Saab car brand restarts production in Sweden under new ownership
Hong Kong-based National Electric Vehicle Sweden producing new 9-3, more than two years after Saab bankruptcy
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013 21.32 GMT
Two and a half years after Saab shut down production, a new sedan rolled off its assembly lines in Sweden yesterday. National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the Hong Kong-based company which bought the brand out of bankruptcy in September last year, presented its new 9-3 Aero Sedan as the first in a new series it will produce. The first 200 cars will be delivered in the spring and cost 279,000 kronor (£26,000). Next year will also see a 9-3 wagon, followed by convertible and electric models.
Saab ceased production in April 2011, after six decades of building cars, and filed as its earlier Dutch owner, Spyker Cars, struggled with financing. It filed for bankruptcy in December the same year, dealing a huge blow to the town of Trollhattan in south-west Sweden and its 3,000 employees. NEVS now employs around 600 people, including many former Saab employees, and acting President Mattias Bergman said he felt "incredibly happy, proud and humble" that the company has been able to restart production.
Bergman wouldn't give any forecast of how many cars NEVS expects to sell but said they will start on a small scale and adjust production based on order intake. The company aims to make electric cars under the Saab brand, but said it will provide petrol cars until "electric cars fully meet customer demands". It said it decided to start off with a petrol car to get production going as fast as possible and retain previous supply chains and specialist staff. Swedish customers will be able to buy the cars through its website from December 10.
12/02/2013 06:15 PM
Sex Law Reform: Johns to be Prosecuted for Forced Prostitution
Germany's new coalition government, which is yet to come into office, has agreed to push through a reform of the controversial Prostitution Act in early 2014. For the first time in German history, johns will be prosecuted if they knowingly use the services of prostitutes forced to work in the sex trade.
Germany has been noted for its tolerance of the sex trade in recent years, but the country's new ruling coalition -- which is yet to officially take power -- is set to prosecute johns in cases of "discernible forced prostitution." The plan was announced by Hans-Peter Uhl from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which has agreed to share power with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
The changes are part of a comprehensive reform of the Prostitution Act, originally passed in 2001, which are set to be enacted early next year.
Uhl was confirming a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. General punishment of johns was rejected, while "discernible forced prostitution" implies the conscious use of sexual services when, for example, force has clearly been used against the sex worker.
The coalition contract between the CDU, CSU and SPD states: "We will take action not only against traffickers but also against those who knowingly and willingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and abuse them with sexual acts."
Ban on Flat-rate Sex
A senior official in the Health Ministry, Annette Widmann-Mauz, who sat on the relevant working group for the CDU, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Anyone who knowingly and brutally exploits forced prostitutes will also have to expect a knock on the door from the police." In addition, Widmann-Mauz announced a ban on so-called "flat-rate sex" and said there would be a "licensing requirement for the brothel industry."
The formulation of the proposed reform was largely drawn up after negotiations in the coalition family working group more than three weeks ago. In the coalition agreement, the CDU, CSU and SPD agreed to a review of the Prostitution Act which was adopted in 2002 under a coalition government of the SPD and the environmentalist Green Party.
The purpose of the act, as argued at the time, was to improve the lot of prostitutes by bringing them out of illegality and putting power back into their hands. They were thus able to bring court action over unpaid wages and be included in health, pension and unemployment insurance schemes. Critics, however, claimed that the new rules mainly promoted forced prostitution and offered pimps protection from prosecution.
It was only at the end of October that politics and business figures called for a rethink under the aegis of noted feminist Alice Schwarzer. Some 90 prominent figures, including theologian and former bishop Margot Kässmann and musician Wolfgang Niedecken, signed an appeal against prostitution, which said that thanks to the law, Germany had become "Europe's hub for trafficking women and a paradise for sex tourists from neighboring countries." It had made prostitution socially acceptable and promoted "modern slavery."
France has also seen changes to how the sex trade is dealt with recently. At the end of November, the French parliament passed the first part of a new law which will see the buyers of sexual services prosecuted.
12/02/2013 01:15 PM
'Nazi Shazam': Police Devise App to Curb Far-Right Music
German police have developed a Shazam-like smartphone app that allows them to identify far-right rock songs by playing just a brief sample. It could make it harder for neo-Nazis to lure under-18s with music, which is seen as a "gateway drug" into the scene.
German authorities are considering using software akin to a smartphone app that would help them identify neo-Nazi music in seconds, SPIEGEL has learned.
The interior ministers of the country's 16 regional states will meet this week to discuss an new method dubbed "Nazi Shazam," in reference to the mobile phone-based music identification service Shazam, which can identify music bands and song titles from a short sample picked up via the phone's microphone.
The new software would let police quickly identify neo-Nazi rock music, which officials regard as a "gateway drug" into the far-right youth scene.
The regional police office in the eastern state of Saxony has developed a prototype system of registering audio fingerprints from neo-Nazi rock. It has the advantage of "sparing resources and enabling very quick investigations," said an internal government assessment.
Police could use it to recognize neo-Nazi music being played on Internet radio stations or to intervene quickly if it is played at gatherings.
Last year, the Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors indexed a total of 79 pieces of music for espousing neo-Nazi ideology or having racist lyrics. The indexing imposes restrictions on sales and forbids them from being made accessible to people aged under 18.
It's unclear whether Germany's interior ministers will adopt the system, though. A number of legal issues need to be addressed before it can be deployed. For example, lawyers need to determine whether the automatic identification of music being played in a hall would constitute acoustic surveillance.
French police arrest dozens in raids against criminal arms smuggling ring
Operation across France on network of traffickers from Eastern Europe brings 45 arrests and seizure of hundreds of weapons
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 14.21 GMT
French gendarmes say they have smashed an international arms smuggling ring after arresting 45 suspects in a series of raids across the country on Monday.
Hundreds of weapons, including machine guns, were seized in the operation against what officers described as an "exceptionally large" network of traffickers from Eastern Europe.
French investigators said 45 suspects described as collectors – suspected of links with criminal gangs – were arrested in the Paris area, the regions of the Rhone, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, on the island of Corsica and in France's overseas territories and departments.
"Several hundred weapons, including weapons of war, ammunition and spare parts, have been trafficked [into French territory] by this network since 2009," the gendarmerie reported in a statement.
It added that the investigations had shown the "flow between arms collectors and crime networks".
The inquiry was sparked after weapons and ammunition were found during a search of the home of a suspect arrested over allegations of receiving stolen goods in February 2012.
More than 300 gendarmes were reportedly involved in Monday's roundup across France. The arms trafficking network was said to have been mostly between Balkan countries and France.
By mid-afternoon on Monday police reported that 38 suspects had been remanded in custody.
"The criminals used the internet and the websites usually visited by collectors to buy long [barrel] guns, pistols and Kalashnikovs," a legal source told France Info radio.
UK would welcome Chinese investment in HS2, says David Cameron
Speaking to students in Shanghai, British PM says UK has much to learn from success of China's high-speed rail lines
Nicholas Watt in Shanghai
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 December 2013 09.47 GMT
David Cameron has told the Chinese leadership that he would welcome investment by Beijing in Britain's high-speed rail network.
In a question-and-answer sessions at Jiao Tong university in Shanghai, the prime minister said he had told the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the premier, Li Keqiang, that Britain had much to learn from the success of China's high-speed rail lines.
But Lord Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary and father of the HS2 project, added a note of caution as he said that a former Chinese minister who offered to invest in 2009 is now in jail over the fatal crash near Wenzhou in 2011.
"Chinese also offered to build HS2 when I visited in 2009," Adonis tweeted. "The minister I met now under suspended death sentence after major HS rail crash."
Adonis tweeted as Cameron said he would welcome Chinese investment in HS2. The prime minister told students in Shanghai: "We think we have a lot to learn from China because of the success of your high-speed rail. I said to your president and prime minister yesterday that just as we welcome Chinese investment into nuclear power, into other infrastructure so there will be very open competition to provide the infrastructure for our network. We will welcome Chinese investment into that."
Cameron's remarks came after Li told Cameron in Beijing on Monday that China would like to invest in the HS2 project that will link London and Birmingham by 2026 with a further Y-shaped links Manchester and the north-east by 2032.
Speaking in the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese premier said: "The two sides have agreed to push for breakthroughs and progress in the co-operation between our enterprises on nuclear power and high-speed rail. The Chinese side is willing to not only participate in but also purchase equities and stocks in UK power projects. Just like the high-speed train, we need to grow this relationship at a higher speed."
Cameron told the students in Shanghai that building high-speed rail in Britain is a more complex process.
He said: "The problem in a small country like the UK is that infrastructure decisions are very controversial because we are a small and relatively crowded island so the use of space for infrastructure is always controversial, whether we are trying to build airports, whether we are trying to build railway lines or whether we are trying to build new roads. My government has taken a very clear view that the countries that will succeed in the future are the countries with the most modern infrastructure."
George Osborne announced during his visit to China in October that Beijing would invest in the next generation of civil nuclear power plants in Britain.
In his Q&A with students, Cameron joked that prime minister's questions in the Commons was like a "form of torture" because he has no idea of the questions that will raised.
"It is easily the worst half an hour of the prime minister's week because you can be asked about any subject under the sun," he said.
