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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1076854 times)
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« Reply #8355 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:05 AM »

August 26, 2013

Filipinos Hold Mass Protest Over Official Corruption


MANILA — Tens of thousands of Filipinos protested in Manila on Monday, outraged over accusations that an estimated $141 million in public money had been diverted into the coffers of politicians and their associates.

The peaceful four-hour rally was fueled in part by photographs posted on social media sites by the daughter of one of the suspects in the case, showing an extravagance that earned her the title “the new Imelda,” after the wife of the longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, the fifth president since Marcos, has made fighting corruption a hallmark of his three-year-old administration. But scandals have persisted over extrajudicial killings by the police, sexual harassment by diplomats, and extortion and bribery within government agencies.

The one that drove protesters into the streets on Monday involved accusations in a government audit that members of Congress worked with associates to divert discretionary public funds to sham organizations and questionable projects in return for bribes.

The National Bureau of Investigation has issued an arrest warrant for a Manila businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, who is suspected of having facilitated some of the corrupt transactions with lawmakers. Her passport has been revoked, and she is the subject of a nationwide search.

Ms. Lim-Napoles denied the accusations in news media interviews conducted before the warrant was issued, but public anger grew with the circulation of the photographs showing the lavish living of her daughter, Jeane Lim-Napoles, 23.

The daughter, a fashion school graduate, sprinkled her Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages with photographs and videos of herself in London, Los Angeles and Paris. Other photos cataloged her luxury shoe collection and showed her sitting atop a Porsche, while a video of her 21st birthday party in Beverly Hills, Calif., showed expensive liquor and tables of sushi. She was also photographed with Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake at the MTV Movie Awards.

A series of corruption cases this year have involved a variety of government agencies.

In March, Sungjun Park, a fugitive hiding in the Philippines who was wanted in his native South Korea in connection with an investment scheme, casually left the Philippines via the Manila airport. Rather than capturing him, Philippine government agents assisted him in avoiding detection while immigration officers used their cellphones and looked the other way. The scene was captured by airport video cameras and broadcast nationwide in the Philippines.

On July 23, the chief of the Philippine National Police announced that 14 officers were being detained in connection with the July 15 killing of two high-profile criminal suspects in their custody. There was speculation that the men were killed because they were going to disclose the names of corrupt police officers.

While those officers were in detention, several detectives in an unrelated case were placed under investigation by the Department of Justice after witnesses claimed that they stole cash and drugs from an underworld leader they had arrested.

In another scandal, labor officials were accused of sexually harassing Filipino women working in the Middle East who were seeking shelter at Philippine Embassies. On Aug. 15, one woman told a Senate committee that she had been raped by her employer in Saudi Arabia and that when she sought help at the Philippine Embassy, an official asked her whether she had enjoyed it.

Despite the scandals, Mr. Aquino has received praise from the World Bank, financial rating agencies and others for his efforts to combat corruption. He has pursued an anticorruption campaign that seeks to monitor more closely how public money is used, while at the same time aggressively investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials.

In 2011, corruption charges were filed against his predecessor as president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. That same year, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who was appointed by Mrs. Arroyo, was impeached amid accusations that he had hidden wealth. The accusations of corrupt government programs have been bolstered by an exhaustive report by the Aquino administration’s auditing agency.

The latest Global Corruption Barometer report, produced by the anticorruption group Transparency International and released in July, found that 38 percent of Filipinos perceived corruption as having decreased significantly in the past two years. That is an improvement from 6 percent in 2010 and 2011. Of the 107 countries involved in the survey, the Philippines was one of 11 where respondents reported an improving situation.

The report also said that although the Aquino administration could point to some high-profile successes, it had not been as effective in changing the institutions of government.

Vincent Lazatin, the executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, an anticorruption group, said that high-profile convictions did little to stop the rampant bribery and extortion within Philippine government agencies, including the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the police.

“There hasn’t been a trickle-down effect on everyday corruption,” he said. “The corrupt cop on the street, the corrupt customs official, they haven’t changed.”
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« Reply #8356 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Women in Argentina sue for $54 million over faulty breast implants

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 26, 2013 19:33 EDT

About 300 women with faulty PIP breast implants have filed suit seeking $54.7 million in damages from three European companies, their attorney said Monday.

“We have filed a class-action suit against France’s Poly Implant Protheses (PIP), Germany’s TUV Rheinland (quality control) and German insurer Allianz,” Virginia Luna told reporters, warning that the total damages sought could be vastly higher since some 15,000 women are believed to have been affected in Argentina alone.

“In one sample we did, with 500 women, 19 percent had breakage (in the implant) which allowed gel to migrate to underarms, neck and head areas, and even lungs,” she said.

News of the faulty implants in 2011 sparked fears worldwide, but health officials in various countries have said the prosthetics were not toxic and did not increase the risk of breast cancer.

Doctors in France have removed PIP breast implants from more than 16,000 women and found a quarter of the scandal-tainted products had signs of splitting or leakage, a watchdog there said in June.

A total of 16,426 women have had the implants removed since investigators found the devices were twice as likely to rupture as rival brands, and that French manufacturer PIP used industrial silicone to fill them, the National Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM) said.

PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas, 73, has been charged with manslaughter and fraud. PIP’s implants have been banned and the company, located in southern France, has been liquidated.

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« Reply #8357 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Venezuela says hitmen captured in plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 7:55 EDT

Venezuela said it derailed a plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, arresting two hitmen it said wanted to assassinate the leftist leader on orders from a Colombian conservative ex-president.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said at a briefing that Caracas arrested the alleged hitmen, two Colombians, on August 13.

The pair, Victor Johan Guache Mosquera and Erick Leonardo Huertas Rios, were part of “a group of 10 men who were coming to carry out the murder of the president,” working with former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, Rodriguez charged.

Maduro himself called on US President Barack Obama to say if he ordered or knew of the alleged assassination plan.

Maduro said that besides Colombia, it was hatched by far-right Venezuelan opposition figures in Miami. Maduro is a frequent and fiery critic of Washington, as was his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

“Is President Obama so weak that decisions are made for him in the United States to kill a Latin American head of state without his knowing it?” Maduro said to reporters.

The pair detained were part of a support team for a “highly experienced hitman” identified by the alias David, whom they reported to directly and who was to personally carry out the assassination, the minister said.

David, Rodriguez charged, was taking orders from a Colombian who is in prison, Oscar Alcantara Gonzalez, alias “Gancho Mosco”, who allegedly works for Uribe.

“We have no doubt that Alvaro Uribe Velez has knowledge of all these things … And we are not the least bit surprised that he is the one giving orders through operatives,” Rodriguez alleged.

The Colombian ex-president, who held office from 2002-2010, vehemently denied the plot, branding the allegations “slurs.”

In an interview with Colombian television, Uribe said he would rather talk about “important issues and not the slurs of the dictatorship.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the April presidential vote to Maduro and is contesting the results, shrugged off the alleged plot, saying: “Nobody believes that tall tale.”

Rodriguez in June alleged that Maduro was targeted by a separate assassination plot launched from Colombia and the United States.

Venezuela made frequent allegations of assassination plots against the late leftist President Hugo Chavez and has continued to do so under Maduro, his handpicked successor.

Official results gave Maduro, 50, a razor-thin margin of just 1.5 percent over Capriles, 41, in the April 14 election.

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« Reply #8358 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:12 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Spitzer telescope revolutionized how we see the universe

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / August 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm EDT

Ten years ago, on an August afternoon in Florida, a Delta II rocket was launched skyward. Atop that rocket was the Spitzer Space Telescope, named for the theoretical physicist Lyman Spitzer, who had in 1946 proposed that, just maybe, a telescope could operate in space.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth of NASA’ Great Observatories, a group of telescopes that offers images of the universe in different wavelengths of light: Hubble, Compton (no longer active), Chandra, and Spitzer. Spitzer, which celebrates a decade of photographs today, sees the cosmos in infrared.

In these last ten years, Spitzer has seen a lot: a star flung out of its solar system in another star’s explosion, streaking the sky with a pink shockwave, like a runaway bride’s peony-colored veil flapping down the aisle; star nurseries pictured in reds and greens, akin to celestial kingdoms lit up to celebrate the birth of a prince there, a princess here; a nebula that resembles a giant eye rimmed in blue glitter eyeshadow.

These Spitzer murals, as well as those from its three sister telescopes, have helped shape how we see the universe. Now, space appears like a small corner of a Monet painting magnified into a landscape brimming with light.

Of course, Spitzer has provided more than art. Spitzer's photos have told us that there is such a thing in the universe as a bucky-ball (or, Buckminsterfullerene), a carbon molecule shaped like a soccer-ball. Its photos have shown us an additional sparse ring of ice and dust rimming Saturn and revised the shape of our galaxy as we know it.

And Spitzer, the first to detect light coming from a planet outside our solar system, has also revealed the unusual atmospheres cradling other worlds spinning around other stars. It has plumbed the depths of space for the shape of other galaxies, finding that those systems of countless stars and planets are more massive than ever before thought.

In 2009, Spitzer ran out of liquid helium to cool its cameras to the lows needed to be fully operational. But there's still some scientific life here: The two shortest-wavelength modules in the Infrared Array Camera remain functional.

Now, scientists are using Spitzer to find an asteroid to lasso. In October, Spitzer will make infrared observations of a near-Earth asteroid called 2009 DB. That asteroid could become the target for the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Initiative, an ambitious scheme to bundle one up and then send humans to sample it.

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« Reply #8359 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Meteor that exploded over Russia may have skimmed the Sun

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 26, 2013 19:35 EDT

The meteor that injured over 1,500 people when it exploded and showered debris over Russia in February may have had a close shave with the Sun earlier, researchers said Tuesday.

A study of its composition showed the space rock had undergone “intensive melting” before entering Earth’s atmosphere and streaking over the central Russia’s Chelyabinsk region in a blinding fireball, they said in a statement.

This “almost certainly” points to a near-miss with the Sun, or a collision with another body in the solar system — possibly a planet or asteroid, said study co-author Victor Sharygin from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Mineralogy.

The findings were presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Florence, Italy.

The meteor is estimated to have been 17 metres (56 feet) wide before exploding with the equivalent force of 30 times that of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

Its shockwave blew out windows and damaged buildings across five Russian regions.

The meteor’s fragments lie scattered over a large area around Chelyabinsk — the largest piece is believed to lie at the bottom of Chebarkul Lake from where scientists are trying to raise it.

