       
Silvio Berlusconi did not look or sound like a beaten man. His conviction for fraud may have been upheld by the supreme court, delivering a definitive conviction for the first time in his long career. But his video message – defused on one of his TV channels – was more election manifesto than denunciation, and the firebreathing reaction of his party left the fragile coalition of which it is an indispensable part in no doubt that, as his family newspaper screamed, "Berlusconi is not finished". Just three months after he took office, the centre-left prime minister, Enrico Letta, acknowledged the political situation was now "very delicate", although he clearly hinted that he was not prepared to continue "at any cost".

That may well be determined by his own party as much as by the reaction of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PdL). But there is a definitive sense that the clock is ticking and a denouement to the endless soap opera is coming. An anti-corruption law passed last year by Mario Monti's government, which everyone, in their excitement at the ruling, seemed to have forgotten, means that Berlusconi will not be allowed to stand for election for at least six years. It also means that the Italian senate will have to vote on whether to expel him as senator with immediate effect.

This goes to the heart of the most explosive part of the sentence, which the supreme court judges tried to avoid by deferring the length of his ban from public office to another court. It does not mean that Berlusconi could not continue to lead his party from his villa, where he could serve the one year remaining of his sentence under house arrest. Another convicted criminal, Beppo Grillo (he was done for manslaughter for a car accident in which three passengers died), leads a party from without. But it does mean that a vote will now have to be taken. The explosion is coming and it will most likely happen in September.

Letta's Democratic party is faced with the unenviable choice of voting to expel Berlusconi and possibly dooming its own government, or voting to keep Berlusconi in and tearing itself apart. What it cannot do is to seek an alternative coalition partner. It tried to court Grillo, and the effort to form a coalition without Berlusconi cost it almost two months and a change of leader. Continuing to sup with the devil will cost it votes and boost Grillo's anti-establishment populist rhetoric. It is very hard to tell whether Letta's government can survive, but it is equally hard to see how things can continue as they are. Berlusconi is determined to continue, and there is speculation that his daughter may carry on the brand name. The tragedy is, he may well succeed, a free man or not.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/02/2013 05:20 PM

Unhealthy Obsession: Why Italy's Destiny Is Tied to Berlusconi

A Commentary By Fabian Reinbold

Silvio Berlusconi has been holding Italian politics hostage for 20 years. Now that the country's highest court has upheld his tax fraud conviction, it is surely time he left the political stage. But he probably won't, because Italy is hooked on the 'Silvio show.'

The way that commentators in Germany are appealing to Silvio Berlusconi's better judgement is almost touching. The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, for example, expressed the hope that the convicted former Italian prime minister would now take his leave from politics "honorably."

"If he has a scrap of common sense, he will retire," wrote the newspaper. Others, meanwhile, are urging him to acknowledge his reponsibility for the country.

As if Berlusconi cared.

All Berlusconi cares about is himself, his interests and his companies. His priorities have generally served him well -- if it weren't for all those annoying communists, judges and laws forever getting in his way. Despite dozens of investigations into his alleged mafia ties, corrupt practices and abuses of office, he's a man who can state "there was no irregular accounting in my company" and "there is no justice in this country" in a televised tirade just two and a half hours after Italy's highest court confirmed his tax fraud conviction. Does 76-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," actually have any common sense?

Italy has been a hostage to Berlusconi's business interests for years, and should, theoretically, let this tax dodger go to the devil now that a conviction against him has finally stuck. But the court, which deferred his five-year ban from public office back to a lower court in Milan and, many argue, left Berlusconi with his dignity still intact, has made things even harder for the country than they already are. Only a few blowhards such as Beppe Grillo, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, are insisting that the controversial former leader exit the public stage. The rest of the country is resigned to its destiny -- one that will be forever entwined with Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy Gets What Italy Wants

"I am convinced that we are in a situation where everyone has to assume their responsibilities in the best interests of the country," said Prime Minister Enrico Letta in response to the latest verdict. He needs Berlusconi to keep his coalition government afloat. Tax evasion was never really the issue throughout the trial. Its political repercussions were always the primary concern. If Berlusconi's conviction were upheld, would the grand coalition collapse? Berlusconi is the star around which the planets of both his friends and his foes orbit.

His People of Freedom party -- or Forza Italia, which Berlusconi announced would soon be revived -- would fall apart without him. And without their shared enemy, the various factions of the social-democratic Partito Democratico (PD) would also cave in. That the two parties of the fraught grand coalition cannot reconcile their differences is just a minor detail. At least it exists. And to survive, it needs Berlusconi, regardless of whether or not he is a convicted criminal.

Tax evasion? So what. Bribery? Whatever. Bunga bunga parties? Way to go! Many Italians laugh off Berlusconi's antics. Though not everyone, of course. He is clearly a polarizing figure. But with his divide and rule tactics, Berlusconi has Italy under his thumb. The question on everyone's lips in Rome these days is why a man as wealthy as Berlusconi should bother with tax evasion. He only saved himself a few million euros. He uses smoke and mirrors to great effect. And after all, hasn't Italy had some even more criminal leaders?

There has never been any shortage of distractions in Berlusconi's Italy, which has prevailed for some 20 years. Center-stage is this diminutive man, whose hair gets thicker as his face gets smoother. Be it sex parties, Jesus comparisons, divorce or his entanglement with Ruby, the Silvio show runs and runs, and hardly anyone can take their eyes off it. Italy has a lasting obsession with Berlusconi.

The media seizes on his every pronouncement -- even though generally all he does is repeat himself. Silvio sells. The self-made billionaire is an idol to ambitious Italians; a sworn enemy to leftists and a welcome distraction to everyone else from the country's permanent crisis.

Berlusconi has defined Italian society to an unprecedented extent. Scantily-clad young ladies can smile their way into Berlusconi's show empire and indeed into politics, while elderly men dream of a life just like his.

A song about a call girl who uses her connections to launch a career in politics has been a hit this summer. Sound unlikely? Not in Berlusconi's Italy. The country wants him, and it has him.


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* Enrico-Letta-008.jpg (20.25 KB, 460x276 - viewed 53 times.)
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« Reply #7906 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Russian ‘mobile malware’ industry could spread to other countries

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 2, 2013 19:45 EDT

Researchers have discovered that bilking people by infecting Android mobile phones with viruses has become a cottage industry in Russia in a criminal model that could be replicated elsewhere.

Members of Lookout Mobile Security were at the infamous Def Con hacker gathering in Las Vegas on Friday to share what they uncovered about a text-messaging fraud operation they dubbed “Dragon Lady” in reference to Cold War-era US military reconnaissance aircrafts.

“The mobile malware trade in Russia is highly organized and profitable,” Lookout said, referring to malicious software designed to infect smartphones.

“We recently investigated a veritable industry of malware businesses with startup-like behaviors.”

Businesses referred to as ‘Malware HQs’ accounted for more than half the overall mobile malware detections by Lookout during the first six months of this year, according to researcher Ryan Smith.

Malware HQs openly recruit ‘affiliates’ that could be anyone and provide simple do-it-yourself tools to distribute viruses with tactics such as booby-trapped websites or Twitter posts.

Once on smartphones, viruses fire off premium text messages behind the scenes, with HQs getting the money and sharing it with affiliates who hooked the victims.

Lookout discovered that some HQs promote playful competition between affiliates with websites that show rankings and promise prizes for top performers.

“We’ve seen evidence that these affiliate marketers have earned between $700 a month to $12,000 a month from these scams,” Smith said in a report summarizing Lookout’s findings.

He estimated that there are thousands of individual distributors and potentially tens of thousands of affiliate websites promoting custom SMS malware.

“Malware HQs handle the tough stuff like releasing new Android code and configurations every two weeks, malware hosting, shortcode registration, and marketing campaign management tools,” Smith said in his summary.

“Like any other large business, Malware HQ organizations provide customer support, post regular newsletters, report downtime or new features, and even run regular contests to keep their affiliates engaged and motivated.”

