Cyprus: holiday suntrap of sea, sun, sand, food banks and desperation
As tourists stay away – apart from Russians – islanders fear for their families and their future
Rupert Neate in Larnaca
The Observer, Sunday 18 August 2013
"How's business?" the taxi driver shouts, echoing the question. "It's terrible! Terrible!" Chris Georgeo, 52, is at the wheel of his beaten-up minibus negotiating the tight roads of Larnaca, the holiday resort on the south-east coast of Cyprus, but he still takes both hands off the wheel to give a double thumbs down.
"We can't survive, there are no jobs," he says. "There are far less tourists. They're scared to come here after the TV reports showing people not being able to get money out of the banks."
In March, Cyprus's banks froze all withdrawals and savers with the Bank of Cyprus later learned they had lost 47.5% of their savings above €100,000 (£86,000), while savers with Laiki Bank lost all their money above €100,000 as part of a deal to secure a €10bn (£8.6bn) bailout from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Earlier it had been feared that all savers, no matter how much they had in the bank, would be forced to surrender a slice of their money. There had been panic. "Tourists are what makes this island: without them we have nothing," Georgeo says.
It is the height of the tourist season and the latest figures from the Cyprus Central Bank say visitor numbers in June fell by 6.6% to 308,000. But anecdotal reports suggest things are far worse than that number would indicate.
"Look, it is just you in my bus," Georgeo says. "Last year it would have been full, now it's just you … My boss won't make money. He'll cut my pay again, or go bust."
Even if he keeps his job, Georgeo, who is going both bald and grey and whose jeans have so many holes I could tell you what sort of underwear he was wearing, says he "can't afford life". His monthly pay has been cut from €1,100 to €800: "I've got to pay rent, electricity, water, food – which keeps going up – and have two daughters at university in England. I've got to send them money. But I can't."
It's a similar story everywhere. Unemployment in July officially stood at 17.5%, at a record of more than 48,000 people. Surveys suggest the true figure is closer to 70,000, accounting for those who do not register for unemployment benefit, which is stopped after just six months.
Cypriot unemployment is the third- highest in the EU, behind Greece (26.9%) and Spain (26.3%). This compares with just 4.6% in Austria, 5.4% in Germany and 7.8% in the UK.
As in other troubled areas of Europe, young people are particularly badly affected. Official youth unemployment stood at 37.8% last month, up from 26.4% last month and far above the 13.8% long-term average. The official unemployment rate – which is 32% higher than this time last year – is likely to spike far higher at the end of the summer season because thousands are employed in temporary tourism-related jobs.
Cyprus has entered its third year of recession, with GDP showing a 5.4% decline in the second quarter compared with last year. Tourism accounts for almost a third of the island's GDP.
Maria Eracleous, a British-born Cypriot single mother, has just got a job 10 months after being one of hundreds laid off by Larnaca airport – the country's busiest because the airport in the capital, Nicosia, has been closed since the 1974 Turkish invasion and remained in a United Nations buffer zone for years.
"It's much, much less money, but at least I have a job – half of my friends are unemployed," says Eracleous, who earns €700 a month as a receptionist at the Amorgos boutique hotel set back from Larnaca's beach behind two larger 1970s tower block hotels. "But I worry about how long it will last. Lots of immigrants will work for less. If I make it to the end of the season, that'll be a relief, but then what will I do in the winter?"
Eracleous came to Cyprus in the good times of 2008 to be with the father of her 14-year-old son, but now the strain is beginning to show. And that worries her too. "We still have to offer good holidays, we still have to make people happy," she says. She pauses as a tanned British couple in vests, shorts and sandals approach the reception desk, and breaks into a bright white smile. "We still have to smile, at all times."
Zivile, a 26-year-old receptionist at Sun Hall Beach hotel, the tallest hotel lining the beach,, says the rooms are 30% empty despite it being the middle of the peak season: "We're not busy, it's very quiet. People have decided not to come, they know it's not so good here. They have probably decided to go somewhere else, somewhere cheaper. Because of the euro, we can't be that cheap."
On the waterfront, a group of elderly men are playing harmonicas for tourists outside the unfortunately named Hobo's Steak House. They look like they might be homeless. In the restaurant there are customers at only 12 of more than 50 tables. Down the strip, the Times bar is just one of several bars and shops boarded up. The Paradiso beach bar is open, but there are no customers.
"Normally, this would be buzzing," says 23-year-old barman Vassilis Koursaris. "Now there's no one. There must be 70% less tourists."
Koursaris, who is Cyprus's top archer and training to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics, says that even when there are customers they don't spend as much: "People used to spend big and not worry about money. Now they buy one drink and drink it slowly."
Last weekend, he says, the bar made only €2,000 on Friday and Saturday nights combined: "Last year we would make €10,000 easy on one Friday."
That means less cash for Koursaris, who is back in Cyprus for the holidays – he is studying in Russia to become a university athletics coach. His monthly salary is €820; last year it was €1,200.
He says other highly trained Cypriots would refuse to work for so little, "and that's the problem with this country… people don't want to work hard or do menial jobs. They think if they've studied they should be able to walk straight into a good job.
"People are used to having lots of money, and employing people from other countries. They have 'their pride'," he says, mocking the Cypriot accent. "It's not pride, it's stupidity. They are crybabies. They need to get with reality."
The army of migrant labour, meanwhile, is demonstrating its grasp of reality by leaving in droves. George Psaras, head of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce branch in Larnaca, says "lots and lots" of workers from Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Sri Lanka and Africa have already gone home: "And the summer is a relief from unemployment. Already, there are food banks across the country – Cyprus has never had them before."
He says most of the 2,000 people registered for Larnaca's food bank are recent immigrants. He is unable to look up the official emigration statistics because his office on the fourth floor of tower block in the "real town centre" of Larnaca lacks a computer.
Zivile, the Lithuanian receptionist at the Sun Hall Beach Hotel, is moving on. "There is talk about improving conditions and salary, but it is just talk. There are no opportunities here," she says.
Goriana, a 35-year-old Bulgarian assistant at the Traditional Taste tourist shop, says: "It is too difficult for Bulgarian people now. We don't have jobs. If we do, it is for no money. They [Cypriots] don't like us any more. Life is too difficult. I'm hungry, my children are hungry."
It's a similar, if slightly more upbeat, story in Paphos, on the western side of the island. Elianka, a waitress at the all- inclusive upmarket Cypria Marias 300- room resort, where 20-30% of rooms are empty, says: "It's not so good here any more. I want to move to England, or Italy, where I can make more money."
UK tourists say the crisis didn't put them off coming to Cyprus, but many booked their holidays long before the banking crisis this spring.
"It's really beautiful, but it is much quieter than I was expecting," says Gillian Jones, a 60-year-old cook from Neath, south Wales. "You don't have to get up early to reserve a lounger. I guess some people might not have come because of the news. But we'd booked already – maybe it'll hit them next year more."
While Larnaca and Paphos, traditionally favoured by the British bucket and spade brigade, are quieter, the opposite can be said of Limassol, the island's second city, and the party resort of Ayia Napa.
"It's the Russians," says Christos Vasiliou, head of advisory at accountants KPMG Cyprus, who is on holiday with his family in Napa. "Two or three years ago nearly all the tourists were Brits: now you hear Russian in the street."
Most Russians head for Limassol – nicknamed Limassolgrad – where, Vasiliou says, "all the nice houses and villas are owned by Russians".
Russians favour Cyprus because they do not need a visa to travel, it boasted a top income tax rate of 30% until 2011 (now 35% on earnings above €60,000), and because of its formerly relaxed financial services regulation. Big Russian investors in Limassol and other areas lost a lot in the "haircuts" imposed on savings – the money will be converted into shares in Bank of Cyprus, which swallowed Laiki – and were "very angry", Vasiliou says. "But they are still here and more of them are coming, and it's very important for Cyprus that they do."
Official tourism figures show the number of Russians entering the country rose by 20.6% in June to 96,600, nearing the numbers of Brits – down 13% to 111,000 but still the largest contingent.
Russians are so prevalent in Limassol that hotel staff are often refused jobs if they don't speak Russian as well as English and Greek. Marta Vachnadze, a 24-year-old receptionist at the Poseidonia beach hotel in Limassol's not-so-little "Little Russia", says 95% of guests are "Russians, rich Russians".
On the patio enjoying the sweeping views across the Mediterranean, Alessandro, 28, and Khalid, 29, are some of the very few Cypriots lounging among the Russians. "The Cypriots didn't like the Russians, now they love them," says Alessandro. "I'm an accountant, and 99% of the companies I audit are Russians. We need them. Anyone with money – please come."
ONLY THE LUCKY ONES CAN SELL THEIR HOMES
"Larnaca, the place to be!" screams the hoarding outside the Cyprus Dream Homes estate agent in the centre of Cyprus's third-largest city. But almost all the adverts in the window have big "reduced" stickers. Some homes have had their prices cut by 30-40%.
"People are desperate to sell," says Christina Alexandrou, 27, managing director of the Larnaca branch of the estate agent. "They can't afford to live; they have to sell their home, and if they want to sell it they will have to cut their prices."
She has recently sold a three-bedroom house near the beach for €320,000 (£275,000). Five months ago it had been on the market for €500,000.
Figures from the Cypriot central bank show house prices in Larnaca dropped by 3.5% in the first three months of the year, with apartments down 5.6%. Prices across the island have declined by 13% since 2010. Alexandrou says the real declines are much steeper. She describes those who can sell as "the lucky ones".
"Other people are desperate to sell their homes, but they can't at these prices – their mortgages are far bigger. They are stuck," she says. "It must be scary, as they can't afford the mortgage payments. There will be a wave of repossessions."
Maureen Morgan, a 61-year-old retired GlaxoSmithKline employee who moved from west London to a village near Larnaca five years ago, reckons her house has gone down in value by at least 20%, but she's not concerned: "I've moved here. I live here now, I've only been back once. It's a better life here, and my pension goes much further."
