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« Reply #8685 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:21 AM »

September 12, 2013

Pakistani’s Iron Grip, Wielded in Opulent Exile, Begins to Slip


LONDON — For two decades, Altaf Hussain has run his brutal Pakistani political empire by remote control, shrouded in luxurious exile in London and long beyond the reach of the law.

He follows events through satellite televisions in his walled-off home, manages millions of dollars in assets and issues decrees in ranting teleconferences that last for hours — all to command a network of influence and intimidation that stretches from North America to South Africa.

This global system serves a very localized goal: perpetuating Mr. Hussain’s reign as the political king of Karachi, the brooding port city of 20 million people at the heart of Pakistan’s economy.

“Distance does not matter,” reads the inscription on a monument near Mr. Hussain’s deserted former house in Karachi, where his name evokes both fear and favor.

Now, though, his painstakingly constructed web is fraying.

A British murder investigation has been closing in on Mr. Hussain, 59, and his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. His London home and offices have been raided, and the police have opened new investigations into accusations of money laundering and inciting violence in Pakistan.

The scrutiny has visibly rattled Mr. Hussain, who recently warned supporters that his arrest may be imminent. And in Karachi, it has raised a previously unthinkable question: Is the end near for the untouchable political machine that has been the city’s linchpin for three decades?

“This is a major crisis,” said Irfan Husain, the author of “Fatal Faultlines,” a book about Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. “The party has been weakened, and Altaf Hussain is being criticized like never before.”

Mr. Hussain’s rise offers a striking illustration of the political melee in Pakistan.

His support stems from the Mohajirs, Urdu-speaking Muslims whose families moved to Pakistan after the partition from India in 1947, and who make up about half of Karachi’s population. Since the 1980s, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has fiercely defended Mohajir interests, and in turn it has been carried to victory in almost every election and to an enduring place in national coalition governments as well.

Mr. Hussain fled to London in 1992, when the movement was engaged in a vicious street battle with the central government for supremacy in Karachi. The British government granted him political asylum and, 10 years later, a British passport.

London has long been the antechamber of Pakistani politics, where self-exiled leaders take refuge until they can return. The former military ruler Pervez Musharraf lived here until recently, and the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, lived here until 2007.

Mr. Hussain, however, shows no sign of going back. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has an office in Edgware, in northwest London. But these days Mr. Hussain is mostly at home, in a redbrick suburban house protected by raised walls, security cameras and a contingent of former British soldiers he has hired as bodyguards.

From there, he holds court, addressing his faraway followers in a vigorous, sometimes maniacal style, punctuated by jabbing gestures and hectoring outbursts. Occasionally he bursts into song, or tears. Yet, on the other end of the line, it is not unusual to find tens of thousands of people crowded into a Karachi street, listening raptly before an empty stage containing Mr. Hussain’s portrait, as his disembodied voice booms from speakers.

“The cult of personality surrounding Altaf Hussain is quite extraordinary,” said Farzana Shaikh, an academic and the author of “Making Sense of Pakistan.” “He is immensely charismatic, in the way one thinks of the great fascist leaders of the 20th century.”

In Karachi, his overwhelmingly middle-class party is fronted by sharply dressed, well-spoken men — and a good number of women — and it has won a reputation for efficient city administration. But beneath the surface, its mandate is backed by armed gangs involved in racketeering, abduction and the targeted killings of ethnic and political rivals, the police and diplomats say.

Other major Pakistani parties indulge in similar behavior, but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement frequently brings the most muscle to the fight. An American diplomatic cable from 2008 titled “Gangs of Karachi,” which was published by WikiLeaks, cited estimates that the party had an active militia of 10,000 gunmen, with an additional 25,000 in reserve — a larger force, the dispatch notes, than the city police.

Many journalists who have criticized the party have been beaten, or worse, driving most of the news media in Karachi to tread lightly. In June, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a lobbying group based in New York, accused the party of organizing the killing of Wali Khan Babar, a television reporter.

In the West, the party has avoided critical attention partly because it has cast itself as an enemy of Islamist militancy. In 2001, Mr. Hussain wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, offering to help Britain set up a spy network against the Taliban.

Critics of the party have frequently questioned the role of British officials in facilitating its unusual system of governance. Pakistani exiles from Baluchistan, also accused of fomenting violence, have faced criminal prosecution. But Britain is not the only node of Mr. Hussain’s international support network.

Through the Pakistani diaspora, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has active branches as far afield as the United States, Canada and even South Africa, which has become an important financial hub and a haven for the group’s enforcers, Pakistani investigators say.

Two police interrogation reports obtained by The New York Times cite militants from the movement who say they traveled to South Africa in between carrying out political assassinations in Karachi. One of those men, Teddy Qamar, confessed to 58 killings between 2006 and 2012, the police say. In an interview, Anis Hasan, the party’s joint organizer for South Africa, denied any link to organized violence.

But if Mr. Hussain seemed immune to scrutiny at his London stronghold, his luck started to turn in September 2010 after Imran Farooq, a once-influential leader in the movement who had split from the party, was stabbed to death near his house in Edgware.

Soon after, Mr. Hussain appeared on television, mourning Mr. Farooq with a flood of tears. But over the past year, the police investigation has turned sharply in his direction.

In December, officers from Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command searched the movement’s London office. Then in June they went to Mr. Hussain’s home and arrested Ishtiaq Hussain, his cousin and personal assistant, who is now out on bail. The police impounded $600,000 in cash and some jewelry under laws that target the proceeds of crime.

Mr. Hussain was not available for an interview, his party said. But a senior party official, Nadeem Nusrat, speaking at the movement’s London office, denied any link to Mr. Farooq’s killing. “Our conscience is clear,” Mr. Nusrat said. “We have nothing to do with it.”

Mr. Nusrat said the impounded money had come from political donations. And he rejected accusations, also the subject of a police inquiry, that Mr. Hussain has directly threatened political rivals, in some instances by warning that he would arrange for their “body bags.”

“It’s all taken out of context,” Mr. Nusrat said.

Mr. Hussain has receded from public view during the recent furor. There have been rumors about mounting health problems, which Mr. Hussain’s aides deny. But he cannot return to Pakistan, they say, because the Taliban could kill him. “In Pakistan,” said Muhammad Anwar, a longtime aide, “nobody can guarantee your life.”

Then there are the legal threats: over the years, dozens of murder charges have been lodged against Mr. Hussain in Pakistan, although some have been quashed in court. A more pressing question, perhaps, concerns the impact on the streets of Karachi if Mr. Hussain is forced to step down.

Some fear that without his guiding hand, tensions within the movement could split it into hostile factions — a frightening prospect in a city where political violence already claims hundreds of lives a year.

“However viciously the party conducts itself, there is an order within the apparent disorder,” said Ms. Shaikh, the academic.

Even if the British government wished to crack down on Mr. Hussain, she added, it might find itself subject to appeals from the Pakistani authorities. “The fear of Karachi going up in flames is so great,” Ms. Shaikh said, “that no government can take that risk, as long as Altaf Hussain is alive.”


Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for U.S. attacks and economic boycott

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 13, 2013 6:28 EDT

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a speech marking the 12th anniversary of 9/11, called for attacks on the United States and a boycott of the world’s largest economy.

A summary and translated English excerpts of the roughly 72-minute address was made available by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The speech was posted on jihadi forums a day after America held ceremonies in honor of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“We should bleed America economically by provoking it to continue in its massive expenditure on its security, for the weak point of America is its economy, which has already begun to stagger due to the military and security expenditure,” Zawahiri said according to the SITE translation.

“And keeping America in tension and anticipation only costs a few disparate attacks here and there, meaning as we defeated it in the gang warfare in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, so we should follow it with that war on its own land,” he added.

Zawahiri went on to say that these strikes could be “done by one brother or a few of the brothers” and that it was worth waiting for the right moment in order to mount a large-scale attack.

“With these strikes, we must monitor and lie in wait and seize any opportunity to land a large strike on it, even if it takes years of patience for this,” he said.

Zawahiri also referenced the twin bomb blasts at the Boston marathon in April that left three dead and scores wounded and maimed.

“The Boston incident confirms to the Americans the extent of their lying and tricking of themselves, and their arrogance from accepting the truth that is as bright as the sun, which is that they are not facing individuals, organizations or groups, but they are facing an uprising Ummah [Muslim community], that rose in jihad to defend its soul, dignity and capabilities,” he said.

According to the SITE summary, Zawahiri also urged jihadists in war-torn Syria not to cooperate with non-Islamists.

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« Last Edit: Sep 13, 2013, 06:36 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8686 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:23 AM »

September 13, 2013

Raid on U.S. Mission Points to Afghan Security Woes


KABUL, Afghanistan — An insurgent attack on the United States Consulate in the western city of Herat on Friday morning killed at least two security guards and wounded six others, the latest sign of instability in a city often viewed as one of the safest in the country.

The attack began around 5:30 a.m., when a group of five suicide bombers detonated a van full of explosives near the auxiliary gate of the consulate, according to the provincial governor’s office. As many as 20 civilians in the area were also sent to local hospitals for treatment, according to Sayed Wahid Qattali, the head of the provincial council.

Following the explosion, which shattered the glass of the consulate building and structures in the surrounding area, the attackers mounted an assault on the consulate. An hourlong firefight resulted in the death of all four insurgents, who were unable to breach the gate, according to provincial and police officials. American security personnel helped fight off attackers who tried to enter the compound, according to a statement from the State Department.

The American ambassador to Afghanistan condemned the attack, expressing sadness for the loss of life and the toll suffered by both Afghans contract workers at the embassy and civilians swept up in the attack.

“We are reminded again of the very real human toll exacted by terrorism,” Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this attack have shed Afghan blood on Afghan soil.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault.

The last few months have been especially violent ones in Herat, an area long known for its rich history and, until recently, its relative stability.

In July, the brother of Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan’s national security chief, was fatally shot in a district that neighbors Herat city. In mid-August, insurgents killed nine construction workers and one police officer just outside the capital. Days later, militants executed six government engineers working on a road project in the province. And just last week, violent protests outside the Iranian Embassy in the capital resulted in the fatal shooting of one protester and the wounding of two others.

Security in and around Afghanistan has been a major issue this summer, the final fighting season before the coalition forces begin their planned withdrawal. The Taliban has been seeking to undermine the Afghan government in the eyes of the populace, with bombings focused on population centers like Kabul. The goal appears to be to raise doubts about whether the Afghan military can secure the country once coalition forces leave.

Some areas once mired in fighting now are more peaceful, while others long free of insurgent activity are suddenly in the thick of the fight. Coalition officials have referred to the phenomenon as “whac-a-mole,” meaning as the security forces hit the insurgents hard in one area, they merely pop up elsewhere.

Afghanistan’s border with Iran also adds to the insecurity, some analysts say, as activities hatched on the Persian side of the border are executed in Herat as Iran seeks to exert influence on its neighbors. Tension between politicians, in addition to an increase in banditry, also give the province a sense of deteriorating safety, said Jawed Kohistani, a security analyst based in Kabul.

Farah, a province that sits directly south of Herat and also borders Iran, has seen a spike in violent activity as well. A very small security presence and the existence of a robust drug trade make the province vulnerable. In April, a massive offensive on the governor’s compound killed nearly 40 Afghans, many of whom worked for the provincial government in some capacity. Last month, insurgents killed 15 police officers in a particularly deadly assault.

“The insecurity which exists in neighboring provinces of Herat, like Farah, Ghor and Uruzgan, affects Herat’s security directly,” said Mr. Kohistani. “In the past, the Taliban had been active and had roots in those provinces.”

American security personnel helped fight off attackers who tried to enter the compound, according to a statement from the State Department.

Jawad Sukhanyar and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul.

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« Reply #8687 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Delhi gang-rape: four men sentenced to death

Men were convicted over roles in rape and murder of 23-year-old woman in Delhi last year

Jason Burke in Delhi, Friday 13 September 2013 10.06 BST   

A judge in Delhi has sentenced to death four men convicted for their role in the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in the Indian capital last year.

Bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta and unemployed Mukesh Singh were convicted earlier this week 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 against both the verdict and the sentence.

The sentence was pronounced at 2.30pm by Yogesh Khanna, the judge who has heard the case over seven months at the district court of Saket in south Delhi.

It will be automatically referred to a high court bench of two judges who will consider the sentence and the appeal that lawyers for the four men have said they will file.

If upheld, an appeal to the supreme court is also possible. The Indian president can pardon offenders. Such a process would be likely to take several years.

The parents of the victim, who died from massive internal injuries caused when she was penetrated with an iron rod in the attack in December, have repeatedly called for the men to be hanged. They were in court on Friday.

Gaurav, the brother of the victim, said it had been hard to watch the accused men "laughing" during the trial and that the family were "very happy" with the sentencing.

"This is true justice for my sister," he told the Guardian.

Officials said the four men had been calm when the sentence was announced.

The father of the victim's male friend, who was with her during the attack and badly injured, said he welcomed the sentence.

"My respect for the Indian judiciary has gone up manifold. It was death they deserved and death they got," Bhanu Pratap Pandey said. Crowds outside the courthouse cheered when the verdict was announced.

Gaurav said the family would campaign for a longer sentence for the juvenile convicted in a separate trial two weeks ago.

VK Anand, a defence lawyer, said the trial had been fair but that "mitigating circumstances" should have been taken into account by the judge when sentencing.

Prosecutors have insisted that the case qualifies as "the rarest of the rare" that justifies the severest punishment. They described it as a "diabolic" act of "extreme brutality" and stressed what they said was a premeditated plan 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.

AP Singh, representing 19-year-old Sharma, reminded the court of his client's youth and the effect of alcohol, while Thakur's lawyer argued that the 26-year-old drifter had a young son and an aged mother.

There is little doubt that public opinion firmly favours hanging. Newspapers on Friday morning reported that there was a "strong case for [the] death penalty" and the country's usually argumentative televised debates have struggled to overcome unanimity of opinions on the issue.

Colin Gonsalves, a prominent human rights campaigner, said the men should receive life sentences, not death.

"It has become a very violent and cruel kind of society. I hope the leaders would show more vision and moderation. It is sad what we have become. The mood is toxic and the judiciary will not want to be seen as out of sync with the public mood," he told the Guardian before the verdict.

The trial of five of the attackers started in February. One defendant, Ram Singh, a bus driver and the brother of Mukesh, hanged himself in prison in March. The oldest of the six men accused of the attack on the physiotherapy student, he was alleged by police to have been the ringleader. The youngest among the alleged attackers, 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 possible punishment under Indian law.