Those falling prey to the scam were typically Russian speaking Android phone users searching online for free games, applications, music, videos or pornography, according to Lookout.

Pages rigged with malware are designed to reject visits from countries not targeted by the crooks, who prefer victims in places where fees for premium text messages are paid immediately instead of through billing by telecom service providers.

While the text-messaging malware industry appeared centered in Russia, the model could be duplicated in other countries where conditions allow, according to Lookout.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #7907 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Tiny French village aims to become ‘oasis’ for aging British gays and lesbians

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 2, 2013 13:46 EDT

Salleles-d’Aude is a picturesque village like so many in France, with vines, a tree-lined canal, a church… and soon, a “private oasis” for ageing British gay people — reportedly a first in the country.

The brainchild of 66-year-old Danny Silver, the luxury community for gay, lesbian, bi- and transsexual British people will be located just outside the small rural village, whose residents have raised a surprised eyebrow at the news.

“It’s for people who want to live, it’s not a place to come to die,” said Silver, a Brit whose real-estate company The Villages Group builds “active retirement communities” in France for the over-50s.

These types of communities — where people aged over 50 can either retire or just go on holiday — are popular in the United States and Australia but are little known in France.

Complete with 107 homes, a hotel, tennis courts, saunas, jacuzzis, golf and horse-riding, it will be an eco-friendly and low-energy compound with “English and multilingual staff”, the group’s website states.

Silver says it will be the first such village for ageing gays and lesbians in France, where a bill allowing same-sex marriage and adoption stirred up sometimes violent protests, before finally being adopted in May.

But the 2,500-strong Salleles-d’Aude village, nestled in the rural southwest, appears far from any such controversy and the news has been cautiously welcomed — if not with open arms, then with a touch of pragmatism.

“It doesn’t bother me as long as they stay at home and don’t come for a stroll hand-in-hand or kiss each other in front of children,” a wary Herve Garcia, the owner of a pizzeria, told AFP.

“But for village business, it can only be a good thing. This year, we’ve had 30 percent less tourists (than other years).”

Serge Core, another village resident, pointed out that homosexuality had now become part of everyday life.

“They can marry now. So I don’t see why they couldn’t come and settle down here,” he said.

Even the mayor Yves Bastie — who will soon be officiating a gay marriage — was caught unawares by the project, having sold the group a construction permit thinking a more mainstream holiday village would be built.

That had been Silver’s idea too, but a sluggish crisis-hit market subsequently convinced him to change tack, and try and target the homosexual community.

“The reaction has been absolutely wonderful,” he said, adding building was due to start in early 2014, with a planned opening of the village a year later.

But for Michel Teychenne, a politician who was in charge of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) issues during President Francois Hollande’s election campaign, the village may not be such a good idea.

“The government is currently discussing the issue of old age and LGBT,” he said, confirming that as far as he knew, the community in Salleles-d’Aude would be the first of its kind in France.

But he warned such gay communities, which are popular in the United States, could lead to a “form of ghettoisation of the homosexual community”.

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« Reply #7908 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:20 AM »

French president promises to keep ban on Monsanto GMO corn despite court ruling

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 2, 2013 12:46 EDT

French President Francois Hollande said Friday that a ban on growing GM corn sold by US giant Monsanto would remain in place, despite a court ruling reversing the suspension.

“The moratorium will be extended,” he said on a visit to the southwestern department of Dordogne.

France’s Council of State court ruled Thursday that the French moratorium imposed on growing MON810 corn since March 2012 failed to uphold European Union law.

Under EU rules, such a ban “can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk” to people, animals or the environment, it said.

But Hollande said the ban on GM crops was in place “not because we refuse progress, but in the name of progress.”

“We cannot accept that a product — corn — have bad consequences on other produce,” he added, stressing that it would however be necessary to “secure this decision legally, at a national level and especially at a European level.”

MON810 includes an inserted gene that makes the corn plant exude a natural toxin that is poisonous to insect pests. This offers a potential financial gain for farmers, as they do not have to use chemical pesticides.

Green groups say that GM crops are potentially dangerous and should be outlawed as a precaution.

Greenpeace says MON810 encourages the emergence of pesticide-resistant insects, and has questioned whether the toxin affects bees, which are rapidly declining in Europe.

Scientists, though, have generally found no major problems with the first generation of GM crops, of which MON810 is one.

It has been okayed for farmers in many big grain-growing countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China, but has run headlong into problems in Europe.

Brussels cleared MON810 in 1998 for 10 years and Monsanto submitted a request in 2007 for it to be extended but the process has been effectively frozen since then.

In the absence of clear guidelines, MON810 is grown only on a small scale, notably in Spain and Portugal.

Monsanto’s GM corn is one of just two types of genetically engineered crops approved by the EU.

The other is BASF’s Amflora potato, but the German conglomerate has stopped producing it in the EU.

Europe also allows the imports of some GM products for animal feed.

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« Reply #7909 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:36 AM »

New President Hassan Rouhani makes the unimaginable imaginable for Iran

Reconciliation would allow the world to stop fearing a Persian Gulf conflict and get Iran back in the global economy

Stephen Kinzer   
theguardian.com, Saturday 3 August 2013 10.30 BST   

The election of Hassan Rouhani, who will be inaugurated today as Iran's seventh president, opens intriguing possibilities. Since 2005, the world has known an Iranian president who spoke the language of provocation and seemed to delight in keeping his country isolated. That is about to change.

Finding a way to bring Iran back into the world's mainstream will be Rouhani's principal challenge. His power is limited, though in the fluid world of Iranian politics, he is likely to accumulate more. His adversaries, most notably supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and the United States, ridicule him as a puppet of repressive mullahs.

In public statements following his election, Rouhani has spoken in terms far more conciliatory than those his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, liked to use. He has pledged to walk more on the path of transparency and boost mutual trust between Iran and other countries.

President Obama told an interviewer in reply that he was open to "a whole range of measures" if Iran would "show the international community that you're abiding by international treaties and obligations, that you're not developing a nuclear weapon."

That was an encouraging exchange, but far more will be required to thaw an icy relationship that has been disfigured by passionate emotions. They prevent the two countries from pursuing common strategic interests, which include stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting militant Sunni groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, controlling the Afghan drug trade, and calming Syria.

On the American side, hostility is the product of the deeply traumatic hostage crisis of 1979-80 and Iran's long and sometimes bloody campaign to undermine US interests around the world. Iran's hostility springs from deeper history. A nuclear deal with Iran will only be possible if the West finds a way to calm Iranian fears that the deal is just another repeat of a cycle they have seen over generations.

At his first press conference as president-elect, Rouhani set three conditions for talks with the United States:

    Americans should explicitly say that they will never interfere in Iran's domestic affairs … should acknowledge all our undeniable rights and … set aside unilateral and bullying policies.

These are three ways of expressing the same fear, which grips Iranians across political and social lines: that the outside world is determined to control Iran, limit Iran's growth and prevent Iran from fulfilling its national potential.

During the 19th century, Iranians lost vast territories in disastrous wars and corrupt monarchs sold everything of value in the country to foreigners. Iranians finally rose up and proclaimed a constitution, but Russian forces bombed parliament and re-imposed royal dictatorship. In 1907, Britain and Russia signed a treaty dividing Iran between them; no Iranian was at the negotiations or even knew they were taking place.

Iran's most formidable modern leader, Reza Shah Pahlavi, was obsessed with the idea of building a steel mill, but in 1941, soon after he assembled all the components, Allied armies invaded Iran and the project had to be abandoned. A decade later, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry, but was overthrown in a coup sponsored by the US and Britain. More recently, Iranians have suffered under an escalating series of Western sanctions.

Many Iranians see the Western campaign against their country's nuclear program as the latest chapter in this story. Any accord between Washington and Tehran will have to couch Iranian concessions in terms shaped to address Iran's deep-seated historical fears.