IAAF makes Swedish ‘gay rights’ high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro repaint rainbow nails
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 17, 2013 11:12 EDT
Swedish high jumper Emma Green-Tregaro has repainted her nails after being warned by the IAAF that the rainbow colours she sported in qualification in support of gay rights were a breach of regulations.
Russian pole vault gold medallist Yelena Isinbayeva has provoked a furore at the World Athletics Championships over her outspoken anti-gay remarks, which she later tried to play down saying she was “misunderstood” and opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.
And she had called Green-Tregaro “unrespectful” to Russia after painting her nails in the colours of the rainbow flag that symbolises support for gay rights while competing in Moscow, a move that garnered acclaim elsewhere in the world.
Anders Albertsson, general secretary of the Swedish athletics federation, said before Saturday’s high jump final that they had talked with track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, over the issue and Green-Tregaro had revarnished her nails.
“We have been informally approached by the IAAF saying that this is by definition, a breach of the regulations. We have informed our athletes about this,” Albertsson said.
“The code of conduct clearly states the rules do not allow any commercial or political statements during the competition.”
Albertsson added that he had not put pressure on Green-Tregaro to change the colour of her fingernails, but “understood from Swedish media her nails are now red”.
“If she knows she might be breaking the rules, that’s a decision she takes, we don’t have any objections on how they paint their fingernails,” Albertsson said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in June that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors. But activists say it can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
Fears it could be used against participants at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have sparked calls for a boycott of the event in some quarters and Russian officials have said all athletes will have to obey the law at the Games.
The Christian Science Monitor
Ancient mammal beat the dinosaurs, was outdone by rodents
By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / August 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm EDT
Some 66 million years ago, an entire ecosystem – one packed with the largest animals that ever lived – was torn from the planet in a catastrophic event often pinned on a rogue meteor. But not everything died. The non-avian dinosaurs were gone, but ancient crocodiles soldiered on. So did some birds and some fish.
And so too did some of the meekest-looking of that ancient ecosystem’s animals: the multituberculates, a lineage of small, ratlike mammals that originated some 170 million years ago and lasted for about 135 million years, before finally succumbing to natural selection’s pruning shears.
Scientists have now recovered the oldest complete skeleton ever found from that lineage, a 160-million-year-old fossil called Rugosodon eurasiaticus. Found in Liaoning province, in northeastern China, Rugosodon is a telling data point in scientists’ effort to plumb the stops and starts – the roots and tree tips and dead-end buds in-between – in the mammalian evolutionary tree, which tops out with the three modern mammal lineages familiar to us.
In that complex tree, there are big questions: Where did the features we associate with modern mammals first evolve? What foreign-looking attributes and behaviors appeared in the animals that were pruned from that tree? Why did multituberculates make it through the mass extinction event but not to the modern age?
Rugosodon does not deliver a solid answer to those questions, but its discovery does begin to pull back some of the thick branch-work to let scientists peer into the mammalian tree, says Zhe-Xi Luo, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and an author on the paper, published in Science.
Rugosodon, a petite, rodent-like animal, has several features that turn up in modern mammals. Most notable among them are its flexible, 180-degree-turning ankles, the earliest known examples of the hyper-mobile ankle. That means that the anklebones found in some modern marsupials, including opossums, existed at least 160 million years ago.
And that anklebone, a universal feature in all multituberculates, might also be a clue as to how these ancient mammals managed to proliferate around the ancient world to such numbers that the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period could not obliterate all of them. Perhaps, that versatile anklebone was an adaptive feature, one that was re-purposed again and again to support whatever niche the multituberculates were called upon to fill, Luo said.
“Multituberculates were very, very successful, says Dr. Luo. “When the big, clunky dinosaurs got wiped out, multituberculates managed to hang on.”
But the multituberculates did not survive everything: the lineage went extinct around 35 million years ago, just about the time that the modern rodent’s lineage emerged. It’s possible that rodents, who are better breeders than multituberculates, could have out-competed the more ancient mammals, Luo said. “It’s a very puzzling case.”
The paper follows a recent paper in Nature that Luo also co-authored, describing a pre-mammal, Megaconus. That 165-million-years-old precursor to modern mammals suggested that mammal characteristics, such as fur, well predate the existence of actual mammals.
Is Voyager 1 really out of the solar system?
By Edward Helmore, The Guardian
Saturday, August 17, 2013 18:47 EDT
Scientists split over whether NASA probe has finally left the solar system after 36 years
It’s 36 years since Voyager 1 was dispatched in 1977 on a mission to send back images of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere and volcanic eruptions on one of its moons, Io. Then it was due to travel on to Saturn to examine that planet’s intricate system of rings and moons. But after travelling more than 11bn miles, where is Voyager now? No one, it seems, knows for sure.
NASA scientists including Edward Stone, the father of the programme at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, say Voyager 1 has yet to pass beyond the reach of our sun’s radiation. But a controversial study published last week in the Astrophysical Journal claims NASA scientists misinterpreted magnetic field data and the satellite passed beyond the boundary known as the heliosheath a year ago. Put another way, Voyager 1 has left the solar system.
According to Marc Swisdak, an astrophysics researcher at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, Voyager 1 made that giant leap on 27 July 2012, when it recorded a permanent drop in heliosphere-produced particles and an increase in galactic cosmic rays from outside the solar system.
“Our three lines of data are consistent with Voyager being outside the solar system,” Swisdak told the Observer last week. “There’s a class of particles generated within the solar system and we’re not seeing them any more. Then there’s the question of the magnetic field. You can get outside the solar system without seeing too much of a shift in the data.” As Voyager clears the distortion, he says, the magnetic data will begin to conform.
“This is the first opportunity to take actual direct measurements of the particles and the magnetic fields,” said Swisdak. “Instead of a indirect, complicated chains of arguments, we can say what’s actually out there – and that’s something rare in astronomy. Voyager is allowing us to see what’s really out there.”
NASA has yet to confirm the finding. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology, led by Stone, believe the craft is travelling through a mysterious region at the edge of the heliosphere. They have said they will know Voyager has left the solar system when magnetic fields emanate from the long arms of our galaxy, not the sun.
But after running 100,000 processor hours of computer simulations on a Berkeley supercomputer called Hopper, Swisdak’s team claim NASA is failing to account for “magnetic reconnection” – when opposing magnetic field lines come together, snap and form new connections. They hypothesise that the magnetic fields of the sun and of interstellar space join in “magnetic islands” that make the border uneven.
Their study echoes claims made earlier this year – and dismissed by NASA – in the journal of the American Geophysical Union that Voyager had travelled outside the solar system. This time NASA has taken a more measured approach. “The Voyager 1 spacecraft is exploring a region no spacecraft has ever been to before,” said Stone. “We will continue to look for any further developments over the coming months and years as Voyager explores an uncharted frontier.”
Conceived of to take advantage of a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that occurs once every 175 years, NASA’s original programme was designed for a “Grand Tour” of the solar system by harnessing the gravity of one planet to swing to the next. The mission’s two probes, Voyagers 1 and 2, used satellites designed to last just five years. Yet they sail on, at 55,000km/h, their cameras shut down and using only essential instruments to ration power from their plutonium batteries that are expected to last until around 2020.
Scientists have estimated that in 40,000 years each spacecraft will be in the neighbourhood of other stars and about two light years from the sun.
Famously, each carries a phonograph record – a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc – containing 115 images and a variety of natural sounds and spoken greetings from Earth in 55 languages, along with messages from the then US president, Jimmy Carter, and UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim.
Leaving the solar system, Stone told Scientific American, will be “a milestone in human activity”.
Both Voyagers will likely outlive Earth, he added: when, billions of years from now, the sun swells into a red giant, the Voyagers, albeit without power, will continue on course for the unknown.
Swisdak says: “Nothing comes close to Voyager in terms of interplanetary missions. They wanted to look at Jupiter and Saturn. Then, using a little wizardry, they got Voyager 2 to go by Uranus and Neptune. But nobody ever dreamed we’d get a look at interstellar space.”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
[Image via Wikipedia Commons]
In the USA...
Al-Jazeera set to tackle U.S. market with ‘long-form reporting of stories’ ignored by mainstream media
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 17, 2013 9:16 EDT
With a cast of TV news stars, deep pockets and an ambitious agenda, Al-Jazeera launches its US news channel on Tuesday, aiming to shake up the broadcast journalism market stateside.
The US cable channel will reach more than 40 million households and vastly expands the footprint of the Qatar-based media group, despite questions about how it will be received by American viewers.
Al-Jazeera America’s audience is likely to start out small, but its bosses hope to have a big impact when it competes against already established brands such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
Americans will be able to get 14 hours of news, documentary and discussion programming daily, and updates at the top of every hour 24 hours each day. But the selling point will be long-form reporting of stories overlooked by other news organizations.
“We know Americans want in-depth coverage of the news that matters to them,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, interim chief executive of Al-Jazeera America.
“They want more unbiased coverage and less opinion, that’s what Al-Jazeera is about.”
Yet some analysts say the channel will face a tough sell to US audiences because of its history in the Middle East, where it was the outlet for videos distributed by Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Some conservatives claim it is still anti-Western.
Shihabi said he believes Americans will come around once they see the programs.
He said surveys indicate that “75 percent of people who did not watch Al-Jazeera came on the negative size and 90 percent of those who watch Al-Jazeera came on the positive side.”
Shihabi said 850 staff have been hired for 12 US bureaus, and will draw on 70 bureaus worldwide to give Al-Jazeera unmatched scale.
While the channel will be available to fewer than half of US households — notably absent from Time Warner Cable, which is in discussions on carrying Al-Jazeera — Shihabi hopes to reach 100 percent soon.
“We are investing heavily in advertising and branding,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a short time before Al-Jazeera will be viral and people will be demanding Al-Jazeera.”
