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« Reply #9525 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:47 AM »

France warns E.U.: Mediterranean Ocean becoming an ‘open-air cemetery’ for immigrants

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 16:22 EDT

France warned Wednesday that the Mediterranean had become an open “cemetery” for migrants after hundreds of Africans perished in boat wrecks trying to reach European shores.

On the eve of a European Union summit, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined Spain in calling for better border surveillance but also raised deeper questions of African poverty driving the migration.

“The Mediterranean has become a kind of open-air cemetery,” Fabius told a news conference after a forum in Barcelona of 10 European and North African countries bordering the Mediterranean.

Weeks after a boat carrying migrants sank off Italy, killing over 300 people, Fabius warned that the situation was now “dramatic” and said France had specific proposals it wanted to be adopted at the EU summit.

“People who come from the African continent to Europe don’t do it for the pleasure. They are chased by poverty (…) so the first task is development,” Fabius said.

“Then there is the question of protection,” he said.

Fabius urged a strengthening of the European border control agency Frontex, which he has previously described as underfunded with an annual budget of 50-60 million euros ($70-80 million).

The French minister called for reinforced surveillance and noted proposals for the creation of a task force against people smugglers after Italy launched a giant sea patrol operation in mid-October.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, too, called for new efforts to curb the wave of migration.

“I will argue before my European partners that it is necessary to double our efforts to prevent tragedies of this nature from happening again,” Rajoy said at the forum in Barcelona.

“Control of the European Union’s external borders is an effort that must be shared by the whole union, member states and institutions.”

Wednesday’s forum of foreign ministers in the northeastern Spanish city brought together France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain with five North African states: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta urged EU leaders to adopt an action plan to deal with the “immigration emergency”.

Europe “cannot sit there and watch” these tragedies, Letta told the Italian parliament, adding: “I am hoping for immediate action”.

He also urged dialogue with Mediterranean countries where the migrants come from or transit through on their journeys to Europe’s borders.

“The drama of Lampedusa is a European issue,” Letta said, referring to the tiny Italian island where thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa have landed this year.

On October 3, a boat carrying mainly Eritrean asylum-seekers caught fire, capsized and sank within sight of the coast of Lampedusa, killing 364 migrants in Italy’s worst refugee disaster.

Nine days later, another boat with Syrian refugees capsized in high seas between Lampedusa and Malta. Thirty-six bodies were recovered but officials said the death toll may have been 200 people.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9526 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:50 AM »

October 24, 2013

Public Loses Trust in Britain’s Institutions

By ALAN COWELL
IHT

LONDON — It has become commonplace to conclude from a deluge of scandals that Britons have lost faith in many of their national institutions, loosening the underpinnings of trust binding Western societies that like to think of themselves as models for others.

Trust, of course, weighs heavily in the assumptions differentiating life in London or Paris or Berlin from places where no one dares believe that a day will pass without the strut of arbitrary despotism, the smear of bloodshed, the usurping of rights Westerners take for granted.

That is not to suggest that tyrants’ ways are about to be transplanted here (although some journalists have compared British government proposals to regulate the press to Zimbabwe’s curbs on free speech; and the imagery of London’s riots in 2011 inspired superficial comparison to the early days of the Arab Spring).

But, more recently, a newer spectacle has sprouted from this loam of public disaffection. Call it the war of the elites.

Politicians have assailed the police for a purported conspiracy to bring down one of their own, the lawmaker Andrew Mitchell. Police officers, in response, have accused the authorities of bullying them; newspaper editors are struggling to forestall new forms of press regulation seen by some as the politicians’ payback for press disclosure of expense-fiddling by legislators. Virtually all of the above, in one way or another, have turned on bankers — the pariahs du jour since the crisis of 2008.

Much of the political malaise is reflected in the findings of the Leveson inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal, which exposed a toxic nexus of cozy and unwholesome relationships among the politicians, the police and the press.

While the inquiry produced its final, 2,000-page report almost a year ago, its consequences still reverberate: Next week, two former senior editors in Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper outpost, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both once close to Prime Minister David Cameron, are set to go on trial to face a variety of conspiracy and other charges that they deny.

“The trial is of extraordinary political significance,” the columnist Peter Oborne wrote in The Daily Telegraph, since it will explore accusations of criminal wrongdoing that the Leveson inquiry was not permitted to consider.

Again, Britons will witness the scrutiny of what Mr. Oborne called an “inner circle” close to the centers of power.

This week, the spotlight fell on the police. On Wednesday, a parliamentary panel grilled three officers in the so-called “plebgate” affair — an episode in September 2012 when Mr. Mitchell uttered profanities in the presence of police officers who refused to allow him to cycle through the main, wrought-iron gates at 10 Downing Street.

The episode took on familiar and more ominous overtones of class and contempt with the officers’ claim that the lawmaker called them “plebs.” Despite a denial and an apology, Mr. Mitchell was forced to quit a senior cabinet post. The affair became a cause célèbre.

Subsequent efforts by other officers to mold public perceptions of the affair raised far more consequential problems, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a supervisory body, questioned whether a wider political agenda had been in play.

After years of disclosures concerning cover-ups, dubious tactics and glaring lapses by the police, Mr. Mitchell’s case deepened public discomfort. Three of Britain’s most senior officers were forced to apologize to him, while others in the case refused to do the same.

It could be argued that the entire brouhaha fascinated the elite far more than the nation at large.

But a respected survey published in September suggested that trust in the honesty of lawmakers, the probity of the banks and the workings of the media had all fallen drastically in the past three decades. Another recent poll said local police officers still commanded broad respect. But that view is under challenge.

“The ‘plebgate’ saga is indeed shocking because it shows officers colluding to ‘stitch up’ a member of the cabinet,” the historian Max Hastings wrote in the conservative Daily Mail. “Today, I’m afraid, skepticism about police honesty is a grave issue.”


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« Reply #9527 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:51 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/23/2013 05:39 PM

Spending Scandal: Pope Francis Banishes Bishop of Limburg

The Vatican has banished Germany's controversial "Bishop Bling Bling" for an unspecified period of time. In response to accusations of lavish spending, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst will withdraw from his official duties in the bishopric of Limburg while a colleague fills in.

Pope Francis has ordered the controversial Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, to leave his diocese for an unspecified period of time. The move was revealed by the Vatican on Wednesday following talks between the pope and Tebartz-van Elst earlier this week.

The statement said the bishop was "not currently in a position to carry out his episcopal ministry" and that an investigation and audit will be carried out in the Limburg bishopric while he is away.

Wolfgang Rösch, the current dean of the city of Wiesbaden who was due to take over as the bishop's vicar general on January 1, will step in.

The move comes amid growing criticism of Tebartz-van Elst's lavish spending, which has seen the cost of construction on his headquarters and residence balloon from €2.5 million ($3.44 million) to over €31 million.

The Antithesis of the Pope's Message

Going to this kind of expense is the antithesis of the pope's message of humility. Tebartz-van Elst -- who has been dubbed "Bishop Bling Bling" by the international press -- has been under fire for months for his administration of the Limburg bishopric. Already in March 2012, a group of priests accused him of having an authoritarian style of leadership, while earlier this year, more than 4,000 people signed an open letter opposing his administration.

