Massive water discovery will transform drought-prone ‘cradle of mankind’ in northern Kenya
By Paula Kahumbu, The Guardian
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 3:56 EDT
UNESCO and the Kenya Government today announce the discovery of one of the worlds largest underground water aquifers in the desert north of Turkana, an area best known for fossils, famine and poverty. The finding by Radar Technologies International (RTI) was made using space based exploration technology called WATEX system. The largest aquifer at 250 billion cubic meters of water which is equivalent in volume to Lake Turkana one of the largest lakes in the Great Rift Valley, and 25 times greater than Loch Ness. More importantly the annual recharge rate, the amount of water that can be sustainably exploited per year, is estimated to 3.4 billion cubic meters, nearly three times the water use in the New York City.
The man behind the RTI is the energetic white haired French Alain Gachet who says the worst thing he has ever seen in his life is people dying of thirst.
“This discovery will transform Turkana. In 10 years time I see no more suffering, no more dying of hunger or thirst, people will have schools, roads, farms. Life will be much better for them and famine will be a thing go the past”.
For Turkana where malnutrition rates can be as high as 37%, this discovery Is better than oil. It is an opportunity for local development.
Ikal Angelei is the Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, an organzation that champions the rights of the Lake’s communities and ensure their involvement in decision-making on issues relating to the Lake and its environment.
“This is an extremely exciting find for my community. While we celebrate however, we must be wise. The first thing we must do is confirm the recharge rate so that we do not kill the golden goose, and we must also protect against speculators and unscrupulous people who threaten to take it away from the local communities. The Kenyan leadership must plan carefully to ensure that in developing the resource we protect and respect the rights and the needs of local communities who must benefit.”
Many will celebrate that the immediate benefit of this find will be no more famine for a community that has suffered repeated droughts. Kenyans are still haunted by images of starving children in 2009/10 during the worst drought in over 60 years that affected more than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa.
Richard Leakey, Chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute is not surprised with the find.
“This discovery confirms what we have always believed. This area is an ancient lake bed, the water had to have gone somewhere. This is also the cradle of mankind and I hope that finally the importance of Turkana for Kenya and the world will finally be recognized”
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Israel to give ‘Prisoner X’ Ben Zygier’s family $1 million payout
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 5:03 EDT
Israel is to pay more than $1 million to the family of an alleged Mossad spy who hanged himself in prison in 2010, the justice ministry has said.
“After negotiations, the two parties (Israel and the family) have reached an agreement whereby the state will pay 4 million shekels ($1.1 million or 842,000 euros) to the deceased’s family,” the ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.
The family of Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli known as “Prisoner X,” had accused Israel of negligence in dealing with his case, according to the statement.
Zygier was found hanged in his isolation cell in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010 — a case Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.
A court document released on April 25 this year said Israel’s prison service had caused Zygier’s death by failing to prevent him from committing suicide.
The document revealed details about his background and imprisonment, indicating he was suicidal and had an emotionally-charged exchange with his wife the day he was found hanged.
It also said that his cell was not properly watched by prison guards.
The justice ministry statement stressed that the deal with Zygier’s family was not an “admission of alleged wrongdoing”.
It was instead “to avoid the affair going to court, which would lead to the publication of numerous details of the case which could cause serious harm to national security.”
The reasons for Zygier’s detention were unclear, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said in a report in May that the 34-year-old, who was allegedly working for Israel’s foreign spy service Mossad, had unwittingly sabotaged a top secret spy operation in Lebanon.
Israeli military closes inquiry into death of Bassem Abu Rahmeh
Investigators cite lack of evidence to bring charges despite cameras capturing Palestinian man being hit by teargas canister
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 10.27 BST
Israeli military investigators have closed their inquiry into the death of a Palestinian protester without charges, citing a lack of evidence despite the fact that the incident was recorded by three separate cameras.
Bassem Abu Rahmeh, 30, died after being hit in the chest by a teargas grenade fired by an Israeli soldier during a protest against the separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bil'in in April 2009. His death, and the village's struggle against the barrier, featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras.
Abu Rahmeh's mother, the Bil'in village council, and the Israeli human rights organisations B'Tselem and Yesh Din filed a petition against the Israeli military over his death. The military advocate general opened an investigation three years ago.
The state of Israel said that, following a "comprehensive and rigorous" inquiry, investigators had concluded "there is not enough evidence needed for criminal proceedings for adopting legal measures against any of the soldiers involved in the incident".
According to B'Tselem and Yesh Din, expert analysis of the video footage "determined that the grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh, in complete contravention of open-fire regulations". They accused military investigators of "foot-dragging and procrastination".
The two organisations said the videos of the incident showed that Abu Rahmeh was on the Palestinian side of the barrier, did not act violently and did not endanger the soldiers. He was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries.
Bil'in was the scene of weekly protests against the separation barrier, which cut off the village from swaths of its farmland. Israeli soldiers routinely fired teargas grenades and rubber bullets at the protesters, some of whom threw stones during the demonstrations. At the time of Abu Rahmeh's death, Palestinian activists said he was the 18th person to be killed in demonstrations against the barrier since 2004.
Emily Schaeffer of Yesh Din said: "Despite three separate videos that recorded the killing of Bassem, the [military prosecutor] and police have failed to find the factors that caused the death of an unarmed demonstrator. The conduct of the law enforcement bodies in this case is further proof of the feebleness of the authorities in cases of Palestinian casualties. Moreover, it seems that there might be no intention of finding out the truth or prosecuting the offenders even in extreme cases such as this, in which there is clear cut and unambiguous evidence."
An Israeli Defence Forces official told Haaretz that the investigation was "comprehensive and included testimonies from several eye-witnesses and the examination by experts of forensic findings and video footage documenting the incident".
B'Tselem and Yesh Din said they would continue their efforts "to bring the parties responsible for [Abu Rahmeh's] death to justice".
Merkel's moment: soft power and hard cash – why all eyes are on Germany
From closely aligned neighbours to austerity-stricken states longing for a more flexible chancellor, when Germans go to the polls in 12 days, the results will reverberate across Europe
Correspondents of the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, La Stampa and Gazeta Wyborcza
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 September 2013 19.15 BST
Germany's elections may be generating shrugs of apathy at home, but they are being watched closely by electorates and governments all around Europe, who know that these elections perhaps matter more to Germany's neighbours and partners than they do to its own citizens. From the Mediterranean countries, with their shell-shocked economies, desperate for a bit of respite from austerity, to the northern nations wondering how serious Angela Merkel is about institutional reform of the European Union, a whole continent is waiting to see how the votes come in, and what it will mean for them.
As it did with the French elections last year, Spain's conservative government is secretly crossing its fingers and hoping that the winners of the German vote are its ideological adversaries: the Social Democrats (SPD). Mariano Rajoy has long since discovered that his political affinity with Merkel has not led to an ounce of leniency in the austerity prescribed by Europe's new Iron Lady.
The big hope is that the SPD do well enough to join Merkel in a grand coalition, which might propel Frank-Walter Steinmeier into the foreign ministry in Berlin. Steinmeier's European positions are seen as more in tune with the Spanish, who believe he may be more willing than others in his party to contemplate issuing eurobonds as a means to mutualise debt, or at least force the hand of the European Central Bank to be more proactive.
But Madrid is not under any starry-eyed illusions. If François Hollande is unable to influence Merkel, nor will the minority coalition partner in Berlin. At best, Spain is looking for a little more oxygen for stimulus policies or follow-through on promises made to the young unemployed. There are red lines that Madrid knows Merkel will never cross: the idea that the Germans saving should not be used to pay the waste of neighbours to the south is firmly rooted in German society. This means that while Germany may spearhead a move towards political federalism, it does raise all kinds of conditions to the idea of banking union.
The bottom line, according to Spanish government sources, is that Merkel, unlike her predecessor Helmut Kohl, never had a vocation or "European project". She acts as a ruler in her domestic agenda and has only reluctantly taken the lead in the eurozone crisis. It remains to be seen whether a third term prompts her to think more of the European citizens who depend on the rescue plan, and less on the German electorate on which she depends.
Whoever wins power in Berlin this month, the new chancellor will not try too hard bend backwards to rescue David Cameron's Berlin-style Blue-Orange coalition. The UK's Liberal Democrats may be led by the ardently pro-EU, multilingual Nick Clegg. But Clegg seems powerless on EU policy, which has become a designated game reserve in which to feed the Tory right with red meat.
Didn't Cameron win the Conservative leadership in 2005 by promising to quit the 28-nation conservative EPP group at the Strasbourg parliament? Yes. And to widespread surprise, he actually did it in 2009. It was an act of self-isolation that cut the Tories off from another mainstream EU power network, not as significant as London's refusal to join the euro – few pro-EU British politicians are still brave enough to call that a mistake – but an act of ideological pique.
Despite this, Germany needs Britain to stay in the EU, as a counterweight to France; a pro-austerity north European state with a globalist trading perspective and residual military and diplomatic clout – not least in Washington when EU/US trade talks are underway – that Berlin respects even as it resists Anglo-French interventionism. And Britons of all parties who are not tempted by the "Quit Europe" panacea know they need Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, its paymaster and political sheet-anchor in the economic crisis that still threatens the eurozone's indebted southern flank.
