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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 495400 times)
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« Reply #9270 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:00 AM »


Hillary Clinton: we need to talk sensibly about spying

Former US secretary of state greets debate as British shadow home secretary calls for oversight of intelligence

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Nicholas Watt, Alan Travis and Nick Hopkins   
The Guardian, Saturday 12 October 2013      

Hillary Clinton has called for a "sensible adult conversation", to be held in a transparent way, about the boundaries of state surveillance highlighted by the leaking of secret NSA files by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a boost to Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, who is planning to start conversations within government about the oversight of Britain's intelligence agencies, the former US secretary of state said it would be wrong to shut down a debate.

Clinton, who is seen as a frontrunner for the 2016 US presidential election, said at Chatham House in London: "This is a very important question. On the intelligence issue, we are democracies thank goodness, both the US and the UK.

"We need to have a sensible adult conversation about what is necessary to be done, and how to do it, in a way that is as transparent as it can be, with as much oversight and citizens' understanding as there can be."

Her words were echoed by the British shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, who repeated her call in a speech in July for reform of the oversight of the intelligence agencies. Cooper, a former member of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee that oversees the agencies,said: "I have long argued that checks and balances need to be stronger – this would benefit and maintain confidence in the vital work of our security and intelligence agencies as well as being in the interests of democracy."

The conciliatory language of Clinton and Cooper contrasted with that of MI5, whose director general, Andrew Parker, warned earlier this week that the leaked documents by Snowden had provided a gift to terrorists.

The former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw reinforced that message Friday, criticising the Guardian for publishing articles based on the leaked documents.

Straw, foreign secretary during the Iraq war in 2003, told the BBC: "They're blinding themselves about the consequence and also showing an extraordinary naivety and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particular secrets which they have published are not likely to damage the national interest, and they're not in any position at all to do that."

Clegg, who agrees with Straw that in some cases the Guardian was wrong to publish details from the NSA files, believes the leaks show the need to consider updating the legal oversight of Britain's security services. Aides said he would be calling in experts from inside and outside Whitehall amid concerns that the leaked files show that powerful new technologies appear to have outstripped the current system of legislative and political oversight.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, confirmed the Lib Dems wanted to examine the oversight of the intelligence agencies and he praised the Guardian for performing a public service in publishing articles on the files.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I think the Guardian has done a very considerable public service. Snowden's contribution is two-fold. One is a positive one, which is whistleblowing, and the other is more worrying, that a large amount of genuinely important intelligence material does seem to have been passed across.

"The conclusion which Nick Clegg came to, and set out this morning, is that we do need to have proper political oversight of the intelligence services and arguably we haven't until now. What they [the Guardian] did was, as journalists, entirely correct and right. Snowden is a different kettle of fish."

Downing Street indicated that senior members of the coalition were at odds when the prime minister's spokesman dismissed Cable's claim that Britain arguably lacks a proper system of oversight, saying that the prime minister is satisfied with the system. But David Cameron's spokesman added that members of the national security council, of which Clegg is a member, were entitled to question the intelligence agencies.

The spokesman said: "There is a debate that is outside of government that is often reported in [the Guardian] and other newspapers. There is the scope for members of the national security council, privy councillors, to ask questions and the like to better understand the work that the agencies do. That is always open to them."

The agencies are overseen in three ways in Britain: they are answerable to their relevant secretary of state; accountable to parliament's intelligence and security committee chaired by the former Tory foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and answerable to the intelligence commissioners.

David Bickford, a former legal director of MI5 and MI6, told the Guardian that the current oversight regime for Britain's intelligence agencies was "obviously inadequate."

"Secrecy in this country is over-protected and under-regulated," he said. "The UK has signally failed to prepare itself for openness when dealing with politically sensitive issues such as terrorism or the involvement of their secret agencies in the gathering of information by secret means."Bickford added: "We see only a fleeting and ephemeral face of the intelligence agencies chiefs; ministers glide over the threats, never explain their relationship with those agencies and are content to retain an obviously inadequate system for their supervision."

Bickford said public scepticism was "made worse by the Communications Data Bill's proposal that the agencies themselves control their mining of communications data."

He added: "Unless government takes this debate seriously, secrecy will be pierced by the needs of society and terrorism and organised crime will plunder our sovereignty."

Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch, joined forces with ten other like-minded campaigners to call on Cameron and Clegg to reform the system of oversight of the intelligence agencies. In a letter to the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and the ISC chairman the campaigners called for an independent review of the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994; the publication, in line with the practice in the US of legal opinions used to support surveillance methods; and to allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to report directly to Parliament rather than just to the prime minister.

In the letter they said: "We would be delighted to meet with you or members of your Government to discuss these issues. At a time when the internet is an inescapable part of daily life, the modern economy and the delivery of public services, it is surely paramount that the laws that govern surveillance are fit for a digital age, and that the safeguards that operate are robust, properly resourced and can command public confidence."

Sir Francis Richards, a former GCHQ director, questioned whether it was right for an MP of a governing party to chair the intelligence and security committee. Richards, who was highly critical of the Guardian for publishing the leaked documents, told The World at One on Radio 4: "I think it's probably not a very good idea that a former senior minister in a Conservative government is the current chair of the intelligence and security committee."

In her remarks, Clinton did not comment on the UK's oversight arrangements. But she indicated she was wholly supportive of the approach adopted by Barack Obama who – in contrast to Downing Street – has said he welcomes a debate on surveillance in the wake of the NSA leaks.

Answering a question from the Guardian at Chatham House, she said the discussion had to take place within a framework that addressed issues of privacy and protection of citizens because some surveillance programmes remained a "really critical ingredient in our homeland security."

Clinton, who is considering whether to make her second challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination, added: "It would be going down a wrong path if we were to reject the importance of the debate, and the kinds of intelligence activities that genuinely keep us safe.

"So how do we sort all of this out? This is a problem that is well over a decade old, where these capacities have corresponded with increasing outreach to consumers on the business side and increasing concern about security on the government side. People need to be better informed."

Cooper was careful to praise the work of the intelligence agencies. She said: "The work of the security and intelligence services is vital, and most of it by necessity must be kept secret to protect our national security and public safety. Leaks of classified information can be deeply damaging, and in the wrong hands can place our country and people's lives in danger. But because so much information needs to be kept secret, it's even more important that there are strong checks and balances in place, to provide effective oversight, accountability and reassurance to the public. And that's why we are proposing reforms.

"When dealing with international terrorism or other complex and serious threats, strong powers will sometimes be needed but they should be matched by strong checks and balances to ensure power is not concentrated or abused, and to investigate when things go wrong.

As a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee I have long called for it to have greater powers and resources to pursue searching investigations. And it also needs the credibility and independence of government in the eyes of the public, Parliament and the media that the Public Accounts Committee has.

"We should be strengthening other forms of oversight too. We are way past the time when oversight can be delivered simply by retired judges undertaking paper-based reviews and never speaking publicly about their conclusions or the work they do. The current framework of commissioners who few people have heard of simply isn't adequate for a world of rapidly changing technology and public expectations.

"The very nature of intelligence agencies is that their work needs to go on behind closed doors, and many of the checks and balances need to be behind closed doors too. But those checks and balances need to be strong enough and credible enough so the public can be confidence in the vital work the agencies do."

************

The spooks strike back over GCHQ leaks – but they have a history of exaggerating threats

The real issue isn't what the Guardian published, but the lack of political oversight of the security and intelligence agencies

Richard Norton-Taylor   
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 18.16 BST   

Britain's spooks are striking back. Weeks, months, after the Guardian, Washington Post and German magazine der Spiegel, published documents about the massive surveillance operations of GCHQ and its close US electronic eavesdropping partner, the National Security Agency, they are saying the leaks have done more damage than the infamous Cambridge spy ring. Indeed, they suggest, the full extent of the damage done may never be fully assessed.

Sir David Omand, a former GCHQ director, told the Times newspaper today that the leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden was "the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever, much worse than [Guy] Burgess and [Donald] MacLean in the 50s".

Yet when Vince Cable was asked what he thought about the decision to publish leaked material, the business secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Guardian had performed "a very considerable public service". He called for "proper political oversight" of the security and intelligence agencies. Then a few hours later, Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of MI6, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that the Snowden leaks were "comparable" to those by the Cambridge spies, "only worse". Yet last month he played down the impact of the leaks, described them as "very embarrassing, uncomfortable, and unfortunate". He added, clearly referring to al-Qaida-inspired terrorists: "I sense that those most interested in the activities of the NSA and GCHQ have not been told very much they didn't know already or could have inferred."

It is the job of the spooks to carry out damage assessments after leaks and security and intelligence failures. However, it is unclear whether, as those who make the dramatic comparison with the Cambridge spies suggest, the spooks are concerned more about information getting into the hands of the Russians and Chinese than the "gift" the leaks gave to terrorists, as the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, put it in his speech. Terrorists, of course, pose as much a threat to Russia and China as they do to the UK.

The spooks avoid the issue by describing the damage done by the leaks as "incalculable". It is reminiscent of the Scott "arms-to-Iraq" inquiry which revealed how security and intelligence officials told ministers they had no choice but to sign gagging orders to prevent parliament and MPs know what the spooks were up to. Lord Scott at one point asked a Foreign Office minister about Whitehall's claim that "disclosure of any sources or alleged sources of intelligence information" would cause "unquantifiable damage". Should that be taken as covering "both unquantifiably great and also miniscule". "Yes," replied the minister sternly.

In an exchange about Whitehall's deeply ingrained "need to know" principle, Scott's legal counsel was provoked into telling a Ministry of Defence official: "If you were not told about something, you don't know if you need to know it." Or as John Major explained to the Scott inquiry, what information was given to ministers was always "a value judgment".

That is what ministers are now worried about, and probably prompted Cable's call for political oversight of the spooks. GCHQ, based in Cheltenham, has been left to its own devices, with ministers having little idea what it has been up to. The recent suggestion in the Guardian by former Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne that members of the cabinet and the National Security Council were not aware of the GCHQ-NSA surveillance operations is confirmed by reliable political and official sources who are in a position to know.

