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« Reply #8280 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:39 AM »


Ireland's first legal abortion carried out in Dublin

Termination under new legislation carried out on woman who had unviable 18-week pregnancy and whose life was at risk

Henry McDonald in Dublin
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 09.55 BST   

The first legal abortion in an Irish hospital has been carried out in Dublin, it was confirmed on Friday.

The termination was carried out on a woman who had an unviable 18-week pregnancy and whose life was risk at the National Maternity hospital.

It is the first legal abortion to be carried out since the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed by both houses of the Irish parliament last month.

The National Maternity hospital is one of 25 hospitals in Ireland authorised to carry out terminations under the provisions of the act.

It was performed under section 7, which deals with the risk of loss of life of a woman from physical illness.

Under the new legislation, the hospital is required to provide the health minister with the registration number assigned by Ireland's Medical Council to the doctors who carried out the procedure and were involved in certification.

It must also state under which provision of the act the termination was carried out.

The health minister is required to publish an annual report on terminations carried out under the terms of the act.

It is understood that the clause in the act dealing with women who are suicidal in pregnancy was not considered by the medical team at the National Maternity hospital.

Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died in Galway University hospital last autumn, after being denied an emergency abortion


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« Reply #8281 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:41 AM »


Eurogroup chief becomes latest to admit Greece on course for third bailout

Jeroen Dijsselbloem's comments cast shadow over news that eurozone companies are reporting strong growth

Heather Stewart   
The Guardian, Thursday 22 August 2013 18.48 BST   

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, is the latest senior politician to concede that Greece may yet need a third bailout, casting a shadow over news that eurozone companies are reporting their strongest growth for more than two years.

Dijsselbloem, who heads the eurogroup of finance ministers, told Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad: "The problems in Greece won't be solved in 2014, so something more will have to happen." He said the form and scale of another rescue would depend on Greece's progress with economic reforms.

His admission echoed that of the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who told an election campaign event earlier this week that the bailed-out country still needed more aid. The International Monetary Fund has suggested that there is an €11bn (£9.4bn) shortfall in the current rescue package for Greece.

The spectre of destabilising negotiations over a new bailout, though they are unlikely to get under way until after German elections next month, were a reminder that the eurozone is still not out of the woods, despite an upbeat survey suggesting economic recovery in the 17-member zone is gathering steam.

The monthly purchasing managers' indices, which test the confidence of firms across the 17 member-states, showed both manufacturing and services expanding at their fastest pace since summer 2011.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at data provider Markit, which compiles the indices, said: "The euro area's economic recovery gained momentum in August."

Apolline Menut, of Barclays, said: "The readings confirm that recovery is on track and that GDP should continue to grow in the third quarter."

However, while Germany scored a PMI reading of 53.4 – well above the 50 level which marks expansion, suggesting recovery in the eurozone's largest economy is gathering speed – output in France declined, and at a faster pace than during July, according to the survey, with both manufacturing and services output falling. Williamson said: "A big question mark still hangs over France's ability to return to sustained growth."

Across the eurozone as a whole, export sales rose for the second month in a row, Markit said, and new orders for manufactured goods jumped at their fastest pace since May 2011.

However, some analysts remain more sceptical about whether the nascent upturn – after an 18 month recession – is set to last, particularly if the US Federal Reserve's plan to "taper", or start reducing, its $85bn a month quantitative easing programme continues to push up government bond yields on this side of the Atlantic, raising the cost of borrowing.

A research note from City consultancy Fathom said: "The fundamental structural problems facing the euro area have not gone away. In addition, the potential spillovers from Fed tapering pose a threat to debt sustainability in the periphery … we are a long way from calling an end to the euro area crisis."

Investors were cheered by a similar survey of China's manufacturing survey, published by HSBC, which suggested output may be stabilising, after growth deteriorated sharply at the start of the year. The reading on the purchasing managers' index rose to a stronger-than-expected 50.1 for August, from 47.7 in July – the largest monthly jump in three years.

Analysts said there were hopeful signs that China is succeeding in shifting its growth model away from exports, towards consumer spending.

"Domestic demand is strong enough to support 7.5% [growth] in 2013," said Ken Peng, senior economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing. "Almost all of China's economic data since July has shown improvements and suggests a rebound is under way."

Fears about a so-called hard landing in China have exacerbated recent jitters in financial markets over the fate of emerging economies when the Fed withdraws from QE.

Yields on US government bonds hit a fresh two-year high, as minutes from the Fed's latest meeting, released on Wednesday night, confirmed that QE could start to be phased out as soon as next month.

However, the dollar's relentless rise was briefly checked after a worse-than-expected labour market survey, which suggested new claims for unemployment benefits had risen by 13,000, to 336,000, in the past week.

"The Fed tapering theme continues. The minutes reinforced expectations that the Fed will taper its quantitative easing programme in September and Thursday's jobless claims didn't really change that," said Greg Moore, currency strategist at TD Securities in Toronto.


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« Reply #8282 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:45 AM »

August 22, 2013

Iran Said to Pave Over Site Linked to Nuclear Talks

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Iran has paved over large swaths of a restricted military base that United Nations nuclear inspectors have sought unsuccessfully to visit for years because they suspect it was once a laboratory for testing weapons triggers, an antiproliferation monitoring group said Thursday in a study of new satellite imagery, suggesting the Iranians had tried to sanitize the site.

The group, the Institute for Science and International Security, said in the study that the asphalt paving, as seen in satellite photographs dated Aug. 13, appeared to be part of the final stages of alterations at the site, Parchin, about 20 miles south of Tehran. The alterations have been under way for about 18 months, based on comparisons with previous satellite imagery, the group said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations, has been engaged in a protracted negotiation with Iran over gaining access to the site because of suspicions that it may have been once used for nuclear-related activities. Iran has insisted such suspicions are specious and based on fabricated evidence, but has so far balked at requests by agency inspectors to investigate for themselves.

If anything, the suspicions of I.A.E.A. inspectors may have been deepened by what has appeared to be an Iranian attempt to erase vestiges of military work while negotiations were under way on the parameters of a visit. The agency’s director general, Yukiya Amano, has publicly expressed frustration over Iran’s unwillingness to grant access.

The institute’s study said the alterations at Parchin “have significantly changed the site and impacted the ability of I.A.E.A. inspectors to collect environmental samples and other evidence that it could use to determine whether nuclear weapons-related activities once took place there.” Paving the site with asphalt, the study said, “would make it very hard to take soil samples and likely be effective at covering up environmental evidence of nuclear weaponization-related experiments.”

There was no immediate reaction to the study in Iran’s official news media. But Iranian officials have said before that any allegations of such a cover-up attempt at Parchin are absurd, because no efforts at a cleanup could eradicate the traces of radiation that inspectors would find with their sensitive monitoring and detection equipment.

The atomic energy agency is concerned that Iranian scientists at Parchin may have once conducted tests of specialized explosives needed to detonate nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. A November 2011 agency report, which Iran vigorously disputed, said Parchin may have housed a large containment vessel for such tests between 2000 and 2003.

Iran did allow agency inspectors to take a closely chaperoned tour of Parchin in 2005, but it did not include the containment vessel citied in the 2011 report.

The Parchin issue is regarded as a test of Iran’s sincerity in asserting that its nuclear program is peaceful in nature and that it has never pursued weaponization of nuclear fuel. The so-called P5-plus-1 powers, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, have urged Iran to permit access to Parchin. Separate negotiations between the P5-plus-1 powers and Iran over the group’s demands that it suspend uranium enrichment have also stalled.

The institute’s study came against the backdrop of possible policy shifts by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, regarding the country’s nuclear dispute with the outside world. He has suggested he would be more flexible than his predecessors in trying to resolve the dispute, which has resulted in sanctions against Iran. There has been speculation that he may permit atomic energy agency inspectors to visit Parchin as a sign of good faith.

Over the past week, Mr. Rouhani’s administration has announced personnel changes in three important nuclear-related posts — the chief negotiator with the P5-plus-1; the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which oversees uranium enrichment; and the Iranian ambassador to the energy agency.


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« Reply #8283 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:51 AM »


Mumbai gang-rape: five held over attack on photo-journalist

Woman taken to hospital following attack in abandoned textile mill in one of the city's fastest-growing neighbourhoods

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 10.28 BST   

Link to video: India's police vow to catch culprits after photo-journalist gang-raped

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/aug/23/india-police-catch-gang-rape-video

A woman working on an assignment to photograph old buildings in Mumbai was raped by five men on Thursday evening in an abandoned textile mill, provoking national outrage similar to that following last year's fatal gang-rape of a physiotherapist in Delhi.

The photojournalist was working on a photo feature on the crumbling residential buildings of former textile mill workers for a Mumbai-based English-language magazine.

She was taken to the Jaslok hospital after the attack, where doctors said her medical condition was stable.

Police arrested five men from the area in connection with the gang-rape, but the Mumbai commissioner, Satya Pal Singh, refused to give any details about those arrested, saying it was "a sensitive case".

"The woman, who is around 22 years old, had gone inside the Shakti Mills compound at about 6pm along with a young man who was carrying the cameras," Singh said. "Five men who were inside the derelict textile mill first accused the woman's companion of being wanted for a murder, tied him up with a belt, then took the woman aside and took turns raping her."

After the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a Delhi bus last December, Mumbai was often cited as an Indian city where women could feel safe on the streets.

"Mumbai was always safe for women, but in recent years the emphasis of the police and the home department has shifted from protecting women to restricting women's freedom," said Kavita Krishnan, a women's activist.

Krishnan recalled recent instances of "moral policing" in the city, with overzealous policemen targeting women in restaurants and bars. Maharashtra state's home minister, RR Patil, has also focused on closing down bars where women dance on stage, and wants to retain the ban despite strictures from India's supreme court.

"Mumbai's famous textile mill area was once one of the safest neighbourhoods in the city, with men and women working together," said Krishnan. "It's sad that this has happened now."

"Mumbai will feel safe for women again only if police focus on protecting us, not restricting us," she said. A month ago there was an acid attack on a woman in a suburb and last Sunday an American woman was attacked and robbed on a local train in the city's business district.

"Like every woman in Mumbai, I have held on desperately to the hope that women are safe in this city," blogged journalist Deepanjana Pal. "Yesterday, that faith was brutally violated."

