Turkish PM: corruption probe part of 'dirty operation' against administration
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hits out at major investigation that has nabbed 52 officials, high-profile businessmen and sons of cabinet ministers
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 December 2013 18.12 GMT
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said that a corruption investigation in which dozens of people have been detained was part of a "dirty operation" against his administration and linked it to a summer of anti-government protests.
He said police officers removed from their posts in Istanbul on Wednesday, a day after the detention of 52 people including the sons of three cabinet ministers, had been sacked for abuse of office and said more could follow in other cities.
"As we fight to make Turkey in the top 10 countries of the world … some are engaged in an effort to halt our fast growth. There are those abroad … and there are extensions of them within our country," Erdogan told a news conference.
The 52 officials and high-profile businessmen known to be close to the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) were arrested on charges including tender fraud, bribery, and trading in gold.
Many domestic commentators believe that the high-profile arrests are a sign of a widening rift within the country's conservative power base, between the AKP government and its former moderately Islamist allies, the so-called Hizmet movement lead by the influential exiled cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who is based in the US.
The detainees include the son of the interior minister, Muammer Güler, the cabinet member responsible for the police. Investigators found large amounts of cash stored in several metal cases as well as a money counting machine in a raid on the home of Baris Güler, the minister's son. In addition to the five senior officers, a further six junior police officials were also sacked.
The heads of five units in the Istanbul police force, including the departments for financial crime, organised crime, smuggling, and anti-terrorism were dismissed for "misconduct in office", according to a public statement released by the National Police Department.
The dismissal of the five police chiefs was widely criticised as an attempt to derail the ongoing investigation.
Earlier, the deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, had rebuffed allegations of politically motivated attempts to muzzle the investigation.
"We will not side with corruption. Our government will respect the judicial process and its outcomes, and we will not interfere with the investigation," he said. Asked if the ministers involved in the investigation will resign, Arinç replied: "The prime minister will decide that."
Turkish media reported that a long-planned cabinet reshuffle, expected to replace up to 10 ministers, may come as early as this Friday.
The police dismissals have sparked protest. The deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement party (MHP), Oktay Vural, called the move a "blow against the rule of law". He added: "Nobody will be able to cover up this shame. Let public officials do their job."
The co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, called the sackings "an intervention into the corruption investigation".
Criticism also came from within the heart of the Erdoğan's governing AKP. "I called the interior minister, but could not reach him," said the finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek. "If this is an effort to hinder the investigation, it would of course not be right. But I don't know if that is the case."
Further details have emerged of the ongoing investigation. Police seized $4.5m in cash in the house of Süleyman Aslan, the director of the state-run Halkbank.
The main opposition Republican People's party (CHP) called for the resignation of the ministers involved in the corruption scandal.
Arinç repeated earlier claims made by AKP officials who blamed outside forces trying to "tarnish the AK party with accusations of corruption".
Arinç underlined that he did not wish to target the Gülen movement, which he described as "clean", but added that his party would do everything to find those responsible, signalling that the feud within Turkey's political elite is far from over.
Pakistan’s Imran Khan threatened for criticizing violent attacks on polio immunization teams
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 19, 2013 7:46 EST
Pakistani opposition leader and former cricket hero Imran Khan has been threatened by militants after criticizing attacks on polio vaccination teams, his party said Thursday.
Khan on Wednesday declared polio workers as soldiers of Islam and said those attacking them were not doing any justice to humanity, Islam or Pakistanis.
Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic and efforts to stamp it out have been badly affected by attacks on health workers inoculating children.
“Mr. Khan received a threat from Ansarul Mujahideen over his remarks over anti-polio campaign,” Shireen Mazari, a senior member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party told AFP.
Ansarul Mujahideen is a little-known militant group linked to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella Taliban faction in Pakistan.
Northwestern Pakistan, particularly the lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border, is a hotspot for the highly infectious crippling disease.
Last year the Pakistani Taliban banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.
Eradication efforts have also suffered due to long-standing rumors that the vaccine was part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.
PTI leads the government in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and on Wednesday, Khan pledged to spearhead a fresh anti-polio drive, kicking it off by administering drops to children at a hospital himself.
“Those attacking polio workers and policemen deputed to protect them, are not doing any justice to humanity, Islam and people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan,” Khan said on Wednesday.
“Polio workers are mujahid (soldiers of Islam) and we stand by them.”
Up to 2.3 million children in nine districts will be targeted in the immunization drive, local officials have said, after 62 polio cases were reported from tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year.
Heroic Iraqi policeman uses himself as a human shield to protect pilgrims from suicide bomber
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 11:48 EST
An Iraqi policeman sacrificed himself on Wednesday as he tried to protect Shiite pilgrims, embracing a suicide bomber just moments before the man exploded, officials said.
The bomber struck in the Khales area northeast of Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 10, a police colonel and a doctor said.
The colonel said one of the dead was a policeman who had been guarding the pilgrims. He threw his arms around the bomber just before the attack in a bid to shield others.
The policeman was Ayyub Khalaf, 34, who was married and had two children, his friend Saad Naim told AFP.
“Ayyub was martyred while defending pilgrims, and his name will be an eternal symbol because he saved the lives of dozens of innocents,” Naim said.
“We will take revenge on the Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation,” he added.
The Khales bombing was the latest in a wave of attacks targeting Shiite pilgrims, including two in Baghdad province that killed at least eight pilgrims on Tuesday, and two car bombings that took the lives of at least 24 dead on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them on foot, make pilgrimages to the holy city of Karbala during the 40 days after the annual commemoration marking the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, known to Shiites as Imam Hussein.
The 40th day, known as Arbaeen, falls on December 23 this year.
Sunni militants, including those linked to Al-Qaeda, frequently target members of Iraq’s Shiite majority, whom they consider to be apostates.
Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed two people and wounded two others, and gunmen killed two soldiers and wounded two in an attack on a checkpoint, officials said.
Violence has reached a level this year not seen since 2008, when Iraq was just emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.
More people were killed in the first eight days of this month than in all of December last year.
More than 6,550 people have been killed since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
December 18, 2013
Local Turf-Sharing Accord With the Taliban Raises Alarm in Afghanistan
By AZAM AHMED and TAIMOOR SHAH
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan Army commander stationed in the deadliest corner of Helmand Province brokered a cease-fire and turf-sharing deal with local Taliban insurgents there, according to government and police officials, in an example of the sort of ground-level bargaining that some see as increasingly likely once international troops withdraw next year.
Details of the accord, which took place in the district of Sangin, remain murky. But the issue was fraught enough that the army scrambled to send a delegation there to investigate on Tuesday, officials said. And local residents say that commanders were promising that the deal would halt immediately and never happen again.
The alarm was in part because of what Sangin has come to symbolize. It is one of just a few areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban have never been dislodged, and it was one of the deadliest battlegrounds in the country for American Marines and British troops who waged several offensives there over the years. It was handed over to Afghan security control early this year, and any appearance that the Afghans would be willing to essentially give back hard-won gains to the Taliban would be politically problematic, at best.
According to several people familiar with the details, including the deputy district governor and the local police commander for Sangin, the deal involved a company commander’s ceding at least two checkpoints to the Taliban. It was unclear whether more senior officers in the area condoned the move.
As part of the arrangement, which local officials said excluded the police force and other militias, the commander even drove the insurgents into the district bazaar to introduce them to the people, according to officials and witnesses.
The Afghan Army has vehemently denied the existence of any deal with the insurgents, as have the Taliban themselves. Coalition officials referred all questions about the alleged incident to the Afghans.
At least one official said that the top army commanders in the region reported knowing nothing about the plan and vowed to keep fighting.
“I talked to the brigade commander, and he has promised to recapture the abandoned checkpoints from the Taliban,” said Mohammed Rasol Khan, the deputy governor of Sangin. “There has not been a truce at the battalion or brigade level between the A.N.A. and the Taliban.”
What is said to have happened in Sangin is not a widespread phenomenon, as Afghan forces basically held their own in securing the country this year. But the Afghan forces struggled from the start in Sangin, and a visit by journalists this past summer found them facing an extremely high death toll and very low morale. Soldiers were basically confined to bases as the Taliban enjoyed nearly total freedom of movement.
Still, whispers of such accords have floated in other parts of the country this year. In areas like the Pech Valley, long a trouble spot for American forces, an informal agreement is said to have emerged. The military will not attack the Korengal Valley if the insurgents will leave the main road in and out of the region alone, officials said.
Despite the political sensitivity over such deals, some Afghan commanders and leaders say they may actually be a desirable step toward peace after Western forces withdraw, particularly in highly contested areas like Sangin. Those officials describe the bargaining, in essence, as local successes amid a national effort to disarm and reach political reconciliation with the Taliban that has stalled completely this year after potential peace talks broke down in Qatar.
Local leaders, in particular, say it is time to start talking, as they are fed up with a war that has caught civilians in the middle.