Over the past 34 years, whenever Iran has made a conciliatory offer to the United States, Washington was in the hands of militants who were only interested in war or regime change. When an American administration reached out, Iran was in a rejectionist phase. Washington and Tehran are still full of people wedded to the paradigm of hostility.

US Senator Lindsey Graham told cheering supporters of Christians United for Israel after Rouhani's election:

    If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

Yet the election also led to unusually strong calls for negotiation. Twenty-nine former diplomats, military commanders and national security specialists sent a letter to President Obama asserting that Rouhani's emergence presents a "major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts." In another letter, nearly one-third of the members of the US House of Representatives urged Obama to test whether the election represents "a real opportunity for progress" and to "utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks."

The emergence of Rouhani, especially at a time when President Obama no longer needs to worry about re-election, makes imaginable what for years has been unimaginable. Reconciliation would allow the world to stop fearing a Persian Gulf conflagration and hope instead for Iran's return to the global economy, a responsible role in the Middle East, and even some form of partnership with the United States. It will only be possible if both sides delicately confront the ghosts of history.

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

August 2, 2013

Iran’s President-Elect Provokes Furor Abroad With Remarks on Israel

By THOMAS ERDBRINK and JODI RUDOREN
IHT

TEHRAN — Iran’s president-elect touched off an international uproar on Friday with disputed comments about Israel, engendering a furious rejoinder from the Israeli prime minister that illustrated the wide gap between the two countries, fed by decades of hostility, even as the new Iranian leader has signaled his wish to pursue a more conciliatory approach in world affairs.

The comments from the president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, came two days before he officially takes office, plunging him into what amounted to his first international test over Israel, one of the most vexing topics for an Iranian politician.

Attending an annual pro-Palestinian holiday in Iran known as Al Quds Day, a reference to the Arabic name for Jerusalem and an occasion in which Iranians march and shout “Death to Israel,” Mr. Rouhani told state television that “a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years,” a reference to Israel.

At least three Iranian news agencies appeared to misquote him as saying: the “Zionist regime is a sore which must be removed.” Later in the day they posted corrections.

Mr. Rouhani, who has sought to portray himself as a moderate, did not use the most inflammatory anti-Israeli invective sometimes heard from other Iranian leaders, most notably Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called Israel a cancerous tumor, a virus and an aberration that should be expunged from history.

Nevertheless, the initial news agency translation of Mr. Rouhani’s comments from the state television videotape infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He has previously described Mr. Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose surprising June 14 election victory was unlikely to change Iran’s policies, particularly regarding what Israel views as an Iranian determination to become a nuclear weapons power.

“Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement. “Even if they will now rush to deny his remarks, this is what the man thinks and this is the plan of the Iranian regime. These remarks by President Rouhani must rouse the world from the illusion that part of it has been caught up in since the Iranian elections.

“The president there has changed, but the goal of the regime has not: to achieve nuclear weapons in order to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the entire world. A country that threatens the destruction of the state of Israel must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction.”

When told later that the original translation had been wrong, and that the videotape showed Mr. Rouhani had in fact not referred directly to Israel or said anything about removing the “sore,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office was unmoved and seemingly uninterested in nuance. “We stand by what we say,” said his spokesman, Mark Regev. “The remarks attributed to him we think, we are sure, that represents his true outlook.”

As for the videotape, Mr. Regev asked: “Is it the whole recording? Is it part of the recording?”

“The Iranians have the ability to move things,” he said. “We know there’s a consistent pattern of Iranian behavior of saying things and then backtracking. The Iranians have ways inside Iran to censor their message. They have the ability to control their press.”

Meir Javendanfar, an Iranian-Israeli who runs the blog Middle East Analyst, said the flap showed that “everybody is hypersensitive with regards to any statement that Iran makes regarding Israel.”

He said that “after eight years of Israel being called a virus and a cancer, and Holocaust denial, Israelis are very sensitive about anything that is said about their country.”

Mr. Rouhani had been expected to say something critical about Israel at the Quds Day celebration, an annual ritual here for Iranian politicians. Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Walking among celebrators holding signs reading “Death to Israel” and pictures of maimed Palestinian children, Mr. Rouhani, nicknamed “the diplomatic sheik” for his suave sentences, gave a preplanned statement to waiting television cameras.

“In our region, a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds,” he said. “This day is in fact a reminder of the fact that Muslim people will not forget their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny.”

Political analysts in Iran viewed Mr. Rouhani’s words as a calibrated attempt to both pay homage to the holiday and set himself apart from Mr. Ahmadinejad. But they acknowledged the difficulties.

“When it comes to discussion of Israel, Iranian moderates are damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a political analyst and a contributing editor to the Institute for Strategic Research Journals, a government-supported group in Tehran. “Harsh words put them in a tight spot abroad, while light criticism does the same at home. It’s really hard to maneuver around this subject.”

As Israel and its supporters often point out, Iran has a long history of official insults aimed at Israel and the Jewish religion. In 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad was famously quoted as saying Israel must be “wiped off the map,” during a conference called “A World Without Zionism.”

While some translations of his remarks showed he had actually said Israel “must vanish from the pages of history,” it made his international image as a staunch anti-Semitic hard-liner. That image has only been reinforced by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s publicly expressed doubts that the Holocaust ever happened — a doubt that he repeated on Friday in his own Quds Day remarks.

Mr. Javendanfar said that in Israeli eyes, Mr. Rouhani’s remarks still reflected a basic Iranian antipathy that will not change under his tenure.

An optimist might think that “we’ve been upgraded from a cancerous tumor to a wound,” he said, but a realist would say, “Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad is not in charge, hostile statements from Iran continue to be directed toward Israel.”

Emily Landau, an Iran expert at Israel’s Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said that while Mr. Rouhani might be more moderate than his predecessor in terms of women’s rights and the Internet, she did not expect any change in foreign policy, over which Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains firmly in control.

“Is it really an indication of moderation if it’s a sore and not a cancer?” she asked.

Still, Ms. Landau said Mr. Netanyahu might be alienating allies by equating Mr. Rouhani with his hard-line colleagues before he even took office.

“I don’t think it’s useful to use phrases like a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ because that’s just the kind of phrase that people think sounds very aggressive and that’s immediately rejected,” she said.

Thomas Erdbrink reported from Tehran, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

*******

The Christian Science Monitor

After 8 defiant years, Ahmadinejad leaves Iran isolated and cash-strapped

By Scott Peterson, Staff writer / August 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm EDT
Istanbul

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today ascended to the global stage one last time, capping his tumultuous eight-year presidency with an anti-Israel harangue that made no mention of the political damage he is widely perceived as inflicting upon the Islamic Republic and its leadership.

Damage control from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s legacy at home and abroad is sure to absorb much of the early work of the incoming centrist President-elect Hassan Rohani, who brings with him expectations of sweeping change.

The cleric and former nuclear negotiator has promised an economic turnaround, easing Iran’s isolation, nuclear “transparency,” and above all, moderation. He will be sworn into office on Sunday.

There are already promising signs. Although they lean conservative, Mr. Rohani’s cabinet selections span much of Iran’s wide political spectrum, indicating that the new president is trying to avoid past pitfalls.

“It’s exactly the opposite of Ahmadinejad’s closed circle of people,” says a veteran analyst in Tehran who asked not to be named. “Rohani is choosing from various groups of people. This is a lesson learned: If you keep everyone to some degree happy, there is more chance of achieving something, and less hew and cry when he makes a decision that seems controversial.”

“Out of the negativity of Ahmadinejad has appeared something that we predicted would come years ago, but didn’t come: a new power in the center that would grow to include moderates from both sides,” says the analyst.  

The downward spiral

By far Iran’s most divisive president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s populist tactics, humble origins as a blacksmith’s son, and fearless attacks against Israel, Zionism, and most famously the Holocaust, won him early praise at home and across the Middle East.