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« Reply #8360 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Graphene — as thin as an atom and 200 times stronger than steel — is the world’s new ‘wonder material’

By PBS Newshour
Monday, August 26, 2013 10:03 EDT

Marc Abrahams, editor of Annals of Improbable Research and Guardian columnist, joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about graphene, the world's new wonder material. The substance, as thin as an atom, is 200 times stronger than steel.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #8361 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:31 AM »

In the USA...

The fight to investigate Detroit’s 11,000 forgotten rapes

By Rosie Swash, The Guardian
Monday, August 26, 2013 20:01 EDT

Detroit’s reputation precedes it: its economic decline and apparent decay regarded as a warning sign for modern civilisation. But one Motor City native isn’t buying this narrative. “Detroit is a wonderful place,” enthuses Kym Worthy. “Yes, it’s half the size it once was, and yes it has had its share of crime, but you visit downtown, midtown, many of the neighbourhoods in the city, and you would never believe that it’s the city you’ve heard about on the news,” says the 56-year-old.

It takes an extraordinary woman to be this upbeat given the circumstances she is describing, but extraordinary is exactly what Worthy is. For the past decade, Worthy has been prosecutor of Wayne County, the largest county in Detroit, making her the chief law enforcement officer for the city. As a lawyer she has built a strong reputation for tenacity, not least in 1998 when she ambitiously – and successfully – pursued Detroit’s then mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on corruption charges. As the first African-American woman to become prosecutor of Detroit, Worthy knows a thing or two about beating the odds, a trait she possibly inherited from her army officer father, the first African-American to graduate from West Point military academy in the 1950s.

Not for nothing did Essence magazine describe her as the “toughest woman in Detroit”, a moniker which came in particularly handy one afternoon in August 2009, when Worthy’s staff made a startling discovery.

“I was sitting in my office one day when assistant prosecutor Rob Spader came in and told me he had been doing an inventory of Detroit police department evidence,” she explains during a rare break in her schedule. “There was this warehouse of old evidence that none of us knew about. And that’s where he found the rape kits.”

A rape kit is a sexual assault forensic kit used to take and preserve medical evidence through DNA swabs following an allegation of rape. Spader had stumbled across approximately 11,000 of these kits lying in random order, uncatalogued, unattended and uninvestigated.

Worthy’s initial reaction was one of disgust and she immediately contacted the then police commissioner. She faced a lack of interest “until a local reporter picked it up, and then the whole thing blew up”.

With the commissioner on board, Worthy soon assembled a team of volunteers to begin the lengthy process of cataloguing the rape kits. “It took us six to nine months to build a database; we had to open each one of the what we now know is 11,304 kits. There was no previous nexus to go on, so we started from scratch. We had volunteers going over these kits for hours each day (without opening the evidence itself), using any identifiable information about the assault to build a database. We combed through years of records to try to match the kits with any police records there may have been. And at times we were literally blowing off the dust of old books that they used to keep back in the day to record the cases.”

The hard work of Worthy and her volunteers attracted national attention, and she was awarded a federal grant of $1m to continue the work. She began working with a number of state departments to begin the long and toilsome task of solving some of these crimes. And it worked.

Audrey Polk was assaulted in 1997 when a man broke into the house and raped her in front of her two children. Hers was among the untested rape kits discovered by Spader, and 12 years later prosecutors knocked on her door and explained that her case was finally being looked into. “I was in shock. They said, do you still want to prosecute? And I said, certainly, absolutely, yes I do,” she recently told NBC news. Polk’s attacker was found, charged and, after an arduous trial, found guilty. He was sentenced to up to 60 years in prison.

A particularly horrifying case involves Shelly Andre Brooks, who is currently serving life in prison without parole for the sexual assault and murder of at least seven women. Through a DNA sample in one of the rape kits, Worthy’s team were able to link Brooks to the rape of a woman in 2006 whose kit had never been examined. Worthy states that Brooks went on to kill at least one other woman in 2007 and police believe he may responsible for several other murders.

Untested rape kits are not a phenomenon exclusive to Detroit. Memphis, Cleveland and parts of Texas (where the indomitable Senator Wendy Davis just helped secure funding to tackle the problem) are all trying to deal with a backlog of untested kits, while officials in Chicago are responding to claims that untested rape kits dating back to the late 1970s number in their hundreds.

Time and money are the given reasons for so many kits being disregarded; it costs $1,500 to test the kit, and more if a conviction is sought. But Worthy believes that institutional attitudes in the police force also contributed to so many cases being ignored. Part of her current work is looking at “the way women are handled as victims of sexual assault, from the time they report it to the time of prosecution. Because we’ve found there has been some very bad treatment [of them].”

She should know. While at law school in Indiana, Worthy was sexually assaulted while out jogging. Though she reported the incident to her school she did not report to the police. “I was young, at the beginning of my career. I didn’t want to do anything to derail that. It is not easy for women to shake off the sense that there is a stigma involved with sexual assault. That is something I want to work on changing.”

Since 2009, 600 rape kits have been investigated by Worthy’s team, a staggering 37 serial rapists have been identified and 13 cases have been brought against suspects as a direct result of Worthy’s endeavours. “It sounds like a small amount, I know,” says Worthy, “but we’re pushing for more funding.” As a mother of one teenager daughter and recently adopted twins, now just four-years-old, you wonder when Worthy has time to sleep, let alone commit extra hours to a project that is already running on goodwill and scant resources as it is.

In September, the $1m grant will run out. Private donations, like that from the Joyful Heart foundation, a charity started by actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (where storylines revolve around cases of sexual assault), go only some of the way to funding Worthy’s work. She needs a lot more money to keep going.

It’s surprising to learn that someone as dogged as Worthy didn’t much fancy the job of prosecutor. “My view of prosecution was very skewed. I didn’t want to be the contributing factor in putting other African-Americans in jail. But I realise now I was wrong. The prosecutor is the gatekeeper of the people. It’s very important to be on the  side of the people.”

• End the Backlog, a charity affiliated with the Joyful Heart Foundation: © Guardian News and Media 2013


August 26, 2013

Judge Rules Against JPMorgan in Suit Over Billionaire’s Losses


A New York state judge found JPMorgan Chase liable to the Russian-American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik for breach of contract for placing risky subprime mortgage securities in an investment account he held, and ordered the bank to pay more than $50 million in damages, including interest.

In a decision made public on Monday, Justice Melvin Schweitzer of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan ordered JPMorgan to pay $42.5 million on the breach of contract claim, plus 5 percent annual interest starting in May 2008.

The judge found JPMorgan was not liable for negligence. His decision was dated Aug. 21, about seven months after the three-week, nonjury trial.

Mr. Blavatnik sued JPMorgan in 2009 to recover more than $100 million that he said the bank lost on a roughly $1 billion investment by CMMF L.L.C., a fund created by his company, Access Industries.

Separately, JPMorgan faces other litigation and investigations involving its handling of mortgage-related businesses during the financial crisis.

According to Mr. Blavatnik, JPMorgan Investment Management promised that it would invest Access’s money conservatively after opening the account in 2006.

Instead, according to Mr. Blavatnik, the bank breached a 20 percent limit for mortgage-backed securities by misclassifying securities that were backed by a pool of subprime loans, known as ABS-home equity loans, as asset-backed rather than mortgage-backed securities.

Access also accused JPMorgan of continuing to hold the troubled securities despite knowing they were inappropriate for the portfolio. CMMF closed the account in May 2008.

In finding JPMorgan liable for exceeding the 20 percent cap, Justice Schweitzer rejected the bank’s argument that “industry practice” was to classify the home equity loans separately from mortgage securities because they carried different risks.

In ruling for JPMorgan on the negligence claim, Justice Schweitzer said that the mortgage securities were considered “relatively safe and desirable” when they were bought, and that JPMorgan acted reasonably in light of current conditions when it advised CMMF to “wait out the storm” rather than sell at depressed prices.

A JPMorgan spokesman, Doug Morris, said: “We are pleased that the court rejected CMMF’s negligence claims, and found that our investment professionals lived up to their responsibilities. We respectfully disagree with the court’s interpretation of our agreement with CMMF, and we are considering our options regarding that finding.”

David Elsberg, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan representing Mr. Blavatnik, said: “Hopefully it signals that banks need to live up to their obligations to clients, and as the court makes clear, not hide behind what they often try to refer to as industry practice.”

Mr. Blavatnik also welcomed the decision. “There are a lot of people out there who, I understand, feel they have been wronged by JPMorgan but cannot afford to take on a huge bank. They shouldn’t have to,” he said in a statement. “JPMorgan should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”

Mr. Blavatnik is estimated to be worth about $16 billion, making him the world’s 44th richest person, according to Forbes magazine.


CIA documents show U.S. helped Iraq fight Iran despite chemical weapons use

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 26, 2013 15:10 EDT

The United States provided Iraq with intelligence on preparations for an Iranian offensive during the Iran-Iraq war even though it knew Baghdad would respond with chemical weapons, Foreign Policy magazine reported Monday.

Citing declassified CIA documents and interviews with former officials, the magazine reviewed the US record as Washington weighs military action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons near Damascus last week.

The magazine said the US knew in 1983 that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would not hesitate to resort to shelling Iranian forces with sarin or mustard gas.

“As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings,” a top secret CIA report said in November 1983.

“Tehran would take such evidence to the UN and charge US complicity in violating international law,” the agency warned.

In late 1987, US satellite imagery showed that Iran was concentrating a large force east of the southern Iraqi port city of Basra in preparation for a spring offensive.

The images also showed that the Iranians had identified a strategic weakness in the Iraqi defenses.

The report, titled “At the Gates of Basra,” was shown to president Ronald Regan, who wrote a note in the margins that said, “An Iranian victory is unacceptable,” according to Foreign Policy.

The United States decided to inform Baghdad of its findings and help the Iraqis with intelligence on Iranian logistics centers and anti-aircraft defenses.

Saddam’s forces smashed the Iranian buildup before it could get off the ground, launching a vast offensive in April 1988, backed by bombardments with chemical weapons, on the Fao Peninsula.

Chemical agents were used four times, each time killing between hundreds and thousands of Iranian troops, according to the CIA.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” said retired Air Force colonel Rick Francona, a military attache in Baghdad during the 1988 attacks.

During the same period, in March 1988, Saddam used chemical agents in an attack of the Kurdish village of Hallabja, killing 5,000 people, also with total impunity.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Ohio Attorney General: State secretly uploaded all drivers license photos into police database

By Scott Kaufman
Monday, August 26, 2013 14:40 EDT

At a press conference today, Attorney General Mike DeWine informed Ohio citizens that a powerful facial recognition system with access to driver’s licenses photographs and mug shots went live on June 2.

