Greece set to emerge from recession next year, says draft 2014 budget
First signs of end to crippling debt crisis, says finance minister of Greek economy that has shrunk by a quarter since 2007
The Guardian, Monday 7 October 2013 20.38 BST
Greece will emerge from six years of recession next year, a draft budget forecast on Monday, signalling the country is past the worst of a crippling debt crisis that nearly broke Europe's single currency.
Twice bailed-out Athens also confirmed it would post a budget surplus before interest payments this year for the first time in over a decade, and its battered economy won a vote of confidence from billionaire US investor John Paulson.
The positive outlook marks a sharp reversal in fortunes for a nation that had become Europe's problem child, lurching from one crisis to the next as it tottered close to bankruptcy and exasperated its international partners with broken promises.
Analysts cautioned that despite the signs of economic stabilisation Greece remained hooked on aid and further debt relief was inevitable to bring down a level of indebtedness set to top 175% of gross domestic product this year.
The Greek economy, which has shrunk by about a quarter since its peak in 2007 and thrown more than one in four out of work, will grow by a modest 0.6% next year thanks to a rebound in investment and exports including tourism, the budget predicted.
In a further boost, Athens forecast a primary budget surplus of 1.6% of national output next year after posting a small surplus of €340m this year. Attaining a primary surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – makes Athens eligible for further debt relief from its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.
"In the last three years Greece found itself in a painful recession with an unprecedented level of unemployment," Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said as he unveiled the 2014 budget. "Since this year, the sacrifices have begun to yield fruit, giving the first signs of an exit from the crisis."
Athens will ask its creditors to honour their commitment to provide debt relief, and hopes it can return to the bond markets in the second half of next year, Staikouras said.
Greece is hoping for an extension of maturities and lower interest rates on bailout loans after its partners ruled out an outright write-off of debt. It also expects to receive a third bailout of about 10 billion euros to get through next year.
Greece retries journalist who leaked 'Lagarde list' of suspected tax evaders
Kostas Vaxevanis published details of of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with cash deposits in Switzerland
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 8 October 2013
The journalist who caused uproar in Greece by publishing the so-called 'Lagarde list' of suspected tax evaders with bank accounts in Switzerland, is on trial in Athens on charges of infringing privacy laws.
Almost a year after he was acquitted of the crime, Kostas Vaxevanis is in the dock again on Tuesday after a public prosecutor took the unusual step of demanding he be retried for revealing the identities of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with cash deposits in Geneva.
"What is at stake is the ability of a journalist to exercise his duty as a public watchdog in a case of major public interest," his lawyer, Harris Ikonomopoulos said.
A hotly guarded secret until it was printed by Vaxevanis in his investigative magazine Hot Doc last October, the list details the holdings of 2,059 Greeks at the Geneva branch of HSBC.
Christine Lagarde, the then French finance minister , handed the list to Greek authorities in October 2010 with the express purpose of pursuing tax offenders.
Lagarde, now the IMF's managing director, hoped it would shine a light on tax evasion, wideley seen as the root of the debt-stricken country's financial woes.
But instead of putting it to such use, her Greek counterpart George Papaconstantinou has been accused of deliberately failing to act on it. This year, the Greek parliament voted to send the former finance minister to court after MPs found there was enough evidence to suggest he had tampered with the dossier to remove the names of his relatives included in it.
"Other European countries that received similar lists from France investigated the persons and entities on them and collected a significant amount in taxes that had been evaded," Ikonomopoulos said.
"Vaxevanis published the Lagarde list after discovering that Papaconstantinou had received it and done nothing to investigate its content."
The British educated economist has vehemently denied that he erased the names of two of his cousins and their spouses. Instead, he has argued that he has been turned into a scapegoat by an establishment now under intense pressure to clean up the country's scandal-plagued political scene.
Papaconstantinou is much loathed for being the architect of the punitive austerity measures outlined in Greece's first EU-IMF sponsored rescue programme.
But the case has also highlighted press censorship.
The demand that the journalist be retried after the public prosecutor's office deemed his initial acquittal to be flawed triggered international condemnation and was met with broad disbelief in Greece.
"It is ridiculous that I am being put on trial for publishing the list when parliament has decided to send the minister who hid it to court," Vaxevanis told the Guardian on the eve of his hearing. "It is tragic that this should be happening when Greek authorities, from the courts to the police, have found it impossible to clamp down on tax avoidance and the extreme right Golden Dawn party, preferring to target journalists who reveal the truth instead."
National Front's first-round win in French local election threatens left
Socialist Party says resounding win is a 'very serious warning' and urges voters to block far-right candidate in second round
Reuters in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013 18.12 BST
France's far-right National Front knocked out left-wing rivals and won twice as many votes as the centre-right UMP party in the first round of a local election in southern France, a sign of growing popularity for the anti-immigrant group.
National Front candidate Laurent Lopez took 40.4 per cent of the vote in the canton of Brignoles, near Toulon, late on Sunday versus 20.7 per cent for the UMP candidate and 14.6 per cent for the communist. A canton is a constituency for a department council.
The National Front's score shows its current popularity can translate into strong ballot scores and amounts to a challenge to President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party for mayoral posts in municipal and European elections next year.
"This result is a very serious warning for the left, showing that the National Front is very strong and that we have no right to be divided," Harlem Desir, head of the Socialist Party, told France Info radio.
"Obviously, I am urging voters to block the National Front in the second round, as I have always done, without any hesitation," he added in an implicit call for voters to back the UMP candidate.
The Socialist Party did not field a candidate in the quiet commune, 45 minutes inland from Marseille, but it had supported the communist candidate. The election's second round is on 13 October.
Nicolas Sarkozy corruption charges dropped
French court clears way for former president to run again in 2017, dropping charges relating to Liliane Bettencourt donation
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013 16.45 BST
A French court has dropped charges that allegedNicolas Sarkozytook advantage of the mental fragility of France's richest woman to obtain illegal funding for his 2007 election campaign, potentially paving the way for a political return.
Sarkozy, who was under investigation for allegedly accepting cash from the L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, 90, was told there was no case to answer and he would not be sent for trial.
The unexpected decision removed a major obstacle for the rightwing politician – who was defeated after one term in office by Socialist François Hollande in May 2012 – to stand again for president in 2017.
Judges had been conducting a criminal investigation into Sarkozy's links with Bettencourt and whether he abused her weakness by asking for and accepting money for his successful 2007 election campaign, when she was allegedly too frail to know what she was doing.
Sarkozy, who was "mis en examen", the French equivalent of being charged, in March this year, maintained the accusations were unfounded, while supporters said the allegations were unfair and politically motivated. At the time, the president's wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, added: "It's unimaginable that [Sarkozy] could abuse the weakness of a lady who is the age of his mother."
The decision to drop the charges came only two weeks after a court ruled that an investigation could proceed. However, the public prosecutor in Bordeaux, where the inquiry was being held, said the case against Sarkozy stood no chance of success and had threatened to appeal against any decision to send the former president to trial, raising further delays to the investigation against other accused.
Charges were maintained against former minister Eric Woerth, who was Sarkozy's treasurer in the 2007 campaign; Bettencourt's former companion, the society photographer François-Marie Banier; her lawyer Pascal Wilhelm; her financial advisor Patrice de Maistre, and six others. Their case is expected to go to court next year.
In a separate case, Bettencourt's former butler and five journalists are to face trial for breaching French privacy laws for making and publishing extracts of conversations secretly recorded at her luxury home. The tapes played a central role in the longrunning dispute between the matriarch and her only child, Françoise Meyers-Bettencourt, who accused members of her mother's entourage and staff of taking advantage of her weakening mental state.
Sarkozy remains dogged by several other legal cases, including a scandal over millions of public funds money paid in compensation to his friend Bernard Tapie, a controversial businessman; and the so-called Karachi affair, a convoluted corruption case linked to arms sales and a bombing in Pakistan in 2002 that killed 11 French nationals.
In the runup to the May 2012 election campaign, Sarkozy said if he lost, France would "never hear of me again". He has remained mostly out of sight since his defeat, but recently, while stopping short of any explicit pledge of a comeback, he and his entourage have dropped heavy hints that he may return to the frontline of French politics to "save" the country.
Sarkozy remains the mainstream right's most popular candidate to challenge Hollande in 2017. Neither his former prime minister François Fillon nor Jean-François Copé, president of his UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) party, have succeeded in rallying support.
An opinion poll by Ifop in September found 62% of rightwing voters wanted him to stand in 2017 – well ahead of any rivals in the party. A national drive among UMP supporters to avert a financial crisis and repay the €11m (£9.3m) overspend on Sarkozy's unsuccessful 2012 campaign raised the money in just two months.
"I want each of you to know how grateful I am for this mobilisation, which surprised me as much as it moved me … Thank you all," Sarkozy wrote on his Twitter account.
During a recent visit to the Haute-Savoie region, Sarkozy dined with UMP supporters, and seemed unconcerned with wrangling within the UMP party. "I can't be bothered with small political news," he told them. "But France, that's something else."
Paris to host 2018 Gay Games
by Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 7, 2013 22:10 EDT
Paris won the right to host the 2018 Gay Games on Monday erasing memories of their defeat to German city Cologne for the 2010 edition.
Paris saw off rivals London and the Irish city of Limerick for the honour of hosting what started out in 1982 as the Gay Olympics.
They had to change the name to the Gay Games a few weeks before the inaugural event in 1982 after legal objections by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) over name rights.
The 2014 edition — which is a sporting and cultural event — is being hosted by Cleveland and Akron in the United States.
Hungary drops plan to name street after antisemitic author Cécile Tormay
Proposal to honour Cécile Tormay viewed as attempt to redefine the country's culture and promote a nationalistic agenda
Dan Nolan in Budapest
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013 17.59 BST
There is an Elvis Presley Park and a John Paul II Square. There are streets named after footballers and actors, as well as others named after more unsavoury characters from the past.
But Hungary's newfound zeal for renaming its public spaces has run into trouble after a plan to honour an antisemitic writer with her own street prompted criticism of the government's name game.
Budapest council has now cancelled a resolution to name a street after Cécile Tormay, an interwar writer and Mussolini fan twice nominated for the Nobel prize for literature.
She already has a statue in the heart of Pest, the eastern half of Budapest, but plans to give her a street as well stirred up animosity triggered by the dominant centre-right government's perceived attempts to redefine Hungarian culture.
"These are part of very sweaty attempts to create a new canon of Hungarian culture," said film director András B Vágvölgyi. "They are desperately trying to find something that is not there, ie decent rightwing writers and cultural figures.
"It's different in France, for example, where Louis-Ferdinand Céline was a Nazi collaborator but wrote Journey to the End of the Night and was a fine writer."
The renaming of public areas has historically accompanied regime change in Hungary and the governing Fidesz party proclaimed a "polling booth revolution" after its achieved a landslide election victory in 2010. Government opponents say the rechristenings are part of a larger cultural overhaul spearheaded by prime minister Viktor Orban, who is in London this week meeting David Cameron, and his culture chief, György Fekete. The accusation is that they are pushing an anti-pluralistic, non-critical and nationalistic agenda.
Among the contentious figures now on the map are writers and alleged war criminals Albert Wass and József Nyírö, alongside the less divisive, such as 1950s footballer Nándor Hidegkuti and actor Imre Sinkovits. Names forced to make way have included Köztársaság tér (Republic Square), Moszkva tér (Moscow Square), Roosevelt tér and Ságvári Endre utca, a street named after a communist resistance leader who was gunned down by a military policeman during the Arrow Cross rule towards the end of the second world war.
Ferenc Kumin, international communications under-secretary for Fidesz, denies any conscious connection between the word Republic being dropped from the country's official name and Köztársaság tér being rechristened after John Paul II.
Bálint Ablonczy, a journalist at the pro-government Heti Válasz, said Tormay was popular in her day, but concedes: "Any reasonable literary historian would at best consider her a second-rate author." Kumin notes that "Tormay was nominated for the Nobel prize in 1936, while Nyírö and Wass received Baumgarten awards for their work".
On the deletion choices, Ablonczy said: "It is a completely legitimate expectation that there shall be no street names advocating the glory of a failed totalitarian regime in Hungary 25 years later." Councils all over the country agree, with scores of Lenin, Karl Marx and Red Star streets being renamed after local figures.
However, Vágvölgyi said it was not Hungary's socialist past but its liberal heritage that was being unfairly sidelined. "Fidesz's vision of culture is: 'do something different from the leftwing', and because socialism had a similar level of bad taste, its major foe is liberalism, the bourgeois radical writers of the 20s and 30s, the filmmakers. With writers like Tormay and Nyírö there is a competence problem: they aren't very good writers, a moral problem: they were Nazis and an aesthetic problem: it's bad taste."
The Budapest mayor, István Tarlós, has suspended the naming of public areas until after next year's local elections.
And how did an unnamed green Buda corner come to be known as Elvis Presley Park? Vágvölgyi said: "Elvis dedicated Peace in the Valley to the 200,000 Hungarian revolution refugees then in Austria on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957 and we bought the rights to it to use in my film Kolorádó Kid. So when Tarlós (who stated he has never owned a Presley record) suggested the idea and mentioned the song the following year, my friends blamed it on me."
Venice in reflective mood over gondola safety changes
Death of German tourist prompts measures including reflective patches, registration plates and GPS tracking for gondolas
Tom Kington in Rome
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013 15.09 BST
They have cruised the canals for centuries, elegantly painted in black. But a fatal crash means Venice's gondolas now face a makeover, complete with reflective patches, registration plates and GPS tracking.