But the prime minister added: "There are two good things about this form of torture that we have in the UK. First of all it puts the prime minister on their mettle. It puts them a little bit to the test because it is very important to be able to demonstrate that you can answer about health or housing or foreign policy or the economy. The public can see if you're not doing well or they can see if you're doing OK.
"The second thing that is a benefit is that it means on Wednesday – and in the runup to Wednesday – I have to check my government; I have to check every single part of my government to see what is going on … It makes the government accountable. It means that the whole of the mass of the government has to account through that one person, the prime minister. So this torture has its purpose."
The prime minister also joked that his old Oxford politics tutor Vernon Bogdanor still criticises him in emails. "Even though I left 25 years ago he still sends me emails criticising my work, which is very good of him. He sometimes says I have done something well. But he often emails the other way."
12/02/2013 01:49 PM
Olli Heinonen on Iran: 'This Is a Step Forward, Without a Doubt'
Interview By Erich Follath
Former IAEA deputy secretary general Olli Heinonen says the nuclear deal with Iran is an important one, with verifiable results and a timetable for a final agreement. Still, he argues, "there is no reason to celebrate."
Olli Heinonen, born in Finland, worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for 27 years, most recently as its deputy director general. During his time at the IAEA, he also oversaw its efforts to monitor and contain Iran's nuclear program. Heinonen is currently a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Cnter for Science and International Affairs.
SPIEGEL interviewed Heinonen last week about the interim nuclear deal reached between the West and Iran in Geneva.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Heinonen, what does the Geneva agreement represent -- is it an historic breakthrough, like many in the West believe, or an historic mistake, which is how it was described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
Heinonen: I think this is a step forward, without a doubt. However, there is no reason to celebrate. The interim agreement is not perfect, but at this stage, using a Chinese proverb: It is better to have a raw diamond than a perfectly polished pebble.
SPIEGEL: What makes the agreement worthwhile in your eyes?
Heinonen: It ensures that a process is finally moving forward. And indeed with verifiable results, including a timetable for a final agreement that is meant to roll back Iran's nuclear program. Another positive aspect is that in the next six months, Iran may not take any action, which could bring it closer to a bomb. The largest obstacles for a final agreement, however, still lie ahead of us and it is by no means certain that they can be put to one side.
SPIEGEL: What is making you skeptical?
Heinonen: Nothing in the Iranian nuclear program is being dialed back; at best it is a freezing of important elements. Not a single one of its 19,000 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities will be mothballed or dismantled in the next six months; they will be able to continue enriching uranium ...
SPIEGEL: ... but only up to 5 percent, a low degree, which is far from being weapons-grade material. And US Secretary of State John Kerry even denies that Iran is allowed a fundamental right to enrich uranium. The Iranians interpret the wording quite differently, and are celebrating even this minor concession as a great success. Who is right?
Heinonen: It's a question of semantics. In the preamble of the agreement at any rate it states that they will keep enriching. Even though, admittedly, no longer up to 20 percent.
SPIEGEL: Is that bad? Do Japan, Germany and Brazil not also do that?
Heinonen: Here there is this history: Tehran again and again operated facilities that were not declared as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In my time at the IAEA, the Iranians hardly ever worked without any reserve capacity. They have never put all their eggs in one basket. You can't rule out the possibility that they also now have a secret factory somewhere. This has not been the case with Japan, Germany or Brazil. They are all enriching uranium, but are in compliance with their NPT undertakings.
SPIEGEL: The newly elected president of Iran, Hassan Rohani, has created a very different political climate and has struck a moderate tone towards the West, quite different from that of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Heinonen: That's right. Building bridges is important, combined with clear control mechanisms. That is why I also find it good that it is expressly stated in the first step agreement that there shall be no new enrichment sites.
SPIEGEL: According to the agreement, Iran will reconvert the material it has enriched to 20 percent into harmless uranium oxide. A heavy water reactor at Arak, which could open up a second route to the bomb for the Iranians via the production of plutonium, cannot be built. There will now be the possibility of daily inspections for the IAEA inspectors in most plants. That sounds promising, doesn't it?
Heinonen: I am not saying that there was no progress, although the daily visits are confined to the facilities at Natanz and Fordo. Uranium oxide is not harmless, but it takes additional time to convert it back for feeding to the enrichment process. All in all, the Iranians' options for breaking away from the existing monitoring system for a so-called breakout capacity has been delayed by the agreement -- I estimate they would need, if they wanted to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb, about two months now.
SPIEGEL: That's not a very comforting time buffer.
Heinonen: That's right.
SPIEGEL: However, in the agreement, the Iranian leadership -- as it has done publicly in the past -- pledged to the world that it is not seeking to build nuclear weapons. Do you know President Rohani personally? Do you trust him?
Heinonen: I got to know him from 2003 to 2005 during his time as the chief Iranian negotiator. What people want to see is the interim agreement being implemented properly and in the right spirit by Iran, which will be accompanied by a synchronized easing of the agreed sanctions. Rohani can then show some results and be braver with his further compromises. Between now and any comprehensive agreement, further intermediate steps will be required as indicated in the joint plan of actions. This is understood to include Iran addressing the IAEA's questions on the military dimension of Iran's nuclear program. Presumably, there will be direct negotiations between the Americans and Iranians.
SPIEGEL: Are the rumors correct, then, in saying that Washington and Tehran have been negotiating for many months to the exclusion of everyone else?
Heinonen: Yes, that is correct.
SPIEGEL: Let's touch back on the subject of Rohani ...
Heinonen: ... who is a very competent, well-organized man, but also of course embedded into the complex Iranian power structure with its different centers. For the implementation of the agreement, for example, it is not he who is responsible but Admiral Shamkhani, the general secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Rohani, by the way, is a politician who -- like his predecessors -- demands transparency from Israel about its nuclear program.
SPIEGEL: Israel is regarded as the only nuclear power in the Middle East. Experts agree that the Israelis have more than a dozen usable nuclear weapons. And in order to ensure they remain the only ones, the Israelis would be willing in the worst-case scenario to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.
Heinonen: I do not think it is an appropriate focus at this stage.
SPIEGEL: Is there another candidate, beyond Israel and Iran? Perhaps there could be a nuclear arms race across the whole of the Middle East?
Heinonen: That also cannot yet be ruled out.
SPIEGEL: Intelligence agencies report of arrangements for delivery of a "turn-key bomb" from Islamabad to Riyadh.
Heinonen: Thank God it is not as simple as that. Even if the Saudis can secure delivery of experts and material, they would still need several years to develop their own nuclear capabilities.
SPIEGEL: Do you think that is the greatest nuclear threat?
Heinonen: No, the biggest short-term threat clearly lies in Pakistan itself, where there are new missile systems, new tactical nuclear weapons in a country, which is very unstable.
SPIEGEL: The Pakistanis claim they have their nuclear facilities under control and always know exactly where all materials are being stored.
Heinonen: I'm not so sure about that. The most wanted terrorist in the world lived in the middle of their country and they had no idea. The transport of nuclear materials, which is important for the Pakistan plans to use its tactical weapons, is extremely dangerous -- the ultimate weapon with its plutonium could fall into the hands of terrorists.
December 2, 2013
Kurds’ Oil Deals With Turkey Raise Fears of Fissures in Iraq
By TIM ARANGO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
ISTANBUL — The sharp, dry mountains that run between Turkey and Iraq have long marked a front line in the battle between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists where cross-border attacks took many lives on both sides.
Though a rapprochement has calmed the border, the United States fears stability may now be in even greater danger. The problem is not war — but commerce. Iraqi Kurds are selling oil and natural gas directly to Turkey, infuriating Washington and the central government in Baghdad, which fear that oil independence could lead Kurds to declare a broad independence and the fracturing of the nation.
Even as sectarian killing is again spiking across Iraq, and the Syrian civil war destabilizes the region, American officials in Baghdad say the flow of oil to Turkey may be the greatest potential risk to Iraq’s cohesion.
But a year-and-a-half-long diplomatic drive by the United States to stop the flow has so far failed, reflecting Washington’s diminished influence in the region, even with its two longtime allies. Not only will trucks continue to travel daily from the Kurdish region to two Turkish cities on the Mediterranean coast, and not only will the Kurds continue to deliver oil via a pipeline to Turkey, but the parties plan to build a second pipeline, whose details have been kept secret.
“The Kurdistan deal with Turkey is a huge violation against the Iraqi Constitution because they didn’t make the deal with the coordination of the central government,” said Ali Dhari, the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s oil and gas committee. “This means the stealing of the Iraqi wealth, and we will not allow it.”
The oil accords with Turkey, potentially worth billions of dollars, are part of a broader effort by Iraqi Kurds in recent years to cut their own energy deals — including exploration agreements with foreign companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Gazprom — that sidelined the central government. The Kurds, and the Turks, say they will pay Baghdad its fair share. But officials in the capital have long claimed such arrangements are illegal.
The controversy is in part the unfinished business of the American occupation of Iraq. The failure of the Iraqi government to pass a national oil law, one of the benchmarks set by President George W. Bush when he announced the United States troop “surge” in 2007, has left Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital, in a perpetual feud over how to divide profits and who has the authority to make agreements with international oil companies.