There is a lack of effective political, as well as parliamentary and judicial oversight, of the security and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, instead of attacking the recipients of the leaks, GCHQ, David Cameron, Jack Straw and others now queuing up to criticise the Guardian should tell the US to look at its own security, and ask why a junior CIA official turned private contractor possessed so much sensitive information – collected by British as well as American intelligence agencies.

And it is perhaps ironic, given the dramatic comparison made by Omand and others, that the real damage done by the Cambridge spy ring, as opposed to the embarrassment it caused British ministers and British spooks, has almost certainly been grossly exaggerated.

**************

The secret state is just itching to gag the press

Get regulation wrong, and it won't be tales of Cheryl Cole that are censored, but revelations like those of Edward Snowden

Jonathan Freedland   
The Guardian, Friday 11 October 2013 20.00 BST        

It's the readers I feel sorry for. How, one wonders, are those who follow Britain's noisiest newspapers of the right to make sense of what they have been told? For nearly a year the Telegraph, Times, Sun and Daily Mail have warned that the hard-fought freedom of the press is in danger, that soon there could exist in this land a menace that has not existed in three centuries: state control of the written word, thanks to last year's Leveson report and the new regime of interference it mandated.

In this grim new world a newspaper editor could face the threat of jail simply for doing what journalists are meant to do, probing into those corners of public life the powerful would prefer stayed hidden. The readers' only comfort has been the knowledge that at least the right-leaning press is ready to stand firm in the defence of free expression.

What a shock, then, to open those papers this week. "Guardian treason helping terrorists," thundered Rod Liddle in the Sun. "Guardian has handed a gift to terrorists," announced the front page of Wednesday's Daily Mail, quoting the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, who had condemned this newspaper for revealing that pretty well anyone who uses the internet is monitored by a mass surveillance programme conducted by the NSA and GCHQ. Helpfully, the Mail found a professor at Buckingham University to call for the Guardian to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act.

Its editorial was clear. The Guardian had acted with "lethal irresponsibility". If the head of MI5 says something should not be published, then it should not be published. When it comes to reporting on such matters, an editor cannot possibly be allowed to decide for himself what to print. After all, as the Mail put it, "He's a journalist, not an expert on security." Put another way, in an ideal world a newspaper editor could face the threat of jail simply for doing what journalists are meant to do, probing into those corners of public life the powerful would prefer stayed hidden. Readers will surely be forgiven their confusion. One minute the papers are fighting to their last breath the threat of state control, the next they are cheering the secret state as it seeks to gag a newspaper. Those who study the media closely believe the motive is obvious. The Mail and others loathe the Guardian, they say, blaming it both for the entire Leveson process through its revelation of the phone-hacking scandal, and for subsequently insisting that any regulation be genuinely independent. The current attack is payback. In other words, so desperate are the rightwing papers to avoid state interference in the press, they'll demand more state interference in the press. They are bombing the village to save it.

In this thicket of confusion, there are two questions that should be answered. Was the Guardian right to publish the NSA revelations? The head of MI5 says no, but the editors of the most prestigious news organisations in the world disagree, describing such reporting – uncovering a pattern of global surveillance, rather than unmasking individual agents – as nothing less than the duty of journalism in a democracy, allowing voters to know what the state is doing with their money and in their name.

Perhaps that's what journalists would say (though not all journalists, we now discover). Perhaps it's equally predictable that Lib Dem Vince Cable would say, as he did on Friday that the Guardian had performed a "considerable public service". But more unexpected are the words of James Clapper, the director of US national intelligence, who has said of the NSA revelations: "I think it's clear that … some of the debate, actually needed to happen." That's rather hard to square with MI5's claim that the Guardian is guilty of dangerous treachery.

The second question relates to the link between the NSA story and press regulation. For if the threat of state control of the press is real, what kind of story do we think the state would want to control? Would it punish a red-top editor for rifling through, say, Cheryl Cole's dustbins; or would it hound Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, for revealing that all of us are watched around the clock?

This should give everyone pause, especially those who, after seeing the slime Leveson found under various stones, became the loudest enthusiasts for regulation. There has been much focus on ensuring any new regulator is truly independent of the newspapers, on a genuine break from the Press Complaints Commission that was the wholly owned creature of Fleet Street. The Guardian has been adamant on this point.

But a new regulator must be just as independent of the state and, on this point, all the papers, including the most hawkish, may have made a fateful error. In their determination to keep politicians' hands off the press, they insisted MPs stay well away, passing no statute that would establish the new regulation system. In its place came a wonderfully Ruritanian ruse, the use of a royal charter. Politicians and press alike have embraced this medieval device, believing that a body magicked from the air by the Queen neatly dodges the threat of state control.

But they're wrong – and this week has proved why. For the body that oversees a royal charter, and can unpick its terms on a whim, is the Privy Council – an entity packed by ministers drawn from the government of the day, and which is deployed to do the state's most secret business, under the extensive, unchecked powers of the royal prerogative. It is the very last bit of government any believer in free speech would want anywhere near the press. Yet the newspapers' own proposal, rejected by ministers on Tuesday, called for just such a royal charter.

After this week, we don't have to imagine how such a system would work. The head of MI5 would no longer be confined to speechifying against the Guardian. It would need only a word in the right ear and, with the privy council and the charter as its weapons, the state could decide the Guardian had crossed the line and had to be silenced, leaving the public where it was before: in the dark.

There is not much time. Late on Friday the three main Westminster parties announced they had agreed a new regulatory set-up, centred once again on a royal charter, albeit one that cannot be altered by secret ministerial whim, but would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of parliament. That provides little reassurance: the requirement itself could be overturned by a simple Commons majority.

Ministers hope to have their new charter "sealed" by 30 October. Between now and then editors need to agree on an alternative. They might look for a new overseer, perhaps located in the judiciary rather than parliament. Or they could construct a new regulator whose members are truly independent but which is overseen by no part of the state, even if that means giving up the legal protections and reduced court costs Leveson envisaged. Such a move could be combined with a tougher law against the kind of violations of privacy that sparked the current fury, as well as reformed libel rules and new limits on media ownership, to ensure greater plurality.

Whatever the solution, it must not involve a royal charter and the privy council. Otherwise it will hand a gag to the most secretive elements of the British state. And, as we saw this week, they are itching to use it.

*************

Leave surveillance to the judges

Independent judicial oversight would reduce both the risk and the perception of collusion or political interference

David Bickford   
The Guardian, Friday 11 October 2013 21.00 BST          

Andrew Parker, the new MI5 chief, is right to be deeply worried by the Snowden revelations. The new availability of information on the web is opening up secrecy like a knife into an oyster. However, Anthony Glees, head of the centre for security and intelligence studies at Buckingham University, ignores the fact that secrecy in this country is overprotected and under-regulated when he suggests the Guardian should be prosecuted for putting this under the microscope.

Britain has utterly failed to prepare itself for openness when dealing with politically sensitive issues such as terrorism, or the involvement of their secret agencies in the covert gathering of information. We rarely hear from the intelligence agencies' chiefs; and ministers glide over the threats, never explain their relationship with those agencies, and retain an obviously inadequate system for their supervision. As a result, as long as ministers continue to authorise the agencies' eavesdropping, surveillance, and informant approval, the public will believe there is an unhealthy relationship between them. That scepticism is made worse by the communications data bill's proposal that the agencies themselves control their mining of communications data.

Against this background it is hardly surprising that the Snowden revelations have not been met by the public antagonism one might expect when national security has been compromised. The government must regain the initiative. A first and necessary step is to leave the authorisation of eavesdropping, surveillance and informant approval to the judiciary. This would mean that applications to carry out such covert activities would have to be made by the agencies direct to a judge. This would reduce both the risk and the perception of collusion or political interference.

Government may argue that all this is unnecessary as there is already adequate oversight of the agencies. It is true that oversight has improved now parliament itself is in charge of overseeing the agencies. However, that oversight is ex post facto and is, on the admission of former oversight committee chiefs, both inadequate and subject to political pressure. Moreover, it is no substitute for independent judicial authority.

As a bonus, if judicial authority were given for telephone and electronic intercepts, evidence thus collected could be used to prosecute terrorists, as happens in the US. The current refusal of the UK government to use intercept evidence would then look even more unwise.

This concept of judicial authority for intrusive covert surveillance is not new. Many jurisdictions adhere to it. In the French legal system, a judge supervises covert targeted operations and determines the civil rights balances involved. This way, both the public and the agencies are protected, and at any subsequent trial the evidential uncertainties have already been excluded. In the UK such a procedure would obviate the need for secret courts to determine civil proceedings and reassure the public that fair trials remain a baseplate of our society. It is a system that needs to be introduced to all the UK agencies' covert targeted operations.

The government could then turn its attention to the vital job of informing the public. Unlike in the US, the British public do not get to see the intelligence agencies' chiefs grilled by the oversight committee, nor do they see those chiefs and the law enforcement agencies being interviewed together about their objectives and the tools they need to achieve them. The public have a right to see and hear this so that they can make up their own minds about the integrity of the leaders, the validity of their objectives, the need for the tools they use and whether the secrecy demanded is properly balanced.

Unless government takes this debate seriously, the British public's need to know what the intelligence agencies are doing will continue to shatter secrecy – and terrorism and organised crime will benefit.

*****************

Editors on the NSA files: 'What the Guardian is doing is important for democracy'

On Thursday the Daily Mail described the Guardian as 'The paper that helps Britain's enemies'. We showed that article to many of the world's leading editors. This is what they said

Click here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/10/guardian-democracy-editors




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« Reply #9271 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:06 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ..

Pussy Riot detainee accuses Russian officials of imposing illegal isolation

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova makes move following hunger strike over harsh jail conditions

Shaun Walker, Moscow correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 19.27 BST   

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of two imprisoned members of the punk collective Pussy Riot, accused Russian authorities on Friday of imposing an "information blockade" on her since she declared a hunger strike last month in a statement from prison hospital.