The initiative is part of the city's response to the death in August of a German tourist, who was fatally injured when the gondola he and his family were in was crushed against a dock on the Grand Canal by a reversing water bus.
The accident highlighted the constant traffic jams on the Grand Canal as gondolas, water taxis and water buses fight for space, with a study showing that on busy days 1,600 vessels pass under the Rialto bridge every 10 hours.
Scrambling for solutions, the city's mayor has come up with 26 suggestions for reducing congestion and collisions, including restricting types of vessels to certain times of day and drug testing for boatmen and women.
Now, following weeks of talks, the new rules for gondolas will start next month, said the transport assessor, Ugo Bergamo. Identification numbers will help CCTV operators spot gondoliers breaking traffic regulations, while the GPS trackers will indicate if they are where they should be.
"The gondolas will also have reflective patches," said Bergamo, "but nothing big, just like the ones you would put on the wheels of a bike."
However small they are, the patches mark a break with a strict tradition of painting gondolas all black, which dates from 1562. Fed up with the competition between nobles to paint their fleets of gondolas with ever more garish colours – as well as adding gilded prows, carvings and flashy cushions – the city's then doge said the boats had to be all black – a rule that has lasted until now.
One Venice gondola builder said he agreed with the new plan.
Cristian Diordit has followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who built gondolas in the city, and he is determined to keep alive a trade that has existed for 1,000 years and involves the careful wetting of wooden ribs before they are held over low flame to produce the curved hulls.
But Diordit said he was happy to stick on a few reflective patches. "We have to move with the times," he said. "There is just too much traffic now. I would go further and test some of the older gondolas on the canals now, which may have been weakened by the wakes of motorboats."
British oil company endangering Africa’s most biodiverse area: WWF
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 7, 2013 13:10 EDT
Environmental campaigners WWF filed a complaint on Monday against a British oil company accused of intimidating the local population and endangering wildlife in the oldest nature reserve in Africa.
The wildlife charity claims that Soco International’s oil exploration activities in and around Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo put “people, animals and habitats at risk” and violate international guidelines issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in a complaint to that organisation.
“The only way for Soco to come into compliance with the OECD guidelines is for the company to end all exploration in Virunga for good,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of conservation at WWF International.
“We urge the company to stop its activities immediately,” he said.
Organisations can refer to OECD guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour as a way of piling pressure on companies or even governments.
Soco dismissed the claims as “baseless” on its website, adding it had not yet begun any operational activity and would not do so until impact studies had been completed.
Virunga is one of the world’s oldest UN World Heritage sites and is the most environmentally diverse area on the African continent, home to thousands of rhinos and 200 endangered mountain gorillas.
Soco’s own assessment of its exploration of the park warns of potential pollution and damage to the fragile animal habitats in Virunga.
The WWF alleges that Soco has used state security to intimidate opponents to its business and says the organisation failed to disclose the true impact of development during consultations with local villagers.
Soco’s contract with the Congolese government effectively exempts it from further regulation, the WWF says, calling on the company to also consider the health and livelihoods of 50,000 local residents.
The UK is a founding member of the OECD and the organisation’s guidelines have previously been used to put political pressure on the British government.
Anthony Field, a campaigner at WWF-UK, told AFP: “OECD guidelines are the most well-respected standards of good practice for businesses, and are internationally recognised by 45 countries including the UK.”
OECD complaints could be “incredibly effective”, Field said, giving the example of a 2009 case when mining firm Vedanta Resources was condemned by London for failing to respect the rights of an indigenous group when planning a bauxite mine in the Indian state of Orissa.
Soco said its first environmental impact studies were conducted in “close collaboration” with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, which manages the park.
Audio files of Auschwitz survivors go online
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 7, 2013 13:11 EDT
The voices of Holocaust survivors and Nazi death camp guards can be heard in an online audio archive launched Monday of testimony from Germany’s first Auschwitz trial half a century ago.
The Fritz Bauer Institute put online hundreds of hours of recordings of German-language testimony about the horrors of Auschwitz, where more than one million people were murdered during World War II, most of them Jews.
The institute, which is dedicated to studying the Holocaust, a decade ago published written transcripts of 430 hours of testimony and audio recordings of 100 hours, but it has now made the material available online at www.auschwitz-prozess.de
The witness testimony from the 1963-65 Frankfurt trial of 20 death camp guards, which was originally kept in the city archives, includes recordings of survivors recalling the horrors of Auschwitz as well as defendants denying culpability.
One of the witnesses, inmate and medical doctor Otto Wolken, in the trial recalled the horror of those who immediately upon arrival at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland were sent to the gas chambers, among them many young mothers and children.
“Those who at first seemed to be the lucky ones were placed in the labour camp, but for them it also ended with death — but only after hideous, terrible agony, fear and torture,” Wolken, aged 60 during the trial, told the court.
“It’s hard to say who pulled the better lot. Because even the few who eventually survived, they too are scarred for life. Each of them for the rest of their lives carries with them what they mentally and physically endured there.”
Mostly European Jews but also Roma, homosexuals and other persecuted groups perished at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland from 1940 until it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945.
Romania: ‘Referendum was rigged’
8 October 2013
On October 7, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) filed charges against Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Liviu Dragnea, of the Social Democratic Party, as well as 74 other people, who are accused of rigging the July 29, 2012 referendum on the impeachment of conservative President Traian Băsescu.
According to Evenimentul Zilei, Dragnea, who has refused to resign, is alleged to have “made use of his authority and influence to design a nationwide system for electoral fraud in a bid to ensure the 60 per cent turnout required for the vote to be valid.”
On the same day, adds the daily, the mMnister for the economy, liberal Varujan Vosganian, resigned. The DNA suspects him of having colluded with a private company, which obtained gas from the state-owned company Romgaz at a favourable price between 2008 and 2010.
Malala Yousafzai: 'It's hard to kill. Maybe that's why his hand was shaking'
The Pakistani schoolgirl became a global inspiration after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. In an exclusive interview, she talks about the man who tried to kill her, life in Britain and why she won't give up campaigning
The Guardian, Monday 7 October 2013 19.00 BST
Malala Yousafzai says she's lost herself. "In Swat [district], I studied in the same school for 10 years and there I was just considered to be Malala. Here I'm famous, here people think of me as the girl who was shot by the Taliban. The real Malala is gone somewhere, and I can't find her."
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book
We are sitting in a boardroom on the seventh floor of the new Birmingham library, the glass walls allowing us a view of a city draped in mist, a sharp contrast to the "paradise" of Swat, with its tall mountains and clear rivers which Malala recalls wistfully. It should be desperately sad but the world's most famous 16-year-old makes it difficult for you to feel sorry for her. In part, it is because she is so poised, in a way that suggests an enviable self-assurance rather than an overconstructed persona. But more than that, it is to do with how much of her conversation is punctuated by laughter.
The laughter takes many forms: self-deprecating when I ask her why she thinks the Taliban feel threatened by her; delighted when she talks of Skyping her best friend, Muniba, to get the latest gossip from her old school; wry when she recalls a Taliban commander's advice that she return to Pakistan and enter a madrassa; giggly when she talks about her favourite cricketers ("Shahid Afridi, of course, and I also like Shane Watson"). And it's at its most full-throated when she is teasing her father, who is present for part of our interview. It happens during a conversation about her mother: "She loves my father," Malala says. Then, lowering her voice, she adds: "They had a love marriage." Her father, involved in making tea for Malala and me, looks up. "Hmmm? Are you sure?" he says, mock-stern. "Learn from your parents!" Malala says to me, and bursts into laughter.
Learning from her parents is something Malala knows a great deal about. Her mother was never formally educated and an awareness of the constraints this placed on her life have made her a great supporter of Malala and her father in their campaign against the Taliban's attempts to stop female education. One of the more moving details in I Am Malala, the memoir Malala has written with the journalist Christina Lamb, is that her mother was due to start learning to read and write on the day Malala was shot – 9 October 2012. When I suggest that Malala's campaign for female education may have played a role in encouraging her mother, she says: "That might be." But she is much happier giving credit to her mother's determined character, and the example provided by her father, Ziauddin, who long ago set up a school where girls could study as well as boys, in a part of the world where the gender gap in education is vast.
It is hard to refrain from asking Ziauddin Yousafzai the "do you wish you hadn't …?" question about his daughter, whose passion for reform clearly owes a lot to the desire to emulate her education-activist father. But it's a cruel question, and unfair, too, given my own inability to work out what constitutes responsible parenting in a world where girls are told that the safest way to live is to stay away from school, and preferably disappear entirely.
It is perhaps because of criticism levelled at her father that Malala mentions more than once in her book that no one believed the Taliban would target a schoolgirl, even if that schoolgirl had been speaking and writing against the Taliban's ban on female education since the age of 12. If any member of the family was believed to be in danger, it was Ziauddin Yousafzai, as much a part of the campaign as his daughter. And it was the daughter who urged the father to keep on when he suggested they both "go into hibernation" after receiving particularly worrisome threats. The most interesting detail to emerge about Ziauddin from his daughter's book is his own early flirtation with militancy. He was only 12 years old when Sufi Mohammad, who would later be a leading figure among the extremists in Swat, came to his village to recruit young boys to join the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Although Ziauddin was too young to fight then, within a few years he was preparing to become a jihadi, and praying for martyrdom. He later came to recognise what he experienced as brainwashing – and was saved from it by his questioning mind and the influence of his future brother-in-law, a secular nationalist.
The information about her father's semi-brainwashing forms an interesting backdrop to Malala's comments when I ask if she ever wonders about the man who tried to kill her on her way back from school that day in October last year, and why his hands were shaking as he held the gun – a detail she has picked up from the girls in the school bus with her at the time; she herself has no memory of the shooting. There is no trace of rancour in her voice when she says: "He was young, in his 20s … he was quite young, we may call him a boy. And it's hard to have a gun and kill people. Maybe that's why his hand was shaking. Maybe he didn't know if he could do it. But people are brainwashed. That's why they do things like suicide attacks and killing people. I can't imagine it – that boy who shot me, I can't imagine hurting him even with a needle. I believe in peace. I believe in mercy."
Well, I believe in these things, too, but if someone put a bullet in my head I suspect I would be more than a little irate. Doesn't she feel at all angry? "I only get angry at my brothers, and at my father," she says. Particularly her brother Khushal, who is two years younger than her. "I can't be good to him, it's impossible. We can't ever be friends," she says, sounding like the teenager she is.
Perhaps meditating on the value of peace and mercy is an entirely sane way of coping with bullets and invective. But, all the same, it must hurt to find yourself reviled – and not only by the Taliban. In her book she writes of how her speech at the UN received plaudits around the world, but in Pakistan people accused her of seeking fame and the luxury of a life abroad. When I ask her about this, it is one of the only times in the conversation that she turns to Urdu to express herself: "Dukh to insaan ko hota hai jab daikhta hai kay uss ka bhai uss kay khilaf hai." ("Naturally it's hurtful when you see your brothers turn against you.") Her voice is pained, but she quickly switches to English and the more philosophical tone emerges again. "Pakistanis can't trust," she says. "They've seen in history that people, particularly politicians, are corrupt. And they're misguided by people in the name of Islam. They're told: 'Malala is not a Muslim, she's not in purdah, she's working for America.' They say maybe she's with the CIA or ISI [Pakistan's intelligence service]. It's fine; they say it about every politician too, and I want to become a politician."
That line is a joke, insofar as she sees the humour in it; but it is nonetheless a statement of intent. She really does believe she will go back to Pakistan – "inshallah, soon" – and replies like a seasoned politician when I ask which political party she'll join. "I haven't chosen any party yet because people choose parties when they get older. When it's time I'll look and if I can't find one to join, I'll make another party."
She is, at first, similarly noncommittal about what she thinks of conversations around the burqa in the UK. "I don't have a specific idea about that," she says. But quickly, it's clear she does. "I believe it's a woman's right to decide what she wants to wear and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can't she also wear everything?" Having said that, she doesn't think a woman should cover her face in court or in other places "where it's necessary to show your identity. I don't cover my face because I want to show my identity."
This desire to be visible meant she wasn't at all happy, aged 12, when the BBC insisted that she use a pen name to write her diary of a schoolgirl living under the Taliban. "I still think, why didn't I write as Malala? But the BBC was doing it for my security. They didn't want me to be killed for" – and here she laughs – "writing a diary for BBC Urdu. So, if you look at it in another way, they were really kind because they were thinking about my life." She clearly believes the decision was as misguided as it was well-intentioned. You can't campaign invisibly.
I try to draw her on the question of how she finds life in the UK, and what an average day is like. There is clearly something of culture shock – quite other than the fact that the girls in school don't see "the real Malala". She says the environment here is different to everything she knew before – the way the girls interact, their manner of gossip and play, are all unfamiliar. And everyone takes education for granted; school isn't the "Aladdin's lamp … the doorway to a magical world" as it was for the girls in Swat. For the moment, it seems her main concern is how many A grades she will get in her GCSEs next year, but "the hard thing is now my life is very busy and I have so many responsibilities and duties that I need to fulfil."
Unlikely as a 16-year-old with a burning passion for reform and education might be, there is no doubt she is entirely genuine. In fact, the points at which I found myself raising an eyebrow at her book had nothing to do with extraordinary maturity or resolve but, rather, references to Justin Bieber and Twilight which seem forced in by someone trying to point out that in some ways she is "a normal teenager". When I bring up pop culture, it's the only time she appears to be on the back foot. She struggles to tell me names of Pakistani singers she likes, and finally comes up with "the woman who sang Ek Bar Muskara Do" (Smile Just Once) – the name she is looking for is Munni Begum, a classical singer who did a well-known cover of that 1972 song, years before Malala was born. When I tell her the question isn't important she says that she does like some English-language songs, but "most of them I can't understand. They say words and words and words, and I don't know what they're telling me. I like songs with a meaning."