Qasim Mishkhati, a Kurdish member of Parliament’s oil and gas committee, insisted that the wealth from the deals would be shared with the rest of Iraq, and that it was the responsibility of the regional government in the north to find international markets for its oil resources. “Kurdistan is working to increase the national income so that all Iraqis can enjoy better services and more wealth,” he said.
Although the mechanism for such payments has not been worked out, the Turks and the Kurds have indicated that they would adhere to the existing proportions for the division of national revenue, meaning Baghdad would receive 83 percent of the net profit and the Kurds would keep 17 percent.
But the alarm in Baghdad and Washington has grown with these oil deals, which appear to be part of a slow, long-term strategy by the Iraqi Kurds to pursue a path of increasing autonomy that experts say has one endgame: an independent Kurdish state.
Tens of millions of Kurds live in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, and they have long held ambitions for independence that for decades were thwarted. Now, amid the turmoil of the Middle East, Kurdish leaders are taking decisive steps to advance that dream, not just in Iraq, but also in Syria, where Kurdish factions recently declared an autonomous administration in the northeast.
The Iraqi Kurds run their own autonomous and relatively prosperous region in northern Iraq, control their own ports of entry, field their own army and intelligence service and conduct their own foreign policy. The Kurdish region also has separate visa rules, so an American, for instance, might wait weeks or months to secure a visa to Baghdad, but could buy one at the airport in Erbil. The region has also served as a safe haven for Sunni officials looking to escape the reach of the Shiite-led government, including former Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, accused in 2011 of terrorism.
But the oil deals also highlight the drastic reshaping of regional alliances in the past few years. In 2003 Turkey, worried that the American invasion of Iraq would promote Kurdish independence, forbade American troops to use its territory to enter Iraq.
But now Turkey is in the process of making peace with its own Kurds, who have waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state with bases in Iraq. In a region where Turkey has few allies these days, the Iraqi Kurds have become close partners.
For Turkey, though, the energy deals with Iraqi Kurdistan, which include oil and natural gas, underscore a persistent national challenge to secure reliable supplies of energy for its economy. Turkey boasts the Middle East’s largest economy but has few domestic energy sources. It has historically relied on two countries for the bulk of its energy — Russia and Iran — and a national priority for Turkey has been to diversify its sources of oil and gas.
The only place in the world where demand for energy is growing faster than Turkey is in China, and the only people who pay more for gasoline at the pump than Turks are Norwegians. In Turkey it can cost more than $120 to fill the tank of a compact car because of high taxes the government has levied in an effort to keep demand down
While Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish regional government have slowly expanded their relationship in the past few years, they have recently agreed to something ambitious and broader: a multibillion-dollar pact that includes the building of the second pipeline, according to press reports and oil executives involved in the negotiations.
That deal comes as Turkish and Iraqi government officials have recently sought to mend ties that had soured in recent years, an effort that included a visit to Baghdad on Sunday by Turkey’s energy minister, who indicated Turkey would try to win Baghdad’s support for the deals with the Kurds. Turkey had supported the Sunni Muslim opposition in Iraq, angering the Shiite leadership that dominates the government in Baghdad.
“There has been a rapprochement between Ankara and Baghdad, but what I see in the energy policy of Turkey relating to Kurdistan still seems to be a fly in the ointment for the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad,” said Badr H. Jafar, the chairman of the Pearl Petroleum consortium, the largest private oil and gas investor in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The recent steps taken to improve the relationship between Turkey and Iraq — a reconciliation pushed by the Americans — now seem to be the best bet, analysts said, to achieve an agreement on an elusive national oil law to divide the country’s vast petroleum profits.
The Iraqi Kurdish leadership “is positioning itself for greater autonomy in negotiations with Baghdad, but as relations between Ankara and Baghdad continue to warm it is inconceivable that the K.R.G. will be allowed to export to Turkey without Baghdad’s consent,” said David L. Goldwyn, the State Department’s coordinator for international energy affairs during the first term of the Obama administration, referring to the initials for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
Turkey, though, has said it will ensure that the government in Baghdad will be paid for any oil it imports from Kurdistan in accordance with Iraq’s revenue-sharing arrangement.
“If done correctly, these deals have the potential to generate huge revenues for Iraq, distributed by the Iraqi government in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and for the ultimate benefit of the Iraqi people, including of course, the Kurdish region,” Mr. Jafar said.
Tim Arango reported from Istanbul, and Clifford Krauss from Houston. Duraid Adnan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
December 3, 2013, 3:44 am
Nonresident Indians Play Major Role in Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi Campaign
By VANYA MEHTA
During the month of November, Mohan Thirumalai, an information systems manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, would pick up his phone at his home in Alabama around 10 p.m. and dial a random number in Delhi, the first of around 60 calls he would make each night.
When someone answered the phone, Mr. Thirumalai, 35, asked the same question every time: “Kya aap jharu ki upar button dabadenge? (Will you vote for the broom?)”
The broom is the official symbol of the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, meant to signify the new party’s intent to clear out the corruption that plagues India. Its message has compelled Mr. Thirumalai, a native of Chennai, and dozens of Indian citizens living in the United States and elsewhere around the world to reach out to voters on behalf of Aam Aadmi before Delhi state elections are held on Wednesday.
Many of these overseas Indians, also known as nonresident Indians, are participating in a political campaign for the first time in their homeland, attracted by Aam Aadmi’s drive to clean up Indian politics. In 2011, the anticorruption activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike to demand transparency in India’s government prompted a series of youth protests in Indian urban centers. While Mr. Hazare chose not to run for office, his top aide, Arvind Kejriwal, founded the Aam Aadmi Party in 2012 with the hopes of putting Mr. Hazare’s ideals into action.
“I have never supported any other political party in India,” said Somu Kumar, 32, a native of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, who works as an information technology project manager at Freddie Mac in Virginia and is using his expertise to lead the party’s overseas IT and social media team. “I observed elections, but never felt I should be a part of it until this party came along. They had a strong, enticing message that got myself and a lot of my friends involved.”
Although the Aam Aadmi Party is the clear underdog in the Delhi elections, Mr. Kejriwal and the party’s other candidates have rattled the political establishment, potentially playing the spoiler in some of the races in Delhi.
Ankit Lal, the head of the information technology at Aam Aadmi, who is based in Delhi, said the party would be nowhere without the support of nonresident Indians, also known as N.R.I.’s.
“N.R.I. support has been very, very crucial,” he said. “Such a successful planning and implementation for the campaign would not have been possible without N.R.I.’s. They have a different level of expertise.”
India’s main national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress Party, also have support from Indians living overseas. The B.J.P. has social media teams operating outside of India, and many nonresident Indians are planning to come home to campaign for the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, according to local media. Efforts by Indians in the United States on behalf of Congress politicians include meeting with American congressional politicians involved in the Senate India Caucus and hosting Congress politicians in their visits to the United States.
For Aam Aadmi, technology has played a key role in its overseas efforts. Mr. Kejriwal conducted a Google Hangout video session with Indians living in Singapore to promote the party’s Adopt a Constituency, in which nonresident Indians could pick an area in Delhi and help the local campaign team reach a fund-raising goal of 1.4 million rupees, or $22,500. Mr. Kejriwal also held Google Hangout question-and-answer sessions with Indians in the United States, Britain, Australia, Belgium and Germany.
In Britain, Rajesh Redij-Gill, a 47-year-old Aam Aadmi supporter originally from Mumbai, took a sabbatical from his job at a digital marketing media agency to fly to Delhi to convince the party members in India that harnessing overseas support would be crucial to their success.
“We have tried to outsource, crowdsource volunteers outside of Delhi and abroad,” Mr. Gill said. “If you have volunteers in Delhi, I would rather have them knocking on doors.” The bulk of the technology work, he said, should fall on overseas Indians like himself.
Twitter and Google Hangout were used for fund-raising and get-out-the-vote efforts, but Facebook was the party’s primary organizational tool. As Aam Aadmi members visited households in Delhi, they used smartphones to photograph the phone numbers and emails they acquired from Delhi residents who were undecided or voting for another party. Then these campaign volunteers posted the phone numbers onto the Facebook group.
From there, volunteers at phone banks in the United States and elsewhere aggregated these phone numbers into a large electronic database, focusing on the phone numbers of undecided voters. This database was then distributed through the party’s website, giving each overseas caller a list of names and phone numbers of people in Delhi.
The Delhi residents, who included rickshaw drivers, business owners and housewives, were often shocked when they found who was calling.
“There is certainly excitement, astonishment, that someone is calling from the U.S.,” said Mr. Kumar. “They have heard before about N.R.I. support, but are still very surprised.”
Sreekanth Kocharlakota, 37, an administrator for Aam Aadmi’s overseas phone campaign who is based in Los Angeles, estimated that Indians living in the United States and 500 student activists at Boston University, the University of California, Berkeley and 40 other universities have made a total of 7,000 phone calls to Delhi voters for the party.
Not satisfied with just making phone calls, many Indians have returned to their home country to further support the Aam Aadmi’s efforts. Subhamoy Das, 26, a native of Rourkela, Odisha, and an environmental medical engineering doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin for the past three years, suspended his studies for three months to campaign for the party in Delhi.