After the Delhi gang-rape, the law was amended to make it more difficult for rapists to get off lightly or escape punishment. After Thursday evening's outrage in Mumbai, there are demands once again for a stricter law.

"There has to be deterrence. Must have stricter laws," tweeted the union minister, Kapil Sibal, who is also a prominent lawyer.


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« Reply #8284 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:01 AM »


Bo Xilai trial: I was framed, former high-flyer tells court

Disgraced politician denies charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in startlingly forthright terms

Jonathan Kaiman in Jinan
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 18.26 BST   

China's biggest political trial in decades opened on Thursday with an extraordinary display of defiance by Bo Xilai, the former Communist party high-flyer facing charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

In an austere, low-ceilinged courtroom in Jinan, the capital of coastal Shandong province, Bo denied the bribery allegations in startlingly forthright terms. He called one of the prosecution's main witnesses a "mad dog," and dismissed testimony by his estranged wife as "laughable" and "ridiculous."

"I was framed," he said.

Bo stands accused of receiving bribes totalling almost 27 million yuan (£2.8m) between 2000 and 2012 from the heads of two companies – Tang Xiaolin, the head of Dalian International Development, and Xu Ming, the head of Dalian Shide Group.

Many analysts had expected the trial to stick to a carefully prepared script with Bo typecast as a repentant villain. China's ruling Communist party controls the country's courts, and has almost certainly determined its verdict in advance; more than 98% of the country's criminal cases end in convictions.

But Bo flatly denied that Tang gave him about 1m yuan (£115,000) in bribes between 2002 and 2005 and said that he had been pressured into making a false confession by party disciplinary officials.

"I admitted it against my will during the Central Discipline Inspection Commission's investigation against me," he said.

"I am not a perfect man, I am also not a strong-willed man, and I am willing to assume legal responsibility" for delivering the confession, he said. He called Tang a "corrupt man" and "mad dog" after hearing the businessman's testimony.

Bo dismissed testimony from his estranged wife, Gu Kailai, who claimed that she had removed tens of thousands of dollars from shared safes in the couple's north-eastern homes and spent them while visiting the couple's 25-year-old son, Bo Guagua, who was then a student in the UK.

Bo called his wife's testimony ridiculous and his defence lawyer questioned Gu's suitability as a witness, saying she was a convicted murderer with a history of mental illness.

Prosecutors also accused Bo of receiving 20.7 million yuan in valuables from Xu Ming, a property tycoon in the north-east city of Dalian, where Bo once served as mayor. In his testimony, Xu claimed that he spent US$3.23m (£2m) for Gu to acquire a villa in southern France and helped finance an expensive trip by his son to Africa.

Bo denied any knowledge of the alleged transactions and in a forceful cross-examination of Xu, forced him to concede that he had not directly raised such matters with Bo. "Did you tell me about Africa?" asked Bo. "No," said Xu. "Thank you for seeking truth from facts," Bo replied.

Bo, a 64-year-old former commerce minister and provincial governor, was once considered a main contender for some of China's most powerful political posts. But his career imploded in 2012 when his second-in-command, Chongqing's police chief, Wang Lijun, defected to a US consulate in south-west China carrying stacks of incriminating documents. The ensuing fallout revealed that Gu had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood in a Chongqing hotel the previous autumn, ostensibly over a business deal gone sour.

Analysts say that Bo's performance may have been authorised by senior officials to present the appearance of a fair and open trial – the image would lend credence to newly-anointed president Xi Jinping's crackdown on official malfeasance, a hallmark of his early tenure.

"I was surprised by the level of openness that they seem to have given Bo in terms of rejecting the charges," said Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese studies at Oxford University. "One thing you can say is that it may give the final verdict more credibility if Bo is allowed to speak his piece, then they still level the charges against him," he said.

State media revealed the proceedings via a series of transcripts posted to social media websites throughout the day, suggesting that high-level officials were comfortable with Bo's behavior.

Other aspects of the trial suggested that it was a carefully managed work of political theatre. Foreign media have been barred from entering the courtroom.

Social media, while an unprecedented platform for publicising this type of case, allow the authorities to curate which information is ultimately made public. The proceedings were not shown on live TV.

Photographs released by the courthouse also seemed meticulously crafted to convey the message that while Bo has been has been stripped of his political agency, he has also been treated with respect.

In the first public images of Bo since his detention a year-and-a-half ago, he appeared in a white dress shirt and black trousers, a stark contrast to the orange jumpsuit that many political prisoners are forced to don in public hearings.

But although Bo stands at 1.86 metres , the images show him flanked by two police officers whose size dwarfs his own. "That was clearly staged to make him look small," said Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Nottingham.

As party secretary of Chongqing, Bo gained a wide popular support base with his "sing red songs" and "smash the black" campaigns, a combination of populist rhetoric and ruthless crackdowns on organised crime.

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

Bo Xilai prosecutors use wife's evidence against him

Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Chinese politician, says that a businessman gave family gifts including French villa and Segway

Associated Press in Jinan
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 11.26 BST   

Prosecutors in the trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai have used his own wife to bolster bribery allegations against him, presenting videotaped testimony in which she says a businessman gave their family gifts including a French villa, airline tickets and a Segway scooter.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, set off the scandal that ruined his career by murdering a British businessman. Among other allegations in China's messiest political scandal in decades, Bo is accused of interfering with the investigation.

He sought to discredit his wife even before the video was shown in Jinan intermediate people's court. On Thursday, when Bo's trial began, he questioned his wife's credibility and mental health while fiercely denying that he took $3.5m (£2.2m) in bribes from two businessmen, one of whom he described as a "mad dog" trying to earn credit with authorities.

The trial is a balancing act for Chinese leaders, who want to show they are serious about fighting graft without encouraging complaints that such abuses are widespread under one-party rule. The trial is widely believed to have a conviction as its predetermined outcome, but Bo, the former Communist party boss of Chongqing, has launched an unexpectedly spirited defence.

The statement from Gu was videotaped on 10 August. Before it was presented, there had been no publicly released word from her since she was convicted of murder in August of last year.

In the video, she said a businessman accused of bribing Bo was a family friend who did many favours for them in exchange for her husband's help. The businessman, Xu Ming, is from the north-eastern city of Dalian, where Bo was once a top official.

Gu said Xu gave the family a villa in Nice, France, often paid for their international flights and gave them gifts that included expensive seafood. She said her son received a Segway – an electric standup scooter – from Xu, and that Bo had been aware of the gifts.

"Xu Ming is our old and longtime friend," Gu is seen telling her questioner, who identified herself as someone from the supreme people's procuratorate, the country's top prosecutor's office. "We had a very good impression of him and believed he was honest and kind, so we trusted him a lot."

Gu is seen seated at a table in a black-and-white striped shirt in the video, posted on the Jinan court's microblog. The microblog and court transcripts have provided a rare but possibly incomplete window into the proceedings for the public and for foreign media, which have been barred from the courtroom.

Gu, who confessed to killing businessman Neil Heywood by poisoning him with cyanide, received a suspended death sentence that may be reduced to life in prison.

Bo is accused of corruption and of interference in the investigation of Heywood's 2011 murder. Prosecutors on Thursday ended months of suspense about details of the bribery charges against him, rolling out accusations that featured the French villa, a hot-air balloon project and a football club. The trial was delving further into the bribery allegations on Friday before moving on to charges of embezzlement of government funds and abuse of office.


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« Reply #8285 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:02 AM »


Health costs mount for Indigenous Australians in remote areas

Expenditure on potentially preventable hospital admissions more than double the amount for non-Indigenous Australians

Helen Davidson   
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 11.31 BST   

Health expenditure on potentially preventable hospital treatment of Indigenous Australians is more than double the expenditure on non-Indigenous Australians, a new report shows – but the cause is unclear.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, Expenditure on health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2010-11: an analysis by remoteness and disease, released on Friday, found that spending on health per person increased with remoteness – and did so particularly for Indigenous patients, because of hospital admissions that might have been prevented.

In 2010-11, for every dollar spent on non-Indigenous Australians living in remote or very remote areas on potentially preventable hospitalisations (PPH), $2.22 was spent on Indigenous Australians.

PPH expenditure for Indigenous people was $219m ($385 a person), and non-Indigenous expenditure was $3.4bn ($174 a person).

Whether the reason for the higher spending is more to do with remoteness or the lower standard of health among Indigenous Australians is largely unknown, said Dr Adrian Webster, a spokesman for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

"That's the million-dollar question. It's really complicated and probably varies depending on which conditions you look at and which areas you're talking about – how remote you're talking about," he told Guardian Australia.

"We suffer a little from the fact our classification of remoteness is very broad when it comes to 'remote' and 'very remote'. It's actually very difficult within our data to estimate what proportion of cost differential is related to remoteness verses being Indigenous."

Previous studies have found that remote living has an extreme effect on health and health provisions across the whole Australian population. Changes to the classifications have been proposed.

The reasons for hospital admissions are also markedly different between the two groups when broken down by disease groups.

Genitourinary diseases – including kidney dialysis – accounted for the largest proportion (11%) of "hospital admitted expenditure" on Indigenous Australians, followed by mental and behavioural disorders (11%), maternal conditions (8%), unintentional injuries (8%) and cardiovascular disease (7%).

For non-Indigenous Australians the largest proportion in 2010-11 was cardiovascular diseases with 12%. The next highest proportion of expenditure was unintentional injuries (10%), musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases (9%) and cancer (8%).

This difference is partly due to the lower life expectancy of Indigenous Australians, creating a younger population, according to Webster. "That is, I suppose, both a cause and an effect of the different disease profiles within those populations. A younger population you're going to expect to see less chronic conditions."


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« Reply #8286 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:06 AM »

Experts worried about ‘alarming’ rate of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Myanmar

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 22, 2013 16:47 EDT

Health officials called Thursday for urgent action to tackle “alarming” rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Myanmar where nearly 9,000 people catch the strain of the infectious disease each year.

Treatment programmes in the impoverished nation — where the healthcare system was left woefully underfunded during decades of military rule — are expensive and ineffective leaving the deadly illness to spread unchecked, experts warned at a Yangon forum on the issue.