The paradox of British foreign policy after five recessionary years is that both sides at Westminster have been forced to endorse integrationist solutions to the eurozone's banking and fiscal dramas that will strengthen the ascendancy of Brussels and Berlin and exacerbate the "democratic deficit". It is exactly the hegemonic outcome that British policy has fought to prevent for centuries. But the alternative is worse: a collapse of the eurozone, Britain's prime market, into disorder and resurgent nationalism.
Of course, The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, would like to see Merkel's SPD challenger, Peer Steinbruck, win on 22 September or the CDU/CSU's coalition with the FDP fall apart, an event that might encourage Tory and Lib Dem splitters. On higher taxes for the rich, better pay for the poorer half of Germany's widening economic divide and much else, Labour and the SPD are soul brothers. A red-green centre-left coalition could help set the tone for Labour to return to power in coalition in 2015.
Dream on, murmur Labour realists. The combative Steinbruck is stuck at about 25% in most polls, his electoral base eroded by both Greens and Die Linke, the kind of leftwing breakaway that British socialists such as film-maker Ken Loach, talk of but cannot make effective without reform to Britain's first-past-the-post voting system, which voters rejected in 2011.
The German arithmetic may be tight, especially if the FDP fails to reach the 5% Bundestag threshold. But with the eurozone economy at last picking up, the worst Merkel is likely to face is another grand coalition with the SPD similar to 2005-09. German voters like the arrangement: "There's little difference between the two main parties now," admits one veteran German observer. But Brits would hate it even more than they do the Lib-Con coalition since 2010.
Which way will Merkel play Cameron if she wins her third term in style? Personally she seems to like him and his young family, playing auntie at both Chequers and its counterpart, Shloss Meseberg. Cameron reciprocates ("a phenomenal political leader"). Friendship, sometimes across parties, helps oil wheels. But business is business.
Merkel spoke publicly in August of repatriating some powers to member states. "We do not need to do everything in Brussels." It encouraged Tory MPs in the Fresh Start group of EU reformers to think she might be more flexible than France over Cameron's stalled "balance of competences" review. Merkel's briefers stress, however, that bearing down on budget costs, welfare bills (the EU has 25% of global GDP but 50% of global social spending, she repeats in many speeches) and economic inefficiency is acceptable. Re-opening existing "ever closer union" treaties, or repatriating employment law, are not.
The French government is hoping that its next partner in Berlin will allow it to achieve the goals it holds dear to avoid a Eurosceptic triumph at the European elections of 22-25 May next year. To do this, Paris is banking on policies "which speak, which personify Europe" – and the setting up of aid funds to counter youth unemployment.
François Hollande's administration believes it has established a way of working with Merkel's executive, good enough, it thinks, to establish a new agreement with the Christian Democrat chancellor. "Angela Merkel has got used to a president who doesn't always align himself with German positions," says Thierry Repentin, French minister of state for European affairs. "There's certainly more debate now than under Nicolas Sarkozy, but that enables balanced compromises."
The key elements for Paris are: the 2012 stimulus agreement, the "concessions" from Berlin on the EU's budget, and competition and jobs accord of 30 May this year. "Fifteen months ago, it was unthinkable that Germany would do something about these issues," argues Repentin.
In the coming months, Paris thinks it can take these policies further with Berlin. They are policies that the French socialists want to showcase in the European election campaign in order to convince voters who are tempted by Euroscepticism or abstention. Most important is the €6bn (£5bn) for improving employment for young people in the most depressed areas of the EU. It has not gone unnoticed in Paris that Merkel has taken up many proposals of the SPD during her election campaign, such as putting in place a minimum wage or a cap on rent hikes. All issues that will help oil the wheels of the famous European tandem.
The Italian politicians are pinning their hopes on a further easing of European budgetary rules after the 22 September election. Merkel doesn't want to lose voters who are hostile to the weaker countries of the euro but it would be a sign that things were going the right way if the European budget rules were made more flexible.
In reality, the rules of the fiscal compact have been eased significantly, for Italy as well as for other member states. Italian political sources believe that this trend would only be reversed if the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany party (AfD), performed well enough to bring some influence to bear on a new grand coalition in Berlin.
Changing the rules of the fiscal compact is about building a banking union – something that is misunderstood by the public, but of crucial importance. German voters are not hostile to a banking union – 83% are in favour. It's the German leaders who don't like the idea of a banking union. There are too many links between a fragmented banking system and local political powers. But they say that the German taxpayer will have to pay for the mistakes of bankers in other countries.
Poland and Germany have history, of course, but for the last six years relations have been as good as they've ever been. There are several happy reasons for this. Firstly, Europe doesn't have to worry about the state of the Polish economy, nor of its fiscal position as it is not in the euro. Merkel is looking for partners in Europe and there isn't much choice. There are either those mired in crisis, or those, like the UK, who are wondering whether they should get out. Poland is the mainstay of euro-enthusiasm.
There is also a certain chemistry between Merkel and Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister. Both grew up under socialism, are painfully pragmatic and ruthless against rivals. Merkel's Polish heritage probably helps. For Tusk, the principal hope is that we get more of the same.
Six things you didn't know about Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel stands on the verge of becoming Europe's most successful elected female politician yet she remains an enigma
Stefan Kornelius in Munich
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 September 2013
If Angela Merkel is re-elected on 22 September, she stands to become Europe's longest serving elected female head of government, eclipsing Margaret Thatcher along the way. And yet there is still plenty of mystery about a woman who charted an unlikely course from research science in the former GDR to the leader of Europe's most powerful nation.
Not only has she fought off all (male) competitors in her party, she has mastered the German political system, wrestled down two parties in coalition governments and seems to get only stronger in Europe. But behind the exterior lie secrets that are only now coming to light.1.
Angela Merkel is indeed "a quarter Polish". Now we know: Not only was her grandfather of Polish origin, the chancellor almost was born Angela Kazmierczak. Her grandfather was a Ludwig Kazmierczak, born 1896 in Poznan – then part of the German Reich. The family was proud of its Polish roots. Obviously not grandpa Ludwig who emigrated to Berlin when Poznan became Polish again after the first world war. He married a Berlin woman, and they had a son – Horst Kazmierczak, Angela's father. The family decided to cut their Polish roots in the early 30s. The Kazmierczaks followed a common fashion and Germanised their family name to Kasner. Father and son converted from Catholicism to the Protestant church – something Merkel didn't know until recently. That was a puzzling discovery for a woman who grew up in a rectory and whose Protestantism is key to understanding her personality. When Merkel's Polish past became public, a second cousin immediately invited her for dinner. Watch out, she might show up one day in the Alley of the Cosmonauts in Poznan.
2. Plum cake
In her early public life, Angela Merkel loved to brag about her cooking and baking qualities. Indeed, there is a lot of praise for her potato soup, her beef loaf and especially her plum cake. The cake soon became a measure of how much time she was able to afford her private life and her husband. He loved the cake, she really didn't. As a junior minister under Helmut Kohl, she was still able to have two or three baking weekends each plum season. The plum cake stories trickled away when she became chancellor. Now there are the occasional pictures of the most powerful woman in Europe queuing at the cashier at her neighbourhood grocer. The shopping list is eagerly investigated, but butcher and the fishmonger keep stumm.
3. Dog days
Merkel and Pig Putin go back further than you might think. He was a KGB agent in East Germany when the wall fell and he certainly wasn't happy about it. Perhaps the rivalry has its roots in the dark shadows of the cold war. Merkel, the greatest benefactor of the 89-revolution, got a taste of his intimidatory tactics very early. When she visited the Kremlin for the first time as chancellor, the Pig gave her a plush toy dog as a gift. Merkel became deeply afraid of dogs after she was bitten in the mid 90s. But Putin didn't stop there. The next meeting, at his summer residence on the Black Sea, he let in his black Labrador Kony, an intimidating species. Merkel sat frozen, and pictures show the Pig with a sardonic grin on his face, legs widely stretched.
4. Inca hoots
After a meeting with Merkel, a prime minister from a small south-eastern European country told the stunned media, that the chancellor sees similarities between the EU and the ancient Inca. The European value system too could suddenly disappear without trace. Merkel sometimes uses the Inca story to shock, although nobody expects to see tourists climbing the savaged ruins of Brussels in the near future. But the chancellor does indeed worry about the strength of the western system. Democracy, liberal market-economies, the western legal system are battling the modern version of the cold war against authoritarian, non-democratic but economically strong systems. Merkel has seen a state collapsing in her lifetime, and she wants to spare her beloved west the same fate. That's the reason for her call to competitiveness and recovery in Europe – and she's afraid that Europe doesn't get it.
5. Easy Cameron, easy go
David Cameron sees himself as a close ally of Merkel. But the feeling might not be reciprocated. Cameron wouldn't be the first male politician to misread the chancellor – a dangerous mistake. Merkel's path is marked with the corpses of those males getting her wrong. And Cameron is the third prime minister she has to deal with in her time in office. So for clarification: Yes, she likes his policies, his global vision, his stands on competitiveness and the Asian challenge. She even admires his debating skills as she generally loves the British political system. But she is also keen on changing the treaties, but only if there is need for a change. Losing the entire EU system in one of those many referendums in the aftermath of a treaty change would be too dangerous. So Merkel is a fan of the newly discovered intergovernmentalism – treaties between the member states instead of ever more integration favouring the commission. Cameron got a taste when he was asked to join the fiscal pact at the height of the euro crisis. He decided against. No Britain is out. And Merkel couldn't care less.