“I’m not hopeful A.A.P. will win Lok Sabha this coming year,” said Mr. Das, referring to the Aam Aadmi Party. “But even if they win Delhi and show that the principles they work on, such as swaraj [self rule] and all these things, if it works, then the people of Delhi will see change. That will be amazing.”
The coordinator of the party’s global support group, Shalini Gupta, estimated that 150 to 200 Indians from the United States, Germany, Belgium and Britain flew to Delhi to help with the campaign. Some of these supporters came for a few weeks, others a few months, helping to conduct door-to-door campaigns and consulting with party members at the headquarters in Connaught Place.
Ms. Gupta, 55, who works in Chicago as the director of the Intelligence Integrated Services Network for BP, has spent a total of five months in India this year for Aam Aadmi. After Ms. Gupta was involved in organizing the 2011 anticorruption protests, Mr. Kejriwal contacted her to request that she take over the overseas campaign coordination for the current election cycle.
She also spent the past four months developing the Adopt a Constituency program. Ms. Gupta said around 30 Indians living in the United States, Britain, Australia, Singapore and Germany participated in this project.
Ms. Gupta, who is now in Delhi for the final days before the elections, said the nonresident Indian volunteers are the “cream of the crop,” as they are often well-educated and hardworking individuals who care deeply about their home country.
Indeed, some of the nonresident Indian supporters were considering moving back to India to continue the party’s cause. “Being outside of your country you feel so helpless,” Mr. Das said. “You cannot do anything besides putting in your time and energy into things like this.”
For Mr. Das, the Aam Aadmi Party represents a chance for India to unite under the banner of progressive, clean politics.
“Since childhood, corruption has been a part of our life. You have to start living with it because if you don’t it will be hard to live,” Mr. Das said. “This party is the only hope that I can see that can bring a welcome change. It might take a long time. Delhi is a very good place to start.”
Vanya Mehta is a freelance journalist in Boston. She is available on twitter @vanyamehta
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
December 2, 2013, 7:39 am
A Dalit Village Waits Uneasily for Justice
By NEYAZ FAROOQUEE
The night a horde of men crossed over the nearby river and killed Mahendra Chaudhary and 57 of his villagers in the low-caste Dalit hamlet of Lakshmanpur Bathe in Bihar, he was probably having dinner with his family of six like any other day. If not dinner, he could have been cuddling his children, say his neighbors.
But on that cold night of Dec. 1, 1997, like many other Dalit families of Lakshmanpur Bathe, no one in his shanty could survive the brutal attack to recount their ordeal.
Ghosts live in his mud house now. Neighbors’ chickens and goats sometimes wander into it, as gourd vines unevenly decorate the crumbling house.
The survivors in the village, which is 125 kilometers (80 miles) from the state capital of Patna, said the attackers belonged to the Ranvir Sena, an illegal militia led by the members of the upper caste, banned since 1995, but the Patna High Court didn’t find their accounts reliable enough. On Oct. 9, the court acquitted all 26 defendants who had been earlier sentenced to death or to life in prison by a lower court.
The state government has said it would appeal to the Supreme Court to reinstate the convictions, but after 16 years, the hope of justice is fading for the landless Dalits of Lakshmanpur Bathe. It’s a price they are paying for challenging the generations-old status quo that kept dehumanizing them, these villagers say.
Having lost seven of his family members in the 1997 attack, Baudh Paswan looked dejected when I met him in November, sitting in front of his concrete house in the village. In his native Magahi dialect, he said, “Courts are theirs, government are theirs. What can we do?”
The acquittal of upper-caste men in the Lakshmanpur Bathe killings is the fourth time in less than two years that the highest court in the state has overturned the convictions of those accused of orchestrating mass killings against low-caste farmers, mostly landless Dalits, in central Bihar in the 1990s.
Starting 1970s, when the landless poor started asserting themselves against the powerful upper-caste landowners, often with help from leftist organizations that resorted to violence many times, the landlords felt threatened as never before. The landless peasants demanded long-promised land redistribution of unused government land and other surplus lands with landlords, citing land reform laws enacted soon after India’s independence in 1947 that mandated the surplus land’s distribution among the landless. Bihar, like many other states, failed to implement the law properly.
The landless Dalits had also started demanding voting rights, izzat, or respect, and better wages. They started an economic blockade by boycotting the fields of those farmers who didn’t pay well. There are no industries in central Bihar but land is very fertile, so livelihoods are entirely dependent on agriculture.
The landlords couldn’t afford to be boycotted by their tillers. To counter the Dalit protests, the upper-caste men formed private militias. Often, there would be violent clashes, attacks and counterattacks between the left-wing militants and the landlords’ armies.
The most ruthless, organized and politically connected of the private armies in central Bihar was the Ranvir Sena, which was formed in 1994 in Bhojpur. But even before that, there were many caste-based armies that had existed in the state since early 1970s, like the Lorik Sena (of Yadav caste), Diamond Sena (Bhumihars), Sunlight Sena (Rajputs), Bhumi Sena (Kurmis) and Kisan Sangh (Yadavs).
At the height of the violence in the 1990s, an inquiry commission was formed under Justice Amir Das by the state government, then led by Rashtriya Janta Dal, to investigate Ranvir Sena’s political links. The commission was disbanded in 2006 by the new chief minister of the state, Nitish Kumar, even before the commission could submit its report. Justice Das alleged that some members from the present Bihar government were also involved, and leaders from all the major parties in Bihar have been accused of having links with the Ranvir Sena in form or other.
There is an alliance of powerful upper-caste members among politicians, bureaucrats and police, said B.N. Prasad of A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Sciences in Patna, who wrote the book “Radicalism and Violence in Agrarian Structure: The Maoist Movement in Bihar.”
“It’s not merely a caste war. It’s a class war as well,” Professor Prasad said. “The landless poor are demanding only what our Constitution ensures.”
In Lakshmanpur Bathe, a red brick structure in front of Mr. Paswan’s house serves as a memorial for those killed in this conflict. A red flag was hoisted on top, with names and ages of the 58 who died in the 1997 attack inscribed on the brick structure in Hindi. The oldest victim was 70, the youngest just 1. A total of 16 children and 27 women died – eight of them pregnant, which the memorial doesn’t mention. (The Ranvir Sena’s leader, the late Brahmeshwar Nath Singh, also known as Mukhiya, once told the journalist Nalin Verma, “The viper in the egg will one day hatch and come to bite you. There is no sin in crushing the egg.”)
Mr. Paswan was away at his relatives’ place that fateful night. When he rushed back the next morning after getting the news of the massacre, he couldn’t believe his eyes. His wife, two daughters and four sons lay dead in a pool of blood, with bullet holes in their chests, arms, legs and heads. Wails were heard all around in the hamlet.
His nephew, Vinod Paswan, was the only survivor in the home, after he hid himself under a tub meant for feeding cows, behind the creepers that covered the mud house.
Villagers had said that the majority of the gunmen came from the other side of the river, negotiating dense bushes that had grown on the banks of the shrinking river in winter. Mr Paswan explained the route they took, waving his walking stick in the air.
“They even killed the boatmen,”said Mr. Paswan. After a long pause, he added that the gunmen used a flashlight to find people to kill.
After the killings, the villagers recalled, the attackers shouted, “Long live Ranvir Sena!” before fleeing the hamlet around midnight.
Most of the villagers had mud houses, which made it easier for the attackers to break into the homes. Now, many of the survivors have built brick houses, using the compensation of 200,000 rupees (equivalent to $5,000 in 1997), each household received from the state government. There are still many half-built structures in their hamlet – these are owned by survivors who had fewer family members who were killed.
In Lakshmanpur Bathe, villagers often say, “Laal salam,” (“Red salute”), accompanied with raised fists — a clear sign of support for left-leaning organizations. On the opposite side of the river Sone, in the district of Bhojpur, villages are dominated by the members of Ranvir Sena. The survivors of the Dalit massacre said upper-caste men attacked with the help of the Ranvir Sena members who had come from across the river. There were about 150 assailants in all, according to witness accounts.
Surrounded by these upper-caste villages in Bhojpur is the site of another massacre that happened in 1996, this one also blamed on the Ranvir Sena. In broad daylight, with police pickets around the village, Ranvir Sena members allegedly killed 21 low-caste villagers in Bathani Tola. And merely two kilometers from the village of Lakshmanpur Bathe is Shanker Bigha, where the Ranvir Sena was also accused of killing 22 Dalits.
In all the cases in which the higher-caste defendants have been acquitted, the court didn’t consider the lower-caste witness accounts reliable. But Kunal, a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation member who uses only one name, noted that in contrast to the judgments in Dalit killings, the verdict in the Amausi case relied on the witnesses’ account.
In the village of Amausi, which is in the district of Khagaria, members of a lower caste shot dead 16 from a higher caste, including five children, on Oct. 1, 2009. A lower court in Khagaria imposed the death sentence on 10 of the defendants and acquitted 14 on Feb. 14, 2012.
In the Lakshmanpur Bathe killings, the Patna High Court contended that it was not possible to identify someone in the darkness of night. “Do you need infrared lenses to identify your own villagers in nights?” asked Mr. Kunal.