The attack provoked outrage in India and sparked 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 accused 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, Champa, 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 the victim's body that matched the teeth of some of the men and the evidence of her male friend.

The victim's friend described how the couple were attacked after boarding the bus on the way home from an evening movie at an upscale shopping mall.

The victims were eventually dumped on a roadside layby on the outskirts of Delhi, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital. Her ashes were scattered in the Ganges river, near her ancestral village in rural India.

The 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 bus and assaulted them shortly afterwards.

But though laws on sexual assault and harassment were tightened in the aftermath of the incident, serious institutional reforms will take much longer, women's rights campaigners say.

Gang-rapes, acid attacks and other acts of violence against women continue to be reported across India each day.

Police in New Delhi believe a rise in rape reports is due partly to an increased willingness by victims to come forward. There were 1,098 cases of rape reported in the capital in the first eight months of this year, more than double the number in the same period last year, according to police data. About 40% of the cases were registered in the first three months in the immediate aftermath of the 16 December incident.

Ten women on average complain of being stalked, groped or otherwise harassed in the Indian capital every day. Karuna Nandy, a supreme court lawyer and campaigner, said the focus on high-profile cases distracted from the need to reform the "nuts and bolts" of the Indian criminal justice system.

An eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions ended on 21 November 2012 with the killing of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani Islamic extremist convicted of multiple murders in the November 2008 terrorist attacks on luxury hotels and other targets in Mumbai, the Indian commercial capital. It was followed on 9 February 2013 by the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, convicted for a terrorist attack in December 2001 on the Indian parliament. The president, Pranab Mukherjee, has rejected 11 clemency pleas since he took office, confirming the death penalty for 17 people. His predecessor took a more lenient approach.

The sudden spate of executions has worried anti-capital-punishment campaigners.

"In the past year, India has made a full-scale retreat from its previous principled rejection of the death penalty," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said last month.

According to disputed official figures, there have been 52 executions in India since the country gained its independence in 1947.

Many claim that hundreds more occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s.

India has twice voted against United Nations resolutions demanding a global moratorium on capital punishment.


Delhi rape: how India's other half lives

The brutal gang-rape on a bus highlighted the routine abuse of Indian women – and how the nation's surge to superpower status has left millions behind struggling on the margins

Jason Burke in Delhi
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 September 2013 11.12 BST          

It was a Sunday evening routine: heavy drinking, some rough, rustic food, and then out in the bus, cruising Delhi's streets looking for "fun". This particular Sunday, 16 December last year, was like many others for Ram and Mukesh Singh, two brothers living in a slum known as Ravi Das Colony. The "fun", on previous occasions, had meant a little robbery to earn money for a few bottles of cheap whisky and for the roadside prostitutes who work the badly lit roads of the ragged semi-urban, semi-rural zones around the edges of the sprawling Indian capital.

However, this Sunday evening was to end not with a "party", as one of the men later called their habitual outings, but with the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman. The incident was to prompt a global outcry and weeks of protests in India, and to reveal problems often ignored by those overseas who are perhaps too eager to embrace a heartwarming but simplistic narrative of growing prosperity in the world's biggest democracy.

If sympathy lay, naturally, with the 23-year-old physiotherapist who was the victim of the attack, fascination focused on her assailants. These were not serial sex criminals, psychopaths or brutalised men from the margins of society. Their backgrounds were, perhaps more worryingly, like those of tens of millions of Indian men.

Nor was Ravi Das Colony "the underbelly" of the Indian capital, as one local newspaper described it. A few hundred homes crammed on to a patch of land flanked by a road, a temple and a recently restored medieval tomb, it lies like an outpost of another, poorer India amid the relatively well-off suburbs to the south of the city.

Like hundreds of other settlements across the metropolis, all founded by squatting migrants, who have been drawn to Delhi for decades, its single-room homes are overcrowded and noisy, but its doorsteps are swept clean each night and, though police venture rarely into its narrow lanes, order is maintained by the knowledge that almost every act, even the most intimate, will be instantly known to the entire community.

For Ram and Mukesh Singh, 34 and 26 years old, Ravi Das Colony had been home for most of their lives. Ram earned a living as the driver of a bus that, albeit without the necessary permits, carried schoolchildren. Ram Singh, who led the attack on the Delhi rape victim Ram Singh, who led the attack, according to his fellow accused. He died in police custody. The police said he killed himself; his family disputes this

Ram's brother, fired from a dozen jobs, intermittently drove a taxi.

The two had grown up on a small homestead in Karauli, a remote eastern part of the state of Rajasthan, five hours by train from the capital. They attended a local school with few facilities and an often absent teacher, playing in the fields and dried riverbeds. They came to Delhi in 1997. India was then beginning to boom after the reforms of the early 1990s injected a new capitalist energy into the sclerotic, quasi-socialist-quasi-feudal economy, and their landless labourer parents decided to try their luck in the capital.
Percentage of Indian population living in urban areas Percentage of Indian population living in urban areas

But if life in the city was better than the brutal poverty of the village, the improvement was only marginal. After a decade, their father and mother returned to Karauli and the brothers stayed on in a one-room brick home, brutally hot in the heat of the summer, freezing in winter. Ram, a slim, dark, small man, married a woman with three children by another man. She died of cancer shortly afterwards without bearing him a child of his own. After her death, he started drinking heavily and fighting. When he drove his bus into a lorry, he damaged an arm permanently. (Ram later appeared on one of India's hugely popular reality shows, angrily accusing his former employer of refusing him compensation for his injury. The bus owner accused him of being negligent and rash.)

Though they left local girls alone, the Singh brothers were known among their neighbours for drunkenness, petty crime and occasional, unpredictable violence. The younger brother, Mukesh, was personable, if impressionable, according to teenagers in the neighbourhood. "He was fine on his own but different when he was with his brother," one said, speaking a few days after the incident that would make the pair, if only for a short time, globally infamous.

Ram Singh spent the afternoon of 16 December visiting relatives elsewhere in the city, returning home at about 5pm. The day before, a 17-year-old drifter who had worked with him a year previously as an assistant on his bus had come to collect a debt of 6,000 rupees (£70). The money was not ready and, with little else to do, the teenager had stayed on, sleeping on the bare floor of the small house. Also staying was another young man, 28-year-old Akshay Thakur, who eked out a living helping Ram Singh on his bus, and had no home of his own.

Both the 17-year-old, known as Raju, and Thakur had their own troubled histories. Their paths had taken them through a side of India that has less to do with the emerging economic powerhouse of international repute and more to do with a tenacious, older India riven by conflict, poverty, chaos and random violence.

The eldest of five children, Raju was born to a destitute day labourer with mental health issues and his wife in a village 150 miles east of Delhi, in the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh which has 180 million inhabitants and socio-economic indicators often worse than those in sub-Saharan Africa. As in rural Rajasthan, where the Singh brothers came from, women in the countryside of Uttar Pradesh suffer systematic sexual harassment and often violence. Rape is common and gang rape frequent. Victims are habitually blamed for supposedly enticing their attackers. Many are forced to marry their assailants; others kill themselves rather than live with the social stigma of being "dishonoured". Police rarely register a complaint, let alone investigate.

When only 10 or 11 years old, Raju was sent from his village home for Delhi. Though for some time he intermittently sent his parents money, they had no idea where he was. According to Raju's statement to police, the country boy had found food, shelter and a meagre wage as a dishwasher and server in a cheap dhaba, or roadside foodstall, in a rough neighbourhood called Trilokpuri, on the margins of the city's sprawl across the northern bank of the stinking, if still holy, river Yamuna.

Created as a new home for slum dwellers cleared from Delhi's old city in the 1970s, Trilokpuri is another zone of transition, still halfway between the urban and the rural, where buffalo graze amid plastic bags and rubbish in the wastelands that separate new, poorly built cement blocks of flats.
Age of Indian population Age of Indian population

After six months at a stall, sleeping below the tables and eating leftovers, Raju found work as a milkman's assistant before returning to washing dishes, this time at a dhaba serving Delhi's favourite street food of chole bhatura, spiced chickpeas. Finally he pitched up at a third establishment where the owner remembers a hardworking, slight and personable young man liked by the hundreds of customers, mainly rickshaw drivers, who each day paid 20 or 30 rupees for a bowl of beef curry with thick, rustic bread.

Raju earned 3,000 rupees a month but left in the summer of 2011 after Ram Singh, who was a regular at the dhaba, asked him to work as an assistant on his bus. After a few months he moved on again, taking a job as a cleaner at a bus station in the south of Delhi where he slept in empty vehicles but remained friends with the man from Ravi Das Colony. He had stopped sending money home and his parents, back in his remote native village, believed he was dead.

The fourth man sharing the food and cheap whisky in the Singh brothers' home in Ravi Das Colony that Sunday evening was Akshay Thakur, who also came from a distant village deep in a desperately poor and conservative part of India. He, too, had left his home, 80 miles from Patna, the state capital of Bihar, for Delhi, though his journey was less direct, taking him five years and a variety of poorly paid, often physically arduous jobs such as working in brick kilns and selling illegal home-brewed "country liquor" before he ended up replacing Raju, working on Ram Singh's bus.

The four men were thus all representative of a substantial element of contemporary Indian society. (The median age in India is 25, with two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population under 35.) They were semi-skilled and poorly educated, like so many other products of the country's failing education systems. They were migrants from the country to the town – four of the millions of individuals who over recent decades have converted an almost entirely rural country into an increasingly urbanised one. They were unmarried in a part of India where men outnumber women and gender imbalances are worsening. They were drinking in a city known for high levels of alcohol abuse. There was nothing very extraordinary about them. Yet within hours they would commit acts that would prompt outrage across the planet.

At about 8pm, after the "party" had been going for nearly three hours, Ram Singh was called by the owner of the bus he drove for a living, and asked to buy a cylinder of cooking gas. He turned to his friends and, according to Raju's statement to the police, said: "Let's go out and have some fun."
Delhi traffic Delhi's sclerotic roads. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The men headed for the bus, which was parked 100 metres or so away on a side road, the statement says. On the way, they called on friends in the slum to join them. Two did: Pawan Gupta, a 19-year-old fruit seller and student, and Vinay Sharma, 20, who worked part-time in an expensive gym as a cleaner-cum-instructor. Both lived with their parents and had marginally more stable backgrounds than the others but were still far from exceptional in any obvious way.

Gupta, a relative said, had grown up in a temple in the remote rural town of Basti in north-eastern Uttar Pradesh, another desperately poor part of India. He had given up further education to come to Delhi to help his parents run their fruit stall. Still only 20, he was hoping to go to college. He had "fallen in with the wrong sort", a relative said.

Sharma, the son of an airport cleaner, was doing a distance-learning college course in communications and gave his parents the rest of the 5,000 rupees he earned each month at the gym catering to Delhi's elite a few miles away. Such a stark proximity between the very wealthy and the less well-off, between the aspirant and the arrived, is also typical of the new India.

Driven by Mukesh Singh, the bus first headed north-east, along Delhi's choked, congested inner ring road. The city has two such routes, both haphazardly planned and often gridlocked. The men pulled up at designated bus stops, where one of them – Raju, according to police – called out for anyone wanting a ride to Nehru Place, a shopping centre and office complex a few miles away. It was already dark and cold.

After about 10 minutes and several attempts to attract custom at different bus stops, a carpenter on his way home from work got on. Ram Singh shut the doors immediately behind him, and his brother accelerated away. Within minutes, the man had been beaten and robbed of his phone and 1,400 rupees, then dumped from the moving vehicle. He did not bother reporting the crime.

By 8.30pm, after another few abortive attempts to lure passengers aboard, the bus pulled up at a stop in a suburb called Munirka. To make the trap more effective, Sharma, Gupta and Thakur sat on different seats at the front of the vehicle, posing as passengers, and visible from outside through the open doors. Raju stood on the step of the bus. "For Palam crossing and Dwarka sector one," he shouted.
Work like a horse, live like a saint

Drive into Dwarka and the ragged reality of India's journey to prosperity is very obvious. A narrow flyover takes a stream of vehicles over a railway where packed trains pass slowly between strips of wasteland strewn with rubbish, faeces, and thin-ribbed cows. Everywhere there are people: labourers streaming from their makeshift huts to work on a series of unfinished, skeletal luxury flats that will be sold to the newly wealthy; women buying or carrying baskets of vegetables; schoolchildren in neat uniforms; young men doing little except play with their mobile phones; some beggars. Above soar billboards, advertising a conference with a "real estate guru", a "women's day" at a local gym where "cut-price classes" will "make him love your curves", and one poster composed of vast portraits of Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and the former president APJ Abdul Kalam, the "father" of India's nuclear programme.

One of the most striking elements of the Delhi gang-rape case is the similarity in the backgrounds of the victim and of her killers. The family of "J" – it is illegal under Indian law to name a rape victim – were, like those of her assailants, from close to the bottom of India's still tenacious caste hierarchy. Her father, Badri Nath, like the Singh brothers' father, had left his remote ancestral village for the capital in search of a better life. In 1982, a bus took him from his village on the banks of the Ganges in the middle of India's northern plains to a station where he bought a ticket for an overnight train to a city he had never seen. "I didn't want to leave," he said simply.

But he had little choice. Badri Nath was one of four brothers. The two eldest had been educated but funds were short and insufficient for Badri Nath to finish his schooling. His father was the only son of a man who himself was one of four sons. The family land, once enough to support a number of families, had thus been divided so many times that it was insufficient to provide a living even for one. Three years after he left the fields behind, his wife, who married when she was only 15, came to join him in Delhi.

In the city, Badri Nath managed to keep food on the table and a roof over the head of his young family. This was no mean achievement. In the mid-1980s, the Indian economy was still weak. The country was apparently locked into the "Hindu growth rate". Communal violence was rife, opportunities few. He started polishing pressure cookers, then worked in a washing machine factory. A sympathetic boss gave him money for a small plot of land in what was then the semi-rural suburb of Dwarka and he built a very modest, cramped two-room home there. He took on a second job as a night watchman in a hospital.

Slowly, over the years, the district developed. Electricity was connected, though problems with water supply never seemed to be resolved. More and more people flowed in from the rural areas. A decade passed, then another. Dwarka turned into a small town, then a small city, one of the many that fuse with the metropolis of Delhi itself. Economic development, accelerating steadily as the years passed, meant a newly monied middle class, and new airlines to take them to business meetings and beaches.

