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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072091 times)
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« Reply #8295 on: Aug 23, 2013, 08:02 AM »

In the USA...

Review of US surveillance programs to be led by panel of intelligence insiders

List of apparent panel members prompts criticism among privacy advocates after Obama promised 'independent' review

Paul Lewis in Washington, Thursday 22 August 2013 20.56 BST   

The review of US surveillance programs which Barack Obama promised would be conducted by an "independent" and "outside" panel of experts looks set to consist of four Washington insiders with close ties to the security establishment.

The president announced the creation of the group of experts two weeks ago, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of anger over National Security Agency surveillance techniques disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Obama trumpeted what he said would be a "high-level group of outside experts" tasked with assessing all of the government's "intelligence and communication technologies".

However a report by ABC News, which has not been denied by the administration, said the panel would consist of Michael Morell, a recent acting head of the CIA, and three former White House advisers.

The list of apparent panel members prompted criticism among privacy and civil liberty advocates, who said the review would lack credibility and was unlikely to end the controversy over US surveillance capabilities.

When Obama announced the review earlier this month, he said it would "step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies". The panel would also be asked to ensure there is "absolutely no abuse" government spying programs, Obama added, in order to ensure "the trust of the people".

The review was one of four concrete proposals laid out by the president, including working with Congress to draft new legislation, to reassure the public about NSA surveillance tactics and bring about reforms.

In addition to Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA until just three months ago, the panel is believed to consist of former White House officials Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire.

None responded to requests for comment, however sources close to Sunstein and Swire said they understood them to have been selected. A formal White House announcement is expected soon.

Sunstein, a Harvard law school professor who has been described as an intellectual inspiration for Obama, only left his job as White House's "regulatory czar" last year.

Sunstein is a particularly controversial appointment. In a paper in 2008, he appeared to propose the US government employing covert agents to "cognitively infiltrate" online groups and activist websites that advocate theories that are considered false and conspiratorial.

He has also proposed reformulating the first amendment, arguing that in some instances it goes too far in protecting damaging forms of speech.

He is married to Samantha Power, the former White House adviser whom Obama recently appointed as US ambassador to the United Nations.

Richard Clarke, the fourth member of the panel, is a well-known and sometimes outspoken figure in the intelligence establishment who served as a senior White House adviser to the last three presidents.

He now runs a private security company, Good Harbor Security Risk Management, headquartered in Washington.

"This group is very closely related to the White House already," said Mark Rumold, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "When we go down this road of having executive branch insiders continually placed in charge of reviewing the executive branch, it is more of a fox guarding the henhouse situation."

He pointed out that the new panel is the second executive body given responsibility for monitoring domestic surveillance operations.

The other oversight committee is the secretive Privacy & Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB), which was asked by the president to review surveillance capabilities in June, shortly after Snowden, a former NSA contractor, made his disclosures.

The EFF has been calling for the creation of a far more wide-ranging congressional inquiry, along the lines of the bipartisan Church Committee, which in 1975 investigated the FBI, CIA and NSA in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Rumold said that committee was only created after a panel set-up by President Gerald Ford – similar in makeup to the one Obama appears to have chosen –was deemed to be insufficiently independent.

The review will provide an interim report in 60 days and issue a final report by the end of this year. Both reports will address how NSA surveillance programs impact security, privacy and foreign policy.

Of the three White House officials expected to be on Obama's panel, only one – Peter Swire – is considered by some civil liberty experts to be an appropriate choice.

A recently appointed professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Swire has is a privacy expert, and fellow at two liberal think tanks: the Center for American Progress and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Leslie Harris, president of the CD&T, described Swire's appointment as a "home run" for privacy groups.

"He understand the inside ways in which you can make things happen in government and the range of potential options for enhancing privacy," she said.

Harris said she also backed the appointments of Cass Sunstein and Richard Clarke, who she believed were sufficiently independent figures who had the experience to know how to navigate the upper echelons of government.

But she added: "They're not outsiders. That is a fair criticism. Certainly it gave me pause that they all had a prior involvement in the government."

"It doesn't look too independent, does it?" said Democratic congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. "It doesn't give the appearance of independence that was anticipated. Individuals who are not so closely associated with the administration would have been better."

Lofgren, who said she has had several conversations with voters who are concerned about NSA surveillance since returning to her California district during recess, said the makeup of the panel might backfire.

"The president, I would guess, intended to put the whole surveillance issue to rest with the establishment with an outsider review panel. Well, I don't think this will be perceived as the kind of independent group as most people had expected," she said.

"The apparent goal of sorting through the issues, and getting a credible report out there that was reassuring, will not be achieved. And therefore, he [Obama] is going to have to do something else."

Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that all four reported panel members, with the possible exception of Swire, were "folks are deeply enmeshed in the intelligence community".

She said she had expected the panel to consist of more independent figures, including known critics of the administration whose "livelihoods depend on the surveillance superstructure".

"Inside baseball has gotten us to routine spying on everyday Americans," she said. "Inside baseball has gotten us to routine spying on everyday Americans," she said. "It has been building up for decades. And the folks on the inside have a lot of skin in the game – these are their pet projects. It is so hard, once you have the authority, to give it up."


Justice Department sues Texas over ‘discrimination’ in voter I.D. and redistricting laws

By Scott Kaufman
Thursday, August 22, 2013 13:43 EDT

The Department of Justice announced today that it will sue Texas, the Texas Secretary of State, and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety over the state’s new voter identification law (S.B. 14). The law creates strict new standards that the Justice Department believes to be in violation of both Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring states to get preclearance before changing voting rules was unconstitutional. After that ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that the voter I.D. law would immediately go into effect.

The Attorney General seeks to use the sections of the Voting Rights Act that the Court did not vacate. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” he said. “The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs. We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement. We are determined to use all available authorities, including remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, to guard against discrimination and, where appropriate, to ask federal courts to require preclearance of new voting changes.”

The Department also announced it would be filing a complaint against the state’s redistricting plan, which it also believes violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

If federal courts determine that Texas is guilty of “persistent, intentional discrimination” in either case, the Department will argue that the state should be subject to preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.


Court strikes down Arizona law defunding Planned Parenthood

By Scott Kaufman
Thursday, August 22, 2013 16:02 EDT

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court ruling that will prevent Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s administration from effectively defunding Planned Parenthood. In their opinion, the panel of judges held that the Arizona law (HB 2800) violates the Medicaid Act’s requirement that Medicaid recipients are free to choose their provider “by precluding Medicaid patients from using medical providers concededly qualified to perform family planning services to patients in Arizona generally, solely on the basis that those providers separately perform privately funded, legal abortions.” The law would have prevented Arizona patients from having access to preventative care — including cancer screenings, STI tests, and birth control — at a Planned Parenthood health center.

Arizona contended that the statutory term “qualified” was “too vague for the court to enforce.” The court disagreed, noting that in the Medicaid Act, “‘qualified’ is tethered to an objective benchmark: ‘qualified to perform the service or services required.’” The court stated the requirements for determining the qualifications are “no different from the sorts of qualification or expertise that courts routinely make in various contexts,” refuting Arizona’s claim that it can unilaterally decide who is and who is not qualified to provide family planning services. “Read as Arizona suggests,” the court argued, “the free-choice-of-provider requirement would be self-eviserating” because a state could label any exclusionary rule — like the availability of legally performed abortions on the premises — as a qualification.

This marks the second time in less than a month that Planned Parenthood has defeated an attempt to limit access to its facilities. On July 30, the ACLU prevailed in its lawsuit on behalf Planned Parenthood of Indiana when Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided that an Indiana law similar to the Arizona one violated the same free-choice-of-provider provision.

In a statement, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said that

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« Reply #8296 on: Aug 24, 2013, 05:56 AM »

UK government given Tuesday deadline over David Miranda data

Judges ask government to provide detailed evidence about why it wants right to trawl data seized using terror laws

Robert Booth   
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013 22.43 BST   

The high court has given the government until Tuesday night to provide detailed evidence about why it wants the right to trawl and share data seized using terror laws from the partner of a Guardian journalist.

Lord Justice Beatson and Judge Kenneth Parker said in a judgment outlining their decision to allow the police to continue accessing material taken from David Miranda that the ruling was made because while they could not judge the strength of the government's claims about the national security risks the material would pose if disclosed, they did have "serious assertions by responsible persons".

Miranda's partner, Glenn Greenwald, has exposed mass digital surveillance by US and UK spy agencies based on material leaked by Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor. Miranda was travelling from Berlin back to his home in Rio de Janeiro when he was detained at Heathrow last Sunday.

Lawyers for the government and Metropolitan police have so far claimed the data seized from Miranda included "highly sensitive material" and "tens of thousands of highly classified UK intelligence documents, the unauthorised disclosure of which would threaten national security, including putting lives at risk". But detail has been limited.

The judges said the lack of further evidence from the authorities was understandable given the rapidly moving case, but it had been "a difficulty". They said the protection of journalistic sources and the protection of national security were competing interests, but "the public interest in the investigation, detection and prosecution of those who are reasonably suspected to be terrorists" justified their decision to allow police to retain the material.

On Thursday, the judges had ruled that the police could retain Miranda's data until next Friday, but added that they are only allowed to examine the data in the context of the protection of national security or for investigating if Miranda himself was involved in terrorism. The judges also said that the data could not be used in the context of a criminal investigation.

It also emerged on Thursday that the Met launched a criminal investigation on Thursday, shortly before Miranda's application for restrictions on the use of the data was first heard in court.

Early on Friday police indicated to Miranda's lawyers that they were prepared to hand back items seized from him last weekend. These were to include DVDs, two watches and a laptop. But on Friday night the police indicated they would not be releasing the items yet.

A letter from the Treasury Solicitor to the court claiming a threat to national security from any unauthorised disclosure of the data said: "It is not possible in this letter to give more of the particulars of this assertion. But we make it on instructions and after having taken advice from the relevant person.".

A full hearing is due to take place next Friday, which will establish how the government is able to use the data in the longer term.