6. Euro plan
So, how does Merkel really want to get out of the euro mess? Does Germany have to pay for it? Get rid of Greece? More power to Brussels? Definitely not. Merkel is famous for her step-by-step tactics. She never would give a speech outlining a vision for Europe or at least a two year plan. This woman is not for benchmarking. She doesn't want to leave any traces of her political game plan since this would only help her opponents. But she has a plan, written down in summer 2011 by one of her advisors, a scribble on a single sheet of paper. In this plan she accepts that key policies within the EU member states have to be watched, governed and controlled more closely and jointly in order to keep the currency alive: budgets, spending, education and research, retirement, social benefits. After all a joint currency will not work without a joint fiscal and economic policy. Will that mean more Brussels? The opposite is true. Merkel is aware of the European public being tired of the commission and the lack of accountability. So for the time being, she'd prefer national governments writing the rules and sticking to them. If someone wants more Europe, they have to come up with a pretty good idea. Merkel might even be willing to talk about a new architecture for all this coordinating – but certainly not before the German elections. And probably not even before the European elections next May.
Stefan Kornelius is the foreign editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung and author of Angela Merkel, the authorised Biography. Alma Books.
09/10/2013 10:37 AM
The Power of Egoism: Merkel Re-Election Campaign Stalls the EU
A Commentary by Gregor-Peter Schmitz in Brussels
Angela Merkel has indirectly accused other EU members of egoism in the Syria crisis. When it comes to European policies, however, the chancellor can be accused of the same: The German election has put the brakes on several important projects in Brussels.
In his victory speech in November of last year, US President Barack Obama called Vice President Joe Biden a "happy warrior." It immediately caught on, trending in Twitter and leading political pundits to recall that the phrase had once been used as a nickname for Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In US jargon, the phrase denotes a politician who shies away from no political battle. The most important trait is a readiness to go on the attack, sometimes to the point of brazenness.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has exhibited both in the current international debate over Syria. At the G-20 summit, she initially refused to sign a Syria resolution critical of the country's autocrat Bashar Assad despite the willingness of other large European Union member-states to approve the document. Later, she ended up signing it after all. And now, she's trying to play down the strange back and forth -- instead attacking her partners, who she accuses of disregarding the rest of the EU.
"I do not think it is right when five large countries agree to a common position when the other 23 cannot be present, with the knowledge that all 28 would be sitting together 24 hours later," Merkel said at an election campaign event in Düsseldorf on Sunday.
Her message? Merkel is positioning herself as the champion of the smaller EU member states, who are in danger of being steamrolled by giant countries like Britain or France.
Unfortunately, this impression is incorrect -- irregardless of whatever the true background is behind the Syria folly. There may have been a time when Germany looked out for the interests of smaller EU member states. But today, when Merkel seeks to brand other European countries as being egotistical, it is anything but convincing.
Merkel's System Pause
In truth, it is Angela Merkel who is currently behaving in a particularly egotistical way. To see that, one need look no further than the German election campaign. Out of fear of voters, she has placed numerous European issues on the back burner. The German election campaign has paralyzed the Continent in a way never before seen in EU history. One influential member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats said: "For months, Merkel has sidelined every single European issue that is unpopular with her until after the election."
The systemic slowdown functions in many small ways -- like when the Chancellery put the brakes on a carefully negotiated EU compromise deal limiting automobile emissions because German manufacturers of gas-guzzling sedans, led by BMW and Daimler, would be particularly hard-hit. Merkel intervened personally to unceremoniously block the deal. The issue will only return after German voters have cast their ballots.
It also works on a larger scale, including fundamental decisions, like Europe-wide joint debt liability or more decisive growth policies in light of a youth unemployment rate that has gone over 50 percent in countries like Greece and Spain. Because such issues are unpopular with German voters, there is no way Berlin will address them before the election. Instead, Merkel prefers to warn, as she did in a SPIEGEL interview in June, "I see no need to transfer even more rights to the Commission in Brussels in the coming years." It's a sentence that would fit perfectly in the party platforms of the euro-critical Alternative for Germany party, which is slowly gaining in the polls. The euro-skeptic party could even clear the five-percent hurdle to land seats in the federal parliament.
Merkel has outright blocked progress on the EU's planned banking union -- ostensibly out of concern for Germans' deposits, but also to protect Germany's own Sparkassen, as its regional savings banks are known, and the state banks known as Landesbanken. Instead of the European solution that had been targeted, she is suddenly now pushing for national regulations.
Germany's Off Euro Crisis Nationalism
When it comes to foreign policy, Merkel -- who is still "the world's most powerful woman" according to Forbes -- is acting as though the world comes to a standstill when there is an election in Germany. Under pressure from Berlin, EU accession negotiations with Serbia and Turkey have been delayed. In St. Petersburg, Merkel initially didn't want to join her European partners in condemning Assad's poison gas attacks because most Germans are opposed to an American military strike.
So will this kind of cold calculating end if Merkel wins the election? At the very least, her European policies will be up for debate. Not all crisis-plagued countries, after all, can pursue the kind of export-driven economy that Berlin has often pushed for. Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf recently asked, "Is everyone supposed to run current account surpluses? If so, with whom -- Martians?"
Britain's Economist has been even harsher in its verdict, writing of Germany that "the country that abhors nationalism is oddly national in its focus." Berlin, the magazine argues, insists that other countries adopt its successful policies as if it is some miracle cure, despite the fact that their economies are totally different.
If the British weren't so polite, they could have written that Berlin is behaving astoundingly egotistically.
Bulgaria closes 'umbrella' case 35 years after Georgi Markov assassination
Mystery remains unsolved of who fired poisoned pellet into dissident's leg on Waterloo bridge in 1978
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 11.55 BST
Bulgaria is closing its investigation into one of the most notorious assassinations of the late cold war: the killing of the exiled dissident Georgi Markov with the poisoned tip of an umbrella on Waterloo Bridge, in London.
Markov, a writer, journalist and opponent of Bulgaria's then communist regime, died on 11 September 1978 after a stranger shot a poisoned pellet into his leg. Prosecutors have failed to identify, arrest or charge anybody for the crime, known as the case of the Bulgarian umbrella.
"The probe will be abandoned as of tomorrow, when the absolute statute of limitations, of 35 years, will expire," the prosecutor's office spokeswoman, Rumiana Arnaudova, said.
"To overcome the statute of limitations, we need to have a suspect for the crime arrested, charged or put on a search list. As of the moment, we have not established the perpetrator and neither of the above actions are undertaken."
British police have their own investigation into the affair.
According to accounts of the incident, Markov, who defected to the west in 1969, was waiting for a bus when he felt a sharp sting in his thigh. A stranger fumbled behind him with an umbrella he had dropped, mumbling "sorry" before walking away.
Markov died four days later of what is believed to be ricin poisoning, for which there is no antidote.
Five years ago, the Bulgarian daily Dnevnik published an investigation into communist-era secret police files identifying Markov's suspected assassin as an agent codenamed Piccadilly.
The files showed the agent had had "special training" from Bulgaria's secret police, and had received two medals, several free holidays and $30,000 (£19,000) after Markov's death, Dnevnik said, adding that Markov's case had been discussed with the KGB in Moscow.
In 2008, Bulgarian prosecutors extended the investigation by five years, hoping that access to communist-era secret police files would help solve the case. But the Bulgarian authorities say this brought no clarity about the identity of the killer.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
09/11/2013 08:56 AM
Navalny's Success: The Birth of a New Russian Opposition
By Claudia Thaler and Matthias Schepp
The success of anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election may have ushered in a new era. Could Russia's rigid party system finally be forced to make room for real political opposition?
Alexei Navalny's voice is calm but combative as he speaks from the stage. Inspired by the robust 27 percent that voted for him the day before in the Moscow mayoral elections, he is at his rhetorical best. "Russia deserves a real and strong opposition! That is us," Navalny cries out. He is now the uncontested leader of Kremlin opponents, even if Mayor Sergei Sobyanin will remain in office after officially receiving 51 percent of the vote. Navalny raises his fist: "We are the power!" he cries. The masses join him in celebration.
Navalny drew more than 10,000 supporters on this Monday night within sight of the Kremlin on Bolotnaya Square, the place where the protest movement began almost two years ago. During parliamentary elections in December 2011, the Kremlin had clearly engaged in widespread electoral fraud in order to secure the desired results for President Vladimir Putin's ruling party, United Russia.
Back then, 100,000 people protested. This time the amount is significantly smaller -- and that's probably a good sign for the democratic awakening in Putin's Russia. "Everyone predicted barely 20 percent for Navalny and prepared ourselves to take to the streets if it was significantly less," explains the Moscow political analyst Alexei Markarkin. "Now it is nearly 30 percent. What is there to demonstrate about?"