Delhi's airport expanded. New workers were needed, and Badri Nath, through a friend, found work as a loader, emptying planes he would never fly in of baggage as they came in from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Kolkata or elsewhere. He signed up for two eight-hour shifts, each one earning 100 rupees. He left home at 1pm and got home at 6am. The journey to work took 15 minutes in an unlicensed taxi, often vehicles driven by chauffeurs making some money on the side after dropping their employers off at the airport. Getting home took half an hour in an overcrowded bus.

"I heard once that to escape poverty you need to work like a horse and live like a saint," Badri Nath said later. "That is what I have tried to do all my life."
Interactive: the events of 16 December 2012 Interactive: the events of 16 December 2012. Click on the image to launch it

His first child was a boy who died after three days. In India, sons are prized to the point where they receive not only scarce financial resources for their education but also better food. Female foetuses are selectively aborted so frequently that Delhi and the states around it suffer a massive demographic imbalance between men and women. Badri Nath thought differently, however. "My wife was so sad when we had another child, we did not care if it was a boy or a girl. We just wanted it to survive," he said. The child was J, and she was followed over eight years by two boys.

All three children went to the local government school, but it was J who stood out. "She just needed to look at something once and she remembered it," said Badri Nath. Her textbooks lined a wall in the small home. To give her space to study and sleep, the rest of the family ate and slept in the second bedroom, covering a bed with a plastic sheet to convert it into a dining table.

"The only thing that interested her was studies," her father remembered. She covered the wall of her room not with Bollywood posters or pages from magazines but diagrams laboriously copied from her textbooks. Her handwriting and written English were soon the best in the family – her parents still conversed in the Bhojpuri language of their part of Uttar Pradesh – and it was J who filled in all the myriad administrative documents that blight every Indian's dealings with government. If there was any time left after studying, she helped neighbour's children in exchange for a few rupees or watched television on the family's cable connection.

She had wanted to be a doctor, ideally a neurosurgeon, but opted instead for the more modest, and more affordable, ambition of physiotherapist and found a college in the northern city of Dehradun where she could qualify after a four-year course. To raise the 40,000-rupee annual fee, her father sold part of his land in his village and mortgaged the rest. To cover living expenses – a similar sum – J found a job in a call centre in the city.

It was through a mutual friend at the call centre that she met Awindra Pandey, the 28-year-old information technology specialist who was with her on the night of the attack. The two were "just friends", J's father said, though he often spoke to the young man on the telephone and liked him. There was no question of the pair marrying as they came from different sides of what, in India, remains an unbridgeable gulf.

Pandey's family were from the upper castes and his father was a wealthy lawyer. He had a good salaried job – only a quarter of working Indians are employed in the formal sector – as an IT specialist. But if there would never have been a match, there could at least be companionship. The couple had been seeing each other for over a year and had even been on a trip to the hills together. They had not seen each other for more than month however before the attack. It was J, back in Delhi to look for an internship as a physiotherapist, who called her friend to suggest a trip to the cinema. Pandey picked her up from home and they travelled to Saket Mall, an upmarket shopping centre in the south of Delhi, where they watched Life of Pi at a multiplex, leaving at about 8.30pm. They walked out past the western-branded clothes shops and supermarkets, the new coffee bars, the car rank where drivers pull up in imported 4x4s, which they then load with shopping as their employer settles on the back seats, past the uniformed security guards, into the darkness of the evening, and started looking for transport home. This was a different India from that which J's father had known.

Delhi's public transport is grossly inadequate at the best of times. If the reforms of the 1990s unleashed the power of the private sector, for good or ill, they did little to bolster the public sector. Since, public services and institutions, under increasing pressure, have not just failed to keep pace but have often in effect collapsed. So even a new and expanding metro in Delhi has barely made a difference in the seething city. As ever in India, where the state fails, jugaad ("frugal innovation") takes over. Unlicensed buses are broadly tolerated, or at least allowed to run, after paying a small bribe to avoid a fine.

On this Sunday night there were no official Delhi Metropolitan Corporation buses to take J and Pandey back to Dwarka. No auto-rickshaw wanted such a distant fare either. The couple convinced one driver to take them two miles from the mall to another bus stop, at Munirka, where they hoped to find more options to get back to Dwarka so Pandey could see J safely home.

According to Pandey's statement to police, the couple had been waiting only a few minutes when the bus driven by Mukesh Singh pulled up with the juvenile leaning from the open door calling out its destination. "Where are you going, didi?" he asked the woman, using the colloquial Hindi for elder sister, police statements say.

The couple got in and sat down, falling for the ruse that the men posing as passengers had prepared. "How long will it take?" Pandey asked. "Not too long," replied Ram Singh. His brother, Mukesh, was still at the wheel. One of the other men, still playing his role, asked the same question. "Let's get going," Ram Singh said as his assistant Thakur took 20 rupees as a fare from the couple. The bus moved off.

Within minutes, as the bus drove along Delhi's outer ring road in the direction of the international airport, the atmosphere darkened.

"What are you doing out roaming around with a girl on her own?," Ram Singh asked Pandey, according to the accounts given to investigators by both the juvenile and the man. "None of your business," the young IT engineer answered. The two men faced off. Ram Singh threw a punch. Then events moved very fast. Ram Singh and the others wrestled Pandey to the floor. One shouted: "The rod, [get] the rod." As the woman screamed for help, banging on the bus's curtained windows, a metal bar kept in the bus was passed back. Blows rained down on the helpless man, now pinned between two seats. He was stripped. "I was trying very hard to get to her but they had me nailed down," Pandey later told a magistrate.

As Mukesh Singh drove the bus through the heavy traffic, Thakur and Ram Singh had dragged the woman to its back seats, according to the men's statements to police after their arrest. "They beat her and pressed a hand over her mouth and tore her clothes off," the juvenile's statement says.

"Ram Singh first raped her, the girl kept shouting, and one by one all of us [raped her] and [Ram Singh] and the rest of us bit her body." Medical reports reveal bite marks were found on the woman's breasts, arms and genitals. J fought back, biting and scratching but the petite young woman had little chance.

Outside the bus, the landmarks of south Delhi passed: a temple, a flyover, a busy road junction. At Mahipalpur, a scruffy collection of cheap hotels and restaurants near the airport, they turned the bus round, heading back into the city. It was 9.34pm, according to CCTV images. The vehicle had passed through three police checkpoints, where officers from the city's overstretched, badly paid, badly trained and badly equipped force stood supposedly keeping an eye on passing traffic.

As the bus headed back into the city, the attack continued. Ram Singh exchanged places with Mukesh who had been driving. His brother then took his turn to rape the woman.

"We tried to push our [penises] into her mouth. We also tried to [sodomise] her," the juvenile later told police. His statement, corroborated by the account given by the victim to medical staff, does not mention the assault with the iron bar the woman described. Her medical examination – and the retrieval of two blood-stained rods in the bus – confirm that it was penetration by this that caused massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines.

"The girl was shrieking and shouting so much. Ram Singh put his hand inside her and pulled out flesh. The girl lost consciousness and started bleeding," the juvenile told police. Her friend later described how, naked and badly injured himself, he heard the men talking. One said that he thought "she was dead". Another, possibly Thakur, suggested throwing them out of the bus.

By this time – at exactly 9.54pm, according to images recorded by cameras – the bus had turned around once again and had returned to Mahipalpur. The men dragged their two semi-conscious victims, by the hair according to police documents, to the rear doors of the vehicle but these were jammed shut so they pushed the couple through the front doors. An attempt appears to have been made to run them over, but Pandey, though badly injured, was able to drag the woman out of the way. The bus then disappeared into the traffic and back into the city.

When they reached Ravi Das Colony, the men parked the bus down a nearby alley. With water fetched from one of the colony's two standpipes, they sluiced it down with water to get rid of the blood, faeces and other evidence. They lit a fire, burning the clothes of the couple, except for the man's Hush Puppies shoes, which they kept.

The six then went back to the Singh brothers' home, where the juvenile made tea. Ram Singh divided up the results of the night's robberies, distributing credit and bank cards, cash and mobiles, jewellery and the shoes. Gupta got a wristwatch and 1,000 rupees, the juvenile was given 1,100 rupees and a bank card. "Keep it carefully," Ram Singh told him. "We'll take out the money later."

There was a brief argument, overheard by neighbours. The two men, Gupta and Sharma, who lived elsewhere in the colony, went back to their houses. The others watched television and then slept, investigators say.


Mahipalpur is, like Dwarka, Trilokpuri and Ravi Das Colony itself, another place of transition, another scrawled note on the margin of the story of India's growth. Supposedly in Delhi's "green belt", it had once been where sultans had hunted. Only a few decades ago it was still a small village, surrounded by scrubby, rocky hills and small pools of water where buffaloes bathed in the summer, submerged up to their necks to fight the heat.

Now it is a noisy crossroads where the road to Delhi's airport joins a six-lane highway leading to the satellite city of Gurgaon, favoured by big international companies. Scores of unlicensed cheap hotels and restaurants cater to the passing trade of late-night arrivals from overseas, commuters heading in or out of the metropolis, lorry drivers and well-off teenagers driving their fathers' fast cars looking for a plate of chilli chicken at 5am.

For 40 minutes after their attackers had driven away, J and her friend lay, drifting in and out of consciousness, on a narrow strip of wasteland beside a slip road of the highway. A few hundred metres away, across open ground, the sign of a French-owned budget hotel under construction shone in the darkness. On the other side of the road, beyond the flyover, was a row of hotels. Lying in the gravel, bleeding heavily, they were nonetheless visible to the traffic streaming past. Vehicles slowed, almost stopped and then accelerated away, Pandey later remembered.

Eventually, as ever in India, a small crowd gathered, though no one wanted to take responsibility for actually helping the naked and injured couple lying on the ground. Finally, according to police documents, an off-duty worker on the nearby toll highway saw the bystanders, stopped, and alerted his control room, which notified the police. A constable arrived in a patrol car, then another. One fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel to cover the couple. There was a brief discussion over which police district was responsible for dealing with the situation. Then Pandey helped J into a police car and was driven away.

An hour later, a policeman called J's father to tell him his daughter had been in an "accident" and was in a hospital in south Delhi. A friend with a motorbike took him across the city to Safdarjung hospital, one of Delhi's biggest public medical facilities. He found her lying on a stretcher, covered by a green blanket.

"I thought she was unconscious but when I laid my hand on her forehead she opened her eyes. She was crying. I told her: 'It'll be alright, beta [child].'"

Doctors had been appalled at extent of the woman's injuries. They attempted to remove the most damaged parts of her intestines and any infection, cleaning as much as possible of what was left and doing whatever else they could to keep her alive. But there was little hope, they all knew. One found her father, who had been waiting outside the operating theatre, and told him that it was unlikely his daughter would survive more than a few hours.

Through the morning, police worked at tracing the white bus that Pandey, badly hurt but still conscious, had been able to describe to them. They started checking CCTV footage from the hotels clustered around Mahipalpur. One noticed a bus with the name Yadav painted on the side, which passed the crossroads twice an hour before the couple had been reported. They found its owner, who had bribed local officials after being repeatedly caught running unlicensed fleets, and got an address for Ram Singh.

At Ravi Das Colony they first saw the bus, then Singh sitting inside. He ran but was caught. His T-shirt and shoes were bloodstained. The bus had clearly been washed recently. Very quickly, Singh admitted his involvement in the attack, even producing two iron rods, covered in dry blood, from a compartment in the bus's cabin. By the end of the week, five of the six were in custody. Mukesh Singh had been detained on his way to Karauli, where he hoped he could hide in the remote village where he had grown up. Gupta and Sharma were found at their family homes in Ravi Das Colony. Raju was picked up at the bus station where he slept. Thakur was found when he arrived at his parents' home in remote Bihar. By then, news of the incident was not just leading every bulletin in the city, but across India.

It had long been known that Delhi had a problem with sexual violence. Statistics backed up anecdotal evidence. For years, every few days, the media reported a serious sexual assault, though usually tucked away on the metro pages and recounted in a few dry paragraphs. Every few weeks there would be an attack, often a gang-rape. Some would receive more attention. But after the expressions of concern by police officers and Delhi's elected officials the issue would soon disappear. Few of the incidents ended in charges, almost none in a trial. The conviction rate for rapes languished around the 25% mark.

According to India's National Crime Records Bureau, registered rape cases in India had increased by almost 900% over the past 40 years, to 24,206 incidents in 2011, while murder cases had gone up by only 250% over 60 years, and incidences of riot had actually dropped. Delhi, with its population of 15 million, registered 572 cases of rape, compared with 239 in Mumbai, India's commercial capital, with its bigger population, in 2011. There were just 47 reported in Kolkata.

But no one knows quite what proportion of attacks these figures represent. Some activists say one in 10 rapes are reported; others say it is probably more like one in 100. One poll, in 2011, found that nearly one in four Indian men admitted to having committed some act of sexual violence. Two-thirds of the sample came from the capital.

Then there is the daily low-level harassment in public places, simply accepted as part of life in the city. Suggestive comments and wandering hands on buses, photographing or filming with phones, being followed or even chased were, polls showed, regularly encountered by 80% of women in the city. According to one survey, this molestation – euphemistically known as "Eve-teasing" – was seen as harmless by a majority of men in Delhi. An investigation by Tehelka, a campaigning magazine, found that the policemen supposed to investigate "Eve-teasing" and rape alike blamed women for "leading men on".

A high proportion of Delhi's police are recruited from the surrounding rural areas and the big, poor conservative states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan. Their attitudes inevitably reflect those of their home communities. These are very similar to Karauli, Aurangabad, Trilokpuri and the other places where J's attackers had grown up or spent many years. Only two months before the Delhi attack, a spate of rapes and gang-rapes in Haryana prompted some debate in the media. Local politicians attributed the wave of attacks to women behaving immodestly or the amount of junk food young men were eating. One called for the age of marital consent to be lowered. The United Nations pointed out that this would do little to counteract the rape of teenagers. These states are also the parts of India where gender imbalance owing to selective abortion is worst. Violence to women starts before birth, campaigners often say.

But J's case was exceptional, standing out from the mundane background hum of sexual violence in northern India. The attack was of almost unprecedented brutality, committed by complete strangers on a Sunday evening, on the streets of Delhi itself. J was out with a friend watching a film. She was not in a village, nor was she working in a nightclub. She was thus seen as representative in a way that other victims, rightly or wrongly, had never been. Very soon she had been dubbed "Delhi's daughter" in the media, and thus neatly slotted into one of the three legitimate categories allowed to women in India: mother, spouse or child.