“This sort of cease-fire is essential for both sides, as they are tired of fighting and bombing each other and look to relieve the civilians who are the victims,” said Hajji Shamsullah Sahrai, a tribal elder in Sangin.
The reaction from the international community has been mixed.
While many international officials here say some local dealing in the most hostile areas of Afghanistan might be an improvement, the calculus quickly changes if it threatens security in provincial capitals or other population centers.
It is not the first time that a pact has emerged in Sangin, though. In 2011, members of the Alokozai tribe, long allied with the Taliban, agreed to halt attacks against the Afghan government in exchange for a prisoner, as well as aid and the potential to establish their own enduring security forces. At the time, commanders believed the deal held great potential to change the blistering dynamic in Sangin.
But hope gave way to more fighting, and the district remained among the five deadliest in the country this year, officials said.
“The truce has been made in part because Taliban are extremely powerful in Sangin,” said a member of the district council in Sangin, who declined to comment publicly because of the negotiations. “These Taliban commanders had not been able to visit the bazaar in the last seven years. Afterward, the Afghan Army traveled to places where they had never been over the last six years.”
Local residents and officials described a bizarre scene in the Sangin bazaar, a robust market of groceries, fabrics, electronics and other sundries, a day after the deal was struck. Around midday, the Afghan Army arrived in an armored convoy, bearing Taliban commanders known to the locals. The men walked through the stalls, introducing the men and sharing laughs, witnesses said.
“The A.N.A. commanders told people: ‘Look these are Taliban and they have come over by their own free will. We did not force them to come,’ ” said Mohammed Khan, a shopkeeper in Sangin who saw the scene.
Suliman Khan, the commander for the Afghan Local Police militia in Sangin, expressed worry about exclusive deals. “We were not informed,” he said, “and we have not been asked about this secret deal.”
But even as army officials sought this week to assure locals and the police that such deals would not happen again, many elders said they wished they would.
“We are not against a peace deal or an agreement with Taliban,” said Hajji Mira Jan Aka, a member of the district council and the head of the high committee. “We are against an agreement which is only with army.”
Azam Ahmed reported from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Habib Zahori contributed reporting from Kabul.
December 18, 2013
In India, Using the Ballot Box to Fight Graft
By MANU JOSEPH
NEW DELHI — It is not a photogenic revolution. In fact, it does not look like revolution at all. People are not screaming or burning the effigy of a great foe, but are instead standing in orderly lines waiting to cast their votes. Yet, time and again, independent India has proved that elections, and not melodramatic mass protests, are the true revolutions in a democracy.
It is the direct consequence of one sensational state assembly election this month, and the prospect of general elections next year, that persuaded the Indian Parliament on Wednesday to pass legislation to create an independent agency called Lokpal to combat corruption in public life. For the past five decades, several legislators and reformers had tried to create such a body but were defeated by politicians who closed ranks to protect their way of life.
It may appear that the transformation of Indian politics represents the triumph of public fasts and mass protests against corruption that urban India has witnessed and the news media has magnified in the past two and a half years. But the fact is that those movements failed and their icon, the social reformer Anna Hazare, faced ever-dwindling crowds. People tired of his repeated fasts to the death and his ritual intakes of citrus juice to conclude his demonstrations. But then one of his advisers, Arvind Kejriwal, made a tactical move. He decided to enter electoral politics.
The way of Indian public life is that a leader seated on a stage is constantly approached by his deputies in full view of the audience to whisper things into the master’s ears. Eventually one of the whisperers becomes the leader. Mr. Kejriwal, an engineer and a former government officer, snatched the movement from the rustic reformer. But then, when his own movement began to falter, Mr. Kejriwal realized that the only way to fight politicians was through politics. With the broom as the campaign symbol of his new organization, the Aam Aadmi Party, he ran in the Delhi Legislative Assembly election, going so far as to pit himself directly against the powerful former Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit.
Most political observers expected Mr. Kejriwal to fare poorly. Months before the vote, he told me that most journalists were unable to understand the mood of the people. This month, he defeated Ms. Dikshit, and his party destroyed the governing Indian National Congress to emerge as the second- largest party, behind the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party. But neither Aam Aadmi nor the B.J.P. won a clear mandate. The Congress party, with eight seats, has offered “unconditional” support to Aam Aadmi if it wants to form the government. Mr. Kejriwal has reached out to voters to tell him, through text messages, calls and online comments, if he should accept the offer.
Suddenly he has become a major force in the general elections to Parliament that are due in a few months.
That is what inspired politicians from across the spectrum to come together to create the anticorruption institution. But Mr. Kejriwal wants a more powerful body than the politicians have backed. The paradox is that, for a man who returned from the oblivion of failed revolutions to relevance through electoral politics, Mr. Kejriwal wants the Lokpal to be almost entirely free of politicians.
Mr. Hazare, who has become embittered by the success of Mr. Kejriwal, staged yet another death fast in his village to pressure the Parliament into creating the Lokpal. The last time he attempted a fast outside his village, it was a failure, but in his small pond, he is still a big fish. Mr. Hazare is happy with the Lokpal that the members of Parliament were willing to create, and has ended his fast.
A few days ago Mr. Hazare said that if his former deputy wished for a stronger Lokpal, he could fast for it. But Mr. Kejriwal is now a politician. His measure of success is no longer the number of people willing to watch him starve as a doctor reverently takes his pulse. Mr. Kejriwal’s revolution is democracy itself, where people stand quietly in orderly queues to applaud or to punish.
Manu Joseph is editor of the Indian newsweekly Open and author of the novel “The Illicit Happiness of Other People.”
Bihar bombing fans fears of new bloodshed in India's age-old caste battle
Acquittals over 90s massacres of lower-caste Dalits seen as spark for revenge killings sending shockwaves through impoverished Bihar state and across India
Jason Burke in Aurangabad
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 December 2013 07.00 GMT
Sheltering in the shade, next to the buffaloes, the special police commandos shake their heads. "Everything is very quiet," says PC Bharat Parwan, looking across to the village 100 yards or so away across the rice fields.
The day before Parwan's unit arrived outside Pisai, a cluster of high-walled brick compounds in Bihar state, northern India, a landmine planted on the single track leading to the nearest town had killed the village chief and six others.
The murders attracted only brief attention nationally, and none internationally. But in Bihar, they have raised fears that the embers of a bloody insurgent conflict have been fanned back into life.
Behind the bombing is a story involving landlords defending their "ancestral rights", desperately poor labourers scarred by memories of massacres, a shadowy force of leftwing extremists, patchy law enforcement and – as ever in this deeply troubled part of such a vast country – politicians exploiting the tenacious caste system for electoral gain.
The target and one of the victims of the blast last October was Sunil Pandey, alleged to be a senior figure in a militia formed in 1994 to defend the interests of those at the top of the caste ladder in Bihar, but which has been largely dormant in recent years.
The Ranvir Sena militia, formed by men of the Bhumihar caste of landlords, is held responsible for a series of massacres of Dalits in the 1990s – those at the bottom of the caste system. These murders, in effect reprisals against local Maoists, who had also killed many, reached a bloody climax with the deaths of 58 men, women and children with no connection to extremism at the village of Lakshman Bathe in 1998. The Ranvir Sena, and Pandey, were blamed.
But last month, 24 men had their convictions for that massacre overturned by Bihar's high court. Pandey, 43, was released from a short spell in prison earlier this year on a technicality. Last week, his family praised the judges. "My husband did nothing more than defend his community. He was a social worker," Sudhar Devi told the Guardian.
A series of other high-profile prosecutions of Bhumihar landlords accused of involvement in the massacres has also ended in acquittals. In the aftermath of the most recent ruling, relatives say, Pandey was warned by the local Maoists that his days were numbered. "He was on their hit list. When it rained, they dug up the road and planted the mine and then watched," said Sandeep Kumar, 24, a nephew.
The Maoists, who are present across much of rural central and eastern India, said they had carried out the attack.
"In the prevailing system, it's impossible to get justice for the poor. The people's guerrilla army carried out the operation as the Ranvir Sena was trying to stop the people's revolution in Bihar," a statement given to local media said.
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has described Maoists as the country's greatest strategic security threat. They have long been active in Bihar, a state whose social dynamics have proved a fertile ground for recruitment.
Pandey, who owned around 10 acres, died driving a Tata Safari, a car costing £10,000. His son is studying medicine at a private college in Delhi, the capital, 600 miles away. Labourers working in his field live in basic huts and receive 100 rupees (£1) or 4kg of rice for a day's toil, when there is work for them; and, as is customary, they may not share their employers' water sources or schools.
"It is a gift to the upper castes that they already have land. These are our ancestral possessions and our birthright,"said Ajit Kumar Singh, another of Pandey's nephews.