Since acquiring Current TV, a struggling US cable channel which nevertheless had reach to US homes, Al-Jazeera has brought in well-known names in the industry, such as Soledad O’Brien and Ali Velshi from CNN, and Sheila MacVicar, formerly with ABC and CNN.
Al-Jazeera America president Kate O’Brian said the channel will “stay away from pundits and crazy celebrity news” while “covering all the stories that need to be covered.”
“Our success is how well we tell the stories,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “We will get people talking about the channel and wanting the channel.”
Along with 24-hour news, Al-Jazeera will include several showcase programs starting with the 5:00 pm time slot and carrying into “prime time” evening viewing.
Shihabi said the channel will have only six minutes of advertising per hour, compared with an average of 15 minutes for most other channels.
Al-Jazeera’s US operation is headquartered in New York, with a vast news hub and studio across from Penn Station. In Washington, the channel has taken studio space formerly occupied by ABC at the Newseum, overlooking the US Capitol.
David Shuster, a newly hired anchor and MSNBC and Fox News veteran, said he sees a “huge opportunity” because of the vast resources of Al-Jazeera, which he said probably becomes the largest broadcast news organization in the world.
“It turns the news business on its head,” Shuster told AFP. “People want to watch the news, they want to be taken to the scene of what is happening.”
He said other cable news outlets have become politicized and that “rather than invest in the field they put talking heads out there who yell and scream at each other.”
Joie Chen, a former CNN and CBS journalist and one of the big US names lured to Al-Jazeera, said she was attracted by “the quality work they were doing.”
“I wanted to be able to participate in the story telling. I did not want to be a news reader,” said Chen, who will host the channel’s flagship US program “America Tonight.”
“We are not focused on the size of the audience, we are focused on the quality of the reporting.
“We want to tell stories that are currently underreported.”
Former NBC news anchor John Seigenthaler sees Al-Jazeera providing “a little more depth, a little more perspective, a little more context, what we are all looking for in journalism.”
Seigenthaler, the nightly news anchor, said the new channel will have notable advantages over other broadcasters.
“When I asked about ratings, they said they are not interested in ratings, they are interested in delivering the news. That’s why this seemed like a different journey.”
Egypt condemns European Union threats to halt aid as death toll rises
Minister insists crisis is Egypt's internal affair as 38 Muslim Brotherhood prisoners reported killed
Ian Black in Cairo
The Guardian, Monday 19 August 2013
Egypt has flatly rejected a warning by the European Union that it will "urgently review" its aid to the country against a background of mounting international concern about the deteriorating situation and the huge loss of life in the last few days.
Nabil Fahmy, foreign minister in the military-backed interim government, warned on Sunday against the "internationalisation" of a crisis he described as Egypt's internal affair and criticised the "silence" of foreigners on attacks he blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reflecting a defiant official mood in Cairo, Fahmy ignored a public statement by the British foreign secretary, William Hague, who sought to strike a careful balance by condemning the "disproportionate use of force by the security forces or violent actions by some demonstrators". The statement was issued after the two men spoke on Saturday night, the Foreign Office said.
Diplomats said that Egypt was furious at last week's British and French calls for a private UN security council debate on the escalating crisis. Ban ki-Moon, the secretary-general, has expressed his concern and is sending a senior UN official to Cairo. More than 800 people, mostly Brotherhood supporters, were killed last week in the worst violence since President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in early July.
State media reported on Sunday night that 38 Brotherhood members taken prisoner had been killed in a riot. The pro-Morsi anti-coup alliance said it had evidence the detainees had been "assassinated" in a truck taking them to Abu Zaabal prison in northern Egypt.
Al-Jazeera TV said the men had been arrested in the evacuation of Cairo's al-Fath mosque on Saturday. The detainees were part of a prison truck convoy of some 600 people heading to Abu Zaabal, officials told Associated Press.
Detainees in one truck managed to capture a police officer, officials told AP. Security forces fired tear gas into the truck in hopes of freeing the badly beaten officer, the officials said. The officials said those killed died from the effects of the gas.
Jamaat-e-Islami supporters Members of the student wing of Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami demonstrate in support of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi in Karachi. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP
Sunday's state TV broadcasts – tagged with an "Egypt fighting terrorism" logo – ran repeated interviews with citizens agreeing with the government's rejection of foreign involvement.
EU foreign ministers are expected to meet in Brussels this week to discuss Egypt after the presidents of the European council and European commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, warned jointly on Sunday that further escalation could have "unpredictable consequences". The EU had pledged almost €5bn (£4.2bn) in loans and grants for 2012-2013.
In a statement they said the EU would "urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt".
"We regret deeply that international efforts and proposals for building bridges and establishing an inclusive political process ... were set aside and a course of confrontation was instead pursued," they added.
But Fahmy suggested bluntly that Cairo could manage without EU help. "I want to determine what is useful and what is not and what aid is being used to pressure Egypt and whether this aid has good intentions and credibility," he told reporters in Cairo. "We are not looking to replace one friend with another but we will look out to the world and continue to establish relations with other countries so we have options."
Relations between Egypt and the US have been strained by the crisis, but President Barack Obama has faced criticism for merely suspending the two countries' annual Bright Star joint military exercise but not touching $1.5bn (£959m) in annual aid to the Egyptian armed forces. On Sunday, Obama's former presidential rival and influential Republican foreign policy voice John McCain said Obama's failure to follow through on a threat to cut off aid if there was a coup in Egypt, meant the administration was "not sticking to our values".
But Fahmy said: "The relationship between Egypt and the US has been there for a long time. It has been through ups and downs in the past. We hope things will go back to normal promptly."
Tamarod (Rebellion), the movement that organised the 30 June mass protests that ended with Morsi's removal by the army, said on Sundayit was launching a petition calling for an end to all US assistance to Egypt and the abrogation of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the linchpin of US strategy in the region. It cited "unacceptable American intervention in Egyptian affairs and US support for "terrorist groups".
In the face of western criticism, Egypt is now relying increasingly on political and financial support from its conservative Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sworn enemies of Morsi and the Brotherhood and the leaders of the counter-revolutionary response to the uprisings of the Arab spring. Al-Akhbar, a leading state-run newspaper, on Sunday published a cartoon of an avuncular-looking King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia extending generous cash support to an Egyptian.
Fahmy told Hague and other foreign ministers that "the Brotherhood and its allies were terrorising citizens, attacking governmental institutions, hospitals, churches, places of worship [and] causing … a threat to domestic peace and security". The Egyptian minister also criticised the international community. "Their silence encourages armed groups to continue murdering and using violence and intimidation," he said.
The responsibility of any government was to provide security and impose public order within the context of the law, Al-Ahram reported.
08/19/2013 11:04 AM
Egyptian Minister: 'Muslim Brothers Were Seeking Confrontation'
The West has been shocked by the bloody military crackdown against Islamists in Egypt. In a SPIEGEL Interview, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy discusses the violence, how the West has a distorted view of its causes and how Egypt's friends should respond.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Foreign Minister, on Wednesday, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned in protest over the forcible clearing of the Islamist protest camps. Do you understand him?
Fahmy: It was his personal decision, and he explained it. It's not for me to judge it or comment on it.
SPIEGEL: ElBaradei justified his resignation by saying that not all possibilities for a peaceful solution had been exhausted yet, and that he didn't want to be responsible for the predictable bloodshed.
Fahmy: What's at stake here is not the opinion of an individual, but something larger. It's about Egypt and the country's future -- and about the safety of its citizens.
SPIEGEL: You are viewed as the liberal face of the transitional government. How could you support the decision to clear the protests with brute force? Don't you bear part of the blame?
Fahmy: You act as if there were no violence coming from the other side. We gave the Muslim Brotherhood enough time to back down. The clearing of the protest camps made it apparent that they had no interest in doing so. We found weapons stockpiles and ammunition. The Muslim Brothers were seeking confrontation.
SPIEGEL: But this was completely out of proportion with the massive deployment of the security forces and the loss of human life.
Fahmy: As much as I regret the loss of every human life, the protest camps were a serious security problem that we had to resolve in the interest of this country. No country in the world would have tolerated this lawless state of affairs any longer. It was a unanimous decision by our cabinet…
SPIEGEL: …which is dominated by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the defense minister and commander-in-chief of the military.
Fahmy: Stop reducing Egypt's problems to individual people. As you can see by the burning churches and attacks on police stations, fanatics pose an enormous challenge to our security. Even so, we are still interested in dialogue.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it more accurate to say that Egypt is on the path to a military dictatorship?
Fahmy: As soon as peace and order have been restored, we will begin a dialogue involving all societal forces. We will discuss the role of religion in politics and have serious conversations about what position the military should have in a new Egypt. I trust the military, and I'm sure that it's not about power for the officers. They'll remain in the barracks.
SPIEGEL: Do you really think there's any chance for national reconciliation?
Fahmy: Lives have been lost on both sides, including among the security forces. We must put an end to the violence. Just look at the weapons some demonstrators in Cairo are carrying with them today, on this Friday. This no longer has anything to do with a political conflict.
SPIEGEL: Many say that the security forces deliberately sought escalation to justify the declaration of a state of emergency.
Fahmy: I think that's absurd. The state of emergency that has now been declared is limited to four weeks. No one in Egypt wants to return to a dark age. Millions of my countrymen didn't take to the streets against (former President) Hosni Mubarak for nothing. They won't accept it if the country now remains in the current state of emergency for the long term. We want to continue along the path to democracy.
SPIEGEL: Without the members of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Fahmy: No, with them. They have their party. Those who haven't broken laws and haven't become criminal can participate in the political process -- within the framework of the new constitution, which we are now developing.
SPIEGEL: But even moderate Islamists want to see Gen. el-Sissi and the interior minister, who is responsible for the police, put on trial.
