Archeologists find 200-year old probable Inuit village in Alaska from before contact with whites
By Kay Steiger
Friday, August 2, 2013 16:00 EDT
Archeologists have found a village near the Kobuk River that may pre-date any Western contact in Alaska, likely dating back to the late 1700s or early 1800s, Alaska Public Media reported on Thursday.
Dr. Doug Anderson, professor of anthropology at Brown University, told the radio station, “In some other areas here we’ve found maybe two houses that are connected by tunnels, but nothing like this. And in other areas those houses are really quite small compared to the houses here; these are gigantic houses.”
Anderson explained that the one-room homes look a lot like cabins and are dug about four feet into the earth, complete with a fireplace in the middle. The village housed around 200 people, and carbon dating indicates that the village is around 200 years old, which is just before Western explorers made it to Alaska.
Edward Cleofe, an undergraduate student working with Anderson on the project, explained that evidence indicated the villagers kept domestic dogs. “Does anyone know what coprolites are? That’s a fancy archaeology word for poop. We found a bunch of dog poop right over there full of fish bones and fish scales and fish things,” he said.
The team also found two sets of human remains, one adult male with a broken leg and one child.
The Kiana Traditional Council is working with the university on the project and plans recruit local residents to volunteer DNA for analysis to compare with the human remains. The university plans to return the remains to the tribe for burial once the DNA analysis is complete.
Inupiat Elder Thomas Jackson said legend had it that the village existed, a place called Igliqtiqsiugvigruak, but there was no actual archeological evidence until now.
In the USA....
August 2, 2013
Qaeda Messages Prompt U.S. Terror Warning
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The United States intercepted electronic communications this week among senior operatives of Al Qaeda, in which the terrorists discussed attacks against American interests in the Middle East and North Africa, American officials said Friday.
The intercepts and a subsequent analysis of them by American intelligence agencies prompted the United States to issue an unusual global travel alert to American citizens on Friday, warning of the potential for terrorist attacks by operatives of Al Qaeda and their associates beginning Sunday through the end of August.
The bulletin to travelers and expatriates, issued by the State Department, came less than a day after the department announced that it was closing nearly two dozen American diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa, including facilities in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Britain said Friday that it would close its embassy in Yemen on Monday and Tuesday because of “increased security concerns.”
It is unusual for the United States to come across discussions among senior Qaeda operatives about operational planning — through informants, intercepted e-mails or eavesdropping on cellphone calls. So when the high-level intercepts were collected and analyzed this week, senior officials at the C.I.A., State Department and White House immediately seized on their significance. Members of Congress have been provided classified briefings on the matter, officials said Friday.
“This was a lot more than the usual chatter,” said one senior American official who had been briefed on the information but would not provide details. Spokesmen for the State Department and the C.I.A. also declined to comment on the intercepts.
The importance of the intercepts was underscored by a speech that the Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, posted on jihadist forums on Tuesday. In his address, Mr. Zawahri called for attacks on American interests in response to its military actions in the Muslim world and American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors statements by jihadists.
Security analysts said Friday that in the aftermath of the furor over the Obama administration’s handling of the attack last year on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department is now more likely to publicize threat warnings when deemed credible, both to alert the public and to help deter any imminent attacks.
“A decision to close this many embassies and issue a global travel warning for a month suggests the threat is real, advanced and imminent but the intelligence is incomplete on where,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. case officer and a Brookings Institution scholar.
The embassy closings come toward the end of the Ramadan holidays and the approaching first anniversary of the terror attack Sept. 11 on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month that ends Wednesday evening.
Obama administration officials publicly declined to discuss what specific information had prompted the increased alarm and alerts, citing a desire to protect classified sources and methods.
But intercepting electronic communications is one the National Security Agency’s main jobs, as the documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor, have only underscored. At the request of intelligence officials, The New York Times withheld some details about the intercepted communications.
Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.
The bulletin by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs did not advise against travel to any particular country, but it warned Americans to be particularly mindful of their surroundings, especially in tourist areas, and recommended that they register their travel plans with the State Department.
“Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests,” the bulletin said. “U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.”
Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday that the warning was linked to a Qaeda threat focused on the Middle East and Central Asia.
To date, the only Qaeda affiliate that has shown a desire and ability to attack American facilities overseas is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group based in Yemen.
The Qaeda affiliate announced in July that its second-in-command, Saeed al-Shihri, a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner, had died as a result of injuries sustained in an American missile strike in Yemen last year. But Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the group’s seminal bomb maker, remains at large, and, according to American officials, has trained a cadre of skilled protégés ready to take his place should he be killed.
American drones over the past week have carried out three separate strikes in Yemen, according to Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone strikes. There have been 15 American drone strikes in Yemen this year, according to the site.
The State Department has issued similar alerts and warnings in the past, American officials said Friday. The last time the department issued a global travel alert was after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
On Feb. 19 this year, the State Department issued a “caution” notice — less severe than a “warning” or “alert” — to Americans that “current information suggests that Al Qaeda, its affiliated organizations and other terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions.”
Pentagon officials said Friday that there had been no movements of troops or other forces in response to the embassy closings.
After the attack in Benghazi, the military’s Africa Command bolstered its quick-reaction forces in Djibouti and created new Marine Corps reaction forces in Morón, Spain, and at the naval air station in Sigonella in Italy that can respond to a crisis within a few hours.
Congress eyes renewed push for legislation to rein in the NSA
Proposals signify major shift in political opinion as laws would represent the first rollback of the NSA's powers since 9/11
Spencer Ackerman and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Friday 2 August 2013 19.20 BST
Members of Congress are considering 11 legislative measures to constrain the activities of the National Security Agency, in a major shift of political opinion in the eight weeks since the first revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The proposals range from repealing the legal foundations of key US surveillance powers to more moderate reforms of the secretive court proceedings for domestic spying. If enacted, the laws would represent the first rollback of the NSA's powers since 9/11.
The Guardian has spoken to six key lawmakers involved in the push to rein in the NSA, and those involved in the process argue there is now an emerging consensus that the bulk collection of millions of phone records needs to be overhauled or even ended.
Justin Amash, the Republican congressman whose measure to terminate the indiscriminate collection of phone data was narrowly defeated 10 days ago, said he was certain the next legislative push will succeed. "The people who voted no are, I think, hopeful to get another opportunity to vote yes on reforming this program and other programs," he said.
In the Senate, Democrat Ron Wyden said there was similarly "strong bipartisan support for fundamental reforms", a direct consequence of revelations about the nature and power of NSA surveillance. "Eight weeks ago, we wouldn't have had this debate in the Congress," he said. "Eight weeks ago there wouldn't have been this extraordinary vote."
On Thursday, Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, to the fury of Washington. The White House said it was "extremely disappointed" in the decision, and hinted that Barack Obama may pull out of a bilateral summit with Vladimir Putin in September.
But even as Snowden was leaving the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for more than a month, Obama was telling key members of Congress at a meeting at the Oval Office that he was "open to suggestions" for reforming the NSA surveillance programs that have embroiled his administration in controversy.
Wyden, a long-standing critic of dragnet surveillance, is backing a range of legislative efforts that would end bulk phone records acquisition and revamp the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court, which grants the NSA legal authorization for its mass collection.
Several senators are supporting a bill introduced on Thursday by Democrat Richard Blumenthal which would introduce a public advocate into some proceedings at the court, which currently only hears the US government's case. In the past 30 years, it has turned down just 11 of the nearly 34,000 warrant requests submitted by federal authorities.
Senior administration officials have indicated they are open to Blumenthal's proposals – which would not in themselves curtail the NSA's powers.
Another measure directed at the Fisa court is being brought by House Democrat Adam Schiff, who sits on the powerful intelligence committee. Under his plan, the court's judges, who are currently selected by the chief justice of the supreme court, would be appointed instead by the president, a process that would require them to undergo a congressional confirmation process.
"Then you have these judges publicly vetted on their fourth amendment views prior to being placed on the court," Schiff said, referring to the constitutional freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Other measures seek to make government surveillance more transparent. This week Democratic senator Al Franken introduced a bill to force the US government to regularly report on the number of Americans whose data is being collated by the NSA. It would also permit internet companies to disclose the number of requests they receive for data. "The American public deserves more transparency, and my bill goes a long toward doing that," Franken said.
A similar bill has been introduced by his Democratic colleague Jeff Merkley, who wants to compel the administration to disclose the key legal ruling from the Fisa court that governs how phone records are collected.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who on Friday introduced a bill promoting greater transparency around surveillance orders received by private companies, stressed the cross-party nature of the measures. "If you've noticed, we've not had a rash of bipartisan efforts in the House," she said, referring to the gridlock that has held up other legislation.
There are other lawmakers who are pushing for more profound reforms. They include Republican James Sensenbrenner, the author of the post-9/11 Patriot Act, which the NSA has used to justify some of its data collection methods. His support of the Amash amendment last week revealed how far Congress has shifted in the weeks since the Snowden leaks were published.
Sensenbrenner said the Patriot Act was being interpreted to allow for forms of surveillance that were never envisaged when it was passed. He now supports an Amash-style bill that would prevent the NSA from hoovering up phone records without specific justification.
Most of the efforts focus on constraining the NSA's ability to spy on Americans. There is less congressional support for limiting its spying on foreigners' internet communication. One major exception is a measure introduced by House Democrat Rush Holt, that would repeal both the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, two legislative pillars of post-9/11 surveillance.
Holt, who previously served on the intelligence committee, represents the most sceptical wing of Congress. "I learned that the heads of the NSA and other intelligence agencies are schooled in secrecy and deception. You can't always believe everything they say," he said. "They say these have stopped 50 attacks or something like that, and though I'm not on the intelligence committee right now, and I can't speak item-by-item, I can be pretty sure that there's probably not too much truth to it."
His bill represents the most radical congressional attempt at surveillance reform. Its prospects are not good, particularly because it would curtail Prism, one of the NSA programs to spy on the internet communications in foreign lands.
Schiff said Prism was more popular in congress for two reasons. First, Prism "is focused outside the United States and not on US citizens". Second, Schiff said its effectiveness is "much more substantial" than the phone records collection.
Intelligence officials have struggled to show how collecting bulk phone metadata was critical to foiling even one terrorist plot.
Lawmakers may fume at the idea of collecting the phone records of Americans, but they seem nonplussed at the notion the NSA can freely access the emails of foreigners.
Even those who do have concerns about Prism – such as Wyden – are looking for ways to ensure Americans are not ensnared in its dragnet, rather than ending it entirely.
"It has become increasingly apparent that the balance between security and liberty has been tainted," Sensenbrenner said in a statement after he left the White House meeting. "The conversation was very productive and everyone agreed something must be done."
Snowden’s asylum in Russia said to have negative effect on U.S. policy in Syria, Iran
Friday, August 2, 2013 16:22 EDT
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After causing weeks of embarrassment for the U.S. intelligence community, the Edward Snowden saga has now cast a shadow over international efforts to end the Syrian civil war and deal with Iran, and could also undermine White House hopes for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
Russia’s decision on Thursday to grant asylum to Snowden threatens to send already-strained relations between the United States and Russia to the lowest point in years and further complicate efforts to work out geopolitical challenges.
With Russia’s sheltering of the former U.S. spy agency contractor seen as a slap in the face to President Barack Obama, the White House is weighing whether he should now back out of a Moscow summit in early September, in a direct snub to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The fact that Washington is even issuing such a threat underscores the potentially damaging repercussions for any prospects of reconciling the two former Cold War rivals on thorny global issues that go well beyond the fate of a single 30-year-old hacker trying to evade U.S. prosecution, analysts say.
The two men are highly unlikely to sort out all their many differences even if the summit goes ahead as planned. They have bad personal chemistry and previous meetings have been awkward and unproductive.
While the Kremlin played down any bilateral friction, Obama administration officials and top lawmakers suggested it would not be business as usual now that Russia has given Snowden a year’s asylum and allowed him to leave Moscow’s airport after more than five weeks in limbo.
“The political climate in Washington on Russia is poisonous,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to President Bill Clinton. “There was already plenty of anger toward Russia brewing in the political establishment. Snowden is an accelerant.”
The long list of U.S. differences with Russia is topped by Moscow’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war even as Obama has led international calls for him to step aside.
Worsened ties between the United States and Russia could now make it even more difficult for them to cooperate in arranging Syrian peace talks aimed at a political solution.
With Iran about to install newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who has signaled greater willingness to negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, there are also concerns in Washington that Russia may break ranks with Western countries seeking to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through tough sanctions.
DEEPLY AT ODDS
On human rights, the United States and Russia remain deeply at odds. The White House has been mostly measured in its criticism of the Kremlin’s crackdown on opponents, but it may now feel freer to be more outspoken in the aftermath of the Snowden decision.
For his part, Putin has used Washington’s pursuit of Snowden, who faces U.S. espionage charges for revealing National Security Agency surveillance secrets, to accuse the Obama administration of hypocrisy for chiding him on human rights.
Tensions over Snowden are also likely to make it harder for Obama to push forward on negotiations for a new nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, a proposal he issued in a speech in Berlin in June and which he hopes to make part of his legacy. Russia so far has shown little appetite for the idea.
Though counterterrorism has emerged as a rare bright spot in relations, especially in the aftermath of April’s Boston Marathon bombings, this too could suffer. White House spokesman Jay Carney said pointedly that the Russian decision on Snowden “undermines a long history of law enforcement cooperation.”
Even before Snowden, the consensus in Washington and Moscow was that the “reset” in ties with Russia that the newly elected Obama touted in 2009 had run its course.
But Obama’s critics say the return to the presidency of Putin and his anti-U.S. rhetoric has shown that the U.S. leader was naive to put his faith in Moscow. They point to the Snowden decision as a rebuke that calls for a tough response and say it is one more foreign policy failure at a time when Obama struggles to assert influence in crises sweeping Syria and Egypt.