It isn't that she doesn't have any interests beyond her education campaign; it's just that "a normal teenager" in Swat isn't defined by Justin Bieber and Twilight. If you really want to get her animated, talk about the one subject that can make almost any Pakistani turn into a bit of a teenager: cricket. She follows it closely on TV (which isn't unusual for girls in Pakistan), and also plays (which is). When she sees that I am interested in talking to her about the game everything in her poised manner changes. Within seconds she's calling out "Howzat!" and "Siiiiiix!" and showing me the deficiencies of her bowling action (she's a wrist spinner, though she prefers to bat). When I mention the Birmingham women's cricket club she says: "Yeah, I would like to join them."
She is so entirely sparkling and alive, with no sign of the Taliban or education or responsibilities intruding on her memories of playing cricket on the rooftop of her house with the mountains as backdrop, that I wish I could take her to Lord's instead of plying her with questions. Does it get lonely, knowing there is no one else in the world who has had the same experience as her? I don't just mean being shot by the Taliban, which is a tragically common experience, but the attention that followed. It's the only time she doesn't understand what I am asking her. I explain and she says: "When someone tells me about Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban – that's my definition for her – I don't think she's me. Now I don't even feel as if I was shot. Even my life in Swat feels like a part of history or a movie I watched. Things change. God has given us a brain and a heart which tell us how to live."
The interview ends soon after and the photographer is in the middle of taking pictures when the door opens and her father, who had left halfway through the interview, walks in with a group made up mostly of men. At their head is Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Photographs are taken, everyone sits down, and the prime minister starts talking – about what I already can't remember. He is still talking when I leave the room, and still talking when I turn around for my last glimpse of Malala: she is sitting silently, stoically, being talked at. The girl who shouted "Howzat!" has disappeared and in her place is Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, is published by Wiedenfeld & Nicolson at £18.99.
Hamid Karzai blasts US and Nato over attacks as security talks drag on
Afghan president says foreign military coalition is demanding the right to 'continue to attack our people and our villages'
Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 02.22 BST
Hamid Karzai has ruled out signing a security deal with the United States until disagreements over sovereignty are resolved. In angry remarks, the Afghan president condemned the Nato alliance for a military occupation that had caused "a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure".
At a press conference where he discussed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that keeps foreign troops in Afghanistan, Karzai was questioned about a Nato airstrike on 5 October in Nangarhar province that the Afghan government claimed killed five civilians. He cast doubt over whether the agreement would be renewed.
Karzai said: "The United States and Nato have not respected our sovereignty. Whenever they find it suitable to them, they have acted against it. This has been a serious point of contention between us and that is why we are taking issue of the BSA strenuously in the negotiations right now," Karzai said.
"They commit their violations against our sovereignty and conduct raids against our people, air raids and other attacks in the name of the fight on terrorism and in the name of the resolutions of the United Nations. This is against our wishes and repeatedly against our wishes," Karzai said, using some of his harshest language to date against the US-led military coalition.
"The United States and its allies, Nato, continue to demand even after signing the BSA they will have the freedom to attack our people, our villages. The Afghan people will never allow it."
Separately, in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, Karzai – who is serving his final six months in office – hit back at previous remarks by Barack Obama, the US president, who has described his Afghan counterpart as unreliable and ineffective. "They want us to keep silent when civilians are killed. We will not, we cannot," said Karzai.
Nato says the Nangarhar attack was retaliation for insurgents trying to mortar the base and while it believed no civilians were hurt, it had opened an investigation into the incident.
Karzai said he will convene a council of elders in one month to help him make a decision on the pending security agreement. The US wants a deal by the end of October to give American and Nato military planners enough time to prepare for keeping troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal instead of a total pullout similar to the one in Iraq.
Karzai told Newsnight that his priorities included bringing the Taliban back into government under a power-sharing agreement. "They are Afghans. Where the Afghan president, the Afghan government can appoint the Taliban to a government job they are welcome," he said. "But where it's the Afghan people appointing people through elections to state organs then the Taliban should come and participate in elections."
He rejected the idea that womens' interests would be harmed by bringing the Islamist hardliners back into power. "I have no doubt that there will be more Afghan young girls and women studying and getting higher education and better job opportunities. There is no doubt about that; even if the Taliban come that will not end, that will not slow down."
Hamid Karzai's latest outburst at Nato forces is sign of his deep frustration
Afghanistan president's criticism could be beginning of a dangerous countdown to April elections – and possible civil war
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 12.36 BST
Coming from a man who owes his job and probably his life to US and British military support, President Hamid Karzai's stinging criticisms of Nato's performance in Afghanistan may seem a little hypocritical. But with western politicians and generals busily conspiring to declare the 12-year war a success ahead of next year's withdrawal, Karzai's comments are a salutary reminder that all is far from well in Afghanistan – and that things could turn very messy, very soon.
Karzai's main point – that Nato operations have caused "great suffering and loss of life" among the Afghan civilian population and have failed to secure the country – is difficult to dispute. It is one of those uncomfortable home truths that western leaders intent on justifying the human and material cost of the 2001 intervention, and on getting out on schedule, just do not want to hear. Time and time again Karzai has angrily denounced military strikes that accidentally killed civilians, and complained that US forces override or ignore Afghan sovereignty.
After the most recent incident on Friday, Karzai weighed in again in person. "President Karzai strongly condemned the Nato air strike in which he says five civilians, including three students aged 10, 14 and 16, were killed in eastern Nangarhar province on Friday night," a statement from Karzai's palace said.
Civilian casualties are now reportedly on the rise again after falling back. Figures collated by the Guardian suggest a total of 14,728 civilians have died in the past six years, though vastly more were killed by the Taliban than by Nato.
Rising losses among the nearly 350,000-strong Afghan army and police, and a desertion rate of about 50,000 a year, also support Karzai's contention that control of large parts of the country remains tenuous. Nato generals are adamant they are on course for a smooth handover of security responsibilities by December 2014. The top British commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen John Lorimer, said in June the Afghan military was proving an "effective force" that was "going on the front foot" against the insurgents.
But last year about 10 times as many Afghan army and police were killed compared with Nato troops, and the figures this year are believed to be even higher. Some Afghan politicians and independent analysts believe another civil war is inevitable once Nato leaves and that, whatever western leaders say, the Kabul government will be powerless to prevent it.
Karzai's outburst is the product of other frustrations, including his belief that the US engaged in "duplicitous" behaviour in attempting to engage Taliban elements in peace talks, ostensibly behind his back. Karzai says he wants an accommodation with the Taliban before he is obliged to stand down after next April's presidential poll – but understandably wants to do so on his terms, not Washington's.
Karzai and the Obama administration are also at odds over post-2014 security arrangements, with no agreement yet on a renewed bilateral security agreement (BSA) or a continued non-combat Nato presence. One problem is that US policymakers and commentators differ over Afghanistan's strategic importance. Some believe a stable, pro-western Pakistan is a more vital American interest – another irritant for Karzai, who has often clashed with Islamabad and claims that Afghan insurgents operate with impunity from Pakistani bases.
Bad feeling in Washington about Karzai stems partly from the steep cost of supporting the Afghan economy and the endemic official corruption and drug-peddling that has damaged his government's reputation. His frankness has frequently prompted a sharp US response. In 2009 Barack Obama reportedly called Karzai an ineffective and unreliable partner. And Washington Post journalist and author Bob Woodward, a White House insider, told CBS in 2010 that Karzai suffered mental health problems.
"Karzai is a diagnosed manic depressive, somebody who has mood swings. Sometimes it's controlled, sometimes it's not. If you just look at what he has said in public and on the record, you know, one moment he's totally embracing us, the next moment he's denouncing the United States," Woodward said.
"Karzai seems determined to exit having left the equivalent of a poison pill to his successor," said Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "He has never been willing to come to grips with the military realities shaping the war … Almost every week he creates a new and unnecessary problem in US and Afghan relations, evidently on the assumption that the US … has serious rather than marginal strategic interest in Afghanistan."
Whatever the Americans say, Karzai's latest broadside looks like the beginning of an increasingly problematic, dangerous countdown to April's presidential election, which features no obvious successor and far too many unsettling echoes of the pre-2001 past. Among the candidates and their running mates are former warlords including Ismail Khan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the man who invited Osama bin Laden to set up shop in Afghanistan in 1996.
Western countries will probably be rooting for the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who was runner-up in the 2009 election. Their support could prove fatal to his cause. No one knows what the poll's outcome will be or what will ensue. But by this time next year, Obama and others may have cause to miss their old sparring partner Karzai.
10/07/2013 01:08 PM
Afghan Withdrawal: Ministers Hand Over Germany's Kunduz Base
After serving there for 10 years, Germany officially handed over its Kunduz military base to Afghan security forces on Sunday. And though German soldiers are leaving the area, officials assured the country would not turn its back on the Afghan people.
Thomas de Maizière and Guido Westerwelle have traveled to Afghanistan frequently over the past few years, but never together. On Sunday morning, however, Germany's defense and foreign ministers both landed in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country before heading to Kunduz.
In a solemn ceremony, they handed over the second largest German base in Afghanistan to local security forces. After ten years, the deployment of German soldiers in the most dangerous part of northern Afghanistan has come to an end.
De Maizière, a member of Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), described the mission of Germany's Bundeswehr armed forces in Kunduz as a turning point for the entirety of German society.
"Kunduz -- this is for us the place where the Bundeswehr fought for the first time, had to learn how to fight," de Maizière said. "Even though the Bundeswehr leaves Kunduz today, we will never forget this place."
The Bundeswehr has been heavily affected by Kunduz, he added. "Here we built and fought, cried and consoled, killed and died," the defense minister said.
An Important Milestone
The last German soldiers will leave the camp by the end of the month, but Westerwelle, from the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), stressed that the German engagement in Afghanistan had been worthwhile and would continue. "Much has improved in Afghanistan, but everything won't be good for a long time," he said. "We are not turning our backs on the people of Afghanistan." German involvement in the Hindu Kush is taking on a civilian rather than a military character, he added, but there is still a need to remain calm when faced by setbacks.
There are currently about 4,000 German soldiers in Afghanistan, of whom about 900 are in Kunduz. After they leave the camp, it will be used by the Afghan army and police. The only remaining Bundeswehr presence in northern Afghanistan will be at its headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The German politicians' Afghan counterparts, Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Omar Daudzai, also took part in the handover ceremony. De Maizière and Westerwelle traveled to Afghanistan together for the first time to emphasize the importance of the transfer of the camp.
Massive Security Precautions
It will likely be one of Westerwelle's last major acts as foreign minister. Following the ousting of the FDP from the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, after it failed to surmount the 5 percent hurdle for representation in last month's election, he will only remain in office until a new government is formed.
Massive security precautions were taken during the ceremony. Afghan soldiers and police officers were only allowed to take part with unloaded weapons because of the history of attacks by rogue members of the Afghan security forces on the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Three German soldiers were shot by a local soldier at a Bundeswehr camp in the province of Baghlan in 2011.
The closure of the camp in Kunduz is an important milestone in the Bundeswehr's withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATO's mission expires at the end of next year, although a smaller follow-up mission called "Resolute Support" is planned for which Germany will provide up to 800 soldiers.
The security situation in Kunduz remains tense and has worsened again in recent months. Overall, the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan has so far cost 54 soldiers their lives, with 35 killed in action. Most of the casualties occurred in Kunduz and the neighboring Baghlan province. The heaviest fighting in the Bundeswehr's history took place in Kunduz on Good Friday in 2010, when a Taliban ambush killed three German soldiers.
October 7, 2013
Uighurs in China Say Bias Is Growing
By ANDREW JACOBS
KASHGAR, China — Job seekers looking for opportunities in this ancient oasis town in China’s far western Xinjiang region would seem to have ample options, based on a quick glance at a local help-wanted Web site. The Kashgar Cultural Center has an opening for an experienced dance choreographer, the prefectural Communist Party office is hiring a driver and nearby Shule County needs an archivist.
But these and dozens of other job openings share one caveat: ethnic Uighurs, the Muslim, Turkic-speaking people who make up nearly 90 percent of Kashgar’s population, need not apply. Roughly half of the 161 positions advertised on the Civil Servant Examination Information Web site indicate that only ethnic Han Chinese or native Mandarin speakers will be considered.
Such discrimination, common across the region, is one of the many indignities China’s 10 million Uighurs face in a society that increasingly casts them as untrustworthy and prone to religious extremism. Uighurs are largely frozen out of the region’s booming gas and oil industry, airport jobs are mostly reserved for Han applicants, and truck drivers whose national identity cards list their ethnicity as Uighur cannot obtain the licenses required to haul fuel, an unwritten rule based on the fear that oil and gas tankers could easily be turned into weapons, according to several trucking companies.
Despite its name — the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region — this strategically pivotal expanse of desert and snow-draped mountains that borders several Central Asian nations is tightly controlled by Beijing. Top government positions as well as critical spots in the sprawling security apparatus are dominated by Han Chinese, many of them recruited from the eastern half of the country.
“The bottom line is that the Chinese don’t trust us, and that is having a corrosive impact on life in Xinjiang,” said Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur economist in Beijing. “And the way things are going, it’s going to get worse.”