“Forms of TB that cannot be treated with standard drugs are presenting at an alarming rate in the country, with an estimated 8,900 people newly infected each year,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement.

The drug-resistant strain can still be treated, but analysis has shown that patients often have to take up to 20 pills a day and endure months of painful injections — although even up to two years of medication is not guaranteed to work.

“Yet only a fraction — 800 by the end of 2012 — receive treatment. Untreated, the airborne and infectious disease is fatal,” it said, adding care for the drug-resistant strain must “scale up country-wide to save lives and stem the unchecked crises”.

Myanmar, which is undergoing sweeping political and economic reforms, will publish results of a nationwide TB survey by the end of the year, a health ministry official said, adding currently there is enough medicine for just 500 patients with the drug-resistant strain.

They have been identified in just 38 townships across the vast country and there is so far no accurate measure of the disease’s spread.

Resistance to TB drugs develops when treatment fails to kill the bacteria that causes it — either because the patient fails to follow their prescribed dosages or the drug does not work.

“The gap is enormous,” said Thandar Lwin who manages the country’s TB programme for the Ministry of Health.

“We need laboratory facilities, human resources and funding,” she said, adding treatment is made more complex because up to 10 percent of people with the illness also suffer from HIV.

TB was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 20 years ago, but remains a leading cause of death by an infectious disease.

On its website, the UN agency says at least $1.6 billion is needed annually to prevent the spread of the disease.

Estimates for 2011 put the prevalence of TB in Myanmar at 506 sufferers per 100,000 of the population, compared to a regional average of 271 and a global figure of 170.

Over 95 percent of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

Global health experts warned in March of the looming risk of an entirely untreatable strain of TB emerging.


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« Reply #8287 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:31 AM »


Syria records its millionth child refugee

Unicef says the global community has failed in its responsibility to the children displaced by the violence in Syria

Mark Tran   
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013

The Syria crisis reached another grim milestone as UN aid agencies reported that the number of registered child refugees had reached 1 million, most of whom were under 11. Within the country, more than 2 million children have been displaced, they said.

About 7,000 children have been killed since the conflict began. Of the hundreds of people killed in an apparent gas attack in rebel-held parts of eastern Damascus on Wednesday, many were children.

"This 1 millionth child refugee is not just another number," said Anthony Lake, executive director of Unicef, the UN agency for children. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend.

He added: "We must all share the shame, because while we work to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this crisis, the global community has failed in its responsibility to this child. We should stop and ask ourselves how, in all conscience, we can continue to fail the children of Syria."

Ahmed, 14, living at Za'atari camp in Jordan, said he longed to return home. "My brother has been killed and my sister [had] a brain injury. We thought we could not bring her here at first. But in the end we brought her and my brother in an ambulance.

"We ended up burying him here. My sister has been receiving treatment to learn how to walk again after the accident, because she lost the use of her left leg. I wish we could go back home one day."

Children comprise half the refugees from the Syria conflict, according to Unicef and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Latest figures show that about 740,000 Syrian child refugees are under 11. Most have gone to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Increasingly, Syrians are fleeing to north Africa and Europe.

In recent days, Syrian Kurds have streamed into the Kurdish north of Iraq in numbers not seen since the civil war began. The arrival of tens of thousands of refugees caught the UNHCR and Iraq's Kurdish regional government offguard.

Besides the physical stress and trauma of leaving home, often in perilous circumstances, refugee children must almost confront the threats from child labour, early marriage and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking.

More than 3,500 children in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq have crossed Syria's borders either alone or separated from their families.

"What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and wellbeing of a generation of innocents," said António Guterres, UNHCR high commissioner. "The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatised, depressed and in need of a reason for hope."

Syria's upheaval, now in its third year, has prompted the UN to launch a $5bn emergency appeal, the biggest in its history. Part of the appeal, the Syria regional refugee response plan, which calls for $3bn until December of this year, has currently reached only 38% of its target.

While intensified efforts are needed to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, parties to the conflict must stop targeting civilians and cease recruitment of children, said Unicef and UNHCR.

"Children and their families must be safe to leave Syria and borders must remain open so they can cross to safety," they said. "Those who fail to meet these obligations under international humanitarian law should be held fully accountable for their actions.

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

Syria crisis: US holds talks as concern grows over chemical weapons claims

John Kerry discusses options with foreign counterparts, while Ban Ki-moon sends UN disarmament chief to Damascus

Dan Roberts in Washington and Julian Borger   
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013

The US held a flurry of diplomatic talks on Thursday to discuss possible new action against the Syrian government amid mounting international concern over alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Though it stressed it had still not yet seen conclusive proof of chemical weapon use, the US State Department revealed that secretary of state John Kerry had held seven calls with overseas counterparts on Thursday, and had taken part in a national security council meeting at the White House.

The British Foreign Office confirmed Kerry had spoken to William Hague. A spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the call.

Washington is split over how to respond to the latest attack, which it believes may have killed between 1,000 and 1,800 people. Military leaders such as Martin Dempsey, , have urged caution, for fear of becoming further embroiled in a Middle East conflict when it is unclear whether the rebels would back US interests.

"Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides," Dempsey said in the letter dated 19 August to Representative Eliot Engel. "It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not."

Others, such as UN ambassador Susan Rice, are thought to be keen to move beyond the limited supply of weapons to rebel forces sanctioned by Barack Obama after the US first determined that the Syrian government used chemical weapons earlier this summer.

"Our red line was the use of chemical weapons. That was crossed a couple of months ago and the president took action," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "If these [new] reports are true it would be an outrageous escalation in the use of chemical weapons by the regime, and there would be a range of further options for us to take."

She said Kerry spoke by phone with the leader of the Syrian national coalition, the UN secretary general and foreign ministers from France, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the EU.

"The president has ordered the intelligence community to urgently gather information. We are unable to determine conclusively chemical weapons use but we are doing everything possible to nail down the facts."

Psaki refused to detail or "inventory" previous arms supply measures, or speculate whether they had any effect in pressuring Assad.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday night called on the Syrian government to allow inspectors access to the Damascus suburbs that came under attack and dispatched disarmament chief Angela Kane to Damascus to press for a UN investigation.

Earlier, France had raised the prospect of the use of force against the Syrian government if allegations of its use of chemical weapons are proved.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said on Thursday that if the regime was shown to be responsible for the massacre, "we need a reaction by the international community – a reaction of force". He ruled out the deployment of foreign ground troops but "a reaction that can take a form, I don't want to be more precise, of force" – raising the possibility of air strikes by western powers.

Hundreds of civilians are known to have died in the attack on Ghouta, a rebel-held area in the Damascus suburbs, and the death toll continues to rise as more bodies are found.

In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said the UK would not rule out any option in its response to the latest massacre.

"Yesterday saw a serious escalation in the crisis in Syria," the spokeswoman said. "Our immediate priority is to verify the facts and ensure the UN team is granted access to investigate these latest reports. We believe a political solution is the best way to end the bloodshed. However, the prime minister and foreign secretary have said many times we cannot rule out any option, in accordance with international law, that might save innocent lives in Syria."

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, declared that the apparent gas attack crossed "all red lines" and criticised international inaction, as well as the UN security council, which he said "has not even been able to take a decision".

On Wednesday, the security council expressed "strong concern" and called for more "clarity" on the use of chemical weapons, but Russia and China insisted on the watering down of a tougher approach backed by the US, UK, France and 32 other governments that called on the UN investigative team already in Damascus to be allowed immediate access to the site of the attack, and to be granted greater latitude by the Syrian government to carry out their enquiries.

Bashar al-Assad's regime had previously allowed the UN team – led by a Swedish scientist, Åke Sellström – into the country, but limited its investigation into chemical weapons use to three sites.

Moscow and Beijing have consistently backed Assad throughout the civil war, and the Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday accused rebels of staging the massacre to trigger intervention. China issued a statement saying it opposed the use of chemical weapons, but called for the UN team to "fully consult with the Syrian government and maintain an objective, impartial and professional stance, to ascertain what really happened".

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said the Ghouta attack was just the latest in a series of chemical weapons atrocities, and joined international calls for Sellström's investigators to be given immediate access. The area was reported to be still under sustained Syrian army bombardment on Thursday.

"We cannot accept massacres, particularly involving the use of these extremely dangerous weapons. We're talking about mustard gas, sarin – things that remind us of the horrors of war," Fabius said. "The last time gas of this type was used on a massive scale was during the Iraq war, by Saddam Hussein."

France has frequently taken the lead in condemning Assad for atrocities, but has also stressed that its response would be in concert with its allies, leading to criticism of inaction within France. The headline of Le Monde's editorial on Thursday was: "Indignation is not enough".

• This article was amended on 23 August 2013 to correct the name of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. It is Martin Dempsey, not John

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

Syria crisis: Russia calls for UN inquiry into chemical weapons claim

US and Russian foreign ministers discuss situation, as Ban Ki-moon renews calls for UN inspectors to investigate

Dan Roberts in Washington, Julian Borger and agencies
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 11.50 BST   

Moscow has called for an independent investigation by United Nations experts into allegations that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus.

The statement released by the Russian foreign ministry on Friday said Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had discussed the situation by telephone on Thursday and concluded that they had a "mutual interest" in calling for the UN investigation.

The statement said Russia had called for President Bashar al-Assad's embattled government to co-operate with an investigation, but questions remained about the willingness of the opposition, "which must secure safe access of the mission to the location of the incident".

Russia has been one of Assad's key allies in the international arena. Moscow has asserted that the attack was "a homemade rocket loaded with an unidentified chemical agent" and that it was probably a provocation by opposition forces intended to implicate the Syrian president.

Earlier, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, renewed his push for Syria to allow UN inspectors immediate access to the site of the alleged attack.

"I can think of no good reason why any party, either government or opposition forces – would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter," he said at a diplomatic forum in Seoul.

Syria's government has offered no public response to UN calls for its team to inspect the site of the attack, in which opponents of Assad said 500 to more than 1,000 people died.

The White House has described itself as "appalled" by the reports of the death toll and the US held a flurry of diplomatic talks on Thursday to discuss possible action against the Syrian government.

Though it stressed it had still not yet seen conclusive proof of chemical weapon use, the US state department revealed that Kerry had held seven calls with his foreign counterparts on Thursday, and had taken part in a national security council meeting at the White House.