"We have had labourers in our fields for hundreds of years without problems. It's only in the last 20 years there have been problems. These labourers and these Maoist people want to snatch our land from us. Any actions we have done or taken are just in retaliation. We act just in defence of our honour and of our bread and butter."
In recent years, the Maoists, whom critics accuse of racketeering, intimidation and meting out brutal rough justice, have been pushed out of their traditional strongholds in Bihar and into more remote, hilly areas. The killing of Pandey signals a resurgence. Posters have now appeared in villages across Bihar's Aurangabad district listing 22 men on the Maoists' hit list and pledging that all who helped Pandey will suffer consequences.
"A lot of senior Maoists have been arrested or laid down their arms, and the Ranvir Sena had virtually disbanded. The recent killing seems to have revived the old, bloody battle," said Manoj Chaurasia, a Patna-based journalist who has long covered the conflict.
Lakshman Bathe lies 20 miles from Pisai. With its cattle, hordes of children, tall palms and small temple, it looks like any other village along the rutted roads between the two communities. It owes its notoriety to events on a December night 15 years ago when a group of Bhumihar landlords and retainers moved through the village's narrow lanes, stabbing and shooting.
"It was about 8pm and I was sleeping. I hid and saw them kill my daughter, daughter-in-law and wife," said Lakshman Rajwan Si, 70.
All the villagers were from the lowest castes and almost all were landless labourers. The attackers came from a nearby upper-caste hamlet and were known to many of their victims.
"They had torches. I saw their faces. We had worked in their fields even that very evening. I told the police and the court," said Si, who still earns a meagre living working the fields of the local Bhumihars.
Twenty-six men were eventually charged with murder but then acquitted. Many were members of the Ranvir Sena. Their acquittal – on the grounds of a lack of reliable evidence – angered the villagers in Lakshman Bathe. "The decision was a massacre of justice," said Asok Kumar, 40.
Most in Lakshman Bathe see the court case as further evidence of systematic discrimination. They have yet to get electricity, though upper-caste villages have a meagre supply, and are denied the services of the infrequent local health visits. The dominance in the Indian judiciary of higher castes means bias, they say. Others believe that, with the incumbent chief minister of Bihar now seeking votes among the upper castes such as the Bhumihars before national elections, due in spring, the acquittal was political.
In private, villagers express their support for the Maoists, who, they say, "defend the poor"; in public, they voice their fears of renewed violence in a cycle of tit-for-tat killings that has followed the murder of Pandey.
Sunina Devi, who lost seven members of her family in the massacre 15 years ago, said: "If they killed 58, they can kill more. For these seven who died [in Pisai], they will take 70."
In Pisai, too, there is fear of violence. Relatives of Pandey talk of the Maoist campaign of violence against largely upper-caste policemen and landlords and describe the killings of 37 Bhumihars in 1992, in an attack that prompted the creation of the Ranvir Sena.
The difficulty of identifying the Maoists would not prevent the taking of retaliatory action, Pandey's nephew Singh explained, as other targets could be found.
"We have to do something that will act as a deterrent. If no action is taken to protect us, then the Ranvir Sena may have to come once again," he said.
Caste system breakdown
The origins of the caste system are contested. Many maintain that they lie in 3,000-year-old texts central to the Hindu religion. These outline four ranked varna, or rough occupational groups, with the Brahmin at the top and the Shudra, or service providers and artisans, at the bottom.
This hierarchy, reinforced by ritual concepts of pollution and purity, has been increasingly challenged in recent decades, through constitutional law and affirmative action programmes, as well as by "lower" castes themselves and by broader social change.
It has also been challenged by new scholarship, which stresses the role of colonial administrators and experts in codifying caste, a word first used locally by the Portuguese colonists.
British officials are blamed for reducing a multitude of hugely complex, dynamic and varied communities, or jati, to a simple system with a hierarchy that suited their own Victorian values and the vested interests of the Brahmin scholars who helped them decipher the ancient texts.
Some scholars now suggest the effective status of a caste has always been determined by social and economic factors, and legitimised only by reference to beliefs in rebirth or destiny. They prefer to talk of "socially dominant castes" rather than "upper castes".
There are also some who argue that caste has now become a useful identity for effectively mobilising deprived groups, bringing a new edge to their claims for a fairer share of India's growing wealth.
It is sometimes said that caste now matters in India only when people get married or vote. The matrimonial and personal-page adverts in the Times of India certainly reveal the desire of middle-class Indians to marry others of their caste, and winning elections – particularly in north India – still depends on creating coalitions of castes that vote as blocs.
But though it may be true that caste is disappearing as a social marker in urban areas, eroded by the range of social contacts that comes with living in a city, socially dominant (or upper) castes still retain their hold on many key institutions and in areas such as the media. And in rural areas, at least, caste prejudice continues to blight the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of millions.
December 18, 2013
After Bangladesh Factory Collapse, Bleak Struggle for Survivors
By JIM YARDLEY
SAVAR, Bangladesh — Inside the single room he shares with his wife and young child, Hasan Mahmud Forkan does not sleep easily. Some nights he hears the screams of the garment workers he tried to rescue from the wreckage of the Rana Plaza factory building. Or he dreams the bed itself is collapsing, sucking him down into a bottomless void.
A few miles away, at a rehabilitation center for the disabled, Rehana Khatun is learning to walk again. She lost both legs in the Rana Plaza collapse and worries that she is not improving because her prosthetic replacements are bulky and uncomfortable. She is only 20 and once hoped to save money so she could return to her village and pay for her own wedding.
“No, I don’t have that dream anymore,” she said, with a cold pragmatism more than self-pity. “How can I take care of a family?”
Eight months ago, the collapse of Rana Plaza became the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, and many of the survivors still face an uncertain future. The shoddily constructed building pancaked down onto workers stitching clothes for global brands like Children’s Place, Benetton, C & A, Primark and many others. Workers earning as little as $38 a month were crushed under tons of falling concrete and steel. More than 1,100 people died and many others were injured or maimed.
But while the Rana Plaza disaster stirred an international outcry — and shamed many international clothing companies into pledging to help finance safety improvements in other Bangladeshi factories — the people most directly affected are still living without any guarantees of help or financial compensation.
Families who lost the wages of a son or daughter, husband or wife, are struggling.
Those who lost limbs, like Ms. Khatun, are uncertain if they will ever walk or hold things again. And many volunteer rescuers like Mr. Forkan and survivors are struggling to deal with debilitating emotional scars.
Today, Rana Plaza no longer exists. It is a gaping hole in a busy commercial street, mostly cleared of rubble, where rainwater has pooled into a small black lake. But the vacant space still exerts the potency of memory and loss. Banners demanding justice face the street. Sit-ins or small protests are sometimes held. Leftist parties have built a crude statue of a hammer and sickle.
There are also people, often hovering near the periphery, clutching official documents, proof of their loss, evidence of their claims for compensation. In a poor country like Bangladesh, a job in a garment factory, despite the low wages, is a financial toehold for many families. A daughter is sent to work to support her parents, or to pay to school her siblings.
Now it is the parents or siblings who come to the Rana Plaza site, trying to get attention and, they hope, financial assistance.
“We are a poor family,” said Monju Ara, 40, whose daughter Smriti, 17, died while working on the third floor of Rana Plaza. “That is why my daughter had to start work. Her wages helped us educate our younger children. Now we had to stop educating them.”
Ms. Monju Ara stood in a dirt alleyway beside the Rana Plaza site on a recent afternoon, as others soon appeared. One girl, Rahima, 9, was still carrying a “missing” poster for her brother. Another child, Smriti Mahmuda, 7, had lost her father, and her 15-year-old brother had taken a job in an embroidery factory to support the family. A rickshaw driver with the single name of Alauddin, 43, is now struggling to support his young daughter after his wife died in Rana Plaza.
“They always say I will get compensation,” he said, “but they don’t say when.”
Compensation remains a complicated and contested issue. Bangladesh’s government has made some modest short-term compensation payments to some victims. Families were given a one-time payment of $257 when they collected the body of a relative in the days after the collapse, and the government has established annuities for survivors who lost limbs — Ms. Khatun gets about $206 a month in interest, more than most others.
But much of the money donated to the government for the survivors and the families of the dead has not been released. Many of these claimants have been told that full compensation packages will be provided after the process of identifying all the dead is completed. A special committee appointed by the Bangladesh High Court has suggested individual compensation packages of roughly $25,000; lobbyists for factory owners are proposing a far lower figure. The final decision is expected to rest with the high court.
For now, most of the short-term compensation has come from the British chain Primark, which has been paying salaries for survivors and families of those who died. More recently, Loblaw, a Canadian retailer, announced that it, too, would step in to help with compensation.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the powerful industry trade group, has also provided compensation, according to some survivors who received a few months’ salary.
But the long-term picture remains muddled. Other companies have so far refused to participate in a long-term compensation package, including all of the American brands, but for many Rana Plaza survivors, the short-term compensation is already running out. Shukrani, who survived the collapse but lost a daughter, who was working on a different floor, is almost out of money.