After a summer of violence that claimed at least 100 lives, analysts, human rights advocates and even a handful of Chinese academics are raising alarms over what they call repressive policies that are fueling increased alienation and radicalization among Uighurs, many of whom subscribe to a moderate brand of Sunni Islam. These policies have been tightened since ethnic rioting four years ago left at least 200 people dead in Urumqi, the regional capital.
The Chinese government blames outside agitators, among them members of a separatist movement it contends has links to global jihadists, for much of the unrest. While there have been a number of unprovoked attacks on Chinese police officers or soldiers in recent years, most experts say the threat from Islamic militants is far less potent and organized than that portrayed by Beijing.
In August, paramilitary police officers not far from Kashgar shot at least 32 men, killing a dozen, during a raid on what was described as a secret “munitions center”; a few days later at least a dozen other Uighurs were killed as they prayed at a farmhouse in Yilkiqi township, according to Radio Free Asia. The authorities said the men were taking part in “illegal religious activities” and training for a terrorist attack, but did not provide further details.
Other episodes include a shooting outside a police station in Aksu Prefecture that wounded 50 and left three dead, and a violent skirmish in Hotan, another Silk Road outpost, during which dozens of men were reportedly shot while protesting the detention of a local imam. The Chinese state news media described these and other episodes as “terror attacks”; exile groups say they were peaceful demonstrations crushed with brute force.
Local residents say these and other clashes have been fueled by the dispiriting realities of daily life here: the institutionalized job discrimination, the restrictions that prohibit those under 18 from entering mosques and the difficulty that many Uighurs face in obtaining passports. Those Uighurs lucky enough to travel abroad say they are often interrogated upon their return by security officials who demand to know whether they have engaged in separatist activities.
“The government should realize that reckless and inappropriate decisions by local authorities are only causing more instability,” said Yang Shu, a professor of Central Asian studies at Lanzhou University, referring to rules that discourage women from wearing head scarves and young men from growing beards.
Many Uighurs are also convinced that Beijing is seeking to wipe out their language and culture through assimilation and education policies that favor Mandarin over Uighur in schools and government jobs. Since 2004, a so-called bilingual education initiative has required teachers in much of the region to use Mandarin for nearly every subject. The authorities insist that the policy is aimed at helping Uighurs compete in a country where Mandarin is the lingua franca, but many parents, teachers and Uighur intellectuals are unconvinced.
“My 17-year-old daughter speaks decent Chinese, but she cannot get through a piece of Uighur literature,” said a government employee in Urumqi, who asked to remain anonymous because such criticism can have serious consequences. “A generation from now, I fear our people will be functionally illiterate in Uighur.”
Fear and mistrust between the two ethnicities has hardened in recent years as a growing number of Han Chinese migrants settle into heavily guarded enclaves, especially in the southern crescent of Xinjiang that remains predominantly Uighur. Even in Urumqi, where ethnic Han Chinese make up 75 percent of the population, knots of heavily armed police officers in fatigues are positioned throughout Uighur neighborhoods; after dark, Uighur men are barred from the front seats of taxis, according to a local ordinance cast as an anticrime measure.
Huang Xiaolin, a Han engineer who was recently lured to Hotan from coastal Shandong Province with a generous salary and subsidized housing, said colleagues frequently warned him against entering the city’s Uighur quarter. “The local people here are uncivilized and prone to violence,” he said, standing near a propaganda banner that read, “The Han and the Uighur cannot live without one another.”
Beijing has coupled its “strike hard” security approach with turbocharged economic development, but even that has stoked resentment among Uighurs, who say the best jobs go to newly arrived Han. “The Chinese government is focused on a very outdated understanding of macroeconomic development, thinking that it will bring everyone up to the same level, but it’s clearly not working,” said Sean R. Roberts, a professor at George Washington University who studies development in the region.
Part of the backlash, experts and local residents say, has been prompted by increasingly intrusive restrictions on religion. Civil servants can be fired for joining Friday afternoon prayer services, and Uighur college students say they are often required to eat lunch in school cafeterias during the holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast. In cities across the region, signs warn people against public prayer, and video cameras are pointed at the doorways of local mosques. Residents also say the government maintains an extensive web of paid informers and monitors Internet traffic and cellphone conversations.
Such policies are born out of concern that the radical Islam that has destabilized neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan will take root in Xinjiang, a fear not entirely unfounded given the region’s proximity to lawless countries that have provided a haven for a kaleidoscope of jihadists from across the Muslim world, including some Uighurs.
But experts say the raids on unsanctioned religious schools and other restrictions have prompted even greater religiosity. “Five years ago, you would have been shocked to see a veiled woman in Urumqi, but not anymore,” said a Han academic at Xinjiang University who is critical of Beijing’s policies in the region. “For a lot of Uighurs, growing a beard and asking your wife to cover her head in public has become an act of defiance.”
Despite the growing death toll, analysts say China’s new leadership is unlikely to reconsider its hard-line policies any time soon. During a state visit to four Central Asia nations last month that sought to bolster Xinjiang’s role as the linchpin of a revitalized Silk Road, President Xi Jinping vowed to continue the battle against what he described as the “three forces” of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
By failing to consider the root causes of Uighur discontent, Beijing could unwittingly radicalize a generation of young people, said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who is based in Hong Kong. “The entire Uighur ethnicity feels asphyxiated, having become suspect as sympathetic to extremism,” he said. “Xinjiang is trapped in a vicious circle of increased repression that only leads to more violence.”
Shi Da contributed research.
Maldives presidential election to be rerun
Result of 7 September election overturned by supreme court because of irregularities
Jason Burke in Delhi and agencies in Malé
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 05.49 BST
The supreme court of the Maldives, the Indian Ocean luxury tourist destination, has annulled the results of the first round of presidential elections and ordered a new vote in two weeks' time.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed – a veteran human rights activist and environment campaigner ousted from power 20 months ago amid a mutiny by police – had won the earlier poll, held on 7 September, with 45.45% of the vote but fell short of the 50% needed for outright victory.
The results were subsequently challenged by one of the losing candidates, a brother of the former autocratic ruler of the island nation, who claimed irregularities in the voting.
The Maldives has suffered continuous political turmoil since dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoum was forced from power and the first elections for 20 years held in 2008. Many hoped that the presidential poll would bring a degree of calm. The country, which is struggling with a range of deep social problems, depends heavily on tourism and economic growth has slowed recently.
A power struggle has pitted a broad coalition of conservatives, including part of the business community and factions linked to the former regime, against the more progressive Maldivian Democratic party (MDP), led by Nasheed.
Earlier this week a pro-MDP TV station was attacked and burned.
Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of longtime ruler Gayoom, came second in the presidential poll, just ahead of Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who was Gayoom's finance minister.
Local and international election observers, including delegations from the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the European Union and India, had declared the original election free and fair. The UN, EU, and the US have all stressed their hope that the election go ahead.
Ahmed Abdulla Didi, one of four of seven judges who voted in favour of annulling the poll, cited a confidential police report claiming 5,623 ineligible voters had cast votes, including some who were dead, underage voters and some using fake identity cards.
The MDP has accused the supreme court – and the police – of bias. The September poll saw election a voter turnout of 88%, up from 85% in 2008.
Mohammed Jaleel, a former minister of interior and running mate of Yameen, called on the election commission to resign in the wake of the supreme court judgment.
The court has now laid down certain guidelines to the commission for the 20 October vote, including giving the police a substantial role in logistics and maintaining security. A second round will finally be held on 3 November if nobody wins more than 50% of votes.
Thousands of Nasheed Maldivian Democratic party (MDP) supporters cautiously welcomed the supreme court decision.
"Do not worry. Now we have the election in our hands. We wanted an election date. Now we will not even have to go for a second round," MDP legislator Mohamed Nazim told a gathering outside the court.
One woman among the MDP supporters shouted at the police: "Traitors! You facilitated one coup, now a second coup, you will do it again. But we will beat you down with votes."
Israel's West Bank control 'costing Palestinian economy billions'
World Bank says allowing Palestinians to use the 61% of the West Bank under full Israeli control would boost the economy
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 08.31 BST
Israel's control of a huge swath of the West Bank is costing the Palestinian economy $3.4bn (£2.1bn) a year, or 35% of its GDP, according to a report from the World Bank.
Restrictions on Palestinian access and movement within Area C, the 61% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control, is stunting the Palestinian economy, says the report. Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy, published on Tuesday, is the first comprehensive study of the potential impact of land restrictions in the region, according to the World Bank.
"Unleashing the potential from that 'restricted land' … and allowing Palestinians to put these resources to work, would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth," said Mariam Sherman of the World Bank.
About 180,000 Palestinians, or 6.6% of the population, live in Area C, the report says. Most Palestinians live in Area A, which is under full Palestinian control, and Area B, which is under shared Palestinian and Israeli control.
Agriculture would be massively boosted if restrictions on access and water supply were eased, the report says. Most of the farmland in Area C belongs to Palestinians, 326,400 dunams (80620 acres), compared with 187,000 dunams that are attached to Israeli settlements. All Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, are situated in Area C.
Access to the Dead Sea would provide opportunities for mineral extraction and tourism. The Palestinian economy could earn $918m (£571m), 9% of 2011 GDP, if minerals such as potash and bromine were harvested from the Dead Sea. The Palestinian tourism sector could be boosted by $126m (£78m) annually or 1% of GDP, by creating Dead Sea hotel resorts, similar to those in Israel and Jordan.
Stone mining and quarrying, construction, and telecommunications industries could develop if Israel lifted restrictions, the report said.
"Access to Area C will go a long way to solving Palestinian economic problems," said Sherman. "The alternative is bleak. Without the ability to utilise the potential of Area C, the economic space will remain fragmented and stunted. Lifting multiple restrictions could transform the economy and substantially improve prospects for sustained growth."
October 7, 2013
Meeting With Israelis, Palestinian Leader Strikes a Conciliatory Tone on Peace Talks
By JODI RUDOREN
RAMALLAH, West Bank — In a rare meeting with Israeli politicians, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority expressed optimism on Monday that a peace agreement could be reached in the nine months allotted to the current round of negotiations, and pointedly avoided questions that proved provocative in the past.
Mr. Abbas, hosting 10 left-wing members of the Israeli Parliament at his headquarters here, did not use the word occupation during lengthy remarks in front of dozens of reporters, and referred only briefly to settlements. He condemned violence against civilians, including a shooting on Saturday night that wounded a 9-year-old Israeli girl in a West Bank settlement, and offered condolences to the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a Torah sage who died Monday, who had made incendiary comments about Palestinians, including Mr. Abbas.
The conciliatory tone was a sharp contrast to a strident speech the night before by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that many analysts said had sought to appease conservatives skeptical of the peace talks. Mr. Netanyahu derisively recounted the support that a long-ago Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem provided the Nazis, and said that there could be an agreement only if the Palestinian leadership recognized Israel as a Jewish state, a notion it has long rejected.
But when asked Monday about such recognition, after the news cameras were gone, Mr. Abbas demurred rather than repeat his stock answers about Israel’s being able to describe itself as it wishes or seek such definition at the United Nations. He did not invoke the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the land they left when Israel became a state in 1948, nor did he mention the plight of Arab citizens of Israel.
“The things that he didn’t say I think were most important,” said Merav Michaeli, a member of Israel’s Labor Party. “He made sure that he doesn’t say anything that makes us uncomfortable.”
The unusual meeting came after weeks of delay and amid controversy, with the centrist Yesh Atid Party barring its members from attending and right-wingers pressuring their colleagues to cancel after Saturday’s shooting. It followed a July visit by a delegation of Palestinian leaders to Israel’s Parliament, where the Palestinian and Israeli flags were on display side by side in that building for the first time in more than a decade.
On Monday in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas and Hilik Bar, the Labor lawmaker who headed the Israeli delegation, sat under an enormous mural of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at the center, and across from an equally large banner of the Palestinian flag. Outside was a huge poster celebrating last year’s United Nations vote elevating the Palestinians to observer-state status.
Mr. Abbas told guests that the United Nations push was not an alternative to talks with Israel, because “we know the problem between us will only be solved in negotiations.” He said he had been “very close to an agreement” with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, calling that “an important opportunity that we missed, we and you both.” And he said there was “100 percent security cooperation” between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces because “we want a completely normal atmosphere.”
“We want flowers, not blood between us,” Mr. Abbas said in his first public comments about the attack on Saturday. “We demand that you and we condemn all activities that lead to murder and blood of innocents.
“Someone who kills someone for no reason, it is as though they have killed an entire people,” he added. “There is no reason to kill people.”
Mr. Abbas spoke in front of the journalists in Arabic, with a Hebrew interpreter, but when Mr. Bar spoke in English, he nodded and interjected a few side comments. Later, according to those who stayed for the smaller session, he told the lawmakers that he rejected a one-state solution, and that he expected to meet with Mr. Netanyahu at some point during the Washington-brokered talks. He declined their invitation to speak directly to the Israeli public in Parliament or at another site in Jerusalem, but said he would meet with Israeli groups in Ramallah.
The only real complaints he offered were about Israeli soldiers’ entering cities supposed to be under full Palestinian control; attacks by settlers on Palestinian property in the West Bank; and what he described as interference by religious Jews near Al Aksa Mosque. “That’s very dangerous,” he said. “It will be hard to control what results from these attacks.”
Though Mr. Abbas refused to say anything specific about the negotiations, Mr. Bar, who heads a 40-member Parliament caucus devoted to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he was surprised by the upbeat tone.
“I didn’t think it was going in a good direction,” Mr. Bar said. “To hear it from Abbas, it’s meaningful.”