“Unless we want to remain in the position of someone who is insulted and demeaned, sooner or later those in Washington who want Russia to pay the price for this chain of insults will prevail,” said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Obama administration must now decide how far it wants to go in demonstrating its anger. But its options may be limited, especially at a time when Washington needs continued use of Russian territory for its withdrawal from Afghanistan and still hopes for Russian diplomatic cooperation against Iran.
Obama’s first major decision is whether to go ahead with a one-on-one summit with Putin in Moscow next month.
Scrapping the meeting might not antagonize Russia too badly. But it would be a different story if Obama decides not to attend the Putin-hosted summit of G20 leaders in St. Petersburg shortly afterwards – something considered unlikely.
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for a U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics that Russia will host in Sochi next February, but that is also seen as a step too far for the White House.
Despite increased strains, no one is predicting a rupture in relations between Washington and Moscow. Many believe the two sides will go through a period of drift but ultimately find a way to “compartmentalize” their disagreements and move on.
“Neither side wants an antagonistic relationship. That would just make the world a more dangerous place,” said James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington.
New York woman visited by police after researching pressure cookers online
Long Island resident said her web search history and 'trying to learn how to cook lentils' prompted a visit from authorities but police say search was prompted by tipoff
Adam Gabbatt in New York
The Guardian, Thursday 1 August 2013 21.59 BST
'What the hell is quinoa?' police asked when Catalano's husband told them what pressure cookers were used for in their household
A New York woman says her family's interest in the purchase of pressure cookers and backpacks led to a home visit by six police investigators demanding information about her job, her husband's ancestry and the preparation of quinoa.
Michele Catalano, who lives in Long Island, New York, said her web searches for pressure cookers, her husband's hunt for backpacks and her "news junkie" son's craving for information on the Boston bombings had combined somewhere in the internet ether to create a "perfect storm of terrorism profiling".
Members of what she described as a "joint terrorism task force" descended on Catalano's home on Wednesday.
Catalano was at work, but her husband was sitting in the living room as the police arrived. She retold the experience in a post on Medium.com on Thursday. She attributed the raid largely to her hunt for a pressure cooker, an item used devastatingly, allegedly by the two Tsarnaev brothers, in Boston, but also used by millions across the country to prepare vegetables while retaining most of their nutrients.
The story later took on a different complexion when police finally explained that the investigation was prompted by searches a family member had made for pressure cooker bombs and backpacks made at his former workplace. The former employer, believing the searches to be suspicious, alerted police. Catalano said the family member was her husband.
In her first post, Catalano, a writer for indie music and politics magazine Death and Taxes wrote:
What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband's Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.
A million things went through my husband's head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.
"Are you [name redacted]?" one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.
They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son's bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.
At this point, Catalano said, the police were "peppering my husband with questions".
"Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked."
It was at this point that the conversation took a delightfully culinary turn, with quinoa making an unlikely appearance in the police inquiries:
Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.
The joint terrorism task force did not press Catalano's husband on the dilemma facing liberals over whether quinoa consumption is ethically sound – many Bolivians can no longer afford their staple food now everyone in Brooklyn is eating it.
"By this point they had realised they were not dealing with terrorists," Catalano said.
Still, she was left worried by the visit, which she attributes to her family's internet history.
I felt a sense of creeping dread take over. What else had I looked up? What kind of searches did I do that alone seemed innocent enough but put together could make someone suspicious? Were they judging me because my house was a mess (Oh my god, the joint terrorism task force was in my house and there were dirty dishes in my sink!). Mostly I felt a great sense of anxiety. This is where we are at. Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.
All I know is if I'm going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I'm not doing it online.
I'm scared. And not of the right things.
Late on Thursday, Suffolk County police confirmed its officers had gone to the house, but explained that it was as the result of a tipoff and was not due to monitoring of home internet searches.
In a statement, the office of the county's police commissioner said:
Suffolk County criminal intelligence detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore-based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee's computer searches took place on this employee's workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms 'pressure cooker bombs' and 'backpacks'.
After the visit the incident was "determined to be non-criminal in nature", the statement said.
Earlier on Thursday, the FBI told the Guardian that Catalano was visited by the Nassau County police department working in conjunction with Suffolk County police department. "From our understanding, both of those counties are involved," said FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser. She said Suffolk County initiated the action and that Nassau County became involved, but would not elaborate on what that meant.
The Nassau County police department said Catalano "was not visited by the Nassau police department" and denied involvement in the situation.
In a new post on her Tumblr on Thursday, Catalano said: "We found out through the Suffolk police department that the searches involved also things my husband looked up at his old job. We were not made aware of this at the time of questioning and were led to believe it was solely from searches from within our house."
• This article was amended on 2 August 2013 to clarify that the Tsarnaev brothers have not been convicted of the Boston bombing. The younger, surviving brother is awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Witness at Manning sentencing testifies about information-sharing restrictions to support prosecution
Friday, August 2, 2013 16:51 EDT
FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – Washington had to restrict access to an intelligence-sharing system after the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, a former official said on Friday at the sentencing hearing of Bradley Manning, the soldier convicted of the leaks.
Tightening access to the system undid the very benefits the system was meant to provide, according to Susan Swart, a former U.S. State Department official who was responsible for the movement of diplomatic cables when they were leaked and published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2010.
But under questioning from Manning’s lawyer Swart reluctantly acknowledged that after access to the information-sharing system was restricted, officials could still use it “technically speaking.” She was quick to add “but I don’t buy the logic.”
The information-sharing system was put in place in 2006 to address intelligence failures exposed by the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A military judge on Tuesday convicted U.S. Army Private First Class Manning, 25, of criminal charges including espionage and theft of classified information from the intelligence system, known as Net-Centric Diplomacy. The former military intelligence analyst was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, sparing him a life sentence without parole.
The sentencing phase of the court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland began on Wednesday and was expected to last at least until August 9, military officials said. The military prosecutors were first to call their witnesses and will be followed by defense witnesses.
The convictions carry a maximum possible sentence of 136 years, and prosecutors are seeking to establish the damage caused by the leaks.
Swart, who left her job in 2012, said she felt the system was secured by vetting users before allowing them to view classified information. She said it was “not very feasible” to require the large number of users to have passwords.
As Manning’s lawyer was exploring the reaction of her superiors to the breach, she said: “I don’t feel blamed.”
Access to classified information remains a sensitive subject after Edward Snowden, a U.S. intelligence contractor, revealed the National Security Agency’s secret program to collect phone and Internet records.
Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia on Thursday. U.S. authorities want Snowden to return to the United States to face charges of espionage.
Manning’s lawyers, who had portrayed him as naive but well intentioned, were expected to ask Judge Colonel Denise Lind for leniency in sentencing. They argued that the soldier’s aim had been to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military policy, not to harm anyone.
Prosecutors had said Manning hurt national security and damaged relationships with intelligence sources overseas.
Manning was serving in Iraq in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with leaking files, including videos of a 2007 attack by a U.S. helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff. Other files contained diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
(By Tom Hals. Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Grant McCool)
US jobless figure drops to lowest rate in four years
Over 160,000 new jobs created as unemployment rate drops to 7.4%, though bond-buying programme continues unchanged
Larry Elliott and Heidi Moore
theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 15.02 BST
The US unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in more than four years last month, but the addition of 162,000 new jobs to the world's biggest economy was lower than expected.
Figures released in Washington showed that the pace of hiring eased slightly in July, following a slowdown in economic growth in the first half of 2013. The Labour Department revised down the number of jobs added in May and June, indicating the underlying fragility of the economic recovery.
Wall Street had been expecting a stronger report and analysts said the data might make the US Federal Reserve more wary about removing the stimulus provided by asset purchases and low borrowing costs.
The financial markets had been anticipating a rise of 184,000 in non-farm payrolls, the key measure of the health of the US jobs market. Analysts said it was also disappointing that employment in previous months had been revised down by 26,000, and that average weekly hours worked had fallen.
The unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 points to 7.4%, the lowest since the global recession was at its most intense in the winter of 2008-09. The report said, however, that part of the drop was due to some Americans leaving the labour market after giving up hope of finding work.
The Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, has said there is "broad support" among colleagues for shutting down its bond-buying programme, costing $85bn (£55.8bn) per month, if the unemployment rate falls to 7%. The US is expected to reach that level around the middle of next year, and the Fed spooked markets last month when it said it might begin "moderately" tapering asset purchases by September.
The dismal jobs report indicated the underlying weakness in the American economy, according to economists.
Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business of the University of Maryland, sent out a research note titled "another disappointing jobs report" and said: "Overall, the jobs count may be up but for most working families and recent college graduates the situation is grim. Adding in discouraged adults and part-timers who want full-time employment, the unemployment rate becomes 14%."
Joseph Brusuelas of Bloomberg LP gave a similarly dire evaluation, saying that 5 million more men over the age of 20 were unemployed now than before the recession started in November 2007. He called this "the real crisis that is brewing deep inside the US labor market for men entering the peak earning years that will carry long-term implications for the overall social and economic well-being of the country".
Brusuelas also pointed out that longer unemployment periods have made people unsuccessful in finding new jobs after they've lost a job.
"The average duration of unemployment is 35.6 weeks or roughly 8 months [and] has rendered some of these individuals unemployable in their former lines of work," Brusuelas said.
James Knightly, economist at ING bank, said the markets had been hoping for a stronger report after upbeat US GDP data earlier in the week, which saw the economy grow by 1.7% in the second quarter.
He said it appeared to have "taken the wind out of the sails of those heavily backing a September start to quantitative easing tapering. Additionally, wages fell 0.1% on the month, the first fall since last October. This takes the year-on-year growth in wages down to 1.9% and is not indicative of a tight labor market."
« Last Edit: Aug 03, 2013, 07:42 am by Rad »
Interpol issues global alert over al-Qaida-linked prison breakouts
Police agency urges countries to show increased vigilance after hundreds of terrorists escaped over past nine months
Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 3 August 2013 16.35 BST
Interpol has issued a global security alert following a series of al-Qaida-linked prison breakouts in which hundreds of terrorists escaped.
The warning came a day after the US state department issued a worldwide travel warning to American citizens and closed 21 of its embassies over intelligence suggesting that the terrorist network was planning attacks during August. Britain is closing its embassy in Yemen for two days due to increased security concerns.
In a statement issued from its headquarters in Lyon, France, Interpol urged countries around the world to show "increased vigilance", following prison breakouts over the past month in nine countries, including Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
"With suspected al-Qaida involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organisation's 190 member countries' assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events are co-ordinated or linked," the international police agency said.
"Interpol is asking its member countries to closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners. They are also requested to alert the relevant member country and Interpol general secretariat headquarters if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack."
Prison breakouts took place in Pakistan on 31 July in a Taliban-led operation, and in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison overnight on 22 July. Some 500 convicts, among them senior al-Qaida operatives, escaped from Abu Ghraib. More than 1,100 inmates broke out of a prison on the outskirts of Benghazi on 27 July.
British authorities have not yet specified the nature of the threat which led to the decision to close the embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a on Sunday and Monday in what was described as "a precautionary measure". A Foreign Office spokesman would not say if the closure was due to a specific threat.
British nationals have been warned against all travel to Yemen, and those in the country have been advised to leave immediately, as it was "extremely unlikely" that their evacuation could be arranged if the security situation deteriorated.
The Foreign Office recommended particular vigilance during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends on 8 August, when "tensions could be heightened".
Yemen has become a stronghold of al-Qaida over recent years – with the local offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, believed to have several hundred members – despite efforts by the country's authorities to suppress the group and US drones killing leaders, including Anwar al-Awlaki. Yemen was the source of an attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner in 2009.
There has been unrest recently after the mutiny of troops in the Republican Guard and fighting around the presidential palace on Friday.
The US embassy in Yemen is one of 21 which will be closed on Sunday following the state department's warning of the "continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and north Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian peninsula".
The global travel warning to US citizens said: "Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August."
The alert warned of "the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure".
Explaining the embassy closures, a state department spokeswoman said: "The department has been apprised of information that – out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations – indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. The department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety."
On 7 August it is the 15th anniversary of the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed hundreds of people and brought the late al-Qaida mastermind, Osama bin Laden, to public attention for the first time.
August 3, 2013
Interpol Asks Nations to Help Track Terror Suspects Freed in Prison Breaks
By MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — Interpol issued a global alert on Saturday asking member countries to help track hundreds of terrorism suspects who escaped in a wave of prison breaks over the past month — including in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya — and requesting assistance in determining whether any of the operations “are coordinated or linked.”
The alert from Interpol, the global police organization, came two days after the State Department ordered nearly two dozen diplomatic facilities closed in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia based on intelligence that an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen might be plotting attacks in the coming days. On Saturday, several European governments said they, too, were temporarily closing their outposts in Yemen.
It was unclear how the Interpol and State Department alerts might be connected, although the Interpol notice did refer to the State Department closings and stated Interpol would be “prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots.”
American and foreign officials believe that Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate orchestrated attacks in late July that freed hundreds of inmates from two prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. The attackers used mortars to pin down Iraqi forces, employed suicide bombers to punch holes in Iraqi defenses and then sent an assault force to free the inmates, Western officials said at the time.
A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi, Libya. The country’s prime minister blamed local residents for carrying out the jailbreak, an accusation that security officials in Benghazi disputed.
In a separate attack at a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, as many as 150 fighters blew holes in the perimeter wall and stormed the prison compound. The local authorities said that some of the attackers had been disguised as police officers, and that they had used megaphones to call out the names of specific prisoners. Nearly 250 inmates were freed during the attack.
The Interpol alert added to a climate of heightened concern set off Thursday when State Department officials spoke of possible terror plots in the works against Western facilities overseas.
The next day, the department issued a global travel alert for American citizens that warned of the potential for terror attacks by operatives of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups beginning Sunday through the end of August.
In an interview with the ABC News program “This Week” to be broadcast on Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said the intelligence about the possible plots was “more specific” than in the past. “There’s a significant threat stream, and we’re reacting to it,” he said.