Navalny has filed a complaint with the Moscow electoral commission, citing alleged irregularities and fraud. Many of his supporters, the majority of whom are younger voters, refer to him as "our mayor." Navalny has called for a recount and a run-off. "They have stolen the election from us," the crowd chants.
But it seemed doubtful on Monday evening that Navalny would be able to incite the Moscovite masses to wider protest. The people of the Russian capital have flashed Putin and his team the yellow card, but they will now go back to their everyday lives: work, succeed, have fun in this hard and hedonistic boom town where less than 1 percent are unemployed. Navalny's "magnificent result," as analyst Markarkin calls it, was also made possible by the fact that many supporters of the incumbent Sobyanin stayed home because his victory was a foregone conclusion -- and because Sobyanin has all the magnetism of a mid-level bureaucrat.
Voter turnout was an abysmal 32 percent. This also had to do with the fact that, unlike in prior elections, the result seems not to have been a result of rampant ballot stuffing by the ruling party. Even Golos, the independent election monitoring agency much despised by the Kremlin, has not yet identified any serious fraud or voting rights violations.
Crisis of the Old Parties
Navalny, though, has not only achieved notable success at the polls; he is also in the process of turning Russia's dusty party system on its head. The parties represented in Russia's parliament, the Duma, look archaic next to the dynamic, young politician. The candidate for the nationalistic LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, dropped below 3 percent after Navalny demanded tougher laws and visa requirements for foreign workers.
The ruling United Russia party, successfully nicknamed "the party of crooks and thieves" by Navalny several years ago, didn't even officially enter the mayoral race. Instead, incumbent Sobyanin, a member of United Russia, stood as an independent candidate. He knew that Putin's party is hated by many Muscovites.
Navalny took on the full force of the state media with clever street campaigning and on social media like vkontakte, Facebook and Twitter, where his supporters clearly dominate. He accomplished the feat of being mentioned more frequently in the media than his opponent Sobyanen, despite the fact that news about opposition candidates is usually hushed up. Even within the state-controlled media there are Navalny supporters, who drummed up support for him in articles and TV segments devoted to the opposition.
Potential for 'Real Democracy'
"Tonight is the birth of a new movement," Navalny called out to the crowd on Monday evening, flanked by his wife Julia. He has an American-style election campaign now behind him. Filip and Lena, a young couple who both study linguistics at the Moscow State University (MGU) said they are sure "that our children will one day live in a real democracy." Igor Jurgens, who was an economic adviser to the Kremlin under former President Dmitry Medvdev, predicts that the extra-parliamentary opposition will be integrated into the party system. Instead of a handful of slavish Kremlin followers, there would finally be a real opposition. The election for Moscow's state parliament in one year could be the test run.
Whether that happens or not depends on the direction Pig Putin takes. He opened the door in Moscow to freer elections, albeit with the ulterior motive of humiliating Navalny and the opposition with a crushing defeat. But that didn't happen.
Still, prison camp still hangs over Navalny like a sword of Damocles. In a dubious trial in the provincial town of Kirov, he was sentenced to five years in prison in July for stealing wood. The judgement, however, is not yet final. Now the big question is whether or not Navalny will be put behind bars. Only one person in Russia truly knows the answer: the Pig.
09/10/2013 08:14 PM
Olympic Champion: German Elected as New IOC Head
Germany's Thomas Bach, a gold medal winner in fencing, became the most important man in the sporting world on Tuesday with his election as president of the International Olympic Committee during a vote in Buenos Aires.
Thomas Bach of Germany was elected on Tuesday as the new head of the International Olympic Committee. The vote happened at the 105th session of the IOC in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Departing head Jacques Rogge announced during the late morning local time that Bach had prevailed over five competing candidates.
The 59-year-old lawyer, who had been the clear favorite, won after a second round of voting. Bach beat out Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, Denis Oswald of Switzerland and Wu Ching-Kuo of Taiwan for the position.
"I want to thank all my friends and colleagues who voted for me," Bach said after the decision. "I know of the great responsibility of an IOC president. This makes me humble."
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Bach on his appointment. "Your election to the sporting world's most important political office impressively demonstrates the respect and trust you enjoy within the Olympic family," she said.
First German to Head Olympics
Bach has served as the head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) since 2006. He also served from 2000 until 2004 and again in 2006 as the IOC's vice president. He has been a member of the IOC since 1991 and has been highly influential within the organization in recent years. Bach won the Olympic gold medal in fencing in 1976 and became world champion both that year and in 1977.
With his election, Bach becomes the first German ever to serve as the head of the global Olympic organizing body. He replaces Rogge of Belgium, who is leaving office after 12 years as the IOC's president. Bach was elected to an eight-year term on Tuesday with the possibility of extending for another four years.
"I will do my very best," Bach said. "You should know that my door, my ears and my heart are always open to you."
With his appointment, Bach is expected to resign from his position as the head of Germany's DOSB next week.
09/10/2013 05:19 PM
Nazi Leader 'Mystery': Secret Rudolf Hess File to be Auctioned
By Axel Frohn
A dossier of documents apparently drawn up by Rudolf Hess after the Nazi leader's flight to Scotland in 1941 has been discovered, and will be auctioned in the US. Whether it will shed any light on the bizarre actions of the Deputy Führer is another matter.
The pilot of the enemy Messerschmitt had sprained his ankle and was still busy struggling with his parachute when, shortly before midnight on May 10, 1941, he was discovered on a meadow at Floors Farm in Scotland by farmer David McLean. He identified himself as Hauptmann, or Captain, Alfred Horn, but just a few hours later, after the farmer had handed him over to the local Home Guard, his real identity became clear: The captured flier was, in fact, Rudolf Hess; the Deputy Führer of Nazi Germany.
Ever since that day, there has been much puzzlement over what exactly prompted the Third Reich's third-most powerful man to travel to Scotland, what he hoped to achieve with his mission and whether he was acting on his own authority or had the backing of Adolf Hitler, or had even been ordered by Hitler to fly to Britain.
Now a sensational find with evidence on Hess' flight has come to light. In the catalogue for its next auction on Sept. 10, the American auction house Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland is offering an extensive dossier running to nearly 300 pages that Hess is said to have drawn up during his captivity in the UK.
Hess was carrying such a file, stamped in red with "Most Secret", when he was transferred in October 1945 from British custody to the Trial of the Major War Criminals in Nuremberg. Excerpts from one of the documents found their way into the evidence published by the International Military Tribunal as well as a list of the remaining documents in the file. But since the trial, the whole volume has been missing.
No Possibility of Forgery
That the file now being put up for auction is identical with the missing Hess file can be shown by comparing its contents with the Nuremberg records. Additionally, a handwriting comparison with examples taken from Germany's Federal Archive seems to rule out any possibility of forgery.
The file's recent history, though, is shrouded in mystery. According to the auction house's website, some 20 years ago the unnamed owner "received an anonymous telephone call from a man familiar with his work. He was told to go to a specific location the following day, where this material would be left for him with the hope that it would be of use in his projects."
Whoever this unknown benefactor was, he was certainly very generous -- today, the value of the file is estimated at between $200,000 and $300,000 (€151,000 to €227,000).
Hess had helped establish the cult of the Führer, but by 1941 had fallen out of favor as Hitler focused on foreign policy. In an attempt to regain his position, as well as give the Nazis breathing room ahead of the expected invasion of the Soviet Union, Hess embarked on his doomed trip to Scotland.
His intention had been to reach the Duke of Hamilton, who was responsible for air defence in southern Scotland and whom Hess mistakenly believed would be willing to overthrow British prime minister Winston Churchill and adopt a softer policy towards Germany.
'A Misfortune for All Concerned'
The pair met on May 11, 1941 in the Glasgow barracks of the Highland Light Infantry, and while Hamilton described the meeting in detail, Hess' version was previously unknown. But this unique document is contained in the dossier now up for sale.
"Like the Führer," Hess noted, Hamilton also saw "the war between our two countries as a misfortune for all concerned." In addition, "heavy casualties would be afflicted to both sides without anything being achieved that was even remotely worth the sacrifice."
He recognized that for the British government "it was impossible, for reasons of prestige, to agree to the Führer's compromise offer" -- meaning Hitler's "call for peace" of July 1940 -- without appropriate cause, and that his presence was that cause. His plans were incredibly naïve: that the British government could now publicly agree to negotiations on Hitler's offer.
"The Duke was visibly moved," Hess noted, but "could not be dissuaded from the belief that Germany was striving for world domination." Hamilton had prophetically said that Germany was facing hard times. He did promise, however, to report to the "appropriate places" and the king.
Spheres of Influence
A month later, having been moved briefly to the Tower of London and then to the heavily guarded villa at Mytchett Place in Surrey, Hess was given his chance to present his proposal, to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon. His interview -- actually a monologue interrupted by only a few questions -- lasted three hours. The record of the conversation in the Hess file consists of 71 typewritten pages with numerous notations in Hess' handwriting, all tied and sealed like a notary document.
It was only towards the end of the conversation that Hess admitted that he had come "without the knowledge" of the Führer and "without mandate."
He repeated the offer that Germany would have its sphere on influence -- continental Europe as far as the Urals -- and Britain would have its own, namely its empire.