He is also facing charges in Hamburg for making false statements in two public affidavits over business class flights to India in 2012.

The pope's decision -- which could see Tebartz-van Elst back in office at the start of next year -- has caused confusion and consternation in Limburg itself.

Some officials in the local church organization are having trouble understanding exactly what message the Vatican is sending. One employee at the church's headquarters in Limburg, sighing heavily, told SPIEGEL ONLINE he simply doesn't want to believe it: "Can the suspended bishop just come back here to Limburg again in a few months?" He hopes not, and that's the message he prefers to take from the pope's statement.

But the Holy Father has not yet made a final decision on Tebartz-van Elst's fate. A long-serving member of the Caritas charity told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Tebartz-van Elst has caused a lot of problems for the bishopric, there is absolutely no future for him here. Do they really know what has happened here, or do they not want to have the truth?"

The pope has received reports on Limburg from various sources: A papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, traveled there in September; the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference Robert Zollitsch spoke to Pope Francis about the matter in the last week; and on Monday, before meeting with Tebartz-van Elst himself, he spoke to the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Bishop's Family 'Receive Death Threats'

Relatives of Tebartz-van Elst, meanwhile, have apparently been affected by the controversy as well. Johannes Winkels, the bishop's brother-in-law, reportedly told German tabloid magazine Bunte: "We get death threats everyday. By telephone or in letters." Winkels added: "My brother-in-law is already at rock bottom. But they want to destroy him even further, and his family as well. Ideally we would throw it all in and leave Germany." According to Winkels, Tebartz-van Elst's 87-year-old mother has also suffered from the situation, but his family is standing by him.

According to Bunte, the bishop is finding "support and matter-of-fact help" in Rome. A "Vatican insider" told the magazine: "In the pope's circle, they are convinced that he will not sacrifice the bishop. Pope Francis has already shown in Buenos Aires that he will not be driven by public opinion." The audience with the pope on Monday reportedly went "very well" for Tebartz-van Elst.


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« Reply #9528 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:53 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/23/2013 04:08 PM

'Over-Banked': ECB Tests Set to Reveal German System Flaws

By Christopher Alessi

The European Central Bank's upcoming review of the euro zone's largest banks could expose weaknesses in the German banking sector. It may also reveal Germany's political role in limiting the scope and efficacy of the Continent's nascent banking union.

The European Central Bank is preparing to conduct a "comprehensive assessment" of the euro zone's biggest banks ahead of taking on the role of banking supervisor for the region late next year. German banks, considered some of the strongest in the fragile euro area, are expected to fare relatively well. However, a thorough -- and apolitical -- review could reveal cracks in the German financial system, while underscoring Germany's fundamental resistance to a full-fledged banking union.

Earlier this month, European Union finance ministers officially signed off on plans to create a Single Supervisory Mechanism within the ECB, which will monitor around 130 of the euro zone's largest banks. The step is the first in a larger EU plan to shift financial regulatory authority from national governments to the European level by developing a so-called banking union.

However, the ECB, starting in November, will first assess the health and stability of the big banks through an evaluation that includes a risk assessment, an asset quality review, and a stress test targeting bank balance sheets. The review, which will be based on a capital benchmark of 8 percent, should "strengthen private sector confidence in the soundness of euro area banks and in the quality of their balance sheets," ECB President Mario Draghi said when the bank outlined its assessment criteria on Oct. 23.

Bank analysts and economists expect some banks in Italy, France, and Spain to require additional capital following the evaluation, in large part due to non-performing loans. But what about German banks?

'Too Many Banks'

"In the European context, German banks are much stronger than others, so the adjustment will probably be a lot smaller," says Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research. However, he warns, "Commerzbank is a big question mark."

Fratzscher says it is not clear whether Commerzbank has a sustainable business model, like that of its well-capitalized competitor, Deutsche Bank. "It's not an international player, and it's not reaching a lot of private companies and households in Germany," Fratzscher explains. He suggests that the German government, which has held a 17 percent stake in Commerzbank since the global financial crisis, might ultimately need to inject more liquidity into the bank or "scale it down." Similarly, a European bank insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says he could envision the government re-privatizing Commerzbank by selling to a buyer like UBS, which could lead to a "winding down" of the bank.

Part of Commerzbank's trouble stems from its large exposure to poor shipping loans. "It's taken huge losses and can't find anyone to sell its shipping portfolio to," says Megan Greene, chief economist at Maverick Intelligence. Commerzbank's exposure to non-performing shipping loans increased from 21 percent to over 25 percent between November 2012 and June 2013, according to a recent report on the planned asset quality review by Nomura Equity Research. But Commerzbank is not the only German bank facing challenges ahead of the assessment.

"I think shipping loans is a higher risk area for a number of German banks, and as in previous stress tests one of the key challenges will be the comparatively low level of Basel III core Tier 1 [capital ratios above 7 percent] as a starting point," notes Jon Peace, a Nomura analyst. Other German banks with high shipping exposures are two of the publicly-owned Landesbanken, or regional banks, including NHS Nordbank and Norddeutsche Landesbank.

Those regional banks are part of what Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING DiBa bank, calls Germany's "over-banked" system -- including private commercial banks, savings and cooperative banks, and the Landesbanken. "There are too many banks in Germany," Brzeski says, suggesting that the upcoming ECB tests could provide an opportunity for a consolidation of the sector.

More broadly, a functioning and effective banking union would "imply some adjustments" for German banks, says Jan Pieter Krahnen, director of the Center for Financial Studies at Frankfurt's Goethe University. "There will be adjustments -- consolidation -- for the big banks, as well as for the savings banks and the smaller regional banks," Krahnen explains.

A Forceful Backstop

There remain a number of unsettled elements that make such a comprehensive banking union far from complete. These include the development of a Single Resolution Mechanism for addressing weak banks, the harmonization of standards for certain loan classifications and bank assets, and a deposit guarantee fund.

The resolution scheme has proven particularly controversial because it entails the creation of a central joint fund that would act as a backstop for struggling banks. In the long term, the banking industry would finance the fund, but in the short term, national governments -- potentially through the European Stability Mechanism -- might have to guarantee loans to failing banks. Germany has forcefully opposed such a move, which could theoretically force German tax payers to bailout banks in, say, Spain or Italy.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recently insisted that senior and junior bank creditors would have to take full losses -- so-called bail-ins -- and German law would have to be amended before Germany could agree to assist with the recapitalization of euro zone banks. But Chancellor Angela Merkel later tweaked the government's position, at least rhetorically, indicating that she could potentially support a joint resolution mechanism under certain conditions: namely, that private creditors and bondholders be liable first, and that any government assistance be approved by national parliaments. Meanwhile, Draghi said in a recently leaked letter to the European Commission that forcing losses on bondholders before a banking union is up and running could destabilize markets.