Tolokonnikova, who ended the hunger strike after medical complications, had not been able to see lawyers or relatives for two weeks, prompting serious concerns for her health. She was allowed to see her lawyer for the first time only on Thursday. She said there were no medical grounds for her to be denied access to lawyers and visitors, suggesting this made it clear that isolating her from the outside world had been a political decision.

"I want to make a declaration to everyone who has a role in making the decision to put me in isolation," Tolokonnikova wrote in her statement, seen by the Guardian. "If you think that without contact with my friends I will become amenable and open to compromise, and go back on the views I have formed about Mordovia's camps during my time in jail, then you are horribly mistaken."

Last month, Tolokonnikova announced she was going on hunger strike in protest against slave-like labour conditions in her prison, reminiscent of the Soviet Gulag system. She described life in jail, including 17-hour working days and a series of sadistic punishments inflicted by guards, in a long open letter that was widely discussed online. She also claimed that she had received thinly veiled death threats from the prison's management.

She is serving her time at Penal Colony No 14 in the region of Mordovia, infamous in Soviet times for its network of Gulags, and in the news recently as the new home of the French actor turned Russian citizen, Gérard Depardieu.

"I demand that the colony administration respect human rights," Tolokonnikova wrote in her initial letter. "I demand that the Mordovia camp function in accordance with the law. I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves."

The letter has prompted promises from the Kremlin's human rights council that it will investigate the claims, but prison officials insist the allegations are fabricated.

Anatoly Rudy, deputy head of Russia's prison service, said on Thursday that the prison where Tolokonnikova is serving her sentence is "a pretty good institution" and in many ways exceeded the legal standards for prison conditions. "They have toilet cubicles that are individually separated, and from what I've seen in video footage, there are even toilet seats," he said.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Petya Verzilov, who spent the day outside the prison hospital where Tolonnikova is being held but had not yet been able to see her, told the Guardian by telephone on Friday that she had recovered from the medical complications brought about by her hunger strike. He also said he had received another, longer statement from Tolokonnikova that he planned to release on Friday evening.

"She's OK now," said Verzilov. "She has been moved from confinement to the more general prison hospital area, where she is with other inmates. The lawyer was finally able to see her yesterday."

In her statement, the 23-year-old warns the authorities that if they continue to deny her the right to legal consultations, then her "uncompromising attitude to the infringement on human rights" in prison camps will only grow stronger.

"Since Soviet times, the camps of Mordovia have served as the final instrument for the authorities to use in the hope of breaking the will of political prisoners who did not repent in mindless and illegal court cases," wrote Tolokonnikova. "And I am doing everything in my power to take away this torture instrument from our state … I am pleased that I can in some way change the situation in Mordovia's camps today, in order to prevent torture and deaths."

Tolokonnikova was given a two-year sentence for her part in Pussy Riot's "punk prayer" in Moscow's largest cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to "kick out the Pig". Another band member, Maria Alyokhina, was given the same sentence but is serving her time in a different prison. A third Pussy Riot member, Ekaterina Samutsevich, was freed on appeal.


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« Reply #9272 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:11 AM »

How children's books thrived under Stalin

When Stalin's great purges made writing dangerous, a group of avant garde artists turned their attention to children's books. Philip Pullman on a new collection that reveals a vigorous freedom in a time of repression

Philip Pullman   
The Guardian, Friday 11 October 2013 18.00 BST

At the trial of the three Pussy Riot performers in August 2012, one of the accused, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, made a closing statement in their defence. She spoke of Pussy Riot's admiration for those writers and artists who had suffered under Stalin's purges, and in particular for a group of avant garde poets and writers known as Oberiu. Two of the most prominent Oberiu members were Alexander Vvedensky and Daniil Kharms, both of whom were arrested, and died, during the Great Terror.

    Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children's Literature 1920-35: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times

    Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

Vvedensky and Kharms had another thing in common. Finding their adult poetry impossible to publish, with its absurdist imagery and aesthetically radical approach, they turned to writing for children. In that field they could earn a living and work without too much interference from the authorities. They could also collaborate with equally avant garde visual artists such as Vladimir Tatlin, the designer of the famous unbuilt Monument to the Third International, and El Lissitzky, the suprematist painter, typographer, and graphic designer.

Partly because of such collaborations, and partly because children's books provided a hiding place for a while, the early Soviet period was a miraculously rich time for children's books and their illustration. A new book, Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children's Literature 1920-1935 offers a glimpse into that astonishing world. The designer, Julian Rothenstein, and the writer of an essay in the book, Olga Budashevskaya, have produced something truly remarkable. Brilliant primary colours, simple geometrical shapes – at first sight it looks like a textbook of suprematism, the movement that emerged from the intellectual ferment of pre-revolutionary Russia to express the supremacy of pure, artistic feeling above the mere depiction of objects. In the hands of Kazimir Malevich, for example, the great theoretician of suprematism, a black square expressed such feeling, and the white field on which it appeared was the void beyond all feeling.

For the illustrator K Rudakov, in a children's book of 1927, a black square is still a black square, but with the addition of two bells underneath and a hook at the side for the handset, it becomes a telephone. In this picture it's being used by a monkey in red trousers and a black waistcoat, and it illustrates a poem by the great nonsense-poet of Russian children's literature, Kornei Chukovsky (1882-1969).

The illustrations are the main point of Inside the Rainbow, and there are hundreds of them, brilliantly coloured, full of wit and ingenuity, breathtaking in their elegance of form and design. The book covers a period when artists and poets had the sort of freedom that let them produce work like this, but there was always an air of threat in the background. Chukovsky, who wrote about the animals on the telephone, was loved by generations of Russian children, but that didn't save him from criticism, such as this from the psychologist Lev Vygotsky in 1926:

"Chukovsky seems to proceed from the assumption that the sillier something is, the more understandable and the more entertaining it is for the child, and the more likely that it will be within the child's grasp … In his babbling verse Chukovsky piles up nonsense on top of gibberish. Such literature only fosters silliness and foolishness in children."

The expression of that cast of mind was a portent of what was to come as the Soviet Union developed and artistic freedom began to wither. The same suspicious attitude to the imagination shows up elsewhere, in a poster on childcare printed for use in creches and nurseries. There is some sensible and humane advice:

"Be careful of any trifle which a child considers a toy, even though it may only be a piece of wood or a stone.

Understand and take part in a child's happiness and sorrow, and he will come to you when he needs you."

But also instructions of a quite different sort:

"Never take a child to motion pictures or the theatre.

Do not tell stories to a child before he goes to sleep, or you will disturb him with new impressions.

Never tell a child about things he cannot see (this means that fairy stories should not be told to children)."

The air of threat later became explicit and deadly, but success as a children's writer did save at least one poet from imprisonment and probably death. The name of the popular writer Samuil Marshak (1887-1964) was on a blacklist until Stalin himself saw it there and crossed it off, saying: "He's a good children's poet."

One poet who wasn't saved was Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who was arrested twice under Stalin and died in a transit camp. His poems have become classics, but he features in Inside the Rainbow for his children's book Two Trams of 1925, whose illustrations display great elegance. The artist, Boris Ender, plays with a very limited palette of colours – black, red and grey, with the occasional touch of light brown – and with simplified shapes, especially the recurring sweep of parallel tramlines. It's a lovely example of less doing more.

Before full colour blossomed into British children's books with Brian Wildsmith and John Burningham in the 1960s, the old two-colour printing was common in books for young readers. It was cheap, and at its worst it was deadly dull. In 1920s Russia, however, El Lissitzky, among others, was showing how it could sparkle with modernist brilliance. The black and red of his About Two Squares (1922) are not trying to be anything other than deep black and brilliant red, and they succeed triumphantly, just as they do in his powerful propaganda poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge of 1919, a classic example of how to make abstraction instantly readable.

The lithographic process used in many of these examples had a direct influence on the development of children's books in Britain. In 1939 the designer Noel Carrington, a great admirer of Soviet children's books, persuaded Allen Lane to add a Puffin series to the Penguins and Pelicans that had become so successful. Lithography was important here, because by getting the artist to draw directly on to the stone and printing from that, publishers could avoid the time and expense of a photographic stage.

Lithography wasn't the only method featured in these books. Konstantin Kuznetsov's illustrations for I Am a Printer, of 1932, by Ekaterina Zonnenshtral, seem to have been silk-screened: the superb reproduction here allows us to see, by looking closely, the mesh of the screen through which the ink was forced. I know nothing about writer or illustrator, but it's clear that together they produced a book that would have been a delight to handle. The stencilled silhouettes of tractors, locomotives, planes and ships sit on the paper with a varied intensity of ink, in vigorous rhythms that result from careful placing, and with the colours – a rich mustard yellow, deep red, indigo and black – deployed against one another with splendid vigour.

Another very striking series of pictures comes from a book called Special Clothing, by Boris Ermolenko (1930). This pre-dates a famous English work of 1938 called High Street, with lithographs by Eric Ravilious, and I have no idea whether Ravilious knew it, but in many respects the two books are similar, not least in the soft ochres, the dusty pinks and greens of the colouring. Special Clothing consists of a series of pictures of workers in the clothing used in their trade: a diver, a baker, a miner, a chemist, and so on.

Like many other illustrations in this collection, Ermolenko's depict their characters in stiff, formal poses, as if to say that it's not the individual that matters, it's their social function. There is a lot of emphasis throughout the collection on how things work, on what people do, on agriculture and transport, on machinery and electricity. One superb picture by Alexander Deineka from The Electrician of 1932, by B Uralsky, shows a worker from behind, arms outstretched, legs firmly apart, just like the figures in Special Clothing; but this man is working high up on an electricity pylon, in the middle of an almost abstract pattern of white wires and insulators glowing against a black sky. He is strong, confident, smiling, holding the future in his hands; "Wichita Lineman" this ain't.