Fahmy: I won't engage in such a discussion. I'm responsible for foreign policy.
SPIEGEL: You are also hearing sharp criticism from your counterparts in Europe, who say that you have received repeated warnings about the consequences of escalation. Can you afford to ignore the advice of your friends?
Fahmy: Part of being friends is that we make it clear how serious the security problems are. I guarantee you that we want to stick to the roadmap headed toward democracy. I advise whoever accuses us of proceeding with excessive severity not to pass judgment on the basis of snapshots, but instead to get a more comprehensive picture.
SPIEGEL: And is that enough for your counterpart, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle?
Fahmy: I can see no difference between my Western counterparts and me. We have already addressed all of their concerns, and we've even given lengthy consideration to their calls for moderation. I'm disappointed by the fact that the West is not noticing more clearly and condemning the violence on the other side.
SPIEGEL: What do you expect from Berlin?
Fahmy: That our friends sympathize with us; that they recognize that this is an Egyptian problem that we Egyptians must solve. We expect a united international front against perpetrators of violence.
SPIEGEL: The US government could cut off financial aid to Egypt if the bloodshed continues.
Fahmy: The only thing that worries me is the current situation in Egypt, not the position of another country.
Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
August 18, 2013
Islamists Killed While in Custody, Egypt Confirms
By ROD NORDLAND
CAIRO — The Egyptian government acknowledged that its security forces had killed 36 Islamists in its custody on Sunday, as the country’s military leaders and Islamists vowed to keep up their fight over Egypt’s future.
The deaths were the fourth mass killing of civilians since the military took control on July 3, but the first time so many had died while in government custody.
The news of the deaths came on a day when there appeared to be a pause in the street battles that had claimed more than 1,000 lives since Wednesday, most of them Islamists and their supporters gunned down by security forces. The Islamists took measures on Sunday to avoid further confrontations, including canceling several protests over the military’s ouster of a democratically elected Islamist-led government.
While confirming the killings of the detainees on Sunday, the Ministry of the Interior said the deaths were the consequence of an escape attempt by Islamist prisoners. But officials of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, described the deaths as “assassinations,” and said that the victims, which it said numbered 52, had been shot and tear-gassed through the windows of a locked prison van.
The killings were the latest indication that Egypt is careering into uncharted territory, with neither side willing to back down, Egyptians increasingly split over the way forward and no obvious political solution in sight. The government is considering banning the Brotherhood, which might force the group underground but would not unravel it from the fabric of society it has been part of for eight decades.
Foreign governments also remain divided over the increasingly bloody showdown. United States officials said they had taken preliminary steps to withhold financial aid to the Egyptian government, though not crucial military aid, and the European Union announced Sunday that it would “urgently review” its relations with the country, saying the interim government bore the responsibility for bringing the violence to an end.
But the Egyptian military retains the support of the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have pledged billions in aid to the new government.
Although it appeared that security forces were more restrained on Sunday — with no immediate reports of killings in the streets — Maj. Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the country’s military leader, spoke out on national television in defiant and uncompromising tones, condemning the Islamists again as “terrorists,” but promising to restore democracy to the country.
The government has been pursuing a relentless campaign to paint the Islamists as a threat, and has increasingly lashed out at journalists who do not echo that line, especially the foreign news media.
Acknowledging but rejecting the widespread international criticism of the security force’s actions, the general said that “citizens invited the armed forces to deal with terrorism, which was a message to the world and the foreign media, who denied millions of Egyptians their free will and their true desire to change.”
The Muslim Brotherhood had announced that it would stage nine protest marches in and around Cairo on Sunday as part of its “week of departure” campaign that began Friday to protest the military’s deposing of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
All but three of the marches were canceled, and even those that continued were rerouted to avoid snipers who were waiting ahead, along with bands of government supporters, the police and the military, some in tanks. The authorities, too, appeared to avoid aggressively enforcing martial law provisions, including a 7 p.m. curfew, that would have led to clashes with the protesters.
Protesters who gathered at the Al Rayyan mosque in the Maadi area of Cairo had aimed to march from there to the Constitutional Court, Egypt’s supreme court, whose chief justice, Adli Mansour, has been appointed interim president by the country’s military rulers.
Marching in the 100-degree late afternoon heat, the protesters were fatalistic about the threats they faced. Mohammad Abdel Tawab, who said his brother was killed Friday at Ramses Square, had heard the reports of pro-government snipers and gangs ahead. “They will kill us, I know, everybody knows, but it doesn’t matter,” he said.
A woman, Samira, dressed in an abaya with only her eyes visible, marched holding her 1-year-old daughter, Sama. “Whatever will happen to us, will happen,” she said. “God has written it already.”
Protest leaders, however, were more cautious, and repeatedly rerouted the march at the last moment to avoid confrontations, turning down narrow lanes where residents in upper stories sprayed them with water — it was not always clear whether the gesture was in support or in contempt.
In the last mile, the leader of the march, Mohammad Salwan, ordered everyone to get on the metro train for the final approach to the court, and then the protesters dissipated instead of trying to breach barricades set up by pro-military factions.
“We know there are snipers along the route, and we want to avoid losing any more lives,” he said.
Similarly, a protest in Giza was called off after it was threatened by military supporters, and the only other one to be held was in a strongly pro-Brotherhood area, Helwan, in south Cairo. Another march, to the presidential palace in Heliopolis, was also canceled.
“The leadership decided things were getting out of control and they couldn’t afford more casualties,” said a Brotherhood member who writes for one of the group’s publications and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the organization.
Even on Saturday, which had seemed relatively quiet, 79 people were killed in violence around Egypt, according to the government press agency, MENA, in an announcement on Sunday. It provided few details.
Brotherhood leaders in particular have paid a heavy price, with the children of many top officials among the dead. They include Asmaa el-Beltagy, the daughter of a senior Brotherhood leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy, killed at Rabaa Square on Wednesday; Ammar Badie, 38, son of Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohamed Badie, shot during clashes on Friday in Ramses Square; Habiba Abd el-Aziz, 26, the daughter of Ahmed Abd el-Aziz, the media consultant to ousted President Morsi, killed at Rabaa from a bullet wound to the head on Wednesday; and the grandson of the movement’s founder.
There were scant details on the prison killings on Sunday, and no explanation for why the victims were inside a prison van and had reportedly taken a prison official hostage.
The Ministry of the Interior issued conflicting and confusing accounts of what had happened, at one point claiming the prisoners had taken a guard hostage, then saying militants had attacked the prison van to free the prisoners, who were killed in the process, and then saying tear gas being used to suppress the escape had caused the prisoners to suffocate. Later, the ministry claimed the deaths had happened in the prison, not in the van.
The violence came a day after a blistering speech in support of the Muslim Brotherhood by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who likened Egypt’s military leader, General Sisi, to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
“There are currently two paths in Egypt: those who follow the pharaoh, and those who follow Moses,” he said. Speaking before the European Union’s announcement of a review of relations, he also criticized other countries’ position regarding the military government.
“The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the European Union have no face left to look at in the mirror,” he said.
Mayy El Sheikh, Kareem Fahim and David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 18, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified Asmaa el-Beltagy, who was killed at Rabaa Square. She was the daughter, not the son, of a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy.
Thousands of hungry and scared Syrian refugees enter Iraq
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 18, 2013 11:13 EDT
Faced with brutal violence and soaring prices, thousands of Syrian Kurds have poured into Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, seeking respite from privation and fighting between Kurdish fighters and jihadists.
The sudden influx of Syrians across the border, the vast majority of them women, children or elderly, has forced the UN refugee agency to scramble aid to the region.
They are being housed at a camp on the outskirts of the Kurdish regional capital Arbil that is still under construction and lacks many basic services.
But for many, it provides a welcome respite from the fighting ravaging their home districts in a deadly spin-off from the Syrian civil war.’
Government forces pulled out of most Kurdish-majority areas of northern and northeastern Syria last year, leaving Kurdish groups to run their own affairs.
But Al-Qaeda loyalists, who have played a significant role in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, see the region as a vital link to fellow jihadists in Iraq and have been locked in deadly fighting with Kurdish militia in recent months.
The UN says between 5,000 and 7,000 refugees crossed into Iraq in the latest influx, but Kurdish officials put the number at around 15,000, with more expected to follow.
“There was war and looting and problems,” said Abdulkarim Brendar, who trekked with his five children to Iraqi Kurdistan. “We did not find a morsel (of food), so, with our children, we came here.”
The plight of civilians like Brendar and his family prompted Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional president Massud Barzani to threaten earlier this month to intervene to protect Syrian Kurds, the latest sign of the conflict’s growing cross-border impact.
“We fled because there is war, beheadings and killings, and in addition to that there is no work,” said Fadhel Abdullah, who crossed into Iraq from the Kurdish-majority Qamishli district of northeastern Syria.
“The economic situation deteriorated and everything became expensive.”
Syrian war refugees’ access to Iraq has been erratic, with local political tensions and fears of a spillover of the conflict leading Kurdistan region authorities to shut the border in May.
Some restrictions were eased last month to allow Syrians to join family members already in Iraq, but the number allowed to cross the border had remained relatively low.
All told, more than 1.9 million Syrians have fled their homeland, with most seeking a haven in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Iraq hosts nearly 155,000 registered Syrian refugees, most of them Kurds, according to the United Nations.
“The Kurdistan region has received large numbers of those refugees but it should be an international and Iraqi concern,” said Dindar Zebari, the deputy chief of the Iraqi Kurdish foreign affairs department.
Zebari said the Kurdish region had allocated an additional $20 million to its budget for Syrian Kurdish refugees, but would require further help from the UN and Iraq’s federal government.
For now, mobile medical teams are carrying out basic medical checks on those who have crossed, with a dozen so far referred to hospitals for diarrhoea and vomiting as a result of the heat.