In exactly what capacity it went live, however, isn’t entirely clear. Law enforcement officers and officials in DeWine’s office disagree about whether system was in beta testing or fully launched. What is known is that since June 2, police officers have performed 2,600 searches using the new database feature, which scans driver’s license photographs and police mug shots and compares them to any image, be it a photograph or a still-frame from a surveillance camera.

The system is designed to take advantage of the increasing prevalence of security cameras. In Cincinnati alone, police already have access to 118 security cameras, but anticipate having access to over 1,000 by the end of 2014. That number doesn’t include footage from cameras that law enforcement can acquire when private businesses cooperate in investigations. Anyone with access to the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway can potentially identify and acquire personal information — including home addresses or driver’s license and social security numbers of strangers.

Last week, DeWine informed The Enquirer that his office didn’t believe the public needed to be informed of the system’s launch because 26 other states already have such databases in operation. But now, nearly two months after its launch, he is forming an advisory panel of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement representatives to create rules that will prevent privacy abuses.

Not that DeWine is concerned: “Whether you call it a test phase or don’t call it a test phase, if we find something [wrong], we would change it, and if we find something alarming, we would shut it down,” he told The Enquirer. “The fact that over half of states use [facial recognition technology], the fact that the FBI has used it, the fact that we have controls in [the online database] that work in the sense that we could prosecute people…all of those indicate to me that what we have is adequate.”

DeWine’s confidence in the safeguards of a system which went into operation without his approval is unlikely to mollify the concerns of privacy advocates. In a statement, the ACLU has already called on DeWine to “pull the plug” on the system. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people, and prevent government abuse of this new tool,” Associate Director Gary Daniels said.


U.S. tech sector feels pain from NSA PRISM revelations

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 7:12 EDT

Revelations about vast US data collection programs are starting to hit American tech companies, which are ramping up pressure for increased transparency to try to mitigate the damage.

An industry group, the Cloud Security Alliance said last month that 10 percent of its non-US members have cancelled a contract with a US-based cloud provider, and 56 percent said they were less likely to use an American company.

A separate report this month by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, or ITIF, a Washington think tank, said US cloud providers stand to lose $22 billion to $35 billion over the next three years due to revelations about the so-called PRISM program.

Daniel Castro, author of the report, says a loss of trust in US tech firms could lead to “protectionist” measures that hurt the fast-growing cloud sector.

“The risk is that a country like Germany will say you have to be a German company to provide data services in Germany,” Castro told AFP.

“I don’t think that helps anyone. We do benefit from free trade and the robust competitiveness in the tech industry.”

The report notes that the United States dominates the cloud computing market both domestically and abroad, and that US firms could lose between 10 and 20 percent of the foreign market in the next few years.

Tech companies, especially firms in cloud computing, have been in a frenzy since details leaked in June about surveillance efforts led by the secretive National Security Agency, including PRISM, believed to scoop up massive amounts of data as part of efforts to thwart terrorism.

Castro said in his report “the disclosures of the NSA’s electronic surveillance may fundamentally alter the market dynamics.”

The news “will likely have an immediate and lasting impact on the competitiveness of the US cloud computing industry if foreign customers decide the risks of storing data with a US company outweigh the benefits,” he wrote.

Much concern in being expressed in Europe. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik last month urged the EU to develop its own cloud industry, noting that 95 percent of the services come from US firms.

“Recent months have proven once again that it’s very important for Europe to have its own data clouds that operate strictly under European legislation,” he said.

Some analysts say losses could be even greater than the ITIF predicts, if the fallout affects consumer-based services like email and search.

And Forrester Research analyst James Staten argued that, in addition to the loss of foreign customers, US customers may look overseas for cloud services, and the rest of the tech sector could also see an impact.

“Add it all up and you have a net loss for the service provider space of about $180 billion by 2016, which would be roughly a 25 percent decline in the overall IT services market,” Staten said.

The tech sector has been active on several fronts, filing court cases and making public pleas to the US administration for more transparency, in the hope that fuller disclosure will ease fears about how data is shared.

Six large high-tech lobby groups sent a letter to President Barack Obama this month asking for such steps, saying more transparency “can assist in reestablishing trust, both domestically and globally.”

Ross Schulman of Computer & Communications Industry Association, one of the tech associations, said “the lack of information is compounding the trust problem.”

Schulman said it’s not clear if the volume of data collected by the government is more or less than people believe.

“If it’s less, that could help trust,” he said. “If it’s more, people could have an informed discussion of surveillance practices.”

But in the current situation, he said, “it’s difficult to go to customers and say the cloud is the best place for your data.”
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« Reply #8362 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Israeli intelligence 'intercepted Syrian regime talk about chemical attack'

Information passed to US by Israeli Defence Forces's 8200 unit, former official tells magazine

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies, Wednesday 28 August 2013 09.25 BST

A team of United Nations inspectors have resumed their second day of investigations at the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, as western leaders moved towards military action in response to the Syrian regime's reported use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The UN team left their Damascus hotel early on Wednesday after the operation was suspended on Tuesday following a sniper attack on its convoy on Monday.

The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime's deployment of chemical weapons – which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action – has been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus has reported.

Binyamin Netanyahu Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel was 'prepared for every scenario'. Photograph: Yossi Aloni/AFP/Getty Images

The 8200 unit of the Israeli Defence Forces, which specialises in electronic surveillance, intercepted a conversation between Syrian officials regarding the use of chemical weapons, an unnamed former Mossad official told Focus. The content of the conversation was relayed to the US, the ex-official said.

The 8200 unit collects and analyses electronic data, including wiretapped telephone calls and emails. It is the largest unit in the IDF.

Israel has invested in intelligence assets in Syria for decades, according to a senior government official. "We have an historic intelligence effort in the field, for obvious reasons," he said.

Israel and the US had a "close and co-operative relationship in the intelligence field", he added, but declined to comment specifically on the Focus report.

Senior Israeli security officials arrived in Washington on Monday to share the latest results of intelligence-gathering, and to review the Syrian crisis with national security adviser Susan Rice.

In northern Israel, a military training exercise began on Wednesday in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. There have been numerous incidences of mortar shells and gunfire landing on the Israeli-controlled Golan over the past year, prompting return fire by the IDF on occasion.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was due to convene the security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss impending US military intervention in Syria. Officials are assessing the chances of Syrian retaliation against Israel following US action.

An unnamed senior Syrian army officer told the Iranian news agency Fars: "If Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria's neighbours."

Israel was "prepared for every scenario" and would respond forcefully if necessary, Netanyahu said after the meeting.

Later, Benny Gantz, the Israeli chief of staff, said: "Those who wish to harm us will find us sharper and firmer than ever. Our enemies should know that we are determined and ready to defend our citizens by any action necessary, against any threat and in any scenario we will face."

The likelihood of Syrian retaliation depended on the scale of the US attack, said military analyst Alex Fishman.

"If it is decided to fire several dozen Tomahawk missiles at military targets, there is a chance that the Syrians will succeed in containing the attack, presenting the offensive as a failure and praising the staying power of the army and the Syrian people; however, if it is decided to fire hundreds of missiles and significantly harm its strategic assets, the Syrian need for an act of revenge will heighten," Fishman wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth.

"The formula is simple: The more threatened the Syrian regime feels, the greater the chance that it will fire at its neighbours," he added.

Meanwhile, demand for gas masks and protection kits from the Israeli public continued to rise. The Israeli postal authority said telephone inquiries had increased by 300% and queues had formed outside distribution depots.

According to a report in Ma'ariv, Israel's home front command is grappling with the problem of providing gas masks to men with beards, extremely common among ultra-Orthodox Jews. A special mask, which can accommodate a beard, is available but the high cost means it is only distributed to men over 65 or whose beards are for health reasons.

"Men who grow beards for religious reasons will have to shave in the event of a chemical attack," Ma'ariv reported.


US strike on Syria could come within days as military assets 'ready to go'

Defence secretary says resources have been moved into place, but White House says options do not include 'regime change'

Paul Lewis in Washington, Wednesday 28 August 2013 07.40 BST

The United States military has provided Barack Obama with a range of options for launching an attack on Syria and is "ready to go" with an offensive, the US defence secretary has said.

There is now a growing belief in Washington that a US strike against Syria, possibly involving cruise missiles or long-range bombers, could take place in the next few days.

Chuck Hagel said military officials had presented the US president with "all options for all contingencies" and put resources in place to take action against Syria over its purported use of chemical weapons.

"We are prepared, we have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take, if he wishes to take any of the options he's asked for," he told the BBC. "We are ready to go, like that."

The White House insisted on Tuesday that Barack Obama had still not made a decision about the use of military action, but stressed that "boots on the ground" was not an option being contemplated. "The options that we are considering are not about regime change," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

He declined to say whether the US Congress would be required to authorise any military strike, or be recalled as has happened in Britain's parliament, but insisted the White House was consulting with leaders in the House and Senate and communicating with the chairmen of relevant congressional committees.

He said a US intelligence assessment of the chemical attack in a Damascus suburb would be published "this week".

In a sign that Obama believes he has the legal authority, independently of Congress, to launch a strike, Carney said that allowing the chemical weapons attack to go unanswered would be a "threat to the United States".

US defence officials recently said a destroyer armed with cruise missiles – one of four warships in the region – has been stationed in the eastern Mediterranean sea. Military transporters have also been spotted at Britain's Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus, less than 100 miles from the Syrian coast.

Reports from the region suggest the US is gearing up for a swift military action, possibly as soon as Thursday, in a punitive show of force against President Bashar al-Assad. Syria has denied its forces were responsible for a chemical attack in a suburb of Damascus, which is believed to have killed hundreds.

Jo Biden, the US vice-president, has become the most senior member of the Obama administration to blame the Syrian government for the attack.

Addressing a group of veterans in Houston, he said there was "no doubt who was responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime".

He added that "those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women and children ... must be held accountable".

The Syrian opposition has been told to expect a strike against Syrian forces within days, according to a Reuters report of a meeting that took place on Monday. The meeting with the Syrian National Coalition took place in in Istanbul, and included senior western diplomats including Robert Ford, a top US official with responsibility for Syria.

"The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," a source at the meeting told the news agency.

The chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff of the US military, General Martin Dempsey, told Congress last month that even "limited standoff strikes" against Syria would require hundreds of aircraft, ships and submarines and could cost billions of dollars.