Within hours of the news of the assault breaking, protesters were on the streets. The reaction of India's political elite merely fuelled the anger. No parliamentarians joined the marchers. Instead, the government invoked colonial-era laws to ban demonstrations, shut metro stations and deployed thousands of policemen to guard the president's residence, the parliament building and the homes of senior ministers. Central Delhi became a citadel, defended by khaki-clad men with lathis, the iron-tipped bamboo staves also inherited, like the attitudes of the ministers and top bureaucrats, from former imperial overlords. Finally, after a week, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, made brief televised speeches expressing concern and sympathy, which were dismissed as too little, too late by protesters. The anger grew.

On 25 December, having held on to consciousness for long enough to twice give a crucial statement to investigators, J, still in Safdarjung hospital in the south of Delhi, began to lose her grip on life.

Her father, Badri Nath, said: "During the evening, maybe 9pm, she saw me standing outside the intensive-care unit. She turned to look at me and gestured for me to come. She asked me if I had eaten. I said yes. Then she said: 'Dad, go to sleep, you must be tired.' I patted her head.

She said: 'You should get some sleep,'" he remembered. "She took my hand and kissed it. She never opened her eyes again."

Four days later, J died in a clinic in Singapore, where she had been moved as no facilities for treatment that would even give her a chance of life existed in India. Her body was brought back to India, cremated in a public facility in Dwarka and then, as is traditional, her ashes were carried by her family to the banks of the Ganges, near the village that Badri Nath had left 30 years before, and scattered on the river.

The night of her death the angry protests that had been beaten back by riot police in central Delhi and the marches in other cities demanding security for women in India gave way to demonstrations of a different type. There was grief, even shame. At 7pm, candles were lit across the vast country: on Juhu Beach, where Mumbai meets the Indian Ocean; in the centre of the bustling southern cities of Hyderabad and Bengaluru; at the statue of Gandhi in chaotic, poverty-stricken Lucknow, 1,000 miles to the north.

In Delhi itself, though a city full of temples, mosques and churches, scores gathered at an impromptu shrine set up at the bus stop where J had waited for a lift home 13 days before. Under the hastily printed posters reading "You Inspired Us All" and "No to Violence to Women", they too lit their candles. "We are feeling very sad. We are feeling very angry. Now we hope our lives will change," said Archana Balodi, a 24-year-old student. One poster read: "She is not dead, she has just gone to a place where there is no rape."

At the Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century observatory that is a traditional site of protests in the centre of the city, crowds gathered. J's death meant her attackers would now be charged with murder, and thus could face hanging. This became the cry that united the otherwise diverse and disorganised demonstrators. "Hanging them is not enough. They should be tortured like she was," said Srishdi Kumar, a 16-year-old schoolgirl. "Then maybe there will be a change. Why not?"

Eight months later, at the conclusion of the trial of her killers, it is difficult to argue that J's ordeal and death has made much difference in India, at least so far: the rapes and sexual assaults that are now highlighted daily by the Indian media act simply as a reminder of how widespread violence to women is in the country.

The fierce debate in the weeks after the attack – setting conservatives who blamed westernisation against liberals blaming reactionary sexist and patriarchal attitudes – has faded. A package of laws increasing punishments for sexual assault and redefining a range of offences may do some good, campaigners concede, if enforcement is simultaneously improved, but dozens of men accused of rape remain members of local and national parliamentary assemblies. The special funding released by the government for measures to enhance the security of women has so far gone unspent. Few are confident that gender training for the underfunded police will have much effect. Nor are the new "fast-track courts" – such as the one, only a few hundred metres from the mall where J and Pandey watched Life of Pi, where her attackers were tried – solve the problems of the criminal justice system. "It is a few weeks of outrage against hundreds of years of tradition," MJ Akbar, a veteran commentator, said. But this may not be so. The concern is that it is the change itself that is generating the violence.

The trial has now ended. Ram Singh, the ringleader in the attack, hanged himself in his cell in Tihar prison in mid-March. J's family angrily cried that they had been denied justice. "It is wrong that he should be able to choose the timing of his death," said her brother. The other four adults who have been convicted are likely to be hanged after all appeals are exhausted. No one is quite clear what will happen to Raju, the juvenile, though he may have to be released after three years' time in a juvenile reform home.

Badri Nath, his wife and two sons have now moved to a new flat with running water, electricity and two bedrooms, a gift from the Delhi authorities. The family has also received "compensation payments", in the cold language of the bureaucrats, worth £40,000: more than Badri Nath could have ever hoped to have earned, let alone saved, in his working life. His sons are getting coveted government jobs. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he repeated one phrase: "I console myself by saying she was a good soul, set free in death."

Outside in the narrow street, a tanker had just arrived to deliver water. Dwarka's piped supply is still unreliable. A crowd had formed and neighbours argued as they jostled with buckets. A woman laughed. A motorbike clattered past. A vegetable seller shouted for custom. There was a short burst of music from a tinny radio. But the noise of an evening in a working-class Delhi neighbourhood barely reached the small basement flat where a 53-year-old man sat on his daughter's bed, and it was very quiet

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« Reply #8688 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:43 AM »

China sentences three men to death over attack blamed on Islamists

Another man is sentenced to 25 years for role in violence that left 24 police and civilians dead in restive Xinjiang region

Associated Press in Beijing, Friday 13 September 2013 09.49 BST   

China has sentenced three men to death over an attack in June in the north-western region of Xinjiang blamed on Islamic extremists. The attack left 24 police and civilians dead.

The official Xinhua news agency said on Friday that another man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the violence on 26 June in which 13 militants were also killed. All four were found guilty of murder and being members of a terrorist organisation and sentenced on Thursday by the intermediate court in the city of Turfan at the end of a one-day trial.

All were identified by names common among Xinjiang's indigenous Turkic Uighur minority group, some members of which have pursued a long-simmering insurgency against Chinese rule in the vast region bordering central Asia.

In the incident, assailants attacked police and government offices in the eastern Xinjiang town of Lukqun, in one of an unusually large number of bloody clashes over the summer. Independent reports put the Lukqun death toll as high as 46.

Police said the attackers belonged to a 17-member extremist Islamic cell formed in January by a man identified by the Chinese pronunciation of his Uighur name, Aihemaitiniyazi Sidike.

Chinese officials typically say that such insurgents are orchestrated by Xinjiang independence groups based overseas, although there is little evidence of a direct link.

Overseas Uighur rights groups deny the accusation, saying they are working peacefully for Uighur civil rights. They also routinely criticise trials of Uighur suspects as being opaque, alleging that defendants are tortured and convictions and sentences determined on the basis of political considerations.

In the latest case, authorities said cell members began gathering as early as April 2010 to "pursue illegal religious activities and promote religious extremism" by watching, listening and reading materials promoting extremism and terrorism and carrying out "violent terroristic physical training", Xinhua said.

It said core cell members relocated to a private home in Lukqun at the start of this year and began selecting targets, raising funds, buying knives and preparing gasoline bombs.

However, shortly after preparations were completed, one of the members was arrested, and Sidike ordered the gang to attack before the plot was discovered. The 24 victims included 16 Uighurs and eight Han Chinese. Two were women.

Police wounded and captured four gang members and seized another suspect days later following a massive security operation.

"Their methods were extremely cruel and the nature of the incident was especially evil. Given the grave outcome, the case must be strictly punished by law, and by law the sentence was rendered," Xinhua said.

Bloody clashes have killed at least 56 people – and possibly many more – over the last several months as Uighur resentment continues to simmer over heavy restrictions on Islam and Uighur culture, and a perception that Uighurs are losing out economically to Han who have migrated to the region. The death toll is the highest since a 2009 riot in the regional capital of Urumqi in which nearly 200 people were killed.

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« Reply #8689 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Abducted South Korean Jeon Wook-Pyo escapes from North after 41 years

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 13, 2013 6:03 EDT

A South Korean man has escaped four decades after he was kidnapped by North Korea while fishing near the disputed Yellow Sea border, officials said Friday.

The 68-year-old, identified as Jeon Wook-Pyo, made it to Seoul recently after escaping from North Korea in early August, a government official said.

“He is now under investigation by security authorities,” the official said, declining to give details.

South Korean says more than 500 of its citizens — most of them fishermen — have been abducted by North Korea in the 60 years since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Those who manage to make it back to the South are often treated with initial suspicion, and subjected to a rigorous screening programme to ensure they are not operating as North Korean spies.

Jeon was among 25 fishermen aboard two boats that were seized by a North Korean navy ship on December 28, 1972.

The whereabouts of his fellow crewmen are currently unknown.

An activist group said earlier that Jeon had stayed in an undisclosed third country — most likely China — after fleeing the North on August 11.

He then sent a letter to South Korean President Park Geun-Hye seeking assistance, saying he wanted to spend his remaining days in his hometown, the group said.

South Korea has repeatedly urged North Korea to free remaining abductees, but Pyongyang insists it is holding no one against their wishes.

Since 2000, 28 former South Korean soldiers who were listed as killed in action have been confirmed alive in the North, with 13 of them showing up for reunions with their southern relatives.

The two nations have remained technically at war since 1953 because no peace treaty was ever signed. There are no mail, telephone or email exchanges between ordinary citizens across the heavily fortified border.

Many do not even know whether relatives are alive or dead.

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« Reply #8690 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:48 AM »

Anthony Albanese will seek Labor leadership

Announcement triggers new caucus rules giving vote to Labor party rank-and-file members for the first time

Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor, Friday 13 September 2013 07.35 BST   

Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will seek the Labor leadership – triggering a month-long process that will see rank-and-file party members vote for their federal leader for the first time in the party’s history.

The first caucus meeting after Labor’s defeat in the Australian election on 7 September has delivered a leadership contest under new caucus rules between Albanese – the New South Wales left-winger and former deputy prime minister – and Bill Shorten, from the Victorian right.

Confirmation of Albanese’s intentions came on Friday as the Coalition party room also endorsed its leadership team for government. Prime minister elect Tony Abbott and his deputy, Julie Bishop, were reconfirmed in their leadership positions – a traditional formality.

The Nationals have seen some generational change. Warren Truss will remain party leader and be deputy prime minister. His party deputy will be Barnaby Joyce – after Joyce’s successful transition from the Senate to the lower house seat of New England in the 2013 poll. Northern Territory senator Nigel Scullion will take Joyce’s old role as leader of the Nationals in the Senate, and the Senate deputy leader will be Fiona Nash.

In his opening remarks to the Coalition party room, Abbott told his troops they were well prepared to make the transition from opposition to government. But he said the Coalition had to deliver its policy agenda: repealing the carbon price; stopping the boats; building the roads; returning the budget to surplus.

“We will now move purposefully, calmly and methodically to deliver on our election commitments to build a stronger economy for a stronger Australia. We will do these things because that is what the Australian people have elected us to do. That is what the Australian people have a right to expect,” Abbott said.

Abbott emphasised the importance of keeping faith with the voters: “We have won the trust of the Australian people. Our challenge now is to earn it and to keep it.”

The prime minister elect is expected to unveil his new ministry on Monday before the official swearing-in. The outgoing prime minister, Kevin Rudd, executed a handover with Abbott at The Lodge in Canberra on Thursday afternoon.

Shorten is believed by colleagues to have the numbers in caucus to secure the Labor leadership, but Albanese is likely to have stronger support in the grassroots ballot. Labor’s inner-city branches are dominated by the Labor left.

Albanese made a point of telling the caucus about his intentions regarding the leadership before announcing them to the media. Shorten, in making his public announcement on Thursday, made a deliberate pitch to the grassroots, declaring he wanted to energise the membership.

In a press conference after the caucus meeting, Albanese told reporters he’d made the decision that the best contribution he could make for Labor in this period of transition to opposition was as party leader. He said he believed he was the best candidate.

Albanese said his strengths included plain speaking – “what you see is what you get” – his previous experience in opposition and his preparedness to argue Labor’s case.

He said Labor had a mandate from voters to stand up for carbon pricing and for the policy legacies achieved in government from 2007 to 2013, but Albanese argued the party needed to learn some lessons from the mistakes of that period.

He said there had been too much of a focus on tactics, not enough vision, too much focus on getting a grab on the nightly news and not enough focus on policy.

“We have to change, we have to do better, for Labor and for Australia,” he said.

Shorten told the caucus meeting that if Labor’s next generation did not step up and rebuild the party, Labor could be in opposition for a decade. He later told reporters: “We have over the next 30 days – new politics. Labor is drawing a line under the rancour over previous years.”

Shorten said Labor needed to be a movement for change. “We want our party to take policy development seriously. The essential task is to unify our party and unify our purpose.” He said he had the energy for the task. He was “a builder and a campaigner”.

Both candidates insisted the leadership ballot would be civil. “I do not believe there is an appetite to air our debates in public. I believe Labor has learned some lessons from disunity,” Shorten said.

Neither Shorten nor Albanese seemed fully clear about all the procedural details surrounding the leadership ballot – and they pointed to a meeting early next week of Labor’s national executive to determine the processes.

Rudd – who is under pressure to exit politics after the corrosive leadership dramas of the past two terms in government – addressed Friday’s caucus meeting and accepted responsibility for the result.

Former treasurer Chris Bowen will be acting Labor leader while the ballot is conducted and resolved. He told reporters this was the appropriate contribution for him to make at this time and declined to endorse either Albanese or Shorten ahead of the ballot.

Bowen said that whoever emerged as new Labor leader would have more legitimacy than any previous leader in history, courtesy of grass-roots endorsement.

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« Reply #8691 on: Sep 13, 2013, 06:49 AM »

West Papuan leaders face 'possible torture' by Indonesia, say activists

Fears leaders' boat may be intercepted following their meeting with Australian and West Papuan human rights activists

Marni Cordell, Friday 13 September 2013 08.38 BST   

West Papuan political leaders who met a boatload of Australian and West Papuan activists across the Indonesian sea border could face interrogation or torture at the hands of Indonesian authorities, a spokesperson claims.

The activists – calling themselves and their boats the West Papuan Freedom Flotilla – had planned to sail from Australia into the Indonesian port of Merauke to raise awareness about human rights abuses in West Papua, but changed their plans after the Indonesian navy said it would not rule out using lethal force against them in response.