But all Hess really had to offer were peace terms long since rejected by the British. His efforts failed, and after being found guilty of crimes against peace at Nuremberg, he was locked away for life, eventually committing suicide at Spandau prison in 1987 at the age of 93.
Ultimately, the Hess file portrays a highly neurotic, self-destructive man whose mission had not the slightest chance of success. He had no power to negotiate and could only offer the British an unacceptable German peace diktat. The papers do not reveal any big secret. Instead, they merely confirm what British historian David Stafford said a decade ago -- that the only mystery surrounding the Hess flight is why anyone would still think there is one.
The German elections will test David Cameron's luck
Angela Merkel has been patient so far over Cameron's Euroscepticism. But the elections could change everything
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 10.30 BST
David Cameron has been luckier than he deserves to be in his dealings with Europe's most powerful political leader. If Angela Merkel were a less pragmatic and forgiving type she would not lightly dismiss the prime minister's serial offences against good conservative Europeanism, not least his futile summit veto at the height of the eurozone crisis in December 2011.
Fastidious Germans of all political persuasion look on such tactics as populist pandering to growing anti-EU sentiment in Britain. They insist that their own Eurosceptic party, the Alternative for Germany (AfG) party, which hopes to enter the Bundestag at the 22 September federal elections, is not like Ukip. It merely wishes to reform the EU – notably via a smaller eurozone of virtuous northern states – not to leave it as Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader with a German wife, would.
They shudder at his latest domestic manoeuvre, the promise of a UK renegotiation in order to repatriate powers from Brussels, culminating in a high-risk referendum in 2017, a reprise of Harold Wilson's bogus renegotiation and 2-1 referendum win in 1975, but in far more hostile circumstances. Far from modernising his party as they have had to do, German MPs see Cameron as letting the Tories relapse into Thatcherite nostalgia.
So whoever wins power in Berlin this month – and experts say the result could be closer and more complex than the Merkel victory signalled in most polls – the new chancellor will not bend backwards to rescue Cameron's Berlin-style blue-orange coalition with Britain's version of the German Free Democrats (FDP). The UK's Liberal Democrats may be led by the ardently pro-EU, multilingual Nick Clegg but he seems powerless on EU policy, which has become a designated game reserve in which to feed the Tory right with red meat.
Did not Cameron win the Conservative leadership in 2005 by promising to quit the 28-nation conservative EPP group at the Strasbourg parliament? Yes. And to widespread surprise, he actually did it in 2009. It was an act of self-isolation that cut the Tories off from another mainstream EU power network; not as significant as London's refusal to join the euro – few pro-EU British politicians are still brave enough to call that a mistake – but an act of ideological pique nonetheless.
Despite all of the above, Germany needs Britain to stay in the EU, as a counterweight to France and a pro-austerity north European state with a globalist trading perspective and residual military and diplomatic clout – not least in Washington when EU/US trade talks are under way – that Berlin respects even as it resists Anglo-French interventionism. And Britons of all parties who are not tempted by the "Quit Europe" panacea know they need Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, its paymaster and political sheet-anchor in the economic crisis that still threatens the eurozone's indebted southern flank.
The paradox of British foreign policy, after five recessionary years, is that both sides at Westminster have been forced to endorse integrationist solutions to the zone's banking and fiscal dramas that will strengthen the ascendancy of Brussels and Berlin and exacerbate the "democratic deficit". It is the hegemonic outcome that British policy has fought to prevent for centuries. But the alternative is worse: a collapse of the eurozone, Britain's prime market, into disorder and resurgent nationalism.
Of course, Ed Miliband would like to see Merkel's SPD challenger, Peer Steinbrück, win on 22 September, or the CDU/CSU's coalition with the FDP fall apart, an event that might encourage Tory and Lib Dem splitters. On higher taxes for the wealthy, better pay for the bottom half of Germany's widening economic divide and much else, Labour and the SPD are soul brothers. A red-Green centre-left coalition could help set the tone for Labour to return to power in coalition in 2015.
Dream on, murmur Labour realists. The combative Steinbrück is stuck at about 25% in most polls, his electoral base eroded by both Greens and the Linke, the kind of leftwing breakaway that British socialists such as filmmaker Ken Loach talk of but cannot make effective without reform to Britain's first-past-the-post voting system, which voters rejected in 2011.
The German arithmetic may be tight, especially if the FDP fails to reach the 5% Bundestag threshold. But with the eurozone economy at last picking up, the worst Merkel is likely to face is another grand coalition with the SPD like 2005-9. German voters like the arrangement – "there's little difference between the two main parties now", admits one veteran German observer – but Brits would hate it even more than they do the Lib Dem-Con coalition since 2010. No lessons there for Westminster unless (unlikely) Merkel is obliged to entreat the AfG for Bundestag votes. Nigel Farage would enjoy that.
Which way will Merkel play Cameron if she wins her third term in style? Personally, she seems to like him and his young family, playing auntie at both Chequers and its counterpart, Schloss Meseberg. Cameron reciprocates ("a phenomenal political leader"). Friendship, sometimes across parties, helps oil wheels. But business is business.
Merkel spoke publicly in August of repatriating some powers to member states ("we do not need to do everything in Brussels"). It encouraged Tory MPs in the Fresh Start group of EU reformers into thinking she might be more flexible than France over Cameron's stalled "balance of competences" review. Merkel's briefers stress, however, that bearing down on budget costs, welfare bills (the EU has 25% of global GDP but 50% of global social spending, she repeats in many speeches) and economic inefficiency is acceptable. Re-opening existing "ever closer union" treaties, or repatriating employment law, are not.
Can Labour profit from the trap Cameron has set himself? In the current climate, probably not. Initially opposed to a referendum on Europe, Miliband is being urged to think again or risk electoral damage among voters lazily keen to blame "Brussels" for Britain's woes. In a speech at Chatham House in January, his foreign affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander, condemned Cameron's "unilateralist" strategy, but endorsed a leaner, more flexible vision of Europe.
Like Tony Blair before him, he did not sound like a British pro-European bravely charging towards the Eurosceptic guns. The timid consensus is that there are few votes to be won by trying to make the case for Europe in the low-key and reasonable way German politicians usually do. That may have to change if Britain's place at the top EU table is to be confirmed for another generation as Wilson's 1975 referendum did.
Then, Helmut Schmidt, Germany's cerebral SPD chancellor, came to London to urge a Yes vote at a special Labour conference by quoting Julius Caesar at them. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood …" The time may yet come for Frau Merkel to brush up her Shakespeare. Not much chance that Mr Cameron will start quoting Schiller.
Leaked EU report queries legality of financial transaction tax plan
Document prepared for European council warns levy would stretch member states' powers beyond legal norms
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 September 2013 19.11 BST
Fresh questions have emerged about Europe's determination to press ahead with a controversial tax on financial transactions after a leaked legal report suggested the current proposal may be illegal.
Eleven countries, including Germany and France but not the UK, have agreed to impose a tiny tax, known as the FTT, on trades in financial instruments such as derivatives in an attempt to discourage risky speculation and raise up to €35bn (£29.5bn ) in revenue.
But a legal opinion prepared for the European council, the forum for discussion between ministers, has questioned the legality of a key element of the proposals.
The advice warns that the FTT, as currently set out, "exceeds member states' jurisdiction for taxation under the norms of international customary law" and is incompatible with the EU treaty because it, "infringes upon the taxing competences of non-participating member states".
In particular, it expresses concern about the idea that both parties to a transaction will be liable, even if one of them is based outside the FTT zone.
Britain has launched a legal challenge against the proposal. A government spokesman said: "We have consistently opposed the European commission's FTT proposals, and now the EU's own legal advice shows that these proposals are likely to be both illegal and damaging to the EU's economy."
However, Brussels officials stressed that this latest legal advice contradicted the opinions of the commission's own lawyers. Asked about the legal opinion, Emer Traynor, spokeswoman for the commission, said: "We completely disagree with it.
"We have done a very careful and detailed legal analysis before publishing this proposal: we fully knew how sensitive it was likely to be. We really don't have any concerns about the legality of this proposal."
Ministers will now have to decide how to proceed.
Simon Chouffot, spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax campaign, said: "The FTT's opponents would love to present this non-binding legal opinion as a wall that will block progress, but it is likely to prove no more than a hurdle on the road to making banks pay their fair share."
Norway's disturbing lurch to the right
The anti-immigration party's electoral success shows the country has not dealt with the roots of Anders Breivik's crimes
Alf Gunvald Nilsen
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 September 2013 14.33 BST
The results from today's Norwegian elections are more or less clear: with some 26.8% of the vote, the Conservative party (Høyre) is poised to head Norway's next coalition government. The first thing to note about Norway's unsettling rightward turn is the fact that the Progress party (Fremskrittspartiet) is set to join as junior partner in a coalition government. Disturbingy, a political party whose platform is marked above all else by an ardent anti-immigration agenda is capable of making such headway little more than two years after neofascist Anders Breivik carried out his heinous terrorist attacks.