The British Foreign Office confirmed that Kerry had spoken to the foreign secretary, William Hague. A spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the call.

Washington is split over how to respond to the latest attack. Military leaders such as John Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, have urged caution for fear of becoming further embroiled in a Middle East conflict when it is unclear whether the rebels would back US interests.

"Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides," Dempsey said in the letter dated 19 August to Representative Eliot Engel. "It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favour. Today, they are not."

Others, such as the UN ambassador Susan Rice, are thought to be keen to move beyond the limited supply of weapons to rebel forces sanctioned by President Barack Obama after the US first determined that the Syrian government used chemical weapons earlier this summer.

"Our red line was the use of chemical weapons. That was crossed a couple of months ago and the president took action," said the state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "If these [new] reports are true it would be an outrageous escalation in the use of chemical weapons by the regime, and there would be a range of further options for us to take."

She said Kerry spoke by phone with the leader of the Syrian national coalition, the UN secretary general and foreign ministers from France, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the EU.

"The president has ordered the intelligence community to urgently gather information. We are unable to determine conclusively chemical weapons use but we are doing everything possible to nail down the facts."

Psaki refused to detail or "inventory" previous arms supply measures, or speculate whether they had any effect in pressuring Assad.

The UN security council on Wednesday expressed "strong concern" and called for more clarity on the use of chemical weapons, but Russia and China insisted on the watering down of a tougher approach backed by the US, UK, France and 32 other governments that called on the UN investigative team already in Damascus to be allowed immediate access to the site of the attack, and to be granted greater latitude by the Syrian government to carry out their enquiries.

Assad's regime had previously allowed the UN team – led by a Swedish scientist, Åke Sellström – into the country, but limited its investigation into chemical weapons use to three sites.

Russia's foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Syria's position on sending inspectors to the site of the reported attack should be respected but dismissed suggestions that Russia would object to such an investigation.

"The group of observers are already in place. Such a position was agreed upon in the UN security council. How can we object? We, quite the opposite, have an interest in the investigation into what happened happen objectively," he said.

"[The United Nations and Syria] have agreed on co-operation in three areas. If there is a need to achieve clarification in this case – and judging by everything, there is – then they need to agree," he told a news conference.

Moscow and Beijing have consistently backed Assad throughout the civil war, and the Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday accused rebels of staging the massacre to trigger intervention. China issued a statement saying it opposed the use of chemical weapons, but called for the UN team to "fully consult with the Syrian government and maintain an objective, impartial and professional stance, to ascertain what really happened".

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said the Ghouta attack was just the latest in a series of chemical weapons atrocities, and joined international calls for Sellström's investigators to be given immediate access. The area was reported to be still under sustained Syrian army bombardment on Thursday.

"We cannot accept massacres, particularly involving the use of these extremely dangerous weapons. We're talking about mustard gas, sarin – things that remind us of the horrors of war," said the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. "The last time gas of this type was used on a massive scale was during the Iraq war, by Saddam Hussein."

France has frequently taken the lead in condemning Assad for atrocities, but has also stressed that its response would be in concert with its allies, leading to criticism of inaction within France. The headline of Le Monde's editorial on Thursday was: "Indignation is not enough".

**********

Assad regime responsible for Syrian chemical attack, says UK government

Chance of Damascus killings being opposition conspiracy 'vanishingly small' says William Hague

Agencies
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 13.39 BST

Britain has said it believes forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were responsible for a chemical weapons attacks in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, saying the Syrian government had "something to hide".

"I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria," said the foreign secretary, William Hague, on Friday. "I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime."

Syria's government has offered no public response to United Nations calls for its team to inspect the site of the attack, in which opponents of Assad said from 500 to more than 1,000 people died.

Barack Obama called the apparent gassing of hundreds of Syrian civilians a "big event of grave concern" in an interview with CNN on Friday but said he would not rush to embroil Americans in a costly new war. He brushed over an interviewer's reminder that he once called the use of chemical weapons a "red line" for US action on Syria.

Washington is split over how to respond to the latest attack. Military leaders such as John Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, have urged caution for fear of becoming further embroiled in a Middle East conflict when it is unclear whether the rebels would back US interests.

Moscow on Friday joined calls for an independent investigation by UN experts. The Russian statement said Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, discussed the situation by telephone on Thursday and concluded that they had a "mutual interest" in calling for the UN investigation.

The statement said Russia had called for Assad's embattled government to co-operate with an investigation, but questions remained about the willingness of the opposition, "which must secure safe access of the mission to the location of the incident".

Russia has been one of Assad's key allies in the international arena. Moscow has asserted that the attack was "a homemade rocket loaded with an unidentified chemical agent" and was probably a provocation by opposition forces intended to implicate the Syrian president.

Earlier, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, renewed his call for Syria to allow UN inspectors immediate access to the site of the alleged attack.

"I can think of no good reason why any party – either government or opposition forces – would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter," he told a diplomatic forum in Seoul.

The White House described the death toll as appalling and the US held a flurry of diplomatic talks on Thursday to discuss possible action against the Syrian government.

Though it stressed it had still not yet seen conclusive proof of chemical weapon use, the US state department revealed that Kerry had held seven calls with his foreign counterparts on Thursday, and had taken part in a national security council meeting at the White House.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Hague had spoken to Kerry, but the spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the call.

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Syria deaths: powerful asphyxiant in strike was probably sarin, say experts

Specialists say symptoms observed in footage of victims offer strong evidence that nerve agent was used near Damascus

Martin Chulov, Ian Sample, Angelique Chrisafis and Peter Beaumont   
The Guardian, Thursday 22 August 2013 21.13 BST   

Expert opinion is hardening behind attributing the deaths on Wednesday of hundreds of people in Damascus to a nerve agent such as sarin, with regional and western governments expecting to receive smuggled biological samples from the site in the coming days.

Chemical weapons specialists, who have studied footage showing the dead and dying victims of the attack, said several symptoms offered strong evidence that a nerve agent was used; it would be the worst such attack anywhere in the world in the past 25 years.

Stefan Mogl, a Swiss chemical weapons expert and former arms inspector, said: "There's a significant number of videos of children's faces and of adults who seem to have been exposed, that show typical symptoms of acetylcholinesterase inhibition poisoning, which coincides with a nerve agent."

Mogl told the Guardian it was very likely the agent used was sarin. "The significance is, it's not a single case. One person with constricting of the pupils, or with excessive salivation, or with spasms, or gasping for air, one single incident is not very significant, but … I came to the conclusion that there is a likelihood of nerve agent poisoning and this should be thoroughly investigated. You see children dying, people with very severe effects. I've seen a lot of people with uncontrolled muscle movement."

Alastair Hay, another former weapons expert, who investigated the aftermath of the Halabja attack, when up to 5,000 people were gassed in Iraqi Kurdistan by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1988, said: "I'm struck by the appearance of the victims and the absence of any signs of trauma. This suggests some powerful asphyxiant. Many of the victims have individual signs suggestive of exposure to an organophosphate agent. Nasal and lung secretions are very evident in many of the victims. These are just some of the signs consistent with [such] exposure."

Mogl said there would be immense interest among regional and western powers in obtaining samples from east Damascus, where the attack took place.

Biological samples had been given to MI6 and to French intelligence members after alleged small-scale chemical attacks earlier in the year. Both governments, along with the US, then declared that sarin had been the agent used.

However, the apparent huge toll of dead and wounded from Wednesday's attack has raised the stakes, with France threatening to use force in response, and foes of the Assad regime seeming to harden their positions.

"I'm sure the UK and other countries will get samples very quickly and analysed," said Mogl, warning that a chain of custody had to be guaranteed if smuggled samples were ever to be considered decisive.

A UN team of inspectors is in Damascus intending to investigate three earlier alleged uses of chemical weapons, and 36 countries have written to the UN secretary general requesting immediate access to east Damascus.

A French official said France's priority was for UN inspectors to get to the scene.

"What is important for us today is to confirm the facts. There is an international expert team that is 15 minutes by car from the place where the attack happened, that team must be able to immediately go there without constraints to take samples. If the Syrian regime has nothing to hide it must let the UN team go there in all independence."

"France, like other governments, has handed the UN evidence before, from reported chemical attacks in June after samples were analysed in French military laboratories, but the UN must use its own expert team to gather its own evidence on the matter of chemical attacks."

Western officials said that the Syrian military's stockpile of sarin and mustard gas had been closely monitored over many decades. The US and UK had tried to prevent Syrian officials buying two precursors needed to dispense sarin, however substitutes could retain the lethal effect of the gas.

Meanwhile, attention was shifting towards the attack missiles. The strike occurred around 2am Friday at a time when the Syrian military had launched an advance into the rebel-held area east of Damascus. The missiles bore similarities to those used in at least two previous attacks where a toxic gas was reported to have been used.

Elliott Higgins, a British-based blogger who collates information on weapons systems in use in Syria, said the rockets' projectiles shared features in common. He said they had first been used by government forces in Daraya, south-west Damascus, on 4 January this year.

The same missile has also been implicated in two other claimed chemical attacks in Adra, north-east of Damascus on 11 June, when it was described by activists as a "chemical missile", and later in the same town on 5 August, where again it was linked to a chemical attack.

The slender rockets, which appear to be compatible with both an explosive and a non-conventional pay-load, have a distinctive fin arrangement, including a circular tail piece that appears to have been manufactured to the same specifications in each instance and a bolt hole on the tail in the same place.

Eyewitnesses have described the missiles and rockets launched in the attack as having come from two areas of Damascus which are both under regime control – the Mezze airbase, south-west of central Damascus, and the October War Panorama military museum in the city.

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August 22, 2013

Obama Officials Weigh Response to Syria Assault

By MARK LANDLER, MARK MAZZETTI and ALISSA J. RUBIN.
IHT

WASHINGTON — The day after a deadly assault in Syria that bore many of the hallmarks of a chemical weapons attack, a sharply divided Obama administration on Thursday began weighing potential military responses to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Senior officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence agencies met for three and a half hours at the White House on Thursday to deliberate over options, which officials say could range from a cruise missile strike to a more sustained air campaign against Syria.