While such action would "degrade regime capabilities" and lead to defections, Dempsey told the House Foreign Affairs committee, there was a risk of retaliatory attacks and "collateral damage impacting civilians". He also warned of "unintended consequences" of any military intervention in the complex civil war.

In Britain, there were strong signs military action could be imminent, after the prime minister David Cameron announced parliament would be recalled to vote on a motion about the country's "response to chemical weapons attacks in Syria" on Thursday.

The US would be expected to have laid out preliminary plans for any military attack, or at least expressed a clearer intent over the use of force, before any foreign government voted on on whether to support such action.

World leaders have issued a string of bellicose statements in the last 24 hours, with Iran and Russia standing alongside the Assad regime against an emerging western alliance led by the US, UK, France and Australia. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, intimated that Tehran would respond, should the west strike.

US secretary of state John Kerry said on Monday that Syria had committed a "moral obscenity" and Obama was preparing a co-ordinated with response with international allies. "Make no mistake," Kerry said. "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapon against the world's most vulnerable people."

The White House, which has long been reluctant to become militarily involved in the Syrian conflict, appears to have shifted its position over the weekend, after a top intelligence officials presented evidence of the chemical attack, arguing it could only have been administered by Syrian forces.

The administration is preparing to release parts of its intelligence assessment in the coming days, as it attempts to build congressional and public support for tough action against Syria. "I think the intelligence will conclude that it wasn't the rebels who used it, and there'll probably be pretty good intelligence to show is that the Syria government was responsible," Hagel said. "But we'll wait and determine what the facts and the intelligence bear out."

He added: "In our opinion, I think the opinion of the entire world community, Syria used chemical weapons against its own people.

"I think most of our allies, most of our partners, most of the international community that we've talked to – and we have reached out and talked to many – have little doubt that the most base international humanitarian standard was violated in using chemical weapons against their own people."

Hagel's comments about Syria's "violation" of an international human rights standard echoed the language used by the State Department and White House. It suggests the US will attempt to mount a legal justification for any strikes, outside a UN framework, by arguing Assad's forces were responsible for a breach of humanitarian law.

Strong opposition from from Russia and China means it is highly unlikely the US will receive support for military action from the UN security council.

Although the US stresses the administration is seeking a broad coalition of partners for any action, the UN is being increasingly sidelined. Carney said on Tuesday the work of weapons inspectors now was Damascus was "redundant" because it has already been established that chemical weapons were used by Syria on a large scale.

In a further blow to the inspections process, the UN said on Tuesday that its inspectors had postponed their visit to one of the affected sites for 24 hours amid concerns for their security.

An sniper attack on the UN team on Monday led to substantial delays.

"Following yesterday's attack on the UN convoy, a comprehensive assessment determined that the visit should be postponed by one day in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team," the UN said in a statement.


Syria crisis: Britain will seek UN clearance for military action

David Cameron says UK will put forward resolution at security council 'authorising necessary measures to protect civilians'

Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent, Wednesday 28 August 2013 10.54 BST

Britain will try to get the United Nations security council to authorise military intervention in Syria, David Cameron has said.

He made the announcement on Twitter after the Labour party decided overnight to toughen its stance on the issue, making support for the government in Thursday's Commons vote conditional on Cameron's seeking the involvement of the UN.

But Downing Street sources said approaching the UN had always been part of the government's plan, and denied Labour had bounced Cameron into acting.

One Liberal Democrat source said the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, had been particularly keen to take the matter to the UN, and that when Cameron, Clegg and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, met to discuss Syria on Tuesday afternoon Clegg was the first person to raise the importance of trying to secure UN support.

Cameron said Britain would put forward a resolution at a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN security council on Wednesday afternoon condemning the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and "authorising necessary measures to protect civilians".

Previously the government has in public played down the need for a debate at the security council, where Russia and China have been staunch opponents of anti-Assad initiatives. But, in one of three tweets on the subject, Cameron said he wanted the UN to "live up to its responsibilities on Syria".

Earlier, Downing Street confirmed that Cameron spoke to the US president, Barack Obama, on Tuesday night, before a meeting of Britain's National Security Council (NSC) at which defence chiefs will outline a series of arms-length options for targeted attacks against Syria.

Although Downing Street said Cameron and Obama had not yet agreed on the "specific nature" of their response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is understood that they are planning limited missile attacks before the end of the week.

Cameron has recalled parliament to allow MPs to vote on the matter on Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, after Ed Miliband had met Cameron to discuss the matter, Labour indicated that it would be willing to support the government, provided military action was legal and proportionate.

But early on Wednesday morning Labour said it was making its support for the government dependent on new conditions.

A party spokesman said: "We have made it clear that we want to see a clear legal basis for any action. As part of the legal justification, Labour is seeking the direct involvement of the United Nations through the evidence of the weapons inspectors and consideration by the security council."

This raised the possibility that Labour could refuse to back the government's motion on Thursday, perhaps voting for its own motion instead, although the party said it would not take a decision until the text of the government's motion was available, later on Wednesday.

The British and American governments have until now dismissed suggestions that military action should be delayed until the UN weapons inspectors in Damascus have reported, arguing that it is already obvious that chemical weapons were used and that the inspectors' report will not say which side was responsible for their deployment.

Cameron's move goes some way to meeting Labour concerns. In response, a Labour source said: "This is one necessary step. We will continue to scrutinise any proposed action to ensure there is a proper legal base."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the attack by the Assad regime, and authorising all necessary measures under chapter 7 of the UN charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.

"The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the security council later today in New York."

Government insiders admit it is unlikely that Russia and China will support the British motion, although they will not be drawn on how the government would respond if the Russians and Chinese tried to delay debate until the UN weapons inspectors' report.

A Labour source rejected suggestions that Miliband had changed his stance late on Tuesday night. He said Miliband had met Cameron and Clegg on Tuesday afternoon to be briefed by them on the Syrian situation and that after that meeting he said any government action would have to be legal.

Later, Miliband had decided to spell out in more detail what being legal meant, the source said, and Milband had then informed Cameron, in two separate calls to Downing Street, of the importance he was attaching to UN security council involvement and taking note of what was the weapons inspectors said.

In a speech on Tuesday Joe Biden, the US vice-president, said there was "no doubt" that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. He said: "Those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women, and children … must be held accountable."

After Cameron's conversation with Obama overnight ,Downing Street said: "Both leaders agreed that all the information available confirmed a chemical weapons attack had taken place, noting that even the Iranian president and Syrian regime had conceded this."

A No 10 spokesman went on: "They both agreed they were in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible. Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time, and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack.

"The PM confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack."

Cameron chairs a meeting of the NSC at midday. At the meeting, General Sir Nick Houghton, chief of the defence staff, is expected to tell ministers the UK could assist US forces with cruise missile strikes launched from submarines, warships and aircraft against targets such as command-and-control bunkers.

Coalition MPs will be under a three-line whip on Thursday, meaning that they will be under orders to back the government. Although some backbenchers have reservations about military action, most government MPs are expected to support the motion, and on Tuesday it looked as though Cameron could win Labour backing, too.

On Tuesday afternoon, Miliband said Labour would "consider supporting international action, but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons and that any action contemplated had clear and achievable military goals". But Wednesday's call for UN involvement suggests Labour could decide to abstain.

A poll for YouGov in Wednesday's Sun shows that 50% of Britons are opposed to attacking Syria with long-range missiles, and that only 25% are in favour.

On the Today programme Lord West, the former Labour security minister and a former first sea lord, said he was "extremely nervous" about military intervention.

"An attack is extremely dangerous," he said. "You cannot predict what will happen. You have to ask yourself: will it actually further our global security or will it help the wellbeing of the Syrian people?

"What if he [Assad] reacts to it? Clearly, if he is actually using chemical weapons against his own people, one has to think he is slightly unhinged. What might he do? And then what do you do in response?"

The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, also urged caution.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said: "The things which MPs will have to bear in mind in what is going to be a very, very difficult debate is, firstly: are we sure about the facts on the ground?

"Secondly: is it possible to have a carefully calibrated response, including armed force, if you are sure about the facts on the ground, that does not have unforeseeable ramifications across the whole Arab and Muslim world?"


New York Times and Twitter hit by hacker attack on Melbourne host

Pro-Assad Syrian group claims responsibility for attack mounted on Melbourne IT systems using a valid password

Oliver Milman in Melbourne, Wednesday 28 August 2013 07.24 BST

Australian web hosting company Melbourne IT has been targeted in a major attack by hackers that disrupted the New York Times website and Twitter.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which supports the Assad regime in Syria, has claimed responsibility for the denial of service, or DNS, attack, which took down the New York Times website for several hours last night. The SEA also claimed that it "owned" Twitter's domain. Twitter and the New York Times both use Melbourne IT as a domain name registrar.

Theo Hnarakis, the chief executive of Melbourne IT, told Guardian Australia that the perpetrators had gained access to the company's systems via a valid user name and password.

"One of our resellers in the US was targeted and we are currently investigating how this could have happened," he said. "We are working with a variety of parties to trace the relevant ISP to see who was responsible for this.

"We have rectified this as best we can. I wish I could say how this occurred but I don't want to speculate at this stage. We will update people on this. Given there is a vulnerability, we need to make sure this doesn't happen again. But there is no evidence that the systems had been hacked at this stage."

Hnarakis, who on Wednesday announced that he would step down as chief executive after a decade in the role in a move he said was unconnected to the hack attack, said the New York Times and Twitter were now both back online and operating normally. System passwords had been changed and locked.

Four other lesser known websites were also affected, Hnarakis said. Melbourne IT holds registrations for a raft of major websites.

Twitter has said it has regained control of its domain, with the company stating that the viewing of photos was "sporadically impacted". The New York Times said that the incident was the result of a "malicious external attack" and advised its employees to be careful when sending emails.

"In terms of the sophistication of the attack, this is a big deal," Marc Frons, chief information officer for the New York Times Company, said in a statement. "It's sort of like breaking into the local savings and loan versus breaking into Fort Knox. A domain registrar should have extremely tight security because they are holding the security to hundreds, if not thousands, of websites."

Once someone has access to the domain registrar they can redirect people away from a website, as well as access email.

The Syrian Electronic Army allegedly hacked the Washington Post's website on 15 August. Managing editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz said the website had fallen victim to a "sophisticated phishing attack to gain password information".

The group has also previously attacked the Guardian.