A vivid feature of the book is the number of photographs. Some are of individual poets and writers, such as Chukovsky, Kharms and Mayakovsky, and there is a haunting picture of Mandelstam in 1934 after his first arrest. But there are also many photos of children – a kindergarten class posing in the snow outside their log-cabin school, wrapped up so tightly they can hardly move, under a sign that says "Thank you great Stalin for our happy childhood!" or together with a teacher eating bowls of soup in a bare-looking schoolroom, their eyes as wide as those of the children in George Cruikshank's picture of the "Please, sir, I want some more" scene from Oliver Twist. Most unconvincing of all is a sequence of photo-illustrations from a book called It's Time to Get Up by F Folman and V Bonyuk, in which boys and girls aged about six parade about in paper hats and shorts, carrying placards or wearing Red Cross armbands. No one looks as if they have the faintest idea what they're supposed to be doing, and the quality of the photographs is abominable. One photograph that does stand out, however, is that of a skinny youth in a loosely buttoned shirt and a big floppy peaked cap, brandishing above his head a Communist party card. What makes it memorable is the wide grin of pure delight on his face.

When you don't speak the language, when all you can see is an arrangement of shapes without any distracting meaning, something interesting happens to the typography: the quality of the design becomes much easier to see. Some of the best examples reproduced here are thrilling in their elegance and wit. Many of the finest of them came from the publishing house Raduga (Rainbow), where the literary talents of Marshak and Chukovsky and many others were joined by the visual brilliance of such artists as Vladimir Lebedev, Eduard Krimmer and Dmitri Bulanov. It's a pity that we don't know the names of all the editors and designers of the books reproduced here. For that matter, it's a pity that modern publishers are shy about telling us who is responsible for the design of their books. It would be good to know whom to praise, and good too to know, sometimes, whom to blame.

Raduga didn't last very long. The state closed it down in 1930. There was a later imprint with the same name, but its products had little of the genius of the Raduga of the 1920s. The darkness was closing in. At the beginning of the revolution, avant garde artists of every kind had been dizzy with possibility. Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote, in his "Open Letter to the Workers" of 1918:

    "No one knows what huge suns will illuminate the life of the future. It may be that artists will transform the grey dust of the cities into hundred-coloured rainbows; that the never-ending thunderous music of volcanoes will be turned into the sound of flutes resounding from mountain ranges; that ocean waves will be forced to play on nets of chords stretching from Europe to America."

What chance did that have against official party policy such as this, from Nikolai Bukharin's The ABC of Communism of 1920?

    "The salvation of the young mind and the freeing of it from the noxious reactionary beliefs of their parents is one of the highest aims of the proletarian government."

However, children had their own ways of making it clear what they thought about that sort of thing. This from Before Igor: My Memories of a Soviet Youth, written in 1961 by Svetlana Gouzenko:

"For the October Revolution our class produced a small play in which a group of Young Pioneers expelled the heroes of Russian fairy tales as 'non-Soviet elements' … The group leader, a girl called Zoya Mechova, got up and made an introductory speech. She explained that the old fairy tales, about princes and princesses, exploiters of simple folk, were unfit for Soviet children. As for fairies and Father Frost, they were simply myths created to fool children.

The trial began. Cinderella was dragged before the judges and accused of betraying the working class … Next came Father Frost, who was accused of climbing down chimneys to spy on people. One by one we were condemned to exile … Zoya Mechova made her summing up speech, but nobody heard it. The children in the audience began to cry. 'Bring them back! Bring them back! Don't shoot them!' The uproar was deafening."

And the best of the writers and artists represented here appreciated that. Olga Budashevskaya quotes a letter from one of the surviving children's writers, Samuil Marshak, to another, Kornei Chukovsky: "We could both have perished. The children saved us."

Inside the Rainbow is an extraordinary compilation, a treasure-house, a monument to the free imagination and to a brief time when the avant garde and the playful were one and the same.

• Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children's Literature 1920-35: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times is edited by Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya.


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« Reply #9273 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:13 AM »


Nazi SS captain Erich Priebke dies at 100 in Rome

German was involved in Ardeatine caves massacre in 1944 and was brought to justice belatedly in 1998

Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 16.39 BST   

Nearly 70 years after he helped perpetrate one of the most notorious Nazi massacres on Italian soil, Erich Priebke, a former SS captain who lived for almost five decades as a free man before being ordered to face justice, died on Friday in Rome, his lawyer said. Priebke was 100 years old.

Defiant to the last, the German always insisted he had only been carrying out orders when he helped co-ordinate the execution of 335 Italians at the Ardeatine caves on the outskirts of the Italian capital in 1944.

His lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said Priebke had left a final written document and video as a "human and political testament".

Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community, said: "Over Priebke's death there will be no tears and there will be no laughter because neither of these will bring the victims back to life.

"There remains bitterness towards a person who never repented for what he did and who dirtied his hands with blood like all the Nazi troops. Now his victims are waiting for him up there in the hope that there will be divine justice."

In Italy there has been a sense for years that Priebke, from Hennigsdorf in Brandenburg, never faced the justice he deserved. After fleeing Europe in the years following the end of the war, he lived for almost 50 years in Argentina as a free man before being tracked down by a US television news crew and, in 1995, being extradited to Italy.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment by an Italian appeals court in 1998 but, due to his age, was placed under house arrest. When he turned 90 he celebrated with dozens of friends and supporters at an agriturismo outside of Rome, a sight that provoked revulsion among victims' relatives and Jewish groups who accused the Italian authorities of handling the war criminal with kid gloves.

In his final years, Priebke was free to go out for tasks deemed indispensable to his everyday life. In his final years he was filmed or photographed taking a stroll, eating in local restaurants and going to the supermarket. When he turned 100 in July there were concerns that the occasion could give his fans a chance to show their support once again.

Reacting to the news of Priebke's death, Francesco Polcaro, president of the Rome branch of the Anpi, Italy's national partisans' association, said he hoped the authorities would not let the funeral "turn into a show of advocacy for Nazism".

The men and boys who died in the Ardeatine caves massacre on 24 March 1944 came from all walks of life. Almost a quarter of them were Jewish, and the youngest was 15 years old. The execution had been ordered after a partisan attack on Nazi soldiers the previous day and the working logic, as Priebke would go on succinctly to tell the television crew in Argentina, was that "for every German soldier, 10 Italians had to die".

However, after identifying 330 victims to be killed, the Nazis added five more. It was Priebke's job to tick off the list of names. Although he initially denied a direct role in the murders, he later admitted to having personally killed two people.

Asked in 1994 why he had been involved in the execution, Priebke was filmed saying: "That was our order. You know, in the war, that kind of thing happened … We didn't commit a crime. We did what was ordered of us."

Appearing to tire of the questioning, he walked out of the interview within minutes, declaring to the journalist Sam Donaldson: "You are not a gentleman."

Giachini, the lawyer, said of Priebke: "The dignity with which he withstood his persecution makes him an example of courage, coherence and loyalty."

The wider view, however, was expressed by Carlo Smuraglia, national president of the Anpi. While a person's death should always be treated with respect, he said, "we cannot forget the victims of the Ardeatine caves. Erich Priebke was a criminal in the service of a bloody dictatorship."


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« Reply #9274 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:17 AM »


France cements fracking ban

A law prohibiting fracking for shale gas has been upheld by France's constitutional court, citing environmental protection

Bloomberg
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 14.08 BST   

France's constitutional court has upheld a ban on hydraulic fracturing, ruling that the law against the energy exploration technique known as "fracking" is a valid means of protecting the environment.

The court in Paris said on its website on Friday that the 2011 law "conforms to the constitution" and is not "disproportionate".

France banned fracking in 2011 and cancelled exploration licences held by companies including Schuepbach and Total SA, the country's biggest oil company, after protests by environmental groups.

Schuepbach Energy LLC, a Dallas-based explorer, complained to the court that the law was unfair after having two exploration permits revoked because of the ban. President François Hollande has said France won't allow exploration of shale gas energy even as the country seeks to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy and keep down costs for consumers.

"It's a judicial victory but also an environmental and political victory," French environment minister, Philippe Martin, said today after the ruling. "With this decision the ban on hydraulic fracturing is absolute."

The technique, which involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to release oil and gas from shale rock, has raised the ire of environmental groups who fear groundwater contamination.

Schuepbach argued in court in September that there isn't a study that establishes risks from fracking. The explorer also said the ban was unfair because the drilling technique may still be used in French geothermal energy projects.

The court ruled that in imposing the ban, lawmakers were pursuing a legitimate goal in the general interest of protecting the environment and noted differences between geothermal and shale gas exploration techniques. The court also rejected an argument that the ban went against property rights.

The GEP-AFTP oil and gas lobby said in a statement said in a statement: "France is depriving itself of exploration that could evaluate potentially large nonconventional carbon resources," adding that it deplored the court decision. France should create a commission to experiment with shale drilling in order to evaluate the size of reserves, the lobby said.

France and Poland have the greatest potential for recoverable shale gas in Europe, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said. In the US, where fracking is widely used, oil output is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia's by 2020, making the country almost self-reliant, according to the IEA.

The ban can no longer be attacked in court and will benefit the fight against carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, Martin said.

"Beyond the question of fracking, shale gas is a carbon emitter," he said. "We must set our priorities on renewable energies."


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« Reply #9275 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:27 AM »

October 11, 2013

Berlusconi Aiding War Victims? Italy Speculates on His Penance

By JIM YARDLEY
IHT

ROME — Perhaps he will clean toilets, or sweep streets, or collect trash. There is no shortage of graffiti to be scrubbed off the palazzo walls of Rome. Or maybe Silvio Berlusconi, the powerful former prime minister, could pay his debt to Italian society by working in a soup kitchen.

Not too long ago, Mr. Berlusconi was Italy’s central figure, with a swagger that delighted his supporters and a string of indiscretions and scandals that infuriated his enemies. Now, though, Mr. Berlusconi, 77, is a man convicted of tax fraud, and on Friday, he petitioned a court in Rome to let him serve his one-year sentence by performing community service.

Mr. Berlusconi has already endured one of the more tumultuous months of his never-boring political career. His effort to bring down Italy’s fragile government, in the hope that new elections would revive his political career, failed after a rebellion in his own party. Then, a special commission in Italy’s Senate recommended that he be stripped of his Senate seat because of his tax fraud conviction, setting up his likely expulsion this month.