“My other daughter had appendicitis,” she said. “I had to spend part of my money for her operation. Now I don’t know how I’ll survive.”
Down the road from Rana Plaza, at the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, Ms. Khatun and others spend their mornings trying to learn how to walk or hold a pen with prosthetics. The nonprofit organization has a long history of helping the disabled and is now helping several Rana Plaza survivors learn how to use the prosthetics provided by another donor.
But the prosthetics are a problem: One man, Saddam Hossain, 27, who was a salesman in a building adjacent to Rana Plaza, lost his right arm. He had been studying for a graduate degree in economics and, after his amputation, still took the test in June, with someone else writing his answers for him. Now he is trying to adjust to his mechanical prosthetic arm, which is clumsier than Western models.
“I’m an educated man,” he said. “I want to do a job.”
Ms. Khatun is grateful for her prosthetic legs but is also struggling with them. She has practiced for two months but finds them painful. Her legs were amputated above the knee, making it more difficult. She will need walking sticks, and she has decided to leave the chaos of the city and return to her village. There, though, the roads are muddy and difficult to traverse.
She had left the village after her mother tried to arrange her marriage. The cost of a wedding would have bankrupted her family, so she came to Savar and found work in Rana Plaza. She thought she could save up to pay for her own wedding and also educate her younger brothers.
“I dreamed that I could see my mother smiling,” she said. “Now it is meaningless to talk about what my dreams are. I cannot lead a life like normal people. I will have an unusual, different life.”
Before the Rana Plaza disaster, many of the workers were already living on the margins. Few had much education and most struggled to get by on the low wages. They were not qualified to do much else but work in a sewing factory. But now, for many, merely stepping back into a factory incites anxiety.
Mohammad Ujjal Hossain, 30, spent three days trapped under a wall of fallen concrete. When rescuers found him, he handed them his cellphone and told them to call his mother to tell her he was alive.
“Now, I’m not doing anything,” he said.
“I went to a factory to work as a line chief. I worked for a day, but I was filled with fear when I was inside the building. I worried that this building would also collapse. I quit after that day.”
And of all those whose lives are now entwined with Rana Plaza, it is the volunteer rescuers, ordinary people who rushed forward in a crisis, who have received no financial help at all. Mr. Forkan, 37, spent three weeks helping firefighters and soldiers pull bodies out of the rubble. He crawled into the wreckage and freed one woman by cutting an iron rod that pierced deep into her leg.
But when it was over, Mr. Forkan found it difficult to return to his ordinary life.
He is an electrician and regularly works in dangerous situations. But he finds it difficult to concentrate. He deliberately avoids the Rana Plaza site, detouring around it, and his wife often has to wake him when he shouts in his sleep.
“We need proper treatment to return to a normal life,” he said, expressing concern about what would happen to his family if he could no longer work. “This is my only way to earn money.”
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.
Chinese journalists face Marxist ideology exam
Exam to be based on 700-page manual that prohibits published reports from featuring comments that go against party line
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing and agencies
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 December 2013 12.13 GMT
Chinese journalists will have to pass a new ideology exam early next year to keep their press cards, in what reporters say is another example of the ruling Communist party's increasing control over the media under President Xi Jinping.
It is the first time reporters have been required to take such a test en masse, state media have said. The exam will be based on a 700-page manual peppered with directives such as "it is absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any comments that go against the party line", and "the relationship between the party and the news media is one of leader and the led".
Some reporters say the impact of the increased control in the past year has been chilling. "The tightening is very obvious in newspapers that have an impact on public opinion. These days there are lots of things they aren't allowed to report," a journalist at a current affairs magazine said.
China has also intensified efforts to curb the work of foreign news organisations. The New York Times Company and Bloomberg News have not been given new journalist visas for more than a year after they published stories about the wealth of relatives of the former premier Wen Jiabao and Xi .
On Thursday, China's foreign ministry granted Bloomberg journalists and some New York Times reporters press accreditation, allowing them to proceed with the visa application process.
"We hope this development means the New York Times reporters still awaiting their press cards will be given them soon, and all the reporters whose visa procedure is still underway will be issued with 2014 residence visas," Peter Ford, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, said in a statement.
The General Administration of Press and Publication, a key media regulator, has said via state media that the aim of the exam and accompanying training is to "increase the overall quality of China's journalists and encourage them to establish socialism as their core system of values". It did not respond to questions from Reuters about the exam or press freedom in China.
Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have allowed greater media commercialisation and limited increases in editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media, have weakened government control, according to academics.
Even within the party, interpretations of the media's ideal role in Chinese society vary. "Supervision by the press is conducive not only to the struggle against corruption, but also to social progress," Yu Keping, deputy president of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB), said on Thursday at the Caixin Summit, a high-profile gathering of politics and economics experts organized by an influential Chinese magazine. The bureau is responsible for "translating and researching classical Marxist works," according to the official webpage china.org.cn.
"There are preconditions for the press to make contributions to social progress," he added. "One is independence – the press should not be attached to powerful organisations."
Yet China media watchers point to a flurry of editorials after Xi spoke to propaganda officials in August as evidence of concern within the party that control over public discourse was slipping. The official Beijing Daily described the party's struggle to win hearts and minds as a "fight to the death".
Some reporters and academics, however, trace the start of the tougher attitude to a strike lasting several days in January by journalists at an outspoken newspaper, the Southern Weekly, after censors scrapped a new year editorial calling for China to enshrine constitutional rights. Xi had taken over the Communist party only several weeks earlier.
"This was a shock to Xi Jinping's leadership [circle]," said Xiao Qiang, a China media expert at the University of California at Berkeley. "They own these newspapers. That makes it an internal, public rebellion, which made the censorship and media control mechanism look really bad."
The strike ended after local propaganda officials promised to take a lighter hand with censorship. Some senior reporters have since left the paper, according to two sources. The Southern Weekly declined to comment.
Journalists will have to do a minimum 18 hours of training on topics including Marxist news values and socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as journalism ethics, before sitting the exam in January or February. Reporters who fail the test will have to resit the exam and undergo the training again. It is not clear what happens to reporters who refuse to take it.
In theory all reporters in China need a press card to report, though Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said many did without one. Zhan said recent scandals in the Chinese media had raised some questions about the industry's professionalism.
A reporter for the Guangzhou-based New Express tabloid was arrested in October after confessing on state television to accepting bribes for fabricating more than a dozen stories about Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co Ltd. The reporter wrote that Zoomlion had engaged in sales fraud and exaggerated its profits, accusations strongly denied by the state-owned construction equipment maker.
"It's hard to say if this is really to improve the actions of journalists or to control them. You don't know what [the authorities] are thinking," Zhan said.
Reporters had little doubt about the aim of the exam. "The purpose of this kind of control is just to wear you down, to make you feel like political control is inescapable," said a reporter for a newspaper in the booming southern city of Guangzhou.
December 19, 2013
South Korean Cyberwarfare Unit Accused of Political Meddling
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — The Defense Ministry in South Korea said Thursday that at least 11 officials at its cyberwarfare unit, created four years ago to fight North Korean propaganda, had spread 2,100 online political messages attacking the domestic opponents of President Park Geun-hye ahead of her election a year ago.
Military investigators asked prosecutors to indict the officials on charges of violating a law that bans public servants from meddling in domestic politics, the chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Baek Nak-jong, said at a news conference. But he said his team had found no evidence that the cyberwarfare specialists tried to influence the result of the election, which Ms. Park won by a margin of a million votes.
The opposition Democratic Party called the military investigation a whitewash designed to prevent political fallout against Ms. Park.
The Defense Ministry started an investigation two months ago after the opposition claimed that not only the country’s National Intelligence Service but also its military had conducted an aggressive online smear campaign to undermine the popularity of Ms. Park’s opponents to help her win the election.
Intelligence officials, including a former head of the spy agency, are on trial on charges of running a team of agents who prosecutors said posted thousands of political messages on blogs and spread 1.2 million Twitter messages to try to sway public opinion in favor of Ms. Park ahead of the election.
The agents praised government policies while ridiculing Ms. Park’s opposition rivals as untrustworthy, pro-North Korean sympathizers, prosecutors said. Ms. Park, who won the election as the candidate of the governing conservative Saenuri Party a year ago Thursday, has denied directing or benefiting from the campaign. Her approval ratings remain relatively high at 54.8 percent, according to a survey conducted in the second week of December by Realmeter, a Seoul-based pollster.
But her first year in office has been marked by a standoff with the opposition over its allegation that an illegal smear campaign had helped her win the election.
In recent weeks, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and other religious groups have issued separate statements demanding that Ms. Park resign, saying that her election was illegal. Ms. Park’s office and her party dismissed the demands, calling the religious figures involved radical demagogues.