John Kerry statement on Syria polarises world leaders

Iran and Russia stand alongside Bashar al-Assad's regime while the UK, France and Australia follow Washington's lead

Paul Lewis in Washington, Martin Chulov in Beirut, Julian Borger, Nicholas Watt and agencies, Tuesday 27 August 2013 14.40 BST   

As the US moves towards military intervention in the Syrian conflict, world leaders have issued a string of belicose statements, with Iran and Russia standing alongside the Assad regime against a western alliance led by the US, UK, France and Australia.

In their toughest terms to date, David Cameron and US secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke of the undeniable and "asbolutely abhorrent" and use of chemical weapons in Syria. In response, the Assad regime and Iran warned that foreign military intervention in Syria would result in a conflict that would engulf the region.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, intimated that Tehran would respond, should the west strike.

"We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region," Araqchi told a news conference. "These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region."

Walid al-Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, also vowed that the regime would defend itself using all means available in the event of a US-led assault.

"I challenge those who accuse our forces of using these weapons to come forward with the evidence," he told reporters at a press conference in Damascus. "We have the means to defend ourselves, and we will surprise everyone."

Shia Iran is Syria's closest ally and has accused an alliance of militant Sunni Islamists, Israel and western powers of trying to use the conflict to take over the region.

The rhetoric from the Shia camp came a day after Kerry gave the strongest indication to date that the US intends to take military action against the Assad regime. On Monday, Kerry said President Bashar al-Assad's forces had committed a moral obscenity against his own people.

"Make no mistake," Kerry said. "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapon against the world's most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny."

On Tuesday, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, delivered an unequivocal call for western military action, condemning the alleged chemical attack near Damascus last week as a crime against humanity.

"A crime against humanity should not go unanswered. What needs to be done must be done. Today it is clear the international community is faced with a test," Davutoglu told reporters.

As the region braced itself for conflict, the White House said it would release an intelligence assessment about the use of chemical weapons in the coming days.

"The fact that chemical weapons were used on a widespread basis against innocent civilians, with tragic results, is undeniable," said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney. "And there is very little doubt in our minds that the Syrian regime is culpable."

He added that while Barack Obama was still considering the appropriate response, he had already concluded that the attack constituted a "horrific violation of an international norm".

Pressed on whether the US would take military action, Carney said the last time the administration determined chemical weapons had been used, "on a smaller scale", it had decided to provide opposition fighters with assistance. On that occasion, in June, the US said the CIA would begin supplying rebel groups with small arms and ammunition.

"The incident we're talking about now is of a much more grave and broader scale, and merits a response accordingly," Carney said, adding that the attack in Damscus was "obviously significantly more serious, with dramatically more heinous results"..

On Monday night the White House said Obama had spoken to Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, about "possible responses by the international community".

Australia takes the rotating chair of the UN security council from Sunday. Speaking in Sydney on Tuesday, Rudd said: "I do not believe the world can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons against a civilian population resulting in nearly 300 deaths or more and some 3,600 people hospitalised."

David Cameron cut short his holiday in Cornwall to return to work in Downing Street on Tuesday prior to a meeting of the national security council (NSC) on Wednesday.

Russia has maintained its opposition to military action. Moscow has appeared to rule out becoming embroiled in any conflict in defence of its ally, but the diplomatic rift between Russia and the west appeared to deepen when the White House postponed a meeting with diplomats from Moscow that had been scheduled for Wednesday in The Hague.

Washington said the high-level talks, to discuss a Syria peace conference, had been put off because of ongoing consultations over the alleged chemical weapons attack. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said the postponement was a regrettable decision that the US had taken unilaterally.

Kerry said Obama was liaising with world leaders, but provided no timetable and no further indication about what form any US-led action might take.

On Monday, UN inspectors were able to access some of the alleged sites of chemical attacks in the east Ghouta region of Damascus, but had to cut their trip short after regime officials warned that they could not guarantee the inspectors' safety.

The UN team collected some biological and environmental samples but refused to accept other samples of blood and urine that had already been taken by medical workers, presumably because the UN inspectors were unable to verify their source.

Earlier in the day, two mortars had landed near the Four Seasons hotel, where the inspectors are staying, and on the way there their convoy was hit by gunfire as they crossed the buffer zone from the regime-controlled centre of Damascus to the rebel-held east of the city.

The presence of the inspectors had been a central UN demand, but their belated permission to enter the affected areas did little to calm the situation.

A buildup of military aircraft at the RAF base of Akrotiri on Cyprus suggested that planning had reached a developed stage. With Russia and China likely to block a UN resolution, the UK and US have signalled that they are prepared to act without a UN mandate. International law experts say intervention could legally be justified without a security council resolution under the UN's "responsibility to protect".

Earlier the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was outspoken over the necessity to act if his inspectors found evidence of use of chemical weapons. "If proven, any use of chemical weapons by anyone, under any circumstances, is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime. We cannot allow impunity in what appears to be a grave crime against humanity," he said.

Under the terms of its mandate negotiated in the security council, the UN inspection team under the Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom may determine whether chemical agents have been used, but not who has used them.

Kerry said that regardless of the outcome of the UN weapons inspections, the US had already concluded that Syria had used chemical weapons. "Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass," he said. "What is before us today is real. And it is compelling."

Chemical weapons could have been used only by Assad's forces, which had custody over the country's arsenal, Kerry said. He added that failure to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors for five days, and the regime's decision to shell the affected neighbourhoods, "destroying evidence", indicated an attempt to conceal the truth.

"That is not the behaviour of a government that has nothing to hide," he said. "That is not the behaviour of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons.

"Our sense of basic humanity is offended, not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up."

Kerry said the decision to allow weapons inspectors to see the scene of the attack on Monday was "too late, and is too late to be credible".

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world," Kerry said. "It defies any code of morality. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons, is a moral obscenity. By any standards, it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."

Kerry added that the US and its allies had gathered more information about the atrocity, and would release it in the days ahead.

In Britain, No 10 said the prime minister had clashed with Vladimir Putin over whether the Assad regime was responsible for the attack. In a telephone conversation, the Russian president reportedly said Moscow had no evidence as to whether such an attack had taken place, or who was responsible, after Cameron had said there was little doubt that the Syrian regime was responsible.

Nick Clegg has cancelled a trip to Afghanistan to allow him to attend the NSC meeting and parliament has been recalled to allow MPs to debate developments in Syria.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, said Britain shared a common position with the US and France. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have tried those other methods, the diplomatic methods, and we will continue to try those. But they have failed so far."

General Sir Nick Houghton, the chief of the UK defence staff, discussed military options with his US counterpart, General Martin Dempsey, and other allied military chiefs at a military summit in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The chief of defence staff has met with General Dempsey in Amman as part of pre-planned talks with the Americans and other allies to consider how the international community should best respond to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

"As you would expect, the discussions have focused on the chemical weapons attack in Damascus last Wednesday. No decisions have been taken. As we've said, we are looking at all the options."

On Monday night, British government sources downplayed expectations that a strike could be imminent. They said Britain and the US wanted to consider the findings of the UN weapons inspectors with care before deciding whether to act. Downing Street said it would consult the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, on the legalities of intervention.

It seemed unlikely, however, that the findings of the UN inspection team would heal the deep rift over Syria in the UN security council. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that any attack on Syria without security council sanction would be "a crude violation of international law". He compared the situation to the runup to the Iraq invasion in 2003. Asked what Russia would do if missile strikes were launched, he said Russia was "not planning to go to war with anyone".

In a reminder of the potential for any military action to escalate across the Middle East, Israel warned that it would hit back if there were any Syrian reprisals after western air strikes. The Israeli minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, said on Monday: "If we are under attack, we will protect ourselves and we will act decisively."

The French president, François Hollande, said it was unthinkable that the international community would fail to respond to the use of chemical weapons. He told the Parisien newspaper: "Everything will be decided this week."

• Additional reporting: Mona Mahmood, Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, Kate Connolly in Berlin, Alec Luhn in Moscow, and Kim Willsher in Paris


August 28, 2013

Strike on Syria Would Lead to Retaliation on Israel, Iran Warns


Iranian lawmakers and commanders issued stark warnings to the United States and its allies on Tuesday, saying any military strike on Syria would lead to a retaliatory attack on Israel fanned by “the flames of outrage.”

The warnings came against a backdrop of rising momentum among Western governments for a military intervention in the Syria conflict over what the United States, Britain, France and others have called undeniable evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used banned chemical weapons on civilians last week, killing hundreds. Mr. Assad has accused the insurgents who are trying to topple him of using such munitions.

Iran, which itself came under chemical weapons assault by Iraq during its eight-year war in the 1980s, has been a loyal ally of the Syrian government. Iranian hard-liners often say Syria is Iran’s first trench in a potential war with hostile Western powers. Iran has blamed Israel for the conflict in Syria, saying Israel is trying to bring down Mr. Assad.

“In case of a U.S. military strike against Syria, the flames of outrage of the region’s revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime,” the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Mansur Haqiqatpur, an influential member of Parliament, as saying on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday after security meetings in Tel Aviv that, “The State of Israel is ready for any scenario. We are not part of the civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond and we will respond in strength.”

Iran has always taken the moral high ground on the issue of chemical weapons, actively opposing their use. If it turns out that Mr. Assad’s side deployed the weapons, it will be difficult for Iranian leaders to explain their support for the Syrian president to their people, analysts point out.

A potential military intervention by the United States in Syria also represents a test for Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who condemned the use of chemical weapons on his Twitter account on Monday, but stopped short of blaming either side in the Syrian conflict.

On Tuesday the new foreign minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stressed that Iran condemned the use of chemical weapons by any group. He also said Iran had pressed the Syrian government to assist the United Nations weapons inspectors who are in the country conducting an inquiry.

There is no evidence, he said, that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government. But in remarks quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Mr. Zarif said there was some evidence that such munitions had been given to what he called Takfiri groups, referring to Syria’s insurgents. Takfiri is a disparaging term used by Muslims for extremist groups that accuse others of apostasy.

Many analysts close to Mr. Rouhani privately say that Syria is an obstacle to change inside Iran. The country’s hard-liners say any attack on Syria is in fact an act of war against Iran, and point to a support pact in which both nations have vowed to defend each other in case of a military attack by a third country.

“Naturally Iran does not want to lose Syria as a foothold in the region,” said Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, a professor of international relations at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran.

“But in the long run a solution for Syria will mean that officials in Tehran can soften their stance towards the U.S.,” he said. “It means we would have a more open domestic atmosphere.”

Iran is widely seen as having close coordination with Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Lebanese organization that is an ideological ally. Both regard Israel as a common enemy, and Hezbollah is reported to have many rockets deployed in southern Lebanon capable of striking deep into Israeli territory.