The setbacks shifted attention to Mr. Berlusconi’s one-year sentence, which is to begin Tuesday. Under a law intended to reduce prison overcrowding, older Italians convicted of certain crimes may choose between house arrest or community service.

At first, Mr. Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, seemed likely to choose house arrest, at either his palace in Rome or his larger palace outside Milan. But his supporters said house arrest could unduly restrict his access to people, his business and his political activities.

Community service would provide him with greater latitude. For the past week, speculation and suggestions have abounded in Italy’s media about what service might be fitting, serious and otherwise.

Il Tappeto di Iqbal, a street circus from Naples, offered him a spotlight. “Berlusconi could go on stage and tell his own jokes,” a circus organizer said. In his younger days, Mr. Berlusconi sometimes sang in public, even in French, a background that prompted one social services association to suggest he might provide voice lessons.

One consumer association thought Mr. Berlusconi would be an effective pro bono consumer defender (no doubt he has spent much time, effort and money defending himself and his companies over the years). A small city in northeastern Italy offered him a desk and an office to counsel entrepreneurs suffering from the recession.

The list goes on: A far-right politician offered work selling ads for his partisan newspaper. The far-left Radical Party suggested that Mr. Berlusconi join forces with it to overhaul Italy’s judiciary.

Gino Strada, a founder of Emergency, the highly regarded Italian organization that provides medical services in war zones and elsewhere, said Mr. Berlusconi would be welcome to help out, noting that the group is at work in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Mr. Strada did have one caveat: “I wouldn’t let him deal with the balance sheets,” he told the Italian press.

Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers have declined to speak publicly about the situation. But Ansa, an Italian news agency, confirmed the filing, as did a longtime member of Mr. Berlusconi’s inner circle who declined to be identified.

The newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Mr. Berlusconi arrived in Rome this week and was considering options, including the possibility that he could perform some sort of community service from home — maybe draft an economic program for Italy’s poor. (This was seen as reasonable, given that Mr. Berlusconi has about 20 bodyguards, which could complicate volunteer work.)

Finally, some political analysts are still wondering whether Mr. Berlusconi, in the end, will avoid serving his full sentence. His family has reportedly been filing petitions for a pardon from President Giorgio Napolitano, who so far has not seemed receptive. But in recent days, Mr. Napolitano has been speaking publicly about the need for amnesty programs to reduce prison overcrowding.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.


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« Reply #9276 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:29 AM »

Greek neo-Nazi group ‘Golden Dawn’ opens two new chapters in U.S.

By Scott Kaufman
RawStory
Friday, October 11, 2013 17:06 EDT

The Anti-Defamation League reports that American members of Greece’s neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” party have created chapters in Los Angeles and in what they’re calling “the Regional League of the Western States USA.”

These chapters join the New York chapter founded last year. All openly “sup­port the ideas and goals of the Golden Dawn Party in Greece,” which claims no affiliation with neo-Nazi movements.

However, in 1987, the founder of the movement published an article for its eponymous magazine entitled “Hitler for 1,000 years,” in which he wrote that


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« Reply #9277 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:32 AM »

October 11, 2013

Pakistani Girl, a Global Heroine After an Attack, Has Critics at Home

By SALMAN MASOOD and DECLAN WALSH
IHT

SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan — The question for the class of 10th graders at an all-girls school here in this picturesque mountain valley was a simple one: How many of them, a district official wanted to know, had heard of Malala Yousafzai?

The students stared at the official, Farrukh Atiq, in silence. Not a single hand was raised.

“Everyone knows about Malala, but they do not want to affiliate with her,” Mr. Atiq said on Thursday, as speculation grew that Ms. Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago, might win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the end, Ms. Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Prize. That went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But after a week of intense news coverage, during which she released her memoir and won a prestigious European award for human rights, Ms. Yousafzai’s stature as a symbol of peace and bravery has been established across the world — everywhere, it seems, except at home.

It is not just that the schoolchildren fear becoming targets, though that is certainly an element in their caution. “I am against Malala,” said Muhammad Ayaz, 22, a trader who runs a small store beside Ms. Yousafzai’s old school in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley. “The media has projected Malala as a heroine of the West. But what has she done for Swat?”

That sense of smoldering animosity toward Ms. Yousafzai, 16, in the Swat Valley — which she hurriedly left aboard a military helicopter for treatment last year after being shot — seems to be animated in part by the tensions of a rural community still traumatized by conflict.

Although the Pakistani Army forced the Taliban from Swat during a major military operation in 2009, pockets of militants remain, occasionally striking against soldiers or activists like Ms. Yousafzai.

Many residents fear the Islamists could one day return to power in the valley, an anxiety that, paradoxically, has stoked simmering hostility toward the militants’ most famous victim.

“What is her contribution?” asked Khursheed Dada, a worker with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which governs Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, including Swat.

That cynicism was echoed this week across Pakistan, where conspiracy-minded citizens loudly branded Ms. Yousafzai a C.I.A. agent, part of a nebulous Western plot to humiliate their country and pressure their government.

Muhammad Asim, a student standing outside the gates of Punjab University in the eastern city of Lahore, dismissed the Taliban attack on Ms. Yousafzai as a made-for-TV drama. “How can a girl survive after being shot in the head?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The reaction seemed to stem from different places: sensitivity at Western hectoring, a confused narrative about the Taliban and a sense of resentment or downright jealousy.

In Swat, some critics accused Ms. Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin, of using his precocious daughter to drum up publicity and of maligning Pashtun culture. Others said the intense publicity had cast their district in a negative light, overshadowing the good work of other Pakistanis in education.

Dilshad Begum, the district education officer for Swat, said that 14,000 girls and 17,000 boys had recently started school after an intensive door-to-door enrollment campaign led by local teachers. The threat from the Taliban was exaggerated, she added.

“I have been working for female education for 25 years, and never received a threat,” she said.

Even fellow students seemed to resent the recognition Ms. Yousafzai has received. At another school, a group of female students, assembled by their headmaster, agreed that Ms. Yousafzai did not deserve a Nobel Prize.

“Malala is not the only role model for Pakistani girls,” said Kainat Ali, 16, who wore a black burqa.

Not all Pakistanis joined in the criticism. Many expressed pride in the bravery of their most famous teenager, who has had tea with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace and received a standing ovation at the United Nations. By Friday there was a groundswell of support. Television stations broadcast songs lauding her work, and good luck messages flooded Facebook and Twitter. Students and women, in particular, said they had been inspired by her.

After the Nobel winner was announced, some openly expressed disappointment. In Swat, Shahid Iqbal, a music and movie store owner, said Ms. Yousafzai had made their district proud. “Malala is our daughter. She should have won the Nobel,” he said.

Imran Khan, the former cricketer who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and has regularly faced criticism for his views on the Taliban, said Ms. Yousafzai represented “the struggle of girls and women everywhere against tyranny and oppression.”

One of the more poignant scenes unfolded in the port city of Karachi, where Atiya Arshad, an 11-year-old girl who was also shot by militants, waited at her home for news of the Nobel Prize.

Atiya was shot twice in the stomach in March when people suspected of being Taliban militants armed with guns and grenades attacked her school in Ittehad Town, a poor neighborhood of Karachi. The attack was part of a broader campaign of intimidation this year by the Taliban to assert themselves in Pakistan’s largest city.

Some students were watching a magic show when the attackers struck, but Atiya was lining up to receive an academic award at a prize ceremony. The school principal, Rasheed Ahmed, and an 11-year-old girl were killed.

Atiya is now in a wheelchair, though her doctors are confident that with treatment and therapy she will be able to walk. She recalled how she was inspired to excel by a visit to the school by Ms. Yousafzai a year earlier, as part of the campaign to promote education for girls.

“I was so happy to see Malala,” she said in an interview. “I don’t know why these people don’t want us to go to school.”

Her father, a flour mill worker, noted that in contrast with Ms. Yousafzai, no politicians or campaigners had rushed to help after his daughter was shot. “We are arranging her treatment with great difficulty,” he said.

In interviews this week, Ms. Yousafzai said she was undeterred by the criticism at home, attributing it to the well-founded cynicism many Pakistanis harbor toward their political leaders. Still, she told an audience in New York on Thursday, her goal is to become prime minister of Pakistan one day.

“I can spend much of the budget on education,” she told Christiane Amanpour of CNN, drawing loud applause. But few think it would be safe for her to return home any time soon.

Repeated Taliban threats to kill Ms. Yousafzai should she set foot in Swat again were being taken very seriously, said Mr. Atiq, the district official. “More fame brings more danger,” he said. “The threat is greater than ever.”

Ms. Yousafzai has the consolation of knowing that her message of education for girls now resounds across the world. When the Taliban gunman boarded her bus in October 2012, he called out, “Who is Malala?” Now, as she noted in an interview this week, her voice is heard “in every corner of the world.”

Yet she insists that, come what may, Pakistan will always be her home. “Even if its people hate me,” she said in one interview, “I will still love it.”

Salman Masood reported from the Swat Valley, and Declan Walsh from London. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan, and Waqar Gillani from Lahore, Pakistan.


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« Reply #9278 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:37 AM »


US forces arrest senior Pakistani Taliban commander in Afghanistan

State Department: Latif Mehsud was a leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, which attempted to bomb NYC's Times Square in 2010

Agencies
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 21.24 BST   

US military forces have captured Latif Mehsud, a senior commander with the Pakistani Taliban, the US state department said on Friday but declined comment on when it happened or where he was being held.

State department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters US forces had captured Mehsud, whom she described as a senior commander with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is also known as Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan. She said the group had claimed responsibility for the attempted 2010 bombing of Times Square in New York as well as many attacks within Pakistan.

The Associated Press reported Mehsud was arrested by American forces as he was driving along a main highway. It said Afghan President Hamid Karzai saw the move as an infringement on Afghan sovereignty.

The announcement of Mehsud's arrest came as US secretary of state John Kerry began urgent talks with Karzai as an end-of-October deadline loomed for a security deal that would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the Nato-led military mission ends next year.