Senior Obama administration officials met at the White House on Saturday afternoon to discuss the latest information about the threat. Led by Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, the meeting was attended by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan; and other officials.
Obama administration officials have spoken optimistically in recent months about a generally diminished terror threat, and during a speech in May, President Obama said Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups had been eviscerated by American counterterrorism operation.
Still, the administration continues to wage an aggressive drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, and monitoring groups said there had been three American strikes in Yemen in the past week.
France, Germany and Britain on Saturday announced the temporary closings of their embassies in Sana, Yemen, citing fears of unspecified attacks on their interests there. A representative of the British Foreign Office called the closing a “precautionary measure,” the BBC reported.
In France, President François Hollande spoke of specific threats but gave no additional details.
“I’ve decided to close the embassy of France in Yemen because, now, we’ve had elements that allowed us to think that these threats were extremely serious,” Mr. Hollande told reporters on Saturday. He did not specify the source or nature of the information concerning potential attacks.
The closing is expected to last “several days,” Mr. Hollande said, adding that French officials and citizens should be particularly “vigilant” in coming weeks if traveling in countries where terror groups are known to operate.
The Interpol alert on Saturday cited coming anniversaries of terror attacks, including this week’s 15th anniversary of the American Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people and wounded 4,000 others.
Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from New York, and Scott Sayare from Nice, France.
New Zealand dairy finds botulism bacteria, issues worldwide alert
Saturday, August 3, 2013 9:31 EDT
By Naomi Tajitsu
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, on Saturday said it had found a bacteria which can cause botulism in some of its dairy products, prompting China to issue a recall of affected products.
New Zealand authorities said they were holding back some widely used infant formula products from supermarket shelves.
Fonterra said it had sold New Zealand-made whey protein concentrate contaminated with Clostridium Botulinum to eight customers, including food and beverage companies and animal stock feed firms, for possible use in infant formula, body building powder, and other products.
The Ministry of Primary Industries said that it had been told by Fonterra that the products in question were exported to Australia, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
China, which imports the majority of its milk powder from New Zealand, asked domestic importers to recall any products which may have been contaminated by the bacteria, and ramped up scrutiny of New Zealand dairy products coming into the country.
This is the second dairy contamination issue involving New Zealand’s largest company this year. In January, Fonterra said it had found traces of dicyandiamde, a potentially toxic chemical used in fertilizer, in some of its products.
The announcement comes as Fonterra is planning to launch its own branded milk formula in China, five years after its involvement in a 2008 scandal in which melamine-tainted infant formula killed at least six and made thousands ill.
Fonterra said that it was up to companies to announce recalls, adding that none had done so yet. It would not comment on the level of contamination found in the whey protein product.
“At this stage, no product recalls have been announced,” Fonterra said in a statement. None of its own branded products were affected, it said.
It also said that of the eight companies affected, three were food companies, two were beverage companies and three manufactured animal stock feed.
Chinese state radio said Fonterra was notifying three Chinese firms affected by the contamination.
China’s product safety agency said it had asked New Zealand to take immediate measures to “prevent the products in question from harming the health of Chinese consumers”.
“The administration has also asked importers to immediately recall any possibly contaminated products and has required all local quarantine and inspection bodies to further strengthen inspection and supervision of New Zealand dairy products exported to China,” the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement.
Clostridium Botulinum is often found in soil. The Fonterra case was caused by an unsanitary pipe at a processing plant.
The bacteria can cause botulism, a potentially fatal disease which affects the muscles and can cause respiratory problems. Infant botulism can attack the intestinal system.
The Ministry of Primary Industries said five batches of Karicare formula manufactured in New Zealand for babies aged six months and older were produced using the contaminated product.
Karicare is made by Nutricia, which operates in New Zealand, and supplied by Fonterra. The brand is popular in China.
The MPI said it had been informed by Nutricia that one batch was on a ship, another was in storage in Australia, while the remaining three were in a warehouse in New Zealand.
All of these products would be held back from the market and the MPI advised against using them.
“Since the levels necessary to cause illness are small, our focus now is on establishing whether any product available in markets is affected at all,” an MPI spokesman told Reuters.
FONTERRA CHIEF TRAVELS TO CHINA
Fonterra is a big supplier of wholesale milk powder to Chinese dairy firms and also supplies multinational food and beverage companies.
It said there had been no reports of any illness linked to the affected whey protein, and that fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, spreads and UHT milk products were not affected.
The company said that Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings would travel to China from Europe at the weekend to discuss the issue.
The announcement comes as China has started to tighten dairy import regulations to improve overall food safety standards. In recent weeks, Beijing has introduced regulations restricting the operations of smaller infant formula brands.
Foreign branded infant formula is a prized commodity in China, where consumers are distrustful of domestic brands given a series of food safety scandals. This has created a lucrative market for foreign brands, including global heavyweights Nestle, Danone and Mead Johnson.
While Fonterra is a major supplier of bulk milk powder products used in formula in China, it has stayed out of the branded space after the melamine incident. It had held a stake in Chinese dairy company Sanlu, which collapsed after it was discovered to have added melamine to bulk up formulas in 2008.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Standing and Langi Chiang in Beijing; Editing by Ron Popeski)
Turkey's lack of democracy is storing up problems
Prime Minister Erdogan has much to boast about, but the vision of hope is fading fast
The Observer, Sunday 4 August 2013
It is proving a long, turbulent summer for Turkish democracy. The chaos of Gezi Park may have abated after judges conveniently stopped building work there; but the fundamental reasons for protest haven't gone away – just as tourists, alarmed by demonstrations spreading far beyond Istanbul, haven't come back. And the crisis of Turkish journalism – too many reporters in prison, far too many sacked for telling their readers what happened in Taksim Square – grows worse, not better, in a climate of fear where even the most distinguished professionals, such as Yavuz Baydar, ombudsman of the daily Sabah, or Derya Sazak, editor of Milliyet, can suddenly find themselves out of a job.
Europe may have tactfully delayed negotiations on the next chapter of Turkey's entrance drive until much later in the autumn. It cannot, though, hide the rot of respect that now dogs Ankara's hopes of EU admission, nor the widespread disillusion with Prime Minister Erdogan's unflinching rhetoric.
Turkey can do better than this; indeed, Turkey was doing much better until Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to tackle the demonstrators head on. Worse, the tainting of TV and press leaves his AKP government without the credibility it needs to argue its case.
Media baronies are short of trust right round the world; even MPs and ministers in Britain's post-Leveson months lay claim to a higher reputation.
Yet in Turkey, normality is stood on its head. The entrepreneurs and conglomerates who own newspapers and television stations don't pretend to wield independent power. To the contrary, they wriggle quietly under Erdogan's thumb. They own other businesses, too; they need government blessing for development plans, tax treatments, sales permits and the rest. So they know when to keep their heads down – and when to keep their editors in line.
There's no heavy boot of repression here, more a secondary twist from some hidden stiletto. Democracy appears in working order as visitors to the country turn on a television or pick up a paper, but down below trust is gone – and that is a potentially lethal problem.
Mr Erdogan's government has mountainous difficulties of its own: Syrian refugees and instability pouring over its borders; faltering efforts to solve the Kurdish (and terrorist) problem; an economy slowing; a country chronically uncertain whether to find a secular or Islamic future.
In many ways, the AKP and its leader, now elected three times, have much to boast about. Erdogan's Islamic vision has often seemed mild and non-ideological, exactly the blend of hope and pragmatic that Europe and the Middle East need.
But that vision is fading fast as his country creaks at frail seams and the prime minister relies on his electoral mandate (58% last time round) to insist that everything must be done his way.
Functioning democracy depends on far more than ballots in a box. It needs a respect for the rule of law and for a free flow of information. Locking up journalists by the score does not foster that respect.
Seeing 30 brave writers and columnists thrown out of work after Taksim breeds only cynicism. This isn't what Europe means by democracy; and it is not what Turkey should mean by it either.
Pig Putin's Russia....
The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
August 1, 2013, 7:55 pmRussian Bloggers Welcome Snowden With Jokes, Praise and Job Offers
By ILYA MOUZYKANTSKII and ROBERT MACKEY
Updated, Friday, 11:32 a.m. When the former United States intelligence analyst Edward J. Snowden was finally allowed to leave his limbo in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday with a permit granting him political asylum in Russia, Russian bloggers, activists, entrepreneurs and journalists posted messages on social networks welcoming him to his new home.
The messages mixed praise for his courage in leaking details of the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance programs with sardonic asides about his choice to live in a country where life can be nasty, brutish and short for whistle-blowers and democracy activists. Since Mr. Snowden has just started studying Russian, The Lede has translated a selection of the welcome messages into English.
Mark Feygin, a Russian lawyer who defended three members of the activist collective Pussy Riot jailed for a political stunt, wrote on Twitter: “Snowden doesn’t quite understand that his acceptance of Russian asylum is the same as his agreeing to receive his inheritance from a Nigerian lawyer by e-mail.”
Pavel Durov, the founder of the most prominent Russian social network, VKontakte, offered Mr. Snowden immediate employment in data security:
Today Edward Snowden — the man that exposed the crimes of the U.S. intelligence agencies against citizens across the globe — received temporary asylum in Russia. At such moments, one feels proud of our country and sadness over U.S. policy — a country that has betrayed the principles that it was once built upon.
We invite Edward to St. Petersburg and will be thrilled if he decides to join our stellar team of programmers at VKontakte. At the end of the day, there is no European Internet company more popular than VK. I think Edward might be interested in protecting the personal data of our millions of users.
Vladimir Varfolomeyev, a host at the radio station Ekho Moskvy, said: “The Russian Federation took the correct decision on Snowden. We cannot give him to the U.S. However, the asylum seeker picked a very odd place of refuge.”
The Russian news site Sputnik & Pogrom joked, “For crimes against the American government, a U.S. court sentenced Snowden to the highest form of punishment — life in Russia.”
In a series of Twitter updates, the ecological activist Yevgenia Chirikova wrote:
I’m happy for Snowden. If he returns to the U.S., torture and death await him. Russia is most certainly better — a huge country, he’ll find somewhere to go.
Snowden can be saved not by the Russian government, but by its vastness. Lots of people have saved themselves that way.
If Snowden doesn’t want to be a toy in someone else’s game, he will lose himself in the endless Russian countryside. God give him strength!
The journalist Maxim Shevchenko suggested that Mr. Snowden, like the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, could soon be given his own talk show on Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned network known for its consistent criticism of the United States government.
The Gruppa Voina Twitter feed, run by Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of the jailed Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, seconded a comment from a blogger who wrote, “Poor Snowden — the guy thinks he’s free.”
August 1, 2013, 5:38 pm Jailed Pussy Riot Activist’s Defiant Speech at Parole Hearing
By ROBERT MACKEY
A Euronews video report on the parole hearing of the Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova last week in Saransk, Russia.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKIzRAczxdA
As my colleague Melena Ryzik reported, the two members of the Russian activist collective Pussy Riot who remain imprisoned were both denied parole last week. At separate hearings, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were judged to be insufficiently repentant for the “punk prayer” they performed in a Moscow cathedral last year, calling on the Virgin Mary to “send Pig Putin packing!”
The women, who were arrested together in March 2012 and sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism aimed at inciting religious hatred,” both denounced the Russian justice system during the parole hearings in Perm and Saransk.
On Thursday, the literary journal n+1 published an English translation of Ms. Tolokonnikova’s defiant statement, in which she said: “I know that in Russia under Pig Putin I will never receive parole. But I came here, to this courtroom, in order to cast light once again on the absurdity of the justice of the oil-and-gas-resource kingdom, which condemns people to rot pointlessly in camps.”
During her parole hearing last week, the Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova referred to protests in Moscow after the conviction of the anti-corruption blogger Aleksei A. Navalny.RIA Novosti During her parole hearing last week, the Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova referred to protests in Moscow after the conviction of the anti-corruption blogger Aleksei A. Navalny.
As one Russian art blogger explained, Ms. Tolokonnikova also took issue with the charge that she had failed to display “a positive attitude” in the penal colony by boycotting an essentially mandatory beauty contest for female prisoners. According to the n+1 translation by Kevin M. F. Platt, Ms. Tolokonnikova told the court:
The style of the Pig Putin regime is a conservative, secret-police aesthetic. By no accident — and actually quite logically — this aesthetic persistently samples and recreates the principles of two previous regimes, both of them historical precedents to the present one: the czarist-imperial aesthetic and the wrongly understood aesthetic of Socialist Realism, complete with workers from some kind of standard-issue Train-Car Assembly Plant of the Urals. Given the clumsiness and thoughtlessness with which all of this is being recreated, the present political regime’s ideological apparatus deserves no praise. Empty space, in its minimalism, is more attractive and tempting than the results of the aesthetic efforts of the current regime.
This worthless aesthetic is lovingly recreated by each and every state institution in Russia, including, of course, the prison colonies, which form such an important part of the repressive machine of the state.
And so, if you are a woman and, what is more, if you are a young woman and even the slightest bit attractive, then you are basically required to take part in beauty contests. If you refuse to participate, you will be denied parole based on your disdain for the “Miss Charm” event. In the opinion of the prison colony administration and the court that supports it, nonparticipation means that you lack a “positive attitude.” However, I claim that in boycotting the beauty contest I express my own principled and painstakingly formulated “positive attitude.” My own position, in distinction from the conservative, secret-police aesthetic of the camp administration, consists in reading my books and journals during moments that I extract by force from the deadening daily schedule of the prison colony.