The detailed judgment also gave further clues about what the UK authorities may be doing with the data. Government lawyers have told the court that under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 "once material has been lawfully obtained pursuant to schedule 7, it may be disclosed to intelligence services who may then use it for their statutory purposes".

Liberty, the civil liberties and human rights group, has applied to formally intervene in the planned judicial review this autumn into the legality of Miranda's detention and the seizure of his computer hardware. In a letter sent to the court, it said it was "a matter of grave concern that the power has now been directly targeted at the close family member of a prominent journalist in a manner that would appear to be a direct attempt to interfere with press freedom".

Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists this week wrote to David Cameron complaining Miranda's detention was "not in keeping with the UK's historic commitment to press freedom".

Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, has written to the home secretary Theresa May about the detention of Miranda and the destruction of Guardian computers at the request of the UK authorities.

He said that if confirmed, "these measures … may have a potentially chilling effect on journalists' freedom of expression as guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights". He asked May to "comment on the compatibility of the measures taken with the UK's obligations under the convention".


Nick Clegg queries whether police acted lawfully over David Miranda

Deputy PM's challenge to home secretary Theresa May exposes coalition rift over detention of partner of Guardian journalist

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, Friday 23 August 2013 21.39 BST   

A coalition rift over the treatment of David Miranda has been exposed after Nick Clegg raised questions about whether police acted lawfully in "forcibly detaining" the partner of a Guardian journalist.

In a direct challenge to Theresa May, the home secretary, who has endorsed the action by the Metropolitan police, the deputy prime minister said police needed to act proportionately as he indicated that the Liberal Democrats would press for restrictions to anti-terror laws.

In his first detailed response since the nine-hour detention of Miranda at Heathrow on Sunday, Clegg, writing in the Guardian, confirmed that he was not consulted in advance about the police action and said he will wait to see whether the anti-terror legislation watchdog rules on whether the police action was "legitimate".

The remarks will raise new questions about whether the Met acted lawfully in detaining the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This says that police can only detain an individual at ports and airports to assess whether they have "been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".

Clegg contrasted the police action with the way in which the government negotiated with the Guardian to destroy hard drives containing NSA documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Clegg wrote: "I was not consulted on the plans to detain David Miranda before it happened and I acknowledge the many concerns raised about the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for these purposes.

"There is obviously a material difference between agreeing by mutual consent that files will be destroyed, and forcibly detaining someone.

"Terrorism powers should be used proportionately. That is why it is immensely important that the independent reviewer of terrorism powers, David Anderson QC, reports rapidly on whether this was a legitimate use of the Terrorism Act, and whether that legislation should be adjusted."

Anderson, who is to question Home Office officials who briefed May on the plan to detain Miranda during his short inquiry, called this week for changes to the Terrorism Act. May has ruled out any further changes beyond those proposed before the detention of Miranda.

Clegg wrote: "This autumn we will be taking a bill through parliament to implement these changes [announced before the detention of Miranda]. In my view, if David Anderson provides a clearly justified recommendation to restrict these powers even further, we should seek to do so in this bill."

In his article Clegg confirmed that in its negotiations with the government the Guardian made its own decisions about whether to publish information from the leaked NSA documents which could damage national security. "Along with the information the newspaper had published, they had information which put national security and lives at risk. It was right for us to want that information destroyed. They had decided not to publish this information: not a single sentence was censored from their newspaper as a result of the information being destroyed."

Clegg used his article to dismiss a claim by William Hague, in the wake of the first revelations in June from the leaked NSA documents, that law-abiding citizens have "nothing to fear" about monitoring by intelligence agencies. The deputy prime minister wrote: "Liberal Democrats believe government must tread the fine line between liberty and security very carefully, and are not easily persuaded by a government minister asserting: 'Just trust me.'"

He was also scathing about Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, who had raised questions about the detention of Miranda.

He wrote: "People are right to ask questions about the detention of David Miranda for nine hours this week. But Yvette Cooper voted for powers to detain suspects for 90 days – 2,160 hours. Her outrage is almost comic.


Snowden: UK government now leaking documents about itself

The NSA whistleblower says: 'I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent'

Glenn Greenwald, Friday 23 August 2013 12.42 BST          

(Updated below)

The Independent this morning published an article - which it repeatedly claims comes from "documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden" - disclosing that "Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies." This is the first time the Independent has published any revelations purportedly from the NSA documents, and it's the type of disclosure which journalists working directly with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have thus far avoided.

That leads to the obvious question: who is the source for this disclosure? Snowden this morning said he wants it to be clear that he was not the source for the Independent, stating:

    I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

    "It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act."

In other words: right as there is a major scandal over the UK's abusive and lawless exploitation of its Terrorism Act - with public opinion against the use of the Terrorism law to detain David Miranda - and right as the UK government is trying to tell a court that there are serious dangers to the public safety from these documents, there suddenly appears exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before. That is why Snowden is making clear: despite the Independent's attempt to make it appears that it is so, he is not their source for that disclosure. Who, then, is?

The US government itself has constantly used this tactic: aggressively targeting those who disclose embarrassing or incriminating information about the government in the name of protecting the sanctity of classified information, while simultaneously leaking classified information prolifically when doing so advances their political interests.

One other matter about the Independent article: it strongly suggests that there is some agreement in place to restrict the Guardian's ongoing reporting about the NSA documents. Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I'm not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations. As I've made repeatedly clear, bullying tactics of the kind we saw this week will not deter my reporting or the reporting of those I'm working with in any way. I'm working hard on numerous new and significant NSA stories and intend to publish them the moment they are ready.
Related question

For those in the media and elsewhere arguing that the possession and transport of classified information is a crime: does that mean you believe that not only Daniel Ellsberg committed a felony, but also the New York Times reporters and editors did when they received, possessed, copied, transported and published the thousands of pages of top-secret documents known as the Pentagon Papers?

Do you also believe the Washington Post committed felonies when receiving and then publishing top secret information that the Bush administration was maintaining a network for CIA black sites around the world, or when the New York Times revealed in 2005 the top secret program whereby the NSA had created a warrantlesss eavesdropping program aimed at US citizens?

Or is this some newly created standard of criminality that applies only to our NSA reporting? Do media figures who are advocating that possessing or transmitting classified information is a crime really not comprehend the precedent they are setting for investigative journalism?

The Independent's Oliver Wright just tweeted the following:

    "For the record: The Independent was not leaked or 'duped' into publishing today's front page story by the Government."

Leaving aside the fact that the Independent article quotes an anonymous "senior Whitehall source", nobody said they were "duped" into publishing anything. The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don't mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.


Guardian partners with New York Times over Snowden GCHQ files

Some of Edward Snowden cache shared with US paper after 'climate of intense pressure' from UK government

Lisa O'Carroll   
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013 18.17 BST   

The Guardian has struck a partnership with the New York Times which will give the US paper access to some of the sensitive cache of documents leaked by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The arrangement was made when the Guardian was faced with demands from the UK government to hand over the GCHQ files it had in its possession.

"In a climate of intense pressure from the UK government, the Guardian decided to bring in a US partner to work on the GCHQ documents provided by Edward Snowden. We are working in partnership with the NYT and others to continue reporting these stories," the Guardian said in a statement.

Journalists in America are protected by the first amendment which guarantees free speech and in practice prevents the state seeking pre-publication injunctions or "prior restraint".

It is intended that the collaboration with the New York Times will allow the Guardian to continue exposing mass surveillance by putting the Snowden documents on GCHQ beyond government reach. Snowden is aware of the arrangement.

The collaboration echoes that of the partnership forged in 2010 between the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in relation to WikiLeaks's release of US military and diplomatic documents.

The US surveillance scandal broke in early June when the Guardian revealed the US was collecting telephone records of millions of American citizens.

Since then the Guardian has exposed mass surveillance of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, eavesdropping by Britain's GCHQ on foreign politicians at G20 summits in London and the secret operation codenamed Tempora, involving mass interception of cable traffic, designed, in the words of GCHQ to "Master the Internet".


NSA paid millions to cover Prism compliance costs for tech companies

• Top-secret files show first evidence of financial relationship
• Prism companies include Google and Yahoo, says NSA
• Costs were incurred after 2011 Fisa court ruling

Ewen MacAskill in New York
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013   

The National Security Agency paid millions of dollars to cover the costs of major internet companies involved in the Prism surveillance program after a court ruled that some of the agency's activities were unconstitutional, according to top-secret material passed to the Guardian.

The technology companies, which the NSA says includes Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook, incurred the costs to meet new certification demands in the wake of the ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court.

The October 2011 judgment, which was declassified on Wednesday by the Obama administration, found that the NSA's inability to separate purely domestic communications from foreign traffic violated the fourth amendment.

While the ruling did not concern the Prism program directly, documents passed to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden describe the problems the decision created for the agency and the efforts required to bring operations into compliance. The material provides the first evidence of a financial relationship between the tech companies and the NSA.

The intelligence agency requires the Fisa court to sign annual "certifications" that provide the legal framework for surveillance operations. But in the wake of the court judgment these were only being renewed on a temporary basis while the agency worked on a solution to the processes that had been ruled illegal.

An NSA newsletter entry, marked top secret and dated December 2012, discloses the huge costs this entailed. "Last year's problems resulted in multiple extensions to the certifications' expiration dates which cost millions of dollars for Prism providers to implement each successive extension – costs covered by Special Source Operations," it says.

Special Source Operations, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the NSA, handles all surveillance programs, such as Prism, that rely on "corporate partnerships" with telecoms and internet providers to access communications data.

The disclosure that taxpayers' money was used to cover the companies' compliance costs raises new questions over the relationship between Silicon Valley and the NSA. Since the existence of the program was first revealed by the Guardian and the Washington Post on June 6, the companies have repeatedly denied all knowledge of it and insisted they only hand over user data in response to specific legal requests from the authorities.

An earlier newsletter, which is undated, states that the Prism providers were all given new certifications within days of the Fisa court ruling. "All Prism providers, except Yahoo and Google, were successfully transitioned to the new certifications. We expect Yahoo and Google to complete transitioning by Friday 6 October."