Talks on the bilateral security agreement have foundered over issues of Afghan sovereignty despite a year of negotiations. Discussions have stalled over Karzai's demand for American guarantees against future foreign intervention from countries like Pakistan and US demands for any post-2014 residual force to be able to conduct counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

US officials insist they are optimistic about a deal, but the continuing deadlock leaves it doubtful that any agreement will be reached by the deadline. If no deal is signed, there will be no US forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

They said uncertainty caused by the lack of a signed agreement by the deadline would make it more difficult to plan the next phases of withdrawal from Afghanistan and could erode the resolve of Nato allies that are considering leaving troops there for training.

Without the United States on board, it is unlikely that Nato or any of its allies would keep troops in Afghanistan. Germany has already indicated it will not commit the 800 soldiers it has promised.

"That's why we're pressing," said one of the officials traveling with Kerry.

However, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview Kerry's discussions with Karzai, stressed that Kerry is not expecting to clinch an agreement during his visit.

Instead, the trip, which Kerry and Karzai set up in an 5 October phone call, is meant to build momentum for the negotiators who will continue their talks after Kerry departs, the officials said.


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« Reply #9279 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:47 AM »

North Korea threatens to sink U.S. aircraft carrier

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 11, 2013 8:43 EDT

North Korea on Friday threatened to “bury in the sea” a US aircraft carrier, as it slammed a three-nation naval drill involving US, South Korean and Japanese warships.

The latest warning from the isolated regime came a day after the United States launched a two-day joint military drill with South Korea and Japan off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula.

The drill involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, guided-missile ships, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning aircraft.

“The war drills show that the US-Japan-South Korea tripartite military alliance has developed into the nuclear war alliance and has become operational in actuality,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.

If the three countries launch “a nuclear war while talking about ‘sign’ and ‘preemptive attack’ despite repeated warnings of (North Korea), its revolutionary armed forces will immediately mount counter-attack to bury the aggressors, provocateurs in the sea together with the carrier,” it said.

North Korea has repeatedly condemned joint military drills south of the border and threatened counter-attacks that have not materialised.

On Tuesday North Korea warned the United States of a “horrible disaster” over the latest drill and put its troops on alert.

US and South Korean officials have described the drill as a search and rescue exercise to improve readiness for humanitarian disasters.

Seoul and Washington last week agreed a joint strategy to address what they described as the mounting threat of a North Korean nuclear attack after Pyongyang restarted an ageing plutonium reactor.

Analysts have attributed the regime’s recent bellicose rhetoric to its desire to attract the United States’ attention and draw it back into dialogue.

The United States and South Korea have long demanded that Pyongyang show commitment to ending its nuclear weapons programme before six-nation talks on disarmament, which have been stalled since December 2008, can resume.

Although the North’s atomic test in February — its most powerful to date — sent tensions soaring, the temperature has been lowered in recent months after a series of conciliatory gestures by Pyongyang towards Seoul.

But acute concerns remain over the North’s nuclear programme, with South Korea’s spy agency telling lawmakers on Tuesday that Pyongyang has restarted its ageing Yongbyon reactor.

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« Reply #9280 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:49 AM »


Libyan PM Ali Zeidan says his kidnap was coup attempt

Zeidan says armed militias that still hold sway across Libya will not be able to continue to operate with impunity

Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 19.58 BST      

Libya's prime minister has denounced his kidnapping this week as an attempted coup and warned that some of the country's many armed militias want to turn it into "another Afghanistan or Somalia".

In his most impassioned speech since coming to power in 2012, Ali Zeidan said a large force of gunmen had seized him from his city centre hotel room at dawn on Thursday: "One hundred vehicles came with heavy and medium weapons," he said. "This is a coup against legitimacy."

Zeidan demanded an explanation from the group which snatched him. He said his captors identified themselves as from the "revolutionaries' operation room," the headquarters of a group of former rebel militias called the Libya Shield who were drafted into Tripoli during the summer by the congress leader, Nuri Abu Sahmain.

Giving his first account of his ordeal, which ended when local militias stormed the Tripoli police station where he was being held on Thursday afternoon, he said: "I faced men who claimed to be revolutionaries, they demanded things, they came with their weapons, with their bombs, they came with different threatening methods but I refused to do anything."

Zeidan said his kidnappers had attacked and abused diplomats living in the Corinthian hotel while searching for him. "They entered international and diplomatic missions they terrified employees got them down on their knees," he said.

The German and Qatari embassies are based in the hotel, along with the European Union support mission.

Zeidan warned the armed militias which still hold sway across Libya – and which have stubbornly resisted attempts to disarm – that they would not be able to continue to operate with impunity. "In the coming days we are going to concentrate on security," said Zeidan. "If anyone gets killed [in security operations], I ask his family not to come for revenge but to ask why he was killed."

Zeidan's speech puts the prime minister, a former human rights lawyer once exiled in Switzerland, on a collision course with powerful militia formations based in Tripoli, in a trial of strength he characterised as a battle for democracy.

"The kidnappers were former revolutionaries who refused to follow the law. They don't want democracy to be established. If they cannot take down the government with votes they want to take it down with weapons."

Zeidan announced criminal investigations against militia leaders, and demanded the armed factions surrender those responsible for his attempted kidnapping: "Everyone thought when I was talking with a soft tone, everyone thought Zeidan was afraid or Zeidan is weak. That is not so."

Zeidan accused a minority in the national congress of seeking to undermine him. The prime minister did not name his opponents, but he has made no secret of his hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Justice and Construction party is the second largest in the congress. Last month he returned from meeting Egypt's new military rulers to declare: "The Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to undermine me for months."

Mohammed Sawan, JCP leader, told the Guardian last month that his party had been trying to sack Zeidan using constitutional methods but had failed to find a suitable alternative prime minister.

Evidence is mounting that a number of former rebel units grouped together for the kidnapping. Hours after Zeidan was captured, the state news service LANA announced he had been arrested and would face criminal charges. The attorney general denied issuing an arrest warrant, and has begun investigating paramilitary units in eastern Tripoli involved in the abduction.

"Its a conspiracy, its clearly a conspiracy," said Michel Cousins editor of the English language Libya Herald. He said the coup failed because of an unexpectedly strong show of support for a prime minister who was until this week regarded as weak and ineffectual. "The people who took him thought they would be heroes [but] all the government stayed by Zeidan. Lots of people who don't like Zeidan were appalled by this."

Zeidan said he was trying to rebuild the army, but that the British government was demanding £3m to pay for training of army units in the UK, and that Libya's congress had refused to authorise the money.

His address ended a dramatic week of violence and tension following the seizure on Sunday by US Delta Force commandos of al-Qaida suspect Anas al-Liby. Zeidan condemned the raid, saying Libyan forces should have detained Liby. "Everyone knows about America's intelligence capacity, everyone knows that Libya is not able to face America, but we condemn this kidnaping of a Libyan citizen. The arrest of Libyan citizen needs to be dealt with by Libya."

As he spoke, opposition protestors gathered outside, with army units arriving in pickup trucks mounting anti-aircraft guns, shouting at journalists and bystanders to leave as they expected armed clashes. Meanwhile al-Qaida supporters in Benghazi, Libya's second city, called for attacks on foreigners in reprisal for the US raid. Protesters waved placards bearing the face of Liby, who is now being held on a US navy ship and has been accused of involvement in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998. Other mass-produced placards said: "Death to traitors and foreigners."


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« Reply #9281 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:52 AM »


Homs: a tale of two cities

Once seen as the capital of Syria's revolution, Homs is now caught in a vicious stalemate between regime and rebel forces. James Harkin visits a divided city, where kidnappings are rife and chemical disarmament a low priority

James Harkin   
The Guardian, Saturday 12 October 2013    

I first met Abu Ali at the end of February 2012, both of us standing in an alleyway in Damascus, his car still running nearby. I was in Syria on a civilian visa, and trying to hitch a lift to his home town Homs, 160km north of the capital. The Syrian army had by then been shelling rebel-held areas of Homs for three weeks and, like many, he was more focused on the humanitarian cost of conflict than its politics.

Abu Ali is part of what is commonly referred to as Syria's moderate opposition, though moderate is a relative term. He opposes President Bashar al-Assad but thinks that arming the revolt was a mistake; he will allow that people have a right to self-defence. He wasn't able to help me then (I found another way), but we have stayed in touch. This July, he told me that at least 1,600 of his personal contacts, friends and relatives had been killed or kidnapped in the past two and a half years. "Our feelings have died," he said.

Late last month, we met again in Damascus. This time, I wanted to get to Homs with him, to find out what life was now like in Syria's third city. Once home to a million people, in the early days of the conflict it was dubbed "the capital of the Syria revolution", but no one calls it that any more. Today, like much of the rest of the country, its citizens find themselves stuck in a vicious stalemate: regime forces move around the city, while many towns and villages in the surrounding countryside are in the hands of the rebels. Within Homs, the conflict has fired up long-dormant rivalries between Sunni Muslims (the overwhelming majority of Syrians) and the Alawite Muslim minority (many of whom are loyal to the ruling regime). Last week, UN inspectors began destroying Assad's chemical weapons, but death by poison gas is not an over-arching concern for ordinary Syrians. Many more are being killed by simple bombs and bullets.

Abu Ali is a small man who treads carefully, head and shoulders bowed forward, like a pilgrim going quietly about his business. In Damascus, he leads me through the winding alleys of the city's Christian area, formulating an itinerary as we go. He has a peculiar gait; he suffers from slipped discs, the likely result of vigorous interrogation on an instrument called the German chair while serving a 12-year sentence in Sednaya, one of the country's most notorious prisons. He was jailed in the late 1980s for his involvement in a long-defunct underground communist organisation. On our way to lunch, we make a pit stop at the house of a young friend of his. The younger man lies face down on a bed and Abu Ali fits a chair into his back to demonstrate the technique; the hands and feet are tied to the seat, and the back adjusted to cause severe stress to the spine. Thirty-six of his prison colleagues are veterans of this procedure, he says, and all complain of the same problem.