10/07/2013 06:16 PM
'Sex Jihad' and Other Lies: Assad's Elaborate Disinformation Campaign
By Christoph Reuter
Syrian President Assad's regime is waging a PR campaign to spread stories that discredit its rivals and distract from its own crimes. Aided by gullible networks and foreign media, it has included tales of rebels engaging in "sex jihad" and massacring Christians.
Sex sells. And al-Qaida is eager to grab attention. But the combination of the two -- sex jihad -- is simply irresistible. Scores of young women are reportedly offering themselves to jihadists, according to one of the latest horror news stories coming out of Syria. A sheik from Saudi Arabia has allegedly issued a fatwa that allows teenage girls to provide relief to sexually frustrated fighters.
In late September, 16-year-old Rawan Qadah appeared on Syrian TV and gave a detailed account of how she had to sexually satisfy a radical insurgent. After the Tunisian interior minister stated that young women from his country were traveling to Syria for sex jihad -- and having sex with 20, 30 and even up to 100 rebels -- the story started to make headlines in Germany, as well. In Germany, the websites of the mass circulation Bild newspaper and Focus magazine have titillated readers with articles about this supposed "bizarre practice."
In the wake of the poison gas massacre on Aug. 21, the regime in Damascus has launched a major PR offensive. Beyond the official line of propaganda, though, there is a second campaign: a secret and elaborately staged effort to sow doubt and confusion -- and divert attention away from the Syrian government's own crimes. Like many of these bogus news stories, the sex jihad tales aim to convince supporters at home and critics abroad of the rebels' monstrous depravity.
No other leader in the region -- not Saddam Hussein in Iraq, nor Moammar Gadhafi in Libya -- has relied as heavily on propaganda as Assad. His PR teams and state media are churning out a steady stream of partially or completely fabricated new stories about acts of terror against Christians, al-Qaeda's rise to power and the imminent destabilization of the entire region. These stories are circulated by Russian and Iranian broadcasters, as well as Christian networks, and are eventually picked up by Western media.
One prime example is the legend of orgies with terrorists: The 16-year-old presented on state TV comes from a prominent oppositional family in Daraa. When the regime failed to capture her father, she was abducted by security forces on her way home from school in November 2012. During the same TV program, a second woman confessed that she had submitted to group sex with the fanatical Al-Nusra Front. According to her family, though, she was arrested at the University of Damascus while protesting against Assad. Both young women are still missing. Their families say that they were forced to make the televised statements -- and that the allegation of sex jihad is a lie.
An alleged Tunisian sex jihadist also dismissed the stories when she was contacted by Arab media: "All lies!", she said. She admitted that she had been to Syria, but as a nurse. She says she is married and has since fled to Jordan.
Two human rights organizations have been trying to substantiate the sex jihad stories, but have so far come up empty-handed. It appears that the Tunisian interior minister had other motives for jumping on this rumor: Hundreds of Islamists have left his country and traveled to Syria, and he is apparently trying to stem the tide by discrediting these fighters. Furthermore, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi, the man who is allegedly behind the sex jihad fatwa, denies everything. "No person in their right mind would approve of such a thing," he says.
It is difficult -- and, at times, even impossible -- to verify all the horror stories emerging from the civil war in Syria. This holds especially true when they are disseminated in a roundabout way, as is the case with most of the reports of persecuted Christians.
For example, on Sept. 26, the German Catholic news agency KNA issued a report -- citing the Vatican news agency Fides -- stating that Muslim legal scholars in the opposition stronghold Douma, near Damascus, had called for "the property of non-Muslims to be confiscated." Fides said that it had a copy of a document that was signed by 36 Muslim religious figures. Yet although this appeared to be a serious story, it turned out to be based on a forgery: a fictitious text with real signatures. It actually came from a 2011 statement calling for civilians to be spared during the fighting. On a number of occasions, Fides has accepted as true propaganda fabrications released by regime-affiliated portals, such as Syria Truth.
This also includes the myth of the beheading of a bishop -- a story also spread by Assad in an interview with SPIEGEL. The fact of the matter is that a jihadist from Dagestan killed three men in this way, but they weren't Christians. After getting the stamp of approval from the official news agency of the Vatican, such rumors generated by Assad's propaganda machine are circulated around the world as bona-fide new stories.
The facts were twisted in a similar manner when an image of a woman tied to a pillar in Aleppo appeared on the LiveLeak video portal in mid-September. The website claimed that the woman was a Christian from Aleppo who had been abducted by al-Qaida rebels. In reality, although the photo was taken in Aleppo, it dates back to a period when Assad's troops still controlled the entire city. A video of the scene, posted on YouTube on June 12, 2012, shows regime-loyal militias berating the woman.
The regime also concocted the legend of the destruction of the Christian village of Maaloula. In early September, rebels belonging to three groups, including al-Nusra, attacked two military posts on the outskirts of town held by members of the local Assad-loyal Shabiha militias. Then the rebels withdrew. But the regime's version, which even managed to become an Associated Press story, was as follows: Foreign terrorists looted and burned down churches -- and even threatened to behead Christians who refused to convert to Islam.
This didn't match with reports from the nuns of the Thekla convent in Maaloula and the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch. They said that nothing had been damaged and no one had been threatened on account of their beliefs. A reporter from the satellite news network Russia Today unwittingly cleared up the confusion. While accompanying the Syrian army, he filmed the tank attack on Maaloula -- in which the local monastery was shelled.
This ongoing reinterpretation of events reflects a conscious policy -- and bending the truth is much easier now that Syria has become such a confusing and chaotic theater of war. Most news publications shy away from the risks and efforts of verifying stories on the ground. Actual events, such as when jihadists burned down a church in the northern Syrian town of Rakka, are mixed together with trumped-up atrocities staged to sway global opinion.
Even blatant inconsistencies are often accepted without question. After all, tangible evidence to the contrary rarely exists. When state-run media reported that the prominent imam Mohammed al-Buti, a supporter of Assad, was killed by a suicide bomber at his mosque in the heart of Damascus on March 21, all rebel groups denied having anything to do with the attack. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean much. But even an untrained eye would have to notice that the photos showed no signs of an explosion: Chandeliers, fans and carpets were all intact. Instead, there were bullet holes clear across a marble wall, and pools of blood apparently showed where the bodies had lain. Many of the victims were wearing shoes, which is highly unusual for Muslims in a mosque. There were also no witnesses. All of this feeds the suspicion that the victims were forced into the building and murdered -- as a backdrop for an attack that never occurred.
Pinning the Blame
After the poison gas attack in August, though, the propaganda cover-up failed. Inundated by a global wave of indignation, the regime floundered in its attempts to explain the situation. First, Assad said that nothing had happened. Then state television showed images of an alleged rebel hideout containing a barrel with the blatantly obvious label: "Made in Saudia." The TV report maintained that this was sarin gas from Saudi Arabia for "terrorists" who had inadvertently gassed themselves to death.
The source of the story was a little known news website called Mint Press, based in the northern US state of Minnesota. One of the authors later denied having anything to do with the research. The other, a young Jordanian who writes under a number of pseudonyms, merely responded to queries by saying that he was currently studying in Iran. In an online comment on an article in Britain's Daily Mail, though, he gave the following detail that was missing on Mint Press: "Some old men arrived in Damascus from Russia and one of them became friends with me. He told me that they have evidence that it was the rebels who used the (chemical) weapons." A few days later, the Russian foreign minister quoted the report from Mint Press as proof of Assad's innocence.
An entirely different explanation for the alleged gas attack by the rebels was presented to British broadcaster Sky News by Assad's top media adviser, Buthaina Shaaban: She said that terrorists had abducted 300 Alawite children from Latakia, taken them to Damascus and murdered them so they could be presented to the world as victims.
And now comes a new line of defense that neither relies on chemicals nor argues that the rebels killed themselves: In a SPIEGEL interview, Assad states that sarin is a "kitchen gas" because "it can be made anywhere." But this flies in the face of a United Nations report, which states that rockets carrying sarin gas could only have come from a military base run by government forces.
Although Assad likes to cover up his crimes with a crisis-driven media blitz, he actually prefers to meet with the press and directly tell his side of the story. This includes presenting his regime as a final bulwark against global terror, even though he has his agents carry out the very kinds of attacks he is warning the world about and attributing to his rivals. For example, police in Turkey and Lebanon have charged the Syrian intelligence agency with responsibility for the most devastating attacks in years. After two bombs in Tripoli killed 47 people on Aug. 23, a Lebanese court issued an arrest warrant against two Syrians -- for planning acts of terrorism.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
10/07/2013 06:43 PM
Interview with Bashar Assad: 'In the End, a Lie Is a Lie'
By Dieter Bednarz and Klaus Brinkbäumer
In a SPIEGEL interview, Syrian President Bashar Assad discusses his fight for power, his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and the special expectations he has for Germany.
Editor's note: The following is the version of the interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad that ran in the Monday edition of SPIEGEL. Earlier on Monday, the Syrian state news agency Sana published its own version of the interview. There are minor differences that reflect changes made by our fact-checkers.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, do you love your country?
Assad: That is a simple, evident question. Of course. It's human to love where you come from. But it is not just a question of the emotional relationship. It is also about what you, as a person, can do for your home, especially when you are in a position of authority. That becomes especially clear in times of crisis. Right now, at a time when I have to protect my country, I am feeling just how much I love it.
SPIEGEL: If you were a true patriot, you would step down and pave the way for negotiations for an interim government or a cease-fire with the armed opposition.
Assad: The Syrian people will determine my fate. That is not a question any other party can decide. Who are these factions? Who do they represent? The Syrian people? At least part of the Syrian people? If they do, then let's go to the ballot box.
SPIEGEL: Are you prepared to stand in an election?
Assad: My second term in office will end next August. Two months earlier we will hold a presidential election. I cannot decide now whether I am going to run. It's still early, because you have to probe the mood and will of the people. If I no longer know that I have the will of the people behind me, then I will not run.
SPIEGEL: So you're really considering giving up power?
Assad: Whether I'm open-minded or not, this is about the decision of the people, because this is their country. It's not only my country.
SPIEGEL: But you are the reason for the rebellion. The people want to get rid of corruption and despotism. They are calling for a real democracy and the opposition believes this will only be possible if you step down.
Assad: Again, when you talk about factions, whether they are opposition or supporters, you have to ask yourself the question: Whom do they represent? Themselves or the country that made them? Are they speaking for the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar? My answer here has to be frank and straight to the point. This conflict has been brought to our country from abroad. These people are located abroad, they live in five-star hotels and they say and do what those countries tell them to do. But they have no grassroots in Syria.
SPIEGEL: Do you dispute that there's a strong opposition against you in your country?
Assad: That's normal. If I don't have opposition, it means all the people support me, and that's impossible.
SPIEGEL: But we aren't the only ones who are disputing your legitimacy. "A leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country," US President Obama said at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September.
Assad: First of all, you're talking about the president of the United States, not the president of Syria -- so he can only talk about his country. It is not legitimate for him to judge Syria. He doesn't have the right to tell the Syrian people who their president will be. Second, what he says doesn't have anything to do with the reality. He's been talking about the same thing -- that the president has to quit -- for a year and a half now. Has anything happened? Nothing has happened.
SPIEGEL: From our point of view, it looks more like you are the one who is ignoring reality. If you stepped own, you would spare your people a lot of suffering.
Assad: The whole problem wasn't about the president. What do killing innocents, explosions and the terrorism that al-Qaida is bringing to the country have to do with me being in office?
SPIEGEL: It has to do with the president because your troops and intelligence services are responsible for a part of these horrors. That is your responsibility.
Assad: Our decision from the very beginning was to respond to the demands of the demonstrators, although they were not truly peaceful demonstrations from the start. We already lost soldiers and policemen during the first weeks. Nevertheless, a committee changed the constitution (to reflect the protesters' concerns), and later there was a referendum. But we also have to fight terrorism to defend our country. I admit that mistakes were made during the implementation of this decision.
SPIEGEL: The victims in the first protests in Daraa, where the insurgency began, were largely protesters who were beaten and shot. This harshness was a mistake on the part of your regime.
Assad: In every implementation in the world, you have mistakes. You are human.
SPIEGEL: So you admit that the harshness against the protesters was a mistake?
Assad: There were personal mistakes made by individuals. We all make mistakes. Even a president makes mistakes. But even if there were mistakes in the implementation, our decisions were still fundamentally the right ones.
SPIEGEL: Was the massacre at Houla only the result of the failure of individuals?
Assad: It was the gangs and militants who attacked the village residents, never the government or its supporters. That's exactly what happened. And if you talk about proof, no one has proof against this. Actually, what happened was that our supporters are the ones who were killed, and we can give you the names of the victims' families because they supported our course against terror.
SPIEGEL: We have plenty of evidence. Our reporters were in Houla, where they conducted in-depth research and spoke to survivors and relatives of the victims. UN experts have also come to the conclusion that the 108 village residents who were killed, including 49 children and 34 women, were the victims of your regime. So how can you deny any responsibility and blame the so-called terrorists?
Assad: With all due respect to your reports, we are the Syrians. We live here and we know the reality better than your reporters. We know what is true and we can document it.
SPIEGEL: The perpetrators are part of Shabiha, a militia that is close to your regime.
Assad: Let me be frank with you. Your question is full of misstatements. However you put it, in the end a lie is a lie. So, what you say is not correct.
SPIEGEL: So you deny that the Shabiha militia was involved?
Assad: What do you mean by "Shabiha?"
SPIEGEL: This militia, the "ghosts," who are close to your regime.