The Guardian invited the companies to respond to the new material and asked each one specific questions about the scale of the costs they incurred, the form of the reimbursement and whether they had received any other payments from the NSA in relation to the Prism program.

A Yahoo spokesperson said: "Federal law requires the US government to reimburse providers for costs incurred to respond to compulsory legal process imposed by the government. We have requested reimbursement consistent with this law."

Asked about the reimbursement of costs relating to compliance with Fisa court certifications, Facebook responded by saying it had "never received any compensation in connection with responding to a government data request".

Google did not answer any of the specific questions put to it, and provided only a general statement denying it had joined Prism or any other surveillance program. It added: "We await the US government's response to our petition to publish more national security request data, which will show that our compliance with American national security laws falls far short of the wild claims still being made in the press today."

Microsoft declined to give a response on the record.

The responses further expose the gap between how the NSA describes the operation of its Prism collection program and what the companies themselves say.

Prism operates under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act, which authorises the NSA to target without a warrant the communications of foreign nationals believed to be not on US soil.

But Snowden's revelations have shown that US emails and calls are collected in large quantities in the course of these 702 operations, either deliberately because the individual has been in contact with a foreign intelligence target or inadvertently because the NSA is unable to separate out purely domestic communications.

Last week, the Washington Post revealed documents from Snowden that showed the NSA breached privacy rules thousands of times a year, in the face of repeated assurances from Barack Obama and other senior intelligence figures that there was no evidence of unauthorised surveillance of Americans.

The newly declassified court ruling, by then chief Fisa judge John Bates, also revealed serious issues with how the NSA handled the US communications it was sweeping up under its foreign intelligence authorisations.

The judgment revealed that the NSA was collecting up to 56,000 wholly US internet communications per year in the three years until the court intervened. Bates also rebuked the agency for misrepresenting the true scope of a major collection program for the third time in three years.

The NSA newsletters say the agency's response to the ruling was to work on a "conservative solution in which higher-risk collection would be sequestered". At the same time, one entry states, the NSA's general counsel was considering filing an appeal.

The Guardian informed the White House, the NSA and the office of the director of national intelligence that it planned to publish the documents and asked whether the spy agency routinely covered all the costs of the Prism providers and what the annual cost was to the US.

The NSA declined to comment beyond requesting the redaction of the name of an individual staffer in one of the documents.

UPDATE: After publication, Microsoft issued a statement to the Guardian on Friday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Microsoft, which seeks reimbursement from the government on a case-by-case basis, said: "Microsoft only complies with court orders because it is legally ordered to, not because it is reimbursed for the work. We could have a more informed discussion of these issues if providers could share additional information, including aggregate statistics on the number of any national security orders they may receive."


NSA analysts deliberately broke rules to spy on Americans, agency reveals

Inspector general's admission undermines fresh insistences from president that breaches of privacy rules were inadvertent

Dan Roberts in Washington, Friday 23 August 2013 18.46 BST   

US intelligence analysts have deliberately broken rules designed to prevent them from spying on Americans, according to an admission by the National Security Agency that undermines fresh insistences from Barack Obama on Friday that all breaches were inadvertent.

A report by the NSA's inspector general is understood to have uncovered a number of examples of analysts choosing to ignore so-called "minimisation procedures" aimed at protecting privacy, according to officials speaking to Bloomberg.

"Over the past decade, very rare instances of wilful violations of NSA's authorities have been found," the NSA confirmed in a statement to the news agency. "NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations – responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency's authorities."

Though likely to be a small subset of the thousands of supposedly accidental rule breaches recently revealed by the Washington Post, these cases flatly contradict assurances given by President Obama that the NSA was only ever acting in good faith.

Asked by CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo on Thursday whether he was "confident that you know everything that's going on within that agency and that you can say to the American people, 'It's all done the right way'?", Obama insisted he was.

"Because there are no allegations, and I am very confident – knowing the NSA and how they operate – that purposefully somebody is out there trying to abuse this program or listen in on people's email," he said in the interview that aired on Friday.

The fresh revelations came as Obama's new privacy watchdog delivered its first bark, with a letter to intelligence chiefs urging them draft stronger rules on domestic surveillance, something it revealed had not been updated for 30 years.

The intervention of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, its first since the appointment of new staff by the White House earlier this year, came as Obama acknowledged that technology was outpacing the checks put in place to protect privacy and said the National Security Agency was "scary to people".

"I think there are legitimate concerns that people have that technology is moving so quick that, you know, at some point, does the technology outpace the laws that are in place and the protections that are in place?," said the president in the CNN interview. "Do some of these systems end up being like a loaded gun out there that somebody at some future point could abuse?"

Hours earlier, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) wrote to director of national intelligence James Clapper and the Department of Justice calling for them to begin formulating new guidelines to reflect recent advancements in surveillance capabilities.

It said the board had "learned that key procedures that form the guidelines to protect 'information concerning United States persons' have not comprehensively been updated, in some cases in almost three decades, despite dramatic changes in information use and technology".

PLCOB also requested that "both the attorney general and the director of national intelligence work together to focus the attention necessary to update each element of the intelligence community's procedures to collect retain and disseminate US persons' information".

It said procedures should capture "both the evolution of technology and the roles and capabilities of the intelligence community since 9/11".

"Specifically, the board would appreciate receiving by October 31, 2013, an agency-by-agency schedule establishing a time frame for updating each agency's guidelines," added chairman David Medine.

"In the meantime, the board would appreciate a briefing on the status of the guidelines and process for reviewing and updating them."

Previously PCLOB has been criticised for being too close to the administration and failing to address growing threats to privacy, but its new-found teeth appear to co-incide with a shift in tone from the White House.

In his CNN interview Obama said: "What's been clear since the disclosures that were made by Mr Snowden is that people don't have enough information and aren't confident enough that, between all the safeguards and checks that we put in place within the executive branch, and the federal court oversight that takes place on the program, and congressional oversight, people are still concerned as to whether their emails are being read or their phone calls are being listened to."

"I recognise that we're going to have to continue to improve the safeguards and, as technology moves forward, that means that we may be able to build technologies that give people more assurance, and we do have to do a better job of giving people confidence in how these programs work."

The president hinted at a series of concessions and reforms likely to take place in the coming weeks as Congress returns and responds further to the revelations of sweeping surveillance powers triggered by the Snowden leaks.

"I am open to working with Congress to figure out, can we get more transparency in terms of how the oversight court works? Can – do we need a public advocate in there who people have confidence in?" Obama said.

"There's no doubt that, for all the work that's been done to protect the American people's privacy, the capabilities of the NSA are scary to people."


US surveillance guidelines not updated for 30 years, privacy board finds

Privacy watchdog points out in letter to intelligence chiefs that rules designed to protect Americans are severely outdated

Dan Roberts in Washington, Friday 23 August 2013 17.40 BST      

Barack Obama's new privacy watchdog has delivered its first bark, with a letter to intelligence chiefs urging them draft stronger rules on domestic surveillance, something it revealed had not been updated for 30 years.

The intervention of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, its first since the appointment of new staff by the White House earlier this year, came as Obama acknowledged that technology was outpacing the checks put in place to protect privacy and said the National Security Agency was "scary to people".

"I think there are legitimate concerns that people have that technology is moving so quick that, you know, at some point, does the technology outpace the laws that are in place and the protections that are in place?," said the president in a CNN interview that aired on Friday. "Do some of these systems end up being like a loaded gun out there that somebody at some future point could abuse?"

Hours earlier, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) wrote to director of national intelligence James Clapper and the Department of Justice calling for them to begin formulating new guidelines to reflect recent advancements in surveillance capabilities.

It said the board had "learned that key procedures that form the guidelines to protect 'information concerning United States persons' have not comprehensively been updated, in some cases in almost three decades, despite dramatic changes in information use and technology".

PLCOB also requested that "both the attorney general and the director of national intelligence work together to focus the attention necessary to update each element of the intelligence community's procedures to collect retain and disseminate US persons' information".

It said procedures should capture "both the evolution of technology and the roles and capabilities of the intelligence community since 9/11".

"Specifically, the board would appreciate receiving by October 31, 2013, an agency-by-agency schedule establishing a time frame for updating each agency's guidelines," added chairman David Medine.

"In the meantime, the board would appreciate a briefing on the status of the guidelines and process for reviewing and updating them."

Previously PCLOB has been criticised for being too close to the administration and failing to address growing threats to privacy, but its new-found teeth appear to co-incide with a shift in tone from the White House.

In his CNN interview Obama said: "What's been clear since the disclosures that were made by Mr Snowden is that people don't have enough information and aren't confident enough that, between all the safeguards and checks that we put in place within the executive branch, and the federal court oversight that takes place on the program, and congressional oversight, people are still concerned as to whether their emails are being read or their phone calls are being listened to."

"I recognise that we're going to have to continue to improve the safeguards and, as technology moves forward, that means that we may be able to build technologies that give people more assurance, and we do have to do a better job of giving people confidence in how these programs work."

The president hinted at a series of concessions and reforms likely to take place in the coming weeks as Congress returns and responds further to the revelations of sweeping surveillance powers triggered by the Snowden leaks.

"I am open to working with Congress to figure out, can we get more transparency in terms of how the oversight court works? Can – do we need a public advocate in there who people have confidence in?" Obama said.

"There's no doubt that, for all the work that's been done to protect the American people's privacy, the capabilities of the NSA are scary to people."

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« Reply #8297 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:04 AM »


Pig Putin bans protests at Sochi Olympics and restricts access to the city

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 23, 2013 14:02 EDT

Russian President Pig Putin has banned protests in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next year and ordered severely restricted access to the city, according to an decree published Friday.

The presidential decree published in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta imposes special zones on the territory of Sochi “in order to reinforce security” during the Games in the Black Sea resort in February.

It designates the Olympic venues, transport terminals, and special road checkpoints as “controlled zones” where all people and belongings will be searched.

The document also imposes a vast “forbidden zone” with restricted access, and bans all cars from Sochi unless the vehicles have special accreditation or are locally owned.