Since the military’s cyberwarfare command was begun in January 2010, General Baek, said it spread 280,000 messages through Twitter, blogs and other Internet sites. Most were used to counter what South Korea considered North Korean propaganda on the Internet, such as Pyongyang’s denial of involvement in the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010 that killed 46 sailors, he said.
But General Baek said that the cyberwarfare officials had violated their political neutrality in 15,000 messages, and that 2,100 of them were used to attack Ms. Park’s political opponents. One such message called Ms. Park’s main rival — the opposition party’s presidential candidate Moon Jae-in — “not qualified to become the top commander of the military,” accusing him of trying to cede a disputed western sea border to North Korea.
General Baek said the military was considering reprimanding the current commander of the cyberwarfare unit and his immediate predecessor for a lack of oversight. But he said the two commanders were not directly involved in the alleged political intervention — a finding the opposition party called a whitewash. One of the commanders, Yeon Jae-wook, who led the unit until October last year, is now a senior military aide in Ms. Park’s presidential office.
The scandals involving the National Intelligence Service and the military have deeply divided the country. Conservative supporters of Ms. Park defend them for fighting what they fear is a growing North Korean attempt to use the Internet to spread Communist propaganda. They accuse the opposition of exaggerating the significance of the alleged wrongdoing to undermine Ms. Park’s authority.
Opposition lawmakers cited the alleged smear campaigns as proof that conservatives were returning to “security politics,” the practice of the past military dictators, including Ms. Park’s father, former President Park Chung-hee, who were accused of using threats about North Korea as an excuse to discredit and suppress domestic political enemies.
South Sudan rebels control Jonglei state capital, says military
Officials in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, are believed to have defected as violence spreads after alleged coup attempt
Agencies in Kampala
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 December 2013 08.49 GMT
South Sudan's military says it no longer controls a key town in the rural state of Jonglei, where fighting has spread in the aftermath of what the government says was an attempted coup mounted by soldiers loyal to a former deputy president.
Authorities in the state capital of Bor were not answering their phones, leading the central government to believe they had defected, the military's spokesman, Philip Aguer, said. "We lost control of Bor to the rebellion,"
There were reported gunfights in Bor overnight as renegade officers tried to wrest control of the town from loyalist forces, he added.
Citing figures from the South Sudan Red Cross, a spokesman for the UN secretary general's office said at least 19 civilians had been killed in Bor. He said tensions were also on the rise in Unity and Upper Nile states.
Ethnic rivalry is threatening to tear apart the world's newest country, with the clashes apparently pitting soldiers from the majority Dinka tribe of the president, Salva Kiir, against those from the Nuer ethnic group of the ousted vice-president Riek Machar.
The government said on Wednesday that at least 500 people, most of them soldiers, had been killed since the alleged coup attempt on Sunday. At least 700 more have been wounded, according to the information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth.
The Ugandan government said on Thursday that the UN had asked Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, to mediate between the rival factions. A spokesman said a Ugandan minister would join an east African mediation effort to South Sudan announced by the African Union.
Although Juba, the South Sudanese capital where the alleged coup was mounted, has since become calm, violence appears to be spreading to other parts of the oil-rich east African nation.
Tensions have been mounting in South Sudan since Kiir fired Machar as his deputy in July. Machar has said he will contest the presidency in 2015.
Machar is the subject of a manhunt by the military after he was identified by Kiir as the leader of the alleged coup attempt. He has denied the allegation.
Kiir told a news conference in Juba late on Wednesday that he was willing to enter talks with Machar, a rival for power within the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said on Wednesday that South Sudan was experiencing a political crisis that "urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue". Ban said he had urged Kiir to resume dialogue with the opposition.
South Sudan has been plagued by ethnic violence since it broke away peacefully from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
12/18/2013 04:51 PM
Masked Army: Jihadist Group Expands Rapidly in Syria
By Christoph Reuter
A murderous Islamist group called ISIS is obstructing Syrian rebels in their battle against President Bashar Assad's regime. The Free Syrian Army seems barely able to put up a fight in the face of their brutal tactics.
The sender was unidentified, but the young engineer knew who the email was from as soon as he opened the attachment. Beneath a picture of the brutally mutilated corpse of Muhannad Halaibna, a civil rights activist known throughout the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, was a single sentence: "Are you sad now about your friend?"
Mere hours later, the engineer and 20 other members of the Syrian opposition -- doctors, city council members and activists -- escaped from Raqqa into Turkey. They weren't fleeing Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, but a new and terrible power that has no face and goes by many names. The official name of this al-Qaida branch, which has broken away from Osama Bin Laden's successors, is the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). "Daaisch" is the most common abbreviation of the group's name in Syria. "But we call them the Army of Masks," says Basil, the engineer who fled the country, "because their men rarely show their faces. They dress in black, with their faces covered."
In addition to civil rights activist Halaibna, the group's thugs have kidnapped hundreds of others in Raqqa, where Assad's army was driven out back in March. The jihadists seized the chair of the city council, the heads of the civilian opposition, an Italian Jesuit and six European journalists. Anyone who opposes the ISIS fighters, or who is simply considered an unbeliever, disappears.
ISIS maintains four prisons for holding its hostages in this area alone. And Raqqa was only the beginning. In the last four months, the jihadist group, which was still essentially unknown in Syria at the start of this year, has seized control of several cities, as well as strategically important roads, oil fields and granaries.
What is currently taking place in the north and northeast of the country could bring about the worst case scenario: Syria's disintegration. This is not because the Syrian rebels are eager al-Qaida supporters -- as Assad's propaganda has claimed since the spring of 2011 -- but because people are exhausted after three years of destruction and don't have much energy left to oppose the jihadists' rapid expansion.
War on Two Fronts
For two years, the United States and Europe's constant mantra was to deny military support for the Syrian rebels, because there were radicals among them and weapons could fall into the wrong hands. Thus the Syrian rebels, left largely to their own devices, faced a murderous stalemate in the fight against Assad's military machinery, which is backed by Russia and Iran.
Many voices warned against the ignorance of such policies, SPIEGEL among them. "The longer the outside world fails to help, the more likely it is that others will fill the gap, possibly including al-Qaida," argued one commentary published in August 2012, titled "Civil War in Syria: The High Price of Hesitation." Now precisely that commentary's prediction -- "confusion and delusions on the part of governments can produce exactly the thing that they wanted to prevent" -- seems to have come to pass.
The balance of power among the rebels has shifted. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has steadily shrunk while waiting in the vain hope of military aid from the US. Back when the number of foreign fighters in Syria was still very low, Washington didn't want to support the rebels because of the possibility that al-Qaida might get involved. As a result of that inaction, al-Qaida is now there.
The rebels are being ground down by a war fought on two fronts, with Assad in front and the jihadists behind. To make matters worse, Washington and London now plan to discontinue their meager support of the rebels entirely.
Taking Advantage of Disorganized Rebels
With a force of around 7,000 men, in mid-September ISIS stormed the town of Azaz, in northwestern Syria. Shortly thereafter, they attacked the border town Jarabulus, 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the east, as well as the cities of Dana, Tarib, Binnish, al-Bab and even parts of Aleppo -- all areas that until then had been controlled by local rebels.
Hundreds of people who had managed to more or less maintain infrastructure and a justice system in these liberated areas have fled from al-Qaida to Turkey in recent months. These are the same people who were previously persecuted by the regime in Damascus.
Few dare to stand up to the masked army. When a convoy of ISIS pickup trucks mounted with machine guns rolled into the town of Turmanin in late November, not a shot was fired. The jihadists occupied the town's largest building and set up roadblocks.
With their combination of centralized leadership, brutality and bribery, ISIS has zeroed in on the Syrian rebels' Achilles' heel -- their lack of unity. One eyewitness says that when ISIS attacked the border town of Azaz, the leaders of the major rebel groups in northern Syria convened to discuss whether or not to help the beleaguered FSA unit there fight back.
"No," the leader of the Tawhid Brigade -- the largest group in Aleppo, with around 12,000 fighters -- finally decided, declaring that the group could not afford to open a second front as long as the fight against Assad required all its resources. Instead, the Tawhid Brigade's leaders negotiated a ceasefire -- which lasted only as long as it took ISIS to gather enough masked fighters to subdue the small city for good.
ISIS Attacks Intensified in Fall
The group's forward march began quietly, a result of an internal al-Qaida power struggle. In April, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq, decreed that his commands would now apply to Syria as well. The jihadists of the al-Nusra Front, whose beginnings lie somewhere in the murky depths of several attacks orchestrated by the regime, disagreed, saying they were subject only to commands issued by Ayman al-Zawahiri, official successor to Osama Bin Laden. But Zawahiri's words, issued from the isolated mountains of western Pakistan, no longer carry much weight. Nearly all the foreign al-Nusra fighters who have infiltrated the country to date have now switched allegiances, joining al-Baghdadi's forces.