Iran and Hezbollah are heavily engaged in helping Mr. Assad’s side in the Syria conflict. Iranian military advisers have been seen in Syria, and Iran provides military support and training to Hezbollah fighters, who have joined the Syrian armed forces in recent months to retake rebel-held areas.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meeting with visiting Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman in Tehran on Monday, predicted the Syrian conflict would escalate far beyond its borders if other regional nations continued to aid the Syrian opposition.

“Their supporters must know that this fire will finally engulf them as well,” Mr. Khamenei said, according to the Mehr news agency.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.


August 27, 2013

Reports of Syria Chemical Attack Spur Question: Why?


BEIRUT, Lebanon — As President Bashar al-Assad of Syria faces the increasing likelihood of an American-led missile strike, his detractors and defenders alike are asking, Why would he launch a deadly chemical attack on a scale not yet seen in his country’s civil war — as American and allied officials assert his loyalists did last week — when he seemed to be holding his own in the stalemated conflict, and just as international weapons inspectors arrived in the country?

Mr. Assad’s allies have tried to cast doubt on the allegations by saying there would have been no logical benefit for his government in launching the attack. And even some of those advocating a military response have expressed puzzlement over why he would take one of the few actions that could push a reluctant American government to respond.

If the Syrian government is responsible for the attack, which it denies, the reasons for it are known only to Mr. Assad’s inner circle. But military analysts say that he and his loyalists may have had ample reasons that made sense to them: further terrorizing rebel supporters, projecting confidence by defying the international community, or simply wanting to raise the military pressure on some of the most stubborn and strategic pockets of rebel fighters and their backers.

“What makes military and strategic sense to Assad may not make military and strategic sense to us,” said Emile Hokayem, a military analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Assad is fighting his own fight on his terms and on the timing of his choosing. He may have made a mistake this time — perhaps he didn’t mean to kill that many, or assumed the international community had become less sensitive — but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t make sense from his perspective.”

The attack, which killed hundreds of people in heavily bombarded suburbs east and southwest of Damascus, the capital, appears to have been by far the most widespread and deadliest use of chemical weapons in Syria, where toxic gases have been used in several smaller attacks over the past year, with each side accusing the other of using the internationally banned weapons.

Yet in some ways, the episode may represent more of a continuity with the conduct of this war than a departure from it. During two and a half years of conflict, Mr. Assad has slowly increased the intensity of attacks on civilian neighborhoods where rebels have found support. Mr. Hokayem calls it a strategy of “gradual escalation and desensitization” of the public in Syria and abroad.

Government forces have used blunt and imprecise conventional weapons, firing Scud missiles and unleashing artillery bombardments and airstrikes on neighborhoods, in attacks that seem aimed more at sowing fear and punishing populations than at specific tactical gains. While last week’s killings appear to have been the largest mass slaughter of the war, conventional weapons have killed many times more people than chemicals.

Even after Western governments declared that Syrian government forces had used banned chemical weapons like the nerve agent sarin, crossing what President Obama had once called a “red line,” the attacks provoked little visible response.

And in recent weeks, with the United States and its allies increasingly queasy about Islamic extremists among Mr. Assad’s fractious opponents and the prospect that his fall would bring even greater chaos to the country and the region, Mr. Assad could watch Egypt’s generals preside over the killing of more than 1,000 Islamist protesters, also with few international repercussions.

Some analysts say that a growing sense of impunity may have led Mr. Assad to believe that he could get away with an attack much larger than past ones. Others say they suspect that he intended only an incremental increase in the use of chemicals and that a tactical error led to last week’s much higher death toll, and to the pictures of children’s bodies shrouded in white that provoked a new level of international outrage.

On the eve of last Wednesday’s attack, Mr. Assad’s forces had consolidated gains around the central city of Homs, aiming to secure the heavily populated corridor running from Damascus through the government’s coastal strongholds to the divided northern city of Aleppo. But the capital remained ringed by restive suburbs where by some estimates half the population stayed despite relentless shelling, and where the government has been unable to decisively dislodge rebels.

Yezid Sayigh, an analyst of Arab militaries at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said government forces have used chemical weapons in small amounts several times to incapacitate fighters on front lines as it tries to take specific areas, and could have been trying to do so on a somewhat larger scale in last week’s attack.

The government, Mr. Sayigh said, may also have sought to use the psychological effect of chemical weapons to frighten away residents who had stayed until then, to deny rebels cover and support and to add new refugee flows to those already burdening Syria’s neighbors.

“They clearly felt a need to use chemical weapons quite a while ago and were able to get away with that, bluntly, as long as they kept it within certain limits,” he said. “Maybe they felt they needed to achieve significant progress in the Damascus area, and loosened the rules of engagement.”

Although it might seem strange to use chemical weapons during a visit by United Nations weapons inspectors, the deterrent effect of international observers has been overestimated in the past, said Mr. Hokayem of the strategic studies institute, noting that some of the first large-scale massacres in the conflict took place during a visit by United Nations observers.

Analysts said the possibility that the attack was by a rogue commander seemed remote, as did the idea that the attack was desperate and irrational.

The security forces have remained relatively cohesive and organized. The government has scaled back its military goals, recognizing that it cannot fight everywhere at once, but it displays a greater ability than the rebels to systematically make decisions about allocating resources and weapons to areas it considers important at a particular time.

Still, the government is not monolithic. There are different power centers within its security forces, and some analysts have speculated that Mr. Assad’s brother Maher, the leader of the feared Republican Guard, could have given the order, or that it was carried out by irregular forces. Evidence from videos and witnesses suggested that the toxic substances in last week’s attack were delivered by improvised tube-launched missiles that could be used by smaller, more mobile units than were thought to be needed for chemical weapons.

Syria’s allies Russia and Iran have said the attack was carried out by rebels, who produce many homemade weapons. But the government has also used seemingly improvised weapons in conjunction with standard ones, as when its forces dropped barrel bombs from helicopters.

Mr. Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center noted that the Syrian government was accused of similar miscalculations in the past, like taking a tacit or active role in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005 — an event that led to Syria’s withdrawal of its occupying forces from Lebanon under pressure.

“They are used to acting in blunt ways,” he said. “Now and then they miscalculate.”

C. J. Chivers contributed reporting from the United States.

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« Reply #8363 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Tanzania's child gold miners risking injury and abuse to support families

Thousands of children as young as eight toiling in hazardous pits despite stringent child labour laws, warns Human Rights Watch

Mark Tran, Wednesday 28 August 2013 12.09 BST   

Thousands of children, some as young as eight, work in licensed and unlicensed small-scale gold mines in Tanzania, despite strong laws prohibiting child labour in mining, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

The report, Toxic Toil: child labour and mercury exposure in Tanzania's small-scale gold mines, describes how children dig and drill in deep, unstable pits, work underground for shifts of up to 24 hours, and transport and crush heavy bags of gold ore. They also risk injury from pit collapses and accidents with tools, as well as long-term health damage from exposure to mercury, breathing dust and carrying heavy loads.

Rahim T, 13, explained how he dug for gold because he was hungry and in need of money. Despite being knocked unconscious and sustaining internal injuries when a mine shaft collapsed, he returned to the pits, although he was scared.

"Whenever my aunt travels is when I go, because I need something to sustain myself," he told HRW, which interviewed more than 200 people late last year, including 80 children between the ages of eight and 17, in artisanal gold mining areas. The group visited 11 mining sites in the Geita and Shinyanga regions of northern Tanzania, and Mbeya in the south.

Tanzania is Africa's fourth-largest gold producer, although a sustained slump in gold prices threatens to shut mines and curb investment in the country. Roughly 5% of Tanzania's GDP and one-third of its exports come from mining. Experts estimate that about 10% of the country's gold comes from small-scale mining.

In 2011, Tanzania earned $2.1bn in mineral exports, of which more than 95% came from six gold mines. The top destination for gold from Tanzanian small-scale mines is the United Arab Emirates. Gold is also exported to Switzerland, South Africa, China, and the UK.

According to government figures, Tanzania has more than 800,000 small-scale gold miners, thousands of whom are children, said HRW. Most of the small-scale mining takes place on unlicensed, unauthorised mines. Some unlicensed mines exist for many years and are usually controlled by the land owner or a prominent community member.

HRW says child labour is used in mining and in many other sectors in Tanzania, including agriculture, domestic work and fishing. Agriculture is the biggest employer of children. Where mining is concerned, children work long hours, suffer from fatigue, headaches, muscular pain, blistering and swelling. Research suggests that long-term problems might include respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal problems and mercury poisoning.

Mercury is used to extract gold after the gold ore is mixed with the highly toxic liquid metal. The mixture is then burned over an open flame to evaporate the mercury to recover the gold, exposing miners, including children, to poisonous mercury fumes. Even small children who are not working are often present during this process, which is sometimes carried out in the home.

Children often contributed some or all of their earnings to their families. HRW interviewed girls who work on or near mining sites and found they sometimes became victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. Child labour in artisanal mining also affects school attendance and performance and can cause children to drop out of school entirely.

Children work in gold mines despite Tanzania's national action plan for the elimination of child labour, launched in 2009. The government also bans under-18s from engaging in hazardous work, including mining.

"On paper, Tanzania has strong laws prohibiting child labour in mining, but the government has done far too little to enforce them," said Janine Morna, children's rights research fellow at HRW. "Labour inspectors need to visit both licensed and unlicensed mines regularly, and ensure employers face sanctions for using child labour."

HRW urged the Tanzanian government to expand access to secondary school and vocational training and improve child protection. It said the government and donors should provide financial and political backing for the new action plan on the most vulnerable children and include orphans from mining areas in the Tanzania social action fund's programme of grants and conditional cash transfers to vulnerable populations.

HRW called on the World Bank and other donors to the mining sector to support steps to end child labour in mining and reduce the exposure of children and adults to mercury. For example, they should help children move away from work in unlicensed mines to schooling, and ensure that newly licensed mines do not use child labour.

A $55m World Bank project to support the mining sector does not directly address child labour, said HRW.

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« Reply #8364 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:20 AM »

August 27, 2013

Tunisia Broadens Crackdown on Extremists


TUNIS — Tunisia’s Islamist government on Tuesday declared the largest radical Islamist movement in the country a terrorist organization, broadening its crackdown on Islamist extremists and distancing itself from their violent activities.

Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh announced the decision, saying the group, Ansar al-Shariah, was behind two political assassinations this year and other attacks on police officers and soldiers. The group and its leader, Abu Iyadh, have also been accused of orchestrating an attack on the American Embassy in Tunis, the nation’s capital, last September.

The move is a further step by the governing party, Ennahda, to outlaw radical Islamists, despite internal sympathies for the various groups. The government has come under pressure to resign since the assassination of one of the politicians, Mohamed Brahmi, in July, and Ennahda is fighting for its political survival.

Opponents have accused Ennahda of being soft on radical groups, including Ansar al-Shariah. Up to a year ago, the government was trying to encourage such groups to join the political process, contending that only a few among them advocated terrorism.

All religious groups were banned under the previous dictatorships. But since the popular uprising that ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, religious organizations have enjoyed newfound freedoms to preach and form associations.

There are sympathizers within Ennahda for jihadist and other radical Islamist groups, and they deny that such organizations are involved in violence inside Tunisia. Many of the individuals from the various camps were imprisoned together under Mr. Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule.

Thousands of political and religious prisoners were released after the revolution under a general amnesty, among them Abu Iyadh, a Tunisian jihadist who fought alongside Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. He escaped Afghanistan in 2001 and after two years on the run was detained in Turkey in 2003 and deported to Tunisia, where he was jailed.

He gave frequent interviews to journalists after his release in 2011 and claimed his group, Ansar al-Shariah, was focusing on peaceful preaching.

Yet a string of attacks in the past year have forced the government to investigate his movement.

The attack on the American Embassy, in which 100 vehicles were burned and the American school adjacent to the embassy compound was looted, put the government on alert, coming two days after the assault on the American mission in Libya that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

American intercepts later revealed that Abu Iyadh was in touch with Al Qaeda in organizing the attack, according to government officials here. The attack was followed by the assassination of two secular politicians, Chokri Belaid in February and Mr. Brahmi in July.

The government began to move against Ansar al-Shariah, banning its annual congress in May and battling its supporters in the streets of a Tunis suburb. In the months since, hundreds of members of the movement have been detained.

At the same time, militants began insurgent activities on Tunisia’s western border with Algeria, laying mines and ambushing soldiers. Ten soldiers have been killed since April, eight of them in an ambush in July that shocked the nation.

The government now says that the movement as a whole is involved in a campaign of violence.

“Ansar al-Shariah is involved in assassinations, and responsible for collecting of weapons, for planning other assassinations and attempting to attack security offices,” the prime minister said at a news briefing. He said the government had evidence and confessions from suspects.

“The structure of this organization is based on a military structure, and we took the decision to classify it as a terrorist organization.”

Branding Ansar al-Shariah a terrorist group could force it and its thousands of young followers underground, warned Fabio Merone, a researcher from Dublin City University who has studied it.

“It is a big group and rooted in society,” he said. The movement does not openly espouse a terrorist agenda, and while some elements within it may be involved in terrorism, many are not, he said. “We were expecting the government to distinguish between the two,” he added.

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« Reply #8365 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:26 AM »

Zimbabwe plans 'Disneyland in Africa'

Tourism minister outlines scheme to build $300m entertainment complex, with banks and casinos, near Victoria Falls

David Smith, Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 26 August 2013 16.56 BST   

The formula has worked in California, Florida and Paris. Now officials in Zimbabwe, eager to rebrand a country notorious for economic collapse and political violence, want to build a "Disneyland in Africa".

Walter Mzembi, the tourism and hospitality minister, told New Ziana, the official news agency, that the government was planning a $300m (£193m) theme park near Victoria Falls, the country's top tourist attraction.

Mzembi was quoted as saying the resort would be a "Disneyland in Africa", although he did not appear to suggest that the statue of explorer David Livingstone, which overlooks the falls, would be supplanted by a jobbing actor in a Mickey Mouse costume.

Instead, he outlined plans for shopping malls, banks and exhibition and entertainment facilities such as casinos. "We have reserved 1,200 hectares of land closer to Victoria Falls international airport to do hotels and convention centres," Mzembi told New Ziana on the sidelines of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly , which Victoria Falls is co-hosting with the town of Livingstone in neighbouring Zambia.

Mzembi said the project would cost about $300m.

"We want to create a free zone with a banking centre where even people who do not necessarily live in Zimbabwe can open bank accounts," he said.

The government has plans to invest $150m in expanding the town's airport to accommodate bigger aircraft, according to the report from Ziana. Mzembi said the government had found funding partners including multilateral financial institutions.

Visitors travel from across the world to see Victoria Falls where water plummets more than 100 metres into the Zambezi gorge, generating mists of spray so high they can be seen up to 30 miles away. A bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia offers bungee jumping but made headlines for the wrong reasons last year when an Australian tourist narrowly survived her cord snapping.

The nearby town offers few reasons to linger or spend money, however, despite the launch last month of an open-top bus tour in an attempt to drum up interest. Mzembi hopes to appeal to a younger market.

Zimbabwe's considerable tourism potential was devastated by a decade of conflict and hyperinflation but has recovered in recent years. The government says it recorded a 17% increase in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2013, up 346,299 to 404,282. It has predicted the tourism sector will contribute 15% to GDP by 2015 if the country remains stable.

Following a mostly peaceful, though bitterly disputed, election last month, Zimbabwe's co-hosting of the UNWTO conference this week is seen as another milestone towards that stability. But the decision to award the conference to Zimbabwe as a co-host was condemned by the independent UN Watch human rights group as a "disgraceful show of support – and a terribly timed award of false legitimacy – for a brutal, corrupt and authoritarian regime.

Hillel Neuer, head of the Geneva-based group, added: "Amid reports of election rigging and continuing human rights abuses, Zimbabwe is the last country that should be legitimised by a UN summit of any kind. The notion that the UN should spin this country as a lovely tourist destination is, frankly, sickening."

President Robert Mugabe's associated status as UN "leader for tourism" has also been questioned by critics of his 33-year rule.

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« Reply #8366 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Femen accuses Kiev police of planting guns during raid

Ukrainian group claims attempts are being made to silence their protests to highlight women's rights

Reuters in Kiev, Tuesday 27 August 2013 19.33 BST   

Ukrainian feminist group Femen have accused the police of planting explosives and a gun during a raid on their Kiev headquarters in a bid to close down their organisation.

Femen specialise in shock bare-breast appearances to highlight women's rights causes, mainly in the male-dominated hierarchies of Russia and its former Soviet allies.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has been a particular target for Femen's protests since the prosecution of the Russian female punk group Pussy Riot last year.

A police statement said a group of explosives experts were sent to Femen's headquarters in central Kiev after an anonymous phone call. Objects resembling a second world war pistol and grenade were found during a search, it said.

Officers at the scene said they had also found leaflets showing the profiles of Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill pictured in snipers' cross-hairs.

Femen activists denounced the police finds as plants.

"They arrived on the scene and told us we had to get out of the building because there was a report of bombs. We left for two or three minutes. Then they called us back and said they had found these objects," said Anna Gutsol, one of Femen's leaders. "They say they found these things. But guns, narcotics and suchlike are not things that we have. It's absurd," she said, describing the police action as a "provocation" likely to lead to further action to curb Femen's activities.

"The mere fact that the police had a 'special group' there within seconds shows the whole thing was prepared," said Gutsol.

Femen's leaders and activists were questioned by police and the group's headquarters was sealed off. No one was immediately arrested or charged, although Gutsol said in a text message to journalists that police appeared to be preparing formally to arrest them.

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« Reply #8367 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:35 AM »


Painting of Pig Putin in women's underwear seized by Russian police

Picture displayed in St Petersburg gallery portrayed president in tight-fitting slip brushing Dmitry Medvedev's hair

Reuters in St Petersburg, Tuesday 27 August 2013 19.26 BST   

Russian police seized a painting of Pig Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in women's underwear from a gallery in St Petersburg, saying the satirical display had broken unspecified laws.

The officers also removed a picture of the head of the Russian Orthodox church, his torso covered in tattoos, and two others poking fun at MPs who have backed legislation banning so-called gay propaganda, gallery staff said.

The police service said it had taken paintings from the Museum of Power gallery – based in two rooms of a flat – late on Monday after receiving reports that they were illegal. It gave no further detail but Russia does have a law against insulting authorities, an offence that carries a maximum one-year prison term.

One painting showed Pig Putin wearing a tight-fitting slip and brushing the hair of the prime minister Medvedev, who is wearing knickers and a bra.

The St Petersburg deputy Vitaly Mironov, whose face was combined with the gay rights movement's rainbow flag in one of the paintings, said the images were inappropriate and "of a distinctly pornographic character".

St Petersburg, which hosts world leaders at a G20 summit next week, was one of the first Russian cities to introduce a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda". The Russian parliament has also adopted similar legislation, prompting protests from abroad and calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics which Russia will host in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in February.

The gallery's owner, Alexander Donskoy, said the officers had also shut down his establishment and gave him no explanation for the removal of paintings from the exhibition.

"This is an [illegal] seizure," he said. "We have been given no formal documents banning us from operating and no receipt confirming our petty cash was seized."

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« Reply #8368 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Czech Republic: Anti-Roma protest coincides with march against ethnic tensions

26 August 2013
Lidové noviny

Around 2,500 people took part in August 24 anti-Roma demonstrations in eight cities throughout the Czech Republic, reports Lidové noviny

While some of the marches organised by far-right groups protesting against “police brutality, social injustice and black racism" – the term used for discrimination by the non-white community against caucasians – went ahead peacefully, in Ostrava, the country’s third largest city, hundreds of activists attempting to enter a Roma neighbourhood clashed with police who used tear gas. Around 60 people were arrested.

Meanwhile, in Prague, Lidové noviny reports that some 50 people attended a counter demonstration against rising ethnic tension organised by the sarcastically named, “No Czechs in the Czech Republic”.

The daily explains that for the country’s intelligence services —

    … anti-Roma sentiment in a section of society represents an even greater threat to national security than the existence of small groups of far-right extremists.

Full Story

    OSTRAVA - stone, brick, wood splinters. As if the house exploded. But all in Ostrava flies out of the hands of people - in a demonstration targeting Roma. One of nejvyostřenějších for many years - the police had to handle a crowd of a thousand.   

    It's Saturday and Ostrava before the New Town Hall is just anger in words. Yet. "Close to some of the city and away from Ostrava," proclaims the man the crowd with a megaphone. In a speech at the beginning still some use designation maladjusted - but soon this term replaces the word gypsy. Neither could they: because they often Raging people came.