On the same day that Ms. Tolokonnikova made her impassioned plea for justice to the court in Saransk, a third Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich — who was jailed with the other women but released on appeal last October — took part in a bizarre protest in the Netherlands organized by Amnesty International to press for the release of the Russian activists. Ms. Samutsevich fired the starter’s pistol, via video link, for Amnesty’s “Naked Run for Freedom,” but the Russian judges were somehow unmoved by the spectacle of hundreds of Dutch protesters running around a muddy track during a music festival wearing only motorcycle helmets.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPy8A5M1Wds&feature=youtu.be
************Russia red-flags Bloodhound Gang after onstage pants prank
Incident in which bass player passed Russian flag through his pants leads to ejection from festival and pelting with eggs
Associated Press in Moscow
theguardian.com, Saturday 3 August 2013 18.28 BST
The American rock group Bloodhound Gang have been kicked out of a Russian music festival and pelted with eggs, after videos emerged of their bass player shoving a Russian flag down his pants at a recent concert in Ukraine. Russian prosecutors are even considering whether to open a criminal case in the matter, which comes amid a rise in US-Russian tensions.
Videos posted online of Wednesday's concert in Odessa show bass player Jared Hasselhoff pushing the Russian flag down the front of his pants and pulling it out the back. He then shouted to the audience: "Don't tell Pig Putin," a reference to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The incident outraged the Russian government. Maria Minina, a spokeswoman for the weeklong Kubana festival in southern Russia, said on Saturday that the band's headlining performance the previous evening had been canceled because of its treatment of the flag.
The American band is known for its sexually explicit songs, including The Bad Touch, which features the lyrics: "You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel."
The Russian culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, tweeted on Friday night that he had spoken with officials in the southern Krasnodar region, known as Kuban. "Bloodhound Gang is packing its bags," he said. "These idiots will not perform in Kuban."
Hasselhoff was questioned Saturday by police, according to the Russian Interior Ministry, which said prosecutors have been asked to decide if the musician could be charged with defaming the Russian flag. The bass player apologized late on Friday, at a news conference held at the music festival in the city of Anapa, a local news portal reported. He was quoted saying that he had meant no offense and explaining that it was a band tradition for everything thrown from the stage first to be passed through his pants. Hasselhoff said he decided to throw the flag because some fans had seemed disturbed to see it hanging on the stage.
The scandal comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries over National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who was given temporary asylum in Russia last week to help him evade prosecution in the US.
As the Bloodhound Gang members were driving to the Anapa airport on Saturday, activists from a pro-Kremlin youth group threw eggs and tomatoes at their vehicle, it was reported. The band members were taken off their afternoon flight to Moscow after they had boarded the plane, Russian news agencies reported, citing airline officials. After being questioned by transport police, they took a later flight, the reports said.
07/31/2013 04:50 PM
New Cemetery in Russia: Germany Still Burying Eastern Front Dead
By David Crossland
After spending two decades recovering almost 800,000 soldiers in Eastern Europe and Russia, Germany will open its last war cemetery in Russia on Saturday. The work isn't over, though, as the war graves commission has located a further 400,000 dead.
Germany will open its last big war cemetery in Russia on Saturday, marking the culmination of a huge effort to recover Wehrmacht soldiers killed on its Eastern Front in World War II.
By the end of this year, the German war graves commission will have found and reburied a total of 800,000 soldiers in Eastern Europe and Russia since 1992, when the former Eastern bloc countries began helping Germany retrieve the remains of missing soldiers following the end of the Cold War.
On Saturday, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière will hold a speech at the inauguration of the new war cemetery at the town of Dukhovschina, near the city of Smolensk in western Russia.
It currently contains 30,513 freshly interred German war dead, of whom 16,300 have been identified. It will eventually be the last resting place of some 70,000 soldiers, bigger even than Germany's vast World War I cemeteries in northeastern France and Belgium.
Some 200 people will travel from Germany to attend the ceremony, including descendants of soldiers buried there, says the commission, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. They will watch the burial of five more soldiers.
But the work is far from over. The Volksbund says it expects to recover a further 150,000 war dead in the east and southeast of Europe by 2017. and that it will be building and refurbishing more cemeteries in places including the Balkans. And it knows the approximate locations of a further 250,000 dead, most of them in hard-to-access areas like swamps, or small burial sites with just a handful of graves.
"I reckon we will be able to retrieve half of them, but that will mean an enormous effort and it assumes we get the necessary funding," Fritz Kirchmeier, the spokesman of the Volksbund, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It is incredible how many people disappeared in such a short period of time."
The Volksbund bases its work on military casualty records, dispatching teams to exhume bodies from known but unmarked burial sites that were created during the war.
It has managed to identify about a third of the recovered remains from identification tags and records on the layout of burial sites, says Kirchmeier.
"The cemeteries are no longer visible because the German troops removed traces of many of them during their retreat for propaganda reasons," Kirchmeier says. "The other side razed them too, also for propaganda reasons."
Many of the recovered bodies have been buried in some 20 new, large so-called concentration cemeteries the Volksbund has built in Russia since the early 1990s. Across Eastern and Southeastern Europe, it has built and repaired more than 400 cemeteries from the two world wars in the last 20 years.
Battlefront Stretching 1,000 Miles
The casualty figures are a reminder of the scale and ferocity of the fighting along the Eastern Front during WWII.
"The sheer numbers of German casualties being recovered from the battlefront are absolutely staggering," Harry Bennett, a British historian at Plymouth University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It really brings it home to you, not just on a historical but actually on a very personal level."
"Most battlefields you can drive across in a matter of hours, but with the campaign in eastern Europe you're dealing with a battefield stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It takes days to drive across," he says.
"The German military viewed the Soviets on the one hand as ferocious, capable and difficult opponents after the initial advances of 1941, but underpinning it was a hatred of Slavs, who were seen as lesser life forms, Untermenschen. That paved the way for brutality towards Red Army prisoners."
While the German losses were enormous, the numbers of Soviet military casualties were much higher. Part of the purpose of the campaign was, after all, the "decimation of the Slavic race," as SS chief Heinrich Himmler put it in a speech a few days before Germany launched its surprise attack.
A total of 2.7 million German soldiers died on the Eastern Front, and 1.4 million German civilians were killed, says Moritz Pfeiffer, a German historian and author who has specialized in the SS and the Wehrmacht's eastern campaign.
'Bloodiest War in History'
These numbers are dwarfed by the 11.4 million missing and killed Soviet soldiers, including 3.5 million prisoners of war who died in captivity. Soviet civilian losses were even higher at 15.2 million, says Pfeiffer.
"One can justifiably describe the German-Soviet war as the bloodiest war in history," Pfeiffer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The German plan for a high-speed Blitzkrieg campaign -- with all the brutality that entailed, the racism and sense of superiority of the German attackers and the desperate, extremely brutal resistance by the Soviet Union -- developed into a cycle of violence that cost some 30 million lives."
Pfeiffer says far more research is needed into the fighting that raged in the Soviet Union in 1943 and 1944, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed in bloody battles and the Wehrmacht operated under a scorched-earth policy as it was driven back.
"We're still in the dark about large parts of this whole chaotic inferno of the German retreats," says Pfeiffer. "These questions are particularly significant because German front-line troops were directly involved in these crimes -- contrary to their more indirect involvement in the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, or in the economic exploitation of the country in fighting the partisans, which all happened in the hinterland."
Respect for Soviet Dead 'Underdeveloped'
Kirchmeier, the Volksbund spokesman, says the victorious Soviets didn't place much emphasis on identifying their war dead and laying them to rest in individual graves.
"Respect for dead soldiers was pretty underdeveloped in the Soviet Union, they attached a lot of importance to erecting large monuments and having large mass graves of the nameless near or beneath them," says Kirchmeier. "The individual counted for little at the time. But that's been changing in recent years."
In addition, resentment of Russian domination during the Soviet era continues to shape how the fallen are remembered in Russia's neighboring countries.
"In Ukraine I came across a number of Red Army cemeteries, most of which were neglected and some of which were vandalized because these were seen as individuals fighting for a system that actually enslaved the Ukraine," Bennett says. "The way Russia remembers those war dead and the way in which other former Soviet Socialist republics remember them is something rather different."
Both young German and Russian soldiers will attend Saturday's ceremony in Dukhovschina.
"These unimaginable casualty figures cry out for commemoration and reconciliation," Pfeiffer says.
08/01/2013 01:37 PM
The Phantom of Straelen: A Town's Hunt for Its Missing Mayor
By Jörg Diehl
For nine months now, the western German town of Straelen near the Dutch border has been missing its mayor. Locals are increasingly concerned, as no one is able to inform them of his whereabouts, his well-being or when he is likely to return.
"The mayor hasn't been in the office for months. He is sick," says the missing politician's personal assistant, seemingly on auto-pilot, in response to an inquiry by SPIEGEL ONLINE. When can he be expected to return? "That I don't know," she answers curtly.
Straelen, a city of 15,000 inhabitants in North-Rhine Westphalia, has become the scene of a strange political farce. For nearly nine months, the city council has been governed by a non-existent mayor, who after a quarrel with his party colleagues, went on sick leave and never returned.
Referred to in the local press as "the phantom of Straelen," 48-year-old Jörg Langemeyer stopped answering phone calls and emails months ago. The town is rife with rumors about the mayor's whereabouts, with some residents claiming to have seen him taking a stroll in the area, and others alleging he attended a local school function.
Despite the inconclusive gossip, Mayor Langemeyer seems to be lost without a trace. According to Hans-Joseph Linßen, a local district representative who worked with the mayor before his disappearance, Langemeyer hasn't had contact with his fellow party members or co-workers "for months." Inquiries by SPIEGEL ONLINE also went unanswered by the mayor.
Sick Leave with All the Perks
Since his disappearance, Langemeyer -- a public administration specialist and a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU) -- has been receiving a full monthly salary of €6,900 ($9,100) before taxes. No one can say for certain what is supposedly ailing him. All that is known is that he departed on sick leave in November, apparently in response to an "explicit recommendation by my physician, and for the protection of my family." Or so he claimed at the time.
Shortly before the mayor went on sick leave, his local party members had announced a refusal to work with him -- they had even banned him from party meetings. According to then-parliamentary floor leader Jens Röskens, Langemeyer had become unapproachable, dodging difficult governmental decisions and stubbornly resisting advice from his colleagues.
He had even started turning away his constituents, says Röskens, telling them point blank that he had no interest in talking to them. Adding insult to injury, the mayor began to miss crisis meetings scheduled in response to his erratic behavior. That was the breaking point for Langemeyer's colleagues. "We had no choice but to act," says Röskens.
'Not How Things Are Done'
The mysterious case of the missing mayor shows how hard it is to get rid of an elected official in Germany. Last year, the citizens of Duisburg -- a nearby North-Rhine Westphalian town -- had no choice but to force the resignation of their mayor Adolf Sauerland, whose behavior in the wake of the Love Parade tragedy was widely deemed unacceptable.
In Straelen, on the other hand, the Christian Democrats have decided that removing a sick man from his post would be morally reprehensible. "It's not how things are done," says Röskens. The party is relying, instead, on the regional administration for Kleve county, a body which in theory is capable of subjecting Langemeyer to official medical examination and subsequently removing him from office.
A report by daily tabloid Bild indicates that the mayor may be willing to come forward for medical examination. If the politician remains uncooperative, however, there is nothing much his colleagues can do about it -- he could remain in office until the end of his term in October 2015. On thing is for certain, though: Langemeyer will not be backed by the CDU for a second term in office.
UK and US concern over Mugabe's Zimbabwe election win
Morgan Tsvangirai says he will seek peaceful, legal and diplomatic remedies as MDC asks for support for new poll
David Smith in Harare
The Observer, Saturday 3 August 2013 23.35 BST
Link to video: Morgan Tsvangirai rejects Zimbabwe election resulthttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/aug/03/morgan-tsvangirai-zimbabwe-election-result-video
The United States and Britain have expressed their concerns after Robert Mugabe was declared the winner of Zimbabwe's presidential election on Saturday with 2,110,434 votes, giving him 61% of the total and Morgan Tsvangirai 34%. The margin was enough to avoid a repeat of the runoff of 2008.
As Zanu-PF supporters celebrated the national election commission announcement, Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders held a press conference that was attended by the British and other western ambassadors. "The fraudulent and stolen election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political and economic crisis," he said. "Instead of celebration, there is national mourning."
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, commended Zimbabweans for rejecting violence but added: "Make no mistake: in light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the United States does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people."
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, also expressed "grave concerns" about the conduct of the vote.
The MDC will boycott government institutions and "pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies", including in court, Tsvangirai said. The MDC called on African and regional bodies to meet urgently to restore legitimacy in Zimbabwe and demanded a fresh election as soon as possible.
Asked about the lack of popular revolt, Tsvangirai replied: "Why should there be? Our people are disciplined. You don't solve problems by creating violence. In fact, we are at this stage because of the discipline of our people. If it was any other country, they would burn down the building. They have not chosen to do that because they know at the end of the day we don't want any violent resolution of this crisis."
He denied that the result raised questions over his leadership. "We did not lose this election. We won. It is the imagination of Zanu-PF that they've won it, yet they know the truth. This is not a personal issue, this is a national issue. If the MDC lost this election, then it is not Tsvangirai who has lost.
"So far I have the full backing of the national council, I have the full backing of the people of Zimbabwe. Until such time that they can express it, then we can talk about it."
In the short term, there is the question of an appropriate response to an election likely to be ratified by African observers. The MDC and independent watchdogs alike claim it was rigged with brilliant subtlety and sophistication.
"They have transformed this election from the margin of violence to the margin of error – from the baton stick and machete to the desktop," said MDC secretary general Tendai Biti.
Zanu-PF has dared the MDC to challenge the result in court, but it would face judges appointed by Mugabe. An alternative is mass protest. The MDC's final "crossover rally" drew an estimated 100,000 people. Few in the optimistic crowd guessed that the "crossover" would be into potential oblivion. Yet there is scant sign of those thousands taking to the streets in an Egyptian-style uprising against Mugabe's 33-year rule.
"It's not going to happen in an environment like that, because it's certain death," said Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer general, who claims to have been driven into exile in neighbouring South Africa. "Anybody who goes out to protest now will get shot. It would be suicide, and who's going to commit suicide?"