With refugee numbers threatening to overwhelm the capacity of the existing camp at Quru Gusik, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Arbil, Iraqi Kurdish officials plan to transfer some of them to neighbouring Sulaimaniyah province.
But with the fighting showing no sign of let-up, the number of civilians wanting to cross the border is unlikely to relent.
“There was a shortage of food in the market, and everything became expensive, from bread to gas canisters, and unemployment was spreading,” said Ahmed Karim, whose wife held their three-week-old baby in her arms outside a tent in Quru Gusik.
“We decided to save ourselves before we died of hunger.
August 18, 2013
Israel Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Israel plans this week to intensify its diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the military-backed government in Egypt despite its deadly crackdown on Islamist protesters, according to a senior Israeli official involved in the effort.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of an edict from the prime minister not to discuss the Egyptian crisis, said Israeli ambassadors in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and other capitals would lobby foreign ministers. At the same time, leaders here will press the case with diplomats from abroad that the military is the only hope to prevent further chaos in Cairo.
With the European Union planning an urgent review of its relations with Egypt in a meeting Monday, the message, in part, is that concerns about democracy and human rights should take a back seat to stability and security because of Egypt’s size and strategic importance.
“We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative?” the official explained. “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.
“At this point,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”
Israeli leaders have made no public statements and have refused interviews since Wednesday’s brutal clearing of two Muslim Brotherhood protest encampments. But even as the death toll climbed in ensuing gunfights in mosques and on streets, officials spoke frequently to members of Congress, officials at the Pentagon and State Department, and European diplomats.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who convened an emergency meeting of his inner cabinet Friday regarding Egypt, has not spoken since the crackdown to President Obama, who on Thursday rebuked the Egyptian government by canceling joint military exercises set for next month. But Mr. Netanyahu has discussed the situation with Secretary of State John Kerry; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was in Israel last week; and a visiting delegation of more than two dozen Republicans from Congress, led by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.
General Dempsey and Israel’s military chief have also consulted on Egypt, as have Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, has been forcefully arguing for sustaining Washington’s $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt since the July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt’s military commander, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.
“Israel is in a state of diplomatic emergency,” Alex Fishman, a leading Israeli columnist, wrote in Sunday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “It has been waging an almost desperate diplomatic battle in Washington.”
While Israel is careful to argue that Egypt is critical to broad Western interests in the Middle East, its motivation is largely parochial: the American aid underpins the 34-year-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, so its withdrawal could lead to the unraveling of the agreement. More immediately, Israel is deeply worried that Egypt’s strife could create more openings for terrorist attacks on its territory from the Sinai Peninsula.
At the same time, Israeli officials are aware that the aid package is one of the Obama administration’s biggest potential levers against Egypt’s military rulers — and a topic of debate within the White House.
“From the Israeli perspective it is security, security and security — and then other issues,” said Yoram Meital, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “The Obama administration took a stand that has a lot to do with universal values. Of course, killing hundreds of protesters in this brutal way should be condemned. If we study the Israeli perspective, then these universal values are secondary to the top priorities of security and security.”
Most Israeli experts on Egypt share the government’s support for the Sisi government and view Mr. Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement as a dangerous threat. But several said Israel’s diplomatic push was risky because it could promote a backlash in Egypt and across the Arab world and hurt Israel’s credibility as a democracy.
“This is a very big mistake to interfere in what happens in Egypt,” said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and director of its new Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam.
Dr. Kedar invoked an old joke about a lifeguard kicking a boy out of a pool for urinating — from the diving board. “You can do things, but do them under the water,” he said. “Israel, by supporting explicitly the army, exposes itself to retaliation. Israel should have done things behind the scenes, under the surface, without being associated with any side of the Egyptian problem.”
But Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, praised Mr. Netanyahu’s government for “acting very discreetly,” and Yitzhak Levanon, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt until 2011, said the lobbying had not been aggressive.
“We are talking to a lot of friends,” said Mr. Levanon, who teaches a course on Egypt at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “Pushing? I don’t think that this is the word. We are expressing what we believe is best for the region.”
Mr. Shaked said that unlike the Obama administration and the European Union, Israel did “not have any illusions about the possibility of a democracy in Egypt.”
“I understand Washington and Europe with their criticism, but there is no alternative to letting the army in Egypt try by force,” he said. “We have to choose here not between the good guys and the bad guys — we don’t have good guys. It is a situation where you have to choose who is less harmful.”
The Israeli official who described the diplomatic campaign acknowledged that Washington’s suspension of the military exercises and Europe’s announcement Sunday that it would review its relations with Cairo did not signal success so far.
“It’s very important for us to make certain countries understand the situation as we see it,” the official said. “We do that with a sense of urgency. This is something we’re going to try and share with as many influential countries as we can this week.”
Rhythm divine: the Ethiopian nun whose music enraptured the Holy Land
Jersusalem's classical music lovers honour Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù, 90, after a life devoted to God and the piano
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Sunday 18 August 2013 15.54 BST
From a small, spartan room in the courtyard of the Ethiopian church off a narrow street in Jerusalem, a 90-year-old musical genius is emerging into the spotlight.
For almost three decades, Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù has been closeted at the church, devoting herself to her life's twin themes – faith and music. The Ethiopian nun, whose piano compositions have enthralled those who have stumbled across a handful of recordings in existence, has lived a simple life, rarely venturing beyond the monastery's gates.
But this month the nonagenarian's scribbled musical scores have been published as a book, ensuring the long-term survival of her music. And on Tuesday, the composer will hear her work played in concert for the first time, at three performances in Jerusalem. Guebrù may even play a little.
Her music has been acclaimed by critics and devotees. Maya Dunietz, a young Israeli musician who worked with Guebrù on the publication of her scores, says in her introduction to the book that the composer has "developed her own musical language".
"It is classical music, with a very special sense of time, space, scenery," Dunietz told the Guardian. "It's not grand; it's intimate, natural, honest and very feminine. She has a magical touch on the piano. It's delicate but deep. And all her compositions tell stories of time and place."
Guebrù's inspiration comes not only from her faith, but from her life: an extraordinary journey from an aristocratic family in Addis Ababa, with strong links to Emperor Haile Selassie, to a monastery in the historic centre of Jerusalem .
She was born Yewubdar Guebrù on December 12 1923 and lived in the Ethiopian capital until, aged six, she and her sister were sent to boarding school in Switzerland. In one of two seminal moments of her life, there she heard her first piano concert, and began to play and study music.
After her return to Addis Ababa, and a period of exile for her family followed by yet another return, Guebrù was awarded a scholarship to study music in London. But she was unexpectedly denied permission to leave by the Ethiopian authorities.
In the bleak days following this calamity, Guebrù refused food until, close to death, she requested holy communion. Embracing God was the second seminal moment of her life. She abandoned music to devote herself to prayer, and after several years joined a monastery in northern Ethiopia. She spent 10 years there, barefoot and living in a mud and stone hut.
It was here she changed her name to Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam. It was only after rejoining her mother in Addis Ababa that Guebrù resumed playing and composing and even recorded a few albums.
Guebrù and her mother later spent six years in Jerusalem, and she returned to the Holy Land to take up permanent residence after her mother's death in 1984. She has remained at the imposing circular Ethiopian church ever since.
Dunietz came across her music eight years ago when her husband, the conductor Ilan Volkov, brought home a CD he had bought in London. "We listened and were amazed by the strange combination of classical, Ethiopian and blues," said Dunietz. "And then we read the sleeve notes and discovered she lives right here in Jerusalem."
The couple found Guebrù sitting at the piano in her room at the church, and began a series of visits. "In the beginning there was a lot of silence. We felt there was a lot of longing and sorrow and loneliness, but slowly a connection started," said Dunietz.
Guebrù was still playing and composing in her room, but she had not performed in public for several years, and her music was "not much appreciated" within the monastery. Dunietz immediately understood the importance of publishing the nun's scores to create and preserve a musical legacy, but the project did not get off the ground until two years ago.
"She handed over four plastic bags — old wrinkled Air Ethiopia bags — containing hundreds of pages, all muddled up, a big mess, written in pencil, some of them 60 or 70 years old. It was all the pages of her music that she had found in her room. 'Make a book', she said." It was, added Dunietz, "like an archaeological dig" to piece together the scores.
Daunted by the task, Dunietz sought the help of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, which organises an annual summer festival of art, music and food in the city. As well as the book, the three concerts have a huge significance for Guebrù.
"This is the first time she will hear her own music performed in concert by professional artists," said Duenitz, who will play the piano. "It is what every composer wants." Guebrù, she says, is feeling overwhelmed by the attention and has largely withdrawn into the solitude of her monastery room, declining requests for interviews and meetings.
In the book accompanying Guebrù's music, Meytal Ofer, a regular visitor over recent months, describes her: "I enter a darkened room and catch my first glimpse of her, an elderly woman, not a wrinkle on her face, lying in bed. It is a modest room with a small window. In the room is a bed, a piano, piles of musical scores and a picture of Haile Selassie and the Empress Menen hung above the papers."
Guebrù is wrapped in a blanket against the winter cold, writes Ofer. "Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam is in her own world; she speaks slowly with an inner peace, her soothing voice caresses the listener and her infectious smile sneaks into the conversation every now and then … The disparity between the room's sparseness and Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam's spiritual richness reaches deep down into my soul."
Niger to Ivory Coast rail link lays tracks for African infrastructure expansion
New line from Niamey to Abidjan expected to bolster regional trade, but critics urge focus on people rather than goods
Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 19 August 2013 07.00 BST
A seven-year railway project to connect Niger and Ivory Coast is to begin next year as part of renewed efforts to improve rail infrastructure in the region.
The railway would link Niamey, the capital of landlocked Niger, with the Ivorian commercial hub of Abidjan, via the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, after the extension of mining activities in west Africa.
The line would extend the existing railway that runs from Ouagadougou to Tambao, a lucrative manganese mine in the remote north east of Burkina Faso, near the border with Niger and Mali.