The events that left 77 people dead, prompted public debate to focus on a deeply troubling question: what was it about Norwegian society that had made 22/7 possible? Breivik's extensive links to far-right groups and anti-Muslim networks prompted the recognition that his actions and ideology could not be understood in a vacuum. Rather, it seemed clear that he had emerged from the fertile ground of a racism and an Islamophobia that had attained a degree of respectability in public debate in Norway. This, it was argued, demanded a collective response: Norwegian society had to confront deep-seated xenophobic attitudes and embrace the fact that cultural and ethnic diversity had come to stay.
For a time, this was a recognition that seemed to hold sway. The most significant indication of this shift was the fact that electoral support for the Progress party – a party of which Breivik had been a member for a number of years, and whose warnings against the "sneak-Islamisation" of Norwegian society resonated with the main tenor of Breivik's ideology – was significantly reduced in the local elections of September 2011.
However, the fact that the party now seems destined to become the second largest player in Norway's new ruling coalition raises the question of why 22/7 failed to become more of a watershed in Norwegian politics. A very likely reason is the fact that Norway has failed to take the lessons of the attacks that befell us that dreadful day to heart. Breivik's actions and ideology were quickly pathologised and turned into an aberration – indeed, the court proceedings against him were remarkable for their studious avoidance of questions relating to the broader context in which Breivik had flourished. An aberration, of course, is not something that weighs down on a nation's collective conscience. Norwegian society could move along, safely ensconced in its affluent comfort zone. And this should be a matter of great concern for those of us who were hoping for a more tolerant society to emerge from the trauma of 22/7.
But it's not only the advance of the far-right Progress party that gives cause for concern. It is equally disconcerting that victory has been claimed by a conservative political party that advocates tax cuts, privatisation, deregulation, and a substantial reduction of public spending on welfare. This agenda is of course familiar in these austerity-ridden times, but the paradox is this: there is no crisis to warrant such policies. Under its current "red-green" government, Norway has in fact steered clear of the economic and social debacle that has mired the EU project since 2008. Growth rates have been stable over the past five years and unemployment is lower in Norway than in any of the countries in the European Union.
This is not to say that there are not challenges ahead for Norway's economy. For example, there is still inequality and poverty amid plenty, and immigrants and minority communities suffer its consequences disproportionally. However, there is no conceivable way in which the neoliberal agenda touted by the Conservatives can address such challenges.
On the contrary – the eager pursuit of such an agenda in the current context shows what the objective for the Conservatives really is, namely, a project geared towards redistributing wealth in favour of society's elites. In doing so, this project will undermine what has been an enduring and valuable feature of Norwegian society – and a key reason why the country topped the UNDP's human development index in 2013 – which is a social infrastructure that ensures the availability of crucial public goods and underpins the country's relative egalitarian social structure.
In other words, the 2013 elections have thrown up a marriage of neoliberal conservatism and rightwing populism that threatens to entrench that which we need to rid ourselves of and erode that which we should struggle to keep.
September 10, 2013
Norway’s New Premier to Meet Anti-Immigrant Party
By KATRIN BENNHOLD
LONDON — Norway’s incoming conservative prime minister, Erna Solberg, on Tuesday prepared for tricky coalition talks with an anti-immigrant party jockeying to enter government for the first time.
The fact that the anti-immigrant Progress Party appears to hold the key to securing a majority in Parliament has caused unease in Norway because Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right militant who massacred 77 people in 2011, was once among the party’s members.
“We will ensure a solid footprint in a new government,” the party’s leader, Siv Jensen, vowed Tuesday. After campaigning on a platform promising curbs on immigration and more leeway to tap into Norway’s oil wealth, Ms. Jensen is expected to lobby for the post of finance minister.
Norwegian voters ousted the center-left Labor Party government on Monday, choosing the Conservative Party of Ms. Solberg.
Ms. Solberg, 52, a former Girl Scout leader nicknamed Iron Erna, will be Norway’s first conservative prime minister since 1990 and its second female leader. She is expected to form a government and take office by Oct. 14, when the departing coalition of Jens Stoltenberg, the Labor Party leader, will present its last budget.
“We will give this country a new government,” Ms. Solberg said late on Monday night after Mr. Stoltenberg conceded defeat. She has said that she is prepared to form a coalition with the Progress Party, which has recently tried to tone down its anti-immigrant oratory. But persuading two other smaller center-right parties to join such a coalition might be difficult.
The campaign was centered largely on economic issues, like extending already generous welfare payments (Labor’s platform) versus cutting taxes and privatizing hospitals (the Conservative platform). But the massacre on the island of Utoya, where Mr. Breivik attacked young members of the Labor Party, many of them children, on July 22, 2011, was never far from the surface.
Mr. Stoltenberg, whose pledge after the attack for “more democracy, more openness and more humanity” won him praise at the time, saw his party’s standing decline after a commission on Norway’s preparedness for terrorist attacks reported last year that the massacre could have been avoided if security protocols had been followed properly. Thirty-three Utoya survivors ran for Labor seats and several of them lost.
The Conservative, Progress and two small center-right parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, ended up with 96 seats in Parliament, 11 more than needed for a majority. Mr. Stoltenberg and his Green and Socialist allies won 72 seats.
Monday’s outcome, while perhaps puzzling to outsiders who are inevitably struck by Norway’s wealth, was broadly expected inside the country. “The wealth is also a problem for politicians,” said Bernt Aardal, professor of politics at the University of Oslo. “Every time there is a headline about health queues or deficiencies in health care for elderly people, everyone says that this shouldn’t happen in a country as rich as this one.”
Despite solid economic growth, thanks in no small part to North Sea oil, and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, voters also simply seemed to crave change, analysts said. “Norway is very rich,” said Frithjof Jacobsen, chief political commentator at the tabloid newspaper Verdens Gang, known as VG. “We have hardly any unemployment. So it must be strange to see the government changing from the outside. But eight years is a very long time.”
Mr. Stoltenberg has been prime minister since 2005. Last month, he sought to revive his chances of another term by driving a taxi in Oslo, the capital, to “hear what people really think.” The stunt was at least partly staged, as some of the passengers had been recruited in advance and told to wait at a certain spot for Mr. Stoltenberg.
But Marianne Kiaer, a 45-year-old teacher who said she supported Labor in the last two elections but switched to the Conservatives this time, appeared to speak for many when she said, “Maybe eight years with Labor is enough.”
In Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital, Kjell Gamlen, 54, said he voted for the Progress Party because “we need something altogether new in Norwegian politics.”
Shara Ali, 20, a student and refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan who arrived in Norway in 2002, placed blame for the growing influence of the Progress Party on mainstream politics for delays in getting her citizenship. “We are all contributing,” she said of the immigrant population. “We are working and paying taxes.”
As some feared a harder line on immigration in a future coalition, some political observers said any impact of the Progress Party as a junior partner in a governing coalition would probably be minor.
“The Progress Party cannot be compared to the Front National in France or the Danish People’s Party or German neo-Nazi groups,” said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen and a prominent political commentator. “Its libertarian streak is as strong as its anti-immigrant streak. The current leader is much more concerned with privatizing hospitals and schools than with immigration.”
Mark Lewis contributed reporting from Stavanger, Norway.
Protester’s death sparks angry new demonstrations in Istanbul
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 19:30 EDT
Turkish police fired tear gas and plastic bullets at thousands of people who gathered in Istanbul Tuesday to protest the death of a 22-year-old demonstrator in southern Turkey.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people rallied on the outskirts of Taksim Square, scene of unprecedented mass anti-government protests in June, and shouted slogans including “Taksim will be the graveyard of fascism”, an AFP journalist witnessed.
Police prevented the protesters from entering the square, before pushing them back using tear gas and plastic bullets.
The tear gas disrupted a football match between the national under-21s and their Swedish counterparts taking place near the square, the Dogan news agency reported.
Ahmet Atakan died in hospital Monday night after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister during clashes between police and around 150 protesters in the southeastern city of Antakya in Hatay province near the Syrian border, Dogan said.
Local officials disputed that account, saying Atakan had died after falling from a rooftop where he had been throwing stones at police.
In a statement, the police also said the youngster had died in a fall.
A preliminary autopsy found Atakan died of “generalised trauma” and “cerebral haemorrhaging”, Dogan reported.
His death is the sixth recorded in protests since demonstrations against the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian, began in June.
There were reports of clashes between demonstrators and police in other cities across Turkey, and Atakan’s funeral provoked fresh violence in Hatay, Dogan reported.
Atakan was part of a protest against the recent death of another demonstrator.
Protests were also planned Tuesday against police violence in the Turkish capital Ankara, where for several days university students have clashed with police over a municipal project to build a road across part of the campus of the Middle East Technical University (METU).
The anger over the project has raised echoes of June’s protests, which were triggered by the proposed redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
What started as a relatively small movement to save the park eventually drew an estimated 2.5 million protesters nationwide, in an outpouring of anger against Erdogan and his heavy-handed crackdown against the demos.
More than 8,000 people were injured during the three weeks of demonstrations, according to the Turkish doctors’ union, presenting Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) with its biggest challenge since it came to power in 2002.
Demonstrations against a government seen as increasingly high-handed have been gathering pace in Turkey since the start of the new university term, but without the intensity of those in June.
Clashes also erupted in Istanbul Monday, where police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of demonstrators, mostly masked members of far-left groups, who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails and erected barricades.