The meeting broke up without any decision, according to senior officials, amid signs of a deepening division between those who advocate sending Mr. Assad a harsh message and those who argue that military action now would be reckless and ill timed.

In an interview with CNN broadcast on Friday, Mr. Obama said the United States is “gathering information” about the chemical weapon reports, but he suggested that it is already clear that the incident will demand “America’s attention.”

“What we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern,” Mr. Obama said during an interview broadcast on CNN’s “New Day” program. “This is something that is going to require America’s attention.”

Mr. Obama said his administration does not expect cooperation from Syria’s regime to determine what happened in the attack. But he said that when chemical weapons are used, “that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has.”

Debates about Syria have played out across the Atlantic. France backed the use of force to counter such an attack, and Turkey and Israel expressed outrage. But diplomats in several countries conceded there was no stomach among the Western allies, including the United States, for long-term involvement in a messy, sectarian civil war.

While the Obama administration said it would wait for the findings of a United Nations investigation of the attack, American officials spoke in strikingly tougher terms about what might happen if President Obama determined that chemical weapons were used.

“If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant use of chemical weapons by the regime,” the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said. “The president, of course, has a range of options that we’ve talked about before that he can certainly consider.”

The United States first confirmed in April that it believed the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, and Obama administration officials responded by signaling that they would supply the rebels with weapons. But to date, none have arrived, opposition officials said.

Among American officials, there was a growing belief that chemical weapons had been used in the latest attack, early Wednesday east of Damascus — potentially the worst of its kind since Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s — and little doubt that anyone but Mr. Assad’s forces would have used them.

But given how difficult it was last time to prove the use of chemical weapons, administration officials offered no timetable for how long it might take this time, raising questions about how promptly the United States could act.

Israel said its intelligence strongly suggested a chemical weapons attack, while the Syrian opposition pointed to evidence, including the use of four rockets and the locations from which they were fired, that members of the opposition said proved the attack could have been carried out only by the government’s forces.

An opposition official described an assault that began shortly after 2 a.m., when the rockets, which they said were equipped with chemical weapons, were launched. Two were fired from a bridge on the highway from Damascus to Homs; the others were launched from a Sironex factory in the Qabun neighborhood of the Syrian capital. The Assad government has denied involvement, and Russian officials have accused the rebels of staging the attack.

The rebels said the government’s presumed goal was to weaken the opposition before a major conventional attack with tanks, armored personnel carriers and attack planes. On Thursday, fighting persisted in the area, raising doubts about the ability of the United Nations to send investigators to collect samples from the wounded and dead.

Among the options discussed at the White House, officials said, was a cruise missile strike, which would probably involve Tomahawks launched from a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, where the United States has two destroyers deployed.

The Pentagon also has combat aircraft — fighters and bombers — deployed in the Middle East and in Europe that could be used in an air campaign against Syria. The warplanes could be sent aloft with munitions to be launched from far outside Syrian territory, which is protected by a respectable air defense system.

The targets could include missile or artillery batteries that launch chemical munitions or nerve gas, as well as communications and support facilities. Symbols of the Assad government’s power — headquarters and government offices — also could be among the proposed targets, officials said.

As leaders digested the harrowing images from Syria of victims gasping for breath or trembling, there was a flurry of phone calls among diplomats expressing horror at the calamitous situation in Syria and frustration at the lack of an obvious response.

“They are all bad choices,” said a European diplomat who asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the situation.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Ahmad al-Jarba, the president of the Syrian opposition. Mr. Kerry expressed his condolences and the Obama administration’s “commitment to looking into what has happened on the ground,” Ms. Psaki said.

Mr. Kerry also spoke to Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister of France, who raised the prospect of military action. He called Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu; several Arab foreign ministers; the European Union’s senior foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton; and the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

At home, however, officials said the administration remained divided about how to proceed. “There’s a split between those who feel we need to act now and those who feel that now is a very bad time to act,” said one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations.

The official did not give details about who pushed for a hawkish response to the attack and who urged caution, but he said that some at the White House meeting raised worries that it would take time to build international support for a military response, and that any strikes against Mr. Assad’s government might worsen a refugee crisis that has already placed great strain on Syria’s neighbors, particularly Jordan.

Neither the United States nor European countries yet have a “smoking gun” proving that Mr. Assad’s troops used chemical weapons in the attack, the official said. But he said intelligence agencies had amassed circumstantial evidence that some kind of chemical had been used — not the least of which was the hundreds of casualties.

“The sheer number of bodies is one pretty good indicator,” he said.

If the United States decided to move ahead with a military response with the help of Western allies, it would almost certainly be one more in a lengthening series of conflicts where the United States has played a leading role that would lack the United Nations imprimatur, including in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mohammad Salaheddine, a Syrian reporter for Al Aan Television, an Arab satellite television station, painted a bleak picture of the situation in East Ghouta, the area near Damascus that was the site of the reported chemical attack.

Mr. Salaheddine was reached by Skype on Thursday with the help of the Syrian Support Group, an American-based organization that backs the opposition.

He asserted that more than 1,500 people had been killed by the chemical attack and that many more had been wounded. The area, he said, was cut off by the fighting, making it hard for opposition members to smuggle hair, urine and blood samples out for analysis.

Adding to the opposition’s frustration, two of its officials said that none of the weapons American officials said would be provided by the C.I.A. had yet been delivered.

Senior United States military officials, in particular Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have cited the risks and costs of a large-scale military intervention as has been urged by some members of Congress.

Yet the greater political risk now may be to Mr. Obama’s credibility, analysts said, given that he laid down a red line last summer to prevent Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again.

“Assuming that there was a large-scale chemical attack, it indicates that the regime has not been deterred by the statements coming out of Washington,” said Jeffrey White, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Alissa J. Rubin from Paris. Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington. Michael D. Shear contributed reporting from New Milford, Pa.

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Syrian eyewitness accounts of alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus

Victim: I could see people coming out of their homes but they would fall down – there was foam coming out of their mouths

Mona Mahmood and Martin Chulov   
The Guardian, Thursday 22 August 2013 21.29 BST   

Few people sleep early in Damascus, even in times of war. So when shells started to crunch into the east of the capital at around 2am on Wednesday, Um Hassan and her four children were wide awake, bracing for familiar sounds of bombs falling on buildings and the empty road below.

Soon, though, loudspeakers in the neighbourhood, some attached to mosque minarets, started blaring terrifying warnings – telling residents to leave their houses and flee.

"We were in a panic to take the children and run out of Zemalka to any nearby villages," said Um Hassan of her area in the east Ghouta district of the capital. "People who were sleeping in their homes died in their beds because they could not feel the effects of the attack."

Headaches and nausea quickly overcame the family as they scrambled though blackened streets towards the family car, a violent cacophony of shelling all around and the air filling with a strange, noxious odour.

"I still feel sick and drowsy with all the smoke I have breathed," she said 36 hours after the attack, which killed hundreds of people, wounded many more, and sparked outrage around the world.

"As we were trying to [leave], I could see people coming out of their homes but they would fall down. We tried to help some of them but they died before we got them to the hospital."

The attack seemed relentless, according to Um Hassan and other victims and first responders contacted by the Guardian via Skype onThursday. The Syrian government has acknowledged that its military launched a large operation in eastern Ghouta in the early hours of Thursday, but has vehemently denied the use of chemical weapons.

"We picked up a woman with her two kids, the rocket had hit their house but … they all died. I could see the foam coming out of their mouths and noses."

Not far away in Zemalka, Abu Omar, a militant with the Free Syrian Army, was on call when he heard the first rocket land. "I ran to my house immediately to check if my wife and kids were OK. When I reached home, I began to smell something like vinegar and rotten eggs. Then, I heard people shouting that the district was under attack by chemical rockets. I and some of my colleagues ran to the FSA headquarters in Zemalka to get ambulances to evacuate the people.

"We were in a district called Al-Mazra'a. We started to knock on the doors, calling people to get out. Those who were not responding or opening the doors, we began to break their doors and look for people inside. We were able to evacuate 20 people. None of them were dead but they were suffocating.

"We distributed them among the makeshift hospitals in the district. It is really a miracle that none of the victims were dead ... though some of them were foaming at the mouth and their bodies were turning blue."

Abu Omar says another burst of rockets landed around 3am. But they were unlike other explosions that had regularly peppered the area for the last year as regime forces tried to dislodge rebel groups and the communities that backed them from their stronghold less than seven miles from the heart of Damascus.

"You could hear the sound of the rocket in the air but you could not hear any sound of explosion." And they caused no visible damage to any buildings. The smell became overpowering.

Abu Omar says he tried to seek shelter in the local mosque, but was turned back by the scene of a sheikh and his family lying dead. The dead and dying were by now all around.

"I went to one of the houses and found an infant who was a year and a half old. I can't forget this scene till now," he said. He was jumping like a bird, struggling to breathe. I held him immediately and ran to the car but he died. I swear to God the number of the dead infants and children are more than the numbers of elders. We even broke the locks of the shops to pile the victims inside. In one of the shops, there were 200 children."

Also in Zemalka on Wednesday morning, Ashraf Hassan, 18, and his four friends were playing cards.

"Around 1.30am, we started to hear shouts of people for help. We did not hear any attack or shelling. We went out to find out that the district is in complete chaos and panic. At 2am, mortars started to fall.

"We began to break in houses to check out about the people inside. In one of the houses, I found four brothers sleeping opposite each other dead in their bed and their parents were dead too in another room. All of them suffocated. I could see foam on their mouths and noses.

"I helped many other guys evacuate bodies and some people who were still alive … until I myself started to smell the gas.

"The smell was like cooking gas. My friends told me to wear a mask on my nose and mouth but I began to feel nausea and vomiting. My eyes turned very red and started to itch.

"I felt I'm almost going to lose consciousness. I woke up today with very itching eyes and could not open them at all, so I came to the hospital for treatment."

He said all those who survived the attack were suffering from the same symptoms.

As whatever it was that dropped on Zemalka and two other areas in eastern Ghouta continues to ravage its residents, survivors and eyewitnesses have tried to piece together where the rockets or missiles were fired from.

Two areas of the capital, not far away, and both in regime held areas are being scrutinised.

"They came from around four kilometres away," said Haitham Baghdadi, a resident of Jobar, who on Thursday was trying to flee with his family to Jordan. "One site was the October War Panorama, and another was the air base. They have tried to wipe us off the map."