Over a lunch of grilled meat and salad in a high-ceilinged restaurant popular with Christian supporters of the regime, we talk about Homs. (Not just Homs: during a lull in conversation, he points to a lavish salad and instructs me to "eat that, good for sex", and chuckles quietly.) Like everyone else, Abu Ali says, his two grown-up children are struggling for money: prices have risen three-fold in two years, and few people except government workers still have jobs. Before the conflict, he had work in the solar power industry but this has largely stalled; his solar contraptions come in useful only at home, during electricity blackouts.

He now spends much of his time helping some of the many hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the heavy shelling of rebel areas of Homs and the rest of the country. He manages a project for 600 families moved from rural Hama province and the city of Aleppo to a village west of the city; this involves everything from fundraising to sourcing blankets. He bemoaned the price of milk and the lack of money spent on education; there is huge pressure on schools in the safer areas of the city, and too few schoolbooks. Then there is the strong risk of being hit by a stray mortar or bullet. On 28 May, his nephew Hamza, a 20-year-old student at the city's Ba'ath University, was out shopping with his young fiancee in a pro-regime area when they were hit by rockets fired by rebels. Both were killed instantly.

Getting at the truth about the Syrian conflict is not easy. Journalist visas from the government are rare, and travel beyond a few square kilometres of central Damascus requires permission from the ministry of information and the accompaniment of a government minder. Western journalists are often limited to a choice between atmospheric street detail or doleful prison interviews with stressed jihadis; what's harder to capture is a range of Syrians speaking freely about what they want. (In rebel-held northern Syria, the rise in criminality and the presence of al-Qaida-like groups makes reporting even more difficult.) Abu Ali had no wish to get into trouble with the authorities, but if I got the OK from the ministry, he said, he'd host me in Homs. A few days later, with my visa running out (and without telling him I was coming), I simply got on a bus.

This is one of the best ways to get to know ordinary Syrians. With no choice but to talk, and no one official looking over their shoulder, many are happy to practise their English by speaking to the stranger on the adjoining seat. The drawback is that this is a perilous way to travel: one bus at the depot in Damascus has a bullet hole in every window. My seatmate on this bus is especially anxious. A boy of 17 from a village near Hama, 40km north of Homs, he is making his first unaccompanied trip home after enrolling at Damascus University. Three days earlier, his friend was injured by a stray sniper bullet on this same route; it might have been the rebels, but no one really knows. He points to the seat where his friend was hit; he says only pride prevents him from lying on the floor for the entire journey.

In any case, the boy is no fan of the regime. His uncle was arrested 18 months ago and hasn't been heard of since; the family suspect he is dead. The people in his village have come to hate the rebels, too, he says. "People are so, so bored with them. They come and blow up checkpoints outside towns and run away, then militias arrive and steal everything we have. They would steal even this," he says, pointing to my plastic cup. A poor woman from a nearby village had her only cow stolen by pro-regime militias; when a group of locals asked them to give it back, they told her it had said bad things about the president. Hama, long associated with anti-regime activity, is now very quiet, he says; there are so many soldiers there that oppositionists have learned to keep their mouths shut. "The revolutionaries now accuse Hama of betrayal," the boy says. He is circumspect about his political beliefs even among his new university friends, because many might support the regime. "When I'm around them, I say I love the president, that the terrorists should be punished."

Homs has been described in the west as a city under siege. This, I discover when Abu Ali drives me around it, is no longer the whole story. There are still enclaves under armed rebel control, including parts of the old city, where about 3,000 people are cut off from food and electricity, and living in appalling conditions. Elsewhere, the city is returning to a kind of nervy normality. Abu Ali explains that Homs divides into three areas: the rebel enclaves; pro-regime strongholds, often with large communities of Alawites; and areas with pro-opposition sympathies, such as the one where he lives, which are also tentatively controlled by the regime. In both these areas, the government subsidises the price of bread, and fresh food is plentiful, but prices have risen steeply and no one has the money to buy much. Abu Ali says the rebels had been smuggling food and drink into some areas through underground tunnels, but these were discovered and exploded by regime forces. It seems likely that these rebel strongholds will eventually fall to the regime, as Baba Amr did before them – this is the area of Homs where journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik were killed in February 2012. On our trip around the city, we drive past Baba Amr; while a few people have returned, it remains a shattered ruin and a warning from the regime to the rebels.

We pass through a checkpoint run by pro-regime paramilitaries, known by the oppositionists as shabiha, or ghosts. At one point he dashes out of the car to collect something and returns triumphant, having just been handed some money from a passerby to give to his refugees.

We drop in on Amjad, a wiry fellow oppositionist who now considers both sides as bad as each other. "When we watch CNN, France 24, even the BBC," he says, "I don't think they are talking about Homs. It is lies." The regime certainly bombs buildings, he says, and it sometimes makes mistakes, but often it's because those buildings are being used as barracks by armed groups. "We are lost between shabiha and debaha," he sighs, using the Arabic word for slaughterers to refer to the rise of puritanical, sectarian Islamism among the rebels. Amjad's brother, a 60-year-old taxi driver, was kidnapped on 4 May. There has been no demand for money or any other obvious motive; the family have not heard from him since.

Such kidnappings are rife. Some are for military reasons, Abu Ali says, others are motivated by money or religion; sometimes, it's all three. One of his former teachers, a rich artist and a very old man, was recently kidnapped by shabiha who want 24m Syrian pounds (about £100,000) for his release; he hopes to hear from the kidnappers in the next day or two.

Then there is Tariq, an Alawite recently kidnapped for largely sectarian reasons; armed rebels (what Abu Ali calls "revolution shabiha") are demanding the release of government detainees in exchange for his return.

On our way back to the car, Abu Ali points out the spot where his nephew and his fiancee were killed. Nearby is the row of shops where French journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in similar circumstances in January 2012. Jacquier's wife has written a book blaming the regime for the death, but Abu Ali, based on the geography and the pattern of attacks, dismisses this theory. He takes me to the abandoned tenement from which he believes the rocket was fired by anti-regime forces.

We head to an opposition area of the city, home almost exclusively to Sunni Muslims, for tea with some of Abu Ali's acquaintances. One is from the ruined Baba Amr district, and has twice been forced to leave his home when the army entered to rout the rebels. He won't talk to a journalist, he says, and sits clutching prayer beads. In any case, he adds, talking about it only makes him cry, and he has a problem with his corneas that means he can't let himself shed any tears. On the verge of crying, he changes the subject. Syrians are an optimistic people, he wants me to know, with 7,000 years of civilisation behind them; some of his best friends are Alawites and Christians, friendships born of coincidence, not religion. "No one should have to see the things I've seen," is all he will say about Baba Amr. He stares out of the window like a blind man.

Abu Ali is of a generation for whom picking apart Syria's complex mosaic of religions and ethnicities remains a tasteless and unpatriotic business. As a result, he has never told me directly that he is an Alawite Muslim himself. This fact might make it easier for him to pass through some regime checkpoints, but it also poses certain risks. After our tour of the city, he drives me back to the home he shares with his wife in an opposition area called Shammas. It is on the sixth floor of a tenement block and only 800m from Baba Amr; like many homes in the area, there is a crack or crevice from a stray bullet in almost every room. Things aren't as bad as they were, he says, but sometimes he and his wife can't sleep for the noise of the mortars passing overhead and crashing into the ground.

Amjad, who used to live here, joins us for the ride. He, too, is an Alawite Muslim, and he moved from Shammas to Akrama because he was afraid that his daughters might attract insults in the street because of their religion: "Just from young people, looking for revenge." Shammas, a formerly mixed neighbourhood, is slowly being drained of its Alawites; Abu Ali is one of the few who remains. "He believes he is safe here," Amjad ribs him; it is clear he doesn't have the same confidence. For his part, Abu Ali says he has been stopped at several rebel checkpoints and never had any problems; then again, he is well known in the area, so his experience might not be representative. When he was ordered to leave by one armed group, another stepped in to guarantee his safety.

Beyond the bombs and the bullets, it is this creeping sectarian migration that represents the most ominous threat to Homs, and to Syria as a whole. Earlier that day, we discover, a Syrian army missile destroyed a building in a very densely populated area of the city, al-Waer, just a few kilometres away. Five hundred thousand people now live in al-Waer; half are recent arrivals, sent from other areas of the city as they have come under the control of armed rebels. Just about everyone there is a Sunni Muslim and the area is not fully under regime control. It is a no-go area even for Abu Ali. Conditions are poor; everyone has a home and bread to eat, but it is seriously overcrowded and some of the tenement blocks remain unfinished, without windows or doors. The regime relies on fortified military positions directly surrounding the area to keep an eye on residents, neutralising threats with rockets or snipers; it sounds like an open prison.

On a previous visit to Homs, I had met a young man who had been moved to al-Waer from a rebel enclave. We stayed in touch, and over the last few years his aspirations have shifted from getting a good job and a girlfriend to a growing sympathy with the extreme Islamism of the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. He's studying engineering at the city's Ba'ath University, but the checkpoints on the way there and back put the fear of God into him; the shabiha, he feels, can do what they like. A week before I travelled to Syria, and having refused all my previous offers to send a little cash, he had tentatively asked for money for his family: it struck me as a sign of growing desperation. "Life is hard but we continue to live," he wrote. "Here in Homs, all Sunni people want to leave to a safer place." He signed off: "See you after victory."

In the evening, while his wife and I eat grapes and watch a popular Syrian crooner on television, Abu Ali sits in his pyjamas at his desk behind us, doing his accounts, catching up with friends on Facebook and Skype, making a few phone calls to try to find a lawyer for someone in prison. In passing, I see the figure of 120,000 he has written on a sheet of paper; this, it turns out, is someone's best guess at the number of people now being held in regime jails. I ask if there has been any news on his former teacher. The gang who kidnapped him have been persuaded to drop their ransom from 24m Syrian pounds to 3m, he says. Like most of the work Abu Ali does, it's progress of sorts, but still a long way from good news.