But his fraud-tainted reelection in 2009 – in which Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Ahmadinejad’s victory a “divine assessment” that could not be challenged – sparked months of protests that were crushed violently, and a spiral of economic mismanagement and unprecedented challenges to Mr. Khamenei’s own power.

Not only did Ahmadinejad increasingly view his post as an imperial presidency – racking up in one year a record 4,943 notifications from parliament for failing to implement the law – but his second term saw a surge in US-led global sanctions against Iran and dangerous deadlock in nuclear talks.

“The more [Ahmadinejad] challenged the very foundations of the Islamic regime such as the legislative bodies, the more he was seen as a threat to the country and the Islamic system,” says another political analyst in Tehran, who also asked not to be named.

Ahmadinejad stood up to Khamenei over several top appointments, would sometimes sulk for days, and frequently threatened (“Should I say? Should I say?” he would ask) to expose high-level wrongdoing among political enemies gleaned from intelligence files.

“His challenges to the Leader weakened both [and] actually broke a taboo,” says the second analyst. “Ahmadinejad’s presence in power has weakened the position of the Leader in society and among political players…. Ahmadinejad’s challenge had one result: Diminishing [Khamenei’s] authority.”
From regime darling to outsider

Iran experts say the apparently clean conduct of the mid-June election that gave Rohani just over half the overall count, more than all five of his harder-line conservative opponents combined, has by itself begun to repair the damage wrought by both Ahmadinejad and the 2009 events.  

Yet today, instead of trying to polish his own legacy for the history books, Ahmadinejad marked Jerusalem Day – which in Israel marks the reunification of the ancient city – in typical combative fashion, claiming that American leaders were “all” Zionists; that US presidents had to “kneel in front of Zionism” before becoming candidates; and that viruses had been released around the world in order to sell vaccines at higher prices.

“Your happiness will not last long. The main wave of awakening is just ahead…. You have no place in our region,” the outgoing president warned, according to a simultaneous translation by state-run PressTV. “A storm is on the way, I’m sure, and that will annihilate the Zionist regime.”

Few listen to Ahmadinejad in Iran anymore, and politicians and newspapers have been scathing in their assessments both of his record, and of his mishandling of facts. Since the president’s tussle with Khamenei’s over the choice of intelligence minister in 2011, it has been open season against Ahmadinejad even from fellow conservatives, who accused him of leading a “deviant current,” and of “sorcery” among his top aides.

In interviews this week, Ahmadinejad said he had not passed a “red light” in ignoring the law and that is was his job to “safeguard” the constitution. But Iranian media listed the presidential highlights as a $2.6 billion fraud by top officials, and only 542,000 jobs created in eight years, not the 7 million claimed by the government.

The head of Rohani’s transition team, Akbar Torkan, told Shargh newspaper that many of the “facts” presented by Ahmadinejad’s government to Khamenei were wrong, and an apparent bid to burnish achievements. Torkan said the outgoing cabinet reported building 63,500 kilometers (almost 40,000 miles) of road, for example, but that the actual figure was a quarter that, with the rest only maintenance of rural roads.

“There are similar mistakes… that have made the reports inaccurate,” Mr. Torkan said.

Pithily, the powerful conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli told Etemaad newspaper: “Ahmadinejad is the third millennium’s wonder and will never be repeated.”

Indeed, parliamentarian Ali Motahari responded this week to calls for apologies before any release from house arrest of two former 2009 presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who led the Green Movement protests.

“If these two must apologize, is there not a need for an apology from Mr. Ahmadinejad, who prepared the firewood of sedition with his behavior and opinion?” Mr. Motahari asked.
The butt of jokes

Another key correction will be restoration of a management body, after Ahmadinejad dismantled the Management and Planning Organization.

Under the slogan of change, Ahmadinejad broke the circuit of experienced managers who moved from job to job in the Islamic system, kicking them out to make way for a new generation.

“The idea was good, but the way he did it was a disaster,” says the first Tehran analyst. “He was so pessimistic toward intellectuals, towards bureaucrats, technocrats, typical of somebody who came from below with all the complexes and with all the problems.”

The diminutive president – whose aides would quietly push a step up to the podium before speeches, so Ahmadinejad would reach the microphones – was a flamboyant speaker who oversaw a bid to expand Iran’s “soft power” in South America, Africa and the Middle East, and reveled in the launch of Iran’s first space satellites, and its scientific nuclear and nanotechnology progress.

He declared Iran a “superpower, real and true,” and in 2008 said the Shiite Messiah, the Mahdi, was in charge of the Islamic Republic’s destiny. In fact, his barely hidden belief in the Mahdi’s imminent return was greeted by many clerics as superstitious politicking.

“We see the hand of this holy management every day. God knows that we see it,” Ahmadinejad declared.

In the first 100 days of Ahmadinejad’s rule in 2005, Iranians joked that in that short time he had spawned more jokes than every one of Persia’s long line of presidents, monarchs, and rulers combined.

Today, one of the many jokes among Iranians is that Ahmadinejad should now be put into a museum, and exhibited every time someone says they don’t want to vote. It refers to the 2005 election, when many supporters of Ahmadinejad’s rivals stayed at home and “did not believe the danger” his presidency would create.


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« Reply #7910 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:46 AM »

August 2, 2013

India: Deadly Clashes Raise Tensions in Kashmir

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Indian Army has killed a dozen people suspected of being rebels in five days of fighting near the highly militarized line dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, an army spokesman said Friday. The spokesman, Naresh Vig, said the fighting began on Monday after soldiers intercepted some militants crossing into a northern part of Indian-held Kashmir from the Pakistani side. The rebels also made attempts to cross into the Indian side at three other places in a remote and mountainous area of northern Kashmir, leading to fierce gun battles with the army, he said. Accounts of the fighting could not be independently confirmed.
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« Reply #7911 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:49 AM »


Eight people expected to face trial over Briton's murder in Sri Lanka

Campaigners welcome reports of imminent trial after Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh was shot and stabbed on holiday

Caroline Davies   
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 20.08 BST

Campaigners for justice for a British Red Cross worker murdered in Sri Lanka have given cautious welcome to reports indicating eight suspects will shortly face trial 19 months after his death.

Khuram Shaikh, 32, from Milnrow, near Rochdale, was shot and stabbed on Christmas Day 2011 while on holiday in Tangalle in the south of the island after an altercation at his hotel.

Eight people, including a prominent local politician, were arrested and bailed in November.

The Island newspaper has reported that the accused will be "shortly indicted" and would be charged on 10 counts, including murder.

A spokesman at the Sri Lankan high commission said the case had been transferred from Tangalle to Colombo and that DNA testing, which had held up proceedings, had been completed and was now with the attorney general's department.

The development follows pressure from Simon Danczuk, the family's MP, who has recently had high-level meetings in Sri Lanka to raise the subject during which, he said, he was given assurances the case would go to trial.

In March, the Sri Lankan government said the attorney general was to forward a direct indictment to the high court. In June, the British high commission said it was deeply disappointed trial proceedings had not commenced.

Campaigners have called on prime minister David Cameron to boycott the Commonwealth heads of government meeting to be hosted by Sri Lanka in Colombo in November in protest.

Shaikh, who had just spent months fitting prosthetic limbs in Gaza, was spending Christmas and the new year on the island when he became involved in an altercation, and was stabbed and shot. A female colleague with him was assaulted and left badly injured.

His brother, Nasir Shaikh, 41, an NHS IT programme manager in Liverpool, said: "My family has waited a long time for justice. Our lives have been put on hold ever since we took a phone call on Christmas Day 2011 telling us what had happened. We all just want a sense of closure and we cannot rest until justice has been served."

Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, said: "I welcome the fact that the Sri Lankan authorities have indicated they are about to charge those suspected of Khuram's murder. But we have been here before with promises of justice being delivered swiftly and 19 months has passed without any progress. So we will wait before the charges are made. We have had plenty of warm words of encouragement. But the family and everyone associated with the campaign just want to see action."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The British government regularly impress upon the Sri Lankan authorities the importance that we and the family of Khuram Shaikh attach to bringing those responsible to justice. They are in no doubt as to the seriousness with which we view these terrible events, and have assured us of the same.