Instead, a group of West Papuans met the flotilla of activists at sea earlier this week, apparently off the coast of Papua New Guinea, not far from the Indonesian border.

Freedom flotilla spokesperson and participant Ronny Kareni, himself a West Papuan refugee, said he was concerned about the group of West Papuans, which included at least two West Papuan political leaders.

"If they got intercepted [on their return] then most likely they'll be taken for interrogation and possible torture," he said.

Kareni said he had received information from Merauke "that there are still helicopters in use, and some navy boats" patrolling the Indonesian coast.

"They have been stopping all the locals who have been travelling in and out on the traditional path, checking everyone every day," he said.

The meeting of boats was the culmination of a 5,000km journey from Lake Eyre in South Australia to "reconnect the indigenous peoples of Australia and West Papua".

According to organisers, Indigenous elder Kevin Buzzacott handed over "the sacred water from the mound springs of Lake Eyre, along with ashes from the Aboriginal tent embassies around the country, to senior West Papuan leaders".

But the protest is not over yet. A number of flotilla participants are still at sea, according to Kareni, who has since returned to his home in Melbourne. He says he is trying to contact Indonesian authorities to request permission for the group to land at Merauke.

Flotilla participant Izzy Brown told Guardian Australia on Thursday night, via satellite phone from the flotilla's flagship the Pog, that she was 24 nautical miles from Indonesian territory.

Merauke locals are still planning to welcome the flotilla to land with a ceremony. Organiser John Wog told Guardian Australia this week: "We have formed a traditional welcoming committee for the arrival of the freedom flotilla and have written to the local government [and military commanders] … informing them that at the time the boats arrive we from the traditional community will meet them with traditional dances and wreaths of flowers.

"This isn't a political matter but rather a visit from the traditional Aboriginal community … of Australia. They want to ask the Indonesian government to straighten up the real history between the [people] of Australia and Papua.

"The plan has been that we would carry out the welcome at the Merauke harbour, but the Indonesian military has already closed the harbour off. There's really a lot of military units there on guard," he said.

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« Reply #8692 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:09 AM »

September 12, 2013

Opposition Leader Asserts Broad Problems in Moscow Race


MOSCOW — The Russian opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, on Thursday submitted to a court more than 50,000 pages of documents illustrating what he said were irregularities in Sunday’s voting in the Moscow mayor’s race in an attempt to prove that he won enough votes to force a runoff against the incumbent, Sergei S. Sobyanin.

But the court refused to block the inauguration of Mr. Sobyanin, who barely cleared the threshold for an outright victory with 51.4 percent. He was sworn in on Thursday evening during a ceremony in the city’s World War II museum. According to the official returns, Mr. Navalny placed second with 27.2 percent.

Yet, even as Mr. Navalny and his aides lugged 21 boxes of documents to the courthouse, they acknowledged not only that there was little hope of overturning the results, but also that the voting had been relatively fair. So they have adopted a new message: while the vote was generally free of blatant fraud like ballot stuffing, the election itself was rigged from the beginning.

“Our position is that these were unfair elections,” Mr. Navalny’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, said in an interview. “We were under pressure. They hampered us and our contractors, cut down our banners, broke our cars, stole our newspaper, didn’t let us work. They pressured us with administrative resources, were constantly on television, gave out groceries.”

The Navalny camp says that Mr. Sobyanin’s supporters gave free packages of sausages and corn to sway votes, and submitted false requests for home balloting by elderly or incapacitated people who had no intention of voting at home and whose votes, largely for Mr. Sobyanin, might have been cast by someone else.

“All this allows us to say that these elections were not honest,” Mr. Volkov said. “These elections were competitive in the sense that at least we could participate in them. And the vote count, by Russian standards, was good. The very fact of a fair vote count doesn’t make the election fair. Elections are made up of many components, and the vote count is only one part of it.”

Golos, the nonprofit group that is Russia’s only independent election monitoring organization, offered a similar assessment, saying that there was no repeat of the blatant fraud that occurred during the December 2011 parliamentary elections.

Grigory A. Melkonyants, the deputy director of Golos, noted that even though the irregularities that were suspected in the mayoral race seemed small, the margin between an outright victory for Mr. Sobyanin and the runoff with Mr. Navalny was so narrow that even minor violations, like the supposed abuse of home voting, could have influenced the outcome.

“It’s a subtle thing, but as we see the results are similarly tight, so it becomes a serious question,” Mr. Melkonyants said. “We understand that one way or another that small increase could influence the outcome, could be the reason why a second round doesn’t happen.”

A broader question, he said, was Mr. Sobyanin’s reliance on official resources — not just of the mayor’s office but more broadly of the Kremlin, which supported his campaign.

“To a larger degree, we must evaluate whether administrative resources influenced the outcome of the election, since it is, of course, illegal to use those resources,” Mr. Melkonyants said.

At the rally on Monday, Mr. Navalny admitted feeling overwhelmed by his opponent’s resources.

“Each time when I am asked, ‘Do you believe in victory?’ I would say, ‘I believe in victory, I believe that we can win these elections,’ ” Mr. Navalny said. “But somewhere there was still the thought that it was impossible, that they have television, they have huge amounts of money, they can smear us all on the television shows. But what do we have?”

Although Mr. Sobyanin has repeatedly said that the elections were fair and honest, his insistence has only served to confirm the widespread belief that previous elections were rigged.

His remarks also seemed somewhat disconnected from the unusual circumstances of the mayoral race, which was not even scheduled to be held this year.

Mr. Sobyanin resigned unexpectedly from the mayor’s post in June, only to declare that he would run in snap elections to be held less than three months later, putting potential opponents at a steep disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Mr. Navalny was making repeated trips to Kirov, a regional capital that is a 13-hour train ride from Moscow, to stand trial on embezzlement charges widely viewed as trumped up for political reasons.

He was convicted in July and ordered to start a five-year sentence, only to be released the next day, at the government’s request, so he could run in the mayor’s race.

At any moment, Mr. Navalny’s appeal of his conviction could be denied and he could be sent back to prison, separated from his wife and young children and removed from public life. It is a threat that he has lived with for months now, and that he said would not deter him and other opposition leaders from building on his success in Sunday’s election.

“We also realize that they are trying to deceive us,” Mr. Navalny told his supporters. “We understand it. They will give me an actual or a suspended sentence and try to squeeze me out of participation in the political struggle. They won’t register all our parties. They will give us trouble over rallies. They will give us troubles with trials. We realize that. But now we also know exactly how to fight this.”

Even at 27.2 percent, the second-place finish by Mr. Navalny was stunning, and both he and other opposition leaders sought to portray it as a major success even as they questioned the legitimacy of the election. The strong showing established Mr. Navalny’s legitimacy as a mainstream political challenger. He got his start as a blogger railing against corruption.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s vote, opinion polls had predicted that Mr. Sobyanin would win by a wide margin, with 60 percent or more of the vote. President Vladimir V. Putin himself repeated that prediction, saying he believed the poll numbers, during a televised interview last week.

Aleksandr Oslon, the director of the Fund for Public Opinion, one of the major Russian polling agencies, said that its surveys were thrown off because turnout was far lower than expected, and specifically that the voters who stayed home were those expected to support Mr. Sobyanin. His agency had predicted Mr. Sobyanin would receive 60 percent, to 20 percent for Mr. Navalny.

Pig Putin, who had expressed disdain for Mr. Navalny during the mayoral campaign while pointedly refusing to even say his name, took one last dig, even as he complimented Mr. Sobyanin on Sunday’s victory, and sought to explain why support for him was not more enthusiastic.

“I have known Sergei Semyonovich Sobyanin for a long time,” Mr. Putin said. “He is entirely devoid of arrogance and conceit. He is a very concrete, professional, very calm person. Perhaps he is not made for big political campaigns. He is not Robespierre. He doesn’t love to speak.”

The Pig added: “He is a truly conscientious, very decent, honest and talented person. I wish him luck.”

Andrew Roth and Noah Sneider contributed reporting.


09/13/2013 12:35 PM

Russian Novelist Erofeyev: Stalin Is 'Embedded In Our Genes'

Victor Erofeyev is one of Russia's most prominent dissident novelists, with his subversive work dating well back into the Soviet era. He told SPIEGEL that as Russia drifts away from democracy, the worst thing the West can do is isolate it.

SPIEGEL: Victor Vladimirovich, you've written quite a crazy book about your homeland. Can only crazy things be written about Russia?

Erofeyev: You have to write different kinds of books to explain Russia. Crazy books don't hurt.

SPIEGEL: The genre alone that you have selected is unusual. It's a mixture of history and science fiction.

Erofeyev: Oh, thank you, that's the greatest possible compliment that you could have given me. Every writer dreams of creating a new genre. Writing is like mining -- just about everyone digs at the same spot, wants to write classic novels and eventually shouts: The novel is dead! But there are other places where you can dig, and I've discovered a new one.

SPIEGEL: You've created a wild scenario in your novel: The dead come back to life, seize power and see themselves as the saviors of Russia and the entire world. What does this metaphor stand for? That Russia is being taken over by its past?

Erofeyev: My book is a novel about the human soul and nature. It could be said that every individual is somehow ruled by the dead, who block their path to the future. I've applied this realization to the entire country.

SPIEGEL: And why have you done that?

Erofeyev: To show that Russia is a land of the dead. After the communist revolution in 1917, there were hardly any proper cemeteries. During the civil war, many corpses rotted in the fields -- and in the villages there were sometimes no men left to bury the dead. There were mass shootings and mass graves. People were killed because someone wanted their position, their apartment or their wife. Indeed, in Russia all of the dead bear a grudge. The dead live in discord among us.

SPIEGEL: Your scenario comes across as a textbook example of psychoanalysis: If you run away from your past, it will eventually catch up with you -- with dire consequences.

Erofeyev: Yes. To understand the past, you need the ability to analyze and reflect. This ability is not very widespread in Russia. This also has to do with our intelligentsia. Many of them believe in Rousseau and his natural man. Ivan Turgenev summed it up nicely in his 19th century novel "Fathers and Sons," in which he has his hero Yevgeny Bazarov say: "Man is good, only the circumstances are bad." In Russia we always only think about the circumstances and never about the people themselves. We wanted to exchange the czar for socialism, and then socialism for capitalism. Now we want to exchange Pig Putinism for something more decent.

SPIEGEL: That sounds like the country is out of breath while standing completely still.

Erofeyev: That's how it is.

SPIEGEL: Why do you live in Russia? During your childhood, you lived in France for four years, and your work is very successful abroad.

Erofeyev: Russia's problems are a blessing for a writer. If life were better here, I would lose the inspiration for my works. If I weren't a writer, I would rather live in Berlin or Paris. Writers are like old radios in the dachas of grandfathers and babushkas. You turn the dial and at first just hear static, followed by voices far off in the distance. It's the writer's job to capture the radio waves. When you don't listen attentively to the voice inside you, and to the world around you, the next morning you're embarrassed by what you've written. You notice that you've just made it all up. But if you listen carefully, you'll find your subject. Mine is death.

SPIEGEL: You've written a satirical parable based on the resurrection of the dead. You don't seem to take this subject all that seriously.

Erofeyev: Humor is an expression of desperation. The question of what we should make of our lives -- given the existence of death -- is extremely serious. The fact of the matter is that we're now more familiar with our cell phones than the meaning of life. The West has degenerated into an agnostic bog that every metaphysical thought sinks into. It's the opposite in Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone immersed themselves in metaphysics. At funerals people here used to bid an eternal farewell to the departed. But today they say: "See you soon, Piotr." Neither Western agnosticism nor the new Russian mysticism suits me.

SPIEGEL: What would suit you?

Erofeyev: We should recognize that we have a conflicting relationship with the dead. On the one hand, the dead are a threat because they embody what awaits us: the end. On the other hand, they are our past -- our forefathers -- and they stand for tradition.

SPIEGEL: The dead in your book seize power, and some of them resort to Stalinist methods. Stalin and his rule come up often in your work. Why is that?

Erofeyev: Stalin has embedded himself in our genes. He tries again and again to rise from the dead. Please don't forget that the best were killed after the October Revolution in 1917: the best aristocrats, the best of the bourgeoisie, the best officers, the best farmers -- even the best workers. We, including myself, are merely the best remnants of the inferior leftovers. A nation with these genes is susceptible to Stalin. Stalin has also left his mark on my genes.

SPIEGEL: Your father knew Stalin well -- he was his French interpreter. The first-person narrator in your novel has a past that is similar to yours, and you make fun of him and his family's fixation with Stalin.

Erofeyev: Yes, there is a direct path between my experiences and the book. Just imagine, when I was a child, my father showed me Stalin's embalmed body. It was horrible. My father took me along to the mausoleum, one and a half or two years after Stalin's death. I must have been about seven years old. At the time, my father was the assistant to Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and had received tickets to the mausoleum as gifts, much the way people get theater tickets as gifts. The two of them lay there, Lenin and Stalin, as if they were in a double bed. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the fear of death. Lenin and Stalin became the most important corpses of my life. Shortly thereafter, in 1955, we moved to Paris, where my father became the Soviet cultural attaché. When my father suggested that we visit Napoleon's tomb under the dome of Les Invalides, but I successfully resisted.

SPIEGEL: During the final years of his life, Stalin reportedly had a friendly relationship with your father. Is that a burden for you?

Erofeyev: As a writer, I find it extremely interesting. Writers often create characters to convey a notion to their readers. Thanks to my father, I understood how multifaceted a single life can be. You have to understand people based on their contradictions. My father worked in the Kremlin, he had no objections to Stalin, yet he was a decent man.

SPIEGEL: Can you explain what Stalin, one of the greatest butchers in the history of mankind, liked about your father?

Erofeyev: He saw in him the new Soviet man: handsome, well mannered, modest and restrained.

SPIEGEL: You opposed the Soviet regime at an early stage. What led to this?

Erofeyev: The first years of my life were the final years of Stalin's life. I had a happy childhood -- my grandmother was delighted with my appetite when I ate an entire can of black caviar for breakfast. We lived terribly well in the early 1950s in Moscow. For me, Stalinism was all about my father's fabulous official cars. After this paradise, we moved to Paris, where my father soon met many artists. Picasso and Chagall used to sit at our table. It wasn't clear whether the Stalin childhood or the France childhood was more wonderful. When I returned to Moscow at the age of 12, I realized that everything was a disaster here. In the heart of Moscow, people lived in basements with rats and no heating. I saw the deception.