Assad: This is a Turkish name. There is nothing called "Shabiha" in Syria. In many remote areas where there is no possibility for the army and police to go and rescue the people and defend them, people have bought arms and set up their own small forces to defend themselves against attacks by militants. Some of them have fought with the army, that's true. But they are not militias that have been created to support the president. At issue is their country, which they want to defend from al-Qaida.
SPIEGEL: So massacres and terror are only perpetrated by the other side? Your militias, security forces and secret services have nothing to do with this?
Assad: You cannot go to the extreme and make things absolute -- they did everything and we did nothing, 100 percent and zero percent. Reality isn't black and white like this. It has shades of gray. So if you want to talk about our side, if you talk about the decisions, we are defending our country. The mistakes are individual, and, as president, I wouldn't discuss individual mistakes because there are 23 million Syrians. Every country has criminals who have to be fought. They can exist anywhere, including the government or the army -- or outside the government and army. This is normal, but we don't have sufficient information about this. You're asking me to generalize, but I cannot generalize.
SPIEGEL: A president's legitimacy is not a question of phrases and declarations. You are measured by your deeds. Through the deployment of chemical weapons against your own people, you have definitively lost the legitimacy to hold your office.
Assad: We did not use chemical weapons. This is a misstatement. So is the picture you paint of me as a man who kills his own people. Who isn't against me? You've got the United States, the West, the richest countries in the Arab world and Turkey. All this and I am killing my people and they still support me! Am I a Superman? No. So how can I still stay in power after two and a half years? Because a big part of the Syrian people support me, the government and the state. Whether that figure is greater or less than 50 percent? I am not saying that it is the bigger part of our population. But a big part means that you are legitimate. That is very simple. And where is another another leader who would be similarly legitimate?
SPIEGEL: President Obama said after the investigation into this crime by the United Nations that there was "no doubt" that your regime used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people.
Assad: Once again, I dare Obama to give a single piece of evidence, a single shred. The only thing he has is lies.
SPIEGEL: But the conclusions of the UN inspectors …
Assad: What conclusions? When the inspectors came to Syria, we asked them to continue the investigation. We are hoping for an explanation of who is responsible for this act.
SPIEGEL: Based on the trajectory of the rockets, it is possible to calculate where they were fired from -- namely the positions of your Fourth Division.
Assad: That doesn't prove anything, because the terrorists could be anywhere. You can find them in Damascus now. They could even launch a missile from near my house.
SPIEGEL: But your opponents are not capable of firing weapons containing Sarin. That requires military equipment, training and precision.
Assad: Who said that they are not capable? In the 1990s, terrorists used Sarin gas in an attack in Tokyo. They call it "kitchen gas" because it can be made anywhere.
SPIEGEL: But you really can't compare these two Sarin attacks -- they aren't comparable. This was a military action.
Assad: No one can say with certainty that rockets were used -- we do not have any evidence. The only thing certain is that Sarin was released. Perhaps that happened when one of our rockets struck one of the terrorists' positions? Or perhaps they made an error while they were handling it and something happened. Because they have Sarin -- they used it earlier in Aleppo.
'The West Is more Confident in al-Qaida than Me'
SPIEGEL: In total, 14 instances in which chemical weapons were used have been detected, but never before were they used on the same massive scale as they were in August. Have you actually started your own investigation?
Assad: Any investigation should begin with the identifying the number of the real victims. The militants said 350 victims, the US said 1,200 victims. There is something not true on the ground. There are also inconsistencies in the pictures. One of the dead children can be seen in two locations in two photos. What I want to say with this is that you have to verify this case very precisely, but no one has done that so far. We can't do that either because it is a terrorist area.
SPIEGEL: So close to the capital city?
Assad: They are very close to Damascus and very close to our army barracks. They could kill our soldiers, and that cannot be allowed to happen.
SPIEGEL: Do you think you can recapture ground you have lost?
Assad: Our fight is not about winning or losing ground. We're not two countries in which one has occupied a part of the other, like Israel has done with our Golan Heights. It's about getting rid of the terrorists. If we liberate a piece of this ground -- and that is what is happening in many areas in Syria -- this doesn't mean that you're winning, because the terrorists will go to another area and destroy it. If the people support us, then we are gaining.
SPIEGEL: Western intelligence agencies have tapped phone calls from your officers in which they urge the leadership to use chemical weapons.
Assad: That's completely fake. I don't want to base our conversation just on such allegations.
SPIEGEL: Is it irritating for you that we in the West perceive the situation so differently?
Assad: Your region always arrives late when it comes to understanding the actual situation. When we were speaking about violent protests, you were still talking about "peaceful demonstrations." And when we started talking about extremists, you started talking about "some" militants. When you spoke of extremists, we were already talking about al-Qaida. Then they started talking about a "few" terrorists at a time when we were already talking about a majority. Now they have started talking about it being 50-50. Of course, John Kerry is still in the past -- he's talking about 20 percent.
SPIEGEL: Could it be that we hesitate in following your assessments of the situation because we lack confidence in you? And how would you explain this lack of confidence?
Assad: It seems to me the West is more confident in al-Qaida than me.
SPIEGEL: That's absurd.
Assad: No, this is freedom of expression, please. That's my opinion, I'm telling you frankly. Everything that the West has been doing for the past 10 years has supported al-Qaida. Maybe they don't have this intention, but in reality it is what happened. Because of this, we now have al-Qaida here, with fighters from 80 countries. We have to deal with tens of thousands of fighters. And with that, I am just talking about the foreigners.
SPIEGEL: You have lost many soldiers who are defecting to the opposition. Are you trying to tell us that they are becoming al-Qaida supporters overnight?
Assad: No. I didn't say everybody is now al-Qaida. I said the majority. The minority is comprised of deserters or outlaws. At the beginning of the crisis, 60,000 Syrian outlaws were walking around freely outside of prison. They alone would be enough to create an army. I can't tell you the number of people fighting against us because most of them come in illegally through the borders. They come to go to paradise in their jihad against atheists or non-Muslims. Even if you get rid of thousands of them, they will still have a constant supply coming from outside.
SPIEGEL: And you still think you have a chance of winning this war?
Assad: Even if we don't have the chance, we don't have any other choice but to fight and to defend our country.
SPIEGEL: Let's go back to the issue of chemical weapons. We would like to remind you that you have always denied possessing chemical weapons. But now, after the crimes against humanity on Aug. 21 and the threat of a military strike by the US, you have admitted possessing them.
Assad: We never said we didn't have chemical weapons. We always say "if we had, then" …
SPIEGEL: Chemical weapons are no reason to laugh, but there is nothing else we can do.
Assad: In any case, we never lied.
SPIEGEL: There is evidence that German firms delivered chemicals to Syria that can also be used in the making of chemical weapons. Do you have more details about that?
Assad: No, I don't know. It is not my business. But in principle we do not get any help from abroad when it comes to building the weapons. We don't need it. We are experts in this area ourselves.
SPIEGEL: How many tons of Sarin or other chemical weapons do you currently have at your disposal?
Assad: That's classified information until we give it to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapns (OPCW).
SPIEGEL: We know that Western secret services suspect a thousand tons.
Assad: In the end, it's about the concept, not the tons. We have the principle that we have chemical weapons, but we think the Middle East should be a weapons of mass destruction-free zone.
SPIEGEL: That, too, is a question of trust. If you admit to having 45 storage depots for such weapons, how do we know that is correct?
Assad: The president doesn't deal with the numbers. He deals with the policy. We're very transparent. The experts can go to every site. They are going to have all the data from our government, and then they're going to verify that data on the ground. Then they can say if we are credible or not. We don't accept or commit ourselves to any agreement partially. This is our history. We're not going to pay for the destruction of the weapons, though.
SPIEGEL: Is the international community supposed to believe that you don't have secret depots?
Assad: In international relations there's nothing called trust; there's something called mechanism. They don't have to trust me in person. What counts is that the institutions work together -- my government and the OPCW -- and if I have the trust of the Syrian people. I'm not made by the West. I am made by the Syrians.
SPIEGEL: You don't need the West?
Assad: Of course we do, but not instead of the Syrians, and not instead of our real friends like the Russians. The Russians understand the reality here much better. I'm not just praising them because we have long relations. They are more independent than Europe, which is too oriented toward US policy.
SPIEGEL: The Russians are only concerned with their strategic interests.
Assad: You can discuss this with President Vladimir Putin. But let me say this: Some Europeans have come to us through different channels to say that they are convinced about our position and analysis, but cannot voice this out loud.
SPIEGEL: Is that also true with regard to your portrayal of the chemical weapons attack?
Assad: Obama's lies couldn't even convince the American people. According to one poll, 51 percent were against a military strike against Syria. The British parliament was against it too. The French parliament had a bitter debate about it. The atmosphere in Europe was against such an attack. Why? Because the majority didn't believe the story.
SPIEGEL: Are any of the European contacts that you continue to maintain from Germany?
Assad: We have some relations with some institutions, and have recently been using channels that didn't exist before. We exchange some information, but we cannot say that we have political relations.
SPIEGEL: Does Germany play a special role for you?
Assad: When I think of Europe, I ask myself who is closer to the reality in my region? Every European position is still far from our reality. Germany and Austria have the most objective and closest position to reality. The German position is the closest.
SPIEGEL: Could Germany take on the role of intermediary?
Assad: Of course, I would like to see envoys from Germany come to Syria to see and discuss the reality. Coming here doesn't mean you support the government. But if you come here, you can do, you can talk, you can discuss, you can convince. If you think you have to isolate us, you only end up isolating yourselves. This is also about your interests: Do you really want a backyard that is filled with al-Qaida? When you support instability here? After two and a half years, you should rethink your policies.
SPIEGEL: Given the unrest in your country, do you even have your chemical weapons arsenal under control?
Assad: Of course, under full control. Because let me tell you this: the material that could be used by any regular army doesn't exist in the stores in activated form. So no one can use it before it is activated.
SPIEGEL: Is this also true of depots containing biological weapons, which you also possess?
Assad: It is classified information. We never talk about military classified information, but this should not be understood as confirmation that we possess them.
SPIEGEL: Do you understand the international community's fears that these weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists?
Assad: The situation is not as bad as it seems in the media and the West. There is no need for any undue concern.
'We Don't Have any Other Option than To Believe in Our Victory'
SPIEGEL: According to our information, the armed opposition controls at least 40 percent of the country, and some estimates put that figure as high as more than two-thirds of the country.
Assad: These numbers are exaggerated. Sixty percent of Syria is desert. Who's in the desert? Nobody. In the rest of the country they don't control a single full area.
SPIEGEL: That's not true for the area along the Turkish border.
Assad: They are on the borders in the north of Aleppo with Turkey, but only on that part, not fully. They have some areas, but they are just focal points. We're not talking about a front. Sometimes they are isolated in areas where there's no army to fight them. But this isn't about percentages. The solidarity of the population is much more important to us. And this is growing because many don't want terrorists destroying the country any more.
SPIEGEL: The brutality of the conflict has turned a quarter of the population -- some 6 million people -- into refugees.
Assad: We don't have a precise number. Even 4 million could be exaggerated because many Syrians moved within Syria to another house or with relatives and didn't register themselves.
SPIEGEL: You sound as if you are talking about a tax increase and not a humanitarian catastrophe.
Assad: Actually, no. In the West, when you ask about the number, you talk about it like spreadsheets. If you have 1 million or 5 million, you're going to do the same. Whether it's 70,000 victims, 80,000, then 90,000, or 100,000, it's like an auction. It's not an auction -- it's a tragedy. Whether it's 1,000 or 10,000, it's the same.
SPIEGEL: The flood of refugees is happening for one reason -- you and your regime.
Assad: Sorry, is this a question or a statement of fact? If it's a statement, it's not correct. If it's a question, the first thing we have to ask is why people leave? You don't have one reason; you have multiple reasons. One of the reasons is that many people left their homes and houses because of the threat of the terrorists.
SPIEGEL: No one is fleeing your soldiers and security forces?
Assad: The army represents Syria, otherwise you wouldn't have the army, because it would have been divided a long time ago. It is a threat to no one. When it comes to refugees, you have to ask yourself a question about the other governments, especially the Turkish government. What is their interest in having these high numbers? You know what it is? Their interest is to use them as a humanitarian card with the UN. Some other countries used them to get money for themselves, not the refugees. So you have corruption, interests and some people that could have fled because they are scared of the government, but we don't have anything against them. And in the last two weeks, more than 100,000 or 150,000, depending on the estimate, came back to Syria. So the tide has recently been reversed.
SPIEGEL: How did you convince people to return?
Assad: We worked hard to bring them back. We engaged with everybody to alleviate their fears. If you didn't violate the law, then we have no problem with you. If you are against the government, come be against the government in Syria. We don't have a problem. That was very successful.
SPIEGEL: From a military perspective, however, you haven't had any success. The capture of Aleppo that was promised has not come to pass. Maalula remains a major problem, and there's even fighting in the suburbs of Damascus. We heard the thunder of grenades on our way to your palace.
Assad: When you have this kind of crisis, you cannot say you are as strong as before. The damage is much too massive. To be realistic, it will take time before we get over this problem. We don't have any other option than to believe in our victory.
SPIEGEL: How can you be so confident of victory when you need help from Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah?
Assad: Lebanon is a small country with a population of 4 million. In Damascus alone we have 5 million. Syria is too big for Hezbollah even if they want to send all their troops. We fought with them on the border with Lebanon against terrorists who attacked their loyalists, and we cooperated, and that was good.
SPIEGEL: So you could actually do without Hezbollah's help?
