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« Reply #12210 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:37 AM »

2,000-Km March for 'Missing' nears End in Pakistan

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 12:01

After 2,000 grueling kilometers on the road, a band of families led by a 72-year-old are due to reach the end of their protest march over missing relatives in the Pakistani capital on Friday.

They are the relatives of people who have disappeared in Pakistan's troubled southwestern province Baluchistan, allegedly at the hands of the country's security services.

The marchers, led by a retired banker known as Mama (uncle) Qadir, hope to present a petition to U.N. officials in Islamabad and meet foreign diplomats to raise awareness of their cause.

"We want to tell (the world) that people are being kidnapped every day in Baluchistan, districts are being bombarded and almost every day we are receiving mutilated bodies," Qadir told Agence France Presse on the road close to Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city.

"We have no more hope in the Pakistani government, which is why we want to talk to international organisations, so they can apply pressure."

Qadir's son Jalil Reki, a member of the Baloch Republican Party which is suspected of links to the armed insurgency, was found shot dead in 2011 after going missing.

The marchers set out from the Baluchistan capital Quetta last October, walking first 700 kilometers to Karachi, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, before turning their steps northwards to Islamabad, nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Baluchistan, the size of Italy and rich in copper, gold and natural gas, is Pakistan's largest but least populous province.

It is also the least developed, which has exacerbated a long-running ethnic Baluch separatist movement that wants more autonomy and a greater share of its mineral wealth.

The latest armed insurgency rose up in 2004 and separatist groups still regularly attack Pakistani forces.

Rights groups accuse the military and intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing suspected Baluch rebels before leaving their bodies by the roadside.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have suffered this fate -- known as "kill and dump" -- in Baluchistan since January 2011.

The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.

The Supreme Court has also been investigating cases of missing people in Baluchistan, issuing warnings to the government to recover these people.

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Liberal newspaper Express Tribune cowed into silence by Pakistani Taliban

Media group opts for self-censorship on terrorism after Taliban admits murder of three employees for critical reports on militants

Jon Boone in Islamabad
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 07.00 GMT      

When it was launched four years ago, the Express Tribune set out to become the house newspaper of liberal-minded Pakistanis.

A newcomer to a market dominated by conservative-inclined papers, it made a point of writing about everything from the relentless rise of religious extremism to gay rights.

But in recent weeks the paper has been cowed into silence by an unusually blatant display of power by the Pakistani Taliban.

The paper was forced to drastically tone down its coverage last month after three employees of the media group, which includes another newspaper and television channel, were killed in Karachi by men armed with pistols and silencers on 17 January.

The attack was later claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a large coalition of militant groups, which accused the media group of disseminating anti-Taliban propaganda.

Immediately following the killings, the paper's editor, Kamal Siddiqi, sent an email to staff outlining the paper's new policy.

Henceforth there would be "nothing against any militant organisationand its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf", the rightwing party led by Imran Khan, that strongly opposes military operations against the TTP.

There would also be "nothing on condemning any terrorist attack", "nothing against TTP or its statements" and "no opinion piece/cartoon on terrorism, militancy, the military, military operations, terror attacks".

Reporters have been banned from describing a movement responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, soldiers and police as "outlawed" or "militant".

The terrorist attacks that rack the country on an almost daily basis are covered on the news pages, but are pared down.

"We do have exclusives, but we don't run them," Siddiqi said. "It's very frustrating at a personal level for all journalists. But we have decided that we won't do anything at least for the foreseeable future that will come back to haunt us."

Other changes include a more conservative approach to photographs of female models in the paper's lifestyle sections and weekend magazine.

Worst affected are the opinion pages. Once-feisty leader writers have almost entirely overlooked the near-continuous attacks that have rocked the country in recent weeks.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a regular columnist, said the muzzling of Pakistan's media was contributing to an "absolutely mesmerising information deficit" among the public.

"I said to the editor, 'what am I to do, start writing about cooking or films?' Because that's all that's left."

The killings followed a bomb and small-arms attack on the company's offices in Karachi in December. One reporter on the paper said the attacks had terrified many colleagues.

"The paper has an unusually young staff and a lot of the kids were pretty scared, with parents telling them they should quit," the staff writer said. "There were some people who said we should fight back, but they were a minority."

After the killings, a TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, was allowed to join by telephone a live discussion programme on the paper's sister television station, Express News.

He claimed responsibility for the killings, complained the company "was playing the role of propagandist in this war with the Taliban" and said it had ignored regular complaints he had emailed to the channel.

The TV show's host, Javed Chaudhry, promised that the station and newspaper would take pains to present the TTP's position "without any trimming".

"We will have a balanced and impartial attitude towards you and will convey your point of view to the people but we have only one request: that our colleagues should be protected," he told the TTP spokesman and watching audience.

The TTP has threatened and attacked journalists in the past, including the BBC after its Urdu-language service aired highly critical comment about the Taliban attempt to assassinate the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in 2012.

Although much of Pakistan's national debate is conducted in the country's generally right-leaning Urdu press and television, the TTP monitors everything.

Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch, said: "The Taliban and other armed groups have threatened the media over their coverage for several years, but now those threats are ratcheting up by accompanying attacks.

"It's an extremely effective tactic that does far more than just censorship, it also skews the entire national debate."

Siddiqi, the editor, said he could not risk any more lives.

"The fact is three people have been killed and no one out there is protecting us," he said, pointing out that no arrests had been made in connection with either of the attacks on the company.

"We are on our own. We have to look out for our own people."


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« Reply #12211 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:39 AM »


Myanmar Suspends Aid Group MSF's Operations in Rakhine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 15:32

Myanmar has suspended the activities of a top international aid agency in a strife-torn western state, an official said Friday, as the United States called for free humanitarian access in the former junta-ruled nation.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has stopped working in Rakhine state since Wednesday because its operating licence has expired, regional government spokesman Win Myaing told Agence France Presse.

"It's a temporary suspension at this moment. They might resume their work again," he added.

He denied the move was connected to recent protests against the aid group.

MSF provides primary healthcare services in several remote areas near the border with Bangladesh where impoverished stateless Rohingya Muslim communities live under severe restrictions of movement.

It has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks after it said it treated injured people in its clinic near the site of a reported mass killing of Rohingya that was strongly denied by the government.

The medical group, which won the Nobel peace prize in 1999, is believed to be in the process of renegotiating a memorandum of understanding with the Myanmar government that covers all its operations in the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Yangon issued a statement calling for open aid access.

"The United States encourages (Myanmar) to continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in need and to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian agencies, in accordance with international standards," it said.

"Free, regular, and open access is essential to ensure the benefits of humanitarian activities are delivered appropriately to all people of Rakhine State."

Rakhine remains tense after several outbreaks of inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities since 2012 that have killed scores and displaced 140,000 people, mainly from the Rohingya minority.

The United Nations in January said it had "credible information" of a series of attacks that left dozens of men, women and children dead with the alleged involvement of police.

Myanmar, whose sweeping political reforms have been overshadowed by religious bloodshed, has vociferously denied civilians were killed but said a police officer was presumed dead after a clash.

The government has launched its own investigation into the incident, which is due to release its report imminently.

Last week the U.N.'s rights envoy to Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, raised "serious concerns" over the impartiality of that probe.

Myanmar's government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

MSF is the largest provider of treatment for HIV and AIDS in Myanmar, with over 30,000 patients across the country.

It also has programs for the treatment of tuberculosis and malaria as well as reproductive health services.


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« Reply #12212 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:40 AM »

South Korea Calls North Missile Tests Calculated Provocation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 07:15

South Korea on Friday labeled North Korea's test firing of four short-range missiles a calculated, provocative act timed to coincide with South-U.S. joint military exercises.

North Korea test-fired the missiles into the Sea of Japan on Thursday, three days after the joint drills kicked off in the face of vocal opposition from Pyongyang.

"With the exercises underway, we see the firings as a calculated, provocative act," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told journalists.

He noted that the launches also came days after an incursion by a North Korean patrol boat across the disputed Yellow Sea border that has been the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in the past.

Kim said the tests were of Scud-type missiles at the longer edge of the short-range spectrum, with an estimated reach of 300-800 kilometers (185-500 miles) -- capable of striking any target in the South.

"If the North re-engineers Scuds or tests them, we always undertake a serious analysis to consider counter-measures," he said.

Kim stressed that the annual military drills with the United States would continue as planned.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged North Korea "to exercise restraint and take steps to improve its relations with its neighbors".

But Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren acknowledged that such short-range tests did not put the North in breach of international resolutions.

"We view this as an unannounced weapons test that we see somewhat regularly," he told reporters in Washington.

It is not unusual for North Korea to carry out such tests and observers said they were unlikely to trigger a significant rise in military tensions.

Despite the start of the South Korea-U.S. drills on Monday, which the North routinely condemns as rehearsals for invasion, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang are currently enjoying something of a thaw.

This year's drills overlapped with the end of the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korean War -- an event that has raised hopes of greater cross-border cooperation.

Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunions finished on Tuesday. But Seoul refused and -- in a rare concession -- the North allowed the family gatherings on its territory to go ahead as scheduled.

North Korea has hundreds of short-range missiles and has developed and tested -- with limited success -- several intermediate-range models.

Its claims to have a working inter-continental ballistic missile have been treated with skepticism by most experts, but there is no doubt that it is pushing ahead with an active, ambitious missile development program.


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« Reply #12213 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:43 AM »

China Hits Back at U.S. in Human Rights Report

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 07:11

China on Friday issued a report on human rights in the U.S., denouncing it for foreign drone strikes, state-sponsored spying and "rampant" gun crime after Washington criticized its rights record.

Beijing said the U.S. "concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems,” such as a government-run intelligence program known as PRISM which it said "seriously infringes on human rights.”

The document came after the State Department issued its annual global human rights report Thursday.

China regularly produces a statement on the U.S. in response. It does not release rights reports aimed at other countries.

The report, released by China's State Council, or cabinet, singled out the US for criticism for drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, which it said have caused "heavy civilian casualties.”

It also said the U.S. suffers from "rampant gun violence", while its agricultural sector employs a "large amount of child laborers.”

Washington's report released on Thursday praised China for some successes in human rights, such as the abolition of some labor camps and a change to the one-child policy.

But it added that "repression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy... were routine".

It also noted Beijing's continued repression of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.

Human rights are a long-standing source of tensions between China and the U.S., which imposed sanctions on Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which left hundreds or thousands dead.

References in the Chinese document showed that much of it was sourced from U.S. media reports.

China's ruling Communist Party tightly controls its own domestic media and has repeatedly imprisoned those who openly challenge its right to rule.

China often says that its rapid economic development in recent decades has lead to a greater respect for human rights, and that other countries are not entitled to criticize its record.

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

Hundreds of babies rescued as Chinese police smash four child-trafficking rings

Parents warned against kidnappers using internet or lying in wait at hospitals and schools as 382 infants rescued in crackdown

Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 08.50 GMT   
   
Chinese police have detained 1,094 people and rescued 382 infants in a nationwide crackdown on four online baby-trafficking rings.

Criminals prey on citizens who live under strict controls on the number of children a family can have. These have bolstered a traditional bias for sons, seen as the support of elderly parents and heirs to the family name, and led to the abortion, killing or abandonment of girls.

About 118 boys are born for every 100 girls in the world's most populous country, against a global average of 103-107 boys per 100 girls. The imbalance has created criminal demand for kidnapped or bought baby boys, as well as baby girls destined to be brides attracting rich dowries in sparsely populated regions.

The state news agency Xinhua quoted police as saying: "Child traffickers have now taken the fight online, using 'unofficial adoption' as a front. They are well-hidden and very deceptive."

The traffickers used websites with names such as China's Orphan Network and Dream Adoption Home, highlighting a trend towards online deals that make it harder to hunt down the criminals, Xinhua added. But it did not say what steps authorities were taking to reunite the rescued babies with their parents.

In a separate article, Xinhua warned parents to guard against kidnappers who could pose as nurses in hospitals or lie in wait outside school gates to bundle unsuspecting children into vans or speed off with them on motorbikes.

Last month, a Chinese court handed down a suspended death sentence for a doctor who sold seven newborns to human traffickers in a case that sparked public anger.

Zhang Shuxia, 55, an obstetrician in north-west Shaanxi province, was found guilty of selling the babies for as much as 21,600 yuan (£2,160) each between 2011 and 2013, the court said.

China, which has a population of about 1.4 billion, said last year it would ease family restrictions, letting millions of families have two children, in the country's most significant liberalisation of its one-child policy in about three decades.


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« Reply #12214 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:44 AM »


Egypt's military leaders unveil devices they claim can detect and cure Aids

Devices, made public by the chief army engineer, are dismissed by experts around the world and called 'shocking to scientists'

Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 01.36 GMT   

Egypt's military leaders have come under ridicule after the chief army engineer unveiled what he described as a "miraculous" set of devices that detect and cure Aids, hepatitis and other viruses.

The claim, dismissed by experts and called "shocking to scientists" by the president's science adviser, strikes a blow to the army's carefully managed image as the saviour of the nation. It also comes as General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who toppled Mohammed Morsi in July after the Islamist leader ignored mass protests calling for him to step down, is expected to announce he will run for president.

The televised presentation – which was made to Sisi, the interim president Adly Mansour and other senior officials – raised concerns that the military's offer of seemingly inconceivable future devices will draw Egypt back into the broken promises of authoritarian rule, when Hosni Mubarak frequently announced grand initiatives that failed to meet expectations.

"The men of the armed forces have achieved a scientific leap by inventing the detecting devices," the military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali wrote later on his official Facebook page. Ali said a patent has been filed under the name of the Armed Forces Engineering Agency.

Well-known writer Hamdi Rizk noted that video clips of the presentation had gone viral on social media, with tweets and blogs saying the military had made a fool of itself and put its reputation in jeopardy. "The marshal's camp has been dealt a deep moral defeat," he wrote in a column in Thursday's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. "God give mercy to ... the reputation of the Egyptian army, which became the target of cyber shelling around the clock."