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« Reply #9282 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:55 AM »


Zimbabwe: purge feared after former prime minister's staff are sacked

Civil service global roundup: Turkey's ban on headscarves for public officials lifted and Ireland's greying civil servants

Tamsin Rutter   
Guardian Professional, Saturday 12 October 2013 10.00 BST      

Zimbabwe: former prime minister's staff sacked from government

Civil servants fear a nationwide purge by Robert Mugabe's ruling party after many staff employed in former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office were fired. In letters sent by the Civil Service Commission, the civil serbants were told they were being "retired from the civil service in line with the government policy".

There are fears that more officials who served under the previous government will also be laid off. Zimbabwe's new constitution protects employees against discrimination, including on the grounds of party political affiliation.


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« Reply #9283 on: Oct 12, 2013, 06:57 AM »


Malawi president sacks cabinet over corruption scandal

Joyce Banda reportedly tells ministers she has lost faith in them as government officials are charged with misuse of office

Godfrey Mapondera in Blantyre and David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 17.09 BST   

Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi, has sacked her entire cabinet amid a corruption scandal, dubbed Cashgate by the media.

Up to 10 government officials have been arrested – including one who kept $25,000 (£15,675) at home and another who stashed banknotes in a car boot. They have been charged with money laundering, misuse of public office and corruption.

Nine senior police officers were each jailed for 14 years last month for their roles in a $164,000 (£102,814) fraud. Paul Mphwiyo, an official who was seen as an anti-corruption crusader, was shot and seriously injured last month in an apparent effort to silence him.

Banda reportedly told ministers she had lost faith in them at an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday. Tusekele Mwanyongo, a presidential spokesperson, said the president had carried out the mass purge so the ministers could be investigated.

The point was "to make sure the ministers who may be implicated don't interfere with police in the investigations", Mwanyongo said.

Among the 25 cabinet members fired was the finance minister, Ken Lipenga who ,on Thursday, was leading a high-profile delegation in Washington to meetings with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

It was not clear whether he continued with his mission, but Mwanyongo said: "You stop forthwith to act as a minister of the Malawi government the moment it has been announced. It does not matter whether you are in Lilongwe or Washington."

Banda's hand may have been forced by western donors, who provide up to 40% of the national budget, which pays the country's 170,000 public servants, including the army and police.

On Thursday, the EU warned that it would not release an aid payment of €29m (£25m) in December unless the scandal was resolved. Alexander Baum, the head of the EU mission in Malawi, said swift action was required. Donors were "watching with keen interest and the EU will make its disbursement of the pledged budgetary support of €29m depending on how government deals with the crisis", he added.

Banda said she had appointed a special team made up of police and government officials to carry out a financial audit of the state's finances, although the EU wants external auditors to oversee the investigation. Britain has offered to bring in forensic experts and the government is yet to respond to the offer.

The scandal forced the government to shut down its payment system last week so it could investigate more than $4m (£2.5m) that went missing, delaying the payment of salaries to teachers, nurses and doctors.

Mphwiyo, the budget director in the finance ministry, was seriously wounded by a gunman last month as he was about to expose a corruption ring. He was airlifted to South Africa for specialised treatment and has recovered.

Banda, who appointed Mphwiyo, said it was a targeted attack to silence him. "It is only Mphwiyo who can tell us the truth."

The political analyst Ernest Thindwa said he welcomed Banda's decision to sack the cabinet, describing it as an indicator that "so much looting was taking place".

He warned that the president must be careful in assembling another team. "This will be an opportunity to pick her new team based on competency and not political expediency."

Banda, one of only two female presidents in Africa, who came to power last year after the sudden death of the incumbent Bingu wa Mutharika, faces elections in May 2014 and was said to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity owing to an improving economy.


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« Reply #9284 on: Oct 12, 2013, 07:01 AM »

October 11, 2013

Netanyahu Takes a Lonely Stance Denouncing Iran

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the son of a historian, often complains to his inner circle that “people have a historical memory that goes back to breakfast.”

But when Mr. Netanyahu has recently tried to focus the world on the Iranian nuclear program, using ancient texts, Holocaust history and a 2011 book by Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, he has sometimes come off sounding shrill. As six major world powers convene next week to negotiate on the nuclear issue with Iran’s new leadership, the Israeli leader risks seeming frozen in the past amid a shifting geopolitical landscape.

Increasingly alone abroad and at home, where he has lost several trusted aides and cabinet colleagues, Mr. Netanyahu has stubbornly argued that if people would just study the facts, they would surely side with him.

“You use history to understand the present and chart the future — history is a map,” Mr. Netanyahu explained in an interview on Thursday night. “You know what a map is? A map is a crystallization of the main things you need to know to get from one place to another.”

With a series of major speeches — three more are scheduled next week — and an energetic media blitz, Mr. Netanyahu, 63, has embarked on the public-diplomacy campaign of his career, trying to prevent what he worries will be “a bad deal” with Iran. Insisting on a complete halt to uranium enrichment and no easing of the economic sanctions he helped galvanize the world to impose on Iran, Mr. Netanyahu appears out of step with a growing Western consensus toward reaching a diplomatic deal that would require compromise.

But such isolation is hardly new to a man with few personal friends and little faith in allies, who shuns guests for Sabbath meals, who never misses a chance to declare Israel’s intention to defend itself, by itself.

“Netanyahu is most comfortable predicting disaster, scaring people into doing something,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem political consultant who worked for him in the early 1990s and has watched him closely since. “The problem is now he’s lost momentum. His message is clear, his message is the same, the situation is the same, but everyone else’s perspective has changed. It’s like you’re the only one in a dark room with a flashlight.”

Since the start of his third term as prime minister this spring, Mr. Netanyahu has been careful not to confront the White House, despite clear differences on Iran, as well as Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian peace process. It is a sharp contrast to when he lectured President Obama two years ago in front of reporters in the Oval Office. The two leaders have developed a détente, and they spent three hours — one more than scheduled — together on the eve of the American government shutdown in what aides from both camps described as a friendly and frank exchange. Amid the chaos roiling the Middle East, American and Israeli officials say the alliance is in many ways closer than ever.

“There’s a deep mutual understanding that we are what there is, there aren’t any other relationships like this, they’re all strained,” said one Israeli official who sat in on the session. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be Bill and Yitzhak,” he added, referring to President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. “It doesn’t have to be Bill and Yitzhak. They get one another.”

Several people who have met with Mr. Netanyahu in recent days described him as determined and focused, the atmosphere in his office one of urgency, not panic. Since his address to the United Nations, he has hardly stopped selling his message: nine broadcast interviews in New York last week instead of the usual two or three (including radio, a first abroad since 2009, added at his request), and on Thursday, a television trifecta and rare trio of newspaper audiences targeting Britain, Germany and France.

Israeli political analysts say Mr. Netanyahu, who was educated at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is action-averse but diplomatically deft, in his element behind a lectern or in front of a camera. His United Nations speech went through 50 drafts, and 45 minutes before go-time he replaced three pages near the top with a single punchy paragraph ending: “Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it.”

Behind his desk in his office here, above a shelf filled with the encyclopedia his father edited, sit two framed photographs of men Mr. Netanyahu admires for having been able to see “danger in time” and find ways to avert it: Winston Churchill, complete with hat, pinstripes and cigar, and a long-bearded Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.

“They were alone a lot more than I am,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Over the past year, Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara — a psychologist whom many Israelis criticize for everything from her purported temper to her child-rearing methods — have withstood mini-scandals regarding their spending on vanilla and pistachio ice cream (about $2,800 a year), makeup and hairstyling ($18,000 in 2012) and the installation of a bed for a flight to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral ($140,000). The prime minister’s stance on Iran, his signature issue, though, is popular with the public.

“Even though most Israelis dislike him, they see him as the best advocate — he knows how to deliver the goods when we are talking about talking,” said Ben Caspit, an Israeli columnist and an author of a biography of Mr. Netanyahu. “He’s a professional whistle-blower. He’s a professional prophet. But all the time pessimistic, threatening.”

If he seems a solo act on the world stage, Mr. Netanyahu is also increasingly a one-man show in Israel, doubling as his own foreign minister. Gone from his cabinet are several colleagues with security credentials whom he considered peers. His closest adviser, Ron Dermer, has left Israel to become its ambassador in Washington; he has lost his longtime cabinet secretary; and the veteran national security adviser departs soon.

But while Mr. Netanyahu faces increasing opposition within his own Likud Party, there are no real rivals for the top job, and the raging internal debate over an Israeli military strike on Iran has all but disappeared.

A cigar smoker — lately, the Cuban Partagás No. 2 — Mr. Netanyahu has lost 10 pounds since a hernia operation in August. On the trip to New York, he read Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization.” After a marathon day on Wednesday, he unwound with an episode of Showtime’s Renaissance-era drama, “The Borgias.”

Friday night dinners are reserved for Sara and their two sons, Yair and Avner; after lunch on Saturdays, Mr. Netanyahu and Avner, 19, a Bible quiz champion, study the weekly Torah portion for about 45 minutes.

History also gets personal for Mr. Netanyahu, whose brother Yonatan was killed in Israel’s 1976 raid on the Entebbe airport in Uganda to free hostages. At the United Nations last week, he told of his grandfather Nathan vowing to help establish the Jewish state after being beaten by an anti-Semitic mob in late-19th-century Europe.

His office wall is dominated by a map, Iran looming large at the center. Iran has been Mr. Netanyahu’s priority — many say obsession — since 1996, when he warned of the nuclear threat in a speech to Congress shortly after becoming prime minister for the first time. During the next three years he revamped Israel’s intelligence agenda to focus on Tehran. As leader of Israel’s opposition from 2006 to 2009, he made it a personal mission to persuade American state pension funds to divest of Iranian holdings. And since returning to Israel’s premiership in 2009, he has led the charge for sanctions against Iran, in part by threatening a unilateral military strike.

Critics and admirers alike say it is a Messianic crusade. Mr. Netanyahu is not religious, but he does see himself as a leader of destiny.

“We’re here for a purpose — I’m here for a purpose,” he said Thursday night. “Which is to defend the future of the Jewish people, which means to defend the Jewish state. Defending it from a nuclear Iran.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” he added. “It’s not going to happen.”


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