The villagers of Lakshmanpur Bathe say that they could identify the attackers even from their voices, as the Dalits there have worked in their landlords’ fields for generations. “We see them on a daily basis. So how can we not identify who the killers were?” said Mrituanjay Kumar, a villager.
The endless delay in receiving justice, and subsequent acquittal of the accused, has frustrated the residents of Lakshmanpur Bathe. “Did we kill our own children?” said Mr. Kumar. “First it was massacre by the upper-caste landlords. Now, it’s a judicial massacre.”
(Neyaz Farooquee is a journalist based in Delhi. You can follow him on Twitter @nafsmanzer)
Thailand: police let protesters through in apparent easing of tensions
Authorities drop barricades, letting demonstrators reach police headquarters and prime minister's office
Kate Hodal in Bangkok and agencies
The Guardian, Monday 2 December 2013 07.16 GMT
Police in Bangkok stood aside and removed barriers to let demonstrators reach Government House and police headquarters in an apparent truce after days of violence in which at least four people died amid demands for the government of Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.
Protest leaders had stressed they would not negotiate and promised to continue their efforts to oust Yingluck Shinawatra's administration. But with Tuesday came an unexpected twist as police took down barriers shielding their headquarters and let protesters in – seemingly to defuse demonstrators threats' to seize the building by force. Police also watched idly as crowds breached the barricades around Government House, the prime minister's offices.
It had earlier been speculated that some kind of an understanding was being brokered to allow the protests to pause for King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday on Thursday. The king, who turns 86, is highly revered by all Thais and is seen as the sole uniting figure in the country.
After breaching the barriers on the road, protesters milled outside the gates of the prime minister's office. Many took pictures of themselves. "This is a victory for the protesters," said Kusol Promualrat, wearing a military camouflage green jacket in front of the gate.
The man leading the demonstrations, Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, a former opposition lawmaker, had earlier issued Yingluck an ultimatum to "return power to the people" by Tuesday. He and his Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD) aim to overthrow the democratically elected government and install a so-called "people's council" manned by unelected representatives under the king as head of state. The CMD argues Yingluck's administration is a puppet of her brother Thaksin, the former PM who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-exile in Dubai and London.
Yingluck on Monday vowed to do whatever it takes to "bring peace back to the Thai people" after the protests continued in the capital, where at least four people have been killed and 200 injured in a push to overthrow the government.
Seemingly contradicting an interview she gave to the BBC last week, in which she said she would neither step down nor hold early elections, Yingluck told a press conference that "the government is not trying to cling to power".
"I am not against either resignation or dissolution of parliament if this solution will stop the protests," she said.
"If there's anything I can do to bring peace back to the Thai people I am happy to do it. The government is more than willing to have talks but I myself cannot see a way out of this problem that is within the law and in the constitution."
Protesters had said they were unwilling to negotiate and would only back down once the "Thaksin regime" was fully overthrown. In a televised address on Monday night Suthep vowed to fight as long as need be, even alone, until Yingluck had been removed from office. "They can always come back to suck the blood of people, steal from people, disrespect the constitution and make us their slaves," he said in an apparent reference to the Shinawatra family.
While protests have taken place throughout the past week around Bangkok – primarily in relation to a proposed amnesty bill that would have paved the way for Thaksin's return from exile and squashed his corruption conviction – the violence only really ramped up on Saturday, when pro-Thaksin redshirts fought with anti-government student demonstrators near a sports stadium. At least four people have been killed and over 200 injured since.
On Monday much of the violence had centred around Government House, the seat of the prime minister's offices, and police headquarters.
Protesters threw rocks, bottles and homemade explosives at police in riot gear, who retaliated with water cannons and rubber bullets, and faced a standoff after protesters used rubbish trucks and bulldozers to try to overrun barriers.
Doctors at a Bangkok hospital confirmed on Monday that two patients had been treated for gunshot wounds from live rounds, although it was not clear who the gunmen were. Thai police insist they are only using rubber bullets, and Yingluck's government has taken great pains to use as little force against protestors as possible.
Although Suthep has claimed that the military is on his side, Yingluck told the nation that the military was acting neutrally and "wants to see a peaceful way out".
"I believe that no one wants to see a repeat of history, where we saw people suffer and lose their lives," she said.
The political violence has been Thailand's worst since the 2010 demonstrations that saw 2,000 injured and nearly 100 killed in a military crackdown.
US calls on China to rescind air defence zone to avoid Japan confrontation
• Request made hours after US vice-president arrives in Tokyo
• State Department warns of dangerous clash with allies
Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 December 2013 06.43 GMT
The US called on China to scrap its newly declared air defence identification zone on Monday, warning that Beijing risked a potentially dangerous confrontation with Japan and its allies at the start of a trip to the region by vice-president Joe Biden.
The explicit request for China to “rescind” threats against unannounced aircraft passing over a chain of islands in the East China sea was made by the US just hours after Biden landed in Tokyo ahead of a six-day trip to Japan, China and South Korea.
“The fact that China’s announcement has caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents only further underscores the validity of concerns and the need for China to rescind the procedures,” said Jen Psaki, the chief spokesperson for the State Department.
Biden, who was met at Tokyo airport by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former president John F Kennedy and recently appointed ambassador to Japan, is expected to attempt to defuse the controversy during his visit.
Senior diplomats privately concede that the dispute over the airspace above the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, will almost entirely dominate Biden’s trip, which had been intended to focus on US economic interests in the region. The row began nine days ago when Beijing unilaterally declared the enlarged air defence identification zone.
The Chinese defence ministry ordered all aircraft flying through the zone to notify Chinese authorities in advance, warning that it would "identify, monitor, control and react to" any air threats or unidentified flying objects coming from the sea.
“That kind of coercive, strong language is worrisome, and we hope it is not tested,” a senior government official from the region told the Guardian, echoing growing concern about the possible risk of an accidental confrontation that spirals out of control.
The official said one possible scenario would see military aircraft scrambled simultaneously by China and the US, and possibly Japan too, meeting in the air. Another would be that China feels the need to intercept an aircraft that enters the contested airspace without prior notice.
“Mishaps and miscalculations can happen, particularly if aircraft are scrambled to intercept an aircraft. You never know how these situations can unfold.”
Japanese airlines passing through the military zone declared by China are not currently informing Beijing of their flight plans. However, aircraft associated with other countries, including those flown by US and South Korean airlines, are submitting information to the Chinese, after domestic civil aviation authorities advised it was in the interest of safety.
Psaki stressed that the guidance to airlines from the Federal Aviation Authority “in no way indicates” US acceptance of China’s declaration. She said China had made the declaration “in an uncoordinated fashion” which was “inconsistent with standard practice”, adding the US did not believe the declaration to be legitimate.
Her remarks were echoed by the White House. "This is about the safety and security of passengers and is not, in any way, indication of a change in our position,” said spokesman Jay Carney. “This appears to be a provocative attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the the East China sea and thus raises tensions and increases the risk of inadvertent confrontation.”
On Tuesday the Chinese envoy to the Philippines added to tensions, saying Beijing had a sovereign right to establish a maritime air defence zone over other regions. When asked to comment about concerns that China might set up a similar zone over the South China Sea – where it has disputes with the Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – Ma Keqing said it was the Chinese government's right to decide "where and when to set up the new air identification zone".
Ma said the East China Sea zone's designation "will not hinder any normal freedom of flights within this area if they've notified the Chinese authorities".
The US ambassador to Manila, Philip Goldberg, described China's move as dangerous. "We do not believe that this is a move intended to build confidence or in any other way improve the situation," he said. Instead, China's new zone "will create tension and the possibility of miscalculations and that's never good".
Biden, who arrived in Japan late on Monday night, is now tasked with delicate role of attempting to cool tensions. “I believe this latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence-building measures to lower tensions,” the vice-president said in an interview with Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper on the eve of his arrival.
Washington has not taken a formal position on the sovereignty of the islands. However, it recognises Tokyo's administrative control, and said explicitly last week that its treaty to defend Japan militarily applies to territory around the islands.
The US, in its most direct challenge to Chinese military endeavours in two decades, flew two B-52 bombers through the zone without notifying the Chinese. The US navy has sent P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft to Japan, a long-planned move that gives the allies greater ability to track hostile submarines and other naval ships in Japanese waters.
Following Washington’s lead, Tokyo has sent military aircraft, including F-15 fighter jets and Awacs surveillance planes, directly through the claimed Chinese zone. For Japan, which has recently reopened debate on its formal post-second world war pacifist defence policies, it has been a notably aggressive response.
However the decision by US aviation authorities to advise airlines to comply with China’s requests has roiled Japan, despite Washington’s repeated insistence last week that its commitment to Japanese security is beyond question. The Japanese TV station NHK quoted a former senior foreign ministry official, Yukia Okimoto, saying the US “hurt Japan’s interests over an issue related directly to Japan’s national security in a way visible to the whole world”.
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, said he would “deal with the matter by co-ordinating closely” with Biden, who will visit Beijing on Wednesday and meet with China’s president Xi Jinping. The vice-president is known to have a particularly good relationship with Xi, formed over several years.
Biden’s trip enables him to have face-to-face contact with all the regional players with a stake in the controversy, including South Korea, where he will spend two days meeting senior government officials at the end of the week.