Professor Massimo Pinzani, a liver specialist and director of the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, said he attended a demonstration of the devices during a visit to Egypt but "was not given convincing explanations about the technology" and was not allowed to try it for himself.

"As it is at present, the device is proposed without any convincing technical and scientific basis and until this is clearly provided it should be regarded as a potential fraud," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. None of the research has been published in a reputable journal.

The uproar escalated when a scientific adviser to Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour denounced the claim and said it has no scientific base. "What has been said and published by the armed forces harms the image of the scientists and science in Egypt," Essam Heggy, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, told the daily newspaper El-Watan in remarks published on Wednesday. "All scientists inside and outside Egypt are in a state of shock."

He added that both Mansour and Sisi were surprised and their presence in the audience did not indicate approval. The furore started when major general Taher Abdullah, the head of the Engineering Agency in the Armed Forces, gave a widely televised presentation to Sisi and other senior officials on what he calls an "astonishing miraculous scientific invention."

Abdullah said two of the devices named C-Fast and I-Fast used electromagnetism to detect Aids, hepatitis and other viruses without taking blood samples while the third, named Complete Cure Device, acted as a dialysis unit to purify the blood. He also said the C-Fast, which looks like an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender, detected patients infected with viruses that cause hepatitis and Aids with a high success rate.

A short film aired during the presentation showed the engineering team's leader major general Ibrahim Abdel-Atti telling a patient: "All the results are great, showing you had Aids but you were cured. Thank God." The patient replies: "Thank God."

The next day, Abdel-Atti and his team held their own press conference at which the scientist said "I take Aids from the patient and nourish the patient on the Aids by giving him a skewer of Aids kofta". .

Gamal Shiha, head of the Association for Liver Patients Care, one of Egypt's prominent centres that worked alongside with the military, said he was angry about the "hasty" announcements. He said only one of the devices – C-Fast – underwent thorough testing.

Shiha said the C-Fast uses electromagnetic frequencies similar to those used in bomb detectors and radars and had been tested on more than 2,000 patients with a high success rate. "The technology of C-Fast is effective without doubt," he said. However, he dismissed the claims that the other two devices detect Aids and cure viruses.

Despite the scepticism, health ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah said the ministry recognises the devices as legitimate. Egypt's former Health Minister Amr Helmi, a liver surgeon by profession, said C-Fast had been approved by the ministry two years ago but he had never before heard of the other two devices.

For the general public, the uproar added to the uncertainty already fueled by years of turmoil since Mubarak's overthrow in February 2011. "I hope that the invention turns out to be true but I don't have confidence this is the case," said 35-year-old taxi driver Ahmed Morad. "I don't believe anyone ... everything is very confusing. It is like a salad."


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« Reply #12215 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:48 AM »

U.N. Says Mauritania to Adopt Roadmap to End Slavery

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 February 2014, 22:24

The United Nations envoy on modern-day slavery said on Thursday Mauritania had agreed to adopt a roadmap for eradicating the trade, which campaigners say remains widespread in the west African nation.

The country was the last in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, but campaigners say the government has failed in the past to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.

Gulnara Shahinian, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on contemporary slavery, announced as she ended a four-day visit that Mauritania would adopt a roadmap on March 6 which had been prepared with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She said the plan was "an important step in eradicating slavery in the country" and would include "a number of economic projects" to help victims out of the trade.

Shahinian added she was "satisfied with the action of the government, which has taken important steps towards the eradication of slavery" since her last visit in 2009.

Forced labor is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery (IRSS), which supports victims in court.

Shahinian told reporters she had obtained a commitment from the government to appoint lawyers specifically trained to represent slaves in the courts, however, rather than leaving the work to charities.

She praised the "political will displayed by the authorities" in introducing anti-slavery legislation but called for better enforcement of the law.

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is in the process of setting up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery and various social security programs have helped former slaves in the past.

But the beneficiaries were never recognized as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.

In March last year Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.

"While the train is certainly in motion, much needs to be improved, but as long as the will is there, the rest will follow in time," Shahinian said.

The envoy, a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant on children's rights, migration and trafficking, was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in 2008.

Her findings and recommendations will be presented at a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.


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« Reply #12216 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:51 AM »

Hollande in C.Africa as France Digs In

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 11:40

French President Francois Hollande arrived in the Central African Republic on Friday, nearly three months into a difficult mission to stop the sectarian bloodshed sweeping the country.

His high-security visit to Bangui caps a week that saw the French parliament extend Operation Sangaris and another 400 extra troops arrive in the deeply unstable former French colony.

Hollande is due to meet interim president Catherine Samba Panza as well as French troops who were first sent in to try to quell the seething violence in early December.

Panza has urged France and the African Union to make full use of their UN mandate to "wipe out these unchecked elements that poison our lives".

Paris has acknowledged that its troops face considerable difficulties in halting the bloodshed.

But France's top commander in Bangui, General Francisco Soriano, said Thursday that the Central Africans needed to start doing their share.

"Central Africans need to participate in the reconstruction of their own country. We already do a lot," he told AFP.

Hollande visited the former colony for the first time in early December, days after French troops poured into the country to cheers from villagers.

Three months on, there is more hostility towards the French, as the violence has continued to escalate, sparking warnings by top aid officials that ethnic cleansing was under way.

"No need to come Mr Hollande, we're already dead," said one Muslim woman in a Bangui street.

Nearly a quarter of the 4.6-million Central African population has been displaced since the start of the conflict.

Relief organisations have warned that the flight of Muslims -- who controlled a large share of trade and farming -- risked exacerbating a major food crisis in what was already one of the world's poorest countries before the conflict.

- Reinforcements arrive -

Rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka group seized power nearly a year ago but some went rogue and mostly Christian vigilantes formed in response to a campaign of abuses.

Michel Djotodia, the Seleka leader who became the country's first Muslim leader, was forced to quit in January but the "anti-balaka" self-defence groups have in turn escaped the control of the authorities and are continuing to commit atrocities.

"We need to work more with the police to put them back in the saddle," Soriano said.

He conceded however it was a problem that many in the security forces went unpaid.

On Thursday, a convoy of around 50 armoured vehicles and lorries entered the country from Chad, carrying 400 additional French troops to reinforce the 1,600 already on the ground.

The European Union has also pledged between 800 to 1,000 troops but negotiations on which countries will provide them are still going on.

Georgia, anxious to cement good ties with the EU, said Thursday it would contribute 150 troops to the European mission.

Despite concerns that France could get bogged down in a war offering little prospect of a clear-cut success, parliament approved the extension of Operation Sangaris on Tuesday.

But Paris is urging the United Nations to expedite plans to take over the lead role in peacekeeping efforts.

A police officer in the Republic of Congo was quoted Thursday as saying that a man who calls himself the coordinator of the anti-balaka had been arrested on Tuesday.

Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, a minister in the Francois Bozize regime ousted by Seleka in March last year, was arrested in northern Congo and transferred to Brazzaville.

He later denied the report, saying he had neither been arrested nor moved to Brazzaville.


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« Reply #12217 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:52 AM »

Nigeria 'at War' with Boko Haram, Presidency Says

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 14:20

Nigeria's presidency on Friday said the country was at war with Boko Haram, apparently backing off previous claims that the Islamist rebels were on the run and desperate.

President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has been fiercely criticised over its handling of the conflict, both for its inability to stop massive attacks on defenseless civilians and for what some have described as mixed and contradictory messages on the severity of the crisis.

Jonathan has termed the ongoing military offensive in Boko Haram's northeastern stronghold a success and maintained that normality will be restored to the embattled region by May.

On Friday, presidency spokesman Doyin Okupe told the private Channels television station that the Boko Haram conflict was a "war situation".

"We are dealing with a very, very serious enemy," he said.

"We are engaged in a war that has been internationalized," he added in an apparent reference to Boko Haram's reported but unconfirmed presence in neighboring countries like Cameroon.

The conflict has killed thousands since 2009 but many argue the plight of civilians in the northeast has worsened since the military began its operation in May.

Since then, nearly 300,000 people have been displaced in the region, according to the U.N., and more than 1,500 people killed, according to the UN and figures compiled by Agence France Presse.

"It is very difficult, very costly in terms of lives lost. But we will overcome," Okupe said. "We are in the dying phase of this insurgency."

The defense ministry on Thursday said the insurgents were "desperate" to escape Nigeria because of military pressure and would be "degraded towards elimination shortly".

Lawyer and human rights campaigner Jiti Ogunye criticised the government for putting out mixed messages.

"The inconsistency and empty boastfulness of the government's timeline for defeating Boko Haram is dispiriting and psychologically disorienting" for those caught up in the violence, he told AFP.

Ogunye also condemned an unrealistic pledge made in January by Air Marshal Alex Badeh after he was named chief of defense staff that Boko Haram would be defeated by April.

The defense ministry later said Badeh's comment should not be interpreted as a literal deadline.

"There is a big gap between the increasing carnage and the futile empty assurances that are being given," Ogunye said.

Boko Haram, declared a terrorist organisation by Nigeria and the United States, has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.


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« Reply #12218 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:53 AM »

U.N. Says C.Africa Violence Reminiscent of Srebrenica

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 13:25

The U.N. refugee agency warned Friday that the violence plaguing the Central African Republic was reminiscent of the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in Bosnia, insisting far more international troops are needed on the ground.

UNHCR civilian protection chief Philippe Leclerc, who has just returned from two months in the Central African Republic, said the situation there "reminded me of... Srebrenica, of the Muslim enclaves in Bosnia-Hercegovina".

"The violence is as tough and the situation of the people is extremely dire," he told reporters in Geneva.

The 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces is considered the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.

In the Central African Republic, "ethno-religious cleansing is going on in the western and the northern part of the country, targeting Muslims, it is very clear," Leclerc said, echoing concerns voiced by the international community in recent weeks.

"People have no escape.... There is no way out and people are trapped," he told Agence France Presse.

He said that while there are international forces on the ground, "there are not enough troops and with the multiplication of all of these places where such massacres could potentially take place, it is very difficult for them to be in all areas at the same time."

Rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power nearly a year ago, but some went rogue and waged a campaign of violence against the civilian population, leading to the formation of Christian vigilante groups that have in turn committed abuses against the Muslim minority.

On Thursday morning, 400 additional French troops arrived to reinforce the 1,600 already on the ground. The European Union has also pledged up to 1,000 troops, but negotiations on which countries will provide them are continuing in Brussels.

The African Union has also deployed a 6,000-troop force in the country.

Leclerc told AFP Friday he thought a doubling of the international troop presence on the ground in the country "would help".

"It's not too late," he said.


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« Reply #12219 on: Feb 28, 2014, 07:58 AM »


Scientists in Japan to put Stars-2 satellite into orbit to trial space cleanup

Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-2 designed to harness space debris and make orbital lanes safe for exploration

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 13.15 GMT   

It sounds like an idea for a niche movie aimed at sci-fi anoraks: a floating magnetic net that harnesses tonnes of wayward space junk and makes the overcrowded orbital lanes above Earth's atmosphere safe for future exploration.

Yet that is what scientists in Japan will have in mind when they put a satellite into orbit on Friday, equipped with an experimental electrodynamic tether they say will give the final frontier a long overdue spring clean.

The Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-2 (Stars-2) will be included on a satellite jointly developed by the US and Japan to monitor global rainfall and forecast extreme weather. The equipment will travel into orbit aboard Japan's H-2A rocket, due to be launched in the small hours from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima.

Working alongside the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), researchers at Kanagawa University developed the tether, made from ultra-thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium, with the help of a Japanese fishing net firm.

According to researchers, the tether, measuring 300m in length when fully extended, will generate electricity along its entire length as it passes through Earth's magnetic field while in orbit. The electricity will reduce the speed of pieces of junk careering through space – everything from dead rockets to satellites that have ended their missions – and lure them closer to Earth. The cosmic cleanup ends when the clutter burns up harmlessly as it enters Earth's atmosphere.

"The experiment is specifically designed to contribute to developing a space debris cleaning method," said Masahiro Nohmi, an associate professor at Kagawa University, who is working with Jaxa on the project. The tether comprises several metal filaments measuring less than 0.1mm in diameter that were developed for Jaxa by Nitto Seimo, a Japanese company that has been making fishing nets for almost a century.

In the forthcoming trial Nohmi's team will attempt to unfurl the tether in orbit and assess its ability to generate the electricity needed to draw in the detritus.

Decades of space exploration has created a chaotic and dangerous junkyard just above Earth's atmosphere, raising fears that discarded pieces of hardware – and even flecks of paint – orbiting the planet at high speed could damage active spacecraft. Space agencies have reported the number of objects has significantly increased as more countries pour money into ambitious space programmes.

A Chinese anti-satellite weapons test in 2007 is thought to have added about 3,000 items to the inventory of space clutter, according to Nasa. The risk of accidents was underlined by a collision between US and Russian communications satellites two years later.

A band stretching from about 800km to 1,400km above the Earth's surface is home to more than 20,000 fragments of junk the size of a softball or bigger, says Nasa. If smaller items are included, the number runs into the tens of millions.

The experiment, which has been five years in the making, won't harness any debris, but if all goes to plan future tests could include a practical demonstration. Full deployment is planned for 2019.


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« Reply #12220 on: Feb 28, 2014, 08:16 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Outgoing NSA Chief Wants Snooping Row 'Resolved'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 06:45

The outgoing chief of the National Security Agency told lawmakers Thursday he wants to end the controversy over massive surveillance programs to move forward on key defense and cybersecurity issues.

General Keith Alexander, who is due to retire this month, said the public outcry over leaked NSA documents has prevented progress on issues such as cybersecurity legislation.