The decree also prohibits any public demonstrations “not related to the holding the Olympic Games” in the area in the period from January 7 to March 21, 2014.

The move was immediately denounced by activists as unconstitutional as something that could be used to justify the dispersal by police of any protests.

The document also bans car crossing of the border to Georgia’s rebel territory of Abkhazia, which lies several kilometres from the Olympic Park.

The “forbidden zone” measures impact not just the Olympic venues, but a large part of the greater Sochi area.

The strict measures immediately caused an outcry, including from gay activists who planned to stage protests against Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda”, a controversial law that has prompted calls to boycott the event altogether.

“The president’s decree on a rally moratorium in Sochi during the Olympics is unconstitutional,” gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter. “There still will be a gay pride parade.”

“Did the president impose the state of emergency in Sochi?” tweeted human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov.

“Pig Putin’s decree has turned Sochi-2014 into Moscow-1980,” independent Dozhd television channel said.

It was referring to the unprecedented measures during the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, when entry to the capital was restricted while people deemed anti-social, including those with criminal records and dissidents, were deported.

Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games from February 7 to February 23 and Paralympics from March 7 to March 16. However the event has already been mired in controversy over property rights, environment, corruption, and most recently gay rights issues.

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« Reply #8298 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:05 AM »

08/23/2013 05:24 PM

Stepping Up: US Experts Want More Leadership from Germany

By Emily Schultheis

Germans aren't the only ones with interests at stake in next month's election. The US is watching too -- and Washington is hoping that, once the campaign is history, Germany will show more leadership on global issues.

Germans seem to have already made up their mind. With just under a month to go before the general election, Angela Merkel's conservatives are well ahead in the polls and the chancellor herself likewise remains extremely popular. Change, even should she be re-elected for a third term, isn't likely to be forthcoming, pundits say.

But Germans aren't the only ones with interests at stake. Across the Atlantic, the United States is watching too -- and Washington is hoping that, once the campaign is history, Germany will take on a greater global leadership role on issues like trade, the euro crisis and international security.

Daniel Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, calls it the "expectation gap." "I think the assumption Americans have is that Germany should always step up and take responsibility commensurate with its weight in the world," he says. Americans, he suggests, always expect slightly more from Germany than Germany is willing to give.

For the moment, of course, demands from Washington are few and muted. Because it is election season in Germany, US experts say there are a host of issues which have been put on the back burner until after September 22. But once the election is over and a new government is formed, the US will expect Germany to tackle those issues with renewed effort.

"Clearly there are a lot of pent-up issues that will require the attention of the new German government," says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A Hope for German Leadership

Those issues, from Washington's perspective, tend to boil down to a consistent message: The US wants Germany to increase its involvement and leadership when it comes to global affairs. As Europe's strongest economy and its largest country, the US believes there's more Germany could do to pull its weight.

"Certainly people admire Chancellor Merkel, but I do think that people in Washington wish that Germany could take a bigger role in world politics and also in stabilizing the global economy," says Sudha David-Wilp, a senior program officer for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Germany's role on the international stage is something President Barack Obama alluded to in his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in June. Germany, he said, like the US, needs to see itself as "part of something bigger."

"For we are not only citizens of America or Germany -- we are also citizens of the world. And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before," he said. "I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experience."

Eurozone, Trade and Foreign Policy

Perhaps the biggest area where US trans-Atlantic experts hope to see movement is on economic issues and the ongoing euro crisis. They say Germany could do more to stabilize the European economy and soften its stance on austerity measures to ensure more growth.

"When you have much of the world still teetering and not really on a clear growth trajectory, and Europe really flailing, the German economy is key to the European economy," Hamilton says.

Fran Burwell, vice president of the Atlantic Council, says that even though it's not a politically easy position to take in Germany, the new government should adopt "a more flexible role in terms of debt."

When it comes to economic issues, however, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may have priority. Both the US and Germany would like to see the establishment of the free-trade agreement and Washington sees Berlin's efforts to help promote the negotiations and bring other European countries on board as being key.

"The TTIP thing is big on the agenda over here (in Washington), and I think Germany has a big investment in that," says Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. "We would expect Germany to continue to take a lead on making sure that goes somewhere, and doesn't break down over certain issues like culture or food."

Coalition Math

That particular hope seems realistic, given Merkel's own support for a trade deal with the US. But when it comes to foreign policy, some observers in Washington say that, more than anything else, the US wants clarity. Berlin's abstention from the United Nations Security Council vote in 2011 authorizing intervention in Libya remains fresh in many minds, and Germany's approach to the upheavals in North Africa and Syria has been inconsistent at best.

Conley, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says there is some "uncertainty" in Washington about how strong a partner Germany is on military and security issues in the Middle East. She says she would like to see the new government "articulate its foreign and national security views and strategies" following the election.

But first, she notes, the votes must be cast and counted. Even as the polls show that Merkel will likely remain in power, it is unclear who her junior coalition partner might be. "We are … closely following the coalition math," Conley says.

"What would be most disruptive is a long period of coalition negotiations with a government emerging that is unclear on what their basic policy lines would be," Burwell adds.

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« Reply #8299 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:08 AM »

08/23/2013 06:08 PM

Limbo No More: German Poles to Vote in Upcoming Election

By Friederike Heine

A decision by Germany's high court means that Poles with German ancestry can now take part in September's general election via absentee ballot. For many members of the minority group, the change is of huge symbolic importance.

Bruno Kosak, a Pole of German descent, refers to himself as "more German than Germany itself." Full of yearning for the "Deutsche Heimat" (German homeland), the 78-year-old insists on staying up to date with current affairs. "I read up on everything that Chancellor Merkel gets up to," he says. "I even shook her hand once during a visit to Berlin."

But for all his interest in German politics, Kosak has never been able to vote -- until now. A decision last year by Germany's Constitutional Court means that Germans who reside outside of the country, even if they have never actually lived in Germany, can take part in the election via absentee ballot.

For the German minority in Poland, the change was a watershed moment. "Finally, we felt that we were being acknowledged in Berlin," says Kosak, whose forefathers settled in Poland centuries ago. "We've always been in a kind of limbo state, and the ability to vote means that we are officially part of the German political landscape."

Close Ties

Previous governments in Berlin have argued that those who have never resided in Germany are not connected to the country -- and thus shouldn't be allowed to cast ballots. Previously, German expats had to have lived in Germany for a minimum of three months in order to qualify.

But one year ago, Germany's Constitutional Court struck down the provision, agreeing with two plaintiffs who argued that their rights as German citizens had been infringed upon. They had been born in 1982 in Belgium but never lived in Germany, and were not allowed to vote in the 2009 election as a result.

The new status is unprecedented in Europe, where most citizens lose their right to vote in their home country after approximately 15 years of living abroad. But the specific historical circumstances that led to the settlement of Germans in present-day Poland -- which dates back to the early medieval period -- make it difficult to compare the German minority to other expat groups.

After the flight and expulsions of Germans from Poland after World War II, as many as one million ethnic Germans living in Poland were naturalized and granted Polish citizenship. Today, the vast majority of ethnic Germans live in the southwestern Polish region of Silesia, where the German language is still spoken. Even the region's street signs are bilingual.

Of the estimated 300,000 ethnic Germans still living in Poland, many have strong links to Germany such as relatives, property, pensions and bank accounts. Kosak, a long-time activist for German minority rights in Poland, encouraged his four children to emigrate soon after the collapse of Communism in 1989. "Of course I care about the outcome of the German election. It's going to have a direct impact on my children's children," he says.

Symbolic Value

In an effort to get as many ethnic Germans as possible to apply for absentee ballots, Lukasz Bily, of the Union of German Socio-Cultural Communities in Poland, has launched a multimedia campaign. Flyers and posters have been distributed, informational websites have been launched and Bily gave a series of seminars to show people how to fill out the paperwork. Now all he can do is wait.

"The deadline for absentee ballot applications is September 1," he says. "So if people want to act, they have to act fast."

Despite the effort, it remains to be seen how many ethnic Germans in Poland will actually end up voting in the election. Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, tensions can still flare up between ethnic Germans and their Polish neighbors. Many in the community would rather keep their heritage under wraps -- one reason, it is suspected, why the number of people declaring German ancestry in Poland's 2011 national census was extremely low.

According to a spokesperson for the German embassy in Warsaw, many chose to categorize themselves simply as "Silesian" to avoid revealing their German roots. For this reason, pointing to a precise number of Germans living in Poland is extremely difficult. Even Germany's Office of Foreign Affairs was not able to shed light on the demographic, confirming only that German consulates in Poland issued a total of 16,800 passports in 2011 and 2012. Given that most German passports are valid for 10 years, one could calculate a not-very-reliable estimate based on those issuances.

"As you can imagine, the number of people who will vote is even harder to estimate," says a spokesperson.

Bily maintains that even if turnout is lower than expected, the change to the voting law remains hugely important on a symbolic level. "People are beginning to understand the relevance of the change," he says. "It's an important time for the community to come together, and to acknowledge its heritage. We're sending a clear message to Berlin -- we're here, we're interested and we can make a difference."

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« Reply #8300 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Germany must not shy away from economic leadership of the EU

If Europe were to follow the German economic model all would benefit, and Berlin should not be ashamed to say so

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, Friday 23 August 2013 16.13 BST   

Five years and counting – the economic and financial crisis is still fraying nerves across much of Europe and Germany finds itself in a dilemma. On the one hand, some complain that Berlin is dictating the European agenda. Old stereotypes linger. On the other hand, there are calls for Germany to exercise more leadership in order to pull Europe out of the crisis. When these calls come, as they often do, from the southern part of the continent, Germans mostly hear pleas for even more money to be transferred to the countries of the periphery. But there are others. In a remarkable speech in Berlin, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski said that he was more afraid of German inactivity than German leadership. He was asking for action, not money.