"This new railway will enhance trade between Côte d'Ivoire on the coast and Burkina Faso and Niger," said Bernard Abeiku Arthur, a transport expert working on a World Bank project to increase transport infrastructure in the region. "It is something that has been talked about by French engineering firms for years, to access the port of Abidjan, and link it with the raw materials that would be on that particular line."
The Niamey-Abidjan initiative is believed to be funded by the EU and French governments, with private investment from the Romanian industrialist Frank Timiş, whose company, Pan African Minerals, secured the rights to develop Tambao after a long history of legal squabbles between the government of Burkina Faso and several successive prospectors.
Timiş, known in Romania as the "emperor of west Africa", is expected to make billions from the exploitation of manganese at Tambao. The construction of the railway has been central to plans to exploit manganese at the mine since it was discovered in 1959. Tambao is expected to yield up to 1m tonnes a year.
Timiş is reported to be locked in a fierce rivalry with French billionaire Vincent Bolloré – whose eponymous congolomerate is investing in numerous infrastructure projects in west and central Africa, including a $100m high-speed rail project in Cameroon – for domination of African rail infrastructure, seen as key to controlling untapped mineral wealth. Neither Timiş nor Pan African Minerals were available to comment on the railway plans.
But the extension of the Ouagadougou-Tambao railway to Niger would represent a major infrastructure development in the country, which has no functioning railways.
"We desperately need railways," said Moussa Akfar, a Niamey resident. "Our roads are not practical. They are in such poor condition – it can take hours just to travel 100km. But these plans to create railway links with the ports in Cotonou and Abidjan are only concerned with transporting goods. They will not make it easier for people to move around."
A spokesperson from the Burkina Faso government confirmed that, up to now, the railway line has been used only for the transportation of manganese. "The railway has been running for some months, but so far it is only used for transporting manganese," said Zound Ali Zeta, from the Burkina Faso ministry of mines. "As to whether it will carry passengers in future, that is up to Pan African Minerals."
Many west Africans complain that new infrastructure projects do not help people. "Transport is supposed to be about the movement of people, goods and services, and the first of those is people," said Abeiku Arthur.
"The Niger-Abidjan railway is supposed to look at transporting goods in its first phase, with a later 'enhancement' integrating people into it. Infrastructure projects are very much influenced by colonial perspectives, and [are] much more interested in concentrating on raw material for export, rather than facilitating the movement of people."
There have been plans for pan-west African railway networks since countries in the region obtained independence in the 1950s and 60s, but none have come to fruition. The Niger-Ivory Coast extension is part of renewed efforts to improve rail infrastructure. Increased foreign investment and interest in natural resources have led to growing interest in such development.
Although the Niamey-Abidjan railway would link only Francophone countries, last week transport ministers from the Economic Community of West African States backed the construction of a 732-mile single railway line to connect Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast with Anglophone Ghana.
And earlier this month, Nigeria, also English-speaking, said it planned to develop a railway from the southern port of Warri to northern Nigeria, and Niger.
"To really enhance trade and competition in west Africa, there have to be linkages between multilingual countries, otherwise they risk enhancing the barrier between Francophone and Anglophone," said Abeiku Arthur. "There has always been talk of a west Africa rail masterplan, but so far this has always been just talk. There has to be a commitment from national governments if these plans are really to move forward."
August 18, 2013
Top Presidential Candidates Barred From Election in Madagascar
By LYDIA POLGREEN
JOHANNESBURG — A court in Madagascar has removed several prominent political leaders from a list of presidential candidates eligible to run in the country’s election, scheduled for Friday, which many in the region hope will settle the island nation’s long-running political crisis.
An electoral court ruled that neither President Andry Rajoelina, who came to power after toppling his predecessor, Marc Ravalomanana, in 2009, nor Mr. Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao, would be eligible to run, The Associated Press reported. The court said Mr. Rajoelina had not filed his candidacy papers before the deadline, The A.P. said.
Another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, who lives in exile in France, was also struck from the list on Saturday. The court said neither Mr. Ratsiraka nor Mrs. Ravalomanana met the country’s residency requirement because neither had lived in Madagascar for the past six months.
Mr. Ravalomanana was twice elected president of Madagascar but had to flee to South Africa after Mr. Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, pushed him out with the backing of the military in March 2009. Mr. Ravalomanana has tried to return to Madagascar three times since then, but was barred each time, most recently in January 2012, when officials in Antananarivo closed the country’s airport to prevent his plane from landing.
The government had said it planned to arrest Mr. Ravalomanana upon his arrival because he had been convicted in absentia in connection with the killings of antigovernment protesters by the presidential guard.
The Southern African Development Community, a regional trading and economic bloc, has been trying to find a solution to the crisis, and urged Mr. Rajoelina and Mr. Ravalomanana not to run in the coming election. Mr. Ravalomanana agreed to withdraw in December.
The African Union praised the court’s decision in a statement, saying it would help bring about an “election that would mark the conclusion of the crisis exit process and the restoration of constitutional order.”
Madagascar is rich in exotic spices and wildlife, but prone to poverty and political chaos. Mr. Rajoelina pledged to clean up the government when he took power. But the political turmoil has left his government isolated, as other countries have condemned the overthrow of a twice-elected president.
August 18, 2013
A Summer of Troubles Saps India’s Sense of Confidence
By GARDINER HARRIS and BETTINA WASSENER
NEW DELHI — For the last 10 years, India seemed poised to take its place alongside China as one of the dominant economic and strategic powerhouses of Asia. Its economy was surging, its military was strengthening, and its leaders were striding across the world stage.
But a summer of difficulties has dented India’s confidence, and a growing chorus of critics is starting to ask whether India’s rise may take years, and perhaps decades, longer than many had hoped.
“There is a growing sense of desperation out there, particularly among the young,” said Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s leading historians.
Three events last week crystallized those new worries. On Wednesday, one of India’s most advanced submarines, the Sindhurakshak, exploded and sank at its berth in Mumbai, almost certainly killing 18 of the 21 sailors on its night watch.
On Friday, a top Indian general announced that India had killed 28 people in recent weeks in and around the Line of Control in Kashmir as part of the worst fighting between India and Pakistan since a 2003 cease-fire.
Also Friday, the Sensex, the Indian stock index, plunged nearly 4 percent, while the value of the rupee continued to fall, reaching just under 62 rupees per dollar, a record low. The rupee and stocks fell again on Monday.
Each event was unrelated to the others, but together they paint a picture of a country that is rapidly losing its swagger. India’s growing economic worries are perhaps its most challenging.
“India is now the sick man of Asia,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the financial information provider IHS Global Insight. “They are in a crisis.”
In part, the problems are age-old: stifling red tape, creaky infrastructure and a seeming inability to push through much-needed changes and investment decisions. For years, investors largely overlooked those problems because of the promise of a market of 1.2 billion people. Money poured into India, allowing it to paper over a chronic deficit in its current account, a measure of foreign trade and investment.
But after more than a decade of largely futile efforts not only to tap into India’s domestic market but also to use the country’s vast employee base to manufacture exports for the rest of Asia, many major foreign companies are beginning to lose patience. And just as they are starting to lose heart, a reviving American economy has led investors to shift funds from emerging-market economies back to the United States.
The Indian government recently loosened restrictions on direct foreign investment, expecting a number of major retailers like Walmart and other companies to come rushing in. The companies have instead stayed away, worried not only by the government’s constant policy changes but also by the widespread and endemic corruption in Indian society.
The government has followed with a series of increasingly desperate policy announcements in recent weeks in hopes of turning things around, including an increase in import duties on gold and silver and attempts to defend the currency without raising interest rates too high.
Then Wednesday night, the government announced measures to restrict the amounts that individuals and local companies could invest overseas without seeking approval. It was an astonishing move in a country where a growing number of companies have global operations and ambitions.
The Indian stock markets were closed Thursday because of the nation’s Independence Day, but shares swooned at Friday’s opening. Stocks lost another 1.5 percent Monday, and many analysts predicted that the markets will continue to decline.
“I think things will get much worse before they get better,” said Sonal Varma, an India economist at Nomura Securities in Mumbai. “The government is between a rock and a hard place.”
The problem for India, analysts say, is that the country has small and poorly performing manufacturing and mining sectors, which would normally benefit from a weakening currency. Meanwhile, India must buy its oil, much of its coal and other crucial goods like computers in largely dollar-denominated trades that have become nearly 40 percent more expensive over the past two years.
That is helping feed inflation, which jumped in July to an annual rate of 5.79 percent from 4.86 percent in June, far above what analysts had expected.
The Reserve Bank of India, the central bank, has recently responded to the rupee’s weakness by raising interest rates, but those moves have already begun to hurt a huge swath of India’s corporate sector. Growth rates had already slowed to 5 percent in the most recent quarter, and India now has a far harder time meeting its current-account deficit.
Analysts fear that higher inflation, softening growth, a falling currency and waning investor confidence could spin into a vicious cycle that will be difficult to contain.
“There’s a risk of a spiral downward,” said Mr. Biswas, the IHS Global economist. “It will be very hard to break.”
The submarine explosion revealed once again the vast strategic challenges that the Indian military faces and how far behind China it has fallen. India still relies on Russia for more than 60 percent of its defense equipment needs, and its army, air force and navy have vital Russian equipment that is often decades old and of increasingly poor quality.
The Sindhurakshak is one of 10 Russian-made Kilo-class submarines that India has as part of its front-line maritime defenses, but only six of India’s submarines are operational at any given time — far fewer than are needed to protect the nation’s vast coastline.
Indeed, India has fewer than 100 ships, compared with China’s 260. India is the world’s largest weapons importer, but with its economy under stress and foreign currency reserves increasingly precious, that level of purchases will be increasingly hard to sustain.
The country’s efforts to build its own weapons have largely been disastrous, and a growing number of corruption scandals have tainted its foreign purchases, including a recent deal to buy helicopters from Italy.