"I think that we need to step back, set a framework for discussion with the American people," Alexander told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"This is going to be absolutely important in setting up what we can and cannot do in cyberspace to protect this country. And from my perspective, that's going to be one of the big issues that we move forward. I think a precursor to that is getting the NSA issues resolved. We have to get those resolved because, ironically, it operates in the same space."

Alexander said that in line with a directive from President Barack Obama, his agency will draft a proposal for reforming the NSA and its surveillance authority.

Obama last month ordered a revamp of the NSA authority including a plan that could retain bulk data collection of phone records, but outside of government.

Alexander said that as the reforms move ahead, there is a need to advance stalled cybersecurity legislation that would enable better information sharing between government and private networks about threats to key infrastructure such as pipelines, power grids and financial networks.

"I am concerned... that the lack of legislation will impact our ability to defend the country in this area," Alexander said.

"I do think, though, given where we are today, we have to be transparent on this in the cyber legislation so the American people can enter into it."

Alexander, who also heads the military's Cyber Command, said that unit's mission depends on the NSA and its intelligence-gathering.

"If there is an attack, especially a destructive attack, the probability that that will get through is higher in the civilian infrastructure," he said.

"From my perspective, the space, cyberspace, where both NSA and now Cyber Command operates, is one space where both the good guys and the bad guys both operate in that same space. Forty years ago it was different. Foreign military communications were on a separate circuit from our domestic communications. Now they're all intertwined."

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DOJ Asks To Hang Onto Bulk Collections Longer, Citing Need To 'Preserve' Evidence It Has No Intention Of Presenting In Court

RawStory
02/28/2014

The DOJ is asking the courts to extend the amount of time it can hold onto bulk metadata records. The use-by date is normally five years, but the DOJ wants more time. It's stated reason for the request is to prevent spoliation of evidence that might be needed in the several lawsuits filed against the government since the exposure of the NSA's bulk collection programs.

Some things to note: the DOJ is asking for the first FISA order of 2014 to be amended to remove the 5-year expiration date, which seems to indicate that the amendment won't affect anything previously collected. The storage limit has been five years since at least 2006, so what the DOJ is asking for is for data to be held indefinitely, for an indefinite period going forward.

Obviously, this carves a rather large hole in the NSA's (already minimal) minimization procedures. The DOJ claims the retained data will be reserved for "non-analytic" purposes, but I don't really see how the it can make that assertion, considering the NSA, at this point, still collects and stores it. Searches could be limited to five years from date of search, but this presumes a lot of an agency run by people who routinely "explore the edges of the box." (Granted, historical data tends to become less useful the older it gets, but there are hardly any limits placed on the NSA's collection abilities, so it's really not a good idea to let the government start stripping these few stipulations away.)

What's absolutely disgusting about this request is the fact that the DOJ has no interest in allowing these records to be admitted as evidence. In fact, the DOJ has already withheld this information from several defendants, effectively preventing them from discovering where the government obtained the evidence being used against them. The DOJ is talking a good game about due process, etc., but its track record shows it's willing to keep this information hidden for as long as possible.

Before the leaks, the DOJ didn't even have to acknowledge it used these programs to gather evidence against defendants. Before the leaks, other national law enforcement and investigative agencies were given this evidence and instructed to construct a paper trail to cover up the origins. The DOJ can't really get away with this anymore, but that won't stop it from pretending national security concerns outweigh a defendant's need to know what evidence is being used and how it was derived. And that's not even addressing those already imprisoned using evidence the DOJ actively hid from defendants, as Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel points out.

    Of course, it was only 24 hours ago when DOJ was last caught violating that principle in Section 702, abrogating a defendant’s right to know where the evidence against him came from. And there are a whole slew of criminal defendants — most now imprisoned — whose 702 notice DOJ is still sitting on, whose rights DOJ felt perfectly entitled to similarly abrogate (we know this because back in June FBI was bragging about how many of them there were). So I am … surprised to hear DOJ suggest it gives a goddamn about criminal defendants' rights, because for at least the last 7 years it has been shirking precisely that duty as it pertains to FISA.

Wheeler also notes that the DOJ may be pretending to be concerned about the lawsuits it's currently facing, but it expressed no similar concern in the years before Snowden's leaks exposed the NSA's programs.

    [A]s EFF's Cindy Cohn pointed out to the WSJ, Judge Vaughn Walker issued a retention order in EFF’s 2008 suit against the dragnet.

    "Ms. Cohn also questioned why the government was only now considering this move, even though the EFF filed a lawsuit over NSA data collection in 2008.

    In that case, a judge ordered evidence preserved related to claims brought by AT&T customers. What the government is considering now is far broader."

At that point, the DOJ has no problem letting evidence against the NSA expire, but now it wants an indefinite extension to records going forward, using the pretense that it cares about due process as leverage. The NSA wins either way. Longer retention means more access to the collection, on or off the books. And it knows the incredibly misnamed Dept. of Justice will do its best to keep collected surveillance data out of the harsh judicial sunlight.

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Senate Republicans Betray U.S. Vets By Blocking Veterans Benefits Bill

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 5:06 pm   

In a shameful display of partisan obstruction, the Mitch McConnell led Senate Republicans a blocked a bill that would have improved veterans benefits.

Senate Republicans blocked the veterans bill by using a procedural maneuver to invoke the 60 vote rule. The final vote to waive the budget point of order failed, 56-41. Only two Republicans (Sen. Dean Heller and Sen. Jerry Moran) joined with Democrats on the vote.

Republicans claimed that they blocked the bill because Majority Leader Harry Reid would not allow an up or down vote on an amendment that would have attached sanctions on Iran to the bill.

Sen. Reid said, “I hope all the veterans groups have witnessed all the contortions the Republicans have done to defeat this bill. Shame on Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help veterans.”

The chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, said,

    I had hoped that at least on this issue – the need to protect and defend our veterans and their families – we could rise above the day-to-day rancor and party politics that we see here in Congress

    I am going to keep fighting. I am proud that we received every Democratic vote and that two Republicans also voted with us. In the coming weeks, I will be working hard to secure three additional Republican votes, and I think we can do that.

    The cost of war does not end once the last shots are fired, and the last battles are fought. When members of the military lose arms, legs and eyesight fighting in wars that Congress authorized, we have a moral obligation to make sure that those Americans receive all of the benefits that they have earned and deserve. When American soldiers die in combat, we have a moral obligation to make sure that the spouses and children they leave behind are taken care of and do not live in abject poverty.

The only message that can be taken away from today’s vote is that Senate Republicans think it is more important to deny President Obama a “win” than it is to help our nation’s veterans. The bill contained provisions that would restore the COLA for vets, and protect them from losing their benefits in the event of another government shutdown. It also would have authorized the construction of 27 new clinics and medical facilities, and it would have provided tuition assistance to post-9/11 vets.

It is the kind of legislation that used to be a no brainer, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same group of Republicans who think that they shouldn’t have to pay the nation’s bills also want to renege on their obligations to our veterans.

Senate Republicans committed a disgraceful betrayal of the promise that has been made to those who put their lives on the line for this country. I hope this is a wake up call for vets who think that the Republican Party has their interests at heart.

The Republican Party doesn’t care about veterans. This vote stabbed veterans in the back, and should make every vet question why they would ever vote Republican.

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The Religious Liberty Bill Fight Continues in Georgia and Other States

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Friday, February, 28th, 2014, 7:23 am   

Democratic state Rep. Stacey Abrams is the House minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly co-wrote an op-ed for CNN yesterday with conservative James Richardson, pointing out that Georgia “may shift from the cradle of the civil rights movement to the vanguard of legalized 21st-century bigotry with the consideration of this legislation, modeled on Arizona’s, that would allow businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of alleged religious conviction.” Abrams and Richardson wrote that should the bill become law, Georgia will be stained with the “lasting ignominy of Jim Crow.”

Jim Crow hits the nail on the head. As Ian Millhiser wrote the other day on ThinkProgress, “religious liberty” was once “used to justify racism instead of homophobia.”

And don’t count the collective religious insanity of Kansas and its governor out just yet. According to The New York Times, Kansas’ extreme antigay bill may be revived. Mississippi’s bill has already passed the State Senate.

The Republican establishment has led the retreat from these hateful and hurtful pieces of legislation, as have Republican businesses owners and even chambers of commerce, leaving in their wake Nazified crowds of Religious Right and Tea Party bigots.

You would think, listening to them, that rather than a bill that persecutes gays being vetoed, a bill that persecutes Christians had been signed into law.

The Family Research Council (FRC) claims that the vetoed bill “should have been a political no-brainer.” That no brains had something to do with the bill I think we can agree with. The FRC claims, with a straight face yet, that “by vetoing this bill Gov. Brewer is saying she supports government discrimination against people’s religious freedoms.”

The Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips, opined on his group’s website that Jan Brewer’s veto turned discriminatory business owners into “slaves,” saying that “The left and the homosexual lobby are both pushing slavery using the Orwellian concepts of ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusiveness.’” Phillips is afraid people will be forced to bake penis cakes for gay couples.

Who knew tolerance was Orwellian? Did you know that? I didn’t know that. I’m pretty sure penis cakes aren’t.

Rush Limbaugh differed from Phillips only in the direction of his paranoia, saying on his radio program that the Arizona bill was vetoed because, “There’s just abject fear of minorities right now.” He should have added fear of penis cakes.

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True Believers Continue Their Fight To Make America a ‘Christian Nation’

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 10:37 am      

In 1951 Eric Hoffer authored a book, “The True Believer,” that analyzed and explained the psychological causes of fanaticism, the motives of personalities that give rise to extremist movements, and the similarities between them; whether the movements are religious, political, or reactionary. Hoffer argues that even when their stated goals or values differ, these movements attract the same type of followers and use the same tactics and rhetorical tools as fascists, Nazis, and religious fanatics such as fundamentalist Christians intent on ruling America by Christian theocracy. Hoffer’s book is as prescient today as it was in 1951, and his analysis described many Americans after the terror attacks on 9/11 and teabaggers’ racist revolt over Americans electing an African American man as President.

Hoffer explains that the technique of a fanatical movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure, and he explains that these movements begin with a widespread “desire for change” from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power, such as in god and the bible and who hate the existing culture. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the religious right successfully convinced evangelical extremists that they lost their religious liberty and that their only hope was electing Republicans who are furiously passing unconstitutional religious laws as both a cure and to change America back to a Christian nation true believers are certain is the key to their redemption.

The Founding Fathers were aware that America was prone to a takeover by a religious movement filled with true believers and protected the country with a ban on religion interfering with the legislative process. It is that ban that drives Republicans and their evangelical voting bloc’s lust to abolish the Separation Clause of the Constitution. Despite the Constitution’s ban on government forcing religion down the throats of the people, another Republican-led southern state is pushing a law to force prayer on students in public schools. In January it was South Carolina that revived a year-old attempt to require mandatory teacher-led prayers in public schools, and now it is Alabama pushing legislation to force all students at all grade levels to suffer through daily mandated prayer sessions under the guise of learning about Congressional procedures.

The Alabama House Education Policy Committee advanced legislation to order state mandated and sponsored prayer in public schools that will certainly be struck down as patently unconstitutional, but the bill is being pushed by true believers with no regard for the nation’s founding document. The legislation requires that “At the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools, the teacher in charge of the room in which such class is held shall, for a period of time not exceeding 15 minutes, instruct the class in the formal procedures followed by the United States Congress. The study shall include a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers given by the House or Senate Chaplain or a guest member of the clergy at the beginning of a meeting of the House of Representatives or the Senate.”

Now, it is unclear how a mathematics, science, or physical education teacher will afford the time to abandon the regular required curriculum in their field to spend 15 minutes instructing their classes on formal congressional procedures, but that is obviously not the point of the religious legislation. The wording of the legislation makes its purpose clear that school teachers will be forced, under fear of losing their jobs, to conduct forced prayers to all students under the guise of instruction about formal congressional procedures. Actually, it is highly likely that the United States Congress allowing prayers at the beginning of meetings is state sponsored religion, but true believers in Congress will never address the unconstitutionality of the practice. That is the problem with true believers; they have no qualms disregarding the Constitution they claim to love and forcing their beliefs on everyone and claim it is their religious freedom protected by the First Amendment.

There is a flawed belief among fanatical religious conservatives demanding the people accept domination by the religious right that America veered away from its biblical founding and needs the religious right to fight to bring the nation back under the purview of Christianity. In fact, disgraced Republican Tom DeLay explained that America lost its way when “we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that He wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles, and we allowed those that don’t believe in those things to keep pushing us… away from the government.” DeLay’s remarks are succor to true believers who demand the nation return to its “Christian roots” and return to government by bible. DeLay continued that if more fundamentalist extremists would have opposed the Constitution’s Separation Clause and “fought for our values,” that the bible would be the “still be” the law of the land. DeLay said he beseeches his god every day “for an awakening in this country, and I think it’s coming.”

There is a tendency among most Americans to disregard the preponderance of religious edicts being passed in Republican state legislatures as harmless experiments to test the Constitution, but for the true believers passing and supporting biblical laws it is not an experiment. A couple of days ago David Harris Gershon penned a thoughtful article discussing the demise of the religious right’s impact on America due to the courts striking down bans on same-sex marriage as well as Kansas, and now Arizona, abandoning legislation legalizing discrimination borne of religious liberty. However, there are increasing reports of states passing, or proposing, laws that ban teaching science or restrict access to abortion services and they are emboldened by true believers that own corporations claiming religion gives them the right to ban contraception coverage in health plans. It is true that some Republicans support religion by government mandate to garner electoral support, but the unfortunate truth is there are as many Christian true believers in state legislatures and Congress than representatives who embrace the Constitution’s ban on religion imposing on the government.