"We hope that 19 months after this heinous crime the accused will soon face a fair trial, free from political interference. As the crime was committed in Sri Lanka, the authorities in that country are responsible for investigating."

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

Cover-up fears haunt Khuram Shaikh's family as they campaign for justice

Sri Lankan suspects bailed as the Shaikh family struggle to deal with Christmas Day killing of Red Cross worker at resort

Sam Jones   
The Guardian, Sunday 23 December 2012 14.29 GMT   

Mohammad Shaikh has observed the same ritual almost every day for the past 11 months. After a short drive to a Rochdale cemetery, he prays and then checks the flowers on his youngest son's grave. He always brings a fresh bunch.

Since he buried Khuram, a 32-year-old Red Cross worker, on 6 January this year, Mohammad has interrupted his routine only for the three weeks it took him and his wife to perform the hajj on their son's behalf.

Twelve months after Khuram was murdered while on holiday in Sri Lanka, his relatives are far from coming to terms with his death. They still do not know exactly how or why he died, and are still waiting to see his killers brought to justice.

Khuram, who had just spent months fitting prosthetic limbs in Gaza, was spending Christmas and the new year in Sri Lanka when, early on Christmas morning last year, he became involved in an altercation at his hotel in the resort of Tangalle.

Eight men, who are said to have been armed and drunk – and to include a prominent local politician with ties to the government – are accused of attacking him. Stabbed and shot, Khuram died; a female colleague who was with him was assaulted and left badly injured.

Despite assurances from the Sri Lankan government that those responsible for his murder would "be severely dealt with even if a ruling-party politician is involved", no charges have been brought. The eight suspects were recently granted bail.

Khuram's family cannot understand why, now that the police investigation is complete, things are taking so long.

His brother, Nasir, an NHS project manager, describes the situation as "disheartening, upsetting" and unacceptable. "It should have been fast-tracked, and yet 12 months on, we're not at that stage," he says. "Something that was being pushed so quickly at the beginning is slowing down."

The Foreign Office, which has been keeping the Shaikhs informed of developments on the island, is also urging action. It said in a statement: "The UK cannot interfere in Sri Lanka's legal system, but we hope that a trial occurs without any undue delay to bring the perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice."

The family's MP, Simon Danczuk, fears "political interference" may be responsible for the lack of progress, and wants David Cameron to consider boycotting the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Sri Lanka next year in protest.

"Despite assurances from the government that there would be a swift and straightforward trial, this is going nowhere and ministers and police are sitting on their hands," he says.

"David Cameron should think twice about attending this meeting while British nationals are being brutally murdered in Sri Lanka with local politicians implicated and their government is not even prepared to investigate properly."

However, Neville de Silva, Sri Lanka's acting high commissioner to the UK, dismisses suggestions of government interference or deliberate delay. He says he had been told by the attorney general's department that "non-summary inquiries" are due to begin shortly.

After that, he says, the indictment for murder could be served in the high court.

He adds: "Those who advocate adherence to the rule of law and proper legal procedures would appreciate that persons cannot be indicted on the basis of allegations made by others."

The Shaikhs say they have been overwhelmed by tributes paid to Khuram by those he worked with and helped. His job with the International Committee of the Red Cross had taken him from North Korea and Ethiopia to Gaza, and he had just been appointed rehabilitation programme manager.

The room in Gaza where people learn to use their prosthetic limbs and work to recover mobility has been named in his honour and a plaque in his memory was unveiled by the mayor.

"He loved his job," says Nasir. "It was a perfect match for his personality: he put other people before himself and he had a warm, loving heart."

Although Khuram had been due to take up another field post in Cambodia when he was murdered, his ambition was to reach the senior ranks of the Red Cross.

"I remember he showed me a photograph of when he went to the Red Cross's headquarters in Geneva for his job interview," says his brother. "He said to me, 'Nass, you know what? One day that's where I'm going to be working.'"

The family, says Nasir, is dreading this Christmas and the memories it will bring.

"Reliving that day itself is the bit I'm scared of. I've got a little girl who's four now. That's the bit I struggle with: as much as I keep a brave face, I break down when she asks about how Khuram is. She calls him chachoo, which is uncle in Urdu. When she says, 'I've not seen chachoo in ages', that just breaks my heart."

When the first anniversary has passed, the Shaikhs will continue their fight for justice for Khuram. Nasir will keep pushing for progress in Sri Lanka and his parents will keep asking themselves how their son, who had worked in some of the most dangerous places in the world, came to die in an apparently random eruption of violence at a tourist resort.

Until the trial comes, and perhaps long after it ends, the family will continue their visits to Khuram's grave.

"It's just so sad," says Nasir. "I can go to work and think of Khuram on the way there and on the way back and in the evening. But my parents think and breathe it every day. I can see them continuing their daily routine of taking flowers and praying for the rest of their lives."



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« Reply #7912 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:51 AM »

August 2, 2013

Cambodia: Prime Minister Insists He’ll Stay in Power

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hopes for a compromise solution to a deadlock over Cambodia’s election results faded Friday as Prime Minister Hun Sen insisted that he could form a new government even if the opposition boycotted Parliament. Mr. Hun Sen said the Constitution allowed Parliament to carry out its tasks with a simple majority of its 123 members present.

Several independent nonpartisan agencies interpret the law to call for a quorum of at least 120 members to be present to open the new assembly session and form a government. Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party said provisional results showed that it won 68 seats to the opposition’s 55. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party said that it had won 63 seats and that voting irregularities had been widespread.

The results from the government-appointed National Election Committee are still provisional. “There will be no deadlock for the new National Assembly and the forming of a new government,” Mr. Hun Sen said Friday. “I will be the prime minister for the fifth five-year term of the government.”


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« Reply #7913 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:55 AM »

August 2, 2013

Egypt Says It May Shut Entrances to Camps

By BEN HUBBARD and MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

CAIRO — The Egyptian government threatened on Saturday to block the entrances to a large protest camp where supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president, have been calling for his return as the Obama administration sought help from Persian Gulf nations to help end Egypt’s political crisis.

The Egyptian authorities have grown increasingly critical of sit-ins by Mr. Morsi’s supporters and have signaled that moves by security forces to break them up could be imminent. The country has been deeply divided since the army ousted Mr. Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, on July 3 after protests by millions who were unhappy with his rule.

The army has installed an interim government, but staunch opposition by members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political movement that brought Mr. Morsi to power, has raised serious questions about whether the latest transition will result in an inclusive political system.

Clashes between security forces and Mr. Morsi’s supporters have left scores of people dead over the last month, and many fear that any move to break up the protests could trigger new rounds of violence.

The United States deputy secretary of state, William J. Burns, arrived here Friday to discuss the conflict with officials, and Secretary of State John Kerry conferred in London with Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

“We will work very, very hard together and with others in order to bring parties together to find a peaceful resolution that grows the democracy and respects the rights of everybody,” Mr. Kerry said.

Appearing to temper comments he made Thursday that Egypt’s military was “restoring democracy,” Mr. Kerry called on both sides to work toward compromise.

“The temporary government has a responsibility with respect to demonstrators, to give them the space to be able to demonstrate in peace,” he said. “But at the same time the demonstrators have the responsibility not to stop everything from proceeding in Egypt.”

Over the last week, Mr. Kerry has been in touch with top officials from Persian Gulf countries with strong ties in Egypt, including leaders from the United Arab Emirates, which has offered generous financial aid to the interim government, and Qatar, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have publicly shown no willingness to reconsider their demand that Mr. Morsi be reinstated and have criticized the United States for not defining the military’s intervention into politics as a coup, which could prompt the cutoff of $1.5 billion in annual American aid.

A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, accused the United States of being complicit in Mr. Morsi’s ouster.

“The American people should stand against an administration that is corrupting their values in supporting tyranny and dictatorship,” he said in a statement.