Bennett said the MDC leadership faced similar constraints, but called for a campaign of passive resistance. "Unless the MDC acts, and acts decisively, now," he warned, "Zanu-PF will rule for ever and the MDC will fade into oblivion. The people need strong leadership. If they don't get it, new leaders will emerge."
Asked if Tsvangirai can provide this, Bennett, who wanted the MDC to boycott the elections, hesitated before replying: "The next couple of weeks will prove whether he has the heart."
Tsvangirai has survived beatings, arrests and assassination attempts, including nearly being thrown from a 10th-floor window. He has tried and failed to dislodge Mugabe three times, although supporters argue that, on a level playing field, he would have won every time.
In 2008, the presidency seemed in his grasp when he beat Mugabe in the first round, only to withdraw from a runoff, citing violence against supporters that left more than 200 people dead.
Tsvangirai became prime minister in a coalition government and believed he could win outright this time. Instead, the party has lost many parliamentary strongholds. Results so far paint the electoral map Zanu-PF green, with only a few pockets of MDC red.Whatever the degree of any rigging, some believe Tsvangirai was a weak leader who let the MDC become tarnished by corruption and made careless choices in his search for a wife.
Tawanda Majoni, a political columnist, said: "It is clear that the MDC has made several fatal mistakes during the tenure of the government of national unity, from Tsvangirai's love gaffes to the party's cosy approach to politics during the period in question … The MDC should have used its nearness to power to gain some clout, but it didn't."
But Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, appeared to rediscover his mojo in recent weeks when it came to doing what he does best – mobilising crowds. Jameson Timba, minister of state in Tsvangirai's office, said: "In my view, Morgan Tsvangirai still has the drive to complete the struggle for democratic change."
Petina Gappah, a writer and political commentator, admitted being among the sceptics who had written the MDC off at the start of the year. But she added: "A lot of people are pointing fingers at Morgan, but nobody could have prevented this.
"My respect for Morgan has risen and, if he steps down, he will be a hero to many and have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. He and his party gave us opposition politics. Until the late 1990s, we had a one-party state here, and any future opposition party will owe a lot to the MDC."
Born from the labour movement in 1999, the MDC has never been allowed to forget that white people were conspicuous at its beginnings. Zanu-PF still paints it as a puppet of western imperialism, although the crowd at last Monday's rally was 99.9% black.
MDC members have been murdered, tortured and jailed during a long struggle and the prize now seems further away than ever. The party is at a crossroads, mindful that for decades opposition movements have made little headway against liberation governments in neighbouring Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, although Zambia has seen democratic transfers of power.
Bennett even predicted that an MDC "armed wing" could emerge to take on Mugabe's "military junta". But as police maintained watch on people shopping and strolling in parks, Zimbabwe seemed to be illustrating the idea that nothing, like something, happens anywhere.
Middle East peace talks: is a deal possible this time?
Talks begin this week amid deep divisions between the two sides and a public mood of widespread scepticism and weariness
The Observer, Sunday 4 August 2013
Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will begin after the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan on 7 August, amid deep divisions and widespread scepticism and weariness.
The process aims to reach, by next May, a deal to end the historic conflict. But even the process of getting to the starting blocks has confounded many observers, and vindicated US secretary of state John Kerry's intensive, multi-visit diplomatic mission.
Kerry's dogged perseverance has been significantly reinforced twice in recent days by Barack Obama: first when he met the chief negotiators – Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians and Tzipi Livni for the Israelis – at the White House, and second when he called Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to praise them for their courage in re-entering talks.
Even so, some observers are predicting that talks will collapse early in the nine-month time-frame. Others suggest the discussions could drag beyond May, with the parties unable to reach agreement but unwilling to acknowledge an impasse. Almost no one is optimistic about the outcome, and some – including those who spoke to the Observer – are preparing alternative scenarios or strategies.
Kerry said last week that "all issues are on the table" during the forthcoming "sustained, continuous, substantive negotiations". The top priority for the Palestinians is establishing the borders and territory of a future state. They want the pre-1967 line, known as the Green Line, to be the basis for demarcation of their state, with mutually agreed land swaps for any deviations. This is also the position of the US and most of the international community. But Israel has refused to sign up to such a framework. It would prefer the separation barrier, which runs mainly inside the Green Line, to be its border: this would keep the main settlement blocs, where the vast majority of Israel's 600,000-plus settler population lives, in its territory.
A complex part of the debate is the future of Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital. The Green Line runs through the city, but in the past four decades Israel has built settlements in the Arab eastern half, and ideologically and religiously hardline settlers have established enclaves in key areas. Settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Israel insists Jerusalem will not be divided or shared. The international consensus is that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both states.
One of Israel's primary concerns is security. It insists that a Palestinian state must be demilitarised, and that Israel be permitted to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley. It also wants to retain control over Palestinian airspace.
The issue of the 4.9 million Palestinians made refugees after the 1948 war, is one of the most intractable. The Palestinians are demanding the right of return for all refugees, but may agree to a token number being admitted by Israel, with compensation paid, and for Israel to acknowledge the nakba, or catastrophe, as a defining event in their national narrative.
Israel will resist any concessions on the "right of return", saying the refugee issue should be resolved within a future Palestinian state. It, in turn, demands that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, the rightful homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians refuse, saying such a recognition would in effect concede the refugee issue and ignore the 20% of Israel's population that is Palestinian.
Water is another factor. Israel controls almost all water in the West Bank; the Palestinians want a more equitable share. And, although not a "core issue", Gaza is a barely mentioned but huge obstacle. It is politically and physically separated from the West Bank, and Fatah and Hamas – the two main Palestinian factions – have been unable to effect political reconciliation. Israel views Gaza under Hamas rule as an "enemy entity" and rejects any kind of engagement with the Islamist party until it recognises Israel and renounces violence. Yet any sustainable peace agreement cannot exclude Gaza.
Both sides have made confidence-building gestures ahead of the negotiations. Israel has agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners over four stages. The Palestinians have agreed to refrain from seeking acceptance or redress at United Nations bodies or other international institutions.
And they have agreed to conduct the talks without running bulletins from the key players, with only Kerry authorised to make statements. He did not allow even a hint of triumph to enter his customary tone of tenacious pragmatism after the breakthrough. "I know the negotiations are going to be tough," he said. "But I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse."
There is hope for the future amid the turmoil of the Middle East
Last week's revival of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process proves that the region's problems can be resolved
The Observer, Saturday 3 August 2013 21.00 BST
Syria is a living nightmare. Egypt hovers on the brink. But as last week's breakthrough in the Middle East peace process shows, there are signs of optimism. And counter-intuitive though it is to say so, underneath all the turmoil, the fundamental problems of the region are finally being brought to the surface in a way that allows them to be confronted and overcome. For us, now is the time not for despair, but for active engagement.
No one put the chances of reviving the Middle East peace process at more than minimal. Last week, in Washington, it happened. And not talks about talks, but full-blown reignition of final status negotiations, with an undertaking by both parties to stay in the process for at least nine months. To those of us who have toiled, often fruitlessly, over the past years on this issue, it is a huge achievement brought about by John Kerry, with sheer dogged determination, and the two leaders, by taking risks with their public opinion.
Much less noticed was the visit of the Yemen president to Washington. In Yemen, against all the odds, the country is going through a process of political transformation, with 500 delegates from all parts of society working on plans for democracy, justice and equality.
In Iraq, after years where the sectarian violence declined year on year, the casualty figures are back up again, in part through the war in Syria. Yet even here, there was recently a seminal statement from Najaf by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al–Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, proclaiming the need for a civil, not religious state, in which all people had equal freedom to participate and disagreeing with those close to Iran who want Shia to go to Syria to fight for Assad alongside Hezbollah.
At the commencement of Ramadan, the king of Saudi Arabia, who is also the keeper of the two holy mosques, made a powerful statement reclaiming the faith of Islam from those who would pervert it, in the name of politics.
Libya and Tunisia are far from settled, as the assassination of the leading opposition politician in Tunisia and the presence of unrestrained militia in Libyan towns, show. But the democrats aren't giving up. Across the bulge of the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa there are huge challenges now from well-armed and financed terrorists groups that have imported this toxic ideology from the Middle East. Countries such as Nigeria have suffered horribly from a terror based on religious extremism that is alien to their society. But again, despite it all, the country is experiencing rapid economic growth and there has just been a major reform of the power sector, something people thought impossible a short time ago.
Egypt could pivot back towards democracy, with a constitution that is genuinely inclusive and objectively administered. There is the promise of elections by early 2014 and all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, could take part. Or it could become paralysed, incapable of moving forward, unable to rectify the dire economic situation and restore order, without which no progress is possible.
But the very divisions in Egypt illustrate a deeper awakening in the region that has its own significance. Lessons about government, governance and democracy that took the west centuries to learn are being taken in at extraordinary speed.
It is now clear that the status quo in the region will not hold. The idea of the "strong man" government that keeps order, and that the rest of the world likes to deal with because it is predictable, has gone. It doesn't matter whether the "strong man" is of the psychopathic variety, such as Saddam, or the moderate variety, such as Hosni Mubarak, who kept peace in the region. This is the 21st century and the people want to shape their nation's politics. The choice is between evolution and revolution.
It is equally clear: evolution is definitely preferable if it is attainable. Frankly, it would have been better in Syria. People have had a taste of politics conducted by firestorm. Across the region, there is a fatigue with the wildness and disorder such politics brings. There is recognition that change is best accompanied by stability, and democracy only works if debate is conducted in a reasonable atmosphere where words can be bold, even harsh, but not inflammatory.
There is a burgeoning acceptance that religious freedom is a necessary part of free and open societies. The discussion about the place of religion in government and society is now out in the open. This is enormously important and healthy. For the first time, there is lively and intelligent debate around this issue, which is at the core of the Middle East's problems.
Neither do closed economies fit with open societies. The need for economic reform to provide jobs is absolute. A functioning private sector and an education system educating the large young population for a world which today is more inter-connected than ever before are pre-conditional to progress.
The Israeli/Palestinian issue is crucial for all the obvious reasons. But it is also a test of the region's capacity to forge a different and better future. If these two peoples can find common ground to create two states, both democratic and free, after all the bloodshed and dispute of decades, that is a huge harbinger of hope.
But last week would not have happened without the full engagement of the US and other international partners. This is the lesson for us. It is a lesson we should bear in mind as Syria disintegrates before our eyes, and as the battle rages over which side used chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal. However much we may wish to look away, the consequences of leaving the bloodbath in Syria to take whatever course it may will be absolutely disastrous for the region and for our security.
9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab revolutions, Iran, Syria, Egypt, the spread of terror based on religious extremism – surely we can begin to see common threads in all of this. One is how states emerge from years of repression to build institutions capable of answering the needs of the modern world. The other – plainly linked – is how majority Muslim countries define the place of religion in political society. We have a massive interest in a benign outcome.
This article will be open for comments on Sunday morning
Tony Blair is the Special Envoy for the Middle East Quartet
Tony Blair sees growing grounds for hope in the Middle East
Wave of conflict has silver lining in chance to confront issues of freedom and democracy, says former prime minister
Daniel Boffey, policy editor
The Observer, Sunday 4 August 2013
Tony Blair says that he sees signs of optimism in the Middle East, including in Iraq, despite rising casualty figures there and the escalating "living nightmare" in Syria.
The fundamental problems of the region are being brought to the surface, the former prime minister believes, and are ripe to be confronted and overcome. Blair takes comfort from the opening of negotiations between Israel and Palestine, an issue over which he admits he has toiled "often fruitlessly". But writing in the Observer on Sunday he says he also sees grounds for hope across the region, including in Iraq despite the growth of sectarian violence there after a period in which casualty figures had been on the decline. "In Iraq, after years where the sectarian violence declined year on year, the casualty figures are back up again in part through the war in Syria," he writes. "Yet even here, there was recently a seminal statement from Najaf by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, proclaiming the need for a civil not religious state, in which all people had freedom equally to participate and disagreeing with those close to Iran who want Shia to go to Syria to fight for Assad alongside Hezbollah.
"At the commencement of Ramadan, the king of Saudi Arabia, who is also the keeper of the two holy mosques, made a powerful statement reclaiming the faith of Islam from those who would pervert it, in the name of politics.
"Libya and Tunisia are far from settled, as the assassination of the leading opposition politician in Tunisia and the presence of unrestrained militia in Libyan towns, show. But the democrats aren't giving up. Across the bulge of the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa there are huge challenges now from well-armed and financed terrorists groups that have imported this toxic ideology from the Middle East. Countries such as Nigeria have suffered horribly from a terror based on religious extremism that is alien to their society. But again, despite it all, the country is experiencing rapid economic growth and there has just been a major reform of the power sector, something people thought impossible a short time ago.
"Egypt could pivot back towards democracy, with a constitution that is genuinely inclusive and objectively administered. There is the promise of elections by early 2014 and all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, could take part. Or it could become paralysed, incapable of moving forward." Blair also reiterates his belief that the west should intervene in the growing crisis in Syria. "However much we may wish to look away, the consequences of leaving the bloodbath in Syria to take whatever course it may will be absolutely disastrous for the region and for our security."
Do Israelis and Palestinians think time is right for peace?
Israeli and Palestinian commentators give their view of the prospects for success in the negotiations being brokered by US secretary of state John Kerry
The Observer, Saturday 3 August 2013 21.25 BST
Voices from Israel
Foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, which represents West Bank settlers
In the words of General MacArthur, "old soldiers never die … they just fade away". Apparently old diplomatic processes are the same. The two-state formula has been proved futile innumerable times. And the process itself has made things worse, not better, with a wave of terrorist attacks in the mid-1990s and then the second intifada.
Mahmoud Abbas has also not changed since his 2008 rejection of the most generous offer an Israeli leader will ever present. He reiterated once again last week that no Jews will be permitted to live in his future Palestinian state. These are not the words of a man of peace. We can only hope that when this new round of talks also fades away, this time the inevitable failure does not explode in our faces again leaving debris and scorched earth all around.