If the combined fiscal, economic and banking crises weren't enough of a challenge, all of this is happening at a time when the fundamentals in the European Union have shifted dramatically. The Franco-German tandem is out of balance. France has been weakened by sluggish growth rates, high unemployment and the unwillingness of its socialist government to pursue much-needed reforms. What's more, other EU economic strongholds are either unwilling to commit to further integration, such as the UK, or are not quite ready yet, such as Poland. As a result, the balance of power in Europe has tilted towards Berlin.

So what should Germany do? German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble wrote in this newspaper that while Berlin felt a special responsibility for solving the crisis, he didn't see a leadership role for his country. As he put it, Europe "signifies the equal coexistence of its member states". Now, while Schäuble is certainly right that Germany needs to engage with other member states, it seems a little disingenuous to pretend that German leadership was dispensable in such a situation. Europe's largest economy, the only big eurozone country with a nearly balanced budget, its AAA rating intact across all rating agencies, must assume more responsibility than others.

The question of German leadership, however, gets mixed up with a second, yet different question: Does all of this also mean that Berlin strives for a "German Europe"? Political correctness requires a quick, unambiguous and stern "No!" to this question. But some elements of the German economic model could be helpful for other countries that have lost competitiveness. This does not mean that the rest of Europe is expected to start drinking beer and eating sausages, but just as Germany has become a lot more European over the last decades because it was good for the country, Germany has certain attributes that her European partners may choose to emulate.

The principal tenet of Germany's economic system is the way in which capital, labour and the state have organised their relationship. While there are conflicts, such as in wage bargaining, the relationship is at its heart a co-operative one. The apprenticeship system for young people aged 15 and over who do not go to university is one example. The employer pays a very moderate wage, usually about €600 (£500) a month, and provides training on the job; the apprentice foregoes a higher income for the duration of his training, and the state continues to provide schooling. All parties benefit from the apprentice's development: If they perform well, they are all but guaranteed a job in an enterprise he already knows while the employer sees their investment in training pay off eventually through higher added value on the part of their new employee – and the state has gained a young taxpayer. This explains the low rate of youth unemployment in Germany.

This tri-partite arrangement also works in times of crisis as in 2009. "Kurzarbeit", a short-term working scheme, allowed many German companies to survive a global slump in demand. Instead of firing workers when their machines stood idle, companies paid them only a reduced base salary. This salary was then subsidised by the state to avoid hardship but with the final pay-out well below normal levels. This preserved jobs and it made sure that employees' experience and knowhow was immediately available for the companies the very moment global demand picked up again. This is one of the reasons Germany came out of the crisis faster than other economies and now salaries and domestic demand are rising significantly in real terms.

Low youth unemployment, competitiveness in world markets, economic growth, rising salaries and increased domestic demand are a German reality and sought after in other parts of Europe. So, if Europe were to become a little more German in this regard, all would benefit, and Germany should not be ashamed to say so. This does not mean, of course, that Germany will be the pre-eminent country of Europe across the board: France will continue to lead in foreign policy, small Estonia will lead on IT, some other country with a special interest may lead in its area of expertise.

Germany, therefore, should overcome its reluctance to lead on economic issues just when leadership is both needed and wanted. In order to succeed, however, it is not enough to lead by storming ahead, leaving others behind. Arrogance or even schadenfreude would be self-defeating for Berlin. Rather, Germany must set an example and inspire others to follow. This requires continuous and constructive engagement with partner countries and the EU institutions in order to build consensus around a sustainable future for the eurozone. That way, German economic leadership may eventually become as acceptable a part of Europe's political and emotional fabric as France's leadership in the field of international affairs – and we would all be better off for it.

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« Reply #8301 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:17 AM »

François Hollande embroiled in row over French film industry union rights

Independent film-makers warn that improved pay and conditions will mean 'death warrant' for arthouse cinema

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Friday 23 August 2013 18.30 BST   

French actors Léa Seydoux, left, and Adèle Exarchopoulos embrace French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche after he was awarded the Palme d'Or for the film Blue is the Warmest Colour. But marring the celebration was a trade union protest over working conditions on the film. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

His first major cinema role – in Being President, a behind-the-scenes documentary about life at the Elysée – was described as frustratingly limited and had less than brilliant box-office takings.

Now the Socialist French president, François Hollande, stands accused of trying to kill off French arthouse cinema, as Paris's film industry tears itself apart in a vicious war over new regulations on film crews' pay and conditions.

The French government has spent months loudly defending its "cultural exception" in transatlantic trade talks, arguing that the special state subsidies and quotas that protect France's cherished home-grown film industry must remain in place.

Meanwhile, a culture spat at home has been raising serious questions about the workings and survival of French film.

This autumn, after protracted wrangling and years of debate, Hollande's government will enforce new labour and salary rights for French film crews, from set designers and camera teams to directors of photography.

Workers and their unions have complained that loose rules dating from the 1950s are not respected, with many crew members taking pay cuts of up to 50% on small, low-budget films, or working nights and overtime without proper pay. The government signed a pact last month with big producer-distributors and several trade unions which will ensure a minimum wage, overtime pay and special pay for night shoots.

But independent producers, who account for around 90% of French output, have risen up in rebellion. Backed by well-known film-makers such as Luc Besson and François Ozon, they have urged a rethink – warning that the new deal as it stands would be "disastrous" and a "death warrant" for low-budget arthouse films. Risk-taking, quirky auteur films that have helped shape France's reputation for independent cinema would have to be shot abroad or would not be made at all because the new wages would be unaffordable, independent producers argued.

The leftwing government, vowing to protect both labour rights and small films, is battling to bring about a truce in the coming weeks.

The row has taken the form of open letters, on-air slanging matches and street demonstrations. As the French-Tunisian arthouse director Abdellatif Kechiche won this year's Cannes film festival's top award for the lesbian drama Blue Is the Warmest Colour‚ "the most anticipated French cinema release of this autumn", one union took to the streets protesting at what it called "revolting and unacceptable" working conditions on the film, with crew putting in long hours on largely improvised scenes and being summoned at the last minute by late-night text messages for rushed shooting schedules. Management has denied the claims.

The row over the haves and have-nots of France's polarised film world intensified when, following Gérard Depardieu's departure from France amid a row over high taxes, the influential producer Vincent Maraval defended Depardieu, saying the real scandal in France was the new generation of "bankable" French megastar actors demanding disproportionately huge pay packets that would shame even Hollywood.

At the heart of the issue is the long-running difficulty in drumming up funding for independent French cinema, particularly first films. Helped by public subsidies but increasingly dependent on big TV studios and private money, France makes more than 200 films a year, more than double Britain's output. But a mediator's review reportedly warned that the new pay rules, despite an initial exemption for certain low-budget films, might mean 80 to 100 fewer French arthouse films a year.

This year, despite a bigger presence of French talent at Cannes, French films' box-office takings have dropped from last year, with homegrown comedies doing particularly badly.

Scores of young film-makers, including the directors Mia Hansen-Løve and Rebecca Zlotowski, last month signed an open letter in Libération and a petition warning that the government's new labour deal, "supposed to protect us, buries us alive". Hollande swiftly invited them to the Elysée for talks, and the culture minister promised tweaks and safeguards for independent films before the rules come into force on 1 October.

Meanwhile, three independent producers' unions have demanded that France's Constitutional Council reviews the legal standing of the regulations, with a hearing expected on 30 August.

In a statement, the powerful CGT trade union's film wing argued that respecting labour law was essential in the film industry and "we shouldn't have to choose between the social rights of technicians, workers, directors, artists and films' very existence".

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« Reply #8302 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:19 AM »

'King of the Gypsies' laid to rest in Transylvania

Florin Cioaba, an activist who pushed for Roma rights and championed education for poor children, died of a heart attack on Sunday at 58

Associated Press in Sibiu, Romania, Friday 23 August 2013 16.24 BST   

The "King of the Gypsies" has been laid to rest in a ceremony befitting his status.

Florin Cioaba, a member of the family that has led the embattled minority in Romania since the 19th century, was an activist who pushed for Roma rights and championed education for impoverished children after seeing his own 12-year-old daughter storm out of a church to avoid an arranged marriage.

Thousands turned out to remember him at his funeral on Friday. A banner emblazoned with his crowned face was draped across an apartment building in his Transylvanian hometown of Sibiu. Stonemasons have been carving his tomb in black marble for the last week.

Cioaba died of a heart attack on Sunday while on holiday in Turkey. He was 58.

Mourners carried his coffin – it was rumoured to be air-conditioned and the lid had a large glass panel – along a 7km (four-mile) route through the city.

"He cared very much about his Roma community and he helped it a lot. He integrated it into Romanian society, he sent the members of the community to school," Ion Rudaru, a relative said.

Before the funeral, his elder son Dorin was crowned "the international king of Roma" while his younger son Daniel was crowned "the king of Romanian Roma", succeeding him as the heads of Europe's largest Roma community.

Florin Cioaba took over the mantle in 1997 from his father Ion, who was deported during the Holocaust to the Soviet Union. A Pentecostal pastor, Florin made international headlines in 2003 when his daughter refused to get married. Criticism from a European Union envoy led him to encourage the Roma to marry later.

However, he could be critical of European leaders, including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy whom he denounced for repatriating Romanian Roma from France.

Roma sociologist Ciprian Necula described Cioaba as a moderate leader and a mediator who used his pulpit to urge Roma not to beg on the streets and to wait until 16 to be married, and to demand more rights for the minority.

There are officially some 620,000 Roma in Romania, but many do not declare their ethnicity due to widespread discrimination. Roma leaders say there are between one and three million Roma in Romania.

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« Reply #8303 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:24 AM »

Iraq violence leaves at least 36 dead

Suicide bomber kills at least 26 in park in northern Baghdad as sectarian tensions continue

Associated Press in Baghdad, Friday 23 August 2013 23.05 BST   

A suicide bomber attacked a park in northern Baghdad crowded by cafe and restaurant-goers on Friday night, the bloodiest attack in a day of violence that killed at least 36 people across the country, authorities said.

Attacks have been on the rise in Iraq since a deadly security crackdown in April on a Sunni protest camp. More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months, raising fears Iraq could see a new round of widespread sectarian bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The suicide bomber struck a park in the Qahira neighbourhood of Baghdad late on Friday, an area popular with locals, police said. The bomber detonated his explosives in a crowd of people, killing at least 26 people and wounding 55.