Egyptian state television announced that security forces planned to surround and block access to the main pro-Morsi sit-in in Nasr City, a neighborhood in Cairo, and Mr. Morsi’s supporters clashed with the police near a complex of television studios elsewhere.

Security officials said that four police officers had been wounded when Muslim Brotherhood members tried to storm the area. Some 30 protesters were arrested, they said.

Many Egyptians have lost patience with the pro-Morsi sit-ins, which have blocked streets and snarled traffic, while officials have accused the Brotherhood of collecting weapons in preparation for clashes.

Ben Hubbard reported from Cairo, and Michael R. Gordon from London.


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« Reply #7914 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:57 AM »


Syrian rebels face UN investigation over Aleppo footage

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay says opposition forces are not immune from war crime charges

Conal Urquhart   
theguardian.com, Saturday 3 August 2013 12.24 BST   

The UN high commissioner for human rights has called for an investigation into allegations that Syrian rebels executed dozens of government soldiers captured after a battle near Aleppo.

Navi Pillay said that images of the killings in Khan al-Assal in July were deeply shocking, and highlighted yet again the need to ensure those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law on all sides are made to account for their crimes.

Pillay said that captured or wounded soldiers should be treated humanely and in accordance with international law.

"Opposition forces should not think they are immune from prosecution. They must adhere to their responsibilities under international law," she said.

Footage taken by opposition forces in Khan al-Assal, a district in rural Aleppo, was posted on the internet between 22 – 26 July.

One video apparently shows government soldiers being ordered to lie on the ground, while another shows several bodies scattered along a wall and a number of bodies at an adjacent site.

"These images, if verified, suggest that executions were committed in Khan al-Assal," said Pillay, "There needs to be a thorough independent investigation to establish whether war crimes have been committed. And those responsible for such crimes should be brought to justice."

The high commissioner said her team in the region was investigating the reports, and had examined the videos and collected accounts from people in Aleppo. Their early analysis had identified two men not in uniform who were alive in one video but were among the dead bodies in another.

Another video shows bodies being collected by members of the Red Crescent and Free Syrian Army medical doctors. There were several other videos showing the bodies of dead government soldiers scattered around town, most of whom appeared to have been shot in the head.

Pillay said: "Based on the analysis by my team to date, we believe armed opposition groups in one incident – documented by a video – executed at least 30 individuals, the majority of whom appeared to be soldiers."

There have been reports that the overall number of dead in Khan al-Assal was much higher and the Office for the high Commissioner for human rights was continuing to investigate the circumstances and scope of the killings.

Khan al-Asal has also been cited as the site of the use of chemical weapons by either opposition or government forces. The OHCHR team also received information from a reliable source that opposition fighters are still holding government officers and soldiers captured in Khan al-Assal


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« Reply #7915 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:03 AM »


Robert Mugabe election victory could force west to lift Zimbabwe sanctions

African monitors seem likely to rubber-stamp result, which would present western governments with a dilemma

David Smith in Harare
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 17.06 BST   

There was a time when he was welcomed to a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and knighted by the Queen. Now that Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has all but claimed another election win, the quandary for western governments is whether the time has come to roll out the red carpet and end his international isolation.

Mugabe is seen by many respected observers as a ruthless autocrat responsible for thousands of deaths during his 33-year rule who has yet again rigged his way to victory. But despite deep misgivings about the fairness of the poll, it is conceivable that realpolitik will pressure Britain and its allies to lift the last remaining sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle.

On Friday his Zanu-PF party summoned journalists to a rare press conference at its headquarters in the capital, Harare, predicting that a record turnout of 3.95 million voters would give it a two-thirds parliamentary majority. An exultant Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, suggested that the result was a historic vindication of Mugabe and defeat of the west, proof that Zanu-PF was right about everything from human rights to seizures of white-owned farms.

Throwing down the gauntlet to Britain, he said: "As far as Zanu-PF is concerned, we have never refused to talk to them. It was Blair and Brown who refused to talk to our president over a decolonisation issue to do with the land question."

Chinamasa visited the UK this year and said the Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, indicated that the government wanted to re-engage. "So I said to Mr Simmons, when you are ready, if you are able to deal with your British public opinion which you poisoned through demonisation of our president for no basis through lying that we were in violation of human rights, if you are able to think that politically you are now ready to engage us, you will find our doors open. Basically, you know where to find us."

Chinamasa denounced the travel bans and asset freezes imposed by the European Union and US, which Zanu-PF has blamed for Zimbabwe's economic crisis. "These are not from the UN, they are just from a club of white people who just don't like the fact that we are repossessing our land … The sanctions are illegal and they should be lifted yesterday, not tomorrow."

Asked whether Mugabe could one day set foot in Britain again, Chinamasa expressed hope that relations would be restored, but complained: "I was the first minister of Zanu-PF to visit London in 15 years. They lied to the public that they'd lifted sanctions against me, only to find when I got there that they were giving me a licence to buy in British shops. I never understood that British people can be so petty that I can't buy in a restaurant until I produce a licence when in fact I have been given a visa."

The Zanu-PF philosophy is fervently historical and anti-colonialist, questioning why Africa's wealth of natural resources have not alleviated poverty and insistent that land and businesses must be returned to Zimbabwean hands. Chinamasa accused western powers of funding non-government organisations in the country to the tune of $2.6bn (£1.7bn) and sponsoring pirate radio stations to effect regime change.

"We have said to Europe that they should change their mindset: we are no longer their colony," he said. "Each time they speak, they speak down on us as an enslaved people. They speak down on us as a colonised people. We want them to change that mindset. They should not continue the mindset of their grandfathers who colonised us which is what they continue doing.

"We thought that the new generation of Europeans and Americans – especially after they speak about human rights and so forth – would have a different mindset, but when you interact with them it's the same mindset that existed 500 years ago. It's like father like son, like a goat can only give birth to a kid goat, it's the same. But we are not goats, we are not animals."

He added: "We want Europe and America, white Commonwealth countries, to accept us as an equal sovereign country. If they do, they will find themselves welcome, we will receive them with open arms. That is the relationship we want to nurture between ourselves."

Mugabe banned the EU and groups including the US-based Carter Centre from monitoring the election, claiming that countries that imposed sanctions were biased in favour of the rival Movement for Democratic Change, which has called the poll "null and void". Official verdicts have therefore been left to two African observer missions - a critical test for democratic accountability on the continent.

On Friday the African Union released a preliminary report expressing concerns about the non-availability of the electoral roll and the "high incidence" of voters who were turned away at polling stations. But its head of mission, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the apparent irregularities did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering. "Yes, the election is free," Obasanjo said. "Fair? Fairly. I have never seen an election that is perfect."

Bernard Membe, head of the observer mission for the Southern African Development Community, described the election as "very free" and "very peaceful" but noted that there were some violations, and a full analysis was still under way. "The question of fairness is broad and you cannot answer it within one day," he said.

The tone of the assessments implied that both organisations would ultimately rubber-stamp the result, especially given Zanu-PF's big margin of victory. That will put western governments in a dilemma, since to directly contradict African observers would play into the hands of Zanu-PF's anti-colonialist ideology and risk causing alienation on a continent where China is making friends. Some in the EU, such as Belgium, are said to be eager for a share of Zimbabwe's diamond trade.

But one Harare-based ambassador has stuck his head above the parapet. Australia's Matthew Neuhaus sent a diplomatic cable to Canberra titled "A farcical election", and called for a rerun. "It wasn't credible, it wasn't fair," he explained later, adding that he had personally witnessed a woman being turned away and told to vote 200 miles away, manipulation of voting slips, the exclusion of young people, and a woman who found nine dead relatives on the electoral roll.

Neuhaus said he was in touch with his American and Canadian counterparts and they broadly agreed with the Zimbabwean opposition MDC's critique of the way the election was conducted. "It does make a farce of the election process and it doesn't pass the test of credibility. There's no intention to remove the remaining targeted sanctions given that the nature of this election is obvious," he said.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Harare said it was not yet ready to comment. The UK's ambassador, Deborah Bronnert, declined to be interviewed.