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Syria: chemical weapons with impunity

The options for response are all bad, and it is doubtful whether airstrikes would establish deterrence

Guardian G logo
Editorial   
The Guardian, Thursday 22 August 2013 22.51 BST        

There is next to no doubt that chemical weapons were used in Ghouta in eastern Damascus, and that, unlike previous alleged attacks, they produced mass casualties. Whether the death toll is in the hundreds or over a thousand, as the rebels claim, this is one of the most significant chemical weapons attacks since Saddam Hussein's on the Kurds in Halabja 25 years ago, and an unmistakable challenge to the vow Barack Obama made a year ago that, if proved, the use of chemical or biological weapons would "change my calculus".

Nor is there much doubt about who committed the atrocity. The Syrian government acknowledged it had launched a major offensive in the area and they are the only combatant with the capability to use chemical weapons on this scale. Western intelligence officials have calculated it would need an invasion force of 60,000 troops to secure the 12 chemical weapons depots at Bashar al-Assad's disposal. A lot of sarin, if indeed that was the agent used, is needed to kill that number of people. The sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway killed 13 people.

That leaves the question why. In defending their client state from the accusation, Russia called the attack a pre-planned provocation, occurring as it did within only five miles of the hotel where UN inspectors had arrived to investigate previous alleged incidents. There are four possible causes: a Syrian commander acting on his own, which is unlikely; an order from Mr Assad in the knowledge that Mr Obama would not respond; or a decision to up the firepower against the rebels who, despite losses in Qusair or Homs, still control about half of the country. The fourth possible cause is that this was an attack which went wrong, killing many more than intended.

The options for response are all bad. France and Turkey are pushing for military action, and Britain will not rule it out – possibly airstrikes against missile depots and aircraft that Mr Assad would not like to lose. There is no chance that he will allow the UN inspection team to expand the area of their investigation to anything more than three limited sites. And nor, with Russia and China's protection, is there much chance of the security council mandating them to do so. The task of the Syrian government is straightforward – to play for time, pen the UN inspection team in, and let the physical evidence itself degrade, which is swiftly done in an active combat zone.

It is doubtful whether airstrikes would establish deterrence. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has told Congress that while the US could intervene in the war, no moderate rebel group was ready to fill the vacuum. That leaves a regional war in freefall. This chemical attack may not be the last.


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« Reply #8288 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:34 AM »


Israel strikes Lebanon after rocket attacks

Military says bombardment of 'terror site' near Na'ameh was in retaliation for salvo from across border the previous day

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 05.24 BST   

Israel's air force bombed a militant target in Lebanon on Friday in retaliation for a cross-border rocket salvo.

An Israeli military source said the "terror site" bombed was near Na'ameh, between Beirut and Sidon, but no further details were provided.

Four rockets fired on Thursday caused damage but no casualties in northern Israel. They were claimed by an Sunni Muslim group rather than Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shia militia that holds sway in south Lebanon.

"Israel will not tolerate terrorist aggression originating from Lebanese territory," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said in announcing Friday's air strike.

A Palestinian militant group in Lebanon confirmed one of its bases south of Beirut was hit by the Israeli bombardment but there were no injuries or significant damage.

Lebanon's al-Manar television quoted a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command as saying the group's base in Na'ameh was attacked. The spokesman said the PFLP-GC was surprised it was targeted because the earlier rocket fire was claimed by a separate group.

Israel and Lebanon are technically at war. Israel briefly invaded Lebanon during an inconclusive 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. The Israelis are reluctant to open a new Lebanese front, however, given spiraling regional instability.


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« Reply #8289 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:36 AM »

August 22, 2013

Mubarak Is Moved From Prison to House Arrest, Stoking Anger of Islamists

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ROD NORDLAND
IHT

CAIRO — Egypt’s new rulers on Thursday moved former President Hosni Mubarak from a prison cell to house arrest at a military hospital, ending more than two years of incarceration but stopping short of granting him full freedom.

His release stoked the anger of the thousands of Islamists and others still protesting in the streets around the country nightly to denounce the military’s ouster last month of Mr. Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, who remains in detention at an undisclosed location. But among other groups, reaction was muted.

The left-leaning April 6 Group, which spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Mr. Mubarak, 85, called off a planned protest against Mr. Mubarak’s release for fear that Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters might exploit it for their own cause, or that security forces might crush it in their drive to suppress the Islamists. It was canceled “to avoid the shedding of more Egyptian blood,” the group said in a statement.

An Egyptian court granted a lawyer’s petition for Mr. Mubarak’s release on Wednesday, but the decision to let him go was essentially political. The new authorities appointed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi declined to follow the Morsi government’s practice of raising new charges to keep Mr. Mubarak behind bars. Instead, the new officials used the expanded police powers that they have granted themselves to keep Mr. Mubarak under house arrest without charges, ensuring that he does not begin speaking out publicly or stirring up trouble.

Arriving from prison in a medical helicopter around 4 p.m., Mr. Mubarak reclined on a gurney as a crew of soldiers and medics pushed him to an ambulance that carried him the hospital. His lips turned up in a slight smile. He cradled his head in his hands, and dark sunglasses covered his eyes. Instead of the running suits he appeared in as an inmate, he wore khaki pants, a white shirt and soft, pale loafers.

Mr. Mubarak had spent part of his incarceration at the same military hospital. His lawyers have often argued that Mr. Mubarak is in ill health, but a long series of contradictory reports — including a false bulletin from the state news agency that a stroke had left him clinically dead — have raised the possibility that his defense team and their allies were exaggerating to win him sympathy and better conditions.

Interior Ministry officials said the hospital was his choice of residence after leaving the prison. His other previous homes had been presidential palaces, which are no longer available to him, or a mansion in the Red Sea Resort of Sharm el Sheik, which is entangled in some of the corruption charges against him.

His wife, Suzanne, is reportedly living in Cairo and has visited him in prison. Their sons, Gamal and Alaa, both remain in a Cairo prison, held under multiple corruption charges, and their mother visits them, too.

Mr. Mubarak was released from prison the same day that a committee of jurists released a proposed constitutional overhaul that would in many ways bring back the Mubarak-era charter.

The package would remove some provisions about the role of religion approved by last year’s Islamist-led constitutional assembly. The main addition in that charter set a framework for applying the principles of Shariah law, in accordance with established Sunni Muslim thought. But the overhaul preserves a longstanding clause grounding Egyptian law in the principles of Shariah. It brings back another clause left out last year that would limit women’s equality where it contradicts Shariah.

On the question of rights, freedoms, women’s equality or decentralization, the proposed overhaul provides little or no improvement, legal analysts said. It still leaves broad and ill-defined loopholes for limiting freedoms of speech and assembly. On all those questions, “it is essentially the same,” said Zaid al-Ali, a researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “No one’s life in Egypt is going to improve because of these proposed changes.”

The overhaul is expected to be rushed through a government-dominated committee of 50, and then face a national referendum — at a blistering pace compared with international norms for such debates.

Until then, the government’s flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram, said Thursday that the limits and duration of Mr. Mubarak’s house arrest would be set entirely by the military-appointed government, under its state of emergency and suspension of due process. Al Ahram said his house arrest was “for his own safety and the safety of society.”

Mr. Mubarak is still awaiting a retrial on the most serious charge against him: that he directed the killing of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators during the protests that ended his rule in February 2011. A judge initially convicted him of those charges last year. But the judges issued an obviously self-contradictory ruling that all but begged to be appealed.

The judge dismissed all charges against Mr. Mubarak’s subordinates in the police chain of command and said at the time that there was no evidence linking Mr. Mubarak to the police shooting of protesters.

But the judge essentially said he was sentencing Mr. Mubarak to life in prison on the general principle that as the president he should have been responsible.

At the time, the ruling set off outrage and street protests. But on Thursday, few seemed to remember that anger. Most were preoccupied by the protests backing Mr. Morsi and the widening crackdown against them.

In the seven seeks since Mr. Morsi was deposed, the new authorities have unleashed even more deadly violence to crush his supporters’ protests; security forces have killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters, and, according to a tally of state news media reports, imprisoned more than 1,000 of his Islamist allies.

The new authorities argue that their crackdown is justified as a fight against “terrorism,” on the grounds that some Morsi supporters carried arms, incited violence or attacked churches in the aftermath of the military takeover. But analysts suggest that the new government’s own violence could diminish its enthusiasm about prosecuting Mr. Mubarak for overseeing a less severe crackdown.

Mr. Morsi’s supporters say they feel a grim déjà vu. Mr. Mubarak is out of jail while Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, is a political prisoner, just as he was in the last days of Mr. Mubarak’s rule. In fact, the charges filed against Mr. Morsi that have justified his continued detention after his removal from office relate to his escape from his extralegal imprisonment under Mr. Mubarak. The charges also allege, implausibly, that Mr. Morsi conspired in the jailbreak with Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.

The legal treatment of both former presidents underscores that Egyptian courts “have been deeply influenced by an overheated and sometimes hysterical political climate,” said Nathan J. Brown, a legal scholar at George Washington University, noting that even in the cooler times the system was in many ways rigged to favor whomever was in power. “Authoritarianism is woven into the fabric of the Egyptian legal system,” he said.

Asmaa Al Zohairy and Sarah Mousa contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8290 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:41 AM »

August 22, 2013

Africa and Pakistan Face Polio Outbreaks, in Blow to Global Fight

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
IHT

The global effort to eradicate polio, a disease that has been on the brink of extinction for years, is facing serious setbacks on two continents. The virus is surging in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, which had been largely free of cases for several years. And a new outbreak has begun in a part of Pakistan that a warlord declared off limits to vaccinators 14 months ago.

The African outbreak began in May with just two cases of polio paralysis: one in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and another in the huge Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of Somalis have fled fighting between Islamic militants, clan militias, government troops and African peacekeepers.

Now there are 121 cases in the region; last year, there were only 223 in the world.

The new Pakistan outbreak is in North Waziristan, near the frontier with Afghanistan. It is in an area where a warlord banned polio vaccinations after it was disclosed that the C.I.A. had staged a hepatitis vaccination campaign in its hunt for Osama bin Laden. The warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, banned all efforts until American drone strikes ended.