Violence has stepped up in strikes on so-called soft targets in Iraq like civilians at coffee shops or those shopping along busy commercial streets.

There was no claim of responsibility for Friday's suicide bombing. Sunni extremists such as al-Qaida's Iraq arm that seek to undermine the Shia-led government are frequently blamed for attacks targeting civilians.

Later in the night, gunmen in Baghdad's northern Azamiyah neighbourhood killed four men walking down a street, an army officer and a medical official said. The motive behind the shooting wasn't immediately clear.

Elsewhere in the country, police said gunmen broke into a house of a Shia merchant at dawn on Friday in the northern town of Dujail, killing him, his wife and elderly mother. Authorities said the motive behind that attack wasn't immediately unclear.

Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, is a Shia Muslim town surrounded by Sunni areas.

Meanwhile, two police officers said bombs exploded near Sunni mosques in two neighbourhoods in Baghdad as worshippers were leaving after Friday's sermon, killing three people and wounding 18.

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« Reply #8304 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:27 AM »

Mumbai gang-rape reignites Indian sexual violence scandal

Police identify five suspects and make one arrest after magazine intern attacked as she worked on story in mill area

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi, Friday 23 August 2013 19.21 BST   

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

The gang-rape of a female photojournalist in an abandoned textile mill in Mumbai on Thursday evening has reignited national outrage – sparked by last year's fatal gang-rape of a physiotherapist in Delhi – at soaring levels of sexual violence against women in India.

The woman, in her early 20s, was working on a feature documenting the crumbling residential buildings of former textile mill workers for the Mumbai edition of an international magazine when she was attacked by five men. She was taken to the Jaslok hospital after the attack, where doctors said her condition was stable. Police said the five suspects had been identified, and one was arrested on Friday.

The photojournalist, who works as an intern with the magazine, had gone inside the sprawling Shakti Mills compound at about 6pm along with another intern, a male photographer, to shoot the derelict structures.

"Five men who were inside the abandoned 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," said Mumbai police commissioner Satya Pal Singh.

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

"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."

Krishnan recalled recent instances of "moral policing" in the city, in which policemen targeted women in restaurants and bars. Maharashtra state's home minister, RR Patil, has also closed bars where women dance on stage despite strictures from the supreme court.

News photographers and journalists staged a demonstration on Friday in protest against the gang-rape. "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."

Although violence against women is not considered as bad as in Delhi, reported crimes against women in Mumbai more than doubled in the first four months of 2013, with 123 sexual attacks in a total of 1,098 cases. Last Sunday, a woman from the US was attacked and robbed on a commuter train in the city's business district. A Spanish woman was raped by a burglar in November.

Journalist Naresh Fernandes said: "If Mumbai's women come to believe that the city is unsafe, then the battle is lost, regardless of the crime statistics."

After the gang-rape in Delhi, the law was amended to make it more difficult for rapists to escape with light punishments. Thursday's attack has prompted demands for tougher laws."There has to be deterrence. Must have stricter laws," tweeted the law minister, Kapil Sibal, who is also a prominent lawyer.

But many women activists oppose such a move. "The laws are adequate, what we need is more focus on women's safety," said Mumbai lawyer Flavia Agnes. "There's a strong culture of women working in Mumbai – they have always been accepted in the public space, and we should ensure that's not lost."


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 24, 2013, 6:28 am

Second Suspect Arrested in the Mumbai Gang Rape


MUMBAI— The Mumbai police said Saturday that they had arrested a second suspect in the gang rape of a photojournalist who was attacked this week while on assignment.

Vijay Jadhav, 19, was arrested from the Madanpura area of the city early Saturday morning, said a Mumbai police officer, Vinod Singh.

The photojournalist, a 22-year-old woman, was assaulted by five men on Thursday night in Shakti Mills, an abandoned textile mill compound in the Lower Parel district of Mumbai, where she was taking photographs for an English-language magazine.  A male colleague who had accompanied her was tied up and beaten, according to police reports. The attack, which echoed the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi in December, has sparked protests and outrage in the Indian press.

The victim is being treated at Jaslok Hospital, where doctors said Friday night that she had suffered internal and external injuries but was now in stable condition.

On Friday, the Mumbai police arrested one of the five suspects and said that they had identified the others based on the young woman’s testimony. According to reports in The Times of India, the man arrested on Friday was identified as Chand Babu Sattat Shaikh, alias Mohammed Abdul, who was described as an unemployed 19-year-old.  He was reported to have confessed to the crime and named the other men involved, who are still at large.

The Hindustan Times reported that the five accused were all unemployed men who frequented the mill area.  Speaking to the Indian television channel IBNLive, a grandmother of one of the suspects claimed that her grandson, who is a minor, was not present at the time of the assault.

Mumbai’s police commissioner, Satyapal Singh, said Friday that more than 20 police teams were searching the city for the remaining suspects. He said two of the five suspects had criminal records. “This is a very, very serious matter,” Mr. Singh said, adding, “We will do our best to collect all scientific evidence to ensure that this is a foolproof case and that the culprits get maximum punishment.”

The incident has reignited debate in Parliament over violence against women in India. ”This country cannot afford to have our women and children insecure in the hands of those who attack them,” Law Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters on Friday.

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« Reply #8305 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Bo Xilai dismisses testimony by ex-ally as 'nonsense' and says wife is 'crazy'

Disgraced politician keeps up combative stance on day two of trial on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power

Jonathan Kaiman in Jinan, Friday 23 August 2013 13.29 BST   

The disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has continued his defiant performance on the second day of his trial, calling testimony by his former second-in-command "nonsense" and discrediting his wife's testimony as "fabricated".

Bo, 64, is standing trial in Jinan, the capital of coastal Shandong province, on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. Bo, once considered a contender for some of China's most powerful political posts, has surprised observers by flatly denying some of the trial's central charges: that he received bribes from two powerful businessmen in the north-eastern metropolis of Dalian, where he was mayor in the 1990s.

On Friday, the court showed an 11-minute video testimony by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, looking calm and composed in a black-and-white striped blouse. She said Bo was aware that one of the businessmen, Xu Ming, had given gifts to her and their son, 25-year-old Bo Guagua, including airline tickets, a Segway and expensive seafood.

Gu is currently in prison serving a suspended death sentence for the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood – the root of her husband's downfall. Bo stands accused of interfering with the investigation.

Prosecutors allege that Bo received 21.8m yuan (£2.3m) in cash and gifts from Xu between 2000 and 2012. On Thursday, Bo denied the charges and, in a scathing cross-examination, forced Xu to admit that he was unaware of the gifts.

In the video shown on Friday, which was filmed on 10 August, Gu contradicted Bo's assertions and called Xu an old family friend. "We felt he was an honest person, well-mannered. He didn't have the airs of a businessman," she said.

Bo said his wife was "crazy", "lies all the time" and fabricated her statement under duress, according to court transcripts published online. He added that Gu would often compare herself to Jing Ke, a famous Chinese assassin who lived in the second century BC.

"Kailai used to say that when she killed Neil, she felt the same pride that Jing Ke felt when he went to assassinate the king of Qin," he said. "That's enough to prove she's not psychologically normal."

Bo's career imploded last year when his second-in-command, the police chief of Chongqing municipality Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate in south-west China carrying stacks of incriminating documents. Gu's killing of Heywood was revealed in the ensuing fallout.

On Friday afternoon, the court also published testimony by Wang that shed light on the soured real-estate deal that led to Heywood's murder. Bo called the testimony "nonsense".

Although foreign media have been barred from entering the Jinan intermediate people's court, it has been posting regular trial updates to its official microblog.

Analysts say that Bo's feisty defence will do little to change the trial's outcome which, given the case's political heft, has most likely been decided in advance.

"According to Chinese law, if the wife accepted bribes, it can be seen as the husband also accepting them," said Zhang Lifan, a prominent Beijing-based writer and historian.

"The strategy is to prove that the wife, Gu Kailai, accepted them. No matter whether Bo knew about it or not, the accusation is still valid."

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« Reply #8306 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Woman takes on Yakuza godfather over protection racket

Restaurant owner in Nagoya is seeking £120,000 from crime boss in landmark case

Paul Gallagher   
The Observer, Saturday 24 August 2013 12.23 BST   

The Yamaguchi-gumi has spent almost a century building itself up into arguably the most powerful and largest organised criminal gang in the world.

Its membership of nearly 30,000 comprises almost half of the yakuza crime syndicate in the Japanese underworld, earning billions of yen through drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud and extortion. But they may have met their match in the shape of a female restaurateur who has launched a lawsuit against the gang in what lawyers are calling a landmark case.

The woman, from Nagoya, reportedly under 24-hour police guard, is suing Kenichi Shinoda, the sixth Yamaguchi-gumi kumicho, or godfather, who she says forced her to pay protection money over 12 years between 1998 and 2010. Using an anti-organised crime law revised in 2008, which says heads of organisations can be liable for damage done by its members and affiliate groups, the woman is demanding a refund of £120,000 in compensation and backdated protection money.

She paid the extorted money each month to Yoshitake Matsuyama, head of a criminal group affiliated to the Kodo-kai, itself a subsidiary of the Yamaguchi-gumi. The funds, ranging in value from 30,000-100,000 yen (£200-£650), were deemed to be for the protection of the business – mikajimeryo in Japanese.

"In the Nagoya area alone, it is estimated that the Yamaguchi-gumi collects a couple of hundred million yen monthly," a member of the Aichi prefectural police told the Tokyo Reporter. "Should this end, the Yamaguchi-gumi will take a strong hit."

Matsuyama has already been prosecuted for extortion and the restaurant owner's lawyer, Kiyotaka Tanaka, said his client's lawsuit could severely weaken the Yamaguchi-gumi clan. "This woman showed great courage in standing up [to this injustice]," he said. "We would like this trial to become a curtailment for these activities in the future."