It remains to be seen whether these governments will heed their ambassadors' cables. Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and political commentator, said: "I think the process of re-engagement should continue. We live in a world where Britain does business with nasty people such as Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Office will have to accept that Zanu-PF is going to be in government for a very long time."


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« Reply #7916 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:04 AM »


Tunisian tensions escalate amid Arab spring's unravelling

Assassination of key opposition figures in revolution's success story adds to region's ongoing crisis of legitimacy, yet some are still optimistic

Eileen Byrne in Tunis, Chris Stephen in Tripoli and Peter Beaumont   
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 15.36 BST   

On Wednesday – almost unreported in the midst of the crisis in Egypt – a bomb targeting a National Guard patrol exploded in the town of Mhamdia, a little south of the Tunisian capital Tunis, the latest act of violence in the country where the Arab spring began.

Tied to a tree next to the P3 highway, the bomb was the second in a week; the first was detonated in the port of La Goulette. Both attacks occurred in a period of bleak news from Tunisia, whose post-revolutionary political settlement – dominated by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party – has been convulsed by the political assassination of prominent leftist opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi and on Monday, the killing of eight soldiers near the border with Algeria.

What was supposed to be the success story of the Arab spring, sparked in December 2010 in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia's growing crisis has become inextricably entangled in the Arab spring's wider unravelling as dreadful events across north Africa and through the wider Arab world have fuelled each other.

Only six months ago – before the murder of Chokri Belaid, an opposition colleague of Brahmi killed in a strikingly similar attack, it had seemed as if Tunisia was on the last leg of its transition to democracy from the authoritarian regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Nationwide elections were expected this year or early in the next. There had been political crises, disputes and rising tension between the country's secular parties and the Ennahda-led coalition government, not least over the rapid and unchecked rise of a vocal and hardline Salafist movement, whose fringes include violent extremists.

If there was room for optimism the murder of Brahmi and the attack on the soldiers on Monday in the Chaambi mountains put paid to that. And if it is not the first crisis to afflict post-revolutionary Tunisia, this time there is a new dimension.

Inspired by the Egyptian army's coup against the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, Tunisian protesters are calling for the dissolution of their Islamist-dominated assembly.

Those who have gathered to protest outside the assembly building have been a younger crowd, many of them women, who joined the Ramadan-evening protests mingling with veterans of the leftist political scene, where Brahmi was a well-known figure.

Their complaint – echoing that heard in Egypt, where the allied Muslim Brotherhood was removed in a military coup on 3 July – is that they regard Ennahda as having ideologically hijacked the Tunisian revolution, by using religious discourse to appeal to voters over the heads of other parties and that it has encouraged a climate of intimidation that led to the killings.

The escalating tension has been characterised by fierce accusations on both sides. A mark of the seriousness of the situation is that since the end of last week dozens of assembly members have announced they are withdrawing from the body, saying they support calls for its dissolution.

The Tunisian crisis comes not only against the background of the coup in Egypt but in the context of a worsening security situation in neighbouring Libya, which too has seen a recent assassination of an opposition political figure in Benghazi and attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices in the country.

That has prompted Libya's prime minister, Ali Zaidan, to admit that his country is in a "state of crisis" amid a continuing wave of violence that security forces are powerless to stop.

Gun battles, bombings and assassinations continue to strike the capital, Tripoli, and Benghazi, Libya's second city, on a daily basis, leaving the country poised on the brink of anarchy.

International leaders including EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton – who has attempted to intervene in Egypt's problems to secure the release of President Morsi – have condemned the sectarian violence.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, the same holds true in Libya – sharp divisions have created an ongoing crisis of legitimacy that has seen those who have lost influence in recent elections unwilling to concede and participate within the new parliamentary systems, while those who have acquired power through the ballot box appear unable to rule or rule with a sufficiently wide consensus and plurality.

For his part Zaidan admits that with parliament split between the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party and the centre-right National Forces Alliance (NFA), he is powerless to create a unified security force.

"The General National Congress should not be a venue for infighting, it should co-operate with the government," he said.

On Tuesday four car bombs targeted government security officials in Benghazi, one of them killing the head of the army's protection force, Ahmed al-Barnawi.

Benghazi too has been tense since Friday's assassination of a leading anti-Brotherhood activist, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary.

Foreigners have begun to leave following the defusing of a powerful car bomb outside Tripoli's luxury Radisson Blu hotel on Tuesday. Last week a rocket narrowly missed a second hotel, the Corinthia, where many diplomats live and a grenade struck the residence of the United Arab Emirates ambassador.

"It's a real mess around here," said Tripoli student Hassan, who declined to give his second name. "The government is so weak, people can get away with what they want."

Tunisia, unlike Libya and Egypt at least, still provides a source of optimism for some.

Michael Willis, north Africa specialist at the Middle East Centre at St Antony's College Oxford, What impresses me about Tunisia is that the political actors seem to walk to the edge of the precipice, then take a step back and start talking to each other again. They keep talking to each other behind the scenes, unlike in Egypt."

All of which leads to a far more sobering situation in the Middle East and north Africa than in the midst of the Arab spring two years ago.

In Bahrain, where protests were put down with Saudi Arabia's assistance, what advances there had been in political and human rights have been driven back by almost daily raids and arrests. Syria's uprising has turned into a bitter and bloody civil war with strong sectarian overtones that is destabilising neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

But it is Egypt that remains the source of the greatest concern despite its army-backed government on Thursday urging Morsi's supporters to abandon their Cairo protest camps, promising them "a safe exit" if they gave up without a fight. That offer seems to be a carrot after a far more chilling warning on Wednesday, when the interim government said it was ready to take action to end two weeks of sit-in protests by thousands of Morsi supporters at two sites – raising the possibility of a further potentially bloody showdown.


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« Reply #7917 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:12 AM »


August 2, 2013

In Mali, a Race Between a Former Finance Minister and a Pro-French Favorite

By ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

DAKAR, Senegal — Two veteran politicians will face each other in a runoff this month in the second round of Mali’s presidential election, the country’s interim government announced Friday. It was another sign that Mali, a troubled West African nation, could be returning to normalcy after more than a year of armed turmoil.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a former prime minister, foreign minister and lawmaker known for his pro-French sympathies but also favored by some in Mali’s Muslim establishment, and Soumaila Cissé, a former finance minister who once worked for IBM, came out on top after a first round of voting last Sunday.

Political analysts said that the high turnout — over 51 percent, surpassing previous elections — was a sign that Mali’s strife-weary citizens were eager for stability, as well as an indication of the potency of Islamic organizations in getting out the vote in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Results trickled in all week, but the official tally was not announced until Friday. Mali, which is nearly twice the size of Texas, has limited roads, and the election was hastily organized.

Because neither of the top candidates gained more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held Aug. 11. But Mr. Keita, who has ties to France’s Socialists and is considered the favorite of France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, was well ahead, with 39 percent to Mr. Cissé’s 19 percent.

Mr. Keita is from the fertile, agricultural south and did well in the south’s population centers. Mr. Cissé, originally from the desert north, scored well in other regions. It was a north-south split that helped tear the country apart.

As longstanding members of Mali’s political elite, both men are associated with one of the most spectacular collapses to have befallen any West African nation in recent years. In 12 months Mali went through two rebellions (the second, by Islamists, resulted in the loss of half its territory to Al Qaeda allies), the fall of its government and army, a coup d’état, several mutinies and a military intervention by France that saved the country from a possible Islamist takeover.

None of the country’s institutions or the men associated with them were able to forestall these calamities. Now, seven months after French troops pushed the militants back into the desert in Mali’s north, the country remains on foreign life-support, sustained by more than 3,000 French troops, a promised United Nations force of at least 10,000 and the prospect of billions of dollars in aid from Western countries.