The demonstrators were protesting over a 14-year-old boy left in a coma when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister in June.
The teenager, Berkin Elvan, had left his parents’ house in Istanbul to buy bread as violent demonstrations swept the city.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
September 10, 2013
U.S. Eases Sanctions to Allow Good-Will Exchanges With Iran
By RICK GLADSTONE
The Obama administration on Tuesday eased longstanding restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities between Iran and the United States, including athletic exchanges. It was at least the second American government relaxation of Iranian sanctions this year and came as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has signaled his desire to improve relations.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions on Iran, said in a statement that it had cut the bureaucracy for obtaining exemptions in order to expedite the provision of health services, disaster relief, wildlife conservation and human rights projects in the country. Also authorized are “activities related to sports matches and events, the sponsorship of sports players, coaching, refereeing and training, in addition to other activities.”
The Treasury statement said the action, which eliminates requirements for special exemption licenses on a case-by-case basis, reflected what it called “this administration’s commitment to reinforcing ties between the Iranian and American people.”
Advocacy groups welcomed the step. The National Iranian American Council, which is critical of Iran’s government but opposes the sanctions, said it had been working for years to loosen the restraints on humanitarian and athletic exchanges.
“Today’s action is critical in helping prevent broad sanctions from isolating ordinary Iranians and ensuring that humanitarian needs of ordinary people do not fall prey to political disputes between the U.S. and Iranian governments," the group’s policy director, Jamal Abdi, said in a statement. “In lieu of formal diplomatic relations between the two governments, people-to-people diplomacy and athletic exchanges are crucial for bridging divides between the American and Iranian people."
The Treasury action came only a few weeks after an Iranian tennis referee, Adel Borghei, hired in May to work at the United States Open, was blocked from taking the job because of sanctions regulations enforced by the Treasury Department. The Akrivis Law Group, a Washington firm that specializes in sanctions law, agreed to represent him and secured a license that enabled him to work after his story had been publicized by the Iranian and American news media.
An Akrivis lawyer, Farhad Alavi, said in a telephone interview that the timing of the Treasury’s easing of the rules “obviously follows on the coattails of the tennis case.”
Most Treasury sanctions concerning Iran in recent years have tightened restrictions as part of a broader American policy to pressure Iran into concessions over its disputed nuclear program. Iran insists the program is peaceful but the West and Israel suspect it is meant to enable Iran to make nuclear weapons.
Last May the Treasury and State Departments lifted sanctions on companies seeking to sell personal communications technology to ordinary Iranians.
Mr. Rouhani, who was elected in June and took office last month, has said he wanted to reduce Iran’s isolation and to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute. He has not specified whether Iran was prepared to make any concessions, but in an interview on Iranian state television on Tuesday he said that time for resolving the dispute was limited and that “I am hopeful we can, step by step, solve this problem.”
Delhi rape trial: defence cites Gandhi in plea against death penalty
Lawyers for four men convicted of gang-rape and murder refer to independence leader during hearing ahead of sentencing
Jason Burke in Delhi
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 11.50 BST
Defence lawyers cited the teachings of Gandhi as they fought to save four men convicted for their role in the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi from execution.
Akshay Kumar Singh, a bus cleaner, Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor, Pawan Gupta, a fruit-seller, and Mukesh Singh, who was unemployed at time of the attack last December, were convicted on Wednesday of rape, unnatural sex, murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence. They had denied the charges against them and their lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict.
AP Singh, representing Sharma and Thakur, spoke of what he said was the belief of the Mahatma Gandhi, the independence leader and pioneer of nonviolent political protest, that "God gives life and he alone can take it and not manmade courts".
The four men will be sentenced on Friday, a judge in the Indian capital said on Wednesday.
India has repeatedly voted against UN resolutions for a moratorium on capital punishment though it carries out only infrequent executions. Three men have been hanged in the last nine years – a rapist and murderer, and two Islamic militants convicted of terrorism offences.
Police officials told the Guardian that the four convicted men sang Bollywood musical songs while being driven from Tihar prison to the court on Wednesday.
"They were totally relaxed [this morning]. Mukesh sat in front, the rest behind and they were humming songs," said one police official, who accompanied the men.
One of the four shouted: "I am innocent! I am innocent! I am innocent," at reporters as the bus passed the gates of the district court of Saket in south Delhi where the seven-month trial had been held.
Judge Yogesh Khanna heard arguments for and against the death sentence during Wednesday's session. Prosecutors have insisted that the case qualifies as "the rarest of the rare" which justifies the severest punishment. The judge, however, can order life imprisonment.
AP Singh, representing 19-year-old Sharma, reminded the court of his client's youth, while Thakur's lawyer argued that the 26-year-old had a young son and ill parents.
Prosecution lawyers stressed what they said was a premeditated attack to murder the victim and a male friend by running them over after they were dumped, apparently unconscious, from the bus in which they had been assaulted.
The family of the victim, who died from massive internal injuries caused when she was penetrated with an iron rod in the attack, have called for the death sentence.
Sushilkumar Shinde, India's home minister, told reporters in Mumbai on Tuesday that a death sentence was "assured".
The comments, which came after the verdict but before sentencing, were unusual and an indication of the Indian government's concern about public anger over the incident. The public appears overwhelmingly in favour of execution of the men.
But Colin Gonsalves, a prominent human rights campaigner, said the men should receive life sentences, not death.
"Popular sentiment is guided by people at the top and those at the top are very bloodthirsty kind of people. You can see the spread of hatred and violence in this country," he told the Guardian.
The trial of five of the attackers started in February. One defendant, a bus driver, hanged himself in prison in March. The oldest of the six accused of the attack on the physiotherapy student was alleged by police to have been the ringleader. The youngest, who was 17 at the time of the assault, was tried separately and was last month sentenced to three years in a juvenile reform home – the maximum punishment of a minor under Indian law.
The attack provoked outrage in India with protests across the country. It also led to an unprecedented national discussion about sexual violence and calls for widespread changes in cultural attitudes and policing, and legal reform. The international image of the country was damaged, with numbers of female tourists dropping significantly.
Relatives of the convicted men have spoken out against the verdict. "If he would have been a politician's son this would not have happened with him," Vinay Sharma's mother told reporters.
The prosecution case relied on testimony from 85 witnesses, a statement given by the victim before she died, DNA samples, dental records from bite marks on her body that matched the teeth of some of the men and the evidence of her male friend, who was also badly beaten in the attack.
He described how the couple were attacked after boarding the bus on the way home from an evening film at an upscale shopping centre.
The victims were eventually dumped at a layby on the outskirts of Delhi, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital. Her ashes were later scattered in the Ganges river, near her ancestral village in rural India.
The accused men were also found guilty of robbing another man earlier in the evening of the incident.
Police described how the six had set out from the Singh brothers' home in a bus on a "joy ride". They then tricked the victim and her friend into boarding the vehicle and assaulted them shortly afterwards.
Laws on sexual assault and harassment were tightened in the aftermath of the incident, but serious institutional reforms will take much longer, women's rights campaigners say.
Police in Delhi believe a rise in rape reports is partly owing to an increased willingness by victims to come forward. There were 1,036 cases of rape reported in the capital in year to 15 August, compared with 433 in the same period last year, according to police data.
Gang-rapes, acid attacks and other acts of violence against women continue to be reported across India each day.
Delhi rape trial: prosecutors demand death penalty for convicted men
Common man will lose faith in judiciary if harshest punishment is not given, prosecutor tells court
Agencies in New Delhi
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 09.18 BST
Indian prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for four men convicted of raping and murdering a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist last December, saying it was important to send a signal to the country that such crimes would not be tolerated.
"The sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death," special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the court.
"The common man will lose faith in the judiciary if the harshest punishment is not given," he said.
Bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta, and unemployed Mukesh Singh stood at the back of the courtroom surrounded by policemen. Wearing T-shirts, they showed no emotion as Krishnan spoke.
The parents of the victim, who may not be identified for legal reasons, sat just feet away from the men.
Judge Yogesh Khanna, who found the four guilty on Tuesday of "cold-blooded" murder, was hearing arguments from the prosecution and defence on sentencing. The minimum sentence the men could receive is life in prison.
"There is no element of sympathy in the way in which the hapless woman was tortured," Krishnan said in laying out the prosecution's case for execution.
The men had used a metal rod and their hands to pull the woman's organs from her body after raping her, he said. Her injuries were so severe that she died in hospital two weeks after the 16 December attack on a bus.
All four of the men denied the charges.
Three of them said they were never on the bus; another said he was driving the bus and knew nothing of the crime. The prosecution said DNA evidence and bite marks on the woman's body placed the men at the scene.
One of the men protested his innocence again on Wednesday as police drove him into the courthouse.
It was not clear which of the four men was shouting because his face was obscured behind the police van's heavy metal mesh but he repeatedly called out: "I am innocent! I am innocent!" as the van drove past a scrum of reporters.
Under Indian law the death penalty is reserved for the "rarest of rare" cases. Even when it is imposed, the authorities rarely carry out executions.
The case has resonated with thousands of urban Indians who took to the streets in fury after the attack. The victim became a symbol of the daily dangers women face in a country where a rape is reported on average every 21 minutes and acid attacks and incidents of molestation are common.