South Korea, which has strained relations with Japan, is also being sucked into the dispute. Local reports indicate that Seoul is in the final stages of expanding its own six-decade-old air defense identification zone southward, which would overlap with territory claimed by China.
The move comes after a defense consultation last week between China and South Korea failed to reassure Seoul that China’s expanded zone was aimed exclusively at Japan.
The senior government official said one unintended consequence of China’s declaration could be that Japan and South Korea, rivals undergoing a particularly strained relations at the moment, will be brought closer together. The official said the two countries were expected to “compare notes” over how to respond to China’s move – and high-level meetings between the two countries remain a possibility.
It is unclear if Biden will attempt to mediate between China, Japan and South Korea. Aides to the vice-president told reporters last week that Biden would seek only “clarity” from China about its military intentions, but declined to say that he would call for China to reverse its declaration, which Japan is seeking.
China has thus far shown no signs of retreating over the zone. It announced that it scrambled its own fighter jets in the air defence identification zone on Friday, an intended challenge to the US and Japan. But the Japanese defense ministry sharply questioned whether the Chinese jets ever actually passed through the zone, issuing a statement saying it spotted no additional air traffic in the area.
Additional reporting by Dan Roberts
12/02/2013 06:27 PM
Cold War in the Pacific: China Escalates Tensions with Neighbors
By Hans Hoyng, Wieland Wagner and Bernhard Zand
Beijing's recent establishment of a new air defense zone in the East China Sea is exacerbating long-running disputes with its neighbors Japan and Taiwan -- and threatens to draw the US military into a larger regional conflict.
If it were only a matter of distance, the solution to a dispute over a small group of hotly contested islands in the East China Sea would be simple. Taiwan, which is just 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from the islands, would take the prize. The Chinese mainland is farther off, at 330 kilometers away, and the Japanese island of Okinawa even more distant, at 400 kilometers. Why then shouldn't small Taiwan take control of the five uninhabited islands and three rock outcroppings, known as the Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan?
While Taiwan does lay claim to the islands, so do its more powerful neighbors, China and Japan. And the dispute is, unfortunately, not about distance. It has to do with influence and natural resources, with hegemony and nationalism, and with bitter historical memories and fresh, global aspirations -- in short, it's a toxic mixture of geopolitics. In fact, a military crisis is brewing in East Asia -- one that is being played out hundreds to thousands of kilometers away from these desolate islands.
A New Air Defense Zone
In Beijing, 1,600 kilometers to the northwest of the islands, the Defense Ministry announced a surprise decision a week ago Saturday to establish an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. The ministry said all aircraft that fly into the defined area will now be required to declare their intentions and adhere to the orders of Chinese air traffic controllers.
Two days later in Washington, 12,500 kilometers to the east of the disputed islands, US President Barack Obama challenged the Chinese move by sending two unarmed B-52 long-range bombers into the new zone. The aircraft took off from an air force base on the American island of Guam and, a few hours later, penetrated the Chinese surveillance zone without notifying Beijing. B-52s are designed to carry nuclear bombs to their targets. It was a strong signal.
When news of these US flights broke, it boosted confidence in Tokyo (1,800 kilometers away from the islands) and in Seoul (1,400 kilometers away). Since then, Japan and South Korea have also dispatched military aircraft into the Chinese zone. China responded by placing its air force on alert and sending up fighter jets to escort Japanese and American planes. The situation begs an obvious question: What happens if a foreign fighter jet and a Chinese interceptor meet and one of the pilots loses his nerve?
All of the players involved -- except China -- have concluded that Beijing's actions could jeopardize peace in East Asia. All it takes is for someone to make a sudden move. According to the Financial Times, retired Admiral William Fallon, the former commander of US armed forces in the Pacific, called the dispute "absolutely unnecessary," adding that "If you send up fighters, it is another opportunity for people to screw up." His comment was apparently aimed at all the parties involved: the Chinese, the Japanese, the South Koreans and the Americans.
This week, US Vice President Joe Biden is set to visit Beijing. This was initially intended to be a relaxed meeting with President Xi Jinping, whom Biden knows well. But instead Obama's deputy now has to consider some serious questions: Could the Far East actually stumble into a war? What is driving the parties involved in this island dispute, which has been smoldering for decades, and is now threatening to become extremely dangerous? And what can the US do to avert an escalation?
China's motives in this conflict are clear: One year ago, the country surpassed the US as the world's largest trading nation, and 90 percent of Chinese exports are shipped by sea. At the same time, the rapidly growing country has been racing to establish its naval presence, just as the German Empire did over 100 years ago. Yet it bothers Beijing's military leaders that Chinese access to the Pacific is blocked by a chain of islands and peninsulas that are controlled by American allies.
The so-called "first island chain" has become a strategic obsession for the Chinese. China's navy celebrates maneuvers in which its ships sail out into the Pacific -- as the aircraft carrier Liaoning did last week -- as the "breakthrough" of this chain. Right in the middle of this chain, only 600 kilometers from the bustling port of Shanghai, lie the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.
In the eyes of China's military, logic dictates that the country should gradually expand its airspace to include these islands; they view all objections from competitors as pure envy. "America is applying a double standard," says Chinese Major General Lou Yuan. "The US has surrounded itself with exclusion zones and demands of others that they identify themselves. Yet their aircraft refuse to call in. This is totally overbearing!"
The strategic fixation with the islands has also become a political one that extends beyond the narrow sphere of the military. Many mainstream bloggers in the country also vehemently criticize China's biggest rival, while supporting China's alleged right to self-assertion. "The Americans are like spoiled teenagers," writes blogger Jiangchen-jc, who argues that "they have to challenge others in order to prove their uniqueness."
The timing is most convenient for China's new political leadership. By taking a hardline approach on foreign and defense policy, it can now silence critics who suspected that the government had become too liberal with recent sweeping economic and social reforms.
Demonstrating Chinese Resolve
China's simplest means of demonstrating its resolve in the current nationalistic climate in East Asia is to take a tough stance against Japan. Neither the perpetrators nor the victims have come to terms with the years of occupation -- and the war crimes committed -- by the Japanese on Chinese soil during World War II. It is easy for China's leaders to score political points against the Japanese in a bout of saber-rattling.
Meanwhile, Tokyo is reveling in the US show of strength in the Pacific, taking it as a sign of solidarity. From Japan's perspective, China's efforts to expand its air defense zone have backfired. Beijing's unilateral action instead forced the Americans to more declaratively take sides with the Japanese in the ongoing island dispute.
The Obama administration had generally refrained from getting too deeply involved in the conflict. And even though the White House left little doubt last week that the Senkaku islands fall under the protection of the US-Japanese military alliance, it also stopped short of overtly taking sides with Japan. Furthermore, thanks to its own flyover, the US Air Force preempted a Japanese reaction, which Beijing might have responded to in a more aggressive manner. Japan, which maintains a strong, highly advanced army, would prove to be a significant opponent for China in the event of an outright military conflict. What's more, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed a desire to water down his country's strictly pacifist constitution.
US 'Pivots' to Asia
In 2011, Obama announced a "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region, shifting the American approach to China. The move was seen as a way of not only continuing US cooperation with China, but also containing Beijing's power in the region. "As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future," Obama said.
US reengagement in the Asia-Pacific also referred to America's military presence. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Obama's chief military adviser says, "The US military will be obliged to overtly confront China as it faced down the Soviet Union." By 2020, the Pentagon intends to station roughly 60 percent of its naval military forces in the Pacific, including six aircraft carriers and numerous destroyers, cruisers and submarines.
In 2011, the US began to expand its military presence in Australia, the first US military buildup in the Pacific since the Vietnam War. In the future, up to four US warships will be allowed to moor in the city-state of Singapore. Since 2011, former wartime opponent Vietnam has allowed the US Navy to use the port of Cam Ranh Bay.
Meanwhile, the Philippines are likely to become America's most important partner in a separate, but similar, conflict over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Some 40 percent of international maritime trade passes through those contested waters.
Washington and Manila have been negotiating since August on stationing more US Marines in the country. Filipino Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has already announced that the US will in the future inform his country's armed forces if Chinese ships enter territorial waters claimed by Manila. In exchange, US warships will soon be able return to Subic Bay, a Filipino naval station that the US Navy vacated in 1992.
Lessons from Europe?
The growing US military presence is intended to reassure America's closest Asian allies, but China views US encroachment in the region as a threat. When Vice President Biden travels through the region this week, he will have to maintain a delicate balance: He has to reassure US allies, yet at the same time caution them not to overreact. He also has to warn China over its provocative air defense zone, while maintaining an ongoing relationship between the two world powers.
After all, Europeans know all too well how quickly even rational foreign policy actors can find themselves enmeshed in irrational chain reactions in times of crisis. Historians and politicians have been discussing the similarities between China's current situation and the international stage prior to the outbreak of World War I for years.
American political scientist Robert Kagan says that Washington has taken on the role of the British Empire in East Asia, and the US must make it clear to Beijing -- "which is the Germany of the time" -- that it "will in fact respond if China behaves in a way that seems unacceptable."