SPIEGEL: In 1979, you printed oppositional articles in the literary almanac Metropol, which you initiated. As punishment for his son's behavior, your father was recalled from his position as the Soviet ambassador in Vienna and banished to a backroom of the Foreign Ministry. Did he resent you for this?

Erofeyev: My father never said a word about it. He died two years ago, at the age of 90, and in his last interview he said: "Victor was ahead of his time." Oh, my parents dug their own grave when they gave me an opportunity to live in Paris and read the rebellious works of de Sade, Heidegger and Jaspers. That put an end to any thoughts of me becoming a Soviet man.

'The Pig Can't Decide Who He Wants to Be'

SPIEGEL: Was your relationship to your mother more difficult than your relationship to your father? Certain comments in your book can be interpreted this way.

Erofeyev: Yes, we always had a difficult relationship, and I'm grateful to her for that. She ranted about me still playing with toy soldiers, whereas the neighbor's daughter Masha was already reading books. She was always dissatisfied with me. But she didn't stop me from putting a bust of dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in my room. She merely asked me to tell visitors that it was Beethoven.

SPIEGEL: So, despite her criticism, your mother was proud of you and your rebellious streak?

Erofeyev: She never would have shown it. You know, I will soon be made a Knight of the Legion of Honor here by order of the French president. My father would have said: "You earned this award long ago since -- you have done so much for the Russian-French cultural exchange." My mother, who died last year at the age of 91, would have said: "Those idiots! Haven't they read your books? They are full of pornography and you insult everyone in them, including me."

SPIEGEL: You are a Russian who has been influenced by the West and you believe in democracy. In your book, you have your first-person narrator say that it's necessary to order the Russians to embrace democracy just as sternly as Catherine the Great once ordered Russian farmers to cultivate potatoes, which were unpopular at the time.

Erofeyev: Yes, that's how it has to be done. Pig Putin is probably more liberal than 80 percent of the Russian population. The majority here in the country favors a tougher stance on foreigners -- and the majority wants to reinstate the death penalty. Indeed, it will take a strong political will to push through democracy. In the 19th century, Alexander Pushkin said that the only European in Russia was the government. That still holds true today. Unfortunately.

SPIEGEL: It's not Pig Putin, but rather the people that are the problem?

Erofeyev: If the West unanimously sees Pig Putin as a dictator or semi-dictator, when he's really more liberal than 80 percent of the Russians, then we're in big trouble. On the other hand, there are also signs of a rise in Western values here in Russia. People have an increasingly better understanding of Western books and films, many have protested against electoral fraud and they want more of a say.

SPIEGEL: There seems to be a continuous thread throughout Russian history, from its beginnings 1,000 years ago to today: the desire for a strong czar. That's what Stalin ultimately was. Is Pig Putin a good czar or a bad one?

Erofeyev: He's not a czar. He's an individual with a lack of self-confidence.

SPIEGEL: Many in the West don't like Pig Putin. But he is seen as a strong leader.

Erofeyev: The Pig can't really decide who he wants to be. He's constantly sinking into nothingness. He's filling this void with one issue here, and another issue there. And since our country is constantly vacillating over which direction to take, this vacillating Pig Putin is not good for us. Granted, this KGB colonel has become an extraordinary politician, but he hasn't learned how to act in the public sphere. He's also a man who doesn't read. There are moments when I have no objections to him, and sometimes I simply don't care about him. But when I see the ferocity with which this obviously ill-mannered man persecutes people whose opinions differ from his, I have to ask myself who is governing us. When such an individual doesn't have enough during his childhood, he remains hungry his entire life. For people who come from very humble backgrounds, it's difficult for Russians to develop a comprehensive view of the world. This is not a problem that's limited to Putin.

SPIEGEL: In your book, there's a character -- namely the Russian head of state -- who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Pig Putin.

Erofeyev: Let's put it this way: He has characteristics in common with Pig Putin. I had no desire to merely sketch a political caricature. Literature draws its power and mystery from being ambivalent. In my new book, there are references to both Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

SPIEGEL: Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the West are again drifting apart. Why is that?

Erofeyev: Europe would prefer to send Pig Putin into retirement, and it sympathizes with those who chanted at the mass protests one and a half years ago: "Pig Putin in prison." The Pig has good ears and he understands that this was no joke. Why should he steer his country toward Europe if Europe wants to force him from power? If I were in Putin's position, I also wouldn't feel an affinity for this Europe -- or for SPIEGEL, which constantly criticizes him. Putin is not a dictator like Stalin. He has been forced to make compromises. And Russia is certainly more than just Putin.

SPIEGEL: In that case, what is Russia?

Erofeyev: There are many different Russias: the nationalistic, the communist and the religious. By the way, I believe that the greatest danger is not the return of communism or fascism, but rather we need to be wary of the growing strength of the Orthodox Church. The wind in Russia is blowing from different directions. Pig Putin is moving us further away from Europe, while other things, like the opposition movement, are bringing us closer to Europe. During the presidential election, Moscow voted against the Pig.  He's living in the Kremlin like Napoleon, who forced his way into a city that did not belong to him.

SPIEGEL: Does Russia belong to Europe?

Erofeyev: Since we Russians don't look Chinese, you Germans seem to think that we have a lot in common with you. But that's not true. You live under the terror of security: There are prohibitions everywhere because the bureaucrats in Brussels act as if they are Europe's saviors: Don't eat too much sugar, don't smoke in restaurants and only have sex with a condom. Our Russian chaos leaves more room for creativity.

SPIEGEL: How should the West approach Russia?

Erofeyev: It should take a careful look. The greatest mistake that the West can make is to isolate Russia. Don't forget that I can calmly sit here in the middle of the night and answer all the questions that SPIEGEL asks me without having to fear that the KGB will interrogate me the next morning to find out why SPIEGEL has interviewed me, and not the foreign minister. And don't forget that we Russians can now travel freely. One week ago, I took a vacation in Portofino, Italy. I was able to simply head off and then return home.

SPIEGEL: In your novel a young woman ultimately becomes the model for a democracy movement. In fact, all your female characters are very strong. In today's Russia the most famous dissidents are three young women from the punk band Pussy Riot. Are women Russia's hope for a better future?

Erofeyev: I have always had a high opinion of Russia's beautiful women. They are more interesting than our men. In my debut novel, "Russian Beauty," I created a heroine who was a Gorbachev in a skirt. The Soviet Union still existed, but she was completely free. The character Katya in my new novel is partly based on the women of Pussy Riot -- yes, you could say that. Katya is flamboyant, wicked and holy.

SPIEGEL: The women in your novel don't have a particularly high opinion of the men.

Erofeyev: Russia's women have had enough of us men, and many of them are becoming lesbians. Moscow is the lesbian capital of Europe. This also makes it ridiculous when the Kremlin declares war on homosexuals with a new law.

SPIEGEL: Russia's women are becoming lesbians because the men are useless?

Erofeyev: Exactly. What can they do? Our Soviet men have lied too much at work and drunk too much booze at home. So our women are the stronger sex -- and this explains why modern women here often choose other women as partners. If anyone in Russia is really free today, then it's these women.

SPIEGEL: These women are Russia's salvation?

Erofeyev: Not only these women, but all women of Russia are our salvation. And there is still a way out: Listen to what the dead tell us about ourselves. This is true not only for Russians, but for all people.

SPIEGEL: Victor Vladimirovich, thank you for this interview.

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« Reply #8693 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Nearly 50% of Greek businesses commit tax fraud, says finance ministry

Tax inspectors' investigation from end of July to early August finds rate of non-compliance as high as 85% in some areas

Associated Press
The Guardian, Friday 9 August 2013 18.56 BST   

Nationwide spot checks by Greek tax inspectors have found that almost every other business is cheating the taxman.

Despite repeated campaigns by successive governments, tax fraud remains a major problem in debt-hobbled Greece.

The finance ministry said Friday that 731 of 1,465 companies checked from 25 July to 5 August had violated tax laws. The highest rate of non-compliance – 85% – was on the islands of Evia and Skyros. The tourist destinations of Mykonos, Santorini and Crete had rates of over 56% of the businesses investigated.

The revelations came as the Greek finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said the country could return to bond markets next year – predicting it would return to economic growth and record a budget surplus excluding interest payments.

By then, Greeks will have endured six years of recession that have shrunk the economy dramatically. Excluded from financial markets since 2010, Greece has been kept afloat and inside the eurozone only by its €240bn (£206.4bn) international bailout.

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« Reply #8694 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Mona Lisa model's body close to being identified, says Italian art detective

Silvano Vinceti enters Florence crypt to identify remains of Lisa Gherardini, thought to be model for Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 9 August 2013 18.54 BST   

A self-styled Italian art history sleuth says he has taken an important step towards identifying the remains of the woman thought to be the model for the Mona Lisa.

Silvano Vinceti and his researchers entered the martyrs' crypt in Florence's Santissima Annunziata basilica, 300 years after it was last opened, in pursuit of a two-and-a-half-year mission to identify the remains of Lisa Gherardini.

Last year the team recovered eight skeletons from the Sant'Orsola convent in Florence, thought to be the resting place of Gherardini, who was the wife of a Renaissance-era silk merchant and is traditionally considered the model for Leonardo Da Vinci's portrait.

Three of those skeletons are now undergoing carbon dating tests at the University of Bologna to establish if they date from the 1500s, when Leonardo is thought to have worked on his most celebrated painting. But, even if they find a time-period match, it will hardly signify definitive proof – which is why Vinceti considers the opening of the martyrs' crypt to be fundamental. It contains the family tomb of her husband, Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo, which in turn contains the remains, among others, of her son.

If further testing reveals a DNA link between the remains in the martyrs' crypt and one of the skeletons discovered at the convent of Sant'Orsola, Vinceti says the project could then move into its "most exciting" phase – the reconstruction of the woman's face.

Begun in April 2011, the quest for Gherardini is far from Vinceti's first foray into the lost mysteries of Italy's artistic greats. In the country's art history circles, his name is almost as well known – infamous, even – as that of la gioconda herself.

On FridayYesterday, art historian Tomaso Montanari criticised the Mona Lisa project, saying there was no certainty that Gherardini had been the original model because "hundreds, if not thousands" of women had been buried in the Sant'Orsola convent and looking for one in particular risked failure.

Writing on the website of Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian newspaper, Montanari added that the man at the helm of the project was "not a researcher".

In 2010, when Vinceti declared that he had discovered Caravaggio's bones in a crypt in Tuscany, Montanari accused him and his company, the national committee for cultural and environmental heritage of a "very depressing" bid to attract tourists around the 400th anniversary of the artist's death.

Defending his methods, Vinceti said: "I don't know Tomaso Montanari personally, but I would say this: it would be good if, instead of giving out sentences in the manner of Robespierre or Danton, he were to read all the documentation, follow all the research … and only at the end of it make up his mind."

It is not only in Italy, however, that Vinceti has managed to elicit irritation from the art establishment. Two of his past pronouncements concerning the Mona Lisa – that the letters "LV" were visible in her right pupil and that Da Vinci had used a young male muse as inspiration – have been repudiated by experts at the Louvre in Paris, where the painting continues to mesmerise tourists with her enigmatic smile.

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« Reply #8695 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Bricks and mortarboard: first Lego-funded school opens in Denmark

Toymaker's International School of Billund includes 'innovation studio' for kindergarten kids

Helen Russell in Billund, Friday 9 August 2013 16.07 BST   
A two-storey yellow slide dominates one room, another resembles the set of Teletubbies, with man-made hills of green felt and Perspex rabbit holes. Lego-branded fancy dress adorns the walls of a third, with an array of princess dresses, pirate hats, knights' tabards and fake ermine royal robes.

This is the grand opening of the first ever Lego-funded school, in Billund, Denmark. The toy manufacturer's billionaire owner, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, greeted parents with a Willy Wonka-style spread of cakes, open sandwiches, tarts, crisps and hotdogs as he unveiled the dream school he's been working for years to make a reality.

The International School of Billund is the culmination of Kirk Kristiansen's vision to make his home town the international "capital of children". Funded by the Lego Foundation, the toymaker's charitable arm, the new private school combines the international baccalaureate with the Danish school system and Lego's research into creativity and play. The school is subsidised, the government paying two-thirds of fees and parents covering the remainder, starting at 2,545 Danish kroner a month (£294).

The emphasis on creativity can be seen throughout, from the zany kindergarten play areas to the ergonomic classrooms, where tops of desks can be detached to allow children to file art projects on shelves, and the Piet Mondrian-style bookcases and display boards. It looks more like a trendy gallery than a school, with bright white walls and quirky installations.

A timetable pinned up in a classroom shows an average day for a P1 pupil (aged six or seven): after kicking off with a Danish lesson, pupils might have a "unit of inquiry" period to stimulate creative thinking, then lunch, another unit of inquiry, outdoor play and home time.

Maths and English are also on the weekly curriculum but the general gist of the school day is fairly fluid. "I'm trying to think of it as relaxed rather than chaotic," says one mother of two.

One thing all the parents agree on is that their children have loved their first two days at the new school. "They seem really happy so that's the main thing for me," says one father. "Plus, Lego is the world's third biggest toymaker and this is the owner's baby – his legacy even. There's so much pressure to succeed that this won't be allowed to fail."

While organisers are insistent that this isn't a "Lego school", Lego Foundation will continue to support the school financially until it's sustainable through student fees – something the board estimates will take eight to 10 years. For now, the school will make full use of its ties to the toymaker.

"There's a great opportunity for collaboration," says Lego Foundation's Camilla Uhre Fog, the acting chair of the school, "like getting Lego employees to work with the children and teach them – things such as design and the process of continuous improvement."

Isn't continuous improvement rather a sophisticated concept for three-year-olds? "No, kindergarten kids will be great at this – they have no limitations on their imagination," says Fog.

"There will also be an innovation studio or 'Lego lab' for children to play in, along with 10 others already set up in local schools. So yes there's Lego involved, but it's a school first. Plus, who wouldn't' want to give their child a creative education? It's the ultimate fantasy for many kids."

New pupils seem to confirm this, and word of mouth is already generating new sign-ups. "We've got three more starting on Monday," says Fog, "as well as a waiting list for 2015, when pupils up to the age of 16 will be admitted."

If the school proves a success, there's even a chance the model could be exported. Fog concludes: "I'm positive that the school will grow, not just in Denmark but elsewhere – even rolled out worldwide."