Unable to build or buy, India is becoming dangerously short of vital defense equipment, analysts say.
Meanwhile, the country’s bitter rivalry with Pakistan continues. Many analysts say that India is unlikely to achieve prominence on the world stage until it reaches some sort of resolution with Pakistan of disputes that have lasted for decades over Kashmir and other issues.
Gardiner Harris reported from New Delhi, and Bettina Wassener from Hong Kong.
August 18, 2013
North Korea Agrees to Talk About Reunions for Families
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Sunday accepted a South Korean proposal to discuss the reunions of elderly relatives who had been separated from their parents, siblings and children since the Korean War six decades ago.
No such reunion has been held in the past three years, and a revival of the highly emotional program would be another step toward a thaw on the divided Korean Peninsula after months of tension and threats of war.
Hopes for a possible return of inter-Korean reconciliation have grown since South Korea and North Korea agreed last week to reopen a joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong that was shut down four months ago during a confrontation.
Seizing on the momentum, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea proposed on Thursday that the two governments resume arranging reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 war.
Her government proposed holding talks on Friday — an offer the North accepted in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.
In its statement, North Korea agreed with the South that the reunions should take place in time for the holiday of Chuseok on Sept. 19, traditionally a time for family gatherings.
But the two Koreas have yet to resolve differences over where to hold their meeting.
Since the division of Korea in 1945 and the Korean War, which ended in a stalemate, millions of Koreans have been separated from family members across the border, with no direct mail service or telephone links. A series of family reunions was held starting in 2000, but there have been none since 2010.
About 72,000 South Koreans — half of them over age 80 — remain on a waiting list for a chance to meet relatives in the North.
On Sunday, North Korea suggested that the meeting on Friday take place at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeastern North Korea. The resort had been a popular destination for South Korean tourists and the site of previous reunions until it was closed in 2008, after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist.
North Korea insists on reopening the tourism project, which, like the industrial complex, had served as a crucial source of money. On Sunday, it proposed a separate meeting on Thursday to discuss that issue, indicating that Friday’s discussion on the family reunions might hinge on the talks to reopen the resort.
On Sunday, South Korea proposed that the talks about the reunions be in Panmunjom, a border village north of Seoul, and said it was reviewing the proposal for talks to reopen the mountain tours.
The industrial park and the Diamond Mountain tourism program were among a few joint projects started during an earlier period of reconciliation but suspended or jeopardized as North-South relations chilled in recent years.
“If the North and the South can agree to reopen the Diamond Mountain tours, it will bring a great joy to the Korean nation,” the North Korean statement said Sunday.
South Korea has said it would consider restarting the tours only if the North apologized for the killing of the tourist and guaranteed that such shootings never happen again.
Kim Jong Un woos defectors: Come home. We won’t kill you … promise
Sunday, August 18, 2013 19:28 EDT
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is taking a new approach to defectors who have fled his impoverished and repressive state, promising they will not be harmed if they come home, and even offering cash rewards, according to some in the exile community.
For some who return from South Korea there’s even the chance of a stage-managed performance on state television, although what happens to them after their prime time appearances is not known in a state where 200,000 people are imprisoned in gulags and where punishment extends to three generations of a family.
One woman last year apologized at a televised press conference in Pyongyang for betraying her motherland and thanked Kim for bringing her under his “profound loving care” while another dubbed South Korea a “shitty world with no love”.
That’s in sharp contrast to the approach taken by Kim’s father, who during nearly 20 years in power hid the issue and severely punished the families of those who defected, fearing they would undermine the state with their tales of the prosperous South.
North Korean security agents have been visiting families in the reclusive state for at least the past year, telling them it would be safe for their loved ones in the South to come back, several defectors in Seoul told Reuters.
Some said they had even heard of people posing as defectors trying to tempt North Koreans in the South this year with a promise of 50 million South Korean won ($45,000) and an opportunity to appear on television in Pyongyang if they returned.
“My mother said ‘if you have money, come back. General Kim Jong-un will treat you well’,” said one defector in her 30s who lives in Seoul, recounting a recent telephone conversation with her mother who called her from a North Korean town on the border with China.
“Other defectors are getting that kind of phone call,” said the defector, surnamed Lee, who asked that her full name not be used because she feared reprisals against her family in the North.
It is impossible to verify how many of the 25,000 North Koreans who have defected to the South have returned. One high profile case this year involved a fisherman who stole a trawler and returned to the North for the fourth time.
Experts said Kim could be trying to show his people that instead of living happily in South Korea, defectors are miserable, have menial jobs and struggle to fit in – something defectors in Seoul say is not far from the truth.
While offering an olive branch to some defectors, Kim has also made it harder for North Koreans to escape by tightening security along the country’s land border with China and defectors and their families still fill the country’s prison camps, experts said.
While it’s impossible to verify what happens to North Koreans who return, a diplomat in Pyongyang said a group of nine defectors who were sent home after being detained in Laos in May while trying to get to South Korea had not been harmed.
The United Nations had said it feared for the group, which included up to five minors and who like some defectors were trying to reach a South Korean embassy in Southeast Asia after having first travelled through China.
“They actually have been quite well treated since they have been back here,” said the diplomat, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of working in Pyongyang. An Amnesty International official also said there had been no reports the nine had been harmed.
“When defectors come back they are not all trucked to prison. What can happen is they are put on TV … for propaganda,” said the diplomat.
KIM THE SPIN DOCTOR
Exactly why Kim has taken a different view of defectors is unclear.
Several defectors told Reuters they believed he was trying to put his own spin on the issue because of the growing influence of an increasingly vocal exile community in the South.
The move also comes as pressure over human rights is mounting on Pyongyang with the recent appointment of members to a U.N. commission that will spend a year investigating possible crimes against humanity in North Korea.
Defectors will testify at unprecedented public hearings in Seoul this week as part of that investigation.
Better communications have also opened the way for regular contact between defectors and their families in North Korea – allowing stories of life outside one of the world’s most isolated countries to seep back.
For example, defector groups in Seoul estimate that 3,000 phone calls are made each day to the North, routed through Chinese mobile networks along the 1,400 km (870 mile) long land border that China shares with North Korea.
An estimated 70 percent of defectors in South Korea also send cash back to family via Chinese brokers along the border, according to a South Korean research institute.
While the younger Kim – who took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011 – has promised no retribution for returning defectors, he has tightened security at the Tumen and Yalu Rivers along the border with China, experts said.
Last year, the number of defectors entering South Korea fell 44 percent to 1,509 from 2,706 in 2011, South Korean government data shows. In 2010, 2,402 defectors arrived and 2,900 in 2009.
During the first quarter of this year, the monthly average of new defectors was down 15 percent from the previous year.
“Rumors that the regime will annihilate three generations (of one family) or that border guards will shoot to kill if anyone is caught crossing the river have swirled around a lot,” said Cho Jung-hyun, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, who regularly interviews defectors.
“On the other hand, under what’s called “benevolent politics”, the regime keeps sending out a message of embracing those who left in tough times without punishment.”
Cho said recent arrivals had told him North Korean authorities were more thoroughly examining lists of missing persons to work out which families to put pressure on. Usually when someone defects, their families in North Korea report them as dead or missing.
“NO LOVE” IN SOUTH KOREA
Pyongyang has held at least six press events since last year with returning defectors that have been broadcast on North Korean state television. The most recent was in June.
All have had the air of choreography familiar to North Korea watchers.
The well-dressed returnees usually sing a song pledging loyalty to Kim and stand up to shout: ‘Great Marshal Kim Jong-un, thank you so much!’ while pumping the air with their fists.
In one press conference last November, Kim Kwang-hyok called South Korea a “shitty world with no love”.
Pak Jong-suk said living in South Korea made her feel like a “miserable slave”. Pak was given a new house in Pyongyang, state media said.
South Korea’s government has noticed Kim’s apparent change of heart and one government official who follows the issue said returning defectors were being used for domestic consumption.
“By airing these press conferences in prime time, North Korea is using defectors for internal propaganda,” the official said.
It was unclear how many had gone back under Kim’s rule, the official said. He also had no information on purported defectors trying to entice North Koreans to return with promises of cash.
MANY DEFECTORS JOBLESS IN SOUTH
Pressure to return appears to be exerted in other ways, too.
Just over a year ago, one North Korean defector in Seoul, a former state-sanctioned pop singer, began getting mysterious telephone calls in the middle of the night.
The calls lasted for months, with the caller usually saying nothing. He suspected it was North Korean security agents.
“I had nothing to say. It was too terrifying,” the defector said. At around the same time, a North Korean security agent visited his parents saying he should return home.
His parents also attended a public lecture in which authorities promised no punishment if defectors went back.
Defectors in Seoul said Pyongyang’s new approach tapped into their longing for family as well as the difficulty of adjusting to life in South Korea, a country whose per capita income is around 45 times that of the North.
New defectors get interrogated by the intelligence services to weed out spies before going to a settlement centre south of Seoul for 12 weeks of training and counseling to help them get to grips with South Korea’s hyper-competitive high-tech society.
They get subsidies for housing and study, as well as job skills training. But many end up doing jobs shunned by ordinary South Koreans.
Around 20 percent of defectors are unemployed, six to seven times higher than the average for South Koreans, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights said early this year.
Kim Seung-chul, a defector who runs a Seoul radio station that broadcasts news into North Korea, said every defector sympathized with those who returned.
“Defectors all watch these press conferences. We know it’s better to live here but the loneliness and hardship makes us feel like wanting to go back,” said Kim, 52.
The former North Korean singer, who left his parents and siblings back in the North, said he believed returnees got a house and a job, but were put under watch.