As recently as this summer, these foreign ISIS jihadists, who travel into the country via Turkey, were just one force among many in northern Syria. The first abductions occurred, but ISIS did not yet control the roads. The foreign Islamists one met were mainly just bizarre encounters. Take the example of a scene that occurred in one of the last restaurants in the mountains of Latakia, where a group of young Saudi Arabians sat at a table. Wearing an explosive belt complete with a cable and a red plastic switch that he was toying with, one long-haired young man stood up, declaring, "If I push this, boom! Hee hee."
These men seemed threatening, yes, but also more crazy than organized.
That changed this fall, as the ISIS units' attacks grew appreciably more coordinated and better prepared. In Raqqa, they dealt with the small rebel groups one after another. When one FSA brigade refused to acquiesce to ISIS, the jihadists sent four suicide bombers in succession to their headquarters.
Elsewhere, the reputation ISIS had acquired in Raqqa was enough to subdue other competing rebel groups. When an ISIS convoy rolled into the city of al-Bab, the masked fighters told local rebels they only wanted to drive through the city en route to the front in Aleppo. But they had barely reached the center of town before the masked men jumped down from their pickup trucks and occupied the city center without any considerable resistance. "It was like a movie," recalls one witness. "All these monstrous figures in black."
Lack of Resistance Hard to Explain
Once ISIS has established itself, as it did in al-Bab, the local emir begins issuing a constant stream of new decrees, the witness continues. "First it was that women were only allowed on the streets in an abaya" -- an ankle-length outer robe -- "then no one was allowed to be outside during prayer time. Then smoking was forbidden, and recently music as well. Now they check weddings to make sure no music is being played. They're worse than the regime."
It is hard to explain why people who rose up against the destructive power of Assad's fighter jets are now collapsing when faced with a band of masked murderers. "Against Assad, things were clearer," one person who fled Aleppo says in an attempt to explain. "Everyone knew why we opposed him. Now it's less clear. Have the Americans come to help us? The Europeans? No one came except the jihadists, who say they are our brothers."
There are also rumors that the ISIS terrorists actually work for Assad, but they make a concerted effort not to be perceived as a fifth column of the regime. Occasionally a few of them will engage in a skirmish against the army, for example in early August, when two ISIS suicide bombers assisted in the capture of a military airport near Aleppo. But the bulk of the group's fighting capabilities are applied to bringing towns and areas in the rebels' sphere of influence under their control.
In return, Assad's regime doesn't challenge ISIS. In Raqqa, the group has taken up headquarters in the governor's palace, a massive complex that's hard to miss. Yet Assad's air force has never attacked the building, nor any other ISIS-held buildings in or around Raqqa.
The ISIS fighters follow a carefully conceived strategy that encompasses everything from minor aspects, such as the frightening way they mask their faces, to a chain of command capable of mobilizing units from all parts of the north within hours if one of its local groups encounters difficulties.
Porous Border Crossing
The Islamists' hostage-taking strategy, though, presents a puzzle. When Mónica García Prieto, wife of Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa, who was abducted north of Raqqa in mid-September, spoke publicly about her husband's capture last week for the first time, she described circumstances that apply to all ISIS hostages. There has been "no sign of life, no ransom demand, no answer, nothing." The total of around 30 foreigners who have been captured, as well as most of the abducted Syrians, have been neither ransomed nor killed by the Islamists, but rather kept for some unknown later purpose.
The identity of ISIS strategists also remains obscure. Contrary to the common perception that al-Qaida members from Iraq with considerable military experience form the group's backbone, Iraqis make up only a small group within the multi-national terrorist organization.
One of ISIS' few defectors told SPIEGEL that of 2,650 foreign fighters under ISIS command in the "Emirate of Aleppo," one third are Tunisians, who make up the largest group. This is followed at a far second by Saudi Arabians, Turks and Egyptians, and only then Chechens, Dagestanis, Iraqis, Indonesians and a few Europeans. In total, the defector said, there are around 5,000 foreigners in ISIS, along with 2,000 Syrians.
Under American pressure, the Turkish government recently announced it would take action against those crossing its border with Syria to join ISIS' ranks. Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu called for closer cooperation with Western intelligence services to determine who exactly is entering the country.
More Syrians Flee as Jihadists Arrive
Yet a glance at the passenger lists of flights operated by Turkey's two airlines into the airport in Hatay, in southern Turkey, would suffice to obtain that information. Until late this fall, Tunisians, Chechens, Egyptians and Saudi Arabians traveled in and out unchallenged through this convenient al-Qaida tourism hub. They were easy to spot, arriving with heavy luggage and being picked up at the airport, then standing in line at the check-in counter when they left again. But no one asked questions, and no one stopped them. Even a group of Chechen jihadists, who later bragged in Syria that they were wanted by Interpol, flew in via Hatay.
A Turkish government representative vehemently denied to the British Daily Telegraph that his government was "turning a blind eye" as jihadists slipped over the border, saying, "Unless we are given information that these people are al-Qaida members, people from a terrorist organisation, what legal basis do we have to stop them if they travel on a valid passport?"
The jihadists are coming and the Syrians are going -- 160 kilometers east of the border crossing, the civil rights activists who fled Raqqa are now stranded in the Turkish city of Urfa. The rent for their temporary housing is being paid by a doctor who emigrated from Raqqa to Norway.
They don't want to stay here permanently, but most of them have given up hope of returning home. "We liberated ourselves from Assad, only to be hunted down by lunatics? No." They want to go to Sweden or Germany. "It doesn't matter where, as long as it's away," one man says.
With reporting by Abdulkader al-Dhun. Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.
12/19/2013 01:03 PM
Taking Responsibility: France Seeks Help for Africa Intervention
Despite its financial troubles, France remains committed to an expensive military intervention in the Central African Republic. Now the country is looking to its European partners, chiefly Germany, to support the operation.
Bernard Kouchner can't get the images of massacred women and children out of his mind. The co-founder of the organization Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, was in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, when some 800,000 people were killed in less than 100 days.
Later, as the French foreign minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, Kouchner fought for what he calls the "right to humanitarian intervention." In Rwanda the international community stood idly by while the slaughter continued. But France has learned from its mistakes, and Kouchner now says that he is filled with "pride" that 1,600 French soldiers marched into the Central African Republic last week. "The population wants us to help them," he argues. In the capital of Bangui alone, up to 500 civilians were killed within just a few days. "We cannot allow that," Kouchner says.
At stake here are "human rights, human lives," he says, along with security -- "for all of us." He contends that France has a "responsibility there," and is living up to this, "in contrast to the Germans."
Paris and Berlin are at opposite poles on foreign and security policy. Their positions resemble the economic situation, only in reverse. Germany is the economic giant, but when it comes to military operations, it runs for cover and allows France, and occasionally the United Kingdom, to risk an intervention -- and, above all, to cover the costs.
The mission in the Central African Republic is expected to cost between €400-€500 million ($550-$690 million). That's a lot of money for France, which has been hard hit by the euro crisis. Indeed, last week French President François Hollande urged other European Union member states to assume some of the costs. A number of countries have already indicated their support. "The French demands are justified," says Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
France Wants Financial Help
What's more, on Thursday the EU's 28 heads of state and government plan to meet in Brussels to discuss -- for the first time in five years -- the future of the "common security and defense policy," as it's called in the Lisbon Treaty. But the title is hardly worth the paper that it's printed on.
Yes, the EU is training soldiers in Somalia and Mali, and yes, it is protecting ships against pirates on the Horn of Africa. Yet whenever it needs to rapidly respond to a crisis, Europe fails to deliver.
Nonetheless, the EU has already had a rapid reaction force in place for the past 10 years. These two battalion-sized units are called "battle groups." They are constantly training and can be deployed within 10 days, but have never seen military action.
When military leaders in Brussels are asked why that is, they point the finger at politicians. Nobody wants to deploy the battle groups, they say. "There is a clear necessity on a political level to respond more rapidly to crises, including militarily," says Lieutenant General Wolfgang Wosolsobe, the head of the EU's military staff.
It has always been the French government that presses for military action -- in Libya, Mali and Syria -- and in two out of these three situations France acted on its own because the other EU countries could not reach an agreement. Now Paris is asking the other countries to pay the bill for their inaction.
'Time to Act'
No country has sent troops to Africa as often as the French. For over half a century, Paris has fought a series of wars, battles and skirmishes between Algiers and Cape Town. Hardly a year has passed without the French launching an operation in Africa, where their soldiers fought and died.
Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic is France's 39th African mission since Paris granted independence to nearly all of its colonies in 1960. In overnight fighting on Tuesday last week, two French soldiers died near Bangui airport. Now paratroopers and Foreign Legionnaires are patrolling the streets.