Mr. Keita is the clear favorite in the runoff. As prime minister in the 1990s, he dealt severely with student protests. “He incarnates this figure of authority,” said Gilles Holder, a Mali expert at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

A two-time loser in presidential elections in the past decade, Mr. Keita also opposed Mali’s last elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré, who is now in exile and widely held responsible for the country’s collapse through a combination of corruption and passivity.

“Malians feel humiliated,” Mr. Holder said, so “the vote for I.B.K.,” as Mr. Keita is known in Mali, “is a patriotic vote.”

He added that Mr. Keita had “invoked the image of General de Gaulle.”

But so has the leader of the group who overthrew Mr. Touré in a military coup in March 2012, Capt. Amadou Sanogo. He once compared himself to Charles de Gaulle in an opinion article for the French newspaper Le Monde. Mr. Keita’s relationship with the junta is ambiguous; he was one of the only leading political figures not disturbed by the military last year. Mr. Cissé was beaten and imprisoned by coup supporters, and his house was ransacked.

Mr. Keita has been accused of being too close to those involved with the coup, a charge he denies. But this week, a minister in the interim government with close ties to the military junta announced to reporters that Mr. Keita was way ahead in the ballot counting and was likely to avoid a runoff — an erroneous claim, as it turned out.


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« Reply #7918 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:13 AM »


Rescued Chilean miners express dismay at decision not to charge owners

Prosecutors close investigation into 2010 San José mine collapse in which 33 men spent 10 weeks trapped underground

Jonathan Franklin in Santiago
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 16.38 BST   

A three-year investigation into the mine collapse in Chile that trapped 33 men for 69 days, turning them into international celebrities, has concluded that the owners should not face criminal charges, a decision met with widespread public anger.

Prosecutors this week closed their inquiry into the causes of the disaster at the San José mine, allowing its owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, to avoid a trial and a possible jail sentence.

Criticism of the decision was immediate. Chile's former mining minister Laurence Golborne called it "unbelievable", while and Isabel Allende, a senator for Atacama region where the mine is located, described it as "painful"."

"I feel frustration, pain and in the morning I started crying," said Mario Sepulveda, the charismatic leader of the miners who dubbed themselves "Los 33", told Associated Press. "It is time to speak the truth: psychiatrically and psychologically we were badly treated … The majority of us are very bad in terms of emotional [health].

"Today, I want to dig a deep hole and bury myself again; only this time, I don't want anybody to find me."

The 33 miners have also found themselves blacklisted from working in mines, said Omar Reygadas, one of the men who was trapped nearly 700 meters underground for 10 weeks. "Most mine owners are afraid to hire us because they think that if there's ever a problem everyone will immediately find out about it since we get a lot press. We're well known."

Renato Prenafeta, a lawyer who represents 31 of the 33 miners, is analysing the prosecutor's decision before announcing whether he will fight it. A civil suit seeking millions of dollar in compensation was not affected by the decision to dropthe criminal investigation. He confirmed the men have a host of emotional and psychological problems and said it was nearly impossible for them to find jobs.

Immediately following their dramatic rescue the miners were showered with gifts including $20,000 cash, a trip to Disneyland in the US and a cruise around the Greek islands. Today many of the men are struggling to balance their emotional health with day-to-day financial needs.

A film about the rescue, starring Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez and Martin Sheen is scheduled to be filmed this year and released in 2014. That could provide financial gain to the miners but given the long list of broken promises, few of the men expect much.

Sepulveda said he was so frustrated by the prosecutor's decision that he thought to immolate himself in front of the Chilean presidential palace. "The only reason I don't do it," he said, "is out of respect for my colleagues."


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« Reply #7919 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:16 AM »

Backlash against feminism aims to preserve the ‘manosphere’

By Suzanne Moore, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 22:01 EDT

Misogyny, rather like the poor, will always be with us. Don’t worry, I am not going to rehearse the “How OK is it to threaten to rape a women online” number. Is it quite OK? A little bit OK? Not OK? Show me your workings. Essentially Twitter has to decide whether it is a platform or a publisher (responsible for its content). As it is selling ads, it is indisputable that it is more than a mere conduit.

All this has been useful in highlighting the crap thrown at women. This is not to say others don’t suffer abuse based on their race, religion or sexuality. We are not special victims. The abuse is samey: you will be raped/mutilated into silence. It’s no surprise to me, as I wrote pre-internet. There were angry people and what’s more they had got hold of stamps and envelopes.Scary.

Aeons ago Sharon Stone described Hollywood thus: “If you have a vagina and an attitude in this town, then that’s a lethal combination.” The only thing that’s changed since then is that now we all live in this town, offline and on it. So let’s call out what it is we are fighting. A conscious backlash against the gains that women have made.

When Susan Faludi wrote Backlash in 1991 it was interesting but documented a different culture – the US. In the UK, we had no strong religious right for example. She then produced Stiffed in 1999, about how men were suffering too: underpaid and abandoned.

Significantly, though, she had recognised that an anti-feminist backlash occurs not when women have achieved equality but when there is any possibility that we might. It’s “a pre-emptive strike” and here, I would say, it’s been going on for the past five years. This is a strange time to be talking of backlashes when we have just seen several successful feminist campaigns, but we need to understand the scale of what is happening. I am glad there is a woman’s face on the money. But can we have more actual money? Equal pay?

The reality is that in public life, politics, business and media, we are grossly under-represented. There are constant attacks on abortion, a push to make women dependent on partners – Iain Duncan Smith‘s “belief” – and women are disproportionally hit by cuts. The icons of the day are mute and “respectable” – such as Sam Cam and Kate Middleton.

The backlash started in the early 90s when to be laddish and un-PC was a bit a naughty. Liam Gallagher, described brilliantly by his brother Noel as “a man with a fork in a world of soup”, was its pin-up.

Right now we are dealing with something worse: a rightwing establishment and its lackeys who have managed to convince themselves they are mavericks and who are openly anti-feminist. From Toby Young to James Delingpole to Guido’s bloggers, their putrid offerings are not outside the establishment but part of it. They are just fagging for the Tories.

They may do some childcare and fantasise about PJ O’Rourke, but they encourage the bottom-feeders of the “manosphere” who never seem to realise that feminists not only have relationships with men, but sons too.

A recession first reduces equality, then liberty. Look at Clegg wincing next to Cameron. The Lib Dems really don’t do women at all, they are just like … liberal. Clegg is a classic example of a man who pays lip service to feminism but supports the backlash that stops women entering his hallowed territory.

The “manopshere” celebrates BoJo getting rid of an adviser on women as he gets his leg over. Equal rights are just an 80s throwback. Tory women promote a fuzzy, free-floating feminism – marry well or have a cupcake business.

So when surrounded by angry men who feel belittled, it is necessary to point out that women haven’t won. Actually we are losing our hard-won rights. They still own most of the world.

Those in power are legislating away women’s rights at work, making sure women are not promoted, maintaining a status quo in which half the population are silent and invisible. Internet trolls are but fleas on the mangy coat of the backlash. In popular culture as in politics, as Faludi wrote, this is not an organised and centralised conspiracy. Its workings are “encoded and internalised, diffuse and chameleonic”.

So, as a humourlesss feminazi, if I really need to explain that threatening to slit my throat and rape my entrails is not much of a joke, then perhaps we just haven’t had that much feminism.

Indeed, post-feminism has splintered into tiny groups each policing their own identity politics with little sense of a bigger struggle. But as the online cracks open up, some light is shone on women-hating as more than a game. The propaganda is everywhere. What makes women unhappy? Equality. It gives us careers, cancer, makes us drink too much, it makes us ugly to men! Boo-hoo. The backlash whispers in our ears that women secretly yearn for servitude not power. Those who say otherwise will be shut up. No, simply drown this out with noise, pure noise, and wake up. It’s starting to happen. Remember all of them are just guys with forks in a world of soup.

We make the soup.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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