It does not matter if it is legislating prayer in public schools, teaching the bible creation story as science, or legislating legal discrimination under the guise of religious liberty; the religious right will never stop attempting to rule by theocracy. It is noteworthy that the highest court in the land has struck down attempts to force prayer on students, teach creationism in public schools, and discriminate against gays and still, religious fanatics will not be dissuaded from their biblical mandate “to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:9) the religious right is attempting to fulfill by legislation regardless their efforts are blatantly unconstitutional.

Many Americans fail to realize that true believers, particularly religious true believers, are convinced it is their mandate from god to transform America into a religious state with forced compliance to biblical edicts. There is a strongly-held belief among evangelicals, and Republicans perpetuate the idea, that there is a war on Christianity because the religious right is prohibited by the Constitution from imposing their beliefs on the people. Americans must understand that until there is rigorous response to the religious right’s war on the Constitution, their relentless attacks will continue including passing legislation teaching creationism as science, legalizing discrimination against gays, and mandating public school teachers force Christian prayers on our children.

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The End is Near for the Extremist Wing of the Republican Party

By: Keith Brekhus
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 8:00 pm   

The end is near for the Christian right. No, they are not about to be beamed up into heaven , rewarded for their piousness, on a glorious ride symbolizing the rapture of the church. Instead, they are about to wither and die as a political movement in the United States, victims of their own hatred and hubris. Yes, for over three decades, theocrats rode an unholy alliance with the modern Republican Party to unprecedented heights of power. Ronald Reagan, two George Bushes, and hundreds upon hundreds of Republican Senators and Congressmen were their willing enablers.

Big business Republicans, neo-conservatives, and libertarian economists alike embraced Christian fundamentalists as they exploited bigotry and fear to push free market economics and expansionist foreign policies, while giving lip service to school prayer, ending abortion, and preserving traditional marriage from the onslaught of the “homosexual agenda”. Karl Rove exploited Christian right bigotry by pushing anti-gay ballot measures in 2004 that would herd evangelical conservatives to the polls to cast their votes for George W. Bush. That was a decade ago, when the Christian right’s influence in American politics was unmistakable and their grip on the GOP iron tight.

However, in the last ten years the Christian right’s power has been steadily eroding. Oblivious to their waning influence, conservative Christian groups have soldiered on without any apparent awareness of their impending demise. Perhaps they still do, but yesterday was a watershed moment. The Christian right tried to flex its muscle in Arizona by passing a bill that would codify into law the right for Christian-owned businesses to exercise their “religious liberty” to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Many other red states introduced similar measures, though Arizona’s was the first to pass such a bill through both chambers of the legislature.

The Christian right miscalculated badly and failed to anticipate the backlash that would follow. Chamber of Commerce chapters and major corporations based in Arizona balked at the measure, citing the potential for lost tourism revenue and lawsuits. GOP politicians piled on. Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain joined the opposition. Florida Governor Rick Scott and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also rose in opposition. Politicians who had long embraced Christian right extremism for politically expedient reasons more than on principal, were now turning on the fundamentalists at the eleventh hour.

Then on Thursday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who like most GOP politicians had long courted Christian extremists, sealed their fate with her veto pen. In that moment, the lipstick wore off the Judas kiss that the Republican Party leadership made with Christian extremists years ago. The Christian right long wielded disproportionate influence in the halls of Congress, with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson seducing GOP politicians with promises of fealty and winning them over to socially reactionary policies. Ronald Reagan enthusiastically brought the “moral majority” into his winning coalition, and since 1980 GOP politicians have relied upon evangelical right-wingers to help propel them to victory. Though they were never a true majority, the bible thumpers on the right were able to bully timid Republican politicians to press their agenda in exchange for contributions and votes.

However, now that bigotry is no longer a recipe for electoral success, the toxic embrace between pro-business Republicans and moralizing troglodytes has been pulled apart. As a political force, the Christian right is unraveling at warp speed. Even the Bible Belt is unbuckling at a rate that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Sure Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh still pollute America’s political discourse with their jeremiads against unseemly gays and promiscuous single women, but their taunts fall mostly on deaf ears outside the shrinking realm of “true believers” who nourish their hateful minds with unhealthy doses of talk radio and FOX News.

With the tactical brilliance of General George Custer’s Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Christian right has hastened their own defeat through arrogance and miscalculations that could only be made by people who truly believe they are called by God, and who have no concept of the earthly consequences they are about to face. They are making their last stand in the great American culture war, and they are losing badly. Not only is America becoming more secular and more tolerant, but even mainstream Christianity is distancing itself from the far right. Even bulwarks of traditionalism, like the Mormon and Roman Catholic church hierarchies are moving away from prejudice and dogmatism.

Increasingly defensive, the Christian right has gone from opposing late-term abortions and lobbying for school prayer to more dubious crusades. They have moved the goal posts so far to the right that right-wing Christians are now arguing for trans-vaginal ultrasounds, banning contraception and granting businesses the right to discriminate against lesbians and gays. With unending persecution complexes, they view themselves under attack, lamenting phony assaults on Christianity and a war on Christmas that does not exist. Yet it is they who are launching the attacks by picketing funerals, referring to rape as a gift from God, and blaming homosexuals for terrorist attacks and deadly tornadoes. Twisters, those “acts of God” that raise havoc on “traditional values” strongholds like Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas, while leaving San Francisco, Portland and Seattle unscathed.

The battle will continue, maybe for years, maybe even decades. However, America has already rendered its judgement. Same sex marriages are now legal in 17 states and on the verge of becoming legal in several more. Millennial voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality. The Christian right can do nothing more but dig their heels in and fight a lost cause. No doubt with self-righteous fervor they will continue to fight to the bitter end, enduring one humiliating defeat after another in the years ahead, as America moves further and further away from the Christian right’s outdated prejudices. There will be no sound of trumpets to announce the end of days for the Christian right as a viable political movement, but the end is coming. In fact, it may already be here.

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Wendy Davis Obliterates Ted Nugent and Greg Abbott With Blistering New Ad

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 4:09 pm   

The Wendy Davis campaign is slamming both Ted Nugent and Greg Abbott with a powerful new ad that features rape survivor Nicole Anderson.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqpUtHaq8IA

The ad features rape survivor Nicole Anderson speaking out, “I am speaking out because it really bothered me for Greg Abbott to partner with Ted Nugent knowing his history of being a predator. I was at home. I heard about it on the news. It made me feel like the it minimized the fact that Ted Nugent is a predator. I think that it sends the wrong message that he partnered up with this man that is very vocal about liking underage girls. There’s something wrong with that. It’s not okay.”

This ad is important on a couple of different levels. First, it is telling the truth about Ted Nugent. These types of ads should make Republican candidates think twice before they decide to cozy up to, and appear with, a self admitted sexual predator.

Secondly, the use of Nugent as a campaign booster by Abbott is an escalation of the Republican war on women, and the men who support the rights of all women. Abbott’s embrace of Nugent is sending the message to all voters that if Greg Abbott is elected governor, open season will continue on the rights of women.

It is good to see Ted Nugent getting called out for what he really is, but it also highlights the crucial issue in this election. Do the women and men of Texas think it is representative of their values to have the Republican candidate for governor getting cozy with a sexual predator? If Greg Abbott has no qualms about buddying up with Ted Nugent, he’ll also won’t hesitate to accelerate the extremist anti-women agenda in the state of Texas.

Greg Abbott is still refusing to answer any questions about Ted Nugent. He has been ducking all media inquiries for more than a week. Republicans would prefer to carry out their war on women in silence, but in Texas, Wendy Davis isn’t going to let that happen. Davis is already running an aggressive campaign.

Wendy Davis is showing that she isn’t going to back down from anybody, and she won’t be intimidated into not telling the truth about Ted Nugent, Greg Abbott, and the Republican war on women.

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Harry Reid Slams The Koch Brothers For Lying To The American People About Obamacare

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 1:15 pm   

During a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) railed against the flood of anti-Obamacare ads that the billionaire Koch brothers are bankrolling. Essentially, Reid stated that the Kochs, thought their SuperPACs, are intentionally lying to the American public about the Affordable Care Act in an effort to help the Republican Party retake the US Senate.

Reid did not pull any punches while on the floor. Considering that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity released what might be their most dishonest ad yet recently in Michigan, Reid felt the need to speak up and decry the Koch’s constant effort to mislead about the health care law.

    “I can’t say that every one of the Koch brother’s ads are a lie….but a vast, vast majority of them are. What is going on with these two brothers who made billions of dollars last year in an attempt to buy our democracy is dishonest, deceptive, false and unfair. Just because you have huge amounts of money, you should not be able to run these false, misleading ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Also, in his remarks, Reid called the Koch brothers ‘un-American’ and pointed out that they have to lie to create made up horror stories despite the fact that over 4 million people have signed up through the health marketplaces. You would think that if the law was so awful, and that it was negatively effecting millions of people, there would be no need to embellish, mislead or straight out lie about peoples’ stories in political ads. Yet, that seems to be all we get from the GOP and their supporters.

Of course, conservatives tried to twist around Reid’s words and then also claim that they are attacking a woman suffering from cancer. An executive for Koch Companies, Phillip Ellender, made the following statement regarding Reid’s comments.

    “We believe it is disgraceful that Sen. Reid and his fellow Democrats are attacking a cancer victim as part of their campaign against Charles Koch and David Koch.”

This is in reference to the ad that most likely set Reid off, a Michigan ad targeting Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Gary Peters. That ad featured Julie Boonstra, a woman suffering from leukemia that stated that Obamacare was costing her far too much money and that it could be life threatening. She made claims that she could lose her doctor,  she was being hit with too many out-of-pocket expenses and that she could be denied her medication. She also said that the costs were unaffordable compared to her old insurance policy, that was cancelled.

Multiple fact-checkers looked over her claims and found that the ad was, at best, being deceptively misleading and , at worst, being completely and heinously dishonest. Since the Kochs and Republicans got caught lying, and using an untrue ‘horror story’ to push that lie, they are now playing victims and trying to turn things around on Democrats and the media. Essentially, they are stating that it is unfair to point out these lies because it means you are attacking a poor cancer victim. Because she has cancer, she is allowed to lie in a Republican ad and nobody should point out the lies.

Republicans can continue to play victim here. They can continue to have billionaires fund dishonest ad campaigns and make under-the-table contributions to lawmakers to get them to play ball. However, the fact of the matter is that Obamacare is here to stay. Millions of people have already signed up and millions more will. The public’s taste for repealing the law is no longer there. Running against Obamacare in this year’s mid-terms and 2016 is going to be a losing strategy.

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Bill Clinton and the Democrats Are Fighting Back Against GOP Election Stealing Efforts

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, February, 27th, 2014, 2:51 pm   

Bill Clinton is leading an effort by the Democratic Party to not only stop Republicans from stealing elections through voter suppression, but to also expand voting access.

After going through the various voter suppression tactics and efforts that Republicans are using in many states, former President Clinton said,

They’re all designed to make it harder for people, especially working people, people of color, the elderly, those with disabilities, and young college students to get to the polls. To form that more perfect union, we have to expand rights, not take them away. We have to empower people, not disempower them. Breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities has always been the hallmark of our nation, and the bedrock of the Democratic Party.

It’s not enough anymore just to be against these new voting restrictions. We need to get back on the road forward, and work for more and easier voting. We need to improve the voting experience, registering new voters, demystifying the process., expanding access to the ballot box, and making the process simpler and shorter.

Clinton went on to announce that he is spearheading a new Democratic Party project that is designed to protect and expand voting rights through legislation, education, and grassroots advocacy.

This kind of project is why Democrats have had so much success stopping Republican efforts to suppress the vote. Voter suppression is nothing more than an attempt to steal elections by manipulating the composition of the electorate.

With his wife potentially poised to be the Democratic nominee, it isn’t a surprise that Bill Clinton would be involved in this effort, but this is about something bigger than one presidential election. This is about the fundamental right to vote. Republicans want every electorate in every state to look like the one that went to the polls in 2010.

They want turnout to be small, mostly white, older, and heavily leaning Republican. The GOP knows that they can’t win elections if the full electorate comes out to vote, so they are erecting barriers to voting that predominately impact Democratic voters.

Democrats aren’t taking it. They are pushing back, and they have the perfect person leading the charge in former President Clinton.


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Gonzalo
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« Reply #12221 on: Feb 28, 2014, 10:27 AM »

What’s gone wrong with democracy

- The Economist

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.
It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Between 1980 and 2000 democracy experienced a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many
Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid. Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe. By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered at the World Forum on Democracy in Warsaw that year to proclaim that “the will of the people” was “the basis of the authority of government”. A report issued by America’s State Department declared that having seen off “failed experiments” with authoritarian and totalitarian forms of government, “it seems that now, at long last, democracy is triumphant.”
Such hubris was surely understandable after such a run of successes. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.

The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system.

Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again. Outside the West, democracy often advances only to collapse. And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Why has democracy lost its forward momentum?

The return of history

THE two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk. Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses. The crisis turned the Washington consensus into a term of reproach across the emerging world.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress. Larry Summers, of Harvard University, observes that when America was growing fastest, it doubled living standards roughly every 30 years. China has been doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years. The Chinese elite argue that their model—tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less
susceptible to gridlock. The political leadership changes every decade or so, and there is a constant supply of fresh talent as party cadres are promoted based on their ability to hit targets.

China says its model is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock

China’s critics rightly condemn the government for controlling public opinion in all sorts of ways, from imprisoning dissidents to censoring internet discussions. Yet the regime’s obsession with control paradoxically means it pays close attention to public opinion. At the same time China’s leaders have been able to tackle some of the big problems of state-building that can take decades to deal with in a democracy. In just two years China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240m rural dwellers, for example—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s public-pension system.