Assad: That's not what I said. I'm talking about the perception in the West and in the media that Hezbollah is fighting because the Syrian army cannot fight. Even if you want to make it a reality, you can't, because the proportion doesn't work.
SPIEGEL: Hezbollah are among the few who still support you. Russian President Putin appears to be slowly losing his patience with you. And the new Iranian president, Hassan Rohani, could find rapprochement with the US to be more important than your survival.
Assad: Putin is more supportive than ever. This has been proven by Russia's three vetoes against sanctions in the UN Security Council.
SPIEGEL: But he voted in favor of a resolution to destroy your chemical weapons.
Assad: It's a good resolution.
SPIEGEL: Because it prevented a US air strike?
Assad: There's not a single point in that resolution that's against our interests. The Russians see very clearly what we are doing here because they suffered from terrorists in Chechnya, and they know the meaning of terrorism.
SPIEGEL: Does that mean you are confident Moscow will deliver the S-300 air defense system you've been waiting on for months?
Assad: He said very clearly on many different occasions that he would continue supporting Syria, and that he's committed to the contract -- not only on air defense, but all kinds of armaments.
SPIEGEL: The international community will do everything possible to prevent you from acquiring more arms.
Assad: On what grounds? They don't have any right. We are a state, and we have the right to defend ourselves. We don't occupy others' lands. Why doesn't the international community oppose Israel when they get all these armaments? Germany sent Israel three submarines, and they occupy our land. We don't trust the West because of its double standards.
SPIEGEL: Even if Putin delivers the new air defense system, aren't you afraid that Israel will bomb it to pieces?
Assad: You cannot be afraid. When you are in a war situation, you don't do something because you're afraid of doing it. You have to strengthen yourself and not to allow your enemy to destroy your armaments or to win.
SPIEGEL: And if they try?
Assad: When that happens we can talk about it.
SPIEGEL: In the past you sounded more self-confident when it came to Israel.
Assad: No, we have always said we need peace and stability in this region. Even if you want to retaliate, you have to ask yourself the question: What would the result be? Now that we're fighting al-Qaida, in particular, we have to be cautious that we don't start a new war.
SPIEGEL: At what point will you be able to claim victory over al-Qaida?
Assad: The victory is stability. The first phase is to get rid of the terrorists. The second one, which is more difficult and dangerous, is to get rid of their ideology, which has infiltrated some parts in Syria. It cannot be that an eight-year-old boy tries to behead someone, which happened in the north. Or that children watch the beheading with jubilation, happy like they're watching a soccer match, for example. If we don't deal with this problem, which is more dangerous than the terrorists themselves, we're going to face a bleak future.
SPIEGEL: This scene wouldn't sound all that surprising if it had taken place in Somalia. But in Syria?
Assad: The brutality we are experiencing in Syria is incredible. People slaughtered a Christian bishop by slitting his throat with a small knife.
SPIEGEL: Do you still believe you can return Syria to its pre-war state?
Assad: In terms of stability, of course we can. If we stop billions in support for the terrorists from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the logistic support of Turkey, we could solve this problem in a few months.
SPIEGEL: Is it still possible to find a solution through negotiations?
Assad: With the militants? No. The definition of political opposition doesn't include an army. We will negotiate with whoever wants to lay down his arms and go back to normality. Since we discussed deserters before, I'd like to point out that it's going the other way too. People who used to be militants are fighting with the army now.
SPIEGEL: The international community blames you for the escalation of this conflict, whose end is not yet in sight. How do you live with this guilt?
Assad: It's not about me, but about Syria. The situation in Syria worries and saddens me; that's where my concern is. I am not concerned for myself.
SPIEGEL: Are your wife and three children still standing by you?
Assad: Of course, they never left Damascus for one moment.
SPIEGEL: Do you sometimes fear that something like what happened to Romanian President Ceausescu might happen to you? After a short trial, he was shot by his own soldiers.
Assad: If I were afraid, I would have left Syria a long time ago.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we thank you for this interview.
10/07/2013 06:26 PM
Eye of the Storm: Life Goes on in Damascus Despite Civil War
By Dieter Bednarz and Klaus Brinkbäumer
As the civil war rages around them, Syrians in the capital of Damascus continue to support President Bashar Assad despite their fears. They simply want to maintain their way of life.
When the door opened as we arrived to interview Syrian President Bashar Assad last Wednesday, he was standing there with his arms outstretched and a smile on his face. He greeted us the way former US President Bill Clinton often greets his guests, extending his right hand and touching our shoulders or forearms with his left hand -- a cordial gesture of power.
"What a pleasure," he said. Blue-eyed, gaunt and about 1.90 meters (6'3") tall, the 48-year-old wore a dark blue suit, light-colored shirt, blue tie and comfortable black loafers.
We met at his guesthouse in Damascus, a building with marble floors, tasteful sculptures and paintings that he uses as his office. There was an Apple computer on his desk, books on the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and "Palaces of Lebanon" on the bookshelf, and paintings by his children on the wall, depicting cows in pastures, chickens and chicks, and the sun rising over a green landscape.
"Shall we begin?" he asked.
Assad, a doctor, completed postgraduate training in ophthalmology in London, and speaks perfect English. He joined the army after returning to Syria, where many underestimated him because he was so mild-mannered. A member of the Alawite minority, he succeeded his father, Hafez Assad, and has now been in office for 13 years. According to a United States embassy cables leaked to WikiLeaks, the Americans felt that the Assads run Syria like a family business.
Now that all Western airlines have cancelled service to the Syrian capital, for the last several months most people visiting Damascus have had to take the land route from Beirut in neighboring Lebanon. Though it's only 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Beirut, it's a lengthy journey because the Syrian military has set up roadblocks every five kilometers, where travelers are asked to get out of their cars, open trunks and present their papers. With cigarettes dangling from their mouths, these Kalashnikov-wielding men have absolute power over those entering Syria and, above all, those trying to get out.
After we finally reached Damascus, spending a few days there are enough to alter our image of the country's civil war, because people there see it differently than we do in the West. They want to preserve what they have.
Trying to Preserve Their Way of Life
During dinners with politicians and professors, or in conversations in the narrow streets of the old city, everyone, without exception, expressed fear of the rebels. They worry that the rebels will be accompanied by fundamentalists, who will bring with them Sharia law. All the people we spoke with said that they distrust the West because the reasoning there is too simplistic and countries there set moral standards they fail to live up to themselves. And most said that while they don't support Assad, they want to preserve their way of life. "Just look at what's happening in Egypt and Libya," said one man.
These discussions help to explain why Assad has managed to remain in control for so long. The Syrian civil war feels different to those living at its center, different from the way it feels for the people of Aleppo, or for the politicians making decisions at the United Nations.
The streets of Damascus are full of people who are smoking water pipes, going about their business and smiling. There are some Damascus residents who have withdrawn into their homes, and there are also refugees who live under tarps on the outskirts and come into the city during the day. Still, Damascus has remained a defiant, voracious city that is secular and has a youthful atmosphere like Beirut. Girls wear sleeveless blouses, the Umayyad Mosque shimmers in the morning light and lingerie and ice cream are sold in the bazaar.
Yet the rumbling of artillery fire can be heard from the suburbs of Daraya and Jobar. In the first, columns of black smoke can be seen rising into the air. In the second, insurgent fighters are reportedly holed up, surrounded by government troops.
Then there are people like Rami, 23, who was celebrating having passed his exam in business management at the Roma Café in the old city, along with 50 friends. The DJ played both Western pop and Middle Eastern music. When everyone was asked to pose for a group photo, Ali, an actor, grabbed the DJ's microphone and shouted: "We are with you with our blood and our souls, Bashar." And then he added: "What does Syria want?" And the crowd shouted back: "Bashar!"
No Sign of Tension
But fear is omnipresent. Perhaps people are becoming accustomed to the sound of explosions, and perhaps they are becoming detached, but the threat remains. The regime is reportedly bombing 60 to 200 locations a day. A day when fewer than 100 people are killed is considered a good day. Damascus residents know that the war is close, and say that they are afraid suicide bombers will soon be in the city. They also fear that their city will soon look more like Baghdad than Beirut.
The day before our interview with Assad, three members of his staff met with us in the Presidential Palace to discuss the ground rules. After the air had become thick with their cigarette smoke, they left the room, only to return and say they wanted to further discuss what had just been agreed upon. In the end, they agreed to a 90-minute interview with Assad. They stipulated that the photographer would have to submit his photos for review, and that the palace had the right to reject any photos it found objectionable. Is this ethical? The unacceptable alternative would be a regime photographer. Assad's staff also insisted that SPIEGEL not print any photos of chemical weapons victims with the interview. It was an unusual condition, but there would be no interview if we refused to comply. SPIEGEL has already published such photos and will continue to do so, but not with this interview.
The preliminary meeting lasted for three hours in the heat, but by the end of the conversation there were no further restrictions. As is standard practice with SPIEGEL interviews, both sides agreed to allow Assad's office to approve the contents of interview before publication. At first, the Syrians tentatively requested a list of questions, but then they abandoned this demand. Assad isn't worried about tough questions, they said. (The day after the conversation, the palace approved the interview without making any changes.)
Does Assad hear the shelling behind his thick glass windows and heavy blocks of marble? In early 2011, he said that Syria was "immune" to revolutionary insurgencies, and that he felt "very close" to his people. Now, he is likely much closer to the abyss, but in times of crisis, palace life is often far more removed from the outside world life than in times of peace.
During the interview, Assad spoke calmly and quietly, choosing his words carefully. He smiled almost incessantly, and there was nothing in his face or gestures to reveal signs of tension. His feet were turned inward and his knees were pressed together.
Read the SPIEGEL interview with Assad here.
Kenyan militant commander named as target of US Somali raid
Pentagon confirms target was Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir as Kenya's intelligence release report accusing him of plotting attack on Nairobi parliament
Abdalle Ahmed in Mogadishu and David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Tuesday 8 October 2013
The target of a failed US navy Seals raid in Somalia at the weekend was a Kenyan who plotted attacks on parliament buildings and the UN headquarters in Nairobi, the Pentagon has confirmed.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima, was the focus of the pre-dawn amphibious assault that was beaten back after a heavy firefight. The Pentagon identified Abdulkadir as a top commander in the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab.
In an internal report by Kenya's national intelligence service, leaked to media after last month's killings at the Westgate shopping mall, Abdulkadir is named as the lead planner of a plot sanctioned by al-Qaida's core leadership in Pakistan to perpetrate attacks in Kenya in late 2011 and early 2012. Targets included the parliament, the UN and military bases if the plan had gone ahead.
Abdulkadir is a Kenyan citizen of Somali origin, thought to be in his 30s. He is known to have lived for a time in Mombasa, Kenya, where he recruited fighters for al-Shabaab. He has travelled to countries including Eritrea, South Africa and Sudan, sources said.
He came to Somalia in 2006 and was among a group of African fighters from al-Qaida who joined al-Shabaab, according to Mohamed Jibril, a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, a group of Sharia courts that held sway over much of Somalia before the rise of al-Shabaab.
The Pentagon alleged that Abdulkadir was a close associate of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who topped the FBI's most wanted list for planning the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and to have taken over his position on behalf of al-Qaida in east Africa following Abdullah's death in 2011. The Pentagon statement also linked him to Saleh Naben, and alleged that both men had played a part in the 1998 embassy bombings and the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombassa.
Little said: "While the operation did not result in Ikrima's capture, US military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al-Shabaab leadership at any time of our choosing."
There are conflicting reports of how Ikrima survived Saturday's stealthy assault on Barawe by the same US navy Seal unit that killed Osama bin Laden. One source claimed Abdulkadir was inside the targeted house and sustained injuries, while his special bodyguard, a non-Somali, was killed.
But in a voice recording posted on a pro-Shabaab website, its military spokesman Abdiasis Abu Mus'ab denied that any senior commander of the group was inside the house at the time. "We confirm that only security personnel were inside the house. No such high-target person was staying in the house."
Fresh details of the unsuccessful raid emerged on Monday. An elder in Barawe, who did not wish to be named, said: "The attackers from the US first divided into two groups. Group one, comprising six men, stormed the house and began shooting the people inside it, while group two, also of at least six men, were staying outside the house. The worst shooting took place inside where one al-Shabaab fighter was killed. Al-Shabaab had more fighters inside and they fought extremely hard against the Americans."
The elder continued: "The Americans tried to enter room by room into the house to start searching for the big fish but al-Shabaab got reinforcing fighters from other houses and then the situation deteriorated until the Americans retreated. We saw their boots on the ground and also one hand grenade and three rounds of ammunition left by the American forces."
Unlike its Libyan counterpart, where a separate US raid led to the capture of an alleged al-Qaida leader, the Somali government did not initially object to the US operation. However, as the picture became clearer, some dissenting voices were raised.
Dahir Amin, an MP, said: "It was unfortunate that US special forces entered into Somali territory. This violates the diplomatic protection which every nation in the world has. No country would agree to foreign forces entering its soil without known permission. I am ashamed that our prime minister speaks about the attack 48 hours later."
Amin called for the government to set up an inquiry into national security and for the interior minister to demand a more detailed explanation of the covert operation.
But Abdurahman Omar, senior adviser to the president, insisted that "the operation was a joint one and the federal government of Somalia was informed about the attack. The target was a big al-Shabaab commander, whom I do not want to name at this moment."
• This article was amended on 8 October 2013. As the result of an editing error, an earlier version described George Little as the defence secretary. He is the Pentagon press secretary.