There is a better alternative: an ambitious and comprehensive programme to dramatically improve security, freedom of movement, economic prosperity and day-to-day conditions for Palestinians and Israelis. This should focus on joint large-scale industrial projects, including the renovation of refugee camps, removal of free-movement impediments, a potential dismantlement of the security fence and a focus on mutual respect and human dignity. It will be a temporary modus vivendi until new options arise. However, unlike the two state formula this it is not a fantasy; it can be achieved.
Former chief negotiator, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and co-founder of two-state movement Blue White Future
The process should comprise two main tracks. First, negotiation – a bilateral track, facilitated by the US, looking towards the resumption of permanent status talks on all core issues. But a central national interest of Israel is to make sure that the fate of this country is not conditioned by only by the success of the negotiation track. So we need a complementary and ultimately alternative track: independent, unilateral action by Israel to encompass within its boundaries a Jewish majority and a democratic regime.
Constructive unilateralism provides a safety net for securing Israel's future. Israel should declare that it has no sovereignty over the West Bank east of the security fence, and plan the absorption, with compensation, of 100,000 settlers relocated either in Israel proper or in the main settlement blocks, which would become part of Israel. The two-state solution would thereby become a reality.
Israel must continue to have security control over evacuated territories and the perimeter of the Palestinian territories, including the Jordan Valley. Civilians and military should not be redeployed simultaneously but sequentially.
The most important ingredient in this approach is internal dialogue among Israelis about a common perspective on the future of Israel.
This is not my preferred plan. I would like to see an agreement reached by negotiation. But we know that negotiations can fail, so we have to prepare for an independent, sovereign, unilateral decision to be taken by Israel.
Former Israeli government minister who secretly negotiated the 1993 Oslo accords and later the Geneva initiative
If you don't talk, nothing can happen, but if you talk there's still a chance. But nine months is too long if you really want to find a permanent solution, because it is possible in a shorter time frame. If you don't want to get there, no time frame is long enough. And this is the big question – whether there is a real will, at least on the Israeli side.
There is no question that Binyamin Netanyahu's game has changed a lot, but for him to take the road to a permanent solution would be a very big surprise and I wouldn't bet on it. On the other hand, Abu Mazen [also known as Mahmoud Abbas] is ready for the parameters which are accepted by the world.
My great fear is that if it becomes clear at a late stage that there is no real chance for a permanent agreement, it might be too late for an interim one. It's better to go for a permanent solution, but an interim agreement is a fallback.
We cannot afford to fail this time, the price will be too high. Whether Israel or the Palestinians are blamed, it would be almost suicide for the next US administration to touch this issue. And then there is also the prospect of the Palestinians going to the UN, of Netanyahu building in the settlements and a possible return to violence. The Israeli public is a little bit less sceptical than a week ago, but people are pessimistic about the prospects for an agreement.
Palestinian citizen of Israel and Balad party member of the Israeli parliament
Israel had to enter negotiations to prevent further international isolation. It has no interest in peace, but in pieces of land. It will continue to build in the occupied territories and Jerusalem.
As Palestinians, we need to develop our public struggle – not just against Israel but also against the Palestinian Authority. We have helped to make Israel's occupation cheap and easy by not mobilising our people. The PA has defined struggle as violence, but there are other forms of struggle – taking to the streets, civic disobedience, being prepared to confront soldiers.
For the negotiators, it's a diplomatic game, disconnected to the suffering of the people. Any negotiations will simply reflect the balance of power rather than change the balance of power.
For us, as Palestinian citizens of Israel, we cannot recognise Israel as a Jewish state. My homeland as a Palestinian is not just the West Bank, but Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ashkelon, Nazareth. To define Israel as a Jewish state is political ethnic cleansing. We have a binational reality in Israel, with 18% of the population Palestinians. An entity that reflects this must be a state for all its citizens, not a Jewish state.
Leader of the 2011 social justice protests, and now, at 28, Israel's youngest MP
I'm happy that, finally, peace talks are actually starting. But we need to be very careful, as talks and an agreement are not the same thing, and for a very long time, there was a lot of talking, but no agreement and no honest intention to reach one. What's needed now is the political courage to reach a solution.
My first worry is leadership, on both sides. It will require great determination to reach an agreement and not drag both nations into an endless negotiation. As for our prime minister, reaching an agreement will mean fighting – against his strongest supporters and almost his entire party – to do what's good for Israel's future, and not only for his own position.
We need to press our government very hard, both from the opposition in parliament and on the streets.
Two years ago we saw half a million people on the streets of Israel protesting over social justice. I didn't think that was possible, but such things can happen. It would not surprise me if Israelis came to the streets again to demand peace. Social, economic and political issues are all interlinked. If we want to make our country a better place, we need a holistic approach.
It won't be easy, but that shouldn't stop us putting crucial pressure on our leaders. This is my generation's mission – to make sure our children are born into a better and safer Israel than we were born into.
Voices from Palestine
Lawyer and former adviser to PLO negotiators
I'm not optimistic that anything positive will emerge from the talks. Our experience is very bitter. Israel used the seven-year period of negotiations between 1993 and 2000 to build and expand its settlements, doubling the population to 400,000. Now it is 600,000. My fear is that this is going to continue. Rather than a process of decolonisation, we will see additional colonisation.
Israel is also likely to use the talks process to gain economic and diplomatic benefits, as they have in the past.
The Palestinian side is focused on territory, but all the talk is based on Israel's definition of the West Bank, which excludes Jerusalem and other areas.
The negotiations are likely to be a huge time-wasting exercise – meetings to discuss the agenda of future meetings. If you want to kill something, form a committee.
Mahmoud Abbas has never devised another strategy than negotiations and is afraid of the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and its economy. An issue like this requires real leadership, and we don't have that on either side.
My prediction is these negotiations won't collapse, but they will probably die a slow death.
The talks have zero potential to produce a peace deal. Having said that, it will be interesting to see how they unravel given the inability of the US to affect the process until now in terms of changing reality on the ground.
The US has monopolised the process for the past 20 years. That process has failed multiple times. Now it comes riding in on a white horse thinking it can make a deal while ignoring the structural and serious damage done during that period.
The biggest risk is that John Kerry is looking for a deal, whereas the Palestinians are looking for the implementation of international law – and those are two very different things. And it would be a miracle if Israel fell in line with international law.
My fear is that the talks will drag on for the next 90 months, not nine months. The Palestinian side needs to be very realistic that they are not representing Palestinians under occupation; they need to represent all Palestinians, most of whom don't live under occupation but rather as refugees in the region. I feel the US is only interested in bettering the conditions for Palestinians under occupation and ignoring, except for lip service, the Palestinians in the refugee world.
Protest leader in West Bank village of Nabi Saleh
I am not optimistic. I don't think that the "peace process" or negotiations will solve the problems of the Palestinian people.
We have many years' experience of negotiations, and nothing has changed. Now they are talking about an economic package, but our problems are not about the economy but the occupation.
The rate of economic development just before the second intifada [Palestinian uprising, which began in 2000] was more rapid than it is today, but that didn't stop the intifada.
We need to make popular struggle and resistance an alternative to the failure of negotiations. People in my village are watching and waiting, but without expectation. The release of prisoners is very important for Palestinian society, but the numbers are few and it will take a long time. Meanwhile, the settlements will continue to grow.
The Palestinian leadership must change its policy. The problem is not with the people but the strategy. We need the occupation to end, but I don't feel this will happen in the near future.
We're not going to get anything concrete from these negotiations. We have got nothing apart from more settlements in the West Bank and continued lack of freedom to move between Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So we expect nothing positive from the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
In Gaza, most people aren't even following the news about the talks. Gaza is completely isolated. Why would you follow news of something that doesn't touch your reality? The negotiators are in a bubble, detached from the daily life of the people.
The Hamas government in Gaza refuses to negotiate with Israel, which is good because talks have proved to be useless over the years.
The alternative has always been there. We should get rid of both Fatah and Hamas, and then focus our energies on Israel and push forward a nationalistic agenda. This is not easy but it's possible, especially following the revolutions around the region.
There is a problem of corruption among our leaders. Palestine needs a new generation of intellectual figures who are capable of advancing our demands, not Israeli demands.
Director of independent human rights organisation Al-Haq
The negotiations completely disregard international law, human rights and justice. The rights of the Palestinian people to dignity, territorial sovereignty and self-determination cannot be subject to political negotiations.
Even if an agreement was possible tomorrow, there are minimum legal issues that cannot be ignored. For example, land swaps are against the norms and principles of international law. The main purpose of land swaps is to keep the settlements in Israeli hands. But the settlements have been built in occupied territory and are illegal.
There is also a real concern about a Palestinian compromise over joining international bodies as part of a pre-talks agreement. It is a fundamental right for the Palestinians to seek redress from the United Nations or international bodies, and not one that can be bargained away.
Political pragmatism is not a substitute for a legal framework, especially when one party is a superpower and the other is very weak. We have been saying this to the Palestinian leadership for more than 20 years. We need a new peace strategy based on international law. Attempts to sideline international law are likely to result in another round of failed talks and dashed hopes.
August 3, 2013
A Day’s Toil in the Suicide Bombers’ Graveyard
By AZAM AHMED
KABUL, Afghanistan — In a city with no shortage of hard jobs, Khwaja Naqib Ahmad lays claim to one of the toughest of all — burying the unclaimed dead.
Interred in his graveyard are orphans, homeless people and other nameless victims, who are sent off with a prayer and a tablet-shaped headstone. But increasingly the bodies that turn up here belong to another class of the unwanted: suicide bombers.
Mr. Ahmad has been a municipal government courier for the last five years, responsible for shuttling bodies between the morgue and his sloped and barren plot of rocky soil on the eastern edge of Kabul. It has been a period marked by a steady stream of suicide attacks, which were virtually unheard-of in 2001, when the war began.
The work has grown harder for Mr. Ahmad, exacting as much of an emotional toll as a physical one. He says virtually nothing of his work to strangers, seeking comfort in the Koran. The scent of decomposed flesh lingers on his clothes. In the winter, when the roads are impassable, he hoists the corpses on his shoulders and carries them. The cemetery sits on a slight hill overlooking an emerald lagoon, incongruously beautiful.
“I look at them as humans and treat their bodies with respect because I believe that they were full of hope and life when they were alive,” he said. “I do not think about what they do. I become sad when somebody cuts a tree, let alone when people kill each other.”
For years he has searched for a replacement, someone to handle the physical challenge — turning the unyielding earth in sun and snow — and the mental tax the work exacts. They all turn him down. So the 52-year-old father of eight with a salt-and-pepper beard carries on, often with the help of a friend.
Three times a week, he visits the site, situated just past a mud village on the way out of town. He comes to tend to the graves and to ensure that no one has tampered with his work. He lives in fear that the Taliban will come to reclaim the bodies of their bombers. Only once has a family tried to collect remains.
“Normally no one claims the bodies,” he said. “Most of these people don’t have families.”
Having made peace with the worst of his work, Mr. Ahmad has found ways around the grim details. Every time there is a suicide attack, he says, his colleagues circle his desk at the municipal center in central Kabul, smiles edging up their faces.
“My colleagues make fun of me: ‘Khwaja, be prepared, there is another attack!’ ” he said.
“What can you do?” he continued. “Afghanistan has been at war for the last 30 years. One of the ways we have survived is a sense of humor.”
Empathy for the authors of indiscriminate violence is scarce here, but Mr. Ahmad finds his humanity in Islam.
“Every single Muslim’s duty is to bury his Muslim brother, no matter how rich he is, poor he is or what social status he comes from,” he said. “To me, my job is important. I don’t care who I am burying. I see no difference between the addict or the bomber.”
Suicide attacks have remained somewhat steady since 2009, averaging about 150 a year, according to statistics from the NATO-led coalition. But the complexity of attacks and the number of bombers have increased.
Violence has been especially focused on Kabul this summer, as the insurgency targets the heart of the national government. At least a half-dozen major suicide attacks have rattled the city in the last three months, striking American convoys, international aid agencies, the Supreme Court and a hotel believed to house Western intelligence personnel.
Attacks come in many forms, and typically at the hands of young men. Often educated in madrasas in Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan, they have memorized religious scriptures day after day. The more sophisticated insurgent groups plan their attacks for months or longer, training their attackers in weapons and explosives before carrying out orchestrated assaults on high-value targets.
Some, like the bombers that attacked the Ariana Hotel in June, near the presidential palace, speak English and are well financed. In that attack, the insurgents drove vehicles outfitted to look armored. They wore American military uniforms and carried high-quality counterfeit coalition identification badges, according to coalition officials.
At the International Organization for Migration, an agency that has worked with the United Nations and another target this summer, six insurgents stormed the compound and fired rockets on it from neighboring rooftops, staging a six-hour battle in the heart of the city. For these long battles, they bring little to sustain themselves: often just water, pistachios and a pocketful of Pakistani rupees.
The insurgents usually fight to the death, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake. When the bloodshed ends, Mr. Ahmad is there to collect the bodies.
On a clear day last month, Mr. Ahmad and his colleague, Ghulam Sarwar, arrived at the cemetery to bury three anonymous bodies. Were they among the attackers who had recently carried out the assault on the Ariana Hotel? The men would not say, but often the bodies of attackers are kept for weeks as they undergo forensic examination, breaking with the Islamic tradition of burying the dead within 24 hours.
The corpses arrived in white shrouds, their stench faintly masked by a rose perfume. The men took the bodies to the top of the graveyard, where crude tombstones jut into the air like crooked teeth. White and blue latex gloves used to handle the departed covered the ground.
With a pickax and shovel, the men widened the pre-dug graves, raking stones from the earth the size of melons. Sweat poured from their brows.
They placed the bodies into the ground and covered them with the sun-bleached earth. When they finished, Mr. Ahmad tucked a flat black stone at the head of each grave and marked them with a number. The men poured water over the mounds, rubbed their hands and faces, and turned toward Mecca to pray.
Habib Zahori contributed reporting.