Many Chinese are prepared to put up with their system if it delivers growth. The 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85% of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31% of Americans. Some Chinese intellectuals have become positively boastful. Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University argues that democracy is destroying the West, and particularly America, because it institutionalises gridlock, trivialises decision-making and throws up second-rate presidents like George Bush junior. Yu Keping of Beijing University argues that democracy makes simple things “overly complicated and frivolous” and allows “certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people”. Wang Jisi, also of Beijing University, has observed that “many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos” and that China offers an alternative model. Countries from Africa (Rwanda) to the Middle East (Dubai) to South-East Asia (Vietnam) are taking this advice seriously.

China’s advance is all the more potent in the context of a series of disappointments for democrats since 2000. The first great setback was in Russia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the democratisation of the old Soviet Union seemed inevitable. In the 1990s Russia took a few drunken steps in that direction under Boris Yeltsin. But at the end of 1999 he resigned and handed power to Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who has since been both prime minister and president twice. This postmodern tsar has destroyed the substance of democracy in Russia, muzzling the press and imprisoning his opponents, while preserving the show—everyone can vote, so long as Mr Putin wins. Autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere have followed suit, perpetuating a perverted simulacrum of democracy rather than doing away with it altogether, and thus discrediting it further.

The next big setback was the Iraq war. When Saddam Hussein’s fabled weapons of mass destruction failed to materialise after the American-led invasion of 2003, Mr Bush switched instead to justifying the war as a fight for freedom and democracy. “The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat,” he argued in his second inaugural address. This was more than mere opportunism: Mr Bush sincerely believed that the Middle East would remain a breeding ground for terrorism so long as it was dominated by dictators. But it did the democratic cause great harm. Left-wingers regarded it as proof that democracy was just a figleaf for American imperialism. Foreign-policy realists took Iraq’s growing chaos as proof that American-led promotion of democratisation was a recipe for instability. And disillusioned neoconservatives such as Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, saw it as proof that democracy cannot put down roots in stony ground.

A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.

Meanwhile some recent recruits to the democratic camp have lost their lustre. Since the introduction of democracy in 1994 South Africa has been ruled by the same party, the African National Congress, which has become progressively more self-serving. Turkey, which once seemed to combine moderate Islam with prosperity and democracy, is descending into corruption and autocracy. In Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, opposition parties have boycotted recent elections or refused to accept their results.

All this has demonstrated that building the institutions needed to sustain democracy is very slow work indeed, and has dispelled the once-popular notion that democracy will blossom rapidly and spontaneously once the seed is planted. Although democracy may be a “universal aspiration”, as Mr Bush and Tony Blair insisted, it is a culturally rooted practice. Western countries almost all extended the right to vote long after the establishment of sophisticated political systems, with powerful civil services and entrenched constitutional rights, in societies that cherished the notions of individual rights and independent judiciaries.

Yet in recent years the very institutions that are meant to provide models for new democracies have come to seem outdated and dysfunctional in established ones. The United States has become a byword for gridlock, so obsessed with partisan point-scoring that it has come to the verge of defaulting on its debts twice in the past two years. Its democracy is also corrupted by gerrymandering, the practice of drawing constituency boundaries to entrench the power of incumbents. This encourages extremism, because politicians have to appeal only to the party faithful, and in effect disenfranchises large numbers of voters. And money talks louder than ever in American politics. Thousands of lobbyists (more than 20 for every member of Congress) add to the length and complexity of legislation, the better to smuggle in special privileges. All this creates the impression that American democracy is for sale and that the rich have more power than the poor, even as lobbyists and donors insist that political expenditure is an exercise in free speech. The result is that America’s image—and by extension that of democracy itself—has taken a terrible battering.

Nor is the EU a paragon of democracy. The decision to introduce the euro in 1999 was taken largely by technocrats; only two countries, Denmark and Sweden, held referendums on the matter (both said no). Efforts to win popular approval for the Lisbon Treaty, which consolidated power in Brussels, were abandoned when people started voting the wrong way. During the darkest days of the euro crisis the euro-elite forced Italy and Greece to replace democratically elected leaders with technocrats. The European Parliament, an unsuccessful attempt to fix Europe’s democratic deficit, is both ignored and despised. The EU has become a breeding ground for populist parties, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, which claim to defend ordinary people against an arrogant and incompetent elite. Greece’s Golden Dawn is testing how far democracies can tolerate Nazi-style parties. A project designed to tame the beast of European populism is instead poking it back into life.

The democratic distemper

EVEN in its heartland, democracy is clearly suffering from serious structural problems, rather than a few isolated ailments. Since the dawn of the modern democratic era in the late 19th century, democracy has expressed itself through nation-states and national parliaments. People elect representatives who pull the levers of national power for a fixed period. But this arrangement is now under assault from both above and below.

From above, globalisation has changed national politics profoundly. National politicians have surrendered ever more power, for example over trade and financial flows, to global markets and supranational bodies, and may thus find that they are unable to keep promises they have made to voters. International organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union have extended their influence. There is a compelling logic to much of this: how can a single country deal with problems like climate change or tax evasion? National politicians have also responded to globalisation by limiting their discretion and handing power to unelected technocrats in some areas. The number of countries with independent central banks, for example, has increased from about 20 in 1980 to more than 160 today.
From below come equally powerful challenges: from would-be breakaway nations, such as the Catalans and the Scots, from Indian states, from American city mayors. All are trying to reclaim power from national governments. There are also a host of what Moisés Naim, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls “micro-powers”, such as NGOs and lobbyists, which are disrupting traditional politics and making life harder for democratic and autocratic leaders alike. The internet makes it easier to organise and agitate; in a world where people can participate in reality-TV votes every week, or support a petition with the click of a mouse, the machinery and institutions of parliamentary democracy, where elections happen only every few years, look increasingly anachronistic. Douglas Carswell, a British member of parliament, likens traditional politics to HMV, a chain of British record shops that went bust, in a world where people are used to calling up whatever music they want whenever they want via Spotify, a popular digital music-streaming service.

The biggest challenge to democracy, however, comes neither from above nor below but from within—from the voters themselves. Plato’s great worry about democracy, that citizens would “live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, has proved prescient. Democratic governments got into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course, borrowing to give voters what they wanted in the short term, while neglecting long-term investment. France and Italy have not balanced their budgets for more than 30 years.

The financial crisis starkly exposed the unsustainability of such debt-financed democracy.

With the post-crisis stimulus winding down, politicians must now confront the difficult trade-offs they avoided during years of steady growth and easy credit. But persuading voters to adapt to a new age of austerity will not prove popular at the ballot box. Slow growth and tight budgets will provoke conflict as interest groups compete for limited resources. To make matters worse, this competition is taking place as Western populations are ageing. Older people have always been better at getting their voices heard than younger ones, voting in greater numbers and organising pressure groups like America’s mighty AARP. They will increasingly have absolute numbers on their side. Many democracies now face a fight between past and future, between inherited entitlements and future investment.

Adjusting to hard times will be made even more difficult by a growing cynicism towards politics. Party membership is declining across the developed world: only 1% of Britons are now members of political parties compared with 20% in 1950. Voter turnout is falling, too: a study of 49 democracies found that it had declined by 10 percentage points between 1980-84 and 2007-13. A survey of seven European countries in 2012 found that more than half of voters “had no trust in government” whatsoever. A YouGov opinion poll of British voters in the same year found that 62% of those polled agreed that “politicians tell lies all the time”.
Meanwhile the border between poking fun and launching protest campaigns is fast eroding. In 2010 Iceland’s Best Party, promising to be openly corrupt, won enough votes to co-run Reykjavik’s city council. And in 2013 a quarter of Italians voted for a party founded by Beppe Grillo, a comedian. All this popular cynicism about politics might be healthy if people demanded little from their governments, but they continue to want a great deal. The result can be a toxic and unstable mixture: dependency on government on the one hand, and disdain for it on the other. The dependency forces government to overexpand and overburden itself, while the disdain robs it of its legitimacy. Democratic dysfunction goes hand in hand with democratic distemper.
Democracy’s problems in its heartland help explain its setbacks elsewhere. Democracy did well in the 20th century in part because of American hegemony: other countries naturally wanted to emulate the world’s leading power. But as China’s influence has grown, America and Europe have lost their appeal as role models and their appetite for spreading democracy. The Obama administration now seems paralysed by the fear that democracy will produce rogue regimes or empower jihadists. And why should developing countries regard democracy as the ideal form of government when the American government cannot even pass a budget, let alone plan for the future? Why should autocrats listen to lectures on democracy from Europe, when the euro-elite sacks elected leaders who get in the way of fiscal orthodoxy?


At the same time, democracies in the emerging world have encountered the same problems as those in the rich world. They too have overindulged in short-term spending rather than long-term investment. Brazil allows public-sector workers to retire at 53 but has done little to create a modern airport system. India pays off vast numbers of client groups but invests too little in infrastructure. Political systems have been captured by interest groups and undermined by anti-democratic habits. Patrick French, a British historian, notes that every member of India’s lower house under the age of 30 is a member of a political dynasty. Even within the capitalist elite, support for democracy is fraying: Indian business moguls constantly complain that India’s chaotic democracy produces rotten infrastructure while China’s authoritarian system produces highways, gleaming airports and high-speed trains.

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things: when Spain temporarily restored its parliamentary government in 1931, Benito Mussolini likened it to returning to oil lamps in the age of electricity. In the mid-1970s Willy Brandt, a former German chancellor, pronounced that “western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship”. Things are not that bad these days, but China poses a far more credible threat than communism ever did to the idea that democracy is inherently superior and will eventually prevail.

Yet China’s stunning advances conceal deeper problems. The elite is becoming a self-perpetuating and self-serving clique. The 50 richest members of the China’s National People’s Congress are collectively worth $94.7 billion—60 times as much as the 50 richest members of America’s Congress. China’s growth rate has slowed from 10% to below 8% and is expected to fall further—an enormous challenge for a regime whose legitimacy depends on its ability to deliver consistent growth.

At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies. But to succeed, both fledgling and established democracies must ensure they are built on firm foundations.

Getting democracy right

THE most striking thing about the founders of modern democracy such as James Madison and John Stuart Mill is how hard-headed they were. They regarded democracy as a powerful but imperfect mechanism: something that needed to be designed carefully, in order to harness human creativity but also to check human perversity, and then kept in good working order, constantly oiled, adjusted and worked upon.
The need for hard-headedness is particularly pressing when establishing a nascent democracy. One reason why so many democratic experiments have failed recently is that they put too much emphasis on elections and too little on the other essential features of democracy. The power of the state needs to be checked, for instance, and individual rights such as freedom of speech and freedom to organise must be guaranteed. The most successful new democracies have all worked in large part because they avoided the temptation of majoritarianism—the notion that winning an election entitles the majority to do whatever it pleases. India has survived as a democracy since 1947 (apart from a couple of years of emergency rule) and Brazil since the mid-1980s for much the same reason: both put limits on the power of the government and provided guarantees for individual rights.

Robust constitutions not only promote long-term stability, reducing the likelihood that disgruntled minorities will take against the regime. They also bolster the struggle against corruption, the bane of developing countries. Conversely, the first sign that a fledgling democracy is heading for the rocks often comes when elected rulers try to erode constraints on their power—often in the name of majority rule. Mr Morsi tried to pack Egypt’s upper house with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Yanukovych reduced the power of Ukraine’s parliament. Mr Putin has ridden roughshod over Russia’s independent institutions in the name of the people. Several African leaders are engaging in crude majoritarianism—removing term limits on the presidency or expanding penalties against homosexual behaviour, as Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni did on February 24th.

Foreign leaders should be more willing to speak out when rulers engage in such illiberal behaviour, even if a majority supports it. But the people who most need to learn this lesson are the architects of new democracies: they must recognise that robust checks and balances are just as vital to the establishment of a healthy democracy as the right to vote. Paradoxically even potential dictators have a lot to learn from events in Egypt and Ukraine: Mr Morsi would not be spending his life shuttling between prison and a glass box in an Egyptian court, and Mr Yanukovych would not be fleeing for his life, if they had not enraged their compatriots by accumulating so much power.

Even those lucky enough to live in mature democracies need to pay close attention to the architecture of their political systems. The combination of globalisation and the digital revolution has made some of democracy’s most cherished institutions look outdated. Established democracies need to update their own political systems both to address the problems they face at home, and to revitalise democracy’s image abroad. Some countries have already embarked upon this process. America’s Senate has made it harder for senators to filibuster appointments. A few states have introduced open primaries and handed redistricting to independent boundary commissions. Other obvious changes would improve matters. Reform of party financing, so that the names of all donors are made public, might reduce the influence of special interests. The European Parliament could require its MPs to present receipts with their expenses. Italy’s parliament has far too many members who are paid too much, and two equally powerful chambers, which makes it difficult to get anything done.

But reformers need to be much more ambitious. The best way to constrain the power of special interests is to limit the number of goodies that the state can hand out. And the best way to address popular disillusion towards politicians is to reduce the number of promises they can make. The key to a healthier democracy, in short, is a narrower state—an idea that dates back to the American revolution. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men”, Madison argued, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The notion of limited government was also integral to the relaunch of democracy after the second world war. The United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) established rights and norms that countries could not breach, even if majorities wanted to do so.

The most successful new democracies managed to avoid the temptation of majoritarianism

These checks and balances were motivated by fear of tyranny. But today, particularly in the West, the big dangers to democracy are harder to spot. One is the growing size of the state. The relentless expansion of government is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests. The other comes from government’s habit of making promises that it cannot fulfil, either by creating entitlements it cannot pay for or by waging wars that it cannot win, such as that on drugs. Both voters and governments must be persuaded of the merits of accepting restraints on the state’s natural tendency to overreach. Giving control of monetary policy to independent central banks tamed the rampant inflation of the 1980s, for example. It is time to apply the same principle of limited government to a broader range of policies. Mature democracies, just like nascent ones, require appropriate checks and balances on the power of elected government.