Some 460,000 people have fled the fighting in the Central African Republic, meaning that one-tenth of the population is seeking refuge from the bands of Seleka rebels. Last March, the rebels toppled the president -- who was supported by France -- but now refuse to lay down their weapons. Most of the rebels are Muslim, and are clashing with primarily Christian, civilian militias called the anti-balaka.
"Why are we here? Why are we in Mali?", Hollande asked his soldiers when he made a stopover at Bangui airport on his return flight from Nelson Mandela's funeral. Because it is time "to act," he said.
The president, who was evidently tired from his flight to Johannesburg and back, didn't sound genuinely convinced. The French army will spend weeks, even months in this country, taking Kalashnikovs away from inebriated young men.
A History of Intervention
Yet Paris is there because the government is responsible for decades of corruption and mismanagement in the former colony, and because it is afraid of standing on the sidelines and helplessly witnessing another genocide like the one in Rwanda. The French are also here because failing states with a sizable Muslim population attract arms smugglers and human traffickers, as the situation in Mali has shown.
After the end of the colonial era, France's policy on Africa was long driven by selfish motives. Former French President Charles de Gaulle pushed to leave as many military bases on the continent as possible. He established a network of secret connections to the new African strongmen. Paris offered them protection, and the politicians returned the favor with natural resources.
The leadership in Paris thus became the cronies of corrupt rulers who were responsible for poverty in many countries. But the role of protector gradually changed over time. National interests waned while humanitarian aid became an increasingly urgent priority.
In 2002, French soldiers placed themselves between warring factions in Ivory Coast's bitter civil war. In 2008, they defended Chad's dictator Idriss Déby against a rebel force -- not because they liked him, but to avoid chaos and bloodshed. In 2011, Sarkozy urged the world to attack Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
The operation in Mali under Sarkozy's successor Hollande focused for the first time on European security interests. France took military action against Islamists who had established a base in northern Mali. Berlin contributed two Transall transport aircraft to the operation and dispatched 40 military trainers to Bamako. France can't expect much more from the German government this time around, either.
Germany Offers Little Support
"It is constitutionally impossible to directly support France during its mission in the Central African Republic," says German State Secretary of Defense Christian Schmidt, a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). "We can offer air support -- nothing more."
This offer was conveyed to Paris last week. Chancellery and Defense Ministry officials reckon that Germany can entirely avoid deploying its own troops. Government sources argue that the UK and Belgium are already helping with the transport, and they say the German military, the Bundeswehr, is not needed.
It remains to be seen how the European Council will react this week when France holds out its hand. The French are even calling for the establishment of a permanent fund to finance missions abroad, but Berlin opposes this, as well.
This week Germany has remained aloof on the matter, downplaying the potential for providing financial assistance for the mission. On Wednesday French European Affairs Minister Thierry Repentin suggested that Germany and Britain would consider sending troops, which both countries denied. The same day, an anonymous senior German official said that according to European rules, countries should pay for their military missions themselves, news agency Reuters reported.
A Risky Venture
"The German government has to say: We won't pay here," says Hans-Peter Bartels, a defense expert from the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD). Bartels argues that France should have called for a vote on the mission beforehand, since central Africa is "not within the first circle of German security policy" interests.
In Germany, such missions are subject to parliamentary scrutiny, but in France the president can deploy troops on the ground without parliament's approval. A large number of French politicians believe that Berlin eagerly points to the need for a parliamentary mandate so it can rule out any German participation right from the start.
In contrast to the Americans, the French have been backing up their operations for years with mandates from the United Nations Security Council. Politicians in Paris are also aware of the inherent risks of France's latest military venture: The Central African Republic has essentially ceased to exist as a state, with no political parties, no free press, and a traumatized population.
"We are well aware," says Bernard Kouchner, "that the operation won't be a lawn game of boules."
BY JULIA AMALIA HEYER, JAN PUHL, GORDON REPINSKI AND CHRISTOPH SCHULT
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
Hosni Mubarak sons and ex-PM acquitted in corruption trial
Egyptian court clears Gamal and Alaa Mubarak and Ahmed Shafiq over sale of plot of land in 1995
Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Thursday 19 December 2013 11.36 GMT
An Egyptian court has acquitted the former president Hosni Mubarak's two sons and his last prime minister of corruption charges.
The Cairo criminal court found Gamal and Alaa Mubarak and Ahmed Shafiq innocent in a case that arose from the sale in 1995 of a plot of land to Mubarak's sons by an association led at the time by the former prime minister, judicial officials said.
Prosecutors claimed the land was sold to the two at a price lower than its market value. Also acquitted on Thursday were four retired generals who served as board members of the association.
Alaa, a wealthy businessman, and Gamal, his father's one-time heir apparent, are facing a separate trial on other corruption charges. They have been held in detention since April 2011, two months after their father resigned in the face of a popular uprising.
Shafiq, a career air force officer like Mubarak, has lived in exile abroad since he was narrowly defeated by Mohamed Morsi in a presidential runoff in June 2012. Security officials at Cairo's airport said standing instructions that Shafiq must be arrested on arrival at any of the country's entry ports had been repealed after Thursday's verdict, clearing the way for his return.
It is not clear whether Shafiq plans to resume his involvement in politics. Morsi was toppled in a popularly backed military coup on 3 July and is on trial for inciting murder while awaiting a separate trial on charges of conspiring with foreign militant groups.
Mubarak was sentenced to life in 2012 for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended his 29-year rule. He was acquitted on appeal and is now being retried.
December 18, 2013
Worry in Tunisia Over Youths Who Turn to Jihad
By CARLOTTA GALL
ZAGHOUAN, Tunisia — Hayet Saadi says the trouble with her son Aymen began more than a year ago, when he was just 16. He started attending the mosque five times a day, she said. Then he began talking of jihad, and of going to Syria to join the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In March, he skipped his high school exams and left home.
Finally, on Oct. 30, Ms. Saadi came home to find the police surrounding her house. A suicide bomber had blown himself up in Sousse, a seaside resort about an hour’s drive south. Another was caught before he could detonate his payload. The police confiscated the family’s computers and phones, and her husband spent the rest of the day at the police station. He called her later from there. “Yes, it is your child,” he told her. Aymen is now in prison.
In the weeks since the attack, Aymen’s trajectory from promising student to potential suicide bomber has shaken Tunisia, where the Islamist government has recently shown moderation by striking a compromise with its secular opponents. Homegrown suicide attacks, previously unheard-of here, are the latest sign of spreading radicalization among young people in a country that has become fertile ground for Islamist groups recruiting fighters for the conflicts convulsing the region.
For now, jihadist violence in Tunisia is on a low boil, with two political assassinations and 30 members of the security forces killed this year. But there is growing concern that hundreds of young volunteers have been recruited through a widening network of hard-line Salafist mosques and then trained to fight in Syria, with the potential to return home to cause more trouble, as Aymen and his companion did.
“Even if just 200 come back, that could cause real problems,” said Mehdi Taje, the director of Global Prospect Intelligence and a specialist on North Africa. And Syria is not the only place radicalized Tunisians have gone to fight. They have also been found with jihadist groups in Algeria, Iraq, Libya and Mali.
There is a precedent next door. Algerians who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces returned to fuel an Islamic movement and then a civil war at home that killed about 200,000 in the 1990s. Twenty years later Algeria is still dealing with insurgents, who have retreated into the desert.
The Tunisian police and army officials have warned of signs that Islamist insurgents may be laying the groundwork for an armed insurgency in their own country, which lies between Algeria and lawless Libya.
Since Tunisia began the Arab Spring almost three years ago by ousting its longtime dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had forcibly secularized the country, fundamentalist Salafist groups have sprouted in almost every town. They draw thousands of young men and women to their mosques, where they recruit volunteers ostensibly for missionary work in Tunisia, but also for jihad.
Some began vigilante attacks, including an assault in September 2012 on the United States Embassy in Tunis, days after the fatal attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya. In the spring, armed groups also appeared in the hills bordering Algeria, apparently remnants of insurgents retreating from the French intervention in Mali.
Tunisia’s top general, Rachid Ammar, warned in a television interview in June that militant Islamists lodged in the mountains on Tunisia’s western border were training quasi-military units and were set on overthrowing the Tunisian state and setting up Islamic rule.
“This is not terrorism, it’s a rebellion,” warned the general, who has since retired. “This is one of the stages of rebellion.”
The surge in youthful Salafist followers like Aymen was also evidence of a popular social movement. The Salafist mosques provide open spaces for inquiring youth who are lured by charismatic preachers offering a stirring mix of camaraderie and talk of holy war and self-sacrifice in the name of God.
Although most Salafists insist their activity is focused on educational and humanitarian causes, it is clear from dozens of interviews with families of the recruits, analysts and government officials that a growing number of young men are being drawn into militancy.
In August, the government outlawed one Salafist group, Ansar al-Shariah, as a terrorist threat. Led by men who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan — many of them released from prison since the start of the Arab Spring — the group has recruited criminals and smugglers, and it has also drawn many young recruits into its ranks, security officials say.