August 3, 2013
Somalis Face a Snag in Lifelines From Abroad
By NICHOLAS KULISH
NAIROBI, Kenya — Compared with the trillions of dollars flowing through the international financial system every day, the estimated $1.3 billion sent each year from small storefronts in Somali neighborhoods in places like London and Minneapolis to families back home in the Horn of Africa is a mere droplet.
In a country where 40 percent of the population depends on remittances from relatives abroad, however, these transactions are a lifeline. And because Somalia has little in the way of financial infrastructure, the money transfer companies that make them possible play a central role in keeping the financial ties to the diaspora open, a few hundred dollars at a time.
But in an echo of politically charged fights over aid that have vexed Somalia before, the same money transfer services that help keep children in school and elder relatives off the streets also can be used to send money to help finance dangerous groups like the Shabab, the feared Islamist militants who once controlled much of the country.
Humanitarian groups, politicians and Somalis themselves are now sounding the alarm over plans by the British bank Barclays to suspend the accounts of a number of money transfer companies used to send money to developing countries — rather than risk a run-in with regulators over potentially abetting the financing of terrorists or money laundering.
“Millions of people depend on the remittances from outside,” said Shukri Ismail, one of the founders of Candlelight, a nonprofit in the northern region of Somaliland. “If those remittances stop, it will be literally chaos.”
The looming cutoff, expected to occur next Saturday, comes at a time when more and more Somalis have returned from abroad to invest in their home country, build new businesses and jump-start the nation’s economy after years of chaos. In June, the International Monetary Fund established relations with Somalia for the first time in more than two decades.
Last week in Mogadishu, the capital, Somalis lined up at a branch of Dahabshiil, the largest money transfer business in Somalia and one of those facing a shutdown by Barclays. It was busier than usual for the Ramadan holiday.
A cutoff would be “a disaster and result in a new phase of hunger and famine,” said Abdinasir Jamal, who relies on money from his sister abroad to survive.
Activists, academics and politicians in Somalia and abroad have asked the British government to intercede with Barclays. In June, the Somali president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, appealed directly to the bank in a letter to keep the money transfer businesses’ accounts open.
Mo Farah, the British Olympic gold medalist born in Somalia, has lent his celebrity to the cause, asking for a 12-month extension before the cutoff. “Everyone following the issue understands that Barclays has a bank to run, but this decision could mean life or death to millions of Somalis,” Mr. Farah said in a statement.
The move by Barclays would affect not just Somalia but also countries like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Haiti. But Somalia is uniquely exposed because decades of violence and chaos have left it without a functioning banking system. If the money transfer businesses are shut down, experts say, the transfers will not go through other official channels but will be driven underground instead, making it harder to track money going to militant groups.
“The alternative is bulk cash smuggling, carrying suitcases of cash across the border from other places,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former terrorism finance analyst at the United States Treasury.
“If you’re trying to assist people on the ground in Somalia, you have to work with the same remittance houses that are committing violations and assisting groups like Al Shabab,” Mr. Schanzer said.
When the militant group’s clandestine division needed money to pay for a planned wave of assassinations of government officials late last year, the Shabab turned to supporters in the Somali community in Qatar for donations. Shabab operatives used Dahabshiil to send the funds back to Somalia, according to a United Nations report.
Many major American banks have already stopped working with Somali money transfer businesses. In May, a federal court in Minnesota sentenced two women to prison for sending money to the Shabab.
The problem of keeping resources out of the Shabab’s hands has bedeviled Somalia and its donors before. In recent years the United States, concerned that some Somali contractors working for the United Nations were diverting food and money to the Shabab, suspended millions of dollars of food aid, prompting an outcry from United Nations officials who said the decision cut rations to starving people.
“Leakage to Al Shabab is the cost of doing business in Somalia,” said a diplomat involved in Somalia issues.
Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy, a spokeswoman for Adeso, a humanitarian and development organization active in Somalia that has used money transfer businesses, including Dahabshiil, to distribute money in the country, said, “There’s no equivalent to Citibank that could receive those funds and distribute them.”
Western Union has only one office in Somalia — in the relatively stable Somaliland. Elsewhere, Somalis turn to companies like Dahabshiil, which operates in 286 locations around the country.
Abdirashid Duale, Dahabshiil’s chief executive, said his company had worked with Barclays for 15 years without incident. “We’re asking them to be fair and transparent,” he said. “We have never committed any violations or assisted any extremist groups.”
Barclays has come under pressure because it is one of the last banks in Britain providing services to the money transfer businesses. Efforts to find a new bank to work with have proved fruitless, Mr. Duale said, arguing that Dahabshiil follows compliance rules, requires identification and puts customer data through watch lists.
Barclays defended the action as a necessary compliance step. “It is recognized that some money service businesses don’t have the proper checks in place to spot criminal activity and could unwittingly be facilitating money laundering and terrorist financing,” the bank said in a statement. “This is solely about the company’s controls.”
Last December, the bank HSBC had to pay the American government a record fine of $1.9 billion to settle charges that it had worked with Saudi Arabian banks linked to terrorist organizations, enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder money and transferred money to nations under American sanctions. Last August, a New York regulator warned that he might revoke Standard Chartered Bank’s license after accusing it of helping Iran avoid sanctions.
Barclays has already been working to extricate itself from a series of scandals. Last year, the bank reached a $450 million settlement over the manipulation of benchmark interest rates, and it still faces an investigation into payments by Qatari investors in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.
The British government is “looking to really back the new government of Somalia with one hand, and the unintended consequences of these regulations is you could throw a lot more people into crisis,” said Ed Pomfret, Oxfam’s policy manager for Somalia. He said that while criticism had focused on Barclays, it was government regulators who needed to make changes to protect the businesses. “The regulations are basically defeating themselves,” Mr. Pomfret said.
Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, said Somalis would find a way to get money back home eventually.
“They have hundreds of creative ways of moving money, but it will be less efficient, it will be costlier,” Mr. Menkhaus said. “If Somalis start doing everything under the table, that’s bad for us, bad for them, bad for everybody.”
Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
08/02/2013 04:26 PM
Tackling Hardship: Beating FIFA at Its Own Game in South Africa
By Antje Windmann
'Amandla' is a relatively modest, German-run football school in a Cape Town township. But unlike many well-funded projects in South Africa sponsored by FIFA since the last World Cup, the camp changes the lives of thousands of children.
Cape Town becomes a hellish place just behind Table Mountain. Only a few kilometers from the villas of the wealthy is Khayelitsha Township, a sea of mildewed corrugated metal huts and portable toilets spread across the dusty landscape.
The township is home to more than one-and-a-half million people. Many are unemployed and hungry, and one in three residents is HIV positive. There is no running water, but there is plenty of violence in Khayelitsha, which has one of the world's highest crime rates. Muggings and rapes are part of everyday life in the slum, which sees an average of 12 murders a day.
Still, there is a place where the squalor is a little easier to endure -- a football pitch that looks as if it has dropped out of the sky, a strip of sun-bleached artificial turf, 40 by 80 meters (12 by 24 feet), surrounded by huts. A fence protects the children playing on the pitch from attacks. It is the only place in Khayelitsha where they have nothing to fear.
It's an ordinary Tuesday, and a great deal of shouting is going on. Four groups of 9-to-14-year-olds are practicing passing. The children listen attentively to their coaches. They are all barefoot, except two boys, who are sharing one pair of old sneakers. One boy is wearing the left shoe, the other the right.
Watching from the sidelines is Florian Zech, 26, a former boy scout and handball player from Chiemsee, a lake in Bavaria. In 2006, he volunteered in an orphanage in Khayelitsha. "Mister Flo," as they called him there, helped the children with their homework, drove sick children to the doctor and played football with the ones who weren't sick. "No one paid any attention to them after school," he says. "That's why the boys were joining gangs and attacking each other with machetes. And that's why the girls were getting pregnant at a young age."
As the months passed, more and more children wanted to play with Mister Flo. He started an orphans' league. Ten orphanages signed up for the first tournament. The unusual thing about it was that more points were awarded for teamwork, respect and anger management than for goals. "I underestimated the amount of work involved," says Zech, "but I also didn't expect it to be this successful."
He left South Africa soon afterwards to go to law school. But after six weeks in pristine Bavaria, he was drawn back to the dirty streets of Khayelitsha. "I couldn't forget the kids," he says, as he looks at the field and shakes his head. He himself can hardly believe how far the program has come.
Before the 2012 Summer Olympics, Zech received the Beyond Sport Award for the world's best project in a category called "Sport for Conflict Resolution." Will Lemke, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on Sport, praises the "holistic concept." Zech has also had the opportunity to explain to United States First Lady Michelle Obama and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu why his work is more sustainable that other development projects -- and why it differs from what the world of organized football is doing for the country.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) tied some glowing promises to the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. The World Cup would stimulate "the fight against poverty, illiteracy and disease," and FIFA would make a significant contribution. "Football is a school of life," FIFA President Joseph Blatter has repeatedly said since then.
Three years later, FIFA officials at their Zurich headquarters maintain that several programs have been successfully launched. The Legacy Trust, a FIFA fund for children and young people, has €45 million ($60 million) in funding. As part of another project, 20 Centers for 2010, health, education and football centers will be built in 20 poor communities in Africa under the Football for Hope program.
But many experts and social workers in South Africa have become critical of FIFA's commitment and are asking uncomfortable questions: To whom was money from the FIFA fund paid, and how much was paid? Why did it take three years to support the first projects? Who is finally going to repair the holes in the small Football for Hope pitch in Khayelitsha?
When Zech returned to Khayelitsha in 2007, it was with the goal of changing the lives of children, in addition to providing them with recreation. He designed a program to help address problems related to violence, HIV, school and family with the girls and boys on the football pitch. He wanted to teach them respect and a sense of responsibility, but most of all, he wanted to help them believe in themselves. "With a ball under their arms, they listen three times more closely," says Zech.
He called his project "Amandla," a word that means strength in the Zula and Xhosa languages. He coached the children on a gravel field until 2008, when a US foundation paid for the turf, at the edge of which he is now standing. "Every day has been World Cup day here since then," he says with a smile.
Since 2009, Zech has been running a program called Amandla EduFootball, together with Jakob Schlichtig, a management expert and fellow handball player, and 17 full-time employees. With the help of researcher, they have developed a method to measure the success of their work. "We want to prove that we are truly changing the children's lives," says Schlichtig.
Nowadays some 2,500 children, a third of them girls, come to the field every week. They are organized into 135 teams, with each team practicing twice a week. Some have been in the program for years. And that is what distinguishes Amandla from many other organizations: the coaches get to build up real relationships with their charges. They don't just know which players are particularly fast runners. They also know who is having problems at home or in school, and in addition to talking to the children about these problems, they also listen to them.
Zech points to a muscular young man in a yellow shirt. "None of this would work without guys like Bota." The 29-year-old is one of the 20 Amandla coaches. He wears a whistle around his neck, but until recently he was still carrying a pistol in his belt. His arms are covered with the scars of knife wounds. "Bota is a fluke," says Zech.
The former gangster has been enrolled in the state-approved "Youth Leadership Programme" since October. Over a two-year period, young people with strong leadership skills are trained to become positive role models for the children. While they might have been afraid of Bota in the past, they are now drawn to him. After passing practice, he explains to them why one always has a choice in life. He ends many sentences with the words: "You understand?" -- as if he were handing a relay baton to the children. "Yes, coach!" they shout in response.
Bota had seen an Amandla poster in the previous summer. "Do you want to take responsibility?" the poster read. It triggered something inside him, he says. "Hey man, I never wanted to be the guy with the gun. My friends are in prison or dead."
Amandla reaches out to children like Palesa, 9, and Nicholas, 13. Their stories resemble those of many in Khayelitsha. The father is usually dead, absent or in prison. The mother is unemployed, sick or dead.
Palesa's family lives on about €150 ($198) a month. Her grandmother sometimes cleans an oceanfront villa for €14 a day, but she spends much of her pay on travel costs.
Nicholas, a delicate-looking boy, has been with Amandla since 2010. He is currently under pressure to join the gang on his street. "They don't take no for an answer," he says. He wants to ask Bota for advice on what to do.
Making No Sense
Zech's project had a budget of €280,000 last year. FIFA collected €2.8 billion in revenues for the marketing of the World Cup in South Africa alone. It spends only a fraction of its revenues on social programs.
There are leather armchairs worth as much as a midrange car in the office of the FIFA secretary general in Zürich. Jerome Valcke is sitting in one of them. His face is tanned, and he is wearing a light-blue cashmere sweater. The native Frenchman lists all the benefits South Africa has derived from the World Cup, including publicity, tourists and infrastructure. He also talks about what FIFA is doing there today. "Football for Hope is the best and strongest campaign we have ever had," he asserts.
And then, he says, there is also the 20 Centers for 2010 project. He raises one hand and says: "There's a health center." Then he raises the other hand: "There's an education center." Valcke smiles. "And in the middle is a football pitch." The football pitch, he explains, is what is used to entice the children, so as to explain to them why it's important to use condoms. Valcke looks very pleased with himself, as if he has just revealed a fantastic trick.
So far, only 12 of these 20 centers are in operation. One is the FIFA pitch in Khayelitsha. The artificial turf is much smaller than the Amandla pitch, and there are large holes in it. On this afternoon, two teams are playing each other, while 50 other boys lean against the fence. "Only those children who play in the club have access to the pitch," says José Cabral of Western Cape University in Cape Town, who is critical of the program.
A native Brazilian, Cabral has been studying sports as an educational instrument for about 20 years. He believes that the FIFA pitch in Khayelitsha is a bad investment. "Four hundred kids can play on a large, cheap tartan field," he says. "This shows me that the officials are interesting in training a new elite, not in the lasting social benefit for the masses."
Cabral's favorite example is a township near Stellenbosch, which received a stadium as part of the World Cup. There are 14,000 people living in the slum. Two football clubs were allowed to train on the artificial turf. "The children from the street aren't welcome there either," he says. "Didn't anyone ask whether this makes any sense at all?"