“If they are caught with a small problem while being monitored, then it will be all over,” he said. ($1 = 1,112.2750 Korean won)
(Additional reporting by Se Young Lee in Seoul and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Dean Yates and David Chance)
Ashes to economy: why Australia may be on the brink of a new collapse
Australia emerged from the global recession largely unscathed, but now bears the hallmarks of an industrial base hollowed out
Sunday 18 August 2013 15.57 BST The Guardian
Australia always take defeat hard and to go into this week's final Ashes test at the Oval three down with one to play is a bitter pill to swallow. But while those wearing the "baggy green" have been losing at Trent Bridge, Lords and Chester-le-Street, the Aussies have at least been able to take comfort from an economy that in recent years has out-muscled the old country in the way that the cricket team did when it was led by Steve Waugh.
The golden years for Australian cricket ended a decade ago. Decline was hard to spot initially although the warning signs were there: a lack of suitable replacements for great players and too great a focus on one-day cricket that resulted in sides being less familiar with the five-day format.
It may prove to be a similar story with the economy. Australia was one of the few developed economies to emerge from the global recession largely unscathed. Growth has been good for a quarter of a century, public debt is low, the banking system proved resilient during the financial crisis and it is one of only a handful of countries that still retains a AAA credit rating.
Success initially was based on some important structural reforms to labour markets and to welfare policy, coupled with macro-economic policies that used inflation targeting to keep increases in the cost of living in check. Australia's banks were better capitalised than those in Europe or the US when the crisis broke.
These reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s coincided with China's emergence as a global economic superpower. China needed raw materials – coal, iron ore, aluminium – for its rapid industrial expansion and Australia had them in abundance. China now takes 40% of Australian exports.
As a result, Australia was the Ireland of the antipodes. Both countries put in place supply-side reforms designed to boost growth and both had access to a huge market. Ireland's 20 years of expansion can be neatly divided into two phases: the first decade in which growth was the result of getting the fundamentals right at a time when multinationals were looking for a European base; and a bubble decade of wild property speculation and irresponsible lending.
Before looking at why Australia could go the same way, it is worth looking at the way in which the global economy has evolved over the past five years. In the days before the financial crisis, there were three groups of countries. In the first category were the workshop nations, the ones that produced the cars, the clothes, the machine tools, the TV sets and the toys. Low-cost countries such as China fell into this category, but so did high-cost countries such as Germany.
In the second category were the debtor nations. These countries bought all the goods churned out by the workshop nations, running up big current account deficits in the process. The United States and the United Kingdom were prime examples of debtor nations: levels of private debt exploded to allow consumers to live beyond their means.
Finally, there were the resource-rich countries. Some of these were the oil-rich nations of the Middle East; others included Russia and two important developed countries – Canada and Australia. All these countries did nicely out of a global economy in which China was growing at 10% a year and the US was acting as the spender of last resort. In the four years before the sky fell in, global growth averaged around 5% a year – its strongest since the latter years of the post-war boom.
But this model has now collapsed and 5% global growth now looks like an aberration. In the US, growth is struggling to rise above 2% despite the extraordinary stimulus provided by the Federal Reserve.
Wall Street fully expects the Fed to start "tapering" its bond-buying under the quantitative easing programme next month, and that has already had an impact on some emerging countries – such as India. The notion that the US is easing back on electronic money creation has strengthened the dollar and sent the rupee down to a record low. That is unhelpful to policymakers in New Delhi battling against already strong inflationary pressures, since it makes imports dearer.
But if India is struggling to adjust to the new normal so too is China. With the US less willing to buy up everything Chinese factories produce, the new leadership in Beijing has worked out that it might not be sensible for investment to make up 50% of the nation's output. But the transition to an economy less dependent on investment and exports is likely to be slow and fitful. One thing is certain: the days when the emerging world was expanding at 9% a year, as those countries did at their peak in 2010, are now over. Neil Shearing at Capital Economics estimates that emerging economies are currently growing at an annual rate of 4%.
All this has obvious implications for those countries heavily dependent on exports of energy and raw materials, such as Australia, where the mining industry has doubled its share of national output to 10% in less than a decade. Exports relating to exploitation of natural resources account for 60% of the total and while the mining sector has growth by 7.5% over the past decade the rest of the Australian economy has expanded by around 2.5%.
Australia now bears all the hallmarks of a country where its industrial base has hollowed out. The decision by Ford Australia to close its manufacturing plants at Broadmeadows and Geelong is evidence of what economists call Dutch disease: a natural resource boom drives up the exchange rate and makes all other exports deeply uncompetitive.
With the outlook for the global economy far less rosy than it was, the mining sector is also cutting back on investment. That has left the economy propped up by the one remaining source of growth – an overvalued real estate market.
As the economist John Llewellyn has pointed out, household debt in Australia rose sharply in the 1990s and 2000s and now stands at 150% of GDP. Noting that the housing market may already be in bubble territory, he adds: "Depending on a strong pickup in housing as a means to sustain growth and rebalance the economy would therefore appear to be fraught with danger. The risk is of unsustainable boom followed by destabilising bust, with considerable collateral damage to both financial and non-financial private sector balance sheets."
The Reserve Bank of Australia is now cutting interest rates and talking down the currency in an attempt to rebalance the economy. That is easier said than done when your economy amounts to a large hole in the ground ringed by some expensive property. The risk is of a sudden Aussie collapse of the sort that has become all too familiar on English cricket grounds this summer.
Woman who was clinically dead for 42-minutes brought back to life by Australian doctors
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 19, 2013 7:11 EDT
An Australian woman has lived to tell the tale after being brought back to life from being clinically dead for 42 minutes, doctors said on Monday.
Mother-of-two Vanessa Tanasio, 41, was rushed to Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne last week after a major heart attack, with one of her main arteries fully blocked.
She went into cardiac arrest and was declared clinically dead soon after arrival.
Doctors refused to give up and used a compression device called a Lucas 2 — the only one of its kind in Australia — to keep blood flowing to her brain while cardiologist Wally Ahmar opened an artery to unblock it.
Once unblocked, Tanasio’s heart was shocked back into a normal rhythm.
“(I used) multiple shocks, multiple medications just to resuscitate her,” Ahmar said.
“Indeed this is a miracle. I did not expect her to be so well.”
Tanasio said she had no history of heart conditions and was grateful to be alive.
“I remember being on my couch, then the floor, then arriving at hospital, and then two days go missing,” Tanasio said.
“I was dead for nearly an hour and only a week later I feel great. It’s surreal.”
The Lucas device physically compresses the chest, like during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), allowing doctors to work non-stop to put a stent into a blocked artery.
It is the first a time a patient has successfully used the device, which was donated to the medical centre, for such a length of time in Australia, the hospital said.
Clinical death is a medical term for when someone stops breathing and their blood stops circulating.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA....
Russia’s sports minister dismisses criticism of anti-gay law: ‘This is an invented problem’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 18, 2013 15:33 EDT
Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on Sunday accused western media of overplaying the anti-gay issue that has plagued the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.
However, Mutko insisted the controversial law was not just about homosexuality but also to protect Russian youth from ‘drugs, drinking and non-traditional relationships’ — the term used in Russia for same sex relationships.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in June that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors. But activists say it can be used for a broader crackdown against gays.
Fears it could be used against participants at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics have sparked calls for a boycott of the event in some quarters and Russian officials have said all athletes will have to obey the law at the Games.
However, Mutko – minister of sport since 2008 – reiterated that at the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi next February, athletes could conduct themselves as they wished in private.
“I think the Western mass media focus on this law much more than we do in Russia,” he said at the end of championships press conference.
“The athletes who compete in the Winter Olympics will be granted all rights as they were here in Moscow.
“Aside from these championships we have also just held the University Games in Kazan with 11,000 athletes. I have not heard of any problems relevant to obstruction of human rights during those Games.”
Mutko, formerly president of Russian football giants Zenit St Petersburg and subsequently the Russian Football Union, said that he wished to once again impress on people that the law had nothing to do with infringing human rights.
“I have had to reply to this question on several occasions these past few days,” he said, smiling.
“I repeat again this law does not deprive anyone of their rights. I haven’t heard of one incident here. This is an invented problem. We don’t have a ban on non-traditional relationships.
“This law is about protection of the young generation whose psyche has not yet been formulated and formed and before they have reached maturity.
“It is to protect them against drinking, drugs and non-traditional sexual relationships. This law is all about protecting the rights of children and not to deprive anyone of anything.”
Mutko, though, added that the athletes competing at major championships were there to compete and not for social reasons.
“I hope athletes come to compete,” he said. They don’t have time for other things as they have training in the morning, and in the evening and then qualifying.”
Russian riot police detain eight Pastafarians during ‘pasta procession’ in Moscow
By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, August 18, 2013 11:23 EDT
Russian authorities in Moscow broke up a march of Pastafarians on Saturday with some help from anti-gay Russian Orthodox religious activists.
Moscow police told RIA Novosti that eight Pastafarians were detained for “attempting to hold an unsanctioned rally” in the city.
Followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster planned to hold a “pasta procession” in Moscow and St. Petersburg to honor the birthday of Robert De Niro, who once played a character named Noodle in the movie Once Upon A Time in America.
The “pasta procession” in Moscow was disrupted by the Orthodox activist group Bozhaya Volya, or God’s Will, who sprayed ketchup on a march participants. The Orthodox group has held demonstrations against homosexuality, the punk rock group Pussy Riot, and the Darwin natural history museum.
Moscow police dispersed the marchers, claiming the procession was not sanctioned by authorities.
“We were detained for simply walking,” one Pastafarian wrote on a social networking website. “In particular, I was taken in for a sieve on my head.”
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster came into being thanks to a sarcastic letter Bobby Henderson sent to the Kansas Board of Education over the teaching of Intelligent Design in 2005. Pastafarians believe the theory of gravity is a hoax. Things stay on the ground rather than float away because the invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster holds them down with his noodly appendages.
Earlier this month, Russia enacted a law that makes “insulting the religious sensitivities of believers” a crime.