The irony of the firm German position, as former ECB executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi sees it, is that the recapitalization of German banks in the wake of the financial crisis was among the largest in Europe. The Germans "have never 'bailed-in' anybody," Bini Smaghi says, "their banks have always been bailed out." He faults Germany for its insistence on a "system they have never tried at home and writing rules that put you in a straight jacket," which he suggests could create conditions that ultimately trigger a run on banks.

Without agreement on a forceful backstop, or resolution mechanism, many analysts and economists question whether the upcoming ECB assessments can actually be meaningful. "The backstop is the key thing for this test," says Krahnen. The ECB is in a tight corner. If the bank does not conduct a "serious" review of banks, it will not be able to operate effectively as a banking supervisor down the line, Krahnen says. But if it does operate a genuine comprehensive test with no resolution mechanism in place, many banks "will be in trouble soon," he explains.

Greene, of Maverick Intelligence, bets that the asset review and stress tests will ultimately be a "big fudge." "Europeans are not really sure what they'll do with the results. There's no fund for big recaps," she adds. Ultimately, she argues, Germany will get its way regarding the joint backstop. National supervisors will continue to have a large role in the bank resolution process, which, Greene says, will make the new system more of a "banking confederation" than a banking union.


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« Reply #9529 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:57 AM »


Iran human rights record condemned in UN report

UN special rapporteur publishes report criticising widespread abuses, but raising hopes new presidency may bring change

Associated Press in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 09.11 BST   

A special UN rapporteur has condemned widespread human rights abuses in Iran, but said recent signals from the country's new president, Hasan Rouhani, had raised expectations for change.

A report published on Wednesday by Ahmed Shaheed detailed a rise in the number of jailed journalists over the past decade, including 23 since January, and other restrictions against freedom of expression such as the blocking of up to 5m websites. It also expressed alarm about proposed legislation that would allow a custodian to marry his adopted child, and said minority religious groups were being subjected to discrimination in employment and education, and were often arbitrarily arrested and tortured.

Shaheed welcomed the recent release of more than a dozen political prisoners and "a number of positive signals" from Rouhani, who has made several calls for change since taking office in August, including the lifting of restrictions on academic freedoms, increasing social media access and urging police not to crack down on perceived violations of Islamic dress codes for women.

"These signals I refer to raise the expectation of tangible and sustainable reforms," Shaheed said in a speech presenting his report. He called for the release of hundreds more prisoners of conscience and urged Iran to respond to his numerous requests to visit the country.

In a written response, Iran rejected Shaheed's report as "a biased approach" that relied on unconfirmed reports and did not "merit public trust or confidence". Tehran defended its press freedom policies, saying they were in keeping with "the fundamental principles of Islam and the public rights" enshrined in Iran's constitution.

Shaheed's report said 40 journalists and 29 bloggers were serving sentences for offences from national security crimes to "spreading propaganda against the state". He said that about 1,500 "anti-religious websites" were closed each month, including those containing content on the minority Wahhabi and Baha'i religions, as well as sites dedicated to news, music and women's rights.

Shaheed said he was especially concerned that 786 people had been executed for drug trafficking offences since August 2011, when he became special rapporteur. He also lamented that the fact that homosexual acts and insulting Islamic prophets were considered capital offences and called on Iran to declare a moratorium on all executions. Flogging and amputations remain widespread.

In its response, Iran stood by the punishments in its penal code, saying they were carried out with due process and were based on Islamic law.

Shaheed detailed numerous allegations of abuse against religious minorities, including the jailing of 109 Baha'is as of May 2013 and 300 cases of abuse of Baha'i children in schools, where some youngsters are pressured to convert to Islam. Christians and Dervish Muslims faced similar discrimination, Shaheed said.

Iran's government insisted that nobody was expelled from university or imprisoned merely for holding certain beliefs and accused Baha'i groups of staging a "political and media campaign".

The Baha'i International Community, which says it represents five million members of the faith, rejected Iran's defence and said little had changed for Baha'is since Rouhani's election.

"What we see is the continuation of the usual tactics, attempting to delude the international community and to appease the family of nations, even as repression continues at home in full force," said Bani Dugal, the group's representative to the UN.

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

October 23, 2013

Lawmaker Says Iran Has Halted Enrichment

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — An influential Iranian lawmaker says his country has halted the production of enriched uranium up to 20 percent, a level that experts say is only a few technical steps from what is needed to produce a nuclear weapon.

The remarks by the lawmaker, Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, who is the deputy head of the national security and foreign policy committee in Parliament, were published on the Parliament’s official Web site, Icana, on Tuesday.

No other officials confirmed the news, but Mr. Naqavi Hosseini and his committee have recently visited nuclear sites and on Saturday were briefed by one of Iran’s main nuclear negotiators, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Mr. Naqavi Hosseini is the first lawmaker of such stature to make such a statement. If his report is true, then Iran may be edging closer to accepting one of the main demands of world powers, that it suspend the enrichment of uranium, especially up to 20 percent.

Iran says it is forced to enrich up to that level in order to produce fuel for a nuclear test reactor in Tehran, which produces medical isotopes, but the West fears that is a ruse to conceal a nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Naqavi Hosseini said on Tuesday that Iran now had enough enriched uranium to meet the reactor’s needs.

“This site has the required fuel at the moment and there is no need for more production,” he said, adding, “The issue of suspending or halting enrichment is meaningless because no production is taking place at the moment.” He also said Iran was not interested in shipping its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20 percent abroad as part of a nuclear deal, as has been proposed in the past.

“This would mean we would put it at the disposal of others and have to beg for it later,” he said. Instead, he suggested turning the stockpile into fuel plates, under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.


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« Reply #9530 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:59 AM »


Pakistani PM pleads with Obama to put an end to drone strikes

Nawaz Sharif holds face-to-face talks with Obama and adds to growing pressure over America's controversial drone program

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 October 2013 22.50 BST      

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif added to growing international pressure over US drone killings on Wednesday by calling on Barack Obama to end all strikes in his country.

At the end of a long-awaited US trip designed to smooth growing tensions between the US and Pakistan, Sharif told reporters that he had "emphasised the need to end such strikes", which are estimated to have killed between 2,525 and 3,613 people in Pakistan since 2004.

But a 2,500-word joint statement issued by the White House after the one-on-one meeting in Washington and attributed to the two leaders did not mention drone attacks, referring only to a need to respect "sovereignty and territorial integrity".

It said President Obama also "conveyed appreciation for Pakistan's internal and regional security challenges". Both leaders refused to take questions at the end of their two-hour meeting in the Oval Office.

In prepared remarks, Obama acknowledged that there will "inevitably be some tensions … and some misunderstandings between our two countries" but insisted the US-Pakistan relationship will continue to be a "source of strength".

"It's a challenge," Obama added. "It's not easy."

Pakistani criticism of the US drone program is known to irritate some in Washington defence circles, who believe that many of the attacks are secretly sanctioned or even assisted by officials in Islamabad, and regard the public condemnation as hypocritical.

But the White House is also facing its own charges of double standards after detailed reports published this week by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused the US of violating international law by failing to prevent civilian casualties during the attacks.