FIFA is no longer repairing the holes on its pitch in Khayelitsha. It has passed on the responsibility to someone else. It paid for the pitch and the building, while another organization runs the operation. Its employees give talks about HIV in school. Then they let the students dribble the ball around some traffic cones, with each cone representing a risk of infection. After that, the employees update their website to reflect the number of children they have educated about AIDS. Perhaps the programs are more effective elsewhere, but in Khayelitsha, this is what FIFA's lasting commitment looks like.
"HIV education is a very complex issue," says Zech. "To ensure that they protect themselves, the children need to strengthen their personalities. To do that, you have to build connections with them and help them answer questions like: Why am I unique? What do I want to achieve one day?"
Since the World Cup, the government has had almost no money left over for social work. The football party cost South Africa €5 billion. And today? Cape Town's €450 million stadium is usually empty, while the city groans under the €4 million in annual maintenance costs. The roughly 55,000 seats have been covered with plastic to protect them from the elements. It was recently discovered that the construction companies had inflated the costs of building the stadiums. In Zürich, FIFA official Valcke praises the Cape Town stadium for its environmental sustainability.
FIFA spends about €70 million on so-called World Cup sustainability programs. The South African Football Association received €14 million for its new building, €7 million for team buses and €4 million for football development projects. The remaining €45 million went into FIFA's Legacy Trust. €5.6 million was only just awarded to aid projects this spring. Valcke explains why it took three years: "The establishment of this type of foundation was a first in the history of the football World Cup. It took a while, because of the complex administrative process. In addition, we had to review thousands of applications and sort through a lot of nonsense."
Zech and Cabral had also applied for a portion of the FIFA millions. They didn't even receive rejection letters.
The process makes Zech suspicious, although he doesn't want to chide FIFA. He has received a small part of his budget, $30,000, from a different FIFA pot since 2011. But most of his funding comes from private donors, companies and foundations, such as those run by footballers Philipp Lahm and Oliver Kahn.
On a second Amandla pitch that is about to be built, roughly 1,500 children from hostile townships will play football with each other. "We want to have 10 of these pitches by 2020," says Zech.
The week on the field in Khayelitsha ends with the night league. The adults play on teams with names like "Bundesliga" and "Borussia." The tournament is a distraction. Many receive their weekly wages on Fridays. Instead of spending it on crystal meth or alcohol, about 400 men prefer to play football. "Friday nights have gotten a lot quieter since then," says the police chief.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Kevin Rudd calls election to decide 'who the Australian people trust'
Tony Abbott says 7 September poll is about which party is 'fair dinkum' and capable of credible economic management
Lenore Taylor, political editor
theguardian.com, Sunday 4 August 2013 08.56 BST
Kevin Rudd is appealing to Australians to trust him to lead the country through uncertain economic times in an election to be held on 7 September, which he claims to enter as the underfunded underdog.
Tony Abbott said the poll was about which party was “fair dinkum” and capable of offering stability and credible economic management.
Foreshadowing a leader-focused campaign based on voters knowing him “warts and all” and trusting him on policy, Rudd challenged Tony Abbott to a series of debates starting on Monday night and claimed the Coalition was preparing a massive “negative” advertising spend funded by “vested interests” including tobacco companies.
“This election will be about who the Australian people trust to best lead them through the difficult economic challenges that lie ahead,” Rudd said, as he called the vote just six weeks after being re-installed as Labor leader.
Despite his appeal for positive politics, Rudd attacked Abbott directly, accusing him of representing “wall to wall negativity … and three-word slogans” which couldn’t solve any of the complex problems facing the nation.
He challenged Abbott to debate him on every television station, starting on Monday night, saying he was “in like Flynn” and assumed Abbott had refused previous challenges because he was “uncomfortable with policy”, particularly economic policy.
And Rudd made an unorthodox direct appeal to voters for money.
“The Liberal party has been running around the place for three years raising a bucketload of money in order to get Mr Abbott into the Lodge … some of them vested interests and, amazingly and appallingly, tobacco companies,” he said. The Coalition would “outspend the Labor party massively in this campaign”, he added.
Rudd also sought to counter some of the Coalition’s most potent attack points, including Labor’s policy mistakes and deep internal divisions, saying: “We’ve made our mistakes in the past, most governments do. The key is to learn from the experience.” He attacked the claim that the country is facing a “debt crisis” which he said should be “nailed” as false.
Signalling that he wanted the poll to be a referendum on Labor’s six years in office, Abbott said the election was “really about who is more fair dinkum. Who can you rely on to build a better future, the people who have been stable and consistent over the past three years or a government that has been wracked by division and dysfunction?”
Abbott told voters they needed to decide whether they “really want three more years like the last six” and pledged he would not do any deals with minor parties and would not lead a minority government.
He said it was Labor that had no plan to manage the economy, something which became “crystal clear” when it responded to the deteriorating economic conditions revealed on Friday with new taxes.
“This was a massive admission of failure … What they said on Friday was that they can’t manage the budget and therefore they can’t run the country,” he said.
And he said he was “more than happy” to debate Rudd more than once during the campaign.
With both sides promising to bring the budget back to surplus as quickly as possible and Friday’s economic statement showing growth slowing to 2.5% this year, unemployment rising to 6.25% and government revenue dropping sharply, neither party will be able to afford or justify big spending promises unless they also make potentially unpopular savings to pay for them.
The election was called after Labor clinched a last-minute agreement with Victoria on its Gonski schools funding package over the weekend and persuaded Western Australia to participate in the pilot phase of the national disability care scheme.
In recent weeks Rudd and Abbott have each moved to neutralise their opponents’ advantages. Rudd claimed to have “terminated” the carbon tax by bringing forward the start of a floating price and announced he would send all asylum seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
Abbott claimed he was now on a “unity ticket” with Rudd over the Gonski model for schools funding because he would provide the same federal money for its first four years. The Coalition had previously dismissed Gonski as a “con”.
Pollsters and bookies had seen the election result as a foregone conclusion before Rudd’s return to the Labor leadership less than six weeks ago. Labor was polling a dismal 42 or 43% of the two-party preferred vote until then. But the polls have now narrowed to closer to 50-50, paving the way for a close election fought out in marginal seats, particularly in New South Wales – where the Coalition hopes to gain seats – and Queensland, where Labor has its best chances. Bookmakers still favour the Coalition to win.
The Coalition is well ahead on the fundraising necessary for expensive election advertising. In 2010 Labor spent $14m on election ads and the Coalition $12m, but in 2013 the Coalition is believed to have the capacity to significantly outspend Labor. In an email on Sunday telling Labor supporters “it’s on”, Rudd also asked each of them to donate $5. The Coalition was also seeking small donations.
The Greens enter the campaign polling slightly under their 2010 result and are concentrating on maintaining their balance of power position in the Senate and Adam Bandt’s lower house seat of Melbourne.
The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said that while the major parties “continue to fight each other in a race to the bottom on important issues like climate change and asylum seekers, the Greens are standing up for what matters”.
The 2013 poll is also complicated by a number of minor parties, with Bob Katter’s Katter’s Australian party and mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United party likely to attract votes in Queensland and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange running for a Victorian Senate seat from his exile in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives. Labor now holds 71, the Coalition holds 72 and seven are held by independents. But the Coalition is almost certain to win the rural seats of New England and Lyne, where the independent incumbents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are retiring, improving their starting position. The other lower house seats held by independents are Fisher, now held by Peter Slipper, the Liberal who deserted the party to become Speaker, which the Coalition is favoured to win; Dobell, held by former Labor MP Craig Thomson, which is marginal; the Tasmanian seat of Denison held by Andrew Wilkie; Bob Katter’s Queensland seat of Kennedy and Bandt’s seat of Melbourne. Labor will be trying to wrest back Melbourne and Denison.
Forty Senate positions will be decided in the half-Senate poll, six of the twelve senators in each state, the ACT’s two senators and the two positions in the Northern Territory. More than 14 million Australians are eligible to vote in what will be the 44th time the country has elected the House of Representatives. There are now 55 registered political parties eligible to run candidates, including the majors and some more obscure organisations such as the Coke in the Bubblers party.
August 3, 2013
Thais Cast a Wide Net for Diverse Tourists
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — Tolerance, the Thais have learned, is good for business.
In recent advertising and marketing campaigns, the government here in “the land of smiles” has actively gone after categories of tourists that for reasons of political sensitivity or outright discrimination are shunned in some neighboring countries.
It is the only Asian country, travel industry analysts say, that has a government-sponsored campaign — “Go Thai. Be Free.” — aimed at gay and lesbian travelers.
Thailand, which is overwhelmingly Buddhist, is also marketing itself to Muslims as a place where food prepared according to Islamic precepts is readily available and where “halal spas” offer separate facilities for women and men. All the leading shopping malls and the beach resort city of Pattaya have Muslim prayer rooms — a far cry from the widespread anti-Muslim feelings in neighboring Myanmar.
The country’s efforts to welcome a broad array of travelers dovetail with longstanding laissez-faire attitudes and traditions of hospitality. But inclusiveness also pays: tourist arrivals have surged in recent years, notably from many predominantly Muslim countries, and the 22 million visitors last year were double the level of a decade ago. Tourism earned the country more than $31 billion last year, according to government statistics.
“We live in a country that is open and pretty liberal — I can’t think of a market that we wouldn’t welcome,” said Wisoot Buachoom, the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in the northern city of Chiang Mai, which has seen a rise in Muslim travelers in recent years.
Thailand’s campaigns might not raise eyebrows in the West. But among its immediate neighbors, laws against homosexuality and religious or ethnic hostilities keep some tourists away.
Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority countries, bar Israelis from visiting for political reasons. Thailand, by contrast, has long been one of the most popular destinations for Israeli travelers, with 120,000 Israelis visiting Thailand in 2012.
Among Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors — Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore — some or all forms of sexual contact between men are illegal, although the laws are loosely or selectively enforced. In Malaysia, the leader of the political opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, has been put on trial twice for sodomy — and twice acquitted.
In response to questions sent by e-mail, Malaysia’s tourism authority said it welcomed tourists “without any hesitation, regardless their sexuality.” But in the same e-mail, the tourism official, who gave her name only as Nadia, said, “Malaysia, as an Islamic country, is against the homosexuality.”
Thailand’s gay and lesbian campaign, which began two years ago from the Thai tourism promotion office in New York, features a Web site that offers advice to gay travelers, links to a gay travel blog and a promotional video that features gay couples traveling around Thailand and intones, “Go for the freedom.”
“Thailand welcomes the gay community,” says a message displayed at the end of the video.
“We go after the affluent gay traveler,” said Steve Johnson, a marketing manager who oversees the Thai government’s gay and lesbian campaign from its New York tourism office. Gay men and lesbians often have high levels of disposable income, he said.
There are no statistics on the number of gay travelers in Thailand, but a survey carried out by Boutique, a London-based agency specializing in gay marketing, rated Thailand as the “hottest destination” for 2013, ahead of the United States and Argentina, which were ranked second and third.
Uwern Jong, managing director of Boutique, said a conservative estimate for the value of gay tourism in Thailand last year was $1.6 billion. He pointed out that in February, in honor of Valentine’s Day, the immigration authorities established a faster lane for couples at Bangkok’s main international airport, Suvarnabhumi. The policy specifically included same-sex couples, he said.
At a bar on a small side street in Silom, a district of Bangkok that is popular with gay men, Alex Cross, an Australian gay traveler who came to Thailand with his partner, said he enjoyed visiting Thailand because “I feel there is no judgment here.”
“We’ve been to countries where it’s illegal to be gay,” Mr. Cross said. But in Thailand it is common to see gay couples, local and foreign, holding hands in shopping malls and other public places. “Here we can express ourselves,” he said.
A short drive away, at a mosque near the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Huzam Kalam, a Muslim flight attendant from Sri Lanka who was on his third visit to Bangkok, expressed a similar sentiment. “I don’t feel like I’m out of place here,” Mr. Kalam said.
As part of the rituals of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he was ending his daytime fast at Haroon Mosque, which at 115 years old is one of the oldest in Bangkok. The mosque is nestled between a Christian high school and a Buddhist temple.
A video, “Muslim Friendly Thailand,” posted on Facebook by the Thai tourism authority’s Dubai office, which was set up in 2007, shows Muslim families touring the country, shopping, visiting amusement parks and enjoying Middle Eastern-style food.
Thailand’s efforts to lure Muslim travelers stand in contrast with anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar, which after years of military rule is trying to revive its tourism industry. Rampaging Buddhist mobs in Myanmar have killed scores of Muslims in a number of towns and villages over the past year, and immigration officials at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, are “monitoring” visitors from Muslim countries, according to a report in the Myanmar news media in mid-July.
Like Myanmar, Thailand has struggled with violence between Muslims and Buddhists. A Muslim insurgency in its far-south provinces has left 5,000 people dead over the past decade.
But Fazal Bahardeen, chief executive of Crescentrating, a company based in Singapore that rates destinations on convenience and friendliness to Muslims, says Thailand has been successful in convincing the outside world that the insurgency is being carried out by a small and relatively isolated group.
The company ranks Thailand as the third-best “halal-friendly holiday destination” of countries outside the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The survey is based on the availability of halal food, prayer facilities and other manifestations of sensitivity to Muslim needs. (Singapore, which has a sizable Muslim minority, was the top-rated destination, followed by Bosnia.)
Thais are “inherently hospitable people,” Mr. Bahardeen said.
“I keep telling tourist organizations: it’s Marketing 101,” he said. “You’re spending your own money,” he said of foreign travelers. “Why would you want to go to a place that doesn’t welcome you?”
Maor Engel, an Israeli graphic designer with the Bangkok Tourist Center, where about 90 percent of clients are Israeli, said: “In other countries, they will ask you where are you from and why are you here or your sexual orientation. Here they don’t care. They just don’t care.
“You just come here with money, that’s it,” he said. “That’s what they care about.”
Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.