The Yamaguchi-gumi, based in the western port city of Kobe, is threatened as never before in its 98-year history, as the law catches up with an increasing number of gang members. Last week 29-year-old Yujiro Kobayashi and three others were detained for a second time over a 1bn yen fraud that 450 people in Tokyo fell victim to. The scam involved phoning a victim and pretending to be a relative in need of money.

Investigators say that three of the suspects, including Kobayashi, have denied the latest allegations, while the fourth has refused to comment. Five others arrested in the case were recruited by Kobayashi from Shiritsu University campus. "This is a lucrative job in which you'll earn at least 10,000 yen a day," the suspect is alleged to have said.

Shinoda, 71, who has spent time in jail for killing a rival with a samurai sword, could soon find himself back in the dock. Rarely photographed, the gang leader broke with the typical black suit and shoes worn by many senior yakuza members when he was pictured leaving jail in 2011 after serving six years for illegal firearms possession, shortly after he took over control of the gang from his predecessor, Yoshinori Watanabe.

Dressed in a brown trilby and scarf, leather jacket and sunglasses, the Yamaguchi-gumi's leader seemed satisfied with his gang's activities while he was in jail. In 2010 the Kodo-kai gang burned down a hostess club called Infinity, killing several people, in a similar protection arrangement that went bad.

The restaurant owner has said that she, too, was threatened with arson when she decided to stop paying. According to yakuza experts, a relative of one of the victims of the 2010 fire may sue, depending on the case's outcome, and trigger a cascade of lawsuits that the Yamaguchi-gumi would struggle to deal with.

Shinoda, who is also known as Shinobu Tsukasa, is keeping up appearances, as the legal paperwork is being prepared, having gone on his annual pilgrimage to the Nagamine Reien cemetery in Kobe earlier this month to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the death of Kazuo Taoka, the gang's third godfather. Yet he was worried enough about the lawsuit to distribute an eight-page glossy magazine last month to his 27,700 "regular" gang members with a headline that read "Let's march through these challenges". Shinoda argued that reform was needed to the gang's business practices, which he argued were essential to the group's survival.

Japan's National Police Agency claims the number of Yamaguchi-gumi members has fallen by 3,300 in the last 12 months. Whether their financial position will be broken by their centenary year in 2015 will depend a lot on the outcome of the Nagoya lawsuit.

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« Reply #8307 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Child marriage campaigners in south Asia receive $23m cash injection

Multimillion-dollar donations will underpin awareness and empowerment efforts in Bangladesh, Nepal and India

Mark Tran, Friday 23 August 2013 12.56 BST   

By the age of 17, Zeenat had been divorced three times after forced marriages. She first wed shortly after puberty to a man who abused her, an experience that recurred in her subsequent marriages.

She became so isolated that she did not go to the hospital or ask for help. Neither had she heard of India's Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which made her husband's violent outbursts not just wrong, but illegal.

Sadly, her story is all too common. Every year about 10 million girls become child brides, and one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15.

Bangladesh, Nepal and India have three of the highest rates of child marriage, with 68.7%, 56.1% and 50% respectively of girls married before the age of 18. Child marriage is not just a question of poverty – although that is a critical issue – but also of how girls are viewed in society.

"Even with higher levels of income, there is the practice of child marriage," said Care International's gender director, Theresa Hwang. "It is an issue of status; girls are valued in a lesser way. In India, girls are not seen as 'added value'. The issue is squarely tied to gender equality and social norms."

Care USA, the US arm of the anti-poverty NGO, and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) this week received grants of $7.7m (£4.9m) and $15.3m respectively from the Kendeda fund to tackle child marriage in south Asia. Both organisations will use the money to support local NGOs.

Founded 10 years ago, the Kendeda fund worked initially on environmental sustainability in the US, but last year created a girls' rights portfolio. AJWS will focus on India, Care on Nepal and Bangladesh.

All three countries have laws against child marriage, but implementation has proved difficult. Civil child marriage laws are not enforced, and religious or social customs prevail.

In Nepal, Care supports groups such as Chunauti, which seeks to spread its message against child marriage among schools and local businesses. The local NGO persuaded factories to put anti-child marriage slogans in their production materials. It also convinced a food catering business not to cater for child marriage ceremonies.

For Care and AJWS, the logical route is to work through local partners familiar with regional conditions and practices, and based where the pressure points are. For the local NGOs, it shows they are not working alone on a difficult problem only now receiving the attention it merits.

The UN high-level panel appointed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, to look at development targets to replace the millennium development goals when they expire in 2015, has urged the recognition of child marriage as a key indicator of female empowerment. In another sign that child marriage is moving up the development agenda, Girls Not Brides, the global partnership to end child marriage, was formed in September 2011 to tackle the problem.

Empowerment can come through that catch-all term, livelihoods training. Groups such as Brac, the Bangladeshi NGO, for example, have created clubs in Uganda where young girls learn to develop confidence through storytelling and songwriting. They also learn more practical skills, from financial literacy and tailoring to agricultural work.

Backed by AJWS, Mohammad Bazar Backward Classes Development Society in West Bengal takes a similar approach. The organisation, which works with marginalised Muslim and tribal women and children in urban Kolkata, runs a school for girls as well as vocational training for women in the rural area of Birbhum.

"We work to build girls' aspirations, promote girls' ideas of themselves when they don't have aspirations, and engage with key decisionmakers – parents, teachers and religious leaders," said Javid Syed, Asia programme officer for AJWS.

AJWS helped change Zeenat's life. It provided her with vocational training, allowing her to become financially independent and diminishing the likelihood that economic need will turn her towards another abusive marriage. If Zeenat does marry again, the hope is that she will have the support of her family and the ability to leave the marriage if she chooses, in full knowledge of her rights.

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« Reply #8308 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Syrian victims of alleged gas attack smuggled to Jordan for blood tests

Samples could help inform international response to incident, as UN inspectors denied access to affected areas of Damascus

Martin Chulov and Mona Mahmood, Friday 23 August 2013 19.29 BST   

At least three victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack in east Damascus on Thursday have been smuggled to Jordan where samples of their blood and urine will help determine which agent was used to gas hundreds of people.

The samples could help inform an international response to the attack, which has sharply upped the stakes in Syria's civil war, drawing demands for recrimination and edging a much-feared regional spillover closer to reality.

Two mosques in Lebanon's second city, whose sheikhs have been persistently critical of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime, were severely damaged by car bombs on Friday . At least 42 worshippers were killed and up to 500 were wounded in the deadliest act of terror to hit the volatile country since the war started across its border two and a half years ago.

The bombs exploded as midday prayers were concluding on the first day of the Islamic weekend. Both mosques were filled with people who, minutes later, would have spilled out into car parks where the explosives-filled vehicles were parked.

"It is already hell on earth here," said Mohammed Dahbi, a mechanic from Tripoli, a Sunni Muslim-dominated city in north Lebanon. "But it could have been worse. So much worse."

A similar attack in Dahiyeh, in the Shia heartland of south Beirut, on 15 August killed 27 people.

Dahiyeh is a hub of operations for the Hezbollah militia. The Syrian war has deepened divisions between the two Islamic sects, which line up on different sides; the Sunnis largely support the opposition in Syria but Hezbollah is resolutely backing the Assad regime.

Hezbollah condemned the Tripoli attack, which it said was aimed at causing "civil strife". However, the condemnation fell on deaf ears near the scene of the blasts, with bystanders angrily blaming the group for the destruction.

"When there's a bomb in their area, they blame 'Takfiris', by whom they mean us," said Ahmed Otthman, referring to a term used to describe radical Islamists. "And when things like this happen to us, they blame Israel."

Tripoli has been the scene of repeated clashes over the past two years between its majority Sunnis and a minority community of Alawites who have remained barricaded on a hilltop suburb near the centre of the city.

The two ruling Syrian families, the Assads and the Makhloufs, are Alawites, and much of the Damascus establishment hails from the sect, which is loosely aligned to Shia Islam and comprises 12% of Syria's population.

Speakers at Friday prayers at each of the mosques had been denouncing the poison gas attack in Syria's Ghouta region, which came as the Syrian military launched a major advance into eastern areas of the capital that it continued to shell on Friday.

United Nations inspectors in Damascus were denied access for a second day to the affected areas of the capital – only seven-10 miles from their hotel.

Sources inside rebel-held districts said an active network of defectors, some of whom had fled the Syrian military's chemical warfare division, were helping to smuggle biological samples from the scenes of the attack to Jordan. At least three more victims suffering mild effects of gassing will be transferred to Jordan in the next few days.

The samples being sourced are biopsies of livers and spleens from fatalities, as well as blood and urine from survivors.

Rebel groups have received contact from investigators identifying themselves as UN team members asking for co-operation in providing samples. The investigators have apparently asked for biological samples to be taken from animals, too. The Guardian has been unable to verify if the contact was from the UN.

A questionnaire distributed to some rebel commanders asks for GPS co-ordinates of the attacks and launch sites as well as all medical records of victims, laboratory results and environmental samples.

Chemical weapons experts interviewed by the Guardian said that symptoms of the dead and dying depicted on videos posted online support a growing view that sarin was the nerve agent used in the attack, which killed up to 1,400 people.

Britain has blamed the Assad regime for the attack, the worst of its kind anywhere since Saddam Hussein's army gassed Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988, killing between 3,000-5,000 people.

However, the US continued to toe a cautious line, asking its intelligence community to gather more information before deciding what to do about it.

Eastern Ghouta has been a stronghold of rebel groups for much of the past year. Persistent bombing by Syrian military jets and artillery has been unable to dislodge armed opposition groups who have been poised on the edge of the capital's inner sanctum, but unable to advance.

The Syrian news agency, Sana, said the operation carried out in the early hours of Thursday was the largest launched since the civil war began. It said it aimed to clear the east of the capital and then pave the way for a push towards the Jordanian border, which remains bitterly contested by both sides.

The Syrian regime has been advancing in parts of the country, with the help of forces from Hezbollah, particularly in Homs and the west. However, it has been unable to clear the capital of rebel groups, which continue to pose a potent threat to its institutions.