Although only three North Waziristan children have suffered polio paralysis since then, even one case shows that the virus is in the area and could spread.

The new outbreaks may delay a recently announced $5.5 billion plan to eradicate polio by 2018. Nonetheless, public health officials still believe that, with enough local political will and donor money, they can prevail by using techniques that have worked before.

To prevent the disease from reaching Mecca during next month’s hajj, Saudi Arabia has tightened its rules. Pilgrims from any country with polio cases must be vaccinated at home and again on arrival. Last year, nearly 500,000 pilgrims were vaccinated on arrival, Dr. Ziad A. Memish, the Saudi deputy health minister, said recently.

The Pakistan outbreak is particularly frustrating because eradication had been going steadily forward despite the killings in December of nine vaccinators for which some blamed the Taliban.

Public health officials had counted themselves lucky that despite simultaneous vaccination bans in North and South Waziristan, no polio virus was known to be circulating in the 250,000 children in those areas. Vaccination posts were set up on nearby highways and on buses and trains. Urban hospitals packed the vaccine on ice for families willing to smuggle it back to neighbors. But it was not enough.

“The equation is simple,” said Dr. Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan for the World Health Organization. “Where you can immunize, the virus goes away. Where you can’t, the virus gets in, and it will paralyze these poor kids.”

Dr. Durry said he hoped that parents whose children were paralyzed would speak up at local decision-making councils, called shuras, that are common in tribal areas, and possibly put pressure on warlords to rescind the ban.

The Taliban warlord in South Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir, was killed by a drone strike in January.

Before the Waziristan outbreak, Pakistan had seen only 24 cases this year, about as many as it had at the same point in 2012. Most were around Karachi and Peshawar, where last year’s killings of the vaccinators took place and where resistance to vaccines is highest.

The Somali outbreak is different. There is little opposition to the vaccine itself, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, the W.H.O. assistant director general for polio. In several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, the drive has been hurt by rumors that the vaccine sterilizes girls or contains the virus that causes AIDS or pork products.

But, he said, many cases are in areas south of Mogadishu where the Shabab, a militant group, operate. The group opposes mass campaigns because it believes the sight of thousands of vaccinators going house to house would undercut its claim to rule those areas.

“It’s all about control,” Dr. Aylward said.

Instead, the campaign negotiates with local chiefs and midlevel Shabab members to hold small drives.

Other tactics have changed, too: children of any age, and sometimes adults, get the drops, and drives are held twice a month instead of every three months.

Refugee camps face other obstacles. Large ones often have lawless areas on their fringes where vaccinators may fear to work because of predatory criminals.

“When this started, I said, ‘Brace yourself for hundreds of cases,’ ” Dr. Aylward said, because he knew that few children born in the last five years had been immunized.

Still, he said he believed this outbreak could be beaten because it echoed the one that plagued the region from 2005 to 2007. It also began in Mogadishu, and it spread as far as Yemen and Eritrea and paralyzed about 700 children before multiple mass vaccination rounds snuffed it out. Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia are already planning those with help from Geneva.

Somalia is so dangerous for health workers that Doctors Without Borders pulled out of the country this month after 22 years there. But polio officials hope their campaign will not be targeted, largely because it creates thousands of temporary paying jobs for “volunteer” vaccinators.

In Mogadishu in July, President Hassan Sheik Mohamud publicly took polio drops at an event encouraging parents to vaccinate.

Asha Ali, 38, a mother of four, changed her attitude. “I was thinking the vaccine might sicken our children,” she said. “I realized later that it was good.”

Hamdi Hashi, 26, said she accepted it “because I don’t want this serious disease to cripple my children.”

But Habow Madey, in a different Mogadishu neighborhood, said her husband had forbidden vaccination, believing it causes “a mysterious disease.”

Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 22, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of polio cases in the world in 2012. It is 223, not 232.


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« Reply #8291 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:45 AM »

August 22, 2013

These Walls Speak, Recalling Victims of Violence

By DAMIEN CAVE
IHT

MEXICO CITY — The memorial to Mexico’s victims of violence looks like it has been dropped from the sky by an angry God. Welcoming it is not, with its rusted slabs the size of movie screens standing next to a busy intersection.

Nor is its mission clear. Even before it was inaugurated in April, the monument had set off debate over whether it should be a tribute to all the drug war’s killed, missing, kidnapped and extorted — or just those subjected to human rights abuses by the Mexican authorities.

But then, you walk a little closer and the slabs begin to speak.

“Pinta lo que sientes...expresa lo que piensas.”

The graffiti scribbled in white paint across the hunk of steel introducing the memorial — “Paint what you feel...express what you think” — is not vandalism. It’s a request: Share. Remember. Grieve.

By design, the metal panels are blank pages. Quotations chosen by the architects, from Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and others, appear in the corners, cut out like stencils. The rest is open to public expression.

“Don’t Kill Our Dreams.”

Some of the messages, like those calling for protecting dreams or legalizing drugs, are in English. All but a few inscriptions are drawn and scratched by Mexican relatives or friends of those lost to violence. The police officers guarding the memorial say people come from all over Mexico, but cities where the back alleys have seen more blood are better represented. Ciudad Juárez. Torreón. Tijuana.

Usually, it is just one person or two who visit with something to add. Many, the guards say, sob as they write or carve a message into the metal with their keys.

“Cuántos muertos?”

The question — How many dead? — hangs above a large portrait of a crying heart with hands drawn on its sides as if waving for help. Spartan and direct, it is a question that haunts all of Mexico.

An honest answer is hard to find. The most recent government report, released in January, showed that 47,515 had died in drug war violence between Dec. 1, 2006, and Sept. 11, 2011, but that does not include the thousands who are missing. And the definition of “drug-related” has also never been clear.

This year The New York Times submitted public records requests with the attorney general’s office, the Interior Ministry and 10 states with the highest murder rates in an effort to review case files with basic data on the dead: age, gender, place and cause of death. The goal was to explore details of cases that were and were not defined as drug-related.

Only one state delivered information. Every other entity refused, mostly citing privacy exemptions, though one state admitted it was “not competent on the matter.” Now even the federal government has decided to broaden its tally: On Aug. 9, officials announced that all murders would be included, whether drug-related or not.

“Alfonso Arqui Medina te extrañamos!”

The memorial’s reddish walls include a handful of names, but their stories are nowhere to be found. The message to Mr. Medina — “We miss you” — could refer to the death of an architect named Alfonso Medina who was killed in his Ford pickup five years ago, just a few blocks from the home of Tijuana’s mayor. Or it could not.

The stories of most victims will never be known. State and local authorities increasingly keep information about violence to themselves, saying they must protect their communities’ image from sensationalism, even though many Mexican news media outlets have become so intimidated by organized crime that they no longer cover the murders corroding their own communities. Even the families that come to write on the memorial seem scared to share; there are far more first names than full names.

An exception is Marcela Geovana Mendoza. A steel slab in the middle of the monument has been turned over to a message of love for her, and more discreet iterations of “te amo Marcela” appear elsewhere in white, like soft whispers heard from behind. But that is all there is. She cannot be found in the databases of Mexican newspapers. A Google search for her full name turns up nothing.

Another for just Marcela and Mendoza leads to a single lead: Fanny Marcela Mendoza Rodríguez, 19, a college student in Honduras who was shot in the head at home last September.

“Menos monumentos, menos minutos de silencio. Más acción.”

Many of the memorial’s messages are not for individuals, but for Mexico as a whole, for “fewer monuments, fewer moments of silence. More action.” They plead for and demand more justice in a country with so much going for it: resources, history, culture. Those who visit say the memorial has a lot of potential.

“The messages surprised me,” said Salvador Enriquez, 43, a visitor on Saturday. “It’s a beautiful idea.”

But even here on the walls, it is a struggle to keep the focus where it belongs. One recent afternoon, on the panel farthest from the entrance, a man in gray quietly drew a face with white chalk, suggesting a lost brother. Then he added a mane of hair, a guitar and a long tongue. It was Gene Simmons, from Kiss.

“I work in maintenance here,” the man said, nodding toward a broom near his celebrity portrait. “When I get bored, I draw.”

Over a fence, a giant Mexican flag hung, as limp as a broken arm, at the military base next door — a jarring juxtaposition in a country where the military has been implicated in many cases of death and disappearance.

To the right, one of the memorial guards could be seen using chalk to outline the ears of a rabbit in what appeared to be a child’s version of heaven. To the left, car horns wailed in clogged traffic along Paseo de la Reforma — Boulevard of Reform — as a mime with a cherry-red nose performed for laughs and change from drivers.

Closest to the entrance, the first panel held more messages than all the rest, from “shalóm” to “quiza la reina mala nos protéga” — maybe the bad queen protects us. There were also names here (Lupita y Jerry) that could represent love or loss.

Hidden among them all was a simple phrase in small handwriting. As confounding or clear as the memorial itself, it exhorted Mexicans to look inward for a way out, and to acknowledge that all of society plays a role in both violence and peace.

“Si sabes lo que vales. Ve y busca la que mereces.”

“If you know what you’re worth,” it said, “go find what you deserve.”

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

Mexico City police '90% sure' bodies in mass grave are abducted club-goers

Mass kidnapping of 12 young after-hours bar visitors mirrors crimes in drug-trafficking hot spots

Associated Press in Tlalmanalco
theguardian.com, Friday 23 August 2013 10.41 BST   

Investigators dug at a mass grave site through the night searching for more bodies and any connection to the mysterious disappearance of 12 young revellers from a Mexico City bar three months ago.

Seven corpses covered in lime and sand were found on Thursday, in a shallow grave on a ranch east of the capital in Tlalmanalco, a federal agent said.

The Mexico City prosecutor, Rodolfo Rios, who confirmed the discovery of seven bodies, said DNA tests would take two to three days to determine if the remains belonged to the young bar-goers. They vanished from the after-hours Heaven club at midday on 26 May, just a block from the leafy Paseo de Reforma, the capital's equivalent of the Champs-Élysées.

The bizarre disappearance resonated across the city of 9 million people because many had come to believe it was safe from Mexico's cartels and drug violence.