In pleading for leniency for 19-year-old Gupta, lawyer Vivek Sharma said the court should take into account the roles of each of the men in determining their sentences.
"Whether all of them were responsible or some of them were merely present by chance and it all happened on the spur of the moment," he said.
Quoting from earlier judgments, he said judges should not be "bloodthirsty".
"You can't give capital punishment on demand," he said, appearing to refer to the public clamour for the men to be hanged for a crime that shook India and tarnished its reputation abroad.
Women's rights groups have welcomed the guilty verdict but cautioned against giving the death sentence, saying that research across the world has shown that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent and the case should not set a precedent for all rapes to be punished with hanging.
Others who oppose executing the men argue that putting them in prison for the rest of their lives is a harsher punishment than hanging them.
It is not clear whether Khanna will deliver his ruling on Wednesday or on a later date.
If he does give them the death penalty, India's high court will still have to confirm the sentences. The four men are also expected to file appeals, so proceedings could still go on for months or even years.
September 10, 2013
South Korea And U.S. Stay Firm on Talks With North
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — Despite the recent easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, top American and South Korean nuclear negotiators reaffirmed on Tuesday that there would be no formal negotiations with North Korea until it showed that it was willing to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.
“We need to see some sign that they are sincere about what is the central issue of the six-party process, which is the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said Glyn T. Davies, Washington’s top envoy to talks among six nations that have been suspended since late 2008. “Right now, we do not see a positive attitude of North Korea.”
The six-nation forum, which includes North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, was started in 2003 with the aim of ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. As tensions have eased on the peninsula in recent months, there have been efforts, notably from China, host of the talks, to resume them.
Mr. Davies met with his South Korean counterpart, Cho Tae-yong, on Tuesday here in Seoul. He plans to visit Beijing and Tokyo this week to continue the discussions on how to bring the North back to the negotiating table under the terms set down by Washington and its allies.
Tensions rose on the peninsula this year, punctuated by the North’s nuclear test in February, a tightening of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council and the North’s threats of nuclear strikes. But in recent months, they have gradually given way to hopes for dialogue, as the North toned down its warlike rhetoric, restored military hot lines with the South and agreed to restart a jointly run industrial complex after a trial run that is to start on Monday, as well as a Red Cross program that reunites Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
While officials in the South welcomed the mellowing mood, they cautioned that their challenge remained unchanged: the North has shown no sign of curbing its nuclear weapons program.
That left officials in the South and the United States to suspect that North Korea’s recent overtures were merely a replay of its old tactic of creating optimism after tensions. They fear that North Korea is once again trying to trick Washington and the others into negotiating with it in fruitless talks while the country continues to advance its nuclear and long-range missile programs.
“The central goal of six-party talks is denuclearization,” said Mr. Cho, adding that the talks could resume only when the countries determine they can achieve that goal. But some analysts said Washington and its allies had few options other than engaging the North to gauge the intentions of its leader, Kim Jong-un. There have been no significant signs that sanctions are working to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons or that China is using its economic leverage to force a change in the North’s attitude about the weapons.
September 10, 2013
Crackdown on Bloggers Is Mounted by China
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
HONG KONG — These are bad times to be a Big V in China.
Big V, for verified account, is the widely used moniker for the most influential commentators on China’s growing microblog sites — online celebrities whose millions of fans read, discuss and spread their outpouring of news and opinions, plenty of which chastise or ridicule officials. And the Communist Party has turned against them in the most zealous crackdown on the Internet in years.
Worried about its hold on public opinion, the Chinese government has pursued a propaganda and police offensive against what it calls malicious rumor-mongering online. Police forces across the country have announced the detentions of hundreds of microblog users since last month on charges of concocting and spreading false claims, often politically damaging. For weeks, a torrent of commentaries in the state-run news media have warned popular opinion makers on China’s biggest microblog site, Sina’s Weibo service, to watch their words.
One of the most popular microbloggers, Charles Xue, an American investor of Chinese origin who writes under the name Xue Manzi, was arrested in Beijing on Aug. 23, accused of having sex with a prostitute. He has been paraded on television, contrite in jail clothes. Mr. Xue was due to finish his initial detention by Tuesday, and the police could release him or hold him for extended punishment and investigation, according to Chinese news reports.
But the state news media have already made a point for other outspoken commentators. “The Internet Big V ‘Xue Manzi’ has toppled from the sacred altar,” said the main state-run news agency, Xinhua. “This has sounded a warning bell about the law to all Big V’s on the Internet.”
Officials have described their campaign as urgent surgery to drain toxic lies from the Internet. But critics call that a pretext to tame the entire microblog world, honest as well as dishonest. With more than 500 million registered accounts and about 54 million daily users, Sina Weibo has grown into a raucous forum, instantly spreading news and views in brief messages that can flit past censors.
Big V has become the generic name for influential voices, not all officially verified, on microblogs, especially on Sina’s site. “Weibo” means microblog in Chinese, and other rival services also use that name.
“We’re only seeing the beginning of this campaign,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the Chinese Internet. “And this round they’ll be much harsher, and the targets will be the more influential people in the Chinese public sphere.”
The campaign is among the efforts of Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader appointed in November, to reverse the spread of liberal ideas that challenge one-party rule, observers said.
For now, Mr. Xue has become the most lurid trophy in the party’s effort to undermine the credibility of many Big V’s. Chinese television news shows have broadcast outraged reports about his conduct, including one that showed him being arrested and confessing to sexual misdeeds.
Mr. Xue has drawn more than 12 million registered fans to his microblog. Many supporters believe that the police kindled outrage about his sexual behavior because of his sharp criticism of officials. Even Hu Xijin, an ardently pro-party newspaper editor, agreed. “Using sexual scandal, tax evasion and so on to take down political foes is a hidden rule common among governments worldwide,” Mr. Hu wrote in a comment on his Sina Weibo account that was quickly removed.
The rise of microblogs has given prominent commentators a powerful, and potentially lucrative, platform. Their reach is sweeping, even discounting the many fake and dormant accounts among the fan numbers. Sina Weibo lists 347 users — a few of them companies or groups — with more than five million registered fans each; each of the top five has more than 50 million. Plenty of the most popular users are entertainment stars; others have turned their online celebrity into its own kind of stardom, with well-paid careers based on media appearances, product endorsements and books.
The attention of a Big V microblogger can transform an otherwise obscure issue — a land dispute in a village, graft by a small-town official — into a subject of passionate national discussion and a headache for the government. The tone of their commentary varies from earnest outrage to sarcasm to allusive irony; the last is intended to lull censors who prowl for offensive messages.
“Some of them have become more influential than certain state media organs,” said Bill Bishop, who publishes the Sinocism newsletter, closely follows Chinese Internet issues and also contributes to the DealBook blog at The New York Times. “Weibo is so fast, and the velocity and breadth of the transmission of information is just so much greater now than it is in newspapers and even on TV.”
But the explosion of Weibo has also fed a dank undergrowth of frauds and fakery. Businesses use bogus “zombie” accounts to spread paid-for messages that give a boost to clients or discredit their rivals. Other operators make money by scrubbing messages that are damaging to businesses or politicians. “There is a lot of pay for play and dirty money going around,” Mr. Bishop said.
The Chinese authorities have said their crackdown is directed at such abuses. The police across the country have announced the arrests of hundreds of other people accused of spreading false rumors online. The police have said Qin Zhihui, whose online name is Qin Huohuo, admitted to concocting 3,000 false rumors over three years as part of a business to create shock and attention that he could then use to advance himself and his clients.
But the accusations against Mr. Qin and many other arrested microbloggers also have a political edge. Many other rumors called outrageously false by the government have dwelt on the sins of officials: corruption, venality and sexual escapades.
“On Weibo, China appears as if it’s an evil country,” said Wang Wen, a former newspaper editor turned university researcher who urges tightened controls on microblogs. “It’s seriously affecting China’s social stability and political governance.”
Hao Qun, a Chinese novelist who became popular on Weibo under the name Murong Xuecun, said the crackdown was intended to break up online networks of like-minded people whose ideas could challenge the Communist Party.
“They want to sever those relationships and make the relationship on Weibo atomized, just like relations in Chinese society, where everyone is just a solitary atom,” Mr. Hao said. In May, his microblog accounts on Sina and other Chinese services were deleted without any explanation. “I created a lot of sensitive words,” he said.
This week, China’s highest court and prosecution office issued guidelines for defining and punishing online rumors and slander. The rules gave some protection to citizens who accuse officials of corruption, but they also said a slanderous message forwarded more than 500 times or read more than 5,000 times could earn convicted offenders up to three years in prison.
China has experienced deep chills on Internet opinion before. In 2011, the Communist Party began a crackdown on dissent, fearful that the uprisings across the Arab world would inspire protests in China. In July of that year, however, the deadly crash of a high-speed train prompted an outpouring of anger on the Internet that eroded the controls.
“I don’t think these intimidation tactics will work,” said Hung Huang, a magazine publisher with millions of followers on Weibo. “People will shut up for a month. Then they’ll come back. Maybe not the same people, but another group of people.”
Amy Qin and Lucy Chen contributed research.