Governments can exercise self-restraint in several different ways. They can put on a golden straitjacket by adopting tight fiscal rules—as the Swedes have done by pledging to balance their budget over the economic cycle. They can introduce “sunset clauses” that force politicians to renew laws every ten years, say. They can ask non-partisan commissions to propose long-term reforms. The Swedes rescued their pension system from collapse when an independent commission suggested pragmatic reforms including greater use of private pensions, and linking the retirement age to life-expectancy. Chile has been particularly successful at managing the combination of the volatility of the copper market and populist pressure to spend the surplus in good times. It has introduced strict rules to ensure that it runs a surplus over the economic cycle, and appointed a commission of experts to determine how to cope with economic volatility.

Isn’t this a recipe for weakening democracy by handing more power to the great and the good? Not necessarily. Self-denying rules can strengthen democracy by preventing people from voting for spending policies that produce bankruptcy and social breakdown and by protecting minorities from persecution. But technocracy can certainly be taken too far. Power must be delegated sparingly, in a few big areas such as monetary policy and entitlement reform, and the process must be open and transparent.
And delegation upwards towards grandees and technocrats must be balanced by delegation downwards, handing some decisions to ordinary people. The trick is to harness the twin forces of globalism and localism, rather than trying to ignore or resist them. With the right balance of these two approaches, the same forces that threaten established democracies from above, through globalisation, and below, through the rise of micro-powers, can reinforce rather than undermine democracy.

Tocqueville argued that local democracy frequently represented democracy at its best: “Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and enjoy it.” City mayors regularly get twice the approval ratings of national politicians. Modern technology can implement a modern version of Tocqueville’s town-hall meetings to promote civic involvement and innovation. An online hyperdemocracy where everything is put to an endless series of public votes would play to the hand of special-interest groups. But technocracy and direct democracy can keep each other in check: independent budget commissions can assess the cost and feasibility of local ballot initiatives, for example.
Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.
Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature.
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« Reply #12222 on: Mar 01, 2014, 07:49 AM »

Piglet Putin Gets Green Light to Send Troops into Ukraine, Klitschko Urges Army Mobilization

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 16:17

President Piglet V. Putin on Saturday won approval from Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, to send Russian troops into Ukrainian territory.

Piglet Putin's request was approved unanimously. Speaker Valentina Matviyenko also ordered the Council's foreign affairs committee to ask Putin to recall the Russian ambassador from the United States.

The envoy Piglet Putin sent to the debate made clear afterwards that it was up to the president to decide when to use the right granted to him.

"The approval that the president was given in the literal sense does not mean that this right will be realized quickly," said Grigory Karasin, a deputy foreign minister.

He also expressed hope that Western states who had acted before as intermediaries in the Ukraine crisis would be able to "effect action on the authorities in Kiev to return the situation to a normal and constitutional framework."

As a response, Ukraine's boxer turned politician Vitali Klitschko urged parliament to mobilize the army.

"Parliament must ask the army's commander-in-chief to declare national mobilization after the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine," Klitschko said in a statement. He also asked for the U.N. Security Council to gather urgently for talks on the crisis.

Piglet Putin had asked the upper house to approve the use of Russian troops in Ukraine, the Kremlin said, despite warnings from the U.S. not to intervene.

"In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens... I submit to the Federation Council a request to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory until the normalization of the political situation in that country," the Kremlin quoted the Piglet as saying in the document.

Piglet Putin said that Russia also had to protect servicemen from its Black Sea Fleet which is based on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea "fully in line with an international accord".

The request was made on the basis of point "G" of the first part of section 102 of the Russian constitution on allowing the use of Russian troops beyond the borders of the country.

There were no further details on the document and the Piglet has yet to speak publicly about the situation in Ukraine since the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovych last week.

The Piglet's move came after the heads of both the lower and upper houses of parliament on Saturday urged him to take measures over the situation in Ukraine and in particular the overwhelmingly pro-Russian peninsula of Crimea.

Matviyenko said earlier that it is possible "to send a limited contingent of troops to ensure the security of the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens."

Meanwhile, the speaker of the State Duma lower house Sergei Naryshkin read out a request in the name of all MPs for Putin to use "all possibilities" to restore stability in Crimea.

Ukraine's new Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh said Saturday the Russian forces are already in the country, accusing Russia of sending 30 armored personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea.

Unlike most legislation in Russia, the use of armed forces abroad only requires the approval of the rubber-stamp Federation Council without any need for a preliminary okay from the State Duma lower house.

The Kremlin has been rattled by the sudden overthrow of Yanukovych and the installation of pro-EU and sometimes staunchly anti-Russian new authorities in his place, fearing a permanent loss of influence in Russia's ex-Soviet neighbor.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday warned that "there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine".

Meanwhile, Ukraine's new leader said he did not recognize the authority of the pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, who claimed power after the region's parliament was seized by pro-Kremlin gunmen.

Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement instructing "the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine and other government agencies not to view (Sergiy) Aksyonov as a representative of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."

On grounds, dozens were hurt Saturday when a pro-Russia protest in Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv turned violent, with demonstrators trying to storm the local government building, an Agence France Presse reporter said.

Some 20,000 joined the protest against Kiev's new pro-West government after the ouster of Yanukovych, and later around 300 launched the assault on the government building. Stones and stun grenades were thrown though it was unclear by whom.

The discord between Russia and Ukraine sharpened has Saturday when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine's Crimea region claimed control of the military and police and appealed to Russia's president for help in keeping peace there.

It was the latest escalation of tension between the two countries following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.

Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to annex a strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.

Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards will answer only to his orders.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.

"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily.

Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after pro-Russian Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left over 80 people dead.

Demonstrators sought his resignation after he backed out of signing an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union instead of Russia. Yanukovych took refuge in Russia and still says he's president.

Aksenov, the head of the main pro-Russia party on the peninsula, appealed to Piglet Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea."

Aksenov was appointed by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took power last week.

Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama said.

Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said.

He did not say what those costs might be.

At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea.

He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units.

Russia kept silent on claims of military intervention, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea.

Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said the men were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine. There was no way to independently verify his account.

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

Piglet Putin Requests Parliament Approval to Use troops in Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 16:17

Russian President Piglet V. Putin on Saturday asked the upper house of parliament to approve the use of Russian troops in Ukraine, the Kremlin said, despite warnings from the U.S. not to intervene.

"In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens... I submit to the Federation Council a request to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory until the normalization of the political situation in that country," the Kremlin quoted the Piglet as saying in the document.

Piglet Putin said that Russia also had to protect servicemen from its Black Sea Fleet which is based on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea "fully in line with an international accord".

The request was made on the basis of point "G" of the first part of section 102 of the Russian constitution on allowing the use of Russian troops beyond the borders of the country.

There were no further details on the document and Piglet's Putin has yet to speak publicly about the situation in Ukraine since the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovych last week.

The Piglet's move came after the heads of both the lower and upper houses of parliament on Saturday urged him to take measures over the situation in Ukraine and in particular the overwhelmingly pro-Russian peninsula of Crimea.

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko said earlier that it is possible "to send a limited contingent of troops to ensure the security of the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens."

Meanwhile, the speaker of the State Duma lower house Sergei Naryshkin read out a request in the name of all MPs for Putin to use "all possibilities" to restore stability in Crimea.

Ukraine's new Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh said Saturday the Russian forces are already in the country, accusing Russia of sending 30 armored personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea.

Unlike most legislation in Russia, the use of armed forces abroad only requires the approval of the rubber-stamp Federation Council without any need for a preliminary okay from the State Duma lower house.

The Kremlin has been rattled by the sudden overthrow of Yanukovych and the installation of pro-EU and sometimes staunchly anti-Russian new authorities in his place, fearing a permanent loss of influence in Russia's ex-Soviet neighbor.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday warned that "there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine".

Meanwhile, Ukraine's new leader said he did not recognize the authority of the pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, who claimed power after the region's parliament was seized by pro-Kremlin gunmen.

Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement instructing "the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine and other government agencies not to view (Sergiy) Aksyonov as a representative of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."

On grounds, dozens were hurt Saturday when a pro-Russia protest in Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv turned violent, with demonstrators trying to storm the local government building, an Agence France Presse reporter said.

Some 20,000 joined the protest against Kiev's new pro-West government after the ouster of Yanukovych, and later around 300 launched the assault on the government building. Stones and stun grenades were thrown though it was unclear by whom.

The discord between Russia and Ukraine sharpened has Saturday when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine's Crimea region claimed control of the military and police and appealed to Russia's president for help in keeping peace there.

It was the latest escalation of tension between the two countries following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.

Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to annex a strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.

Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards will answer only to his orders.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.

"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily.

Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after pro-Russian Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left over 80 people dead.

Demonstrators sought his resignation after he backed out of signing an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union instead of Russia. Yanukovych took refuge in Russia and still says he's president.

Aksenov, the head of the main pro-Russia party on the peninsula, appealed to Piglet Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea."

Aksenov was appointed by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took power last week.

Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama said.

Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said.

He did not say what those costs might be.

At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea.

He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units.

Russia kept silent on claims of military intervention, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea.

Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said the men were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine. There was no way to independently verify his account.

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

Crimean Leader Claims Control, Asks Piglet Putin for Help

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 10:20

The discord between Russia and Ukraine sharpened Saturday when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine's Crimea region claimed control of the military and police and appealed to Russia's president for help in keeping peace there.

It was the latest escalation of tension between the two countries following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.

Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to annex a strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.

Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards will answer only to his orders.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.

"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily.

Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left over 80 people dead.

Demonstrators sought his resignation after he backed out of signing an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union instead of Russia. Yanukovych took refuge in Russia and still says he's president.

Aksenov, the head of the main pro-Russia party on the peninsula, appealed to Pig Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea."

Aksenov was appointed by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took power last week.

Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama said.

Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said.

He did not say what those costs might be.

At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea.

He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units.

Russia kept silent on claims of military intervention, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea.

Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said the men were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine. There was no way to independently verify his account.

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

Ukraine Declares Crimea Premier's Appointment Illegal

By REUTERS
MARCH 1, 2014, 8:00 A.M. E.S.T.    

KIEV — Ukraine's acting president signed a decree on Saturday declaring the appointment of a pro-Russia premier in the Crimea region illegal.

Sergei Aksyonov was appointed in Crimea this week after armed men took over the regional parliament. The presidential decree said the decision had violated the Ukrainian constitution. It gave no details.

Aksyonov has appealed for Russia's assistance to restore calm on the Black Sea peninsula, the only region in Ukraine that has an ethnic Russian majority. Ukraine's new leaders face a challenge to their authority in the region.

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

Ukraine’s U.N. envoy: ‘We are strong enough to defend ourselves’

By Reuters
Friday, February 28, 2014 16:26 EST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said on Friday “we are strong enough to defend ourselves” while accusing Russia of illegally sending unauthorized military assets across the border of the former Soviet republic.

Sergeyev was speaking to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council in a closed-door session on the escalating crisis in Ukraine and the seizure of two airports in the autonomous region of Crimea.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

***********

Ukraine military still a formidable force despite being dwarfed by neighbour

Moscow outspends Kiev 30 to one, but factors including Tartars make invading Crimea a risky move for Russia in the long run

Ewen MacAskill, defence correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 18.07 GMT   

Although Ukraine has a military force capable of making Russia think twice about invasion, it has a relatively light presence in the Crimea. Russia, by contrast, has for historical reasons a huge presence on the peninsula, with its Black Sea fleet based in Sevastopol.

"It is a nightmare for everyone," said Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert. "The entry of Russian troops would be a deep humiliation for Ukraine … It would be a second Chechnya."

Russia has an overall military force of about 845,000 troops against Ukraine's 130,000. Russia's military spending is also vastly greater than Ukraine's, $40.7bn last year compared with $1.4bn. But the Ukrainian forces are still formidable, better-trained, engaged over the last decade in international peacekeeping missions and established close contacts with western counterparts.

Brigadier Ben Barry, a specialist on land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "If there was ever military confrontation, the question is how much the morale and fighting-power of the Ukrainian forces would be boosted by fighting for their country."

The small armed forces surrounding the two Crimea airports had no markings on their uniforms to identify them. Moscow denied responsibility but Kiev claimed the armed group at the Belbek airport, which is used by the Ukrainian air force and is close to Sevastopol, was made up of Russian marines.

Barry said that what was striking about the forces at the airport is they do not look like a newly formed militia. "This is not a ragtag force. When you see a new militia, they will have a jumble-sale look. This lot are uniformly dressed and equipped and seem competent and efficient, " he said.

Russia has put its combat planes on alert and has begun new training exercises, moves that prompted speculation of an impending invasion similar to the one into Georgia in 2008.

But all-out invasion of Ukraine appears unlikely at present given that even if Russia was to win, it would face years of costly and bloody insurrection. Taking over just Crimea appears, at least initially, to be less risky given that more than half the population is ethnic Russian. As a peninsula, Crimea would be theoretically easy to defend.

Ukraine has only a single coastal defence unit in the Crimea, about 3,500-strong, with artillery but no tanks.

But a Russian takeover of the Crimea could turn out to be disastrous in the long run. The Kremlin would be underestimating the impact of the sizeable population of Tartars who were forcibly deported from the Crimea by Stalin in 1944 and not allowed to return until the beginning of Perestroika in the 1980s.

Sutyagin, who is at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said: "The Tartars are very anti-Russian. They will do anything not to be under the Russians. They will be determined to fight for Ukraine. It would be a second Chechnya. There are a lot of mountains in Crimea, just as in Chechnya."

Many of the soldiers fighting in the Ukrainian army are ethnic Russians but it would be a mistake to assume they might desert or turn on their officers rather than take on Russian forces. Sutyagin said loyalty to the idea of an independent Ukrainian state would top their ethnicity.

"The entry of Russian troops would be a deep humiliation for Ukraine. Ukrainians do not want to be occupied. It is a mistake by Russian politicians who think ethnic Russians are Russian," Sutyagin said.