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« Reply #8696 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:21 AM »

Polish ruling coalition's majority drops to one, after third MP quits

Jacek Zalek resigns from centre-right Civic Platform party, leaving majority hanging in balance for PM Donald Tusk

Remi Adekoya in Warsaw
The Guardian, Thursday 12 September 2013 17.43 BST

Poland's ruling coalition has lost its third MP in as many weeks, raising the possibility that it could lose its parliamentary majority and force elections.

Jacek Zalek quit the ruling centre-right Civic Platform party on Thursday, following in the footsteps of John Godson, Poland's first black MP, and former justice minister Jarosław Gowin.

All three accused Civic Platform of veering to the left on social and economic issues, and warned that other conservative-minded MPs could soon follow suit.

The defections leave the coalition with 232 votes – just one more than the minimum needed to have a majority in the 460-member lower house of parliament

The prime minister, Donald Tusk, said this week that if he did lose his majority, "the alternative would be snap elections", dismissing the idea of a minority government.

If elections were held today they would not be won by Tusk's moderate party but most probably by the rightwing Law and Justice party.

A voter survey this month had Law and Justice with 30% support, followed by Civic Platform with 25%.

Law and Justice and its mercurial leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, have promised radical change if elected. At the party's convention this summer, Kaczyński vowed to "re-Polonise banks in Poland", around 72% of which are currently in foreign hands. He also wants punitive taxes for employers who underpay their workers.The opposition leader has called Poland a "Russian-German condominium" and constantly accuses Tusk of appeasing the country's neighbours, especially Germany, which Kaczyński says is "trying to rebuild its empire" under Angela Merkel.

Kaczyński's aversion to Russia goes beyond politics. He is the twin brother of the late Polish president Lech Kaczyński, who perished in the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, along with 95 others.

Kaczyński has suggested his brother may have been assassinated by the Kremlin in collusion with Tusk's government, and vows to get to the bottom of the matter when in power.

The Law and Justice leader's political role model is the Hungarian nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Kaczyński says he is "deeply convinced that there will come a day when we have a Budapest in Warsaw".

But Tusk still has some cards to play. He could reach for a third coalition partner in the shape of the Democratic Left Alliance, a post-communist formation. The coalition would be difficult for him to explain to his centre-right voters, but might be a better political option than snap elections.

Alternatively, he could co-opt the leftist-liberal Palikot's Movement, led by an erratic and bellicose politician, Janusz Palikot. But Palikot would be a problematic coalition partner.

Tusk's third option is simply to buy over a few disgruntled MPs from other parties. In recent months four MPs have deserted Palikot's Movement to form their own parliamentary mini-caucus. They generally vote with the government and could be co-opted fully into Civic Platform to boost its ranks.

Tusk will probably not make any radical moves as long as he still has a majority. But if more MPs quit his party he will have no choice but to search for a second coalition partner or face elections and the possible handover of power to Kaczyński.

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« Reply #8697 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Oprah Winfrey's only misdemeanour was to travel and be black

I can sympathise with the TV star who was refused service in a Swiss store, but for a black person going on holiday this is all too familiar

Maurice Mcleod, Friday 9 August 2013 16.33 BST          

There was a depressing familiarity to Oprah Winfrey's tale of racism in an upmarket Swiss boutique. Billionaire TV presenter Oprah is a household name around the world but this didn't stop the staff in a Zurich handbag shop from assuming she couldn't afford the expensive bag she wanted to buy. In Oprah's case, she decided not to make a scene or to play the "Do you know who I am?" card, instead choosing to leave the shop and spend her money elsewhere. She knew just mentioning her experience would be payback enough and already the owner of the boutique has apologised and tried to explain away the incident as a "misunderstanding".

While £25k handbags are not normally on my shopping list, being made acutely aware of my race when I leave the safety of home is all too familiar.

For the first few years of our relationship, my white partner didn't really believe this was an issue. It wasn't until she witnessed first-hand an entire Croatian beach full of people straining like a mob of meerkats to get a look at me that she conceded I might have a point. There was no aggression or unpleasantness, they were just fascinated.

Now when planning a holiday, along with looking up hotels, bars and local landmarks, I always do a little research on race relations in the area I'm visiting. If I'm travelling to a "black" country – somewhere in Africa or the Caribbean for example – I'm relaxed.

Questions I ask myself and Google are: Is there any kind of black local population? The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt is completely wrong; ignorance breeds contempt.

If there is, what sort of treatment do they get? If the only black people they see are the "looky looky" men on the beach selling fake watches then the idea of a black holidaymaker might spook them. If they hate the immigrants who are already there then my welcome is likely to be lukewarm at best.

If I get into physical trouble, what are my options?

How remote are we going to be and what is the reputation of the local law enforcement?

I realise that in trying to avoid being the victim of racism, a mass generalisation, I am generalising myself. Of course there are wonderful people in every corner of the globe; if there weren't I wouldn't travel. My calculation is on the likelihood of bumping into those who have an axe to grind. This calculation isn't reserved for overseas travel. Some of the most extreme reactions I have faced have been when travelling within the UK.

Quaint pubs in idyllic villages in the west country have turned into silent staring galleries when I've walked in but generally, once see I'm "behaving normally", people calm down.

Preconceptions such as those faced by Oprah or curiosity of the type we saw in Croatia or Devon are not the worst things (if I'm honest, the curiosity is a little like being a celebrity). Someone trying to talk to you about Bob Marley or to buy drugs is vaguely annoying but hardly ruins a holiday. I'm much more concerned about the threat of physical violence.

It might sound unfair but I doubt I'll be heading to Russia for my holidays any time soon. And while most have nothing but happy tales, some of my black friends who went to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012 have stories of having to flee from locals when straying away off track.

On a recent trip to a bar in Marbella, I was racially abused by someone who called me a n****r and threatened to "glass me" because he didn't like the way I was dancing. This was no Spanish local – it was a white guy from Kent who was worried because his girlfriend seemed to like my moves.

Living in London, this sort of overt racism is something I'm not used to anymore and so I was taken aback. In London there would have been loads of other black people in the bar or at least white people who would be willing to stand with me against this guy and his table full of shaven-headed mates. In Spain, I felt isolated and at risk.

Oprah's experience is no doubt unpleasant but her wealth and fame probably shield her from this most of the time. Being followed around expensive shops by over-keen security guards is nothing new to most black people. I wouldn't be surprised to get that sort of treatment in Bond Street, let alone Switzerland.

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« Reply #8698 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:28 AM »

09/13/2013 11:44 AM

Throttled by Tourists: Death Prompts Venice to Ponder Limits

By Walter Mayr

The recent accidental death of a German tourist along the Grand Canal has fed-up Venetians asking whether tourism has finally gotten out of hand. But they fear that the city has already sold out, and that politicians can do nothing to hold back the crowds.

On the day criminal law professor Joachim Vogel was carried to his grave at a cemetery in the southern German city of Tübingen, his daughter's pink shoe was still lying on the ground next to the Grand Canal in Venice. It was precisely the spot where Vogel was crushed and fatally injured on Aug. 17 while trying to save his daughter after the gondola they were in had collided with a water bus. His 3-year-old daughter survived. Her shoe, now decorated with flowers, has been left behind as a memorial.

At the very moment when a procession of 16 gondoliers marches in front of the coffin in Tübingen, the only signs of mourning in Venice are the black ribbons tied to the bow irons of the city's gondolas.

Life has already returned to normal at the accident site, where Germans, Japanese and Arabs crowd along the seawall in the midday heat or take snapshots of each other in front of the Rialto Bridge. In a take-it-or-leave-it voice, a gondolier explains that the official rate, €80 ($106) for 40 minutes, doesn't apply to trips in idyllic smaller canals. "For that price, I can take you up and down the Grand Canal, again and again. Is that what you want?"

It isn't.

The Grand Canal is a chaotic place. Some 425 gondoliers, more than 200 water taxes and dozens of vaporetti, or motored water buses, are jockeying for space in Venice. And then there are the private boats, the commercial vessels for garbage and sewage disposal and, finally, the barges that deliver beer, wine and seafood to more than 1,000 restaurants and bars.

During peak hours, the image of gondolas rocking back and forth in the midst of large, diesel-powered water buses and several small boats with outboard motors resembles a laboratory experiment in which fellow but differently sized members of the same species are crowded together in a small space to see which of them will survive.

Nowadays the old section of Venice, with its population of 57,960, sees up to 80,000 tourists a day. Most local residents still attempt to retain a shred of dignity even when jammed into agonizingly tight spaces on waterbuses while surrounded by scantily clad foreigners. But, as local papers report, fights and vulgar behavior are becoming commonplace. A Facebook group of people threatening to refuse to pay for tickets on Venice's overburdened public transportation system attracted more than 5,000 members in a matter of days.

Nevertheless, the city of canals and lagoons can still be easily traversed, as actor George Clooney, a celebrity guest at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, demonstrated a few weeks ago. Much to the delight of the paparazzi, Clooney took the wheel of his water taxi while traveling from St. Mark's Square to the Hotel Cipriani. Before long, an angry Venetian had reported Clooney to the police for driving a water taxi without a license.

The Demise of a City

While other Venetians may be on edge these days, a gaunt woman is calmly eating a brioche for breakfast in the eastern section of Venice's old city, where the waterways gradually feed into the lagoon and offer striking views of the San Michele cemetery island. She plays an important role for Venice because she has shaped the city's image in many parts of the world with her roughly two dozen crime novels. A million copies of her books had already been sold by the end of the last millennium. Since then, her publisher has politely declined to cite any further publication figures.

"When I came to Venice in 1968, people here still went swimming in the canals," says Donna Leon. Born in the United States, Leon now lives and writes on the upper floor of a palazzo behind the church of San Canciano. Like many other long-time residents, she laments what she perceives as a city in a state of siege. There is also a symbolic aspect to the German professor's tragic death in a gondola, says the author, "because the gondola is an emblem of this city."

Leon's new book "Gondola" will be released in September, even before the publication of the 23rd installment of her series of crime novels featuring the fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti. The "Gondola" book is a literary appreciation of a deeply Venetian mode of transportation that was once a sometimes pompous badge of prosperity, as it was reserved for the upper classes of the former seafaring republic.

The gondola, says Leon, was the trademark of a global empire, like the Parthenon or the Colosseum. She explains that its demise goes hand in hand with Venice's decline, from one of the most important cities in the Western Hemisphere to what it is today, "a provincial city with fewer than 60,000 residents."

Two observations come to mind when walking with Leon through the narrow streets and alleys of Venice. First, the 70-year-old is tough and agile, swerving around aimlessly wandering tourists like slalom poles. Second, she manages to make her way through the crowds largely unrecognized by the locals, partly because she prevents her socially critical crime novels from being translated into Italian, thereby limiting her own celebrity in her host country. As a result, she can speak her mind relatively freely. At the moment, her biggest criticism is of cruise-ship tourism.

"Everyone who comes here crows 'Oh, beautiful Venice,' even as the fine particulate matter drifts over from the harbor," says Leon. She, on the other hand, has no interest in dying in beautiful Venice. "Those ships are causing damage, and I hate to say it, but someone here is trying to kill me."

Too Many Tourists and Big Ships

That someone might be the one sitting in the office of the port director at the other end of the city. He is an elegant, worldly man in his seventies, dressed in a light summer suit. Paolo Costa has been an economics professor, the mayor of Venice, a cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Romano Prodi and a member of the European Parliament.

But it wasn't until he became president of the Venice Port Authority that he reached the apex of his power, say his critics, noting that he is now the city's éminence grise. He controls what happens in the lagoon. Under Costa's management, Venice has become the top Mediterranean port for cruise-ship tourism. This translates into 1.7 million visitors a year, €280 million in revenues and upwards of 5,000 jobs more or less directly related to the tourism industry.

Critics contend that, in the long run, the environmental damage caused by ships spewing diesel soot, as well as fine particulate matter, electronic smog and benzopyrene, will outweigh any economic benefits. The worst offenders are the "floating monsters" whose silhouettes dwarf bell towers and palazzi, making them look like so many toy blocks and erasing the image of Venice as a city on a human scale.

Costa is familiar with such criticism. The Celebrity Equinox has just glided past his office window, headed for St. Mark's Square. The 315-meter (1,033-foot) vessel, capable of carrying 4,096 passengers and crewmembers, is like a floating apartment building with Lilliputian balconies -- certainly not a pretty sight. But, says Costa, the cruise ships only represent a small share of Venice's problems. He explains that less than a quarter of the tourists boarded on the cruise ships ever make it to the old city.

The real problem, says the port director, is the total number of visitors. In a 1988 study, none other than Costa himself concluded that the ideal number of annual visitors was 7.5 million. Today, about 30 million people visit the city each year.

"Tourism has displaced other economic sectors: banks, insurance companies, everything. It's eroding Venice, and everyone knows it, but no one has any answer to the problem," says Costa, looking decidedly innocent, as if he had had nothing to do with this development. First of all, he says, the exodus from the old city, prompted by an economic monoculture and real estate speculation, has to stop, because "a city without a civil society cannot be sustained."

But, fortunately, that civil society still exists. It includes both native Venetians and non-Venetians with a passion for the city, such as the valiant members of a resistance group called "No Grandi Navi" (No Big Ships), who periodically take to the streets with small signs depicting a pin-sized image of the bell tower of St Mark's Basilica about to be swallowed by the enormous mouth of a cruise ship.

Another activist is Adriano Celentano, Italy's best-selling male singer with 150 million albums sold. In early August, he publicly accused Costa and politicians aligned with him of committing a "crime against humanity" with the "beasts" in the lagoon, in the middle of Venice, in the "most beautiful city in the world."

Celentano may be alone with his choice of words, but his concerns resonate with many others. When the Carnival Sunshine, a ship weighing more than 100,000 tons, came within an estimated 20 meters of the old city's waterfront, even Venice's city council member for environmental affairs was beside himself. Some even started talking about the risk of a "second Giglio," a reference to the Costa Concordia, which capsized off the island of Giglio in 2012, killing over 30 people.

Can a Bottleneck Be Created?
The tragic case of the Costa Concordia has heightened concerns over the risks associated with large ships "when they sail in close proximity to World Cultural Heritage sites, especially in the Venice lagoon and in the San Marco Basin." This statement was made in a letter to the Italian government, signed by no less a figure than Francesco Bandarin, the highest-ranking UNESCO official for cultural issues and a native Venetian.

Italy has more World Cultural Heritage sites than any other country, and Venice is among the most precious items in the collection. How do the city and the country approach this heritage?