    The situation in Ostrava:

    After Saturday's clashes in Ostrava was quiet at night and the police did not record any significant disruption of public order. Now interrogating officers detained protesters, among whom were in addition to drunk people and young girls, said police spokeswoman Gabriela Holčáková.   

    The crowd of onlookers can find local, but also those who apparently received many a similar demonstration. And no need to watch photos. Tattoos hidden under the gauze bandage or confirm that they are people who have already shown symbols should or might be in conflict with the law. Most of the symbols tends respect of the period of Nazism.

    Local but nods his head. "Everyone here has any experience with Roma," explains his presence briefly elderly woman near the entrance to the town hall, while the organizers publicly pine, that there should be a lot more people. "Deme them," you will hear several times from the crowd.

    Dissolve it, go where you want

    It's hard to say how many spectators arrived just out of curiosity. While the city center is the police warnings largely empty, here, the epicenter of the expected problems many local come. "They're right," says another young man speech on the steps of City Hall.

        Ostravský protest in numbers

        Police arrested 62 people suspected of infringement.
        When you hit 21 policemen were injured, the numbers between protesters are not yet specified.
        Were damaged 12 police vehicles and damaging 39 parts of equipment (such as helmets and shields).
        He checks in advance to ensure police 20 weapons or objects that can be used to attack (eg, machete and baseball bats)
        Total damage may go into million - the cost of security measures, blocked transportation, cleaning, damaged windows, tiles pulled out.

    The crowd appears blackboard with the words "I'm not radical," begins a passionate argument about the coexistence with the Roma and their need to "return to India". But also rare oppose opinions expressed by. Naturally quiet - in the lions' den is not fit to wave the bloody piece of meat.

    "With the different ideas can only agree. But putting it together? "Says one of those present. "I remember the judgment of the court in the dissolution of the Workers' Party. One sentence does not mean anything when it's all in the sum gives it a great evil, "he says. And now comes as a demonstration of the petition, the rights of decent citizens of the Czech Republic, who many describe here.

    "We agree with the assertion that the housing allowance should not receive the necessary owners hostels, but they do. And we agree with the view that defaulters should be evicted. But in sum it means to allow removal huge number of people. Where? A problem just does not push it away? "Ponders the solution.

    About 1,500 people attended the anti-Roma demonstrations and marches in eight cities in the Czech Republic. protests

    This is no demonstration ends. Organizers her love without ceasing originally planned official march - the present route of the local authorities, leading off the Roma area, not suit.

    And so will the Solomonic solution. "I see no reason why a free people could go through your city," said the convener of that goes away every man for himself. Crowd is set in motion.

    The going gets tough

    Police the day before promised, we put so much power, how much will be needed. Above the heads of passing circling helicopter, on the sides of the crowd as anti-conflict team. All the way around the hem cameras mounted on cars. And in the side streets are ready to riot police.

    First come into play at the hostel closest to the town hall: in the neighborhood trolley depot. Already there is a clear one: the enraged crowd. "Czechs Czechs," is from the mouth of the crowd (no matter that they are in Moravia). After heading to the city where they have at the same time meeting the opponents of anti-Roma statements and ideas. And most importantly: where is the number of hostels inhabited by Roma.

    In Nádražní street police stand in the way riot dog handlers with dogs and horse riders. After a brief wrestling air flying firecrackers, police also apply gas. Law enforcement officers had already found random checks at protesters to be baseball bats and other weapons. But here are used to attack anything: bricks, fences, glass from containers. Plastic bins minute changes in makeshift wall.

    The smaller (but probably the most radical) of the crowd even gets also one of the hostels, while destroying the glass at one of the restaurants. A break is also square to see and what you expect: the Roma and their supporters are not already in the square. And so the chase with the police over the fence heading for the rest of the onlookers, hide in their ranks. Some radicals end up in handcuffs on the ground, another fleeing. Apparently they experience: hood and scarves over their faces make it difficult to identify them.

    Ostravský protest in numbers

    Before the new town hall was attended by about 500 people. Gradually, the crowd grew to thousands of people.

    In support of the Roma in the square Svatopluk Cech gathered by the police on 600 people. Meeting but was relatively short.

    Police did not disclose the number of police officers involved. Estimate can be hundreds of policemen arrived and other Moravian regions.

    Dragged takes almost an hour, sometimes reminds war scenes with objects flying in the air, sometimes a game of nerves. Part of onlookers go, remains a hard core of protesters. A police away from him offering cuts. Part adventures on business, at least part legitimates. Transportation in an important node in the city center costs.

    Roma, meanwhile, returned home. Criticize, complain. Actually, the calmest man who almost throughout the conflict from the platform of the transport undertaking coated lamp post. Under his feet he fought, but he did. A continued even as the crowd broke up and started cleaning. Obviously, not all of Ostrava such conflicts take.   

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« Reply #8369 on: Aug 28, 2013, 06:58 AM »

More than 40 Auschwitz guards ‘to face German justice’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 9:42 EDT

German investigators into Nazi war crimes will send the files of more than 40 former Auschwitz death camp personnel to state prosecutors from next month, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Most of the suspects are aged in their 90s and they live in all parts of Germany including the former communist East, chief investigator Kurt Schrimm told the Tageszeitung.

The list of alleged guards at the concentration and extermination camp in what was Nazi-occupied Poland initially contained 50 names, but some of them have since died.

“These accused have so far not been informed” that they are now in the crosshairs of justice, said Schrimm, senior prosecutor at the Central Office for Resolving National Socialist Crimes.

More than 6,000 SS personnel served at Auschwitz, where about 1.1 million Jews, Roma and Sinti and members of other persecuted groups died in gas chambers or of forced labour, sickness and starvation.

For over 60 years German courts only prosecuted Nazi war criminals if evidence showed they had personally committed atrocities, but since a 2011 landmark case all former camp guards can be tried.

In that year a Munich court sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of more than 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor camp, where he had served as a guard.

The investigative office, set up in 1958, has carried out more than 7,000 probes but has no powers to charge suspects itself. Instead it sends case files to regional prosecutors who then decide whether to pursue suspects, who must also be judged fit to stand trial by the courts.


08/27/2013 05:33 PM

WWII Memorabilia: Göring's Convertible Said to Be in America

By Christoph Stockburger

A classic Mercedes-Benz dating back to the 1930s is currently being restored in North Carolina. Its owners claim it once belonged to the infamous Nazi official Hermann Göring, but the auto company is being cautious.

The Mercedes-Benz 540K cabriolet is an absolute rarity, with fewer than 200 manufactured before 1939. Now, one of the huge, eight-cylinder convertibles has turned up in the US state of North Carolina. "The car is worth several million dollars," says David Rathbun, one of its current owners. The steep price is not only due to its rare status, though. It also allegedly has a unique historical background -- the owners believe that during World War II, the convertible belonged to Hermann Göring, one of the leading members of the Nazi party.

Göring was the commander-in-chief of WWII Germany's Luftwaffe, or air force. He was also responsible for the construction of several concentration camps. According to its owners, Göring used the vehicle during Nazi parades, which is why the car has several special features: not only is its back seat longer than usual, the car also has a small platform on the passenger side, where Göring was able to stand during rallies.

There are documents confirming the story: a letter from Daimler dated September 30, 1953 states that a car with the same serial number "was sold to Reichsmarschall Göring on July 21, 1941." Rathbun, who buys and sells vintage cars alongside his business partner Steve Saffer, had the documents sent to the States from the Mercendes-Benz archives.

Changing Hands

According to Rathbun, further US military documents reveal the story of the car's journey across the Atlantic. It seems the vehicle was confiscated by the US Army near Hitler's residence in the Bavarian Alps just days before the war ended. US Army Colonel John A. Heintges subsequently used it as his own private vehicle. Photos taken at the time indicate that Heintges promptly gave the car a new paint job -- its hood and doors were adorned with the star-shaped symbol associated with the 7th Infantry.

The convertible soon changed ownership again, the documents reveal, with another high-ranking member of the US military having it shipped to Texas several years later. From 1958 onwards, the car was owned by a man named Dick Taylor in North Carolina. It was by chance that Rathbun and his partner became aware of the car and its unique history, they say, and it wasn't until May that they were able to locate Taylor and negotiate a deal. Rathbun refused to reveal the purchasing price.

An employee of Mercedes-Benz Classics, which specializes in the company's classic car range, has reservations about the authenticity of the vehicle, though. Excerpts from the company archives in 1941 that show the the car was ordered by the Luftwaffe are genuine, the employee says. "But we can't confirm whether the car really belonged to Göring himself." Photos of the vehicle aren't enough to prove the owners' assertions.

Authenticity Remains Uncertain

"Clear evidence is still missing," says the Mercedes employee. "Our statements could influence the ultimate selling price of the vehicle, so we would rather not confirm such claims." This stance is common at the company. When it comes to cars that have supposedly been in Nazi ownership, the car manufacturer is doubly cautious.

Questions about whether the documents from the Mercedes archive actually belong to the vehicle in North Carolina also remain unanswered. Though the car manufacturer does offer its expertise in such cases, a thorough investigation into the matter would cost some €15,000 ($20,000).

Such an investigation would involve comparing the vehicle's serial numbers -- inscribed on the motor and on the car's exterior -- to those indicated in the documents. The company would also have to remove a coin-sized piece of the hood and have it sent to its Fellbach-based laboratory for examination. "In this way, it is possible to determine when the material originated," says the Mercedes employee.

Appropriate Ownership

The subsequent report, which is usually handed to clients in a leather-bound book, would provide air-tight proof of the vehicle's authenticity. According to David Rathbun, the company offered to conduct such an investigation on his behalf -- a service he is likely to take advantage of -- but the parties haven't yet agreed on exactly how to carry out the procedure. "Progress has been halting," he says.

Rathbun and his partner are hoping to attract investors to finance a restoration of the vehicle, regardless of whether or not they receive Mercedes' seal of approval. Though Rathbun claims that the car is completely intact, and that the motor is in working order, the car's long history has certainly left its mark. "It would be best if the car was taken apart completely and then reassembled," he says. The rust has to be removed, and damaged upholstery replaced. The cost of such an endeavour is hard to estimate.

Once the car has undergone restoration, it will be exhibited at car shows and ultimately be "put into the right hands," Rathbun says.

Rathbun's partner is Jewish, and the pair don't want the vehicle falling into the hands of a Nazi memorabilia collector. After the war, Göring was found to have been instrumental in engineering the Holocaust and convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg Trials. If Rathbun and his partner are able to find an appropriate owner, they want to donate some of the proceeds to a Jewish charitable foundation.

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