August 23, 2013

Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack


WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.

With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama described the attack as “clearly a big event of grave concern” and acknowledged that the United States had limited time to respond. But he said United Nations investigators needed to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.

A senior administration official said the Kosovo precedent was one of many subjects discussed in continuing White House meetings on the crisis in Syria. Officials are also debating whether a military strike would have unintended consequences, destabilize neighbors like Lebanon, or lead to even greater flows of refugees into Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

“It’s a step too far to say we’re drawing up legal justifications for an action, given that the president hasn’t made a decision,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations. “But Kosovo, of course, is a precedent of something that is perhaps similar.”

In the Mediterranean, the Navy’s regional commander postponed a scheduled port call in Naples, Italy, for a destroyer so that the ship would remain with a second destroyer in striking distance of Syria during the crisis. Pentagon officials said the decision did not reflect any specific orders from Washington, but both destroyers had on board Tomahawk cruise missiles, long-range weapons that probably would be among the first launched against targets in Syria should the president decide to take military action.

On Friday, the Russian government called on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to allow United Nations investigators into the areas east of Damascus where the attack occurred. But American and foreign diplomats said Russia’s move did not reflect any shift in its backing of Mr. Assad or its resistance to punitive measures in the Security Council.

In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry put the onus on Syria’s opposition forces to provide secure access to the site of the “reported incident.” A second statement suggested that the Russians believed the attack was actually a provocation by the rebels. It cited reports criticizing government troops that were posted on the Internet hours before the attack.

“More and more evidence emerges indicating that this criminal act had an openly provocative character,” Aleksandr K. Lukashevich, a spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said in the statement. “The talk here is about a previously planned action.”

However, Mr. Lukashevich may have been confused by YouTube’s practice of time-stamping uploaded videos based on the time in its California headquarters, no matter the originating time zone. The attacks occurred early Wednesday in Syria, when it would still have been Tuesday in California for about eight more hours.

Mr. Lukashevich praised the Assad government for welcoming Carla del Ponte, a member of a United Nations commission on Syria who suggested in May that the rebels had used chemical weapons, and he accused the Syrian opposition of not cooperating with the investigation by United Nations experts.

The Syrian government did not comment on Friday.

On Friday CBS News, citing administration officials, reported that American intelligence agencies detected activity at locations known to be chemical weapons sites before Wednesday’s attack. The activity, these officials believe, may have been preparations for the assault.

Other Western officials have been less cautious than Mr. Obama. “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 William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, in an interview with Sky News. “I think the chances of that are vanishingly small, and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime.”

Mr. Hague did not speak of using force, as France has, if the government was found to have been behind the attack. But he said it was “not something that a humane or civilized world can ignore.”

Such statements carry echoes of Kosovo, where the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic brutally cracked down on ethnic Albanians in 1998 and 1999, prompting the Clinton administration to decide to act militarily in concert with NATO allies.

Mr. Clinton knew there was no prospect of securing a resolution from the Security Council authorizing the use of force. Russia was a longtime supporter of the Milosevic government and was certain to wield its vote in the Security Council to block action.

So the Clinton administration justified its actions, in part, as an intervention to protect a vulnerable and embattled population. NATO carried out airstrikes before Mr. Milosevic agreed to NATO demands, which required the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces.

“The argument in 1999 in the case of Kosovo was that there was a grave humanitarian emergency and the international community had the responsibility to act and, if necessary, to do so with force,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a former United States ambassador to NATO who is now the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In the case of Syria, Mr. Daalder said, the administration could argue that the use of chemical weapons had created a grave humanitarian emergency and that without a forceful response there would be a danger that the Assad government might use it on a large scale once again. Dennis B. Ross, a former adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East, said that if the president wanted to develop a legal justification for acting, “there are lots of ways to do it outside the U.N. context.”

Reporting was contributed by Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker from Washington, Steven Lee Myers from Moscow and David Jolly from Paris.

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« Reply #8309 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:41 AM »

August 23, 2013

Bombings Strike Lebanon, as Mosques Are Targeted in Growing Violence


TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Car bombs exploded outside two Sunni mosques in this northern Lebanese city on Friday as many worshipers were just finishing prayers, killing dozens of people, wounding hundreds and sending new sectarian shudders through the country, already deeply unsettled by the conflict in neighboring Syria.

The double bombing was the first time that mosques were targets in what had been an escalating series of attacks in Lebanon in recent months. Coupled with the sectarian overtones of the Syrian war and renewed fighting in Iraq — where at least 36 people were reported killed Friday in sectarian attacks across the country — the bombings compounded fears that the Middle East could be plunging into unbridled Sunni-vs.-Shiite warfare.

President Michel Suleiman cut short a visit abroad to meet with security officials and exhorted them to “deploy their efforts to reveal the perpetrators and the instigators.” Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, Tammam Salam, said in a statement that “the Tripoli crime is an additional indicator that the situation in Lebanon has reached a very dangerous level.”

Witnesses and the Lebanese news media said the blasts hit the Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques, which are in different parts of the city, minutes apart just before 2 p.m. Tripoli’s mayor, Nader Ghazal, was quoted as saying at least 50 people were killed, while the Health Ministry put the death toll at 35. The Lebanese Red Cross said more than 500 were wounded.

The toll easily surpassed the casualties and destruction from a bombing a week earlier in southern Beirut that targeted Hezbollah. The Shiite militant group has aligned with Syria’s government against a Sunni-led insurgency, which has contributed to an increasing polarization in Lebanon.

Political analysts expressed fear that a broad section of the region stretching from the Mediterranean east to Baghdad and beyond was becoming a battleground between Sunnis and Shiites, the major Islamic sects. Many said the Tripoli bombings would not go unanswered.

“This was an upping of the ante,” said Mona Yacoubian, the senior Middle East adviser at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. “I think we’re seeing the contours of this arena forming in front of our eyes.”

The first bomb hit about 50 yards from the gates of the Taqwa mosque, setting dozens of cars and a nearby building on fire and shattering windows of surrounding buildings. The blast snapped the trunks of palm trees and left a crater that punctured a water main, flooding the street. On the roof of the mosque’s entryway sat the carcass of a blown-up car that people nearby at the time said had contained the bomb, hurtling it into the air.

The second bomb, near the Al-Salam mosque, blasted a six-foot-deep hole in the asphalt and shattered the windows of apartment towers down the block.

Both explosions struck just before the conclusion of Friday Prayer, the largest gathering of the week for Muslims. Many people said that if the bombs had detonated when they were leaving the mosques, the death toll would have been much higher.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but the Taqwa mosque was home to Sheik Salem al-Rafei, an outspoken Sunni preacher, who has inveighed against Hezbollah and exhorted worshipers to support the Sunni insurgency trying to topple Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Many Taqwa worshipers said they believed their mosque had been targeted because of Sheik Rafei. A large banner on the mosque’s fence bore photographs of three men killed in the battle for the border city of Qusayr, Syria, nearly three months ago, in which Hezbollah fighters joined the Syrian Army to defeat Sunni insurgents ensconced there. The battle has been widely viewed as a turning point in the Syria conflict. Text next to the photographs said the men had been “martyred defending the dignity and pride of the nation.”

Sheik Rafei was not hurt in the bombing, worshipers said, but efforts to contact him were not immediately successful.

One Taqwa worshiper, Saad al-Din Turkomani, 27, said he was in the mosque listening to Skeik Rafei’s sermon when the explosion blew out the windows and filled the hall with smoke. He said he saw the attacks as retaliation for last week’s bombing in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut.

“One from our side went to them, so they sent two of theirs to us,” he said. “They are making us pay the price.”

Like many people in Tripoli, he expected more sectarian violence. “We are entering a hard stage,” he said. “Things are catching fire between the Sunni and the Shia.”

Hezbollah condemned the bombings. “These two terrorist explosions come as a translation of the criminal plot that seeks to sow the seeds of discord among the Lebanese and drag the country to internal strife under the headline of sectarianism and religious differences,” the group said in a statement. Accusing unidentified foreign forces of backing the attacks, it said such mayhem benefited “the evil regional international plan that wants to break up our region and drown it in oceans of blood and fire.”

While Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has made it clear that it is committed to backing Mr. Assad’s government, he has told his supporters that Hezbollah is not fighting Sunnis in general, but the extremists among them, and not to blame all Sunnis for attacks on Shiites.

Mr. Nasrallah’s assertions seemed to carry little weight with aggrieved survivors in the Tripoli attacks. “Nasrallah is the first suspect in this bombing,” said Ahmed Johar, who was among groups of men removing damaged furniture from the Al-Salam mosque and sweeping shattered glass and splintered wood that covered the green carpet.

Samir Jalloul, 39, said he had been in the mosque near the end of his prayers when the explosion hit. His head was wounded by flying debris, but he came back to the bombing site to look for his identification card, which he had lost while fleeing.

“I expected that there would be bombings, but not at a mosque during prayers,” he said.

The bombings, he said, will change no one’s position on the war in Syria. “There are crimes going on in Syria, so there is no way we can keep silent,” he said.

Video of the scenes broadcast just minutes after the attacks showed thick smoke billowing across Tripoli. One video clip posted on YouTube showed angry crowds converged outside the smoking Taqwa mosque.

A second video clip, from a security camera inside the Al-Salam mosque, showed the precise moment of an enormous blast as many worshipers were still praying.

Since the uprising started in Syria more than two years ago, fighting in Lebanon has flared sporadically, but Tripoli has been a particular tinderbox because of tensions similar to those across the border. The most frequent street fights pit Sunni Muslims against members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Mr. Assad belongs.

The tensions have worsened since April, when Sheik Rafei responded to a speech by Mr. Nasrallah, saying that if Lebanese Shiites were fighting in Syria, Sunnis should be as well.

“If support is being sent in the form of men and other things, and they are carrying out operations to defend their brothers in Syria, I say that we, too, will send support in the form and men and all support and weapons to make them victorious,” he said.

David Jolly contributed reporting from Paris, and Christine Hauser and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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