Son of Abu Anas al-Liby describes capture of al-Qaida suspect in Libya
Abdullah al-Ruqai, 21, says Abu Anas al-Liby is not a terrorist and claims Libyan forces were involved in operation to seize him
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 October 2013 08.30 BST
A son of the suspected senior al-Qaida member Abu Anas al-Liby has described the moment masked US commandos grabbed his father outside their Tripoli home.
Abdullah al-Ruqai, 21, said three masked men brandishing handguns leapt from a white Mercedes van as his father, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, returned in his car from morning prayers at 6.30am on Saturday in the leafy suburb of Noufle'een.
"Just as my father was parking, these cars came from everywhere," he said. "There were three white cars which blocked the street, then came the van, all of them with tinted windows. The van pulled up and 10 men got out; three of them had masks and handguns fitted with silencers."
The masked men ran to his father's car, a black Hyundai Tucson, smashed the driver's window with a gun and hauled open the door. "Some of the men were shouting 'get out, get out' in Arabic," he said. "They dragged my father out and threw him on the bonnet of the car. He was shouting 'what's going on?'"
Watching from the walled four-storey family home located on a street corner opposite a school, Abdullah saw his father dragged across the road to the van. "His body was floppy, he wasn't speaking, they must have drugged him."
In seconds the swoop was over. No shots were fired. Liby was pushed into the van, the doors slammed shut and it roared off followed by the three white cars.
Abdullah said he was sure that Libyan forces were involved in the operation, something the government has yet to clarify. "The guys in masks, they moved like professionals, like they knew what they were doing. But the other seven, they were standing back, they looked like amateurs, they shouted with Libyan accents and moved like Libyans. As a Libyan you just know."
He said proof would be provided when friends of his father release footage from a CCTV camera Liby had installed on the wall of the house.
"Ever since we moved back here my father feared he would be targeted," Abdullah said, standing by the Hyundai which was still missing its driver's window. "We all expected we would be bombed by plane, we didn't think they would come for him like this."
He said the arrest brought back memories of witnessing his father's arrest by British police in their home in Manchester when he was nine years old. He remembered police kicking in the door early one morning and hauling his father away. "It was bad, I remember it clearly, all the shouting, all the noise."
Abdullah said his father was innocent of US accusations that he helped mastermind the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi with the loss of more than 200 lives in 1998.
He said his father had no connection with Osama bin Laden. "He never met Bin Laden, he never worked with him, he was not a terrorist," he told the Guardian. "As a young man, he went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He heard how people were being killed, women raped in Afghanistan and he wanted to help."
Abdullah, a high school student, said the family left England for Iran, living there for six months before they were all arrested and held for seven years. "The Iran arrest was worse than the one in Manchester. In Iran we were kept underground, we hardly saw the daylight."
In 2010 Iran allowed the family to return home without Liby. He followed them later, arriving in time to participate in the Arab Spring uprising in which the oldest of his four sons was killed. "He fought against the Gaddafi forces in the Nafusa mountains. Later he was in the assault on Bab al-Aziza [Gaddafi's Tripoli compound]."
He said his father taught each of his four sons to memorise the Qur'an. "He was a good Muslim. In Manchester he did not encourage us to follow football, he wanted us to learn the Qur'an."
Liby planned to clear his name of criminal charges and resume his work as a computer expert specialising in nuclear research, but also prepared his family for the worst. "My father feared he could be kidnapped at any time, he brought each of us up to be ready to be the leader of the family. And now that person is me," Abdullah said.
White House defends al-Qaida capture in Libya as US ponders legal options
Abu Anas al-Liby waits to learn if he will be tried in federal court that indicted him in 2000 or face a military commission
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013 17.28 BST
The Obama administration strongly defended its unexpected capture of an alleged al-Qaida operative from a Libya street at the weekend, but said on Monday that officials had yet to decide what form of legal process he will face.
Abu Anas al-Liby, indicted by the US 13 years ago for his role in embassy bombings that killed more than 220 people, is in the brig of a US navy ship somewhere in the Mediterranean, waiting to learn if he will be tried in the New York federal court that indicted him, or face a military commission.
Liby, wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was seized as he parked his car in Tripoli on Saturday, in a raid condemned as a "kidnapping" by the Libyan government.
US administration officials would not provide any timeline for the legal process relating to Liby's detention. The last known time the administration detained a terrorist suspect aboard a navy ship, it did so for over two months before handing that suspect to a federal court in New York. Some administration officials expect Liby will undergo a similar process.
John Kerry, the secretary of state, called Liby a "legal and appropriate target" for the US, while suggesting that Liby will receive justice in a civilian court.
"I hope the perception is in the world that people who commit acts of terror and who have been appropriately indicted by courts of law, by the legal process, will know that United States of America is going to do anything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and to protect our security," Kerry said, during an economic conference in Indonesia.
Liby, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, "will now have an opportunity to defend himself and to be appropriately brought to justice in a court of law," Kerry said.
The Obama administration has yet to determine what sort of court it will provide for Liby to face those charges, although some administration officials expect he will receive a civilian trial. Nor is it clear how long Liby will remain aboard the ship – reportedly the landing transport dock USS San Antonio – where he is certain to be interrogated.
"As far as future venues for Liby, we will have to let that process play out," said Paul Breeson, a spokesman for the FBI.
At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the Justice Department and Defense Department will jointly decide whether Liby faces prosecution in a federal court or before a military tribunal.
"Determining when and where to prosecute individuals is a traditional and important executive branch authority that has long been exercised on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant factors – such decisions are not made arbitrarily," Hayden said.
Several media organizations have reported that Liby will be brought into federal custody for a civilian trial. But over the weekend, several Defense Department officials said they had no information about next steps for Liby beyond his unexpected stay aboard a navy ship.
The Pentagon's spokesman for detention matters, army lieutenant colonel Todd Breasseale, ruled out detaining Liby at Guantánamo Bay. "The president has repeatedly been very clear on this issue: he will not add to the population at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay," Breasseale said. "We remain committed to its closure. There are no timelines associated with the actions from this weekend."
A member of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff of California, urged the administration to try Liby before a federal court. "I support a civilian prosecution and hope that the administration will resist any call to bring Liby before a military commission," Schiff said in a statement on Monday.
"The Justice Department has demonstrated a far greater ability to successfully prosecute terrorists in federal courts than the military commissions have thus far been able to show. Nothing must be done to compromise the public safety, the ability of Justice Department prosecutors to seek justice for the victims of the east Africa bombings, or our constitutional principles."
Confirming the capture on Sunday, defense secretary Chuck Hagel said the operation, along with a near simultaneous special operations raid in Somalia, demonstrated "the unparalleled precision, global reach, and capabilities of the United States military".
"As a result of the Libya operation, one of the world's most wanted terrorists was captured and is now in US custody," Hagel said.
The Obama administration would not comment on whether the High-Level Detainee Interrogation Group, an FBI-led effort created in 2009 for humanely interrogating top terrorist captives, is participating in the Liby interrogation, as is likely.
Libya's government refused to say whether its forces were involved in the arrest and claimed it had not been informed in advance. A statement from the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, said: "The Libyan government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is wanted by US authorities. The Libyan government has contacted US authorities to ask them to provide an explanation."
A group of Libyan Islamic extremists vowed to avenge Liby's capture. In a statement posted on a militant website on Monday, The Revolutionaries of Benghazi, al-Bayda and Darna denounced the kidnapping, saying: "This shameful act will cost the Libyan government a lot."
The cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Darna are strongholds of Islamic extremists who are carrying out political assassinations, targeting political activists, judges and members of security agencies. "We owe it to God to fight whoever betrayed his country and involved in this conspiracy," the group said.
The Liby capture is shaping up as a test of whether the Obama administration is re-emphasizing the capture of terrorist suspects, risky missions that have been relatively rare during the past five years, and shifting away from what it calls "targeted killing" operations, usually involving armed drones. It is also looking like a test of a related issue: whether the Obama administration is recommitting to civilian courts for trying terrorist suspects that it captures in the future.
A likely prologue for Liby's case came in April 2011, when US special operations forces captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame off the Somali coast. He was kept in the brig of the USS Boxer for nearly three months of interrogation before the navy took him to the Southern District of New York to face terrorism charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
October 7, 2013
Egyptian Attacks Are Escalating Amid Stalemate
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — The lethal conflict between Egypt’s military-backed government and its Islamist opponents escalated on Monday, with an expansion of attacks against government targets, signs that the authorities have failed to secure the streets and a refusal by either side to back down.
Three brazen attacks across the country included a drive-by shooting near the Suez Canal that killed six soldiers, a car bomb that killed three police officers and wounded dozens near the Red Sea resorts area, and the first rocket-propelled grenade launched in the struggle, exploding near an elite enclave of the capital and damaging a satellite transmitter.
The attacks came a day after security forces killed 53 protesters, many shot in the head and chest, in the worst outbreak of street mayhem in Cairo since mid-August.
Three months after the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the violence was the latest evidence that the new government installed on July 3 by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi had failed to neutralize the Islamist opposition even after arresting its leadership and demonstrating its willingness to use lethal force.
To many in the government, the protests and attacks seemed only to underscore the need to redouble its fight against the Brotherhood, which officials quickly blamed for Monday’s attacks.
To the Islamist opposition, however, a heavy turnout for a day of protests on Sunday despite the deadly reprisals only proved the resilience of their “anti coup” movement — even with no obvious leadership. Faced with a return to decades of repression, Islamists said, they had no choice but to continue their protests even if they risked death and stood little chance of reversing the takeover.
The seemingly random attacks on Monday, many analysts said, indicated that the violent backlash against the new government had taken on a momentum that the leaders of the Brotherhood could no longer restrain even if they wanted to.
While neither side could fully triumph, neither could see room to pull back, setting the stage for further bloodshed, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo who has tried without success to broker steps toward compromise. “We have reached a bloody stalemate,” he said.
Since Mr. Morsi was deposed, the killing of security officers has become an almost daily occurrence in the industrial canal zone of the lawless northern Sinai. But the car bomb on Monday morning in the south Sinai town of El Tur, in the same region as the biblical Mount Sinai and the Sharm el Sheik resort, was the first sign that such attacks might be spreading to what had been a pillar of the Egyptian economy, its Red Sea resorts.
And the rocket-propelled grenade attack was the first time in years that such a heavy weapon had been used in the vicinity of the capital. The grenade tore a foot-wide hole in a satellite-transmission dish, and its explosion an hour before dawn sent shivers through the affluent neighborhood of Maadi, a heavily guarded precinct that is home to many embassies and diplomats.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, nor did they need to. The attacks were universally assumed to be the work of Islamists angry at Mr. Morsi’s ouster, and, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized as spokesmen, two senior government officials blamed the Brotherhood despite its repeated public disavowals of such tactics.
“Blackmail by terrorism,” said one of the officials, a senior military officer.
Suggesting the Brotherhood was almost predisposed to violence, he argued that the violence might have been worse if not for the crackdown, in which security forces have killed more than 1,000 protesters and jailed hundreds of Islamist leaders. If the violence was this severe with the leaders behind bars, the officer asked, how much worse might it be if leaders were released?
The Brotherhood’s “anti coup” alliance, meanwhile, saluted what it called the courage and sacrifice of “unprecedented numbers” who had turned out the day before. In a statement on Monday, the alliance called for student protests at schools and universities on Tuesday “to denounce the continuation of the massacres.”
And it all but dared the government to continue the violence against protesters by calling for new marches on Friday to Tahrir Square, the symbolic center of the 2011 revolt against President Hosni Mubarak and more recently the staging ground for rallies in support of General Sisi. It was the attempt by pro-Morsi marchers to reach Tahrir Square on Sunday, when it was the site of a pro-military celebration, that set in motion the day of deadly violence, and the opposition alliance’s plans to try again this Friday appeared to set the stage for more.
“Nobody will keep us from the square no matter what the sacrifices,” the alliance said in its statement.
Leaders and supporters of the Brotherhood have said repeatedly for weeks that they have no choice but to continue their street protests regardless of the odds, because the new government has so far shown every intention of suppressing Egyptian democracy as well as their movement.
“This is a final ultimate battle with the military,” Ahmed el-Erainy, 42, a business consultant and Brotherhood member recently released from prison after his arrest at an antigovernment sit-in, said on Monday. “It is the ultimate battle between us and them, and by us I don’t just mean the Brothers — I mean the civil state versus the military state.”
Like others in the Brotherhood, he dismissed the idea that its members could ever hope for fairness under the military-led government, and after his turn through Egypt’s capricious and politicized judicial system he laughed with particular relish at the idea that instead of street protests they might put their trust in the law and the courts. “What judiciary?” he asked. “There is no judiciary in Egypt.”
H. A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who is based in Egypt, argued that the Brotherhood’s approach was tragically shortsighted. Egypt’s security forces were likely to meet almost any mass demonstration with force, and the Islamists end up taking the blame for the loss of life, the chaos and any subsequent retaliation like the attacks on Monday.
“Who do you think will be blamed for that R.P.G. attack?” Mr. Hellyer said. “More people will die, you will have violence in other parts of the country, and all that will be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“It is only a question of whether the Brotherhood are pummeled out of the political arena, or if they withdraw on their own terms,” he added.
But Professor Shahin of the American University in Cairo argued that by harassing the government the protests gave the Islamists some leverage, and that the current government was also in a battle it could never fully win. “You can’t just say, ‘I have half the population on my side and with it I can crush the other half,’ and go on like that indefinitely,” he said. “This military-backed government cannot consolidate on the basis of repression and the authoritarian measures of the ‘50s and ‘60s. That is a bygone era.”
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.