The Islamist government originally tried to woo the Salafists to its side, but as violence increased it began a crackdown aimed primarily at Ansar al-Shariah. The police say that since May they have smashed several cells of the group, detained 300 people suspected of being members, and killed or arrested its main military leaders. In October, six friends who were members were killed in a clash with security forces south of Tunis.
“We hit them very hard,” Mohammed Ali Aroui, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said in an interview. “Ansar al-Shariah is in the past now, you don’t see their signs or slogans or tents anywhere.” The group’s leader, Seifallah Ben Hassine, known as Abu Ayadh, is thought to have escaped to Libya, he said.
Under pressure, Ansar al-Shariah members have retreated underground, but recruiting for jihad continues, by Ansar al-Shariah and other groups, through mosques and religious associations. The volunteers are organized by a network of facilitators who supply money, cars and safe houses in various towns.
The recruits travel mostly through Libya, where they receive military training in camps in and around Benghazi. From there they fly to Turkey, which is the main access point for rebels entering Syria. The Tunisian police have set up border controls to stop anyone under 35 suspected of traveling for jihad. But Tunisia’s borders remain porous, as fighters and weapons cross to and from Libya.
Ms. Saadi says her son seems to have taken that route. Aymen, now 17, first tried to go to Syria in March when he left home, she said, but the police stopped him at one border check. In August, he took off again and was gone for over two months.
Aymen’s plan was always to go fight in Syria, but in Libya some jihadists ordered the two bombers to go back to Tunisia, his mother said. His mother learned of her son’s account from one of his prison wardens.
The Libyan jihadists, whose faces were masked, told the two youths that it was not the time to go to Syria. “The fight is in Tunisia right now, we want to create an emirate there,” they said. When the two youths showed some reluctance, the masked men insisted, saying they had no one else for the job. Government officials confirmed the account.
From the time Aymen started attending mosque regularly, it took barely 18 months until he was caught trying to blow himself up among a group of tourists at the tomb of Habib Bourguiba, the Tunisian postindependence leader, in the town of Monastir. His parents, a teacher at a primary school and an agricultural engineer, had hoped he would follow his older brother to university. He was good at math.
His mother did not blame the mosque for leading him astray. None of his school friends wanted to go to Syria, she added. She blamed other strangers, “older men and sheikhs with cars,” for influencing her son.
“It is a shame to call a young man a terrorist,” she said of her son. “I see that he is a victim, and the real big terrorists are still roaming on the streets and young men like my son can be influenced.”
The Economist’s country of the year
Earth’s got talent: Resilient Ireland, booming South Sudan, tumultuous Turkey: our country of the year is…
Dec 21st 2013
HUMAN life isn’t all bad, but it sometimes feels that way. Good news is no news: the headlines mostly tell of strife and bail-outs, failure and folly.
Yet, like every year, 2013 has witnessed glory as well as calamity. When the time comes for year-end accountings, both the accomplishments and the cock-ups tend to be judged the offspring of lone egomaniacs or saints, rather than the joint efforts that characterise most human endeavour. To redress the balance from the individual to the collective, and from gloom to cheer, The Economist has decided, for the first time, to nominate a country of the year.
But how to choose it? Readers might expect our materialistic outlook to point us to simple measures of economic performance, but they can be misleading. Focusing on GDP growth would lead us to opt for South Sudan, which will probably notch up a stonking 30% increase in 2013—more the consequence of a 55% drop the previous year, caused by the closure of its only oil pipeline as a result of its divorce from Sudan, than a reason for optimism about a troubled land. Or we might choose a nation that has endured economic trials and lived to tell the tale. Ireland has come through its bail-out and cuts with exemplary fortitude and calm; Estonia has the lowest level of debt in the European Union. But we worry that this econometric method would confirm the worst caricatures of us as flint-hearted number-crunchers; and not every triumph shows up in a country’s balance of payments.
Another problem is whether to evaluate governments or their people. In some cases their merits are inversely proportional: consider Ukraine, with its thuggish president, Viktor Yanukovych, and its plucky citizens, freezing for democracy in the streets of Kiev, even though nine years ago they went to the trouble of having a revolution to keep the same man out of office. Or remember Turkey, where tens of thousands protested against the creeping autocracy and Islamism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister-cum-sultan. Alas, neither movement has yet been all that successful.
Definitional questions creep in, too. One possible candidate, Somaliland, has kept both piracy and Islamic extremism at bay, yet on most reckonings it is not a country at all, rather a renegade province of Somalia—which has struggled to contain either. As well as countries yet to be, we might celebrate one that could soon disintegrate: the United Kingdom, which hasn’t fared too badly, all things considered, since coming into being in 1707, but could fracture in 2014 should the Scots be foolhardy enough to vote for secession.
And the winner is
When other publications conduct this sort of exercise, but for individuals, they generally reward impact rather than virtue. Thus they end up nominating the likes of Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Khomeini or, in 1938, Adolf Hitler. Adapting that realpolitikal rationale, we might choose Bashar Assad’s Syria, from which millions of benighted refugees have now been scattered to freezing camps across the Levant. If we were swayed by influence per head of population, we might plump for the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands, the clutch of barren rocks in the East China Sea that have periodically threatened to incite a third world war—though that might imply their independence, leading both China and Japan to invade us. Alternatively, applying the Hippocratic principle to statecraft, we might suggest a country from which no reports of harm or excitement have emanated. Kiribati seems to have had a quiet year.
But the accomplishments that most deserve commendation, we think, are path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world. Gay marriage is one such border-crossing policy, which has increased the global sum of human happiness at no financial cost. Several countries have implemented it in 2013—including Uruguay, which also, uniquely, passed a law to legalise and regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis. This is a change so obviously sensible, squeezing out the crooks and allowing the authorities to concentrate on graver crimes, that no other country has made it. If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced.
Better yet, the man at the top, President José Mujica, is admirably self-effacing. With unusual frankness for a politician, he referred to the new law as an experiment. He lives in a humble cottage, drives himself to work in a Volkswagen Beetle and flies economy class. Modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving, Uruguay is our country of the year. ¡Felicitaciones!
December 18, 2013
Bolivia Accuses U.S. of Aiding in an American’s Escape
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
LA PAZ, Bolivia — A top Bolivian government minister on Wednesday accused the United States of being behind the escape from house arrest of an American businessman facing money-laundering charges — potentially creating a new strain between the two countries.
The businessman, Jacob Ostreicher, who had spent 18 months in prison and a year under house arrest, apparently sneaked across the border into Peru sometime between Friday morning and Sunday. He flew from Lima to Los Angeles early Monday.
After his arrival, Mr. Ostreicher was in the company of the actor and director Sean Penn, who had visited him in Bolivia and championed his case.
Mr. Ostreicher’s escape was “planned, designed, executed, operationalized by the government of the United States,” Carlos Romero, the minister, told reporters. “We presume,” he added, that the United States Embassy was also involved.
The embassy denied the charges.
“Neither the United States Embassy nor the U.S. government had anything to do with Jacob Ostreicher leaving Bolivia,” said Larry L. Memmott, the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy. Mr. Memmott added, however, that Mr. Ostreicher contacted the United States Embassy in Lima after he arrived in Peru.
“We provided routine consular assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Lima to help him with his reservations and get him back” to the United States, Mr. Memmott said.
Bolivia and the United States have not had ambassadors in each other’s countries since 2008, when President Evo Morales, who has long had testy relations with the United States, threw out the American ambassador and Washington responded by expelling the Bolivian envoy. Mr. Memmott is the top American diplomat in the country.
Mr. Romero said that proof of American involvement could be found in an article in The New York Times that included comments attributed to unnamed sources, including an unidentified government official, who said that Mr. Ostreicher had left Bolivia with the help of a team of professionals experienced in such operations.
“It is clear,” he said, that these professionals “could be none other than officials of the C.I.A.”
As further evidence he pointed to a statement by the State Department on Monday that Mr. Ostreicher had arrived in the United States, as well as statements by Mr. Penn and Assemblyman Dov Hikind of New York on Mr. Ostreicher’s escape.
Mr. Ostreicher went to Bolivia several years ago to manage a rice-farming enterprise in which he had invested.
He was accused of laundering drug money and in June 2011 was sent to prison, although prosecutors never formally charged him. He was moved to house arrest last December, following appeals for his release by Mr. Penn. Mr. Ostreicher says he is innocent. His case led to the exposure of a ring of corrupt prosecutors and other government officials who had sought to extort him and other people accused of crimes.
In a statement sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Mr. Penn said: “A humanitarian operation has been carried out to extract Jacob from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering in Bolivia. Jacob is safe, well and receiving medical attention. He asks that his location remain private. I am with him and confirm all above.”
Joseph Berger contributed reporting from New York.