The mass abduction mirrored crimes in drug-trafficking hot spots such as the western state of Guerrero, where 20 men from neighbouring Michoacan disappeared, only to be found in a mass grave, or in Nuevo Leon, where the bodies of 17 kidnapped musicians were found at the bottom of a well.

Mexico City officials have insisted, since the kidnapping, that large drug cartels do not operate in the capital. But the case has been a political liability, with polls saying the public is overwhelmingly opposed to how the administration of mayor Miguel Mancera has handled the investigation.

The federal agent at the ranch said clothing found with the corpses made it "90% sure" that officials had found the victims.

Authorities kept more than a mile perimeter around the excavation site. The private property next to Rancho La Mesa ecological park is walled and surrounded by oak and pine trees.

The federal attorney general's office said agents had received information about possible illegal weapons on the property and obtained a search warrant. When they started looking around, they discovered the grave.

"They found a home that looked like a safe house," attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam told reporters. "We were operating under the belief it was a weapons case."

Later, some of the relatives arrived at the property being excavated, crying and covering their faces from the media.

"We have had three months with this anxiety," Maria Teresa Ramos, grandmother of Jerzy Ortiz, one of the missing, told Milenio television. "We are dying every day, little by little."

Prosecutors have said the abductions were linked to a dispute between street gangs that control drug sales in the capital's nightclubs and bars. They say the gangs are based in Mexico City's dangerous Tepito neighbourhood, where most of the missing lived. The families insist the missing young people were not involved in drug trafficking.

Surveillance cameras showed several cars pulling up to the bar at midday and taking the victims away. A witness who escaped told authorities that a bar manager had ordered the music turned off, told patrons that authorities were about to raid the establishment and ordered those inside to leave.

So far, five people have been detained in the Heaven case, including club owner Ernesto Espinosa Lobo, known as "the wolf", who has been charged with kidnapping. Among the arrested are another bar owner, a driver and a security guard. A fifth, Jose de Jesus Carmona, 32, is under arrest pending charges. One suspect is still a fugitive.

Another of the owners of the Heaven bar, Dax Rodriguez Ledezma, fled authorities only to turn up dead, his body dumped and burned in a rural area with that of his girlfriend and another friend.



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« Reply #8292 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Ancient tomb confirms powerful priestess ruled Peru long ago

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 22, 2013 17:40 EDT

The discovery in Peru of another tomb belonging to a pre-Hispanic priestess, the eighth in more than two decades, confirms that powerful women ruled this region 1,200 years ago, archeologists said.

The remains of the woman from the Moche — or Mochica — civilization were discovered in late July in an area called La Libertad in the country’s northern Chepan province.

It is one of several finds in this region that have amazed scientists. In 2006, researchers came across the famous “Lady of Cao” — who died about 1,700 years ago and is seen as one of the first female rulers in Peru.

“This find makes it clear that women didn’t just run rituals in this area but governed here and were queens of Mochica society,” project director Luis Jaime Castillo told AFP.

“It is the eighth priestess to be discovered,” he added. “Our excavations have only turned up tombs with women, never men.”

The priestess was in an “impressive 1,200-year-old burial chamber” the archeologist said, pointing out that the Mochica were known as master craftsmen.

“The burial chamber of the priestess is ‘L’-shaped and made of clay, covered with copper plates in the form of waves and sea birds,” Castillo said.

Near the neck is a mask and a knife, he added.

The tomb, decorated with pictures in red and yellow, also has ceramic offerings — mostly small vases — hidden in about 10 niches on the side.

“Accompanying the priestess are bodies of five children, two of them babies, and two adults, all of whom were sacrificed,” Castillo said, noting there were two feathers atop the coffin.

Julio Saldana, the archeologist responsible for work in the burial chamber, said the discovery of the tomb confirms the village of San Jose de Moro is a cemetery of the Mochica elite, with the most impressive tombs belonging to women.

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« Reply #8293 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Canadian dentist hopes to clone John Lennon using tooth DNA

By Sean Michaels, The Guardian
Thursday, August 22, 2013 7:16 EDT

Michael Zuk, who bought the Beatle’s molar in 2011, has begun sequencing his DNA as the first step in creating his double

A Canadian dentist is hoping to clone John Lennon using DNA from one of the singer’s rotten teeth. Michael Zuk, who bought Lennon’s molar at a 2011 auction, has begun sequencing the former Beatle’s DNA – the first step in a process set out by scientists who propose to clone a woolly mammoth.

“Many Beatles fans remember where they were when they heard John Lennon was shot. I hope they also live to hear the day he was given another chance,” Zuk said. The tooth has already been couriered to an unnamed US lab where scientists are “considering ways to extract [its] genetic code”. “I am nervous and excited at the possibility that we will be able to fully sequence John Lennon’s DNA,” Zuk said. “With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality.”

Two years ago the Red Deer-based dentist paid £19,500 for a “discoloured molar” that had been passed down by Lennon to his Weybridge housekeeper, Dot Jarlett. It was acquired in the mid-60s, and Jarlett’s son said it had “been in the family ever since”. At the time of the sale, Omega auction house claimed the tooth was “too fragile” for DNA testing.

Nevertheless, Zuk denies that he has bitten off more than he can chew. With new advances in genetic research, he believes that Lennon’s DNA can be harvested and, in time, converted from tissue cells into stem cells, and eventually into a reborn Beatle. “To say I had a small part in bringing back one of rock’s greatest stars would be mind-blowing,” he said.

In the meantime, Zuk is promoting his other dental endeavours: pendants and a sculpture made from Lennon’s “tooth dust”, a photo book of celebrity champers, the parody song Love Me Tooth, and other initiatives to promote awareness of mouth cancer.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #8294 on: Aug 23, 2013, 07:50 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

Global warming: What happens if the sun loses its spots?

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / August 21, 2013 at 6:16 pm EDT

What would happen to global warming if the sun quit producing sunspots for a few decades?

The question is of more than passing interest to climate scientists as they ponder the prospect that the sun may be about to enter such a period.

The coming flip of the sun's magnetic field in a few months marks the peak of the current sunspot cycle – one that has produced the fewest sunspots in at least 100 years, and perhaps the last 200 years.

Peering at trends – or in some cases, the lack of them – in the sun's behavior during the run-up to the current cycle's peak, some solar physicists increasingly are considering the possibility that the sun may be on the verge of a "grand solar minimum," comparable to a 70-year period running from the early 17th century into the early 18th century, when the sun produced no sunspots at all.

That period, known as the Maunder Minimum, coincided with the Little Ice Age, when the climate in the Northern Hemisphere cooled significantly.

In the most detailed look yet at the impact a similar event might have on global warming, researchers from the US and Australia have concluded that a 50-year grand minimum in sunspot activity likely would reduce global average temperatures during the period by a few tenths of a degree Celsius, but that the warming trend would resume once solar activity returns to normal.

"What if we went into another Maunder Minimum? Would that actually stop global warming"? asks Gerald Meehl, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who led the team that conducted the study. "The short answer is: No. It slows it down for a while. But the minute the sunspots come back and the solar output goes back up, the temperature pops back up" close to where it would have been if the sun spots hadn't taken a powder, and the warming trend resumes.

The notion that the sun could be heading for a grand minimum hit the headlines two years ago, when three research teams using independent measures suggested that the next sunspot cycle's activity could be substantially lower than the current cycle's.

One sign: A fairly steady decline in the strength of the spots' magnetic fields over a 13-year-period. If the trend is to continue, scientists said, they anticipated a spotless sun by around 2022.

"We still see a decrease in the sunspot magnetic fields," says Matt Penn, a researcher with the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, who took part in the study. "The results are consistent with what we presented in 2011. It seems the trend is continuing along that line" leading to a cut-off in sunspot production.

More recently, research has suggested that the strength of the suns' magnetic field during one solar minimum – when the field is at its strongest – is a harbinger of the size of the peak for the next sunspot maximum. Over the past three sunspot cycles, those fields at solar minimum have been getting weaker, with the weakest appearing during the most recent minimum.

Given these trends, "I don't see how we're going to get fields any stronger this time around than they were" prior to the current solar maximum, known as cycle 24, says David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Ala. "It looks like cycle 25 might be smaller yet."

"My suspicion: If you think this cycle's bad, wait for then next one," he says.

Meanwhile, over the past decade climate scientists have evolved a better understanding of how – between the valleys and peaks of the sunspot cycle – a tiny increase in the energy the sun radiates toward Earth can affect climate.

Two mechanisms have emerged that can have a measurable effect, especially regional climate. The center of action for both is the tropical Pacific, and to a lesser extent, the North Atlantic, Dr. Meehl explains.

Most of the change in the sun's output is in the form of ultraviolet radiation. A top-down mechanism warms the stratosphere, as increased UV radiation stimulates the production of ozone, which releases heat. This heating changes circulation patterns in the stratosphere, which in turn alter circulation patterns in the troposphere below, where weather happens.

The other process is bottom up, where even smaller changes in visible light reach the sea in the relatively cloudless subtropics to set off a chain of changes in rainfall and wind patterns.

In each case, these changes can have effects far beyond the tropical Pacific, leading to changes in regional climate that are more pronounced than the direct affect of the slight increase in the sun's output. And they work in tandem.

During solar minimum, when the sun's output declines, these processes shut down, cooling the climate by a few tenths of a degree.

For the first time, Meehl and colleagues explored the impact of a grand solar minimum with a model that encompasses the top-down and bottom-up processes in the same model.

They assumed a 50-year sunspot hiatus presumed to run from 2020 to 2070. They used the solar cycles between 1965 and 2008 as their "normal" scenario, and temperature data from 1986-2005 as their temperature base. And both approaches used atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations that reach twice preindustrial levels by about 2070, then stabilize.

The team found that between 2026 and 2035, global average temperatures in the experiment would increase 0.80 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) with normal solar activity, but only 0.64 degrees C. assuming sunspots went into a long hibernation.

By 2040, the pace of warming begins to pick up in the grand-minimum scenario. Between 2065 and 2080, after the grand minimum ends, warming has reached 1.47 degrees C above 1986-2005 levels with normal solar activity and 1.32 degrees C in the grand-minimum scenario.

Other researchers have performed similar experiment with similar models with similar results, the team acknowledges. But this work appears to capture the full extent of the effects, from initial cooling to the resumption of warming.

The results were published in May in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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