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

Hague Presses Russia for 'De-Escalation' in Crimea as European Officials Voice their Concern

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 14:39

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged his Russian counterpart to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine's restive Crimea peninsula, ahead of a trip to Kiev on Sunday.

"Have spoken to Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov to call for de-escalation in Crimea and respect for sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," Hague said in a Twitter message on Saturday.

The interim Ukrainian government accused Russia on Saturday of sending thousands of extra troops into Crimea in a bid to help local pro-Kremlin militia gain broader independence from the new pro-EU leaders in Kiev.

As the situation escalates, the Foreign Office confirmed Hague would visit Kiev on Sunday, although it did not give any further details.

Hague tweeted late Friday: "Have just spoken to Acting President (Oleksandr) Turchynov. I will travel to Kiev on Sunday for talks with the new government."

Turchynov had on Friday appealed to Russian President Piglet Putin to "stop military provocation" and withdraw from Crimea, after pro-Russian gunmen seized the government and parliament buildings in the capital Simferopol.

A little earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron had called Putin to stress the importance of respecting Ukraine's territorial integrity.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also said he is "deeply concerned" by reports of Russian troop movements in Ukraine, and warned there would be "costs" for any military intervention.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the territorial integrity of Ukraine "must absolutely be respected", after Kiev accused Moscow of sending more than 6,000 soldiers to Crimea.

"There is a requirement that must absolutely be respected -- the territorial integrity of the country," Ayrault told reporters, speaking during a congress of European social-democrats in Rome.

"Everything must be done for this integrity to be totally respected.

"This requires a great sense of responsibility from all the players, above all from the political forces in Ukraine themselves but also from all of Ukraine's partners," Ayrault said.

"Ukrainians want democracy and we can understand that. They are turning to Europe, to European democracies. It is Ukrainians who must build their future," he said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said that France was "deeply concerned" over reports of significant troop movements in the flashpoint Black Sea peninsula.

"We call on the parties to abstain from actions that could raise tensions and harm Ukraine's territorial integrity," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was concerned by the developments in Crimea.

"What is happening in Crimea worries us," Merkel said in a speech at a cultural event in Berlin, stressing the importance of "preserving the territorial integrity" of Ukraine.

Earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski cut short a visit to Iran to handle the deepening crisis in Crimea.

"I have to shorten my visit to Iran due to the developments in Crimea and return to Poland," Sikorski told a joint news conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"The situation is getting more critical in Crimea."

Sikorski arrived in Iran on Friday for what had been scheduled as a four-day visit, including a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

As he spoke, the Polish foreign ministry put out a statement in Warsaw calling for an end to "provocative" troop movements in Crimea, a majority-Russian Ukrainian territory.

"We are the only country that has a consulate operating in Crimea and unfortunately they confirmed that Russian forces are present," Sikorski said.

"We have been closely following the developments there," he added.

Sikorski, along with his French and German counterparts has taken a prominent diplomatic role in the Ukrainian crisis.

Ex-communist Poland has also long been active in drawing ex-Soviet eastern neighbor Ukraine closer to the European Union and NATO, and so further out of the orbit of its Soviet-era master Russia.

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

Crimea Brings forward Referendum on Region's Status to March 30

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 14:13

A referendum to determine whether residents in Ukraine's flashpoint peninsula of Crimea want greater autonomy has been pushed forward to March 30, the spokeswoman of the region's newly-chosen prime minister Sergiy Aksyonov said Saturday.

The vote had originally been planned for May 25, on the same day as presidential elections set by parliament following the ouster of the pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

Meanwhile, Russia's lower house of parliament asked President Piglet V. Putin to take measures to stabilize the situation in the Ukrainian region of Crimea and use "all possibilities" to protect the local population, its speaker said.

"The Council of the State Duma, in the name of the MPs of the State Duma, has asked the president to take measures to stabilize the situation in Crimea and use all available possibilities to protect the population of Crimea from lawlessness and violence," speaker Sergei Naryshkin said in a statement read on state television.

The Council of the State Duma is made up of the faction chiefs and speaker of the lower house.

Russia could send a "limited contingent" of troops to the Ukrainian region of Crimea to assure the security of Russia's Black Sea Fleet and its citizens, the speaker of the upper house of parliament said Saturday.

"It is possible in this situation... to send a limited contingent of troops to ensure the security of the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens," said Federation Council chief Valentina Matviyenko, in theory Russia's number three figure after the president and the prime minister.

"The decision lies with the president of our country, the commander in chief (Pig Putin). But looking at the situation today, such a scenario cannot be excluded. We have to protect people," she said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Ukraine's border guard service later said on Saturday that about 300 armed men were attempting to seize its main headquarters in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol under orders from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"The head of this group said that there are orders from the Russian defense minister to seize this naval post," Ukraine's border guard service said in a statement, adding that the men wore "full battle fatigues".

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 people carrying Russian flags protested Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Yanukovych's stronghold, an AFP journalist said.

Protesters declared they supported "the aspirations of Crimea to rejoin Russia.”

"Russia! Russia!", they shouted, as demonstrators on the sidelines of the rally distributed leaflets calling on people "not to obey authorities in Kiev."

"We're aghast by what is happening in Kiev. We will not let nationalists enter our city," said Oleksandr, a 40-year-old protester.

This city in eastern Ukraine is a bastion of Kremlin-backed Yanukovych, who was ousted on February 22 following a week of deadly clashes in Kiev, and whose government collapsed entirely, making way for a brand new, pro-West cabinet.

Residents in Ukraine's pro-Russia east and south have looked on the events in the capital with concern. On the Crimea peninsula unidentified armed men have taken over the regional parliament and other government buildings in what Kiev has labeled a Russian "invasion".

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

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

Polish FM Cuts Short Iran Visit to Tackle Crimea Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 12:44

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski cut short a visit to Iran on Saturday to handle the deepening crisis in Crimea after pro-Russian gunmen seized the government and parliament buildings.

"I have to shorten my visit to Iran due to the developments in Crimea and return to Poland," Sikorski told a joint news conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"The situation is getting more critical in Crimea."

Sikorski arrived in Iran on Friday for what had been scheduled as a four-day visit, including a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

As he spoke, the Polish foreign ministry put out a statement in Warsaw calling for an end to "provocative" troop movements in Crimea, a majority-Russian Ukrainian territory.

"We are the only country that has a consulate operating in Crimea and unfortunately they confirmed that Russian forces are present," Sikorski said.

"We have been closely following the developments there," he added.

Sikorski, along with his French and German counterparts has taken a prominent diplomatic role in the Ukrainian crisis.

Ex-communist Poland has also long been active in drawing ex-Soviet eastern neighbor Ukraine closer to the European Union and NATO, and so further out of the orbit of its Soviet-era master Russia.

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

Obama to Russia: There Will be 'Costs' for Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 08:30

President Barack Obama is warning Russia "there will be costs" for any military maneuvers it launches in Ukraine, a move U.S. and Ukrainian officials say they believe is already underway.

Officials say Obama may retaliate by canceling a trip to Russia this year for an international summit and could cut off trade discussions with Moscow. But it's unclear whether those moves will have any impact on Russia's strategy on Ukraine, which is at the center of what many see as tensions between East and West.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama declared Friday. Such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters that must be decided by the Ukrainian people, he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that while he would not address specific U.S. options, "this could be a very dangerous situation if this continues in a provocative way." Asked about options in a CBS News interview, he said that "we're trying to deal with a diplomatic focus, that's the appropriate, responsible approach."

A spokesman for the Ukrainian border service said Friday that eight Russian transport planes had landed with unknown cargo in Ukraine's Crimea region. Serhiy Astakhov told The Associated Press that the Il-76 planes arrived unexpectedly and were given permission to land, one after the other, at Gvardeiskoye air base.

U.S. officials said they also believed Russian personnel had entered Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea with an ethnic Russian majority and a Russian naval base. The State Department urged U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel plans in Ukraine because of "the potential for instability."

Russian President Piglet V. Putin is scheduled to host the Group of Eight economic summit in June in Sochi, the site of the recently completed Winter Olympics. The U.S. is in discussions about the summit with European partners, and it is difficult to see how some of those leaders would attend the summit if Russia has forces in Crimea, according to the administration officials. They were not authorized to discuss the situation by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with Piglet Putin last year after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, though Obama still attended a separate international meeting in Russia.

For the U.S., levying punishments on Russia is complicated by the various issues on which the White House needs Moscow's help. Among them: ending the bloodshed in Syria, negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and transporting U.S. military troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes.

A somber Obama decried the situation in Ukraine and warned about deeper outside intervention.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said.

Political turmoil in Ukraine has pushed President Viktor Yanukovych from office. Yanukovych held a news conference in Russia on Friday in which he said he was not asking Moscow for military assistance and called military action "unacceptable."

Yanukovych, who still regards himself the president, also vowed to "keep fighting for the future of Ukraine" and blamed the U.S. and the West for encouraging the rebellion that forced him to flee last weekend.

One catalyst for the massive demonstrations that led to Yanukovych's ouster was his rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. That EU agreement would have paved the way for Ukraine's greater integration with the West, including potential affiliation with NATO, something to which Russia strongly objects.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior U.S. officials have tried without success to dispel widespread sentiment in Russia that the United States and Europe are trying to pry Ukraine out from under Russian influence.

But in Moscow, Russian officials have been accusing the U.S. and its allies of meddling, fomenting anti-Russia sentiment and actively encouraging Ukraine's Western aspirations at the expense of its historical connections.

There was no known contact Friday between Obama and Piglet Putin, who last spoke a week ago.

Kerry did call Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the second time in two days to press the Kremlin to keep its promise to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Lavrov repeated the Piglet's pledge to do just that, while pointing out that Russia has broad interests in Ukraine, Kerry said.

Kerry reiterated the U.S. view that Russian military intervention in Ukraine following the ouster of the country's Russia-backed leader would run counter to Russia's self-professed opposition to such operations in other countries, such as Libya and Syria.

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

Russia to Issue Passports to Ukraine's Disbanded Riot Police

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 20:05

Russia said Friday that it would fast-track passports for members of Ukraine's elite Berkut riot police force after the unit was disbanded by Kiev's new authorities, and issue them in the main Crimean city of Simferopol.

"The Russian consulate in Simferopol has been tasked with taking all the necessary measures to urgently start issuing Russian passports to Berkut officers," the Russian foreign ministry said on its Facebook page."

**********

Presidential Yet Powerless, Yanukovych Battles against Reality

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 19:42

Dressed in a suit and tie and sitting in front of three Ukrainian flags, Viktor Yanukovych behaved as if he was still Ukraine's leader as he refused to accept the reality of the seismic shift of the last week.

Around 200 journalists found their way to see Yanukovych, 63, make his first appearance in front of the world after his dramatic flight from his country to Russia.

The event had only been announced the day before and the venue only confirmed on Friday -- an exhibition center in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

The building was surrounded by police hours ahead of the event while civilian-dressed guards were on hand to carry out security checks.

When Yanukovych came in, he looked little different to when he was president, barrel-chested, speaking slowly and deliberately with occasionally menacing raises of his voice.

He spoke in Russian, although his soft "g" sounds were unmistakably Ukrainian.

He sat behind a desk next to the moderator of the news conference, senior journalist of the ITAR-TASS news agency Mikhail Gusman who he said he had known for a long time.

With his glasses perched on the end of his nose in the style familiar from the past years, Yanukovych spoke and answered questions for 1 hour 10 minutes before Gusman called a halt, to wails from reporters who had failed to ask questions.

He insisted he was still president of Ukraine and railed against the "terror", "anarchy" and chaos that had appeared in the country since his departure.

He called the new authorities all manner of names ranging from "neo-fascists" to "nationalists" to "bastards" to "banderovtsi", the catch-all term for followers of wartime anti-Soviet nationalist guerilla leader Stepan Bandera.

Yanukovych also implied that blue collar his former stronghold in the east of Ukraine could rise up against the new authorities.

"As long as they are working and receiving their salaries they will not do anything. But when the factories stop and they have no way of living I would not like to be in the place of those who find themselves in their way."

Only once did Yanukovych show any emotion, when he paused for several seconds before asking "for forgiveness" in front of those who suffered in the current events.

He appeared on the point of tears but rapidly recovered. Once though he muddled up "Ukraine" and "Russia", much to the amusement of the assembled press.

Yanukovych may have still presented himself as the president but as he was speaking a new government in Kiev was already starting its work and his words rang hollow.

"The end is already clear. The people of Ukraine will never agree to live together with you," he told the new authorities in a genuine show of anger.

"Truth will come for sure. And it will triumph."

But in a sign times were already changing, he admitted that Russian strongman Piglet V. Putin had not yet found time to grant him a meeting.

Not only did he fail to hide that he is essentially a fugitive but also that he is most likely a lonely and isolated man.

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

'My Car was Shot at': Yanukovych's Mysterious Road to Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 18:29

Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych on Friday gave a partial and sometimes confusing explanation of his whereabouts since his disappearance last week and how he crossed into Russia.

Yanukovych reappeared in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday after not being seen in public since February 22.

The deposed leader said he was "forced to flee Ukraine under direct threats to my life and the lives of my loved ones."

"I didn't flee anywhere," he insisted.

He said he initially traveled east by car from Kiev to the city of Kharkiv to join supporters, with the vehicle coming under machine-gun fire as it drove out of Kiev.

"When I was still in Kiev, I was shot at from automatic fire. The car that was sheltering me was practically shot at from all sides," he said.

He arrived at Kharkiv late at night, but on the morning of February 22, his security service told him to leave, warning that "radically-minded groups" were set to arrive, he said.

"I had no fear," he stressed. "There were security conditions that were necessary to consider."

He said he was accompanied at the time by parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak and his chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev.

He then asked them to fly to the eastern city of Donetsk, while he himself decided to fly southeast to Lugansk, close to the Russian border, flying with an unspecified entourage in two helicopters.