The question is rarely asked in the UNESCO office in Venice, where officials merely express the quiet hope that Venice officials will at least implement a recently unveiled plan to preserve the cultural heritage site.

But city council members have different concerns at the moment. The enterprising mayor faces questions about why some of the funding for his campaign came from a major consortium. The city council member for trade has come under fire after guests were charged more than €100 for four espressos and three glasses of liquor in her café on St. Mark's Square. And the city council member for culture caused a stir when she reacted to critical reports following the gondola accident by promptly using her Facebook page to cite cases of German "genocide" since the Middle Ages and, referring to possible future victims, concluded: "We Italians are next."

Less humorous but more serious is the fact that, despite €1.5 billion in annual tourism revenues, the city can't manage to shed its crushing debt burden of about €400 million. On the contrary, magnificent palazzi are still being sold or leased, and not just to Benetton, Prada and Bulgari, but also to enterprising Chinese. A shopping center, partly financed by Benetton and Pirelli, is also currently being built in a historic warehouse. But tourists are unconcerned about such details.

In the western part of the city, where ship, bus and train travelers cross paths, and where the maw that swallows and spits out up to 100,000 visitors to Venice every day opens, the first thing one has to do is make it across the Calvary packed with tourists and their trolley cases -- a bridge designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava.

Everything from hand luggage to large suitcases has to be dragged up one side and down the other side of the bridge. There is no ramp, although there are bearded Romanians who wait at the bottom of the bridge, ready to carry the tourists' luggage for one or two euros.

"There really ought to be a barrier out there, at Piazzale Roma, and they should charge an entrance fee, the way it was in the past," says Paolo Zanetti. "Or do we want to have 40 million visitors a year here soon? And even more vaporetti? I understand that everyone should be allowed to see Venice, but in the future they should have to book in advance."

A Victim of Neglect and Indifference

Zanetti, a 60-year-old Venetian native, is a patriot in the best sense of the word. While politicians and romantics see the city's problems from their lofty perches or from a great distance, he has a different perspective: His view of Venice is from below, from where the city began, when its foundations were built by driving oak and elm pylons into the mud of the lagoon.

Zanetti and his business partner, Eros Turchetto, own a company that specializes in mitigating and repairing the destruction inflicted by the relentlessly growing ship and boat traffic. The camera images taken by divers working on the restoration illustrate a journey through time into historic Venice. They depict the corroded limestone foundations of old palaces and rotted oak pylons that had previously lasted for centuries.

"Water taxis, hotel taxis, disposal services, they all suck up the mud from the bottom and suck out the cement from the joints of brick foundations," says Zanetti. "That's the thing that many here choose to ignore. The giant cruise ships aren't the real threat to Venice's future, but rather the motorboats that travel recklessly and at high speeds, especially through the narrower canals."

Then Zanetti jumps up, pushes his hunting dog onto a waiting boat with an outboard motor and sets off for the Grand Canal. He is familiar with every building and each new crack. He scrutinizes his city like a doctor examining an X-ray. If the German professor's death finally prompts people to take a serious look at the problem and "we local residents are soon banned from the Grand Canal with our boats, I'll be gone," says Zanetti. "Then this will become a Venice without Venetians, a Disneyland."

It hasn't come to that yet. Venetians know that new regulations alone won't make the waterways safer. The problem lies in the lack of respect for existing rules. For instance, the jetty where the Vogel family's tragedy unfolded is, ironically, under the jurisdiction of the city council member for water affairs, and it was built without a permit. And, what makes things even worse, the police say that the gondolier involved in the collision had traces of cocaine and hashish in his blood.

"Obliviousness" is mostly to blame for Venice's demise, says archeologist Salvatore Settis, who believes that people are slowly losing their appreciation for the precious attributes of a city on a human scale.

A human scale? Those words haven't been heard in Venice for a long time. But now, in early September, a tiny, pink girl's shoe serves as a sad reminder in the midst of the hustle and bustle under the Rialto Bridge.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #8699 on: Sep 13, 2013, 07:37 AM »

09/12/2013 01:33 PM

Under-18 Election: Merkel Scores Big Among German Youth

A recent poll suggests German youngsters are surprisingly conservative, with more than a third giving their vote to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. But the overall majority would still belong to the center-left, if the youth were old enough to vote.

People usually say there's a left-wing bias among young people. But a recent survey conducted by polling company Infratest Dimap shows a plurality of German youths would give their vote to the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

At 36 percent, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are well ahead of their main center-left rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD). They took only 24 percent of the country's youth vote, followed by the Green Party with 18 percent. The survey targeted Germans between 14 and 17 years old; the legal voting age is 18.

The Internet activist Pirate Party is also popular among young people, with nine percent of respondents favoring them over the mainstream players. The far-left Left Party and the business-friendly Free Democrats garnered 4 and 3 percent, respectively -- both shy of the 5-percent hurdle needed to enter parliament.

According to the study, the two most important issues young people based their decisions on were education (11 percent) and environmental protection (9 percent). Almost two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) indicated they were in favor of young Germans being able to participate to a greater degree in national politics.

Only 23 percent of those taking part in the survey said they had a "strong interest" in politics. Fifty-eight percent indicated that they were "somewhat" interested, and 19 percent said that they had no interest whatsoever.

Under-18 Election

The survey was conducted on behalf of U18 -- a youth democracy project conducting a nationwide mock election on Friday. Organizers plan to set up 1,500 polling stations in youth centers, gymnasiums and schools across the country where children and youngsters can cast their own ballots. The project has also put on a number of preliminary events, including face-to-face meetings with politicians.

The ballots in the mock election feature the same candidate names as those given to adult voters. However the organizers will tally only the "second votes" given to political parties. German electoral law uses the nationwide tally of second votes to determine the distribution of seats in parliament.

The U18 project is meant to stimulate interest in politics among German youth, and is financed primarily by the government and the Federal Agency for Civic Education. The last mock election in 2009 election saw the SPD win 20.4 percent, followed closely by the Greens and the CDU with 19.9 percent and 19.3 percent, respectively. The Left Party reached 10.4 percent, while the Pirates became the fifth-strongest party at 8.7 percent. The Free Democrats fell behind, winning only 7.6 percent. The Animal Welfare Party was the unexpected success story of 2009, taking 5.2 percent of the youth vote.


German Election: Bavarian Candidate Trawls for Sex Slaves

It seems New York mayoral candidates don't have a monopoly on pervy pre-election flame-outs, as one Bavarian politician is proving this week. Ahead of state elections this Sunday, a candidate for Bavaria's state parliament has found himself splashed across tabloids on Thursday for alledly seeking sex slaves online and posting a picture of himself grinning next to a torture device, ostensibly in his own private Bavarian sex dungeon.

Hans Müller, a 55-year-old member of the socially liberal, pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), is running for state parliament in the highly conservative Kitzingen district under the motto "Bavaria's driving force." On the public (!) online sex portal (Sklavenzentrale is German for "slave central"), Müller went by the name of "Master HM" and described himself as "dominant" and "sadistic."

A photo on his profile page, which has since been taken down, showed Müller in a businesslike button-up white shirt and black pants smiling and leaning on a St. Andrew's Cross, an X-shaped torture device used commonly in S&M dungeons. More than 4,000 people had already clicked on his profile page by the time mass-circulation Bild reported the story on Thursday morning.

On his profile, Müller a.k.a. Master HM said he was looking for female slaves, as well as straight and bisexual couples for "exchange of ideas, real S&M, party visits and training." The liberal -- one might say extremely liberal -- politician also apparently entered his fetishes. He listed 85 of them in all, including whipping, cane beatings, group sex and nipple play.

Politician Reacts with Dismay

When Bild confronted the politician about the profile, Müller reacted with dismay and said he would immediately delete his profile. "That was not intended for the public," he told the tabloid on Thursday. "For me, that was always an internal community only open to like-minded people." The site has close to 200,000 members.

Müller's colleagues in the Bavarian FDP didn't seem overwhelmingly concerned about the revelation, with one politician telling Bild the matter is private, though adding that making the profile public was "definitely a mistake."

It remains to be seen whether voters will be willing to cast their ballots in Müller's favor on the spiked heels of such a tawdry outing. It's not, apparently, a case of public infidelity: Müller's wife joins him in his extracurricular exploits, appearing on as "Lady Servasandy" in plunging, skin-tight black vinyl. And Müller did, after all, sell himself as a liberal.

Then again, there's a good chance that Müller will take a beating at the polls. The good news? He might just like it.


09/12/2013 10:44 AM

Drugs in Berlin: Greens Push Weed Legalization in Park

By Hendrik Ternieden and Anna-Lena Roth

Berlin's Görlitzer Park is crawling with drug dealers and all efforts to solve the problem have failed. Now, one local politician is pushing a radical idea: opening city-run shops that sell cannibis.

It takes less than 20 steps for the first offer. "Dope?" asks a young man just inside the entrance of Görlitzer Park. Ten meters further, the next dealer stands waiting for customers: "Need anything?"

It's the weekend at "Görli," as people here call the park in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. It's just 10:30 am, but the dealers have already arrived. But they're always there, and on some days there are up to a hundred of them, say police. Large-scale raids have been ineffective -- most of the sellers or their successors come right back.

Primarily, they are selling marijuana, but harder drugs are also available. And visitors can no longer walk through the park without being approached. Sometimes it's more intrusive, sometimes less. But either way, it can't be ignored -- to the point that a debate over the park's future has thrust itself into the local election campaign.

Everyone agrees that things cannot continue the way they are right now -- the disagreement is about what should happen next. The Berlin chapter of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) thinks the police should solve the problem. The Green Party, meanwhile, is planning a revolution: It wants to open "coffee shops" (or "cannabis cafes") in the park and legally sell marijuana as a way of eliminating the drug dealers' business model.

Legal 'Selling Points'

Reforming drug policy is a fundamental part of the Greens' political DNA. The amount of grass that a person can legally possess has ocassionally been raised in Berlin and other German states, but now Monika Herrmann, a Green Party member who is mayor of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, is trying to introduce the legal sale of cannabis.

"'Coffee shops,' I actually find that term to be misleading," she says. "People won't have a latte in one hand and a joint in the other." She prefers talking about "selling points." Herrmann wants to deploy medically trained workers, establish a minimum age for buyers and, if necessary, hire security guards. She notes that all other measures have thus far been unsuccessful. "Getting cannabis is easier now than ever. I want to control its sale."

The venture is currently being discussed in committees of the district parliament. In 2014, an application will be submitted for an exception with the Federal Institute for Drugs. Until then, Hoffmann hopes, other communities could also be convinced of the plan.

'The Situation Has Deteriorated'

In the Kreuzberg park small children play on the grass and mothers push their babies around in strollers, while a few meters away drug dealers peddle their wares. No, she doesn't feel totally comfortable, says one woman with a stroller. She, too, has been approached by dealers. She says she used to lived in Kreuzberg and was surprised when she came back a few years ago. "The situation has deteriorated in the park," she says.

A couple on a walk say they feel "somehow out of place." One local resident carrying her dog says she has grown used to the situation. The dealers don't bother her; the garbage is worse, she says. "As long as there is no fighting," she says.

But sometimes that happens too. In August, police had to break up a mass brawl, and last year a young man had his ear cut off when an argument got out of hand. From the beginning of this year through the end of July, there were 69 police operations in Görlitzer Park, nearly as many as during the whole of 2012.

"From the perspective of the police, it is difficult to take action against the drug trade in the park," says spokesman Guido Busch. He says that the size and layout of the park make it too easy for people to hide or get away. "We, as police, cannot change the situation on our own."

Closed After Dark?

Hermann's opponent in Kreuzberg is District Councilor Timur Husein, a member of the CDU. He wants to fence off the park and close it to the public at night. Throughout the day there would be a consistent police presence. Were the Greens to carry out their proposal, he argues, the criminal element in the park will only become more dominant. "Drug tourists from all over the world" would come and residents would be harassed even more.

Police spokesman Busch is also skeptical about the coffee shop idea. Too many questions remain open, he says. What happens if the dealers started selling harder drugs instead of marijuana? Or if they simply move to the next park?

Monika Herrmann has an answer for everything. The best solution would be to have selling points around Berlin. To solve problems that would arise, she claims, you would need other accompanying measures: social work and, in some cases, the hard hand of the police. And state-grown cannabis, she says, would have a higher quality than its illegal counterpart.

Government authorities' reactions to the Kreuzberg plan have thus far been restrained, but Herrmann still wants to try: "You can't give up before having made the attempt." She says she doesn't use marijuana herself.

But if the selling points do become a reality, she says, one thing that can't be predicted in advance is how the people who make a lot of money from cannabis sales will react.


Chancellor Candidate Gives Middle Finger

As Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper writes on its website on Thursday, if you did this on the street and someone decided to rat you out to the police, you could get a €600 ($800) to €4,000 fine for giving someone the bird. So why is Peer Steinbrück, the opposition Social Democratic Party's (SPD) candidate for chancellor, and the only person one could seriously describe as a challenger to Angela Merkel, seen on the front page of the paper's weekly magazine showing his middle finger?

The magazine has a weekly interview feature called, "Don't Say Anything Now," which features various people providing gestures instead of answers to the questions asked. The magazine has featured Carla Bruni and many other celebrities and politicians in the wordless interviews. "Some come very prepared, others less so," Süddeutsche writes. Steinbrück was "very spontaneous."

For Steinbrück's spokesman Rolf Kleine, it was apparently "a little too spontaneous," according to the paper.

So what question prompted the candidate to give what German's call the "stink finger"? To be fair, the question was a bit obnoxious, though if this had been in the middle of a bar instead of a campaign in which the man in question is trying to become a major global leader, it might not raise any eyebrows. It's a bit base, but also funny -- defiantly so. Here it goes: "Gaffe Peer, Problem Peer, Peerlusconi -- you don't have to worry about being given any nice nicknames, do you?" The question was a reference to gaffes made by the candidate early on in the campaign.

'You Can't Do That as a Chancellor Candidate'

Editors at the magazine told their colleagues at the newspaper that PR minder Kleine had tried to prevent publication of the photo. In the end, Steinbrück himself allowed them to go to the printer. "No, they're ok," he reportedly said.

The image could prove controversial for a candidate who has largely failed to gain traction, at least until his strong showing earlier this month in the only television debate to take place during the entire election with Merkel. Will it now haunt him?

Germany's economics minister, Philipp Rösler of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party has already responded: "That's unacceptable. You can't do that as a chancellor candidate."

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