Analysts close to the administration say the talks between Pakistan and the US may mark a key moment in the drones program, especially since Obama has already indicated – during a speech in May – that he has a preference in future for capturing terrorist suspects where possible.

"There are always two discussions on drones; one behind closed doors," said Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant US secretary of state for the region now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The real question is whether there is some private understanding about the need to curb the attacks. The numbers have come down since Obama's speech to the National Defense University in May, but not to zero."

Inderfurth said the real significance of Sharif's visit to Washington was to smooth tensions between the two governments before a bumpy withdrawal of US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"The most important part of the meeting is the fact that they are meeting." he added. "It is important that Obama establishes some kind of rapport, so that when things go bad, as they are likely to, he has a personal relationship with his new interlocutor in Islamabad."

In particular, Washington is keen for Pakistan to do more to encourage Taliban participation in peace talks with the Afghan government.

Speaking after his meeting with Obama, Sharif said: "Let there be no doubt about our commitment for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This result remains unwavering."

The joint statement added: "The leaders affirmed their commitment to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process as the surest way to end violence and bring lasting stability to Afghanistan and the region.

"Acknowledging Pakistan's efforts to support an inclusive reconciliation process in which Afghans determine the future of their country, both Leaders called on the Taliban to join the political process and enter into dialogue with the Afghan government."


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« Reply #9531 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:00 AM »


Burma sectarian violence motivated by fear, says Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese opposition leader stops short of condemning anti-Muslim violence and insists no ethnic cleansing is taking place in Radio 4 interview

Haroon Siddique   
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 09.51 BST

Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stopped short of directly condemning anti-Muslim violence in the country and said that it was motivated by fear.

Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims began in western Rakhine state last year, with hundreds killed and about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, driven from their homes. The violence spread to other parts of the country this year. The government has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to protect Muslims, who account for about 4% of Burma's roughly 60 million people, and Aung San Suu Kyi has also been accused of failing to speak out.

In an interview broadcast on Thursday, the Nobel laureate insisted there was no ethnic cleansing taking place and said that both sides were afraid of each other.

"This problem arose last year and this is to do with fear on both sides," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "The fear is not just on the side of the Muslims but also on the side of the Buddhists as well. Muslims have been targeted but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence … Global Muslim power is very great and certainly, that is a perception in many parts of the world and in our country as well."

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 20 years under house arrest because of her opposition to the military government in Burma, is visiting the UK and is in Northern Ireland on Thursday to discuss peace and reconciliation.

During the interview she was asked to condemn Wirathu, a Buddhist monk labelled the "Burmese Bin Laden" who has been stoking hatred against Muslims, denouncing them as "crude and savage". She replied: "I condemn hatred of any kind." Similarly, she was asked to condemn violence against Muslims and answered: "I condemn any movement that is based on hatred and extremism."

Muslims have been the main victims since the violence began in western Rakhine state last year, but so far most criminal trials have involved prosecutions of Muslims, not members of the Buddhist majority.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is closely tied to nationalism and the dominant Buddhist religion, making leaders reluctant to speak up.

Aung San Suu Kyi showed frustration with her interviewer at the number of questions about the violence. "I would say instead of asking us members of the opposition what we feel about it, what we intend to do about it … you should ask the present government of Burma what their policy is," she said.


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« Reply #9532 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:04 AM »

October 24, 2013

Increase in Activity Reported at North Korean Nuclear Test Site

By CHOE SANG-HUN
IHT

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has increased activity at its main underground nuclear test site, digging new tunnel entrances in what could be preparations for another nuclear test, a Washington-based research institute reported Thursday.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which based its conclusion on analysis of commercial satellite images of the site in Punggye-ri in northeastern North Korea, said there was no sign that a test was imminent.

The report came a day after North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reaffirmed that the isolated country would continue to expand its nuclear arsenal, despite warnings from the United States that it will not engage in the dialogue that Pyongyang is seeking until the North moves toward denuclearization.

North Korea is believed to have recently restarted a reactor at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, which would revive the country’s main source of fuel for nuclear weapons, plutonium. Pyongyang is also believed to be expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities, which would provide it with an alternative fuel source for nuclear arms.

North Korea has conducted three underground nuclear tests, triggering United Nations sanctions, in 2006, 2009 and last February, all at the Punggye-ri site. The yield of the detonations has increased with each test, but international experts have disputed North Korea’s repeated implication that it has succeeded in making its bombs small and sophisticated enough for missile delivery. North Korea is also attempting to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Speaking last month at a forum at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, Li Bin, a Chinese arms control expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he believed that North Korea had detonated a miniaturized nuclear device in its first test. But after that detonation failed to reach a normal yield, he said, the country had to increase the size of its bombs in order to boost the yield in the subsequent tests. “The size of its reliable device today is still too big for missile delivery,” he said.

On Thursday, the U.S.-Korea Institute said that satellite photos as recent as Sept. 27 showed two new tunnel entrances at Punggye-ri, as well as growing piles of dirt. This suggested that the North might be digging new tunnels for nuclear tests, or it might be building a connection to existing tunnels, the report said. The North also appeared to be upgrading its support facilities in the area, the institute said.

These activities “indicate that North Korea is planning to conduct future detonations as part of its overall nuclear weapons development program,” the institute said in its report, posted on its Web site, 38 North.

South Korean officials have said that the North might conduct another nuclear test, whether to advance its weapons program or to raise tensions as a bargaining tactic, but they have also said that it is difficult to predict when the North might do so. While satellite images of the North’s nuclear sites are often scrutinized by analysts, the images cannot reveal what is happening within the tunnels and buildings themselves, and Pyongyang is sometimes suspected of increasing activity at the sites simply to put pressure on the United States to negotiate.

After having struck a series of failed deals with Pyongyang, however, Washington is wary of returning to the negotiating table unless the North first demonstrates a willingness to dismantle its nuclear arms program.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that it could make such a move only if the United States took “simultaneous” action toward abandoning what he called its “hostile policy” against Pyongyang.

“Action for action is the basic principle for resolving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, and we will never move first unilaterally,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted the spokesman, whom it did not identify, as saying. “We want peace and stability and demand the end of U.S. hostile policy, but we never beg for them.”
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« Reply #9533 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:08 AM »

African Union pushing to suspend Kenyan leadership’s criminal trials

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 18:10 EDT

The African Union has asked the UN Security Council to approve a one-year suspension of proceedings against Kenya’s leaders at the International Criminal Court, diplomats said Wednesday.

A UN diplomat confirmed the Security Council had received a letter from the African Union seeking the delay.

Another diplomat said the request would be considered next week but would almost certainly be rejected.

“There will be no agreement between the members on a positive response,” the diplomat told AFP.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta and vice-president William Ruto are both facing charges of crimes against humanity from the International Criminal Court in connection with the bloodshed that erupted following 2007 elections in the country.

Article 16 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court grants the UN Security Council the power to suspend for one-year any ICC investigation or prosecution.

Following a meeting of African Union foreign ministers on October 11 in Addis Ababa, the body requested an adjournment of the proceedings against the Kenyan leaders.

The letter sent to the UN Security Council, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, requested the “deferral of the proceedings initiated by th ICC against the president and deputy president of Kenya.”

The letter called on the Security Council to “extend the necessary cooperation to the African Union with a view to ensuring that the request by African leaders is adequately and satisfactorily acted upon.”

It noted also that Kenya was “a frontline state in the fight against terrorism,” referring to the attacks last month on a Nairobi shopping mall.

The two Kenyan leaders had also shown “full co-operation” with the ICC prosecution.

US officials on Wednesday said Washington acknowledged Kenya’s concerns over the Westgate mall terror attacks, but urged the country to cooperate with the ICC.

“We are very, very aware of the Kenyans’ concern about having to deal with Westgate and the fact that they have with the support of the AU sent this to the UN Security Council,” Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on a conference call with reporters.

“We are reviewing that, as others are reviewing that request.

“We encourage the government to continue to cooperate with the ICC. We think that it is extraordinarily important for the victims of the violence that occurred in Kenya in 2007. So we will continue to have discussions on this issue.”

The ICC last Friday partially excused Kenyatta from his upcoming crimes against humanity trial to allow him to fulfill his “demanding” political duties at home.

Kenyatta, who was elected president in March, has long argued that his November 12 trial in The Hague would hamper his running of the country.

The Kenyan president was only required to be in court for the trial opening, the verdict as well as when victims are giving testimony against him.

Ruto’s trial was disrupted in September following the Nairobi attacks.

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« Reply #9534 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:09 AM »

October 23, 2013

Tunisian Protests, by Islamist and Secular Groups, Delay Talks on Constitution

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
IHT

CAIRO — Deadly violence and street protests in Tunisia on Wednesday postponed talks intended to end a political standoff that had thwarted completion of a new constitution in the birthplace of, and a relative bright spot in, the Arab Spring revolts.

The Tunisian talks, called “the national dialogue,” have captivated the Arab world with the hope that in at least one country an Islamic party and its more secular rivals might overcome the mutual distrust and antipathy that have bogged down steps toward democracy in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

But on Wednesday, the second anniversary of Tunisia’s first free election, the promise appeared to have slipped away again with attacks from two fronts on the moderate Islamist governing party, from militant hard-liners on one side and secular political factions on the other.

Islamist militants in Sidi Bouzid, an interior province, killed at least six security officers on Wednesday and wounded several others, apparently in an attempt to disrupt the reconciliation between the moderate Islamist governing party and its more secular opponents. At least two militants were killed in the fighting, the state news agency said.

Flashes of violence by hard-line Islamists have vexed Tunisia since the ouster of the former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. President Moncef Marzouki, a liberal coalition partner of the Islamists, on Wednesday ordered a three-day period of national mourning.

At the same time, new differences between the moderate Islamists and their more secular opponents over the basic framework of their proposed talks appeared to delay them, too. Thousands of government opponents, including leftists and union activists, marched in the capital, Tunis, to demand the swift resignation of the government of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, of the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, as a condition of the dialogue. Tunisia’s main labor union group and secular political leaders have insisted that Mr. Larayedh step down within three weeks, almost as soon as the factions can agree on a caretaker government of nonpartisan experts.

But in a speech on Wednesday night that was delayed for so many hours that some opposition leaders left in impatience, Mr. Larayedh reiterated his party’s position that he would resign only upon the ratification of a new constitution and the beginning of a new electoral process, not at the start of the talks or by the end of a three-week deadline.

Angry opposition activists threatened a sit-in in the old city square outside the prime minister’s office. Non-Islamist opposition parties vowed to suspend their participation in the planned dialogue.
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« Reply #9535 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Syria releases 61 female detainees in three-way prisoner exchange

Deal brokered by Qatar and Palestinian Authority also leads to release of nine Lebanese Shias and two Turkish pilots

Associated Press in Beirut
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 12.10 BST   

Syrian authorities have released 61 female detainees in a three-way prisoner exchange, one of the more ambitious negotiated deals in the country's civil war in which rival factions remain largely opposed to any bartered peace.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had freed the women over the past two days. There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials, nor details of who the women were or their current location.

The SoHR said the release was part of a hostage swap brokered last week by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority (PA), in which Syrian rebels freed nine Lebanese Shia Muslims and Lebanese gunmen released two Turkish pilots as well.

Lebanese officials have said a third part of the deal called for the Syrian government to free a number of female detainees to meet the rebels' demands.

The involvement of Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar and the PA in the deal showed the extent to which the conflict has spread across the wider region.

Syria's crisis began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against Assad, and slowly turned into an insurgency and then a full-blown civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while another 2 million have sought refuge from the violence in neighbouring countries and beyond.

Electricity has gradually returned to Damascus hours after a power cut affected the capital and other parts of the country. The government blamed the cut on a rebel attack, which it says damaged a gas pipeline that supplies fuel to power stations in southern Syria.

Syria's state news agency quoted the electricity minister, Imad Khamis, as saying authorities planned to have power back on in all areas within 48 hours. The oil minister, Suleiman Abbas, said maintenance crews were working to supply the Tishrin power station south-east of Damascus with fuel via a reserve pipeline.

Damascus and southern Syria have been struck by several power cuts throughout the war. Many rebel-held parts of the country have been without power for months.


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« Reply #9536 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:13 AM »


Abdel Hakim Belhaj: justice barred for Libyan dissident, say lawyers

UK effort to reject case of Libyan and wife, seized with MI6 help then abused by Gaddafi agents, called political expediency

Richard Norton-Taylor   
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 October 2013 16.42 BST

Britain's intelligence agencies want to prevent a leading Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife, who were abducted with the help of MI6 and then tortured, from seeking justice because of "political embarrassment", the high court heard on Wednesday.

Court documents released on behalf of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his Moroccan-born wife, Fatima Bouchar, say the government's attempt to get the case thrown out is "incompatible with the rule of law and has grave constitutional implications".

The documents say that if the government were right, it would "leave anyone who is a victim of torture without any remedy if another state was involved in some way in the conduct".

Lawyers acting for MI6, a former senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and MI5, argue that since the abduction took place abroad and involved officials from other countries, they had no case to answer in a British court.

However, Richard Hermer QC, Belhaj's counsel, said the traditional doctrine of state immunity from prosecution did not cover torture and other human rights abuses. He told Mr Justice Simon the government was deploying a "doctrine of political embarrassment".

Belhaj, former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was detained with his wife in China in 2004 at the behest of British and US officials. They were then transferred to Malaysia and Thailand before being flown in a CIA plane to Tripoli in 2004.

The forced rendition took place at the time Tony Blair's government was establishing close relations with Muammar Gaddafi, then Libya's leader.

Documents released on Wednesday by Belhaj's lawyers and the human rights charity Reprieve, say Bouchar, who was heavily pregnant at the time, was blindfolded, taken to a cell and "chained to the wall by one hand and one leg" before being "taped to a stretcher tightly, making her fear for her baby" and forced on board a CIA jet.

Belhaj says he was beaten on arrival in Tripoli, and his wife "could no longer feel her baby move in her womb and was concerned that he had died". The couple were taken to Tajoura prison, a detention facility in Tripoli operated by the Libyan intelligence services.

Cori Crider, a lawyer at Reprieve, said neither Blair, Straw, nor the current government, was prepared to give the apology "deserved". She said: "Instead they are running a specious and immoral argument that British courts cannot judge British officials when they are said to have conspired with foreign torturers."


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« Reply #9537 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:17 AM »

October 23, 2013

Middle East Peace Talks Go On, Under the Radar

By JODI RUDOREN and MICHAEL R. GORDON
NYT

JERUSALEM — A recent Israeli editorial cartoon depicted the lead Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators beleaguered on treadmills, with Secretary of State John Kerry between them. Hands on the controls, Mr. Kerry was shown saying, “I’m upping the tempo a bit more.”

Nearly three months into the latest round of Washington-brokered peace talks in what has been the Middle East’s most intractable conflict, Mr. Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Rome on Wednesday, having said the process had “intensified” over 13 negotiating sessions, including three in the past week. Another is scheduled for Monday.

After years of stalemate, the very fact that the talks are continuing — and, perhaps even more important, that the participants have adhered to Mr. Kerry’s admonition not to disclose their content — is something of an achievement, especially in light of the turmoil raging in the region. But many veterans of the process remain skeptical about the prospects for progress given the yawning gaps in each side’s public positions, saying both are mainly participating in order to appease the American administration and improve their broader international standing.

“In a period where the whole Middle East is moving in the direction of chaos, having one area where the parties are trying to further stabilize their relationship is a positive development,” said Dore Gold, a longtime Israeli diplomat and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “The fact that they continue to talk means these are serious discussions. Where this goes, what’s the likely outcome, I think it’s really way too early to predict.”

Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and political consultant, said the talks, which both sides committed to for nine months, seem still to be at the beginning of the beginning. “You can waste days and months talking about things, clarifying your position, defending your position,” Mr. Shikaki said. “Eventually, they begin to contemplate compromises. It is at that point that negotiators tend to become more engaged and in fact to become real negotiators, not just advocates of their positions. My sense is that has not happened yet.”

In contrast to previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, little has leaked from the negotiating room. Even the timing, location or duration of meetings has rarely been revealed. Several people close to the process said the sessions so far have alternated between Jerusalem and Jericho — they said they were not allowed to disclose the specific locations — and have each generally focused on a single subject, like sharing water resources, or whether Israeli or international forces should patrol the Jordan Valley.

Four people attend all the meetings — the two negotiators in the cartoon, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister, and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, as well as Isaac Molho, a lawyer close to Mr. Netanyahu, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Others participate on an ad hoc basis depending on the agenda. Mr. Netanyahu said in Rome on Wednesday that he and Mr. Kerry talk “more or less every other day” about the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat.

After Palestinian complaints that Mr. Kerry’s special envoy, Martin S. Indyk, was not sitting in on the sessions, he has attended recent ones, according to one official close to the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the rules against discussing it. But this official said that Mr. Indyk, a two-time United States ambassador to Israel, was still not present for the substance of the exchange, instead coming in at the end to be briefed on the discussion.

Recent polls show scant optimism on the street. Palestinians are split, with 47 percent supporting the resumption of negotiations and 49 percent opposed, according to a September survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research; 70 percent think they will not lead to an agreement. Sixty-one percent of Israeli Jews back the talks, according to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index published this month, but 81 percent see no real chance of a deal.

The public conversation is much more focused, in Israel, on Iran, and on both sides, on a recent uptick in West Bank violence that has led to the deaths of three Israelis and at least seven Palestinians, including a man suspected of plotting a bombing of a Tel Aviv bus in November who was killed during an Israeli military raid Tuesday near the village of Bilin.

“I don’t know anybody who’s talking about it, it’s kind of a nonissue,” said Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former Palestinian negotiator. “You ask people what do you think’s going to happen, they shrug their shoulders, shake their heads — there’s no confidence in the process.”

Mr. Abbas on Sunday rejected statements by some Palestinian leaders that the talks verged on a breakdown, telling a German television station “the negotiations are difficult but they haven’t reached a deadlock.” But Ms. Buttu was troubled by Mr. Abbas’s saying in other recent interviews that there had been no progress yet worthy of mention, and that if the talks collapse Israel would be partly to blame.

“In the past when negotiations went absolutely nowhere, he always stayed quiet,” said Ms. Buttu, who used to work for Mr. Abbas. “I think he’s becoming frustrated and reaching a point where he’s going to have to reassess.”

David Makovsky, director of a project on the peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the leaders are benefiting from “the silver lining of low expectations,” and their adherence to Mr. Kerry’s demand for silence “is remarkable.” But Mr. Makovsky was one of many who said he did not expect much to happen until the end of the nine-month timetable.

But Yossi Beilin, an Israeli architect of the Oslo peace accords, said he was unimpressed with the 13 meetings, suggesting that earnest negotiations would have the foursome locked in a room with occasional breaks to see their families. Instead, he said, the talks are “kind of a hobby,” at least for the Israelis, noting that Ms. Livni has a full portfolio as justice minister and Mr. Molho a busy law practice.

“For both sides the current situation is very, very comfortable,” Mr. Beilin said. “All of us are playing the game. Many meetings, very serious, good relationship, all issues are on the agenda, fighting the lunatics on both sides, and it’s beautiful. The only problem is that there will be an end to it in the coming months, and the admission of failure might be devastating.”

Jodi Rudoren reported from Jerusalem, and Michael R. Gordon from Rome.

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

October 23, 2013

Criticism of United States’ Mideast Policy Increasingly Comes From Allies

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
NYT

ROME — As the United States grapples with some of the most intractable problems in the Middle East, it has run into a buzz saw of criticism, not from traditional enemies but from two of its strongest allies.

During stops in Paris and London this week, Secretary of State John Kerry found himself insisting that the United States was not facing a growing rift with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, whose emissaries have described strains over American policy on Egypt, Iran and Syria.

And during a stop in Rome, Mr. Kerry sought to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that the Obama administration would not drop its guard in the newly invigorated nuclear talks with Iran.

Mr. Kerry’s comments appeared to do little to persuade Mr. Netanyahu, whose demands that Iran dismantle its nuclear program are tougher than any compromise that the United States and other world powers seem prepared to explore as they seek a deal with Iran’s new president.

But the criticism by Saudi officials has been the most vehement, as they have waged a campaign against the United States’ policy in the Middle East in private comments to diplomats and reporters, as well as in public remarks by a former intelligence official.

Saudi officials have made it clear they are frustrated with the Obama administration — not just for its reluctance to do more to aid the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and not just for its willingness to engage Iran in negotiations, but also for its refusal to endorse the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party.

Beyond criticism, the Saudis have been working against American policy in Egypt by providing billions of dollars in assistance to the authorities in Cairo, which has more than made up for aid the United States has withheld after the Egyptian military deposed Mr. Morsi. Mr. Kerry and other American officials have insisted that the United States was right to work with Mr. Morsi after he took office as the duly elected president.

In a speech on Tuesday at the annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference held by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Saudi Arabia’s former spy chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, also complained about the White House’s decision to embrace an agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons instead of carrying out a cruise missile strike against Mr. Assad’s forces.

“The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious, and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down but also to help Assad to butcher his people,” said Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and a former director of Saudi intelligence.

Those comments followed Saudi Arabia’s decision to protest the West’s policy on Syria by rejecting a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Some Middle East experts said that the unease over American policy went beyond the details of the United States’ position on Syria or a potential nuclear deal with Iran. It is also fueled, they say, by the perception that the Obama administration’s policy is grounded in the desire to avoid diplomatic and especially military confrontations in the Middle East.

“There is a lot of confusion and lack of clarity amongst U.S. allies in the Middle East regarding Washington’s true intentions and ultimate objectives,” said Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who was a State Department official on Middle East issues during both Democratic and Republican administrations. “There is also widespread unease throughout the Middle East, shared by many U.S. allies, that the United States’ primary objectives when it comes to Iran, Egypt or Syria are to avoid serious confrontation.”

On his trip through Europe, Mr. Kerry repeatedly sought to counter the impression that the Obama administration was ducking tough challenges. In a news conference in London on Tuesday, he acknowledged that the Saudis were “disappointed” that the administration had pulled back from its threats of a cruise missile attack against Syrian forces and seized instead on a Russian initiative to end Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Mr. Kerry said he had discussed Saudi officials’ concerns with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, in Paris on Monday, and insisted that the two countries were now “on the same page” on the need to convene a peace conference that would seek a political settlement to end the civil war in Syria.

American and other Western officials say the elimination of Mr. Assad’s stockpiles of poison gas would be a major accomplishment.

On Iran, Saudi Arabia’s concerns that the United States might not be firm enough in nuclear negotiations appear to echo Israel’s. Mr. Kerry sought to assuage those worries as well.

“President Obama has said a number of times, and I reiterate today, no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said on Wednesday as he tried to reassure Mr. Netanyahu that the United States was taking a sober view of the possibility of a nuclear breakthrough with Iran.

“But if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone,” Mr. Kerry added before beginning a seven-hour meeting with the Israeli prime minister at the residence of the American ambassador here. “And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Mr. Netanyahu said he welcomed those general sentiments, but went on to list steps that he said Iran needed to take to assure the world that it was not pursuing nuclear weapons.

He called on Iran to get rid of all its fissile material, close its underground nuclear facilities and abandon its construction of a heavy-water plant that would produce plutonium. He also said Iran should not be allowed to have any centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Having set out these broad demands, Mr. Netanyahu argued that it would be a “tragic mistake” to end international sanctions against Iran in return for a “partial deal.”

Iran, by contrast, has insisted that the West acknowledge what it says is its right to enrich uranium as part of a negotiated compromise that would put limits on the nation’s nuclear program.

American officials did not publicly acknowledge that “right” in talks with Iranian officials in Geneva last week, but it is clear that the United States and other world powers are willing to explore a deal that is far less stringent than the one Mr. Netanyahu proposed.

The disagreements between the United States and Israel will not be easy to finesse. The United States and other world powers are scheduled to resume talks with Iran in Geneva on Nov. 7.


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« Reply #9538 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:19 AM »


October 24, 2013

Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
IHT

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — For generations, people of Haitian descent have been an inextricable part of life here, often looked at with suspicion and dismay, but largely relied on all the same to clean rooms, build things cheaply and provide the backbreaking labor needed on the country’s vast sugar plantations.

Now, intensifying a long and furious debate over their place in this society, the nation’s top court has declared that the children of undocumented Haitian migrants — even those born on Dominican soil decades ago — are no longer entitled to citizenship, throwing into doubt the status of tens of thousands of people here who have never known any other national identity.

“I am Dominican,” said Ana María Belique, 27, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has never lived anywhere else, but has been unable to register for college or renew her passport because her birth certificate was no longer accepted. “I don’t know Haiti. I don’t have family or friends there. This is my home.”

In a broad order that has reverberated across the hemisphere, the court has instructed the authorities here to audit all of the nation’s birth records back to June 1929 to determine who no longer qualifies for citizenship, setting off international alarm.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees warned that the decision “may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality,” while the regional alliance of Caribbean nations, which the Dominican Republic has sought to join, condemned how masses of people are “being plunged into a constitutional, legal and administrative vacuum.”

“It is remarkably sweeping in terms of numbers: over 200,000 made stateless — a staggering figure,” said Laura Bingham, who tracks citizenship issues for the Open Society Justice Initiative. She and other legal experts called it one of the more sweeping rulings denying nationality in recent years.

To some extent, the ruling, issued Sept. 23, and the intensity of emotions around it carry echoes of the immigration debate in the United States and other countries, with wide disagreement on how to treat migrant workers and their children.

But given the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti — a sometimes cooperative, often tense and occasionally violent relationship between two nations sharing one island — the decision has brought to the surface a unique set of racial tensions and resentment toward the waves of impoverished Haitian migrants that fill menial jobs on this side of the border.

An estimated 200,000 people born in this country have Haitian parents, according to the last census, by far the largest immigrant group here and thus the one most widely affected by the ruling. Haitian immigrants occupy the lowest rungs of society here, and have for generations, living in urban slums or squalid sugar plantation camps where wage abuse remains common, as a United States Department of Labor report found last month.

For decades, Haitians, housed in remote shantytowns known as bateys, were brought over on contracts for sugar plantations to cut cane under the blistering sun. Many still labor in the fields, while others work as maids, construction workers and in other low-paying jobs.

Many Haitians proudly embrace the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s founding as a nation. But Dominicans, although they rushed aid to Haiti after its devastating 2010 quake and maintain many cultural and social exchanges, historically have viewed their neighbors with qualms, identifying more with their nation’s Spanish colonial past and, despite their own racially mixed heritage, often deriding anyone with dark skin as “Haitian.”

“The Dominican Republic is at a crossroads right now over the question, ‘What does it mean to be Dominican in the 21st century?’ ” said Edward Paulino, a historian at John Jay College who has studied the relationship between the two countries. “It is a country of immigrants, but no other group is like the Haitians, which arrived with the cultural baggage of a history of black pride in a country that chose to identify with the European elite.”

Top officials in the government met on Wednesday to determine how to carry out the ruling, which cannot be appealed. In the meantime, the migration director, José R. Taveras, said that people in limbo would be issued temporary residency permits while the country comes up with a plan to grant them some form of immigrant status. But to many people, that means losing the benefits of citizenship, which beyond basics like voting also allows for lower tuition at state colleges and public health insurance for low-income citizens.

Although Haiti technically bestows citizenship on the children of its nationals, the process can be full of bureaucratic entanglements and slowed by missing or incomplete records, let alone the fact that few of the children of migrants here consider themselves anything but Dominican.

The battle has been in the making for years. People born on Dominican soil, with some exceptions, generally were granted citizenship for generations. But people of Haitian descent often complained of discriminatory practices when getting official documents, and in recent decades the country’s civil registry officials often excluded the children of migrants whose papers were in question by considering their parents “in transit.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005 denounced the practice as a way of discriminating against people who had been in the country for a lifetime. Still, the Dominican Republic enshrined the rule in 2010 by a constitutional amendment that excludes the Dominican-born children of those in the country illegally, including seasonal and temporary workers, from Dominican citizenship. The new court decision not only ratifies the change, but also goes a step further by ordering officials to audit the nation’s birth records, compile a list of people who should not qualify for citizenship and notify embassies when a person’s nationality is in question.

Legal experts, as well as two dissenting judges on the constitutional court, called it a violation of legal principles to retroactively apply the standard of citizenship established in the 2010 Constitution. “As a consequence of this restrictive interpretation and its retroactive application, this ruling declares the plaintiff as a foreigner in the country where she was born,” wrote one of the dissenting judges, Isabel Bonilla.

The case arose from Juliana Deguis, a 29-year-old woman born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian migrants and working as a maid. She sought her national identity card, using her Dominican birth certificate, but was rejected because the document indicated that her parents were Haitian migrants, not legal residents. Legal advocates for Haitian migrants and their children took the case to court, arguing that Ms. Deguis’s parents were residents because they had been contracted to work on a sugar plantation and never returned to Haiti, but the court ruled that they were “in transit.”

That came as a surprise to Ms. Deguis, her family and her neighbors, who have scratched out a living for decades in a remote village populated by former sugar-cane workers. Ms. Deguis has never been to Haiti, only knows a few words of Creole and never thought of herself as anything other than Dominican. “I feel terrible because I cannot work without my ID card and without that the school may not register my children either,” she said.

Supporters of the decision, including the immigration commissioner, said it would help the government regularize people and clarify the citizenship rules. The archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, called the ruling just and nodded to a sentiment among some Dominicans that international organizations were meddling in their affairs.

“International organizations don’t rule here,” he told reporters after the ruling was announced. “I don’t accept anybody coming here to decree anything. No country, not the United States, not France, nobody. Here, we are in charge.”

For now, Dominicans caught up in the ruling await the next steps. Ms. Deguis is not working and worries about caring for her four young children, all born in the Dominican Republic as well. “If there is now this confusion about me,” she asked, “what about them?”


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« Reply #9539 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:22 AM »


Guatemala remembers conflict victims as new battles ignite over resources

Indigenous Guatemalans once again find themselves battling the government and multinationals over land and water rights

Mark Tran in Rabinal
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 07.00 BST     

Hundreds of photographs lining a cemetery wall by a main road serve as a daily reminder of the massacres carried out by the military in this central Guatemalan town. Inside there are long lists of the dead as well as memorials representing the communities affected.

The killings in Rabinal may have taken place decades ago, in the early 1980s, but the wounds remain raw, not least for Mario Chen. His mother, Martina Rojas, disappeared in 1982, but he received her remains only last month.

"It was in March 1982 when they took her," says Chen as he stands by his mother's tombstone. "On that day, army patrols opened fire without warning. They took my mum by helicopter to the military base in Cobán. Her remains were found in a well. I am still waiting for reparations."

Death came to the town when the Maya Achí farming and fishing community of Río Negro opposed government plans to confiscate indigenous lands and natural resources, specifically water, to be used for the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The government believes opposition to the dam was conflated with guerrilla activity.

The army came down hard on the area after the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), a militia, destroyed a military command centre in nearby Cobán, in Alta Verapaz department, home to the regional military base. In retribution, hundreds of people from the Rabinal region were killed between September 1981 and August 1983.

The massacres in Rabinal, a town in the valley of the Sierra Chuacas mountains, are of more than historical interest. Only now is the country trying to tear down the wall of impunity surrounding some of the leaders during the bloodletting that engulfed the country from 1960 to 1996, when a peace accord was signed.

In May, former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and other human rights violations. The verdict, however, was quickly annulled by the constitutional court amid suspicions of outside pressure after a witness placed Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala's current president and a former military man, at a massacre site. The decision forced the original three-judge panel to withdraw, sending the case to a new tribunal, which is due to meet next year.

There are echoes of Rabinal in today's social conflicts that pit mining and hydroelectric companies against indigenous communities. In a particularly contentious case in the north-western department of Huehuetenango, the municipality of Barillas – consisting mainly of the indigenous Maya Q'anjob'al people – has been protesting against a dam project. The area has been in upheaval since 2010, when the government issued a licence to Hidro Santa Cruz, subsidiary of the Spanish-owned company Hidralia Energy, to build the Cambalam hydroelectric dam.

Adrián Zapata, a former guerrilla now executive secretary of rural development, recently laid out the reasons behind Guatemala's social conflicts to visiting European journalists.

"Much of social conflict stems from mega projects," he said. "In hydroelectric projects, a company comes in and destroys the land, so of course the people oppose these projects. They are not consulted and they don't see the benefits of the electricity for themselves. Taxes and land distribution are taboo in this country. They are always at the centre of conflict. Land ownership is extremely concentrated. To speak of it is like speaking of the devil – and business has an ideological block against land distribution."

Guatemala has one of the world's highest rates of land concentration, where 3% of private landowners – a white elite – occupy 65% of the arable land. Small farms (those with fewer than four hectares) occupy only 11% of agricultural land.

Poor indigenous farmers scrape out a living through subsistence agriculture, often on the poorest soils, while wealthy plantation owners, or latifundistas, benefit from an agricultural system based on international exports such as coffee, sugar cane and African palm oil – and cheap, mostly indigenous, labour. It has been a recipe for conflict.

In 1952, the government of Jacobo Arbenz launched a reform programme that redistributed land to the country's farm workers. The scheme included the nationalisation of some of the idle plantations owned by the US-based United Fruit Company, the largest single landowner in Guatemala at the time.

The US denounced Arbenz as a communist and within two years he was ousted in a CIA-sponsored coup. His ousting sowed the seeds of conflict that left some 200,000 dead or disappeared, most of them indigenous Maya. The land question is complicated by the fact that not all disputes pit indigenous people against hydroelectric or mining companies but sometimes against one another. But the most contentious conflicts revolve around disputes between big business and indigenous communities, as was the case in Rabinal.

Saqchuumiil Alvarado (not her real name) remembers a massacre that took place during an independence day parade in Rabinal on September 1981 as if it were yesterday. "We heard what sounded like firecrackers at the parade," she says. "As we walked home we could see people lying like dogs in the street, bleeding. We made it home safely. But at night they came to people's homes. They had a list. If they didn't find who they were looking for, they killed anybody they could. The killers wore plain clothes and had masks."

Like Chen, Alvarado, who lost uncles and cousins, believes the killings had to do with the opposition to the dam, which was funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

"People opposed the projects because they knew their lands would be flooded," she says. "The company guards killed one or two, so people got angry. It started with the dam, but it became an excuse to kill. We left for Guatemala City and stayed there for 20 years before coming back. There is still no justice. Ríos Montt is sitting quietly at home."


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