The helicopters took off but air traffic control and military dispatchers warned them to turn back because they were suspected of fleeing to Russia.

"They allegedly were warned that we were planning to fly to Russia," he said. "They warned they would send out helicopters, they would send out jets," he said.

The pilots decided to turn round and land in the south-eastern city of Donetsk, his home town, he said.

From there he traveled by car "practically around Ukraine," ending up in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea where pro-Russian protesters are opposing the new interim authorities.

"I traveled by road and in the end we arrived in Crimea late at night," he said.

But again, he said that threats forced him to move on.

"I received calls from members of my family that even my youngest grandson was put on a list of people who must be purged," he said.

His account broke off here, without any detail of how he arrived in Russia, beyond that he was helped by "officers."

"I got into Russia thanks to patriotically minded officers -- I would put it like that -- who carried their duty and helped me save my life," he said.

He said he was in Rostov-on-Don because an "old friend" lives nearby.

"I came to him to find at least temporary shelter," he said.

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

The Piglet Warns against Further Escalation of Ukraine Unrest

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 19:00

Russian President Piglet V. Putin on Friday called for a rapid return to normality in Ukraine and warned against any further escalation of unrest, in telephone calls with key EU leaders, the Kremlin said.

Piglet Putin emphasized "the extreme importance of not allowing a further escalation of violence and the necessity of a rapid normalization of the situation," the Kremlin said after the Piglet had separate phone calls with British premier David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union president Herman van Rompuy.

Piglet Putin reassured Cameron that he respects Ukraine's sovereignty and said military exercises near the border were pre-planned, the UK premier's office said.

The two leaders also agreed that "free and fair elections" were the best way to resolve the crisis in the ex-Soviet state, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

"The prime minister emphasized that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine," she said.

"The Piglet agreed, stressing that Russian military exercises in the area had been planned before the current situation in Ukraine."

She added: "They agreed that the free and fair elections that the interim government has pledged to hold are the best way to secure a positive future for Ukraine in which all Ukrainian people are represented.

"A future that would not involve forcing the Ukrainian people to make a choice between Europe and Russia."

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/28/2014 04:37 PM

Economic Woes: The Uncertain Future of Ukraine's Finances

By David Böcking

With rapidly shrinking currency reserves and a capital flight problem, Ukraine faces an uncertain financial future. The IMF plans to send a "fact-finding mission" to Kiev next week, but will it be enough?

Stepan Kubiv, 51, looks as earnest as one would expect for the president of a central bank. Yet in Kubiv's case, he has only held his office as the governor of Ukraine's national bank since Monday. Prior to that, he was a "commandant" of Ukraine's Euromaidan opposition movement, which managed to topple President Viktor Yanukovych. Now Kubiv must take up a different battle -- keeping his country from financial collapse.

On Wednesday, Kubiv noted that his country's foreign currency reserves had dropped from $17.8 billion (€13 billion) to $15 billion just since the beginning of February, as the national bank attempted to prop up the exchange rate of the country's currency, the hryvnia. Those efforts met with little success, and the hryvnia has fallen to a record low against the dollar.

And that's not Kubiv's only woe. Despite Ukrainian banks limiting cash withdrawals from ATMs, the central bank president says customers withdrew around $3 billion just during the three days of street battles last week, an amount equivalent to 7 percent of all deposits. On Friday, Kubiv announced that foreign currency withdrawals were being further limited to 15,000 hryvnia ($1,500) per day in order to calm the current volatility.

Ongoing instability on the Crimea Peninsula has also not helped, with global stock exchanges hit hard on Thursday. Furthermore, the VTB on Thursday became the second major Russian bank to announce it was reducing its lending in Ukraine, which could cause businesses in the already economically stricken country to soon run out of cash. "Ukraine's banking sector appears to be destabilizing considerably," says Stefan Bielmeier, head economist at Germany's DZ Bank.

A Considerable Amount

These current developments are particularly worrying because Ukraine is already in danger of insolvency. Some $70 billion were taken out of the country in the last three years under Yanukovych, the new government revealed on Thursday, and $37 billion worth of state loans simply disappeared. So far, the government had pegged its financial requirements for the next two years at $35 billion. But that won't be nearly enough if investors start pulling out of the country on a large scale.

But how likely is such a scenario? And who would be most seriously affected if it occurs?

The national bank projects that the loss of Russian credit in Ukraine wouldn't amount to a dramatic change for Russia. According to the central bank's calculations, Russian banks have less than 1 percent of their total assets invested in Ukraine. According to an estimate by ratings agency Moody's, the four largest Russian financial institutions together have about $20 billion to $30 billion in Ukraine; Russian President Piglet Putin put that number at $28 billion. From the Ukrainian perspective, though, that's a considerable amount, with Russian banks' market share in the country at 12 percent.

European banks, too, stand to lose in Ukraine. According to the most recent figures available from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), European banks have more than $23 billion in outstanding loans in Ukraine. According to the statistics, German banks have lent only around $1 billion to Ukraine, but for Italy that figure is nearly $6 billion. "Italian financial institutions are already in the spotlight after the stress test for European banks," says Bielmeier at DZ Bank. "Their involvement in Ukraine could increase that stress."

But of course the situation is most ominous for Ukraine itself. New Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak declared on Thursday that the situation was already stabilizing. At the same time, though, he announced that the country had asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a financial injection of $15 billion. "We need to reach an agreement with the IMF immediately," said new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. "As soon as we have an agreement with the IMF on a course of action, we will have funds for our reserves, and we will be able to stabilize the exchange rate."

'Stumbling Block'

The IMF is certainly the obvious choice of partner for financial assistance, and an aid package would help to stem the risk of capital flight as well. But there's another problem. "Normally, the IMF only extends loans to countries with a stable political system," says DZ Bank head economist Bielmeier. "That's the greatest stumbling block with Ukraine."

Deposed president Yanukovych's press conference on Friday will not have helped matters. Yanukovych claimed that he is still the Ukrainian head of state and insisted that those now in power in Kiev step down. There is, of course, no chance that they will, but a potentially meddling former president will not be helpful to the interim government.

IMF head Christine Lagarde reiterated on Friday that the IMF was sending a "fact-finding mission" to Ukraine next week. Following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Washington on Friday, she also said that she was concerned about the numbers currently circulating, saying they were unconfirmed, and added that the IMF does not at present believe that the situation in Ukraine is critical. The EU, the US and the IMF, Steinmeier said at the meeting, were all monitoring the situation and could rapidly supply emergency funding of up to $1 billion each should the need arise.

Russia's government has made clear that it rejects the current political changes in Ukraine. If the IMF and EU step in with aid, it remains to be seen the degree to which Russia might economically sabotage the country. Ukraine is dependent on its eastern neighbor not only for financial loans, but for its supply of natural gas as well. In early February, the foreign trade and investment agency Germany Trade and Invest concluded that this conflict was "also being conducted using economic means," for example with Russia apparently considerably increasing customs inspections for goods from Ukraine.

A long-lasting economic crisis in Ukraine, though, would not be in Russia's best interest. "That naturally also has repercussions for joint companies we have with Ukraine," Russian Economic Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told German business daily Handelsblatt. DZ Bank economist Bielmeier believes as well that these close ties may well be what save Ukraine in the end. "The risk of national bankruptcy is not very high," he says. "But only because none of the major blocs has an interest in that happening."

With reporting by Stefan Kaiser and Matthias Gebauer, and material from Reuters

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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

Crimean coup is payback by Piglet Putin for Ukraine's revolution

After what Moscow regards as the western-backed takeover of Kiev, the Kremlin's choreography has been impressive

Luke Harding   
theguardian.com, Friday 28 February 2014 15.35 GMT   

Days after the end of Vladimir Piglet Putin's Sochi Olympics, the borders of Europe are shifting. Or, more accurately, military forces suspected of acting on Moscow's orders are creating a new cartographic reality on the ground.

Overnight, alleged undercover Russian special forces seized control of Simferopol airport, in the administrative capital of Crimea. The move comes less than 24 hours after a similar squad of shadowy, well-armed, Russian-speaking gunmen seized Simferopol's parliament building and administrative complex. If anyone was in doubt what this meant, the gunmen left a clue. They raised a Russian flag above the parliament building.

Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, described the operations in Crimea in apocalyptic terms. What was unfolding in the south was "an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms", he posted on Facebook. That's certainly how it seems.

Moscow's military moves so far resemble a classically executed coup: seize control of strategic infrastructure, seal the borders between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, invoke the need to protect the peninsula's ethnic Russian majority. The Kremlin's favourite news website, Lifenews.ru, was on hand to record the historic moment. Its journalists were allowed to video Russian forces patrolling ostentatiously outside Simferopol airport.

Wearing khaki uniforms – they had removed their insignia – and carrying Kalashnikovs, the soldiers seemed relaxed and in control. Other journalists filming from the road captured Russian helicopters flying into Crimea from the east. They passed truckloads of Russian reinforcements arriving from Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in this very Crimean coup. But Piglet Putin's playbook in the coming days and months is easy to predict. On Thursday, the Crimean parliament announced it would hold a referendum on the peninsula's future status on 25 May. That is the same day Ukraine goes to the polls in fresh presidential elections.

The referendum can have only one outcome: a vote to secede from Ukraine. After that, Crimea can go one of two ways. It could formally join the Russian Federation. Or, more probably, it might become a sort of giant version of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Georgia's two Russian-occupied breakaway republics – a Kremlin-controlled puppet exclave, with its own local administration, "protected" by Russian troops and naval frigates. Either way, this amounts to Moscow's annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure.

From Piglet Putin's perspective, a coup would be payback for what he regards as the western-backed takeover of Kiev by opposition forces – or fascists, as the Kremlin media calls them. The Kremlin argument runs something


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« Reply #12223 on: Mar 01, 2014, 07:59 AM »

Poll: Iceland Refuses EU Referendum Despite Mass Support

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 18:03

Despite a poll on Friday showing more than 80 percent support for a referendum on joining the European Union, the Icelandic government still planned to abandon membership talks with the bloc.

Less than a third (32.1 percent) of Icelanders surveyed backed the government's decision, according to the poll by market research institute MMR, published in Frettabladid newspaper. More than two-thirds (67.9 percent) said they want to put the process on hold.

But perhaps most alarming for the governing center-right coalition was the whopping 81.6 percent who said they want a referendum on whether to continue negotiations on EU membership.

A mere 18.4 percent were not in favor of a referendum.

On February 21, the government announced a draft bill to "retract the application for membership of the European Union" which the island nation had submitted in 2010 -- reneging on a previous pledge to hold a referendum on the issue.

Although a majority of Icelanders are opposed to ultimately joining the EU, they want it decided in a referendum.

The government's u-turn has brought thousands of pro-EU protesters onto the streets of the capital Reykjavik and led to a petition signed by 40,500 -- one in six voters -- as of Friday afternoon.

But the government has shown no sign of wavering.

After nearly a week of political wrangling it presented the bill aimed at exiting EU talks to parliament late Thursday.

A debate on the bill began Thursday night, but was later suspended for a scheduled parliamentary recess, and is expected to continue on March 10.

Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area and the Schengen Convention -- which allow free trade and movement within the EU -- but fishing has been a major point of contention standing in the way of EU membership.

The topic was not brought up in accession negotiations which began in June 2011.

The Nordic country's relations with Brussels deteriorated in September when the EU threatened trade sanctions if Iceland did not reduce its mackerel quota, and Iceland announced it was pulling out of accession talks indefinitely.

Pro-EU Icelanders see the adoption of the euro as the main advantage of membership, which they believe would help stabilize the island's economy which was rocked by the financial crisis in 2008-2009.


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« Reply #12224 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:01 AM »

Cyprus to Name New Cabinet mid-March after Coalition Walkout

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 15:45

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades will unveil a new cabinet line-up in mid-March after a walkout by his coalition partner over resumed reunification talks with the Turkish Cypriots, his spokesman said Friday.

All 11 cabinet ministers tendered their resignations on Friday to give the conservative president leeway to carry out a wider reshuffle but he asked them to remain at their posts until at least March 15.

The center-right DIKO party announced early Thursday that it was pulling out of the coalition in protest at what it said were excessive Greek Cypriot concessions in a February 11 joint statement which relaunched U.N.-backed talks on ending the island's four-decade division.

"At an emergency meeting of the cabinet, the entire cabinet has today (Friday) tendered their resignations to the president of the republic because of developments since the decision of the Democratic Party (DIKO)," government spokesman Christos Stylianides told reporters.

"The president asked ministers to stay at their posts until at least March 15 because he has pending overseas engagements," he added.

DIKO held four cabinet posts -- defense, energy, education and health -- which are all now vacant.

Party leader Nicos Papadopoulos is the son of late president Tassos Papadopoulos, who tearfully urged Greek Cypriots to vote a "resounding no" in a 2004 referendum on a U.N. reunification blueprint for the Mediterranean island.

An overwhelming 75 percent of Greek Cypriots heeded his appeal, meaning a divided Cyprus entered the European Union a week later, despite Turkish Cypriots voting "yes" to the U.N. plan.

The coalition split comes a year after Anastasiades came to power in February 2013 on a platform of agreeing a bailout with lenders to save the eurozone country from financial ruin.

He has now turned his attention to the peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots after winning praise from international lenders for putting debt-ridden Cyprus back on track.

The international community has welcomed the new peace initiative, with greater input from Washington seen as enabling a breakthrough after two years of stalemate.

The two largest Greek Cypriot parties -- the ruling rightwing DISY and opposition communist party AKEL -- both support the U.N.-brokered peace push.

On Thursday, a Greek Cypriot negotiator held talks in Turkey while his Turkish Cypriot counterpart met officials in Greece -- the first time that has happened in five decades of U.N.-backed reconciliation efforts.

The island has been divided on ethnic lines since Turkish troops occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.


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