In his bestseller "The Sleepwalkers," which describes how Europe entered the bloody catastrophe of World War I, historian Christopher Clark comments on today's global order: "Since the end of the Cold War, a system of bipolar stability has made way for a more complex and unpredictable array of forces, including declining empires and rising powers -- a state of affairs that invites comparison with the Europe of 1914," he writes.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
December 2, 2013
Chinese Leader’s Rise Came With New Attention to Dispute With Japan
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — The new air defense zone declared by China appears to have been approved by President Xi Jinping, the culmination of more than a year of pressure by Beijing to weaken Japan’s grip on disputed islands in the East China Sea, and by extension to expand China’s long-term access to the Western Pacific.
As Mr. Xi amassed power in the past year, he voiced increasing displeasure with Japan, and in a curt, impromptu encounter in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September with the hawkish prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Mr. Xi said Japan must face “history squarely,” according to an account in China’s state-run news media.
Mr. Xi has rebuffed Mr. Abe’s requests for a formal summit meeting, another sign of Mr. Xi’s firm stance on Japan.
Mr. Xi’s position as leader of the Communist Party and chairman of the military commission that runs China’s armed forces made him the primary decision maker on issues like the air defense zone, Chinese experts said. Over the past year, they say, he has been particularly attentive to the East China Sea dispute.
Unlike some other Chinese leaders, Mr. Xi had little involvement with Japan as he climbed the ranks of the Communist Party.
On a visit to Japan in 2009 as vice president, he was granted an audience with the emperor, met numerous politicians and was treated to a gala dinner. In 2001, when he was governor of Fujian Province, he toured the prefecture of Nagasaki and visited Okinawa. He has spoken little of these trips, although as vice president he did welcome the governors of Nagasaki and Shizuoka when they came to Beijing, Japanese officials say.
Most likely he sees the country as a policy lever, said Rana Mitter, a historian at Oxford University and the author of “Forgotten Ally,” an account of China’s struggle with militarist Japan from 1937 to 1945.
“He does not appear to have any direct experience with Japan or connection with it through his family background,” Mr. Mitter said. “This is different from some other politicians, for instance Bo Xilai, who courted Japanese business quite strongly through his period as mayor of Dalian and later as commerce minister.” Mr. Bo is the disgraced Communist Party leader of the city of Chongqing now serving a life sentence in prison.
The idea for the air defense identification zone had been circulating within the Chinese military for some time before it reached Mr. Xi’s level, said Jia Qingguo, professor of international relations at Beijing University.
The military was acutely aware that other countries, including Japan and the United States, had air defense zones but China did not, he said.
As the tensions mounted this year in the East China Sea, with Chinese and Japanese planes flying in close quarters over the disputed islands — known as Diaoyu in China, and Senkaku in Japan — Japan often complained that China’s planes were flying in the Japanese air defense zone.
The leadership reasoned that if Japan had an air defense zone for the past 40 years, China should have one, too, as a way of achieving parity, and as a tool to eventually wrest the islands from Japan’s control, Mr. Jia said.
But Tokyo’s position on the islands is simply that there is no dispute, that the islands belong to Japan and there is nothing more to discuss.
It is this Japanese position that Mr. Xi and his top military and foreign policy advisers wanted to change.
China’s top foreign policy makers believed that China’s new air defense zone overlapping with Japan’s and covering the islands would be “another way to force Japan to recognize there is a dispute,” and come to the negotiating table, Mr. Jia and other experts said.
Even before Mr. Xi became general secretary of the Communist Party in November 2012, he was in charge of a small leading group of maritime affairs that had principal responsibility for the problems in the East China Sea — both in the air and on the sea.
It was a period when the dispute over the islands had spilled onto the streets of China, with government-sanctioned anti-Japanese protests, and Mr. Xi’s quick ascent to the policy making group on the islands signaled his plans to take overall control of the issue.
After becoming general secretary of the Communist Party in November 2012, and then assuming the presidency of the country in March, Mr. Xi toured important military installations, including ports where China is building its blue water navy — another signal of his long-term interest in gaining unfettered access in the Western Pacific.
Mr. Xi told a Politburo meeting this summer that China must become a “maritime strong power,” according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.
In late October, Mr. Xi called a conference of senior party leaders, including the six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Chinese ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, to discuss how China should maintain good relations with its neighbors in Asia.
“The fundamental guiding policy for our country’s diplomacy with its periphery is to treat neighbors with friendship and as partners,” Mr. Xi said.
But it was clear that Japan was not included in the friendly group of neighbors — those consisted chiefly of countries in Southeast Asia — and a few days later, the Chinese Ministry of Defense intensified its warnings to Japan over the disputed islands.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, Geng Yansheng, said that China would consider it “an act of war” if Japan carried out its threat and shot down a Chinese drone flying over the islands. “We would have to take decisive measures to counterattack,” Mr. Geng said, the most warlike words from China in the dispute so far.
A recent account in a Hong Kong-based magazine, Asia Weekly, which often carries reliable reports on Beijing’s foreign policy deliberations, described the imposition of the air defense zone as a “great sea-air strategic breakthrough for China.” The magazine said Mr. Xi finalized the decision four months ago.
The breakthrough the article referred to was the piercing of what China sees as a boundary that stretches from the southernmost Japanese islands toward the east coast of Taiwan and joining the South China Sea.
“China is no longer focusing just on Diaoyu Island, not only on the gas field of the East China Sea median line, but this is a way of breaking through the first island chain to reach the ocean,” the account said.
Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing, and Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno from Tokyo.
Kim Jong-un's uncle believed to have been ousted
Jang Song-taek has held powerful roles in North Korea and his removal, if true, would have needed Kim Jong-un's approval
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 December 2013 10.14 GMT
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's uncle, considered the power behind the throne, is believed to have been dismissed from his posts, a South Korean politician claimed on Tuesday.
If true it would represent a major upheaval in one of the world's most secretive states.
Jang Song-taek has probably been sacked as vice-chairman of North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission and as a department head of the ruling Workers' party, the politician, Jung Cheong-rae, said, citing a senior South Korean official with the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
"The briefing by an NIS senior official was that they believe Jang Song-taek has lost his posts," Jung told a news briefing.
Two close aides to Jang in the Workers' party had also been executed for corruption, Jung said, also citing the briefing.
"Following that, the NIS said it believes Jang Song-taek has not been seen and has lost his posts," Jung told the briefing.
There was no immediate mention of Jang's fate on North Korea's KCNA news agency.
Jang, who is married to Kim Jong-un's aunt, Kyong Hui, has been the central figure in a coterie of top officials and family members who worked to ensure the young and untested son of Kim Jong-il took over power when his father died in 2011.
Jang, who is widely seen as an advocate of economic reform, was previously purged in a power struggle in 2004 under Kim Jong-il's rule but was reinstated two years later.
Analysts who watch the North's power structure say Jang's removal would not have been possible without leader Kim Jong-un's approval.
Apart from domestic political problems, North Korea is involved in a protracted standoff with the west over its nuclear weapons programme.
This year, Kim Jong-un has threatened the United States with nuclear attack, declared a "state of war" with South Korea and announced he was restarting a plutonium reactor at the Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant – all on top of conducting a third nuclear test in February and a long-range rocket test last December.
Somalia's prime minister and cabinet ousted
Parliamentary vote to remove Abdi Farah Shirdon proves country's institutions have come of age, says UN representative
theguardian.com, Monday 2 December 2013 19.16 GMT
Somali politicians have voted 184-65 to oust the prime minister and his cabinet after 14 months in office. Abdi Farah Shirdon would remain in office until the president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, nominated a new prime minister, who would have 30 days to appoint a cabinet, the parliamentary speaker, Sheik Osman Jawari Jawari, said.
The vote came after disputes emerged between Shirdon, a former businessman, and Mohamud. Politicians said Shirdon had refused to include the president's choices in his cabinet.
The UN representative to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, said the rejection of the prime minister by vote from the parliament showed that Somalia's institutions were coming of age. "The UN is here to support their development, and looks forward to working constructively with the new administration. Outgoing Prime Minister Shirdon had worked hard to promote growth and progress and played an important part in creating the New Deal Compact between international partners and Somalia," Kay said.
The government is in place largely thanks to African Union troops, and controls only small parts of the country and continues to struggle to provide security and battle corruption. The capital, Mogadishu, though, is much better off today than the years 2006-2011, when the militant group al-Shabab controlled much of the capital.
December 2, 2013
In Taking Jobs, Women Take On a Saudi Taboo
By BEN HUBBARD
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The bearded religious police were not the ones who chastised the princess running the Harvey Nichols department store here when she decided to enhance the upscale shopping atmosphere with some instrumental lute music.
Instead, the irate caller accusing the store of anti-Islamic behavior was a frequent shopper, a woman who on average spent $13,000 per visit.
“Maybe I should get whale sounds,” said the princess, Reema Bint Bandar al-Saud, making light of the blowback that businesspeople in this intensely religious and conservative kingdom often face when making even glacial changes to How Things Are Done.
But this is part of being a pioneer in Saudi Arabia, where women are severely restricted in all public activities and are treated as the wards of their male relatives. Despite her royal credentials, the princess did away with the music but has pushed ahead on the equally touchy front of hiring women as sales clerks. This step — or leap, in the Saudi context — seeks not only to shift social conventions but also to aid the country’s long-term economic health.
At Harvey Nichols, several dozen female clerks were spread throughout the store, all cloaked in black, their hair covered, some with only their eyes peering through narrow slits in face veils. They were busy arranging dresses, hawking cosmetics and swiping credit cards.
Just two years ago there were only a few women working here.
The kingdom’s restrictions on women have long drawn the condemnation of rights groups, most recently after dozens of women drew headlines by defying a ban on driving.
But some women’s rights advocates here say that the international attention given to small numbers of women getting behind the wheel overshadows the deep, if gradual, shifts in Saudi society as more women work, broadening their range of experience, helping to run organizations and earning a degree of economic independence.
Although the effort has been promoted by the Ministry of Labor as part of a campaign to reduce unemployment and the dependence on foreign workers, it has butted up against strict social codes. The percentage of Saudi women who work remains minuscule by world standards, at about 15 percent.
Still, many employers say they prefer hiring Saudi women to Saudi men; they have added separate break rooms and office areas for women, and have installed partitions and cameras to prevent unwelcome mingling.
“We are promoting recruitment of Saudi women because they have a low level of attrition, a better attention to detail, a willingness to perform and a productivity about twice that of Saudi men,” said a grocery store manager with branches throughout the kingdom.
Despite that, Saudi women make up less than 5 percent of his staff of more than 1,000 because of social taboos in many areas. He spoke on the condition that neither he nor his company be identified to avoid being targeted by opponents of women’s employment.
While working women in the Red Sea city of Jidda are relatively accepted, he said, the addition of female checkout clerks in a more conservative city caused such an uproar that a local prince intervened and paid the women’s salaries for more than a year — as long as they stayed home.
Others have found business opportunities in bridging the gap between employers and women.
“For some employers, it is their first time to hire women, and they don’t know how to deal with them,” said Khalid Alkhudair, 30, who runs a women’s employment service called Glowork that cooperates with the government to increase female employment.
Frosted glass partitions bearing inspirational quotes divide the company’s pink-walled office in Riyadh. On a recent morning, a dozen female employees sipped coffee as they sorted through applicants’ résumés on flat-screen monitors. All wore loose black gowns, some with their hair uncovered — a rare but increasingly common sight in some private offices.
In two years, the company has found jobs for more than 10,000 women, including one chief financial officer, several human resource managers and a group of women at a light bulb factory, Mr. Alkhudair said.
Yet across the kingdom, about two-thirds of female university graduates are unemployed, showing that the labor market has yet to catch up with huge advances in women’s education.
Some Saudis laud King Abdullah as a reformer for appointing 30 women to a royal advisory council and granting women the right to run and vote in municipal elections.
Others blast the kingdom for falling behind the rest of the world by not appointing female judges, ambassadors and ministers and leaving in place “guardianship laws” that bar women from traveling, working, marrying or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from a male relative.
“It is a crisis in dealing with modernity from the conservative society and the clerics,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, an associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University in Riyadh. “Every time something new occurs, they are suspicious and immediately think there must be a conspiracy of some kind that wants to decay our society.”
Harvey Nichols has served as a pioneering case, benefiting from a small staff, ample resources and, of course, a royal boss.
“This store is a big social experiment because we are talking about ladies who had severe obstacles in coming here,” said Princess Reema, 38, who was educated in the United States while her father, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, served as ambassador.
Leading a visitor through her now music-free store, she explained that she had opened a nursery for employees’ children and given transportation stipends to women who could not drive themselves to work.
The store does not regulate face veils, she said, adding that some women prefer to cover their faces at work.
“Their families don’t necessarily want other people to know that their daughter is working in retail,” she said. For the same reason, female employees do not wear name tags.
Two years ago, the store employed only 12 Saudi women, she said, including herself. That number has nearly quadrupled since then, she said, and it will keep growing.
Jawharah, a 35-year-old saleswoman standing between racks of high-end dresses in a full face veil, said that this was her first job and that her husband had inspected the store before letting her take it.
While her mother and aunts never worked, she said, all of her sisters now do. “It’s nice to get out and work and get paid,” she said.
December 2, 2013
Top U.N. Rights Official Links Assad to Crimes in Syria
By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
GENEVA — The top United Nations human rights official linked President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to war crimes and crimes against humanity for the first time on Monday, citing evidence collected by her panel of investigators over the course of the 33-month-old conflict in that country.
The four-member panel investigating human rights offenses in Syria has produced “massive evidence” of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the official, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, told reporters here in Geneva. She went on: “They point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.”
The panel, which has not been allowed to enter Syria, has gathered information from Syrian refugees and other sources. The panel has compiled lists of names of individuals, military units and intelligence agencies implicated in the human rights abuses committed on a wide scale since the conflict began in March 2011, with a view to ensuring that those responsible are eventually brought to justice.
As long ago as February 2012, the panel found “reasonable grounds to believe that particular individuals, including commanding officers, and officials at the highest levels of government bear responsibility for war crimes and gross human rights violations.” The panel also found Syrian opposition groups implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity, although on a lesser scale.
But panel members, led by Paulo Pinheiro, a Brazilian rights expert, and including Carla Del Ponte, the former war crimes tribunal prosecutor, have studiously avoided going further in identifying either the individuals or even the number of names on their lists.
Ms. Pillay later sought to clarify her comment, observing that “I have not said that a head of state is a suspect. I was quoting the fact-finding mission, which said that based on their facts, responsibility points at the highest level.”
Her comments, however, drew a riposte from Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad. “She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her,” he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
Ms. Pillay said the panel had handed her lists of names to be held securely at the human rights office in Geneva. Ms. Pillay also repeated demands that she and the panel have made that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“Accountability should be key priority of international community, and I want to make this point again and again as the Geneva 2 talks begin,” she said, alluding to the second international conference on Syria scheduled to start in Geneva on Jan. 22.
In other Syria-related developments on Monday, the top United Nations official in charge of coordinating the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile confirmed that the country’s ability to produce those munitions had been rendered inoperable since a joint mission with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons began work in October.
But the official, Sigrid Kaag, said at the organization’s annual meeting of member states in The Hague that “the most complex and challenging work still lies ahead,” referring to the safe disposal of the weapons. According to a United Nations Security Council resolution, they must be destroyed by mid-2014.
The organization’s director general, Ahmed Uzumcu, announced on Saturday that the United States had offered to help eradicate the weapons at sea, on an American vessel equipped with special destruction technology. He also said the organization had received 35 “expressions of interest” from commercial companies to destroy the weapons.
In Lebanon, Syria’s western neighbor, the authorities announced that the army would undertake “all necessary procedures” to restore order in the northern city of Tripoli, where days of sectarian street clashes tied to competing allegiances in the Syria conflict have left at least 10 people dead. The army sent reinforcements to the city and was raiding areas often used by gunmen, Lebanon’s National News Agency said.
Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
Venezuelan cities plunged into darkness by power cut during president’s speech
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 7:21 EST
Caracas and other cities in Venezuela plunged into darkness Monday night as a power cut hit just as the president was speaking on TV and radio, with local elections five days away.
President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected in n April after the death of Hugo Chavez, later blamed the backout on the “fascist right.”
He called it “live sabotage on the electrical grid.” Maduro, a former union leader and bus driver, is struggling to establish the stature and following enjoyed by his political mentor Chavez, who died of cancer in March.
The December 8 municipal elections are considered a test of Maduro’s popularity and performance since taking power.
“There is no reason for today’s blackout,” he said from the presidential palace. “All Venezuelans are strangely surprised.”
Power started being restored a few hours later.
Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon said the outage hit the metropolitan Caracas region and states in central and western Venezuela.
He said it started in the same place where a blackout in September left 70 percent of the country without power for at least three hours.
Then, too, the leftist Maduro blamed his political opponents.
Chacon said a probe was underway.
State-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela said its facilities were operating normally.
In Caracas, cars drove through darkened streets. Only hotels and other buildings with emergency generators had some light.
In 2010 Chavez imposed severe electricity rationing because of what he called problems with Venezuela’s main hydroelectric dam and wasteful use of energy.
In April Maduro declared another electricity emergency and extended it in August for another 90 days, even though he said the sector had improved considerably.
Monday’s power outage struck at around 8:10 pm (0040 GMT). Power began being restored less than an hour later.
Despite being one of the world’s largest oil producers, Venezuela is regularly affected by power cuts.
64 bodies found in mass graves in drug-plagued western Mexico
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 7:18 EST
A total of 64 bodies have been found in mass graves in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, authorities said as they wrapped up a probe of alleged victims of a drug cartel.
A total of 35 graves were found, an official at the attorney general’s office said.
The search in an area bordering the drug-plagued state of Michoacan stemmed from a probe into the November 3 disappearance of two federal police officers. They were not among the bodies found.
One civilian and some 20 police officers were arrested in the case of the missing two. They allegedly confessed to capturing the pair of federal agents and turning them over to a drug gang called Jalisco New Generation.
The detainees led police to the many mass graves.
Some of the bodies had been dead for months, others for two or three years, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said.
Some were bound by the hands and feet and showed signs of torture.
Jalisco New Generation is trying to penetrate into Michoacan and chase out a cartel called the Knights Templar.
Under the presidency of Felipe Calderon from 2006 to 2012, 26,121 people went missing in Mexico and drug-related violence claimed more than 70,000 lives